'America will never leave Iraq', US soldier says

A US soldier holidaying in Ireland speaks candidly about the war in Iraq and says bases his country are building there are permanent...

 Patrick Lackatt, 20, sits on the bar stool, a glass of whisky in his hand, his foot tapping to the beat of the band.

He is not what you would expect of an average soldier. He is thinly built, small, even sickly-looking.

Wearing a worn black leather jacket, polo shirt and khakis, he looks more like a struggling student than a United States Army Reserve Medic.

He and his brother, Chris, 20, from St Louis, Missouri, are on holiday here in Galway.

"I don't agree with Iraq," Patrick admits.

"I agreed with Afghanistan. We were fighting Al Qaeda there, but not in Iraq."

Patrick's opinions are an example of the new mentality among many members of the US military towards the conflict in Iraq.

More and more soldiers, some once ardent supporters of the invasion, duped by the false claims by the US Administration about weapons of mass destruction and the links between Saddam's regime and Al Qaeda, are now growing increasingly sceptical of American military presence in the Gulf state.

"America is never going to leave Iraq," he claims. "We're building permanent bases out there now."

Patrick joined the military when he was 17, straight out of high school.

Instead of joining up voluntarily like may of his peers, his father - a long-serving commanding officer in the US Army - volunteered him.

Both out of a sense of patriotism, and of duty to his family where there is a long tradition of military service, he decided to oblige, although he really had little choice.

And so began a five-year service with the United States Army Reserve.

Patrick never expected to see war.

He has currently served a total of 13 months in Iraq, where he was based 30 miles north of Baghdad.

With two years left of his five year required duty obligation, he expects to have to return.

"In Iraq, it [the war] is all about money," he says.

"But I don't question it, because it's out of my hands. There's no point. It's my job to fight and serve, and that's what I'll do."

Patrick appears uncomfortable, understandably perhaps, when speaking about his experiences in the Middle East.

"When a guy gets his head blown off, it's his best friends' job to carry him away," he says.

"You see things out there a lot of people can't handle," he adds, although he seems reluctant to elaborate.

It's just over two years now since the invasion of Iraq. So, are the inhabitants, once oppressed under the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein, actually any better off?

Patrick seems unsure.

"The Iraqis don't want us there. They see us killing their brothers, sons and children, and that makes them resent us," he says.

"Even though we brought them freedom from the Iraqi regime, they still hate us."

Prostitution, he tells me, once illegal before the American occupation, is now rife in Iraq, and hundreds of girls throughout the country are being sold into the seedy world of brothels and sex slavery.

"For one dollar you can get a prostitute in Iraq for one hour," Patrick says.

"For $10 you can get a room, wash her up and do the business," he adds.

He grins and shrugs his shoulders when asked whether this constitutes freedom, adding he has little time for the man who claims that from time to time as the reason Americans are still being sent there.

"I don't like Bush. He has three things on his mind - oil, money and daddy's war," he says. Patrick is equally damning about John Kerry.

"Kerry is a bad man. He was all for Iraq before it went sour. I voted for him, but only because he wasn't George Bush. He was the best of a bad lot."

For all his supposed anti-war views, there is an irrationality about Patrick's beliefs.

In one instance, he believes America shouldn't be in Iraq, that the information conjured up about Al Qaeda and terrorists were all lies.

But, he still believes it is America's role to free suffering people from tyranny, and this, he feels, for better or worse, is what they did in the Middle East.

"I don't like Middle Eastern people," he adds curtly, "but I believe in their right to freedom."

Despite his anti-Bush sentiments, he is prone to using many of Bush's catchphrases.

Throughout our conversation, Patrick frequently uses the word 'freedom' when talking about the war.

His dislike of people from the Middle East is another example of his irrationality.

"In America they [Middle Eastern people] own gas stations and they always refuse to take federal military ID," he says.

Patrick was due to return to Missouri the morning after we met.

He will divide his time at home between his job, at a clinic working with mental health patients, and at community college, awaiting his call to return to Iraq.

What will he do when his service obligation is fulfilled?

"I'm not sure yet," Patrick says. "I either want to continue doing something in the medical world, or maybe get involved with anti-terrorism work and go into the FBI or CIA."

Patrick Lackatt is a mass of contradictions. Against the war in the Gulf, but all for the idea of invading a country to spread 'freedom': anti-Bush, but prone to using much of the President's parlance.

As one Irish journalist noted about the United States: "Truly, America's irrational streak runs deep."