SALEM — The Iraq war hit home again this week for US Representative Seth Moulton, a four-tour Marine veteran of that conflict, when he heard that one of his closest friends had died battling Islamic State extremists.
That friend was Lieutenant Colonel Ehab Hashem Moshen, an Iraqi army officer who returned to the front lines over and over in a bloody effort to push back the insurgents who had seized control of large swaths of his country.
The lieutenant colonel “regularly put his life on the line, not just for his country but for ours,” said Moulton, a Salem Democrat who represents the Sixth District. That officer died as a result of failed US policies that have not provided the country with the continued political support it needs, Moulton added.
“The tragedy is that today we’re sending troops back into Iraq under the same president who promised to pull them out,” he told reporters Friday at his office.
The congressman recalled his friend as a patriotic, intelligent, and fearless man who had partnered with Moulton’s team beginning in 2005 as the US military worked to develop the fighting capacity of Iraqi forces.
The pair last saw each other in 2008 but had kept in touch since then. “He’s a hero,” Moulton said.
“He didn’t choose a war. He didn’t want a war. America brought a war to him,” Moulton said of his friend. “But when faced with that reality, he chose to stand with us and for the values that America represents, against a whole array of terrorists.”
Moulton also criticized the Obama administration for not doing more to empower the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who Moulton said is better aligned with US interests than his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, had been.
“I wish . . . we could simply say to Iraq: It’s your country; it’s your sovereign country; you’ve got it,” Moulton said.
But the Islamic State remains a deadly threat there, and Iran is seeking to expand its influence, Moulton said. As such, the United States continues to have a vital role, he added.
Moulton’s statements came three days after a US Navy SEAL was killed in a firefight with Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq. Charles Keating IV, a three-tour veteran, became the third American to die in combat since US military forces were redeployed to Iraq in June 2014.
In 2011, the last remaining US combat troops were withdrawn after more than eight years of fighting. After a hiatus of nearly three years, US forces were deployed again to the country to advise and assist the Iraqi military against the threat from the Islamic State.
Now, the official count of US forces in the country stands at 4,087, many of whom are moving outside Iraqi bases to bolster local forces with more direct assistance in the field.
Moulton, who visited Iraq three weeks ago, described the struggle against the Islamic State as “going pretty well. We’re actually winning the war against ISIS.” But without a long-term political plan, he said, another insurgency could develop in the vacuum.
“If we don’t come to terms with why this is happening . . . we can expect a lot more brave Americans to die, as well, as we continue to send troops back into wars that we already fought,” he said.
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at email@example.com.