Iraq and the Murtha Plan: Stay or Go?

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), an ex-Marine and Vietnam vet who initially supported the Iraq war, surprised Congress and the White House with a proposal to abruptly pull U.S. forces out of the region. Mike Heidingsfield, who has trained Iraqi security forces for the past year, reacts to the Murtha plan.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the Vietnam veteran who served 37 years in the US Marines, active duty and reserve, and almost as long in Congress, has said that the US cannot accomplish a victory in Iraq militarily and that their presence there is impeding progress. Mr. Murtha's called for a Marine entrenchment to the periphery of Iraq, a quick reaction force in the region and diplomacy to ensure security and stability. There have been plenty of political attacks and counterattacks since then, but we'd like to get a reaction to this actual plan. Mike Heidingsfield has been in Iraq for the past year training Iraqi police, and he joins us from member station WKNO in Memphis.

Thanks for being with us.

Mr. MIKE HEIDINGSFIELD (Security Expert): My pleasure. Thank you.

SIMON: First, I understand you've had a very rough week in Iraq.

Mr. HEIDINGSFIELD: We have personally. One of my team was struck by an IED at the Assassin's Gate entrance to the Green Zone, and three of my men were killed, two South African and one Angolan, and it's just a reminder of the perpetual cycle of violence that seems to be in place and the fact that the insurgents can still act with relative impunity and they choose the place and times.

SIMON: What do you think about Congressman Murtha's statement that the US cannot win this militarily?

Mr. HEIDINGSFIELD: Well, I would--my response would be in the context of somebody who's spent 30 years in the United States Air Force, both active duty and reserve. In a traditional sense, it cannot be won militarily because the moving pieces are so very, very complicated. You have the issue of secular strife, the religious issues; clearly, the foreign extremism, it's now come over what are really porous borders for the nation of Iraq. And so any traditional definition of military victory, I think, has gone by the wayside.

SIMON: Now it was General George Casey who said--and I believe this is a quote--"The perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency."

Mr. HEIDINGSFIELD: I would certainly concur with him 100 percent. Now the Iraqi security forces with whom I've had the privilege and the honor to serve are by and large very supportive of our presence and very apprehensive about any discussion of our departure. But once you get beyond that community and you talk to the people of the nation of Iraq, my sense is that they clearly have the sense of occupation, and if we could return their infrastructure to them--water, sewage, electricity, power, oil production--that they would be satisfied that we had done all we needed to do.

SIMON: It's interesting. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois gave a big speech this week. Now he, of course, was an opponent of US intervention in Iraq. But he said that he was worried that a precipitous withdrawal might essentially turn Iraq over to al-Qaeda. How do you feel about that?

Mr. HEIDINGSFIELD: I don't think there is such a thing as a precipitous withdrawal because logistically I don't believe that that can be done, and I would think if it could--if you'd said somebody--`The last one out turn off the lights and close the door,' I think that would be a very, very bad decision. But logistically, that's not what's going to happen. If the Iraqi security forces can be prompted to continue to step up at an accelerated pace that the level of violence will be no greater than it is today and perhaps by our not being present and kind of catalyzing that cycle of violence, the Iraqis are much more likely to try to deal with their own issues, because historically they have not been extremists who lent themselves to violence.

SIMON: Do you have--is it your own personal experience or the surmise you have to make as a law enforcement officer that there are a lot of foreign fighters in Iraq, and would lessening the US troop presence lessen their presence?

Mr. HEIDINGSFIELD: I think yes in answer to your question. My sense is--and I would not get into the details of this other than to say that in the aftermath of many of the attacks that we--my group has personally sustained, our investigations have revealed foreign fighters at work. So there is no question that we have drawn them in, if you will, and whether it's by design or simply by happenstance, we've now created this battleground between us and them.

SIMON: And would that be affected one way or another by withdrawal of US troops in large measure?

Mr. HEIDINGSFIELD: You know, I have to believe that it would because they purport continuously to be there in order to oppose the infidels and expel the occupiers. So clearly, we're first and foremost in their minds. Now having said all that, let me be clear that we should never capitulate to these people. They are fundamentally evil, they clearly have the destruction of the United States on their mind and we should fight them in every way possible. But we just need to be smart about how we do it.

SIMON: Mike Heidingsfield, who trains Iraqi police under a State Department contract. Mike, thanks for being back with us.

Mr. HEIDINGSFIELD: My pleasure. Thank you.

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