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For US soldiers, Iraq is still about 9/11
Yahoo News/AP
by Ahmed Faddam
September 11, 2006

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Staff Sergeant Adam Navarro was just a New York City police cadet when the Twin Towers came crashing down and his class was thrown into uniform and put onto the city streets to keep order.

"To my back were the Twin Towers, still in flames, with smoke and debris and that smell. We set up barriers and basically we shut down that whole street," he recalled at a ceremony outside Baghdad marking the fifth anniversary of the attacks.

"They told us: 'This is our street, protect this street, one street at a time we are going to take back this city,'" he recalled. "For me this is one long day that 9/11 started. And now the United States is in Iraq, and I'm still serving that day."

The solemn ceremony held near Baghdad airport at one of Saddam Hussein's crumbling palaces on the edge of an artificial lake teeming with carp, showed that for so many Americans in Iraq, 9/11 and Iraq are inextricably linked.

Speaking at the event, US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said the true monument to victims of 9/11 were the "50 million people liberated from tyranny since that day," referring to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Attending the ceremony, among dozens of US soldiers, generals from the Iraqi army and other members of the coalition military, were several soldiers who had closely experienced those events in New York City five years ago that changed the world.

"We were living there non-stop for the first three weeks -- except for the funerals," recalled Sergeant Sean Cummins, a firefighter who remembers the eerie silence when he first rushed into the disintegrating towers.

"There are still a lot of people for whom no remains have ever been found, so their family members, they will never move on," he said in his soft Irish brogue. "And I'm here in Iraq, this is my way of moving on."

For Cummins, who grew up in Ireland and witnessed at first hand activities of the Irish Republican Army, coming to Iraq was a way of fighting the scourge of terrorism -- a belief which the Senate report denying any link between Saddam and 9/11 hasn't dimmed.

"You can say he wasn't supporting (terrorism) but I believe he was. The Senate may say there's no evidence ... but you can support terrorism just in a passive way by not expelling them," he said with an intense look in his fierce blue eyes.

When Specialist Jose Burgos, then an emergency medical technician, got to Ground Zero in New York, he said he was recovering bodies more than treating wounded.

"At the time I had just come out of the marine corps and I reenlisted in the army after 9/11... being an army medic gives me a good opportunity to help my soldiers on the frontline, treating them for their injuries."

A calm and softspoken soldier, Burgos didn't bridle when it was suggested that Iraq and 9/11 weren't necessarily connected.

"I feel we are here for a good reason, whether Saddam was involved in 9/11 or not."

Original Text