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U.S. News and Commentary



Tuesday
Jun082010

Yon’s paperback release of ‘Moment of Truth in Iraq’ an eye-opener

By Kay B. Day

'Moment of Truth in Iraq' pulls the reader into a unique journey into the dark heart of war.Michael Yon’s ‘Moment of Truth in Iraq’ has just been released in paperback, and if there’s one book that makes sense of the war, this is it.

Most pundits, analysts and academics don’t see war up close. Yon has and he pulls the reader into accounts of combat in the field and political negotiations in tribal meeting places. Above all, the book details what America faces in bringing together factions in a country with a history like that of many others—manipulation by imperial powers both in the West and in the East.

Yon describes in great detail the value of troops working alongside Iraqis who above all, just wanted their country restored to functionality. We take clean water and electrical power for granted in the US, but Iraqi villagers were shorted on those necessities even before Saddam Hussein was removed from power.

He also delves the impact of media coverage, leaving the reader with the conclusion that as goes the media coverage, so goes the war. Yon noted the disconnect of information in the US about what was really happening in the war, and he quoted a truthism soldiers often expressed: “The military is at war. America is at the mall.”

Often media gives the impression of religious differences impacting stability in the country. Yon didn’t see it that way. He wrote, “Those who suggest that Iraq should be partitioned, noting Iraqis often do not get along and the Sunni-Shia rift is profound, miss the crucial reality that Iraqis consider themselves foremost to be Iraqis. The conflicts between Iraqi Sunni and Shia are largely political, not theological.”

That same statement could have been made 90 years ago. In an excellent backgrounder at the Law Library of Congress website, there’s a description of Iraq’s political challenges in 1920: “When Britain established its mandate, the population was split administratively into three provinces. The British consolidated the provinces of Mosul, with its Kurdish population, Basra, and Baghdad into one unit. In addition, in a country with over fifty percent Shia Muslims, twenty percent Kurds, and about eight percent Jews, Christians, Muslims of Turkish descent, and other groups, the British gradually established a governing elite of state officials and officers that were almost entirely Sunni in religion and Arab in ethnicity, to replace the imported Indian administrators. These societal divisions remain a consideration in the development of a unified Iraq even today.”

Aside from an eye-opening analysis of the politics of war, Yon’s book provides context for media stories about urban warfare. After a bomb killed 5 soldiers, the Iraqi forces supported by US troops went after the perpetrators. Yon describes preparation for the mission in minute specifics, even describing the different sounds bombs make as they descend to target. As the mission ensued, an ambulance approached with lights flashing. The ambulance was allowed to pass, but a tail was put on it because “the enemy used ambulances to smuggle terrorists away from fights…”

Yon wrote, “The ambulance headed down the road and stopped in a  densely populated warren of narrow streets and alleys, lights still flashing. As we watched, some men emerged from an alley on the right where the ambulance waited, unaware that American troops had converged on the scene. About eight men booked toward the flashing lights of the ambulance. Two were wounded.”

Thus the troops knew where to go to find the enemy by following the ambulance. But the combat environment was fraught with danger.  “Urban combat greatly favors the enemy,” wrote Yon.

It’s impossible to describe how enlightening ‘Moment of Truth in Iraq’ is for the reader, especially if you compare events in the firsthand account to narratives put forth by a large percentage—not all—of reporters for big media. I for one realized that so many of the impressions I had not only of our troops but also of the enemy were flat-out wrong.

Besides setting many records straight, Yon’s book is a riveting read. He’s a natural story-teller, pulling the reader into events and locales that many of us could never experience firsthand.

‘Moment of Truth in Iraq’ is one in a long line of validations of Yon’s exceptional ability as a war correspondent. The book should be on the shelf of every library in the nation, not only as a testament to the bravery of men and women who pull the hardest duty in the world, but also as an up-close account of war from the perspective of someone who has served in the military.

Like all good writers Yon has a bit of the philosopher in his makeup. There’s an eloquent conclusion about the war that reflects Iraq’s long, tortured history that against all odds resulted in a people clinging to the tenets of being Iraqi above all else.

 Near the end of the book Yon wrote, “We can win this war. And if we do, it will be a victory of the same magnitude as the fall of the Soviet Union. It will not be a victory for the Republican Party. It will not be a victory for America and Great Britain and others ‘against’ Iraq. It will be a victory for freedom and justice. It will be a victory for Iraqis and for the world, and only then will it be a victory for us.”

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