Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Iraq: This Is What Defeat Looks Like In This War

I blogged early and often on the so-called Haditha Massacre, the slaughter of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines.

I did so not because I wanted to portray American soldiers as baby killers or to make an example of the men of Kilo Company of the Third Battalion, First Marine Division, who participated in this outrage and are now facing courts martial. Most U.S. soldiers are good and honorable people. It so happens that their commander in chief and his war are neither, and it is George Bush who ultimately is responsible for what happened in a town on the banks of the Euphrates River on November 19, 2005.
I spilled a lot of ink on Haditha because I believed that it was important to push back at a White House noise machine that claimed The Decider's Excellent Adventure in Mesopotamia was an unvarnished success and publications like Time magazine, which broke the story of the massacre, were treasonous liberal lie machines.

And to remind Kiko's House readers that because of the changing rationales for the Iraq war, the rules of engagement for the men of Kilo Company, which was on its third tour in one of the toughest regions of the country when the massacre occurred, had become terribly blurred.
The massacre was in retaliation for the death earlier in the day of a Miguel Terrazas, a popular Kilo Company soldier who was blown in half when his Humvee was hit by a remote-detonated land mine laid by insurgents. But the indiscriminate slaughter of the unarmed Iraqis, who ranged in age from an infant to an elderly man in a wheelchair, was not an aberration.
The article that I am about to introduce is the most important that I have read on how far we have come since the heady days when the Saddam Hussein regime was toppled and why the war has been such a catastrophic failure at its most fundamental level -- the interaction of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

This is especially true for the Marines, the bravest of the brave, who are unsuited for the kind of duty and enemy they have been forced to face in Iraq -- darting in and out of garrisons and battling insurgents.

If you can't read the article, at least read the excerpts. And please spend some time looking at the faces and into the eyes of the man-boys troopers from Kilo Company pictured above.

Thank you.
* * * * *
William Langewiesche is one of the best investigative reporters in the business. He makes a convincing argument that the Haditha Massacre was indeed not an aberration in a compelling new Vanity Fair article.

The piece is illustrated with Lucien Read photographs of the troopers of Kilo Company, whose average age is 21. (Important note: Neither Vanity Fair nor I imply that any of these men have been implicated in the massacre.)

The excerpts:
The Euphrates is a peaceful river. It meanders silently through the desert province of Anbar like a ribbon of life, flanked by the greenery that grows along its banks, sustaining palm groves and farms, and a string of well-watered cities and towns. Fallujah, Ramadi, Hit, Haditha. These are among the places made famous by battle—conservative, once quiet communities where American power has been checked, and where despite all the narrow measures of military success the Sunni insurgency continues to grow. On that short list, Haditha is the smallest and farthest upstream. It extends along the Euphrates' western bank with a population of about 50,000, in a disarray of dusty streets and individual houses, many with walled gardens in which private jungles grow. It has a market, mosques, schools, and a hospital with a morgue. Snipers permitting, you can walk it top to bottom in less than an hour, allowing time enough to stone the dogs. Before the American invasion, it was known as an idyllic spot, where families came from as far away as Baghdad to while away their summers splashing in the river and sipping tea in the shade of trees. No longer, of course. Now, all through Anbar, and indeed the Middle East, Haditha is known as a city of death, or more simply as a name, a war cry against the United States.

* * * * *
After the land-mine explosion, [Sergeant Frank] Wuterich's Marines remained in the immediate vicinity throughout the morning and beyond. Over the next few hours, until maybe around lunchtime, they killed 24 Iraqis. To accomplish the job, they used a few grenades, and maybe a pistol, but primarily their assault rifles. They suffered not a single casualty during this time. Five of the dead were young men who had approached in a car. The remaining 19 were people from the neighborhood, found and killed in the rooms or yards of four family houses, two on the south side of the road, and two on the north. They included nine men, four women, and six children. Many had been sleeping, and were woken by the land-mine blast. Some were shot down in their pajamas. The oldest man was 76. He was blind and decrepit, and sat in a wheelchair. His elderly wife was killed, too. The dead children ranged in age from 15 to 3. They included boys and girls. The Marines later delivered the corpses to the morgue, where they were catalogued by the local coroner. Photographs and videos were taken independently by Americans and Iraqis in the neighborhood and at the morgue. The images showed blood-splattered rooms, as well as victims. The dead did not look peaceful. They looked bloody and grotesque. You are my brother by another mother, you are my daughter by my wife. The dead were buried by angry, grieving crowds.

* * * * *
On the second day, a Marine Corps press officer at the big base downriver in Ramadi issued a wildly misleading statement attributing the civilian deaths to the enemy's I.E.D. [improvised explosive device], as if the families had crowded around the device before it exploded. That statement was later held out to be a deliberate lie, a cover-up, but in fairness it resulted from the isolation of the base, and was more self-delusional than underhanded.

* * * * *
But one month later a reporter at Time magazine's Baghdad bureau, Tim McGirk, viewed a gruesome video of the aftermath, which suggested that people had been shot and killed inside the houses. . . . McGirk and others in the Baghdad bureau continued with their inquiry, focusing increasingly on the possibility that a massacre and cover-up had occurred. They did not draw conclusions, but laid out what was known and, in mid-March 2006, published the first of several carefully considered accounts.

Knowing that the articles were coming, the Marine Corps had been forced to accept two independent military investigations, one led by an Army general, concentrating on the responsibilities of command, and the other by the criminal investigative branch of the Navy, which focused on reconstructing events on the ground. News from the investigations occasionally emerged, and did not look good for the Marines. . . . never mind the details: if you liked President George W. Bush, you believed that no massacre had taken place; if you disliked him, you believed the opposite. As part of the package, Time came in for Internet attacks, hate-filled attempts to find any small discrepancies in its reporting, and, again, never mind the underlying truth.

* * * * *
Iraqis live in an honor-bound society, built of tight family ties. When noncombatants are killed, it matters little to the survivors whether the American rules allowed it, or what the U.S. military courts decide. The survivors go to war in return, which provokes more of the same in a circular dive that spirals beyond recovery. Haditha is just a small example. By now, nearly one year later, hatred of the American forces in the city has turned so fierce that military investigators for the trials at Pendleton have given up on going there. That hatred is blood hatred. It is the kind of hatred people are willing to die for, with no expectation but revenge. This was immediately apparent on a video that was taken the day after the killings by an Iraqi from the neighborhood—the same video that was later passed along to Time. The Marine Corps was wrong to dismiss the video as propaganda and fiction. It is an authentic Iraqi artifact. It should be shown to the grunts in training. It should be shown to the generals in command. The scenes it depicts are raw. People move among the hideous corpses, wailing their grief and vowing vengeance before God. "This is my brother! My brother! My brother!" In one of the killing rooms, a hard-looking boy insists that the camera show the body of his father. Sobbing angrily, he shouts, "I want to say this is my father! God will punish you Americans! Show me on the camera! This is my father! He just bought a car showroom! He did not pay all the money to the owner yet, and he got killed!"

A man cries, "This is an act denied by God. What did he do? To be executed in the closet? Those bastards! Even the Jews would not do such an act! Why? Why did they kill him this way? Look, this is his brain on the ground!"

The boy continues to sob over the corpse on the floor. He shouts, "Father! I want my father!"

Another man cries, "This is democracy?"

Well yeah, well no, well actually this is Haditha. For the United States, it is what defeat looks like in this war.


jj mollo said...

This is what guerilla war looks like. The guerillas goad the occupiers into rash acts and collective punishment. They're pretty good at it. They also spread rumors and disinformation and arrange for bad things to be blamed on us. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we get emotional. This is how we create new enemies. The question is can we suppress the sources of violence faster than new ones are created. You apparently don't think so. I think that it's pretty hard to tell what's going on when there are so many clever people stirring the pot.

Shaun Mullen said...

Thank you for your comment.

The short answer to the question as to whether coalition foces can suppress the sources of violence faster than new ones are created is an emphatic NO!

Here, in no particular order, are the reasons why:

* There were never enough troops and certainly aren't enough now.

* Although the war is three and a half years old, the Army and Marines have been painfully slow to adapt to fighting an insurgency. Add to that the frequent rotation of new troops in country who are neophytes while the insurgents became more experienced.

* Public opinion in Iraq has perceptibly shifted against the presence of U.S. troops. A large majority of Iraqis now say they want U.S. troops out ASAP. This does not translate into widespread support of the insurgency, but the U.S. has not won the hearts and minds of the people. In point of fact, the U.S. is losing those hearts and minds.

* The Iraqi central government, such as it is, is on the verge of collapse. It's efforts to bring warring sectarian groups together to suppress the insurgency have been substantially unsuccessful with the except of a pact signed by many tribal leaders in Anbar earlier this month. That agreement has yet to bear fruit, but is a promising development.

* Finally, the insurgents are recruiting new members faster than the coalition forces can kill them off. These include an alarming number of children. I will be blogging about that on Thursday, so stay tuned.