Thursday, June 01, 2006

On Haditha

Not wanting to marginalize or sensationalize the reports from the press concerning the actions of the military in November of last year in Haditha, Iraq, there are a few thoughts I'll offer about the reality of warfare.

The operations in Iraq are not typical military confrontations. It's military versus guerilla or insurgents or militias. The battlefields are streets and houses and neighborhoods. The sad truth of a house to house battle means non-combatants are likely to be killed.

There are ridiculous assertions that the insurgency is in it's last throes, that the media only reports negative stories, and even that this is anything except a continuation of military actions begun in the 1990s.

Good or bad, our troops are engaged in deadly missions each hour. The political strife increases and decreases one day to the next. Recently appointed Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaydi knows too well the situation is chaotic at best:

"
The way it was reported to me, by word of mouth, seemed incredible," he said at the U.S. Institute of Peace in his first public appearance after being sworn in as ambassador. At the time, he did not have any other evidence and decided that the rumors might have been an exaggeration.

Haditha, he knew, was a chaotic town, virtually run by bands of insurgents. "There were no police," he said, "and, effectively, no Iraqi government." Sunni insurgents were terrorizing the population, even staging public executions of people suspected of opposing them. Residents, he said, were being "squeezed" between the insurgents on one side and, on the other, U.S. soldiers, who were caught up in frequent clashes with the heavily armed rebels. Sometimes, civilians would get caught up in these skirmishes.

Then came a report in Time magazine that as many as 24 civilians may have been deliberately gunned down by U.S. marines during an operation in November. The key piece of evidence was a videotape made by an Iraqi journalism student that shows the apparent civilian victims riddled with gunshot wounds, which contradicts the early accounts by marines stationed in Haditha that the residents were killed by a bomb. U.S. military officials have now launched an investigation into the alleged Haditha massacre, and Bush publicly vowed to punish anybody found to be responsible for killing civilians. Sumaydi says he will await the findings of the U.S. investigation. He has also requested a second inquiry by the U.S. military on the death of his cousin.

At the same time, Sumaydi has a hard-earned appreciation of the difficult challenges faced by the U.S. military. As a former interior minister, he tried to battle both Sunni insurgents as well as shady Shiite militias, who operated both inside and outside the Interior Ministry. He also knows that the militia problem has not gone away.

Just two days ago, another cousin of his was kidnapped in Baghdad from the small supermarket that he owns."

"Core values" training for US troops may help provide some measure of understanding as to how to cope with a house-to-house insurgency battle, but the simple fact remains that Iraq, all of it, is a battlefield and there is no safety for residents or troops.

If the deaths in the Haditha community were unprovoked, it will encourage those opposed to US involvement and erode political support around the world and around our own nation.

3 comments:

Julie said...

I assume then that Bush will ultimately have to punish himself and hold himself accountable b/c he suggested this whole unneccesary fiasco to begin with...

Joe Powell said...

accountability seems to be a word that has a rather slippery definition.

sandegaye said...

One wonders how much of military 'training' plays into episodes like this. When soldiers are learning combat by playing inocculous video games.. where death is simply a scorecard.. why are we surprised when atrocities happen?
I'm ready to become a Buddhist Quaker. We need out of the war biz altogether.