Weighing-in on Iraqi power shift Iraq

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 26, 2004

This week, the U.S.-led coalition of nations will return power to Iraq's interim administration, with ultimate goal of seeing a new stable democracy survive in the Middle East.

While American service men and women remain on active duty in Iraq, their friends and families back home await their return. While they wait, they reflect on why America went to war, and whether the Iraqi people are ready to take this step into freedom. One local soldier expressed his thoughts on this part of history-in-the-making.

A just war?

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While the national debate continues over whether the United States should have initiated the war in the first place, some local residents said they are convinced it was the right thing to do.

"We had to go," Irontonian Paula Blankenship said. "I know some people say we didn't have to do it but we did. I still think he had weapons of mass destruction but he hid them. We gave him months before we even went in

and he's not stupid. I think he hid them- or he took them to Iran."

Marsha Bridgett of Russell, Ky., who works in Ironton, said she also thought the war was a necessity, particularly in light of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "I felt like, that as far as the attacks on the U.S., we had to do something to protect citizens of the United States," Bridgett said.

Connie Radcliff, of Ironton, agreed. "We had to show them that they can't just come over here and get by with it," Radcliff said. "They attacked us."

Linda Sydow, of Ironton said

she supports the president and his decisions and now she and her fellow members of the Ironton catholic Community are supporting three members of the Catholic community who are serving in the war: Bill Barren, James Hopper and Grant Williams.

Sydow said parishioners at St. Lawrence O'Toole Church and St. Joseph Church have rallied around these soldiers, sending them care packages and letters and keeping them in their thoughts.

What now, for the Iraqi people?

Travis Utley is able to discuss Iraq, its people and its future with great clarity: he was there. The Army specialist returned to the United States in March after a year in Iraq. He was among the forces who captured Saddam Hussein.

Utley said even after the handover, he thinks it will be imperative that the U.S.-led coalition maintain a presence in that country. He said the greatest challenge will be uniting the various tribes that make up the Iraqi population.

"There are a lot of different tribes," Utley said. "One race of people with a lot of different last names that make up tribes.

I worry that after the hand over it could be like it was before; there's too much tribal influence. I don't know if they're ready."

Utley said most of the Iraqi people he came into contact with were glad to have their freedom, and thankful to the people who gave it to them.

Blankenship said

that just as she supported the war, she also supports the June 30 transition.

"They need to learn to govern themselves," she said, adding that she didn't think the Iraqi people were ready

for the change.

"You can't go from a dictatorship to a democracy in one step, especially people who don't understand democracy. We

were born into freedom, they weren't. It will be a big change."

Sydow said she thinks the Iraqi people are ready to begin governing themselves. "They have well-educated, professional people (in the provisional government there). It's not like we're handing it over to incompetents. And the U.S. and our allies are there for policing and support. And the U.S. is standing by

their word."

Asked what is the biggest challenge facing the Iraqi people, Sydow answered "al- Qaida and other terrorist groups trying to undermine what the majority of the Iraqi people want."

Her husband, Steve Sydow, said he though the biggest challenge for the Iraqi people would be "feeding people who need to be fed and making sure everything is going to the people it is supposed to go to."

Bridgett said she didn't know if the Iraqi people are ready to begin life as free people.

"They're unpredictable. That's a stereotype, I guess. But there are so many different groups, no unity."

Bridgett said she has kept close watch on the developments in Iraq, and has watched news reports on the Fox News Network.

Radcliff said she thought that even with the government handover, U.S. troops and their allies will likely be in Iraq for a while longer.

Glenn and Wilma Hockley of Vanceburg, Ky., who were visiting Ironton for the annual Ironmaster Days Friday, said they didn't know enough about Iraq to venture a guess about whether the people were ready to begin governing themselves.

"It's beyond my knowledge," Glenn Hockley said. "I don't know what's going on but it sounds like a mess." Hockley said while he is not against the war, he does think it has lasted too long.

"I just hate to see our boys getting killed over there," Wilma Hockley said. She added that she prays daily for our service men and women, our national leaders and our country.

What comes now for Saddam Hussein?

"I think he should be tried by his own people," Utley said. "I don't want him tried by Americans; his people know best what he's done to them. His own people should give him his judgment."

And what do people want done with Saddam Hussein? Blankenship said she hoped he would hang for his crime. "He tortured and killed and raped his own people," Blankenship said. "He's terrible. I know they probably won't (hang him) but it's what they ought to do."

Bridgett said she would like to see Saddam brought to the United States to stand trial, fearing he would face leniency at the hands of the people over whom he ruled.

"I feel he should be held responsible for all the murders and stuff he took part in," Bridgett said. She said since the punishment for murder in the U.S. is either death or life in prison without parole, that is what the former Iraqi dictator should receive.

"I think he should serve time over here," Radcliff agreed.

Hopes for the future?

Asked what hopes they have for the Iraqi people as they take first steps toward democracy, Bridgett said she hoped the violence that has plagued that region to end. Radcliff said she hoped that the Iraqi people would understand that we came to help them.

Utley said his unit may have to make a second trip to Iraq next year, and he hopes that the American public will continue to support their troops.

"I want the people at home to know we're working hard, we're doing a good job, and this takes time. Most people don't get to hear about all the things we're doing but we're making steps everyday toward making a better Iraq. Keep the faith."