Kelly Sans Culotte


Hell, Conquering Hero
Baghdad — or Belfast?
By Kelly Cogswell

Complete Coverage
Sights on Iraq
U.S. Politics
Middle East

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APRIL 3, 2003. On May 31, 2003, U.S. marines killed 10 Iraqi civilians, including 7 Iraqi women and children, because their van didn't stop at a U.S. checkpoint. In the Washington Post coverage, the soldiers involved were awarded faces and names along with opportunities to justify themselves, but not the victims. It's a fine way to wage war, but not peace. A way to conquer, but not liberate.

The choice to render the enemy faceless is having disastrous consequences, whether Iraqis are imagined as the poor generic suffering victims awaiting liberation that we were initially pitched, or the devilish, demonized enemy that we will increasingly be bombarded with.

It doesn't matter which side of the American political spectrum you're on. Even if you believe the war is a just one, you want your military leaders to act clearsightedly on the facts, ruled by common sense, not by an imaginary foe created by wishful thinking and fairy dust.

Only by assuming that Iraqi soldiers were lesser beings compared to their American counterparts, less patriotic, less brave, less proud, could the Bush administration's cakewalk contingent have imagined that the barefoot Iraqi troops that were chased so easily from Kuwait in the first Gulf War would simply melt away on home soil.

Only by reducing the Iraqi people to victims to be liberated, and ignoring their pride, their nationalism, the history of successive waves of repelled invaders, and most importantly, their memories of Bush père in '91, who encouraged some of them to rise up against Saddam and then left them to be slaughtered, could the American leadership have made the immense tactical error of expecting another uprising to facilitate the march to Baghdad.

If the American public had been aware that the Iraqi soldiers would offer resistance instead of open arms, and if they had been offered a realistic assessment of Saddam's global threat instead of forged documents, maybe we would not be there at all.

What worries me now is the legacy of that Iraqi facelessness for American troops. The soldiers who expected pliant, grateful victims and got instead the bloody reality check of suicide bombers are vengeful in their disappointment. From now on, U.S. troops will have to obey the new Pentagon policy reported in the Washington Post that, "Everyone is now seen as a combatant until proven otherwise." Many will not just obey, but embrace it.

The history of Americans actions in Viet Nam tells us of the atrocities that may well be the result. Ask any vet, like any mourning Vietnamese or American family: the nightmares linger on all sides.

At the same time, for many Iraqis the face of America is also abstract. It comes in the little plastic canisters of fragmentation bombs, or in buckets of water. Even those Iraqis who would be thrilled to see the end of Saddam have begun to tally-up the aid packages and end of Chemical Ali in one column, the blood of relations, skeletons of buildings, the lust for oil, the thousands massacred in '91 in the other.

The more brutal the American forces, the longer the column of red, the more difficult and bloody the occupation. Expect Baghdad to be the new Palestine or Belfast, but on a much larger scale.

From the Web

The Fog of War: 10 Dead After Vehicle Shelled at Checkpoint
Top Commander Suggests Shiites Haven't Rebelled Because U.S. Failed Them in '91
Human Rights Watch 1992: The 1991 Uprising in Iraq And Its Aftermath
Send in the bulldozers: Israel's advice to U.S.

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