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This month America must wrestle with the meaning of the drawdown of U.S. combat troops in the seven-year war in Iraq. The media, the U.S. government, the American people and even I myself, who as a journalist spent much of the past seven years covering the conflict, must try to wade through the staggering numbers and terrible tragedy that the war has wrought in an attempt to take some meaning from it all. The figures speak for themselves: some 4,400 American soldiers gave their lives; tens of thousands of American soldiers paid with life-long wounds; the U.S. taxpayer shelled out $900 billion. Still more staggering, however, is the number of Iraqis who were killed during the war—with estimates running from 50,000 to as high as 80,000. Numbers that should be heartbreaking are numbing.

On my recent trip to Iraq, any clear success was hard to see. Iraqis continue to suffer through the summer heat with just a few hours of electricity a day. Suicide attacks still kill crowds of civilians and assassinations remain commonplace. Yet in the middle of the chaos, the U.S. endeavor in Iraq has convinced one group of Iraqis to embrace the American vision for the country and make the struggle for the future of Iraq their own. It strikes me that members of Iraq’s security forces stand as the answer to the 4,400 white headstones in cemeteries across America. The impression left on the minds of these Iraqi men is the actual sum of all other intentions. It is the thousands of little interactions between one American and one Iraqi that, in many ways, may be the sole bright spot in a war still searching for its legacy.

Below are the translated interviews of four Iraqis who took up arms alongside the Americans to fight for the future of Iraq. These men put their trust in the Americans who came to their country. These men suffered the most visible of physical wounds to mark their sacrifice, wounds that so many American soldiers suffered themselves. Their words are translated from Arabic to English with as faithful an interpretation as I could find. They serve as a window into their perspective. Each sentence is borne from hard experience. Each word helps fill in the blanks to the question, “What was it all for?”

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