Last U.S. Combat Brigade Leaves Iraq, Troops Remain

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As part of our series of conversations about the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq, Morning Edition gets the perspective of a Marine who served two tours there. Reserve Captain Peter Brooks tells Linda Wertheimer he is confident that this is the right time to turn over security to Iraqi forces.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

As we're hearing, the inability of Iraq's politicians to form a government is one reason many Iraqis are nervous about the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Marine Reserve Captain Peter Brooks served two tours in Iraq, from 2007 to 2009. I asked for his perspective on this drawdown.

Captain PETER BROOKS (U.S. Marine Reserve): Well, I think it's important to remember with this, that the withdrawal has actually been happening for a few years now. In 2007, when my battalion left Iraq, we weren't replaced by any other unit; we were absorbed by a neighboring unit. And in 2009, when we left, we were the last Marine unit in Fallujah. More to the point, actually in January this year, the last Marine operational command left Iraq altogether, so Marines actually have not been serving on the ground for the last seven months or so.

WERTHEIMER: So this is not the beginning of the end, but the end is in sight now.

Capt. BROOKS: Absolutely. And I think it's about the right time for it. I think it's important to note the progress and the withdrawal. But it's also important to note that there's going to be 50,000 troops or more and support remaining still, so combat operations is sort of a relative term. I think many of the units that were there during the combat phase saw things that looked a little more like political development or economic development. And I think some troops who remain after this date are going to see things that look kind of like combat.

WERTHEIMER: Now we talked about this recently with a young woman in Baghdad, Nada Naji. I want to play something that she said.

Ms. NADA NAJI: Now at least we have the American forces. We can trust in them. They can protect us. But if they withdrawal and leave the country, it will be really, really risky and difficult for Iraqi people, because we still not really trust the Iraqi security forces. I believe the Iraqi forces is not ready to keep control the situation here. It will be conflict and chaos.

WERTHEIMER: What do you think of that? Do you think her fears are well-founded?

Captain BROOKS: I think I understand her fears, but ultimately, I think most of us would agree that the Iraqi army, by and large, is ready to take over the role. And for the part of the army that maybe needs more work, there's a 50,000 strong advisor brigades. The real answer for her, I think, is that - and for this policy - is that it's one of the paradoxes of counterinsurgency, that it's preferable for the indigenous force to do a tolerable job than it is for the foreign force to do the perfect job.

WERTHEIMER: Explain that.

Captain BROOKS: Well, while the Americans, I think, we had a similar experience that the woman mentioned. We got to know the people in our area quite well, and they even trusted us more than they did the local police. But really, it's an important thing that if the army and the local security forces are at a stage where they're able to take over, that they be permitted to as sort of a way to stand by our word and also show that our intentions aren't imperial, that our goal here is to provide the platform of stability, to allow that the local security force to take over.

I think for many of us we felt the longer we stayed, the longer we just increased the indigenous security force malaise and gave them a sense that we would be there forever. Which, despite her concerns, I think, is - would have been a worse outcome than if we leave as planned.

WERTHEIMER: So, your feeling is that we've been there about as long as we usefully can be there?

Captain BROOKS: I think now, the problems Iraq faces, are largely in the diplomatic and civilian realm. I think the role for an 18-to-22-year-old with a rifle walking down the street has kind of gone away. And that's a wonderful milestone.

WERTHEIMER: The way you express it, it sounds like an achievement, but it doesn't sound like a victory. How is that for the, you know, for the Marines you commanded?

Captain BROOKS: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: How was that to think they were looking at a kind of limited possibility?

Captain BROOKS: You know, I think right now actually there's sort of a quiet pride in knowing that we accomplished our mission. I think no one really expected that we'd be, you know, on the deck of some ship signing a formal peace treaty with Osama bin Laden. I think most people realize that the Iraq War, and counterinsurgency in general, is won in a kind of slow and gradual process and that fading away is sort of the best outcome, that it feels good to know that we left our partners and allies who we felt were capable and ready to take over. And really that, you know, it's nice to know too that the last Americans to leave Iraq won't be fleeing on a helicopter from the roof of the embassy.

WERTHEIMER: Peter Brooks, thanks very much.

Captain BROOKS: Thank you very much for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Captain Peter Brooks, he served two tours in Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. He has just left active duty and entered the Reserves.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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