Iraq war veterans are angry at the resurgence of Islamic extremists there — and blame Washington and Baghdad for squandering gains made by American troops before they were pulled out two years ago.
"I completely disagreed with the decision to walk away from Iraq," former Army Sgt. Kenneth Mancanares, who spent two years in Iraq, told Military Times
"I lost countless friends," he said. "I have met those people over there and I became friends with them and I recognize their humanity. That's one of the things that is lost here ... it's so political, no one is really saying how bad it is for those people."
Almost all U.S. troops left Iraq by December 2011 because the Iraqi government failed to reach an agreement
that would have allowed a residual U.S. force.
Now, the Islamic extremists known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS
— expelled from al-Qaida in February over fights about tactics and leadership, according to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a fellow at the Foundation of Defense for Democracies — have taken over large swaths of Iraq.
Army Staff Sgt. Richard Baca II blames Washington for letting politics get in the way of the U.S. troops' military mission.
"We would get reports of large amounts of insurgent activity or IED activity or we would tell higher up that the Iraqi police on the ground were telling us that al-Qaida or terrorists were in certain parts of the city and we would want to act upon that and try to root them out — and we would be told that wasn't our mission, our mission was something else," he said.
Other times, State and Justice Department officials showed up and wanted to go to dangerous areas without wearing protective gear, he recalled.
"They wanted to show that they were coming in peace," Baca said. "I get that part; I truly get that part, but that was not the time to have that action happen. Let the military operate as a military. Don't send the military in to do campaign work for the United States."
Former Army Spc. Alex Horton, whose unit cleared Baquba of al-Qaida, told the Military Times the Iraqis were supposed to pick up the ball but feels like all the time and effort training them was just a waste.
"The talks falling apart about keeping a contingency force in there — that had nothing to do with us," he said. "That was a political decision and a political option between Baghdad and Washington. That had nothing to do with an infantry soldier on the ground. We did our end of the bargain and Washington and Baghdad failed to uphold their end."
Iowa Army National Guard Sgt. Benjamin Rothman, a combat medic deployed in 2003, also draws a direct link between the rise of ISIS and the U.S. military's departure at the end of 2011.
"We put a lot of effort and we said we were going to do this, and when things were getting to the point where we either stick it out and make a difference or pack up and go home, we packed up and went home," he told the newspaper.
"We should have had a better plan to begin with, but then stuck with it."
But Marine Brig. Gen. William Mullen, director of the Corps' Capabilities Development Directorate in Quantico, Va., who led Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., in Fallujah in 2007, said the violence in Iraq reflect failures at its national level.
"I differentiate between what we did and what's happening now," Mullen told Military Times. "We won, we did what was required of us. Can you really ask anything more than that?"
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