Monday, July 24, 2006

Everyday Brutality and Criminal Incompetence: The US Occupation of Iraq


A couple of excellent articles courtesy of US-born reporter Nir Rosen in Iraq. Rosen is one of the very few English language reporters in the Iraq that isn't a completely useless shill for the occupation forces. Being part Iranian and fluent in Arabic, Nir Rosen has the 'good fortune' of being able to pass for an Iraqi, enabling him to do more than just regurgitate US army propaganda. The first article vividly conveys the everyday brutality and absurdity of the occupation in Iraq. You rarely get this kind of honesty from mainstream media sources.

'The Occupation of Iraqi Hearts and Minds'

For the sake of highlighting some of the meatier parts (and in case the gentle reader is too lazy to read through the article him/herself ;-)), I've liberally cut and pasted sections of the article below.


Home after home met the same fate. Some homes had only women; these houses too were ransacked, closets broken, mattresses overturned, clothes thrown out of drawers. Men were dragged on the ground by their legs to be handcuffed outside. One bony ancient sheik walked out with docility and was pushed forcefully to the ground, where he was wrestled by soldiers who had trouble cuffing his arms. A commando grabbed him from them, and tightly squeezed the old man’s arms together, lifting him in the air and throwing him down on the ground, nearly breaking his fragile arms.


The soldier guarding them spoke of the importance of intimidating Iraqis and instilling fear in them. “If they got something to tell us I’d rather they be scared,” he explained.


One sergeant was surprised by the high number of prisoners taken by the troop I was with. “Did they just arrest every man they found?” he asked, wondering if “we just made another 300 people hate us.” The following day 57 prisoners were transported to a larger base for further interrogation. Some were not the suspects, just relatives of the suspects or men suspected of being the suspects.


A lieutenant colonel familiar with the process told me that there is no judicial process for the thousands of detainees. If the military were to try them, there would be a court-martial, which would imply that the U.S. was occupying Iraq, and lawyers working for the administration are still debating whether it is an occupation or liberation. Two years later, 50,000 Iraqis had been imprisoned by the Americans and only 2% had ever been found guilty of anything.


The Procrustean application of spurious information gathered by intelligence officers who cannot speak Arabic and are not familiar with Iraqi, Arab or Muslim culture is creating enemies instead of eliminating them. The S2 captain could barely hide his disdain for Iraqis. “Oh he just hates anything Iraqi,” another captain said of him, adding that the intelligence officers do not venture off the base or interact with Iraqis or develop any relations with the people they are expected to understand. A lieutenant colonel from the Army’s civil affairs command explained that these officers do not read about the soldiers engaging with Iraqis, sharing cigarettes, tea, meals and conversations. They read only the reports of “incidents” and they view Iraqis solely as security threat. The intelligence officers in Iraq do not know Iraq.


One morning in Albu Hishma, a village north of Baghdad cordoned off with barbed wire, the local U.S. commander decided to bulldoze any house that had pro-Saddam graffiti on it, and gave half a dozen families a few minutes to remove whatever they cared about the most before their homes were flattened. In Baquba, two 13-year-old girls were killed by a Bradley armored personnel carrier. They were digging through trash and the American rule was that anybody digging on road sides would be shot.


It is common practice for soldiers to arrest the wives and children of suspects as “material witnesses” when the suspects are not captured in raids. In some cases the soldiers leave notes for the suspects, letting them know their families will be released should they turn themselves in. Soldiers claim this is a very effective tactic. Soldiers on military vehicles routinely shoot at Iraqi cars that approach too fast or come too close, and at Iraqis wandering in fields. “They were up to no good,” they explain. Every commander is a law unto himself. He is advised by a judge advocate general who interprets the rules as he wants. A war crime to one is legitimate practice to another. After the Center for Army Lessons Learned sent a team of personnel to Israel to study that country’s counterinsurgency tactics, the Army implemented the lessons it learned, and initiated house demolitions in Samara and Tikrit, blowing up homes of suspected insurgents.



The second article is an honest soldier's first hand account of his time in Iraq.

'Ugly Americans in Iraq'

One of the more amusing bits:


My friend was rare in that he had somehow overcome the necessary brainwashing soldiers undergo and was able to critically assess his role in Iraq. “In hindsight,” he said, “I have often asked myself what my reaction would be like if I were on the opposite end of this equation. After years of living under a harsh dictatorship, 150,000 soldiers of Sharia show up and offload into Georgetown from boats on the Potomac River after shelling the Capitol. They have a simple mission, they say: transplanting Islamic enlightenment in the decadent land of Kafir. They take over the D.C. Mall and throw a wall around the Smithsonian buildings; they call it the ‘Halal Zone.’ The White House becomes the embassy of Iraq. Some asshole like John Walker Lindh (Ahmed Chalabi), who has lived in the Middle East while the U.S. suffered under dictatorship, is Iraq’s favorite child for taking over the peacock throne of the U.S. My house gets raided and my mother patted down by hygiene-deficient Wahhabis, so I go to Georgetown to force the humiliation off my mind. A group of wirey majahedin show up at Haagen Daaz while I’m enjoying a cone of cookies and cream—a rare moment of bliss in a country going to shit—and grab the owners while taking their ice cream. I return to my home, after walking through one foot of raw sewage water, to turn on the radio and hear the Arab ‘viceroy’ declare in a fatwa that all Christian values should be erased from our governing culture. Meanwhile my dad is laid off from his paycheck for the crime of serving in the U.S. Army to provide for his struggling family.” My friend concluded that “without much doubt in my mind, if I were an Iraqi under the U.S. occupation, I’d be an insurgent.”



You can find more of Nir Rosen's articles on his website.

And finally, in case you haven't had enough of him already, you can listen to an NPR interview with Rosen here.

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