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Sunday | June 15, 2003

The disconnect

U.S. Forces Launch Raids Across Iraq to Quell Uprisings


Across Falluja, teams of soldiers from the Third Infantry Division raided houses looking for the men believed to have planned and carried out the recent ambushes of American soldiers, military officials said. Soldiers also raided suspected weapons cachets. In one house, 15 suspected members of the hard-line Saddam Fedayeen were arrested.

Col. Schwartz said some Iraqis resisted and were shot by American soldiers. He did not have complete Iraqi casualty figures this morning, but said no Americans were hurt.

A raid at 4 a.m. on a gas station used as a weapons transfer point showed the advantages and disadvantages of the sweeps.

An Abrams battle tank and four Bradley fighting vehicles drove toward the gas station, which sits just off a main road in the town. In front of the station, all four of the Bradley's abruptly stopped, pivoted and pointed their gun barrels and headlights at it. The rear hatches of the vehicles swung open and infantrymen poured outside, rushing to the guardrail and aiming their rifles at a row of trucks.

In the glare of the headlights, Iraqi truck drivers dropped up in the cabs of the trucks where they had been sleeping. Seemingly baffled by what was happening, they obeyed American instructions to line up, be searched and questioned.

``We are searching for weapons,'' an American soldier explained to the 20 drivers gathered. All of them denied having any arms.

``We have nothing but potatoes,'' one driver said.

As the Americans scoured the trucks, one man nervously whispered to another in Arabic. ``Do you have weapons?'' outside the earshot of the Americans.

``No, no,'' the other answered. ``Am I stupid enough to bring it here?''

Surrounded by soldiers, the Iraqi men were silent at first. But after five minutes the station owner complained that money could be stolen from his unguarded office.

``Nothing will happen,'' an American told him.

Other drivers complained that their trucks had just been searched at an American checkpoint up the road. When a journalist took photos of them being searched, they complained even more loudly.

``They are taking the pictures so they can show their people them searching Iraqis,'' one man said. ``Do they think we are monkeys?''

Tarik Abud Mousa, a 40-year-old truck driver from the city of Qaim in western Iraq, said the drivers had been sleeping peacefully when the Americans arrived. He called the searches a humiliation.

Col. Schwartz said the goal of the raid and subsequent distribution of humanitarian aid was to show that the Americans are targeting the handful of people carrying out the attacks, and at the same time trying to help the vast majority of the people in the city

Does Gen. McKiernan really and truly believe there are some diehard loyalists running around and blowing things up without the support of the people? Everyone is armed and his soldiers are now expected to hunt for guns? This isn't working. Iraqis didn't have this happen under Saddam and to have American soldiers burst into their homes while their women are around has alredy been sighted as an issue.

There is a raging disconnect between American actions and Iraqi perceptions and these sweeps, while essential for basic security, enrages Iraqis.

What the American military and civilian command seems to think is that they've landed in occupied France and the population was filled with only victims. Well, Iraqis may have hated Saddam, but the Americans have no support. The exiles are screaming at them to hand over power in a meaningful way and they are being ignored. The Americans are being told that the sweeps are enraging Iraqis and violating their dignity.

The exiles may or may not be naive about their role in Iraq, but they know their people and they're screaming that this is just making more guerrillas.
Imagine running around Fayettville, NC with these tactics. How long would it take before the locals would start sniping at your patrols.

Well, Iraq is a compact country in terms of population with hundreds of thousands of men with military training. They don't need to form "militias". Any group of guys on a corner could pretty much snipe at Americans or toss a frag at them. Anyone with access to weapons. And that means anyone over 12.

Now, the more organized attacks are being done by people with recent military training. But some of the other attacks could come from anywhere. Do they really think the Iraqis are going to leave caches of weapons with easy access to Americans? Hell, most patrols don't have any Arabic speakers, as Rodhe's example shows.

The US is clearly floundering for a policy here, but no one is thinking of the implications. The Shia and Kurds are better armed than the Sunnis and no one is taking their weapons. I'd be stunned to see a US patrol in a Kurdish or Shia area looking for them to hand over their guns. The Americans would be foolhardy to ender Sadr City, an area with a population about the size of Chicago's (2m+ people).

There's been scant mention of the clerical militias tearing up liquor stores and patrolling Sadr City as well as the Shia heartland south of Baghdad. Yet, we're supposed to believe that the sole danger to US troops are Sunnis pining for Saddam?

It seems that the whole Iraq policy needs a serious rethink, because at this rate, we're just setting the stage for civil war. The real question, the critical question we need to consider is this: it is one thing to go after the "baathists", but are we prepared to turn our combat power against the Kurds and Shia when they revolt. Because without some kind of quick grant of political power, they will turn against the US.

The nightmare is that US troops are forced to engage Shia militias if they decide the US must leave Iraq. Politically, militarilly and morally, it would place us in a far worse position than our current actions have done so far.

While we are not at that junction yet, and may never be, it exists as a real and potential danger and it needs to be considered.

Steve Gilliard

Posted June 15, 2003 12:59 AM | Comments (61)


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