Thursday, March 13, 2008

The truth behind the surge

Iraq has more or less fallen off the radar for many people. But it's a mess. The all-important "surge" that was supposed to bring peace to Iraq has done no such thing. (That's not to say that it hasn't had any effect. But too little, too late, and almost certainly it is setting Iraq up for an even more horrifying tragedy.)

It's a sad day when the most detailed, insightful pieces of journalism come from magazines like Rolling Stone magazine instead of "proper" news outlets. Unfortunately, the newspaper and television news industry have all but stopped doing investigative journalism, leaving it up to magazines like Rolling Stone.

Very disappointingly, even Rolling Stone confuses Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in Iraq, two very different groups with little in common. Keeping that in mind, their article about the surge is depressing but informative. The nation of Iraq is no more, no matter what flag still flies in the UN. It is now a failed state, with a central government unable to govern and bombings and assassinations virtually every day.

"The situation won't get better," he says softly. An officer of the Iraqi National Police, a man charged with bringing peace to his country, he has been reduced to hiding in his van, unable to speak openly in the very neighborhood he patrols. Thanks to the surge, both the Shiites and the Sunnis now have weapons and legitimacy. And what can come of that, Arkan asks, except more fighting?

Sitting in our comfortable house in the West, safe and secure, it is sometimes tempting to think of the Iraqis as ungrateful wretches. Don't they know we're doing all this for them? How dare they resist, this is for their own good.

But even if we ignore the serious doubts about the real reasons for the invasion and occupation, and accept for the sake of the argument that it was done with the best possible intentions (please don't laugh), for those on the sharp end there are many good reasons to hate the occupiers:

The grunts are frustrated: For most of them, this is as close to combat as they have gotten, and they're eager for action.

"Somebody move!" shouts one soldier. "I'm in the mood to hit somebody!"

Another soldier pushes a suspect against the wall. "You know Abu Ghraib?" he taunts.

The Iraqis do not resist — they are accustomed to such treatment. Raids by U.S. forces have become part of the daily routine in Iraq, a systematic form of violence imposed on an entire nation. A foreign military occupation is, by its very nature, a terrifying and brutal thing, and even the most innocuous American patrols inevitably involve terrorizing innocent Iraqi civilians. Every man in a market is rounded up and searched at gunpoint. Soldiers, their faces barely visible behind helmets and goggles, burst into a home late at night, rip the place apart looking for weapons, blindfold and handcuff the men as the children look on, whimpering and traumatized. U.S. soldiers are the only law in Iraq, and you are at their whim. Raids like this one are scenes in a long-running drama, and by now everyone knows their part by heart. "I bet there's an Iraqi rap song about being arrested by us," an American soldier jokes to me at one point.

And so it is in every military occupation.

No comments: