Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 3, Number 23 July 13 - 19, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
Resistance and the Plight of the GIs: Bring 'Em Home!
US forces discovered the bodies of two soldiers, missing since Wednesday, and a
guerrilla ambush killed a further serviceman and wounded four others, a senior
American officer warned: "The first clear message that we have to take out
of here is that this war is not over. I think that is pretty clear to all of
us." --Independent, June 29
of this writing, June 29, 24 U.S. soldiers have died at the hands of Iraqis.
That's one every sixty hours or so since May 1, when Bush declared victory, and
the frequency of fatal attacks has been accelerating in the last couple weeks.
The British have lost 6 to Iraqi attacks.
Anglo-American occupation forces move about in fear; regularly panic (just today
shooting to death an 11-year old boy on a rooftop); provoke the people through
intrusive and humiliating house searches, seizing weapons and even money. Quite
naturally, the Iraqis respond to an invasion, regarded as illegal and immoral by
most governments and the Vatican, with indignation and (perfectly legitimate,
legal, and predictable) resistance.
government officials and the corporate media are unsure of how to characterize
that resistance. Some call it coordinated and organized; others call it
disorganized and random. (Probably some of both?) Some (including Wolfowitz)
call it "guerrilla war;" Newsweek (June 29) reports that Washington
realizes it confronts an "escalating guerrilla insurgency."
insist that it's mere criminality. Yesterday Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld,
denying that the U.S. is fighting a guerrilla war, blamed the tens of thousands
of common criminals released from prison in the last months of the Saddam regime
for attacks on U.S. troops. Some call the resistors "insurgents"
(MSNBC); others "non-compliant elements" (Boston Globe); others "Baathist
remnants," "supporters of Saddam Hussein," "Iranian-backed
Shi'ite Islamists," or of course, terrorists.
going on over there?" asks MSNBC's wide-eyed Alex Witt, of former secretary
of defense and resident "expert" Lawrence Korb. "Is this
Korb, like virtually all such experts appearing on the television news programs,
speaks in support of the war and occupation, he explains that it is
understandable that there would be negative reactions to the way the occupation
has been conducted so far. It was a mistake, he says, to appoint a military man,
Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, as the first administrator of occupied Iraq; that caused us
to "lose a month." But never mind those nasty attacks on the troops;
the U.S. will occupy Iraq for "at least a decade."
idea that we will be in just as long as we need to and not a day more,"
scoffs Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, "we've
got to get over that rhetoric. It is rubbish! We're going to be there a long
time" (Time Online). That, at least, is their intention.
logic of those predicting long occupation (including key officials in the
administration) seems to be as follows: Since there is so much opposition, it
will take years to quell. And since democratic elections would almost certainly
produce a Shi'ite theocracy in the south, where 60% of the population live, the
expeditious transition to Iraqi rule promised during the build-up to war has
been ruled out.
Can Be Destructive
an interview with the Washington Post (June 28), L. Paul Bremer III, the civil
administrator of Iraq, said that while there is "no blanket
prohibition" against self-rule, and he is not personally "opposed to
it," he wants to "do it a way that takes care of our concerns. . .
Elections that are held too early can be destructive. It's got to be done very
carefully." In other words, he's not totally against democracy (for Arabs),
but he needs time to reeducate these people, weaken the hold of Islam on their
thinking, inculcate American political values, and assist Ahmad Chalabi and
other longtime clients in establishing a support base. Only then can we leave.
how realistic is such thinking? Clearly the neocons, in their smug arrogance,
were dead wrong about the Iraqi response to invasion and occupation. The Defense
Department not long ago was predicting that U.S. troop strength could be reduced
to 30,000, keeping the peace in a nation of happy appreciative pro-U.S. Iraqis,
by the fall! Nowadays they're asking for precisely 30,000 troops from other
countries to augment the growing U.S. force and help pacify the disorder
generated by U.S. aggression.
blame Chalabi for encouraging the optimistic scenario of cheering crowds
welcoming liberation à la Paris, 1944. Localized enthusiasm turned out to be
short-lived; Chalabi's found zero support; plans for genuine Iraqi participation
in government have been put on hold; the Bremer administration is short on staff
and competence; vital services remain crippled. (The mainstream press refers to
"mounting frustration" about delays in restoring water and power;
would it not be more accurate to refer to anger at the bombing that crippled
Iraq's infrastructure in the first place?)
Iraqis appear to perceive their "liberation" as occupation, Shi'ites
and Sunnis alike marching while chanting Ya Amreeka, Ya Saddam ("No to
America, No to Saddam!") Charles Pena, director of the conservative Cato
Institute think tank in Washington, has noted that "The longer the US
stays, however well intentioned and noble the motive, the more Iraqis will come
to resent a foreign occupier." This he calls a "cruel irony" (AFP,
intelligence is well aware of the problem. Retired Air Force Col. Richard M.
Atchison, a former intelligence officer for the Central Command, told the
Washington Post (June 27): "I thought we were holding our own until this
week, and now I'm not sure. If we don't get this operation [a workable
government] moving soon, the opposition will continue to grow, and we will have
a much larger problem."
former Defense Intelligence Agency expert on Arab issues, Jeffrey White, agrees:
"There are a lot of worrisome aspects about the current situation.
Resistance is spreading geographically, resistance groups seem to be
proliferating in Sunni areas, resistance elements appear to be tactically
adaptive, resistance elements appear to be drawn from multiple elements of Sunni
society, our operations inevitably create animosity by inflicting civilian
casualties, disrupting lives, humiliating people and damaging property."
Retired Marine Gen. Carlton Fulford foresees "a long, tough haul in Iraq.
The longer this goes on, the more violent these events will become.
learned this in Lebanon and Somalia -- and Iraq is much more challenging than
either of these."
General William Nash, former commander of U.S. forces in Bosnia and now a senior
fellow with the Council of Foreign Relations, told The Observer June 22 that the
occupation of Iraq "is an endeavour which was not understood by the
administration to begin with. [W]e are now seeing the re-emergence of a
reasonably organised military opposition---small scale, but it could
escalate." He says that opposition is not confined to Saddam supporters;
"What we are facing today is a confluence of various forces which channel
the disgruntlement of the people."
Inc., a risk consulting company, issued a report to corporate clients this month
predicting as the most likely scenarios for the rest of 2003 either outright
Iraqi revolt against the occupation or a "wobbly landing" involving
continued instability but not outright revolt (Reuters, June 27). The generals
and intelligence agents are worried; so is the White House, its bravado
notwithstanding. They need to be worried about a resistance movement that is
generating organizations: the Return Party, the Black Flags Group, the National
Liberation Front, and others.
Hakim, leader of the influential Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution,
warns of more armed resistance would increase if the occupation doesn't end soon
(Guardian, June 26). It appears the resistance is ideologically diverse, ranging
from secularists to both Sunni and Shi'ite fundamentalists. The administration
needs to be worried, too, about tribal leaders, even as they attempt to win
their support. After a meeting with Bremer, Sheikh Fahran al-Sadeed, powerful
head of the Shamir tribe, told the London Telegraph, "If the Americans stay
as our guests, they can stay 100 years. If they stay as our invaders, they will
not last two. I will fight, my people will fight too." ("Desert
sheikhs feast on hate for detested American 'invaders'," June 28).
Other Problem: the Troops
there is that other problem: the troops. Sgt. Adrian Pedro Quinones, in Fallujah,
expresses frustration at local civilian hostility. "Like, in Fallujah we
get rocks thrown at us by kids. You wanna turn round and shoot one of the little
fuckers but you know you can't do that. Their parents know if they came out and
threw rocks we'd shoot them. So that's why they send the kids out."
Anthony Castillo frankly admits to killing civilians: "When there were
civilians there we did the mission that had to be done. When they were there,
they were at the wrong spot, so they were considered enemy."
Quinones and Cpl. Michael Richardson admit to killing injured enemy: "The
worst thing is to shoot one of them, then go help him," says Quinones,
"In that situation you're angry, you're raging" and although
regulations call for him to provide medical assistance to the injured,
"Shit, I didn't help any of them. I wouldn't help the fuckers. There were
some you let die. And there were some you double-tapped. Once you'd reached the
objective, and once you'd shot them and you're moving through, anything there,
you shoot again. You didn't want any prisoners of war. You hate them so bad
while you're fighting, and you're so terrified, you can't really convey the
feeling, but you don't want them to live." (Evening Standard, June 19).
Cmdr. Christopher Bodley, chaplain for the First Reconnaissance Battalion,
admits, "The zeal these young men have for killing surprises me. When I
first heard them talk so easily about taking human lives, using such profane
language, it instilled in me a sense of disbelief and rage. People here think
Jesus is a doormat" (Evan Wright, "From Hell to Baghdad," Rolling
Stone magazine, July 10; highly recommended).
natural to hate people who are trying to kill you, to denigrate them as "ragheads"
or "Hajjis." Your commanding officers order you to do house-to-house
searches, binding every family members' hands behind their backs, with plastic
handcuffs. (The Arab press is filled with pictures of fully-armored GIs binding
children face-down on the floors of their homes).
tend to dehumanize the "enemy," and that in turn dehumanizes you. Sgt.
First Class John Meadows declares, "You can't distinguish between who's
trying to kill you and who's not. Like, the only way to get through shit like
that was to concentrate on getting through it by killing as many people as you
can, people you know are trying to kill you. Killing them first and getting
home." Sgt. Antonio Espera told Wright, "Do you realize the stuff
we've done here, the people we've killed? Back home in the civilian world, if we
did this, we would go to prison."
as was the case in Vietnam, the brutality you're obliged to enact can have a
heavy psychological toll. Sgt. Meadows says men under his command have been
suffering from severe depression: "They've already seen psychiatrists and
the chain of command has got letters back saying 'these men need to be taken out
of this situation'. But nothing's happened. Some soldiers don't even fucking
sleep at night. They sit up all fucking night long doing shit to keep themselves
busy---to keep their minds off this fucking stuff. It's the only way they can
handle it. It's not so far from being crazy but it's their way of coping."
one example of "this fucking stuff," provided in Wright's Rolling
Stone article. On March 30, a car races through a roadblock in north central
Iraq, producing a massive burst of weapons fire from Recon's Charlie Company.
Protracted screeching of tires. Unarmed men run from the car, waving their
hands, dropping obediently to the ground at the Marines' instruction.
Marines cautiously approach the car. It is shot up, its doors wide open, lights
still on. Sgt. Charles Graves sees a small girl of about three curled up on the
back seat. There's a small amount of blood on the upholstery, but the girl's
eyes are open. Graves reaches in to pick her up---thinking about what medical
supplies he might need to treat her, he later says---then the top of her head
slides off and her brains drop out.
Graves steps back, he nearly falls over when his boot slips in the girl's
brains. No weapons are found in the car. A translator asks the father, sitting
by the side of the road, why he didn't heed the warning shots and stop it. He
simply repeats, 'I'm sorry,' and meekly asks permission to pick up his
daughter's body. The last the Marines see of him, he is walking down the road
carrying her corpse in his arms."
that civilian death by at least 5570 and imagine the number of nightmares that
await the troops. 500,000 Vietnam veterans live with post-traumatic stress
or later the troops have to ask why they're there, doing such things.
"'What are we getting into here?' asked a sergeant with the U.S. Army's 4th
Infantry Division who is stationed near Baqubah, a city 30 miles northeast of
Baghdad. 'The war is supposed to be over, but every day we hear of another
soldier getting killed. Is it worth it? Saddam isn't in power anymore. The
locals want us to leave. Why are we still here?'" (Washington Post, June
Sgt. Meadows has his answer. "There's a picture of the World Trade Center hanging up by my bed and I keep one in my Kevlar [flak jacket]. Every time I feel sorry for these people I look at that. I think, 'They hit us at home and, now, it's our turn.' I don't want to say payback but, you know, it's pretty much payback."
is hard to imagine a greater crime than to cultivate professional killers who
feel no remorse at killing civilians, and encourage them (as the Bush
administration does) to see the war on Iraq as part of the "war on
terrorism" and as payback for Sept. 11. It is a mentality immediately
transferable to Syria, or for that matter, non-Arab Iran.
to Wright ("The Killer Elite," Rolling Stone, June 26), "many of
the tanks and Humvees stopped along the road [to Nasiriyah] are emblazoned with
American flags or motto slogans such as 'Angry American' or 'Get Some'[or] with
the 9/11 catchphrase 'Let's Roll!' stenciled on the side." Has no
commanding officer or chaplain explained to these soldiers that the only thing
the kids of Fallujah, or the Iraqi people in general, have in common with the
Sept. 11 hijackers is that they're all Arabs?
promote this payback mentality is to deliberately exploit racism on behalf of
Washington's geopolitical goals. The soldiers sent into this racist war are
victims; many will come back very messed up. Says Cpl. Richardson: "At
night time you think about all the people you killed. It just never gets off
your head, none of this stuff does. There's no chance to forget it, we're still
here, we've been here so long."
bloody occupation should end, as the Iraqis demand (and as some in Britain are
demanding). But despite its disastrous outcome to date, and the discrediting of
the war rationale, the global antiwar movement that so heroically mobilized
against the war cannot in itself force the withdrawal of the invaders.
mainstream media makes light of the lies that led to occupation; politicians of
both parties avoid making the (ongoing) war an issue; many Americans,
unconcerned that they've been duped, opine that, "At least a dictator's
been overthrown," although the assertion that "the Iraqi people have
been liberated" becomes increasingly difficult to sustain.
the Iraqis can turn the tide of public opinion in this country, by doing what
they've been doing: making imperialist occupation costly and untenable. (Gen.
Wesley Clark has actually suggested that if armed resistance mounts, the U.S.
may have to consider withdrawal next year.)
GI feelings of betrayal, and their desire to leave the nightmare and get back
home (where many were promised they'd be by now) may also factor into Iraq's yet
uncertain future. As in Vietnam, the troops come to resent their officers.
Specialist Anthony Castillo declares, "We're more angry at the generals who
are making these decisions and who never hit the ground, and who don't get shot
at or have to look at the bloody bodies and the burnt-out bodies, and the dead
babies and all that kinda stuff." (Evening Standard).
Sgt. Christopher Wasik, near Kut, told Wright, "In some morbid realm it may
be a possibility that the commander wants some of us to die, so when he sits
around with other leaders, they don't snicker at him and ask what kind of shit
he got into. Yeah, that's the suspicion around here."
again Sgt. Quinones: "Most of these soldiers are in their early twenties
and late teens. They've seen, in less than a month, more than any man should see
in a whole lifetime. It's time for us to go home." Private First Class
James Mierop, 20, from Joliet, Illinois: "I think a lot of people here are
at the breaking point. I think everybody's had enough. Everybody is just ready
to go home. I'm definitely ready to go home."(Islam Online, June 23).
Class Joe Cruz, 18, Second Brigade, Third Infantry Division, Fallujah: "I
think I had enough. It's time for us to go home" (AFP). Sgt. Brad Colbert,
quoted in Rolling Stone: "This country is dirty and nasty, and the sooner
we are out of here, the better." It was wrong for them to be sent into an
impossible situation; equally wrong for them to remain.
the troops. Bring them home.
Leupp is an an associate professor, Department of History, Tufts University
and coordinator, Asian Studies Program. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Juuly 1, 2003