Monday, March 24, 2008

Sorrow and Pity

The 4,000th soldier has been killed in Iraq.
We lost more soldiers bringing the war to those Iraqis than we lost on 9/11. And for what?
This number doesn't count those wounded, and those traumatized. It goes without saying that it doesn't count the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed. All of them are victims of this illegal and criminal war.
We should keep this in mind when we hear about the "progress" that is being made in Iraq.
Most of this progress is merely because the country has been ethnically cleansed. As David Bromwich put it on an essay that I very mch recommend in the New York Review of Books dealing mainly with euphemism in current American politics.
"Baghdad is calmer now; the surge is working." The temporary partial peace is an effect of accomplished desolation, a state of things in which the Shiite "cleansing" of the city has achieved the dignity of the status quo, and been ratified by the walls and checkpoints of General Petraeus. "The surge is working" is a fiction that blends several facts indistinguishably. For example: that Iraq is a land of militias and (as Nir Rosen has put it) the US Army is the largest militia; that in 2007 we paid 80,000 "Sunni extremists" to switch sides and then call themselves The Awakening. Americans have suggested that the members of this militia make up neighborhood watch groups, and have assigned them euphemistic cover-names such as Concerned Local Citizens and Critical Infrastructure Security. In fact, many of them are "increasingly frustrated with the American military," according to Sudarsan Raghavan and Amit R. Paley in a Washington Post story that ran on February 28.

The Washington Post has a good article on what the Sunni awakening is really like. Its a little different from the picture you get from the administration. The article profiles Fallujah's new police chief.
FALLUJAH, Iraq -- The city's police chief, Col. Faisal Ismail al-Zobaie, a husky man with a leathered face and a firm voice that resonates with authority, ordered an aide to shut his office door. He turned to his computer. Across the screen flashed a video, purportedly made by the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

In the video, branches are thrown into a pit the size of a coffin, then doused with kerosene and ignited. The camera pans to three blindfolded men, kneeling, mouths sealed with tape. Six armed men in black masks stand behind them. One declares: "These three men fought and killed al-Qaeda. We will punish them according to Islam." The masked men then kick the three into the burning grave.

Zobaie angrily turned off the video. "How can we show mercy to those people?" he asked. "Do you want me to show mercy to them if I capture them?"

Zobaie, 51, knows the nature of the men in black masks. He is a former insurgent. Now, as the police chief, he has turned against the insurgency, especially al-Qaeda in Iraq. The U.S. military showcases Fallujah as a model city where U.S. policies are finally paying off and is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the region to promote the rule of law and a variety of nation-building efforts.

But the security that has been achieved here is fragile, the result of harsh tactics recalling the rule of Saddam Hussein, who was overthrown five years ago. Even as they work alongside U.S. forces, Zobaie's men admit they have beaten and tortured suspects to force confessions and exact revenge.

In the city's overcrowded, Iraqi-run jail, located inside a compound that also houses a U.S. military base and U.S. police advisers, detainees were beaten with iron rods, according to the current warden. Many were held for months with no clear evidence or due process. They were deprived of food, medical care and electricity and lived in utter squalor, said detainees, Iraqi police and U.S. military officers, who began to address the problems three weeks ago. Last summer, the warden said, several detainees died of heatstroke.

In Zobaie's world, to show mercy is to show weakness. In a land where men burn other men alive, harsh tactics are a small price to pay for imposing order, he said.

"We never tortured anybody," he said. "Sometimes we beat them during the first hours of capture."

His men, he added, abuse suspects because "they don't surrender easily. They don't confess. They say: 'I am innocent. I haven't done anything.' They start to defend themselves."

The story of Zobaie and his police force opens a window onto the Iraq that is emerging after five years of war. American ideals that were among the justifications for the 2003 invasion, such as promoting democracy and human rights, are giving way to values drawn from Iraq's traditions and tribal culture, such as respect, fear and brutality.

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