Less than a month ago, on August 19, 2007, The New York Times published a letter from seven U.S. soldiers who wrote the newspaper as they were finishing a 15-month deployment in Iraq.
The letter contradicted claims about the supposedly improving character of the occupation that was already being circulated by General David Petraeus and his aides in anticipation of the U.S. commander in Iraq’s testimony this week to Congress.
No, wrote the soldiers, they were not greeted in Iraq as the “liberators” Vice President Dick Cheney imagined four years ago. Rather, they said, they had came to recognize their presence as that of “an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome.”
No, wrote the soldiers, the occupying force was not winning the hearts and minds of the people of Iraq. And to believe that this might be possible, they suggested, was “far-fetched.”
No, wrote the infantrymen and noncommissioned officers of the 82nd Airborne Division, they did not believe the hype about how the war had turned a corner and was now going better.
“(We) are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day,” confided Buddhika Jayamaha, an Army specialist; Wesley D. Smith, a sergeant; Jeremy Roebuck, a sergeant; Omar Mora, a sergeant; Edward Sandmeier, a sergeant; Yance T. Gray, a staff sergeant; and Jeremy A. Murphy, a staff sergeant.
The letter from the soldiers offered an honest, spin-free account of what is really happening in Iraq, straight from men serving in the thick of the fight. And it called into question virtually every statement that Petraeus would make to Congress.
So there was agonizing irony in the news reports that, while Patraeus was patrolling the safe corridors of official power in Washington, two of the truth-telling soldiers had been killed when a cargo truck in which they were riding crashed in Baghdad.
According to press accounts from Iraq, Staff Sergeant Gray, aged 26, and Sergeant Mora, aged 28, died less than a month after the publication of the letter that said the United States had “failed on every promise” made with regard to the occupation.
Their deaths follow the earlier wounding of another of the seven soldiers, Staff Sergeant Murray, who was shot in the head during the period when the letter was being prepared. Murray is expected to survive.