Over the past 12 years, American and Iraqi soldiers have fought alongside each other, bled together, died together and wept together to mourn our fallen comrades.
On this Veterans Day, we should honor all the brave fighters who risked their lives and limbs, often making the ultimate sacrifice, to liberate Iraq from tyranny and terrorism.
Iraqis understand why the service and sacrifice of so many Iraqis and Americans must not be in vain.
I was born in Baghdad, came of age during the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein, organized the opposition from exile in Great Britain and now serve as Iraq’s ambassador to the United States. Shortly after arriving in the U.S., I visited Arlington National Cemetery to thank the brave Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion to defend the people of Iraq. Last year, I ran in the Boston Marathon to show solidarity with Americans in our common struggle against terrorism.
Today, I recall not only our fallen heroes but the slaughter of civilians by al-Qaida and other extremists in Baghdad and Samarra during 2005 and 2006. During those years, terrorist attacks — such as the bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam, in February 2006 — triggered sectarian strife across Iraq. Shootings and bombings were everyday events, and daily body counts were in the dozens.
This was a difficult time before the locally based Awakening forces and the “surge” of American troops cleared these communities of terrorists. Our debt to American forces for helping to end this unspeakable carnage knowns no bounds.
Following the American withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, Iraq’s democratic evolution continued. But the terrorists who called themselves al-Qaida in Iraq combined with their counterparts in Syria and formed the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (known in Arabic as Daesh) and occupied almost a third of Iraq.
On this solemn day, Americans step back and salute their veterans. But America must not step back from its commitment to help the Iraqi people build a free, stable and secure society that is determined to do its part to reduce tensions in a volatile region.
In the U.S., there are political leaders, from both sides of the aisle, who want to dismiss democracy in Iraq as a failed project. But, after little more than a year in office, following free elections and a peaceful transfer of power in spite of an existential threat from terrorism, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government is initiating far-reaching reforms, from streamlining bloated bureaucracies to decentralizing the delivery of public services.
There are also those who believe it is possible to “contain” Daesh. Having witnessed its beheadings, mass executions and enslavement of women and girls, Iraqis understand that Daesh seeks to subjugate or exterminate all those who refuse to accept its extremist views in the Middle East and North Africa and, if unchecked, throughout the world.
Make no mistake: There is no containing Daesh. Iraqis, Americans and our allies must defeat Daesh, and we must do it together.
For all that they and their families have endured, American veterans still care about Iraq. And the people of Iraq still look to Americans as their military, economic and diplomatic partners of choice.
Iraqis do not ask Americans to shed more blood on their behalf. But Iraqis do need American training, equipment, know-how, investment and intelligence-sharing. Together with the other countries in the international coalition against Daesh, the U.S. should prevent the transfer of ill-gotten funds into Daesh’s finances and the influx of foreign fighters into its forces.
Iraqis and Americans have lost lives and fought terror together in our shared struggle against violent extremism. Often we have won great victories against great odds. Together, we withstood a wave of terrorist attacks during 2005 and 2006. Together, we can and must defeat Daesh a decade later.
On Veterans Day, we owe nothing less to the Iraqis and Americans who gave their lives so that others could live free from tyranny and terrorism.
Lukman Faily has been Iraqi ambassador to the United States since May 2013.