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“I’ve got to think this was a watershed operation in terms of how to do things as part of a counterinsurgency,” Brig. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, an assistant division commander at the time, told The Washington Times.

The battle over, the Army began hiring local Iraqis for construction projects and reassembling the security forces who had fled.

“We crossed over from bullets to money,” Gen. Hertling said.

Gen. Scales told The Times that Iraqis no longer will have U.S. soldiers at the ready to make sure the local security forces fulfill their missions.

“Those in uniform maintain their cohesion based on their associations with us,” he said. “There still is value in being around a cohesive Western power that is essentially an army of a democracy.

“You know the old adage ‘leading by example.’ The Iraqis’ natural tendency is to break apart, especially at the midlevel management of the army in the past, was often assuaged by the moral presence of a respected U.S. Army.”

By 2011, lieutenant colonels who had been to Iraq in 2003 and 2004 are generals and have made as many as five tours to the country. “They had built long-standing friendships with Iraqis,” Gen. Scales said.

One such player is Army Col. John Paul Digiambattista, who did three tours, the last as a brigade commander.

He spoke with Talkingwithheroes.com about the noncombat chores his brigade carried out in 2010 as it worked within a provincial reconstruction team to improve local governments.

“There are still efforts we can make to improve the government, improve what the government does for the people,” he said. “Democracy does not come easy.”

It is this intangible that the Iraqis will miss - the presence of Americans in the background who can step in to prod the government or help settle disputes.

“For those forces in Iraq whose aim was to keep the state together and rely on the U.S. Army for being a builder of the state, there was real trepidation about the American military leaving so precipitously,” Gen. Scales said. “A residual force is not just a bunch of privates sitting around Camp Victory eating hamburgers. A small residual force, had it remained in Iraq, would really have punched above its weight because of who it was by that time.”