Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Truthdig - The Occupation of Iraqi Hearts and Minds

Posted on Jun 27, 2006
By Nir Rosen

Editor’s note: Truthdig contributor Nir Rosen, an American reporter who has lived for the last three years in Iraq and who can pass as Middle Eastern, describes what it’s like to live under the boot of a culturally callous—and sometimes criminal—occupying force in Iraq. “The occupation has been one vast extended crime against the Iraqi people, and most of it has occurred unnoticed by the American people and the media.”

Three years into an occupation of Iraq replete with so-called milestones, turning points and individual events hailed as “sea changes” that would “break the back” of the insurgency, a different type of incident received an intense, if ephemeral, amount of attention. A local human rights worker and aspiring journalist in the western Iraqi town of Haditha filmed the aftermath of the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians. The video made its way to an Iraqi working for Time magazine, and the story was finally publicized months later. The Haditha massacre was compared to the Vietnam War’s My Lai massacre, and like the well-publicized and embarrassing Abu Ghraib scandal two years earlier, the attention it received made it seem as if it were a horrible aberration perpetrated by a few bad apples who might have overreacted to the stress they endured as occupiers.

In reality both Abu Ghraib and Haditha were merely more extreme versions of the day-to-day workings of the American occupation in Iraq, and what makes them unique is not so much how bad they were, or how embarrassing, but the fact that they made their way to the media and were publicized despite attempts to cover them up. Focusing on Abu Ghraib and Haditha distracts us from the daily, little Abu Ghraibs and small-scale Hadithas that have made up the occupation. The occupation has been one vast extended crime against the Iraqi people, and most of it has occurred unnoticed by the American people and the media.

Americans, led to believe that their soldiers and Marines would be welcomed as liberators by the Iraqi people, have no idea what the occupation is really like from the perspective of Iraqis who endure it. Although I am American, born and raised in New York City, I came closer to experiencing what it might feel like to be Iraqi than many of my colleagues. I often say that the secret to my success in Iraq as a journalist is my melanin advantage. I inherited my Iranian father’s Middle Eastern features, which allowed me to go unnoticed in Iraq, blend into crowds, march in demonstrations, sit in mosques, walk through Falluja’s worst neighborhoods.

I also benefited from being able to speak Arabic—in particular its Iraqi dialect, which I hastily learned in Baghdad upon my arrival and continued to develop throughout my time in Iraq.

My skin color and language skills allowed me to relate to the American occupier in a different way, for he looked at me as if I were just another haji, the “gook” of the war in Iraq. I first realized my advantage in April 2003, when I was sitting with a group of American soldiers and another soldier walked up and wondered what this haji (me) had done to get arrested by them. Later that summer I walked in the direction of an American tank and heard one soldier say about me, “That’s the biggest fuckin’ Iraqi (pronounced eye-raki) I ever saw.” A soldier by the gun said, “I don’t care how big he is, if he doesn’t stop movin’ I’m gonna shoot him.”

I was lucky enough to have an American passport in my pocket, which I promptly took out and waved, shouting: “Don’t shoot! I’m an American!” It was my first encounter with hostile American checkpoints but hardly my last, and I grew to fear the unpredictable American military, which could kill me for looking like an Iraqi male of fighting age. Countless Iraqis were not lucky enough to speak American English or carry a U.S. passport, and often entire families were killed in their cars when they approached American checkpoints.

In 2004 the British medical journal The Lancet estimated that by September 2004 100,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the American occupation and said that most of them had died violently, mostly in American airstrikes. Although this figure was challenged by many, especially partisans of the war, it seems perfectly plausible to me based on what I have seen in Iraq, having spent most of the postwar period there. What I never understood was why more journalists did not focus on this, choosing instead to look for the “good news” and go along with the official story.

My first direct encounter with American Marines was from the Iraqi side. In late April 2003, I was attending the Friday prayers in a Sunni bastion in Baghdad. Thousands of people were praying and the devout flooded out of the mosque and laid their prayer rugs on the street and the square in front of it. A Marine patrol rounded a corner and walked right into hundreds of people praying on the street and listening to the sermon, even approaching the separate section for women. Dozens of men rose and put their shoes on, forming a virtual wall to block the armed Marines, who seemed unaware of the danger. The Marines did not understand Arabic. “Irjau!” “Go back!” the demonstrators screamed, and some waved their fists, shouting “America is the enemy of God!” as they were restrained by a few cooler-headed men from within their ranks. I ran to advise the Marines that Friday prayers was not a good time to show up fully armed. The men sensed this and asked me to tell their lieutenant, who appeared oblivious to the public relations catastrophe he might be provoking. He told me: “That’s why we’ve got the guns.”

A nervous soldier asked me to go explain the situation to the bespectacled staff sergeant, who had been attempting to calm the situation by telling the demonstrators, who did not speak English, that the U.S. patrol meant no harm. He finally lost his temper when an Iraqi told him gently, “You must go.” “I have the weapons,” the sergeant said. “You back off.”

“Let’s get the fuck out!” one Marine shouted to another as the tension increased. I was certain that a shove, a tossed stone or a shot fired could have provoked a massacre and turned the city violently against the American occupation. Finally the Marines retreated cautiously around a corner as the worshipers were held back by their own comrades. It could have ended worse, and a week later it did when 17 demonstrators were killed by American soldiers in Falluja, and several more were killed in a subsequent demonstration, a massacre that contributed to the city’s support of the resistance.

I believe that any journalist who spent even a brief period embedded with American soldiers must have witnessed crimes being committed against innocent Iraqis, so I have always been baffled by how few were reported and how skeptically the Western media treated Arabic reports of such crimes. These crimes were not committed because Americans are bad or malicious; they were intrinsic to the occupation, and even if the Girl Scouts had occupied Iraq they would have resorted to these methods. In the end, it is those who dispatched decent young American men and women to commit crimes who should be held accountable.

I still feel guilt over my complicity in crimes the one time I was embedded, in the fall of 2003. (I spent two weeks with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment stationed in Husaybah, an Iraqi town near the Syrian border that is a suspected entry point for foreign insurgent fighters.) Normally, I like to think, if I witnessed an act of bullying of the weak or the elderly, or the terrorizing of children, I would interfere and try to stop it. After all, a passion for justice is what propelled me into this career. It started when I arrived in the main base in the desert. Local Iraqi laborers were sitting in the sun waiting to be acknowledged by the American soldiers. Every so often a representative would come to the soldiers to explain in Arabic that they were waiting for their American overseer. The soldier would shout back in English. Finally I translated between them. One soldier, upset with an Iraqi man for looking at him, asked him: “Do I owe you money? So why the fuck are you looking at me?”

After a week, the Army unit I was living with went on a raid targeting alleged Al Qaeda cells. Included were safe houses, financiers and fighters as well as alleged resistance leaders such as senior military officers from elite units of the former Iraqi army. All together there were 62 names on the wanted list. A minimum of 29 locations would be raided, taking out the “nervous system” of the area resistance “and the guys who actually do the shooting.”

The raids began at night. The men descended upon villages by the border with Syria in the western desert. After half an hour of bumpy navigating in the dark the convoy approached the first house and the vehicles switched their lights on, illuminating the target area as a tank broke the stone wall. “Fuck yeah!” cheered one sergeant, “Hi honey I’m home!” The teams charged over the rubble from the wall, breaking through the door with a sledgehammer and dragging several men out. The barefoot prisoners, dazed from their slumber, were forcefully marched over rocks and hard ground. One short middle-aged man, clearly injured and limping with painful difficulty, was violently pushed forward in the grip of a Brobdingnagian soldier who said, “You’ll fucking learn how to walk.” Each male was asked his name. None matched the names on the list. A prisoner was asked where the targeted military officer lived. “Down the road,” he pointed. “Show us!” he was ordered, and he was shoved ahead, stumbling over the rocky street, terrified that he would be seen as an informer in the neighborhood, terrified that he too would be taken away. He stopped at the house but the soldiers ran ahead. “No, no, it’s here,” yelled a sergeant, and they ran back, breaking through the gate and bursting into the house. It was a large villa, with grape vines covering the driveway. Women and children from within were ordered to sit in the garden. The men were pushed to the ground on the driveway and asked their names. One was indeed the first high-value target. His son begged the soldiers, “Take me for 10 years but leave my father!” Both were taken. The children screamed ‘Daddy, Daddy!’ as the men were led out and the women were given leaflets in Arabic explaining that the men had been arrested.

Home after home met the same fate. Some homes had only women; these houses too were ransacked, closets broken, mattresses overturned, clothes thrown out of drawers. Men were dragged on the ground by their legs to be handcuffed outside. One bony ancient sheik walked out with docility and was pushed forcefully to the ground, where he was wrestled by soldiers who had trouble cuffing his arms. A commando grabbed him from them, and tightly squeezed the old man’s arms together, lifting him in the air and throwing him down on the ground, nearly breaking his fragile arms.

As her husband was taken away, one woman angrily asked Allah to curse the soldiers, calling them “Dogs! Jews!” over and over. When his soldiers left a home, one officer emerged to slap them on the back like a coach congratulating his players during halftime in a winning game. In a big compound of several houses the soldiers took all the men, even the ones not on the list. A sergeant explained that the others would be held for questioning to see whether they had any useful information. The men cried out that they had children still inside. In several houses soldiers tenderly carried out babies who had been left sleeping in their cribs and handed them to the women. When the work at a house was complete, or at the Home Run stage (stages were divided into 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Home Run and Grand Slam, meaning ready to move on), the soldiers relaxed and joked, breaking their own tension and ignoring the trembling and shocked women and children crouched together on the lawns behind them.

Prisoners with duct tape on their eyes and their hands cuffed behind them with plastic “zip ties” sat in the back of the truck for hours, without water. They moved their heads toward sounds, disoriented and frightened, trying to understand what was happening around them. Any time a prisoner moved or twitched, a soldier bellowed at him angrily and cursed. Thrown among the tightly crowded men in one truck was a boy no more than 15 years old, his eyes wide in terror as the duct tape was placed on them. By daylight the whole town could see a large truck full of prisoners. Two men walking to work with their breakfast in a basket were stopped at gunpoint, ordered to the ground, cuffed and told to “Shut the fuck up” as their basket’s contents were tossed out and they were questioned about the location of a suspect.

The soldier guarding them spoke of the importance of intimidating Iraqis and instilling fear in them. “If they got something to tell us I’d rather they be scared,” he explained. An Iraqi policeman drove by in a white SUV clearly marked “Police.” He too was stopped at gunpoint and ordered not to move or talk until the last raid was complete. From the list of 34 names, the troop I was with brought in about 16 positively identified men, along with 54 men who were neighbors, relatives or just happened to be around. By 08:30 the Americans were done and started driving back to base. As the main element departed, the psychological operations vehicle blasted AC/DC rock music through neighborhood streets. “It’s good for morale after such a long mission,” a captain said. Crowds of children clustered on porches smiling, waving and giving the passing soldiers little thumbs up. A sergeant waved back. Neighbors awakened by the noise huddled outside and watched the convoy. One little girl stood before her father and guarded him from the soldiers with her arms outstretched and legs wide.

In Baghdad, coalition officials announced that 112 suspects had been arrested in a major raid near the Syrian border, including a high-ranking official in the former Republican Guard. “The general officer that they captured, Abed Hamed Mowhoush al-Mahalowi, was reported to have links with Saddam Hussein and was a financier of anti-coalition activities, according to intelligence sources,” a military spokeswoman said. “Troops from the 1st and 4th squadrons of the Third Armored Cavalry cordoned off sections of the town and searched 29 houses to find ‘subversive elements,’ including 12 of the 13 suspects they had targeted for capture,” she said.

That night the prisoners were visible on a large dirt field in a square of concertina wire. Beneath immense spotlights and near loud generators, they slept on the ground, guarded by soldiers. One sergeant was surprised by the high number of prisoners taken by the troop I was with. “Did they just arrest every man they found?” he asked, wondering if “we just made another 300 people hate us.” The following day 57 prisoners were transported to a larger base for further interrogation. Some were not the suspects, just relatives of the suspects or men suspected of being the suspects.

The next night the troop departed the base at 0200, hoping to find those alleged Al Qaeda suspects who had not been home during the previous operation. Soldiers descended upon homes in a large compound, their boots trampling over mattresses in rooms the inhabitants did not enter with shoes on. Most of the wanted men were nowhere to be found, their women and children prevaricating about their locations. Some of their relatives were arrested instead. “That woman is annoying!” one young soldier complained about a mother’s desperate ululations as her son was taken from his house. “How do you think your mother would sound if they were taking you away?” a sergeant asked him.

Three days after the operation, a dozen prisoners could be seen marching in a circle outside their detention cells, surrounded by barbed wire. They were shouting “USA, USA!” over and over. “They were talkin’ when we told ’em not to, so we made ’em talk somethin’ we liked to hear,” one of the soldiers guarding them said with a grin. Another gestured up with his hands, letting them know they had to raise their voices. A first sergeant quipped that the ones who were not guilty “will be guilty next time,” after such treatment. Even if the men were guilty, no proof would be provided to the community. There would be no process of transparent justice. The only thing evident to the Iraqi public would be the American guilt.

In November 2003 a major from the judge advocate general’s office working on establishing an Iraqi judicial process told me that there were at least 7,000 Iraqis detained by American forces. Many languished in prisons indefinitely, lost in a system that imposed the English language on Arabic speakers with Arabic names not easily transcribed. Some were termed “security detainees” and held for six months pending a review to determine whether they were still a “security risk.” Most were innocent. Many were arrested simply because a neighbor did not like them. A lieutenant colonel familiar with the process told me that there is no judicial process for the thousands of detainees. If the military were to try them, there would be a court-martial, which would imply that the U.S. was occupying Iraq, and lawyers working for the administration are still debating whether it is an occupation or liberation. Two years later, 50,000 Iraqis had been imprisoned by the Americans and only 2% had ever been found guilty of anything.

The S2 (intelligence) section in the Army unit I was with had not proved itself very reliable in the past—a fact that frustrated soldiers to no end. “You get all psyched up to do a hard mission,” said one sergeant, “and it turns out to be three little girls. The little kids get to me, especially when they cry.”

The reason for the lack of confidence in S2 was made clear by the case of a man called Ayoub. I accompanied the troop when it raided Ayoub’s home based on intelligence S2 provided: intercepted phone calls, in which Ayoub spoke of proceeding to the next level and obtaining land mines and other weapons.

On the day of the raid, tanks, Bradleys and Humvees squeezed between the neighborhood walls. A CIA operator angrily eyed the rooftops and windows of nearby houses, a silencer on his assault weapon. Soldiers broke through Ayoub’s door early in the morning and when he did not immediately respond to their orders he was shot with nonlethal ordinance, little pellets exploding like gunshot from the weapons grenade launcher. The floor of the house was covered in his blood. He was dragged into a room and interrogated forcefully as his family was pushed back against a garden fence. Ayoub’s frail mother, covered in a shawl, with traditional tribal tattoos marking her face, pleaded with an immense soldier to spare her son’s life, protesting his innocence. She took the soldier’s hand and kissed it repeatedly while on her knees. He pushed her to the grass along with Ayoub’s four girls and two boys, all small, and his wife. They squatted barefoot, screaming, their eyes wide in terror, clutching each other as soldiers emerged with bags full of documents, photo albums and two CDs with Saddam and his cronies on the cover. These CDs, called “The Crimes of Saddam,” are common on every Iraqi street, and as their title suggests, they were not made by Saddam supporters; however, the soldiers saw only the picture of Saddam and assumed they were proof of guilt.

Ayoub was brought out and pushed onto the truck. He gestured to his shrieking relatives to remain where they were. He was an avuncular man, small and round—balding and unshaven with a hooked nose and slightly pockmarked face. He could not have looked more innocent. He sat frozen, staring numbly ahead as the soldiers ignored him, occasionally glancing down at their prisoner with sneering disdain. The medic looked at Ayoub’s injured hand and chuckled to his friends, “It ain’t my hand.” The truck blasted country music on the way back to the base. Ayoub was thrown in the detainment center. After the operation there were smiles of relief among the soldiers, slaps on the back and thumbs up.

Several hours later, a call was intercepted from the Ayoub whom the Americans were seeking. “Oh shit,” said the S2 captain, “[we’ve got] the wrong Ayoub.” The innocent father of six who was in custody actually was a worker in a phosphate plant the Americans were running. But he was not let go. If he was released, there would be a risk that the other Ayoub would learn he was being sought. The night after his arrest a relieved Ayoub could be seen escorted by soldiers to call his family and report he was fine but would not be home for a few days. “It was not the wrong guy,” the troop’s captain said defensively, shifting blame elsewhere. “We raided the house we were supposed and arrested the man we were told to.”

When the soldiers who had captured Ayoub learned of the mistake, they were not surprised. “Oops,” said one. Another one wondered, “What do you tell a guy like that, sorry?” “It’s depressing,” a third said. “We trashed the wrong guy’s house and the guy that’s been shooting at us is out there with his house not trashed.” The soldier who shot the nonlethal ordinance at Ayoub said, “I’m just glad he didn’t do something that made me shoot him [with a bullet].” Then the soldiers resumed their banter.

A few days later, the Army did a further analysis of the phone calls that had originally sent them in search of a man named Ayoub. In the calls, Ayoub had indeed spoken of proceeding to the next level and obtaining land mines and other weapons. This had rightfully alarmed the Army’s intelligence officers. But at some point an analyst realized that Ayoub was not a terrorist intent on obtaining weapons; he turned out to be a kid playing video games and talking about them with his friend on the phone.

The Procrustean application of spurious information gathered by intelligence officers who cannot speak Arabic and are not familiar with Iraqi, Arab or Muslim culture is creating enemies instead of eliminating them. The S2 captain could barely hide his disdain for Iraqis. “Oh he just hates anything Iraqi,” another captain said of him, adding that the intelligence officers do not venture off the base or interact with Iraqis or develop any relations with the people they are expected to understand. A lieutenant colonel from the Army’s civil affairs command explained that these officers do not read about the soldiers engaging with Iraqis, sharing cigarettes, tea, meals and conversations. They read only the reports of “incidents” and they view Iraqis solely as security threat. The intelligence officers in Iraq do not know Iraq.

In every market in Iraq hundreds of wooden crates can be found piled one atop the other. Sold for storage, upon further examination these crates reveal themselves to be former ammunition crates. For the past 25 years Iraq has been importing weapons to feed its army’s appetite for war against Iran, the Kurds, Kuwait and America. When empty, the crates were sold for domestic use. The soldiers with the Army unit I was with assumed the crates they found in nearly every home implicated the owners in terrorist activities, rather than the much simpler truth. During the operation described here I saw one of the soldiers find such a crate overturned above a small hole in a man’s backyard. “He was trying to bury it when he saw us coming,” one soldier deduced confidently. He did not lift the crate to discover that it was protecting irrigation pipes and hoses in a pit.

Saddam bestowed his largesse upon the security services that served as his praetorian guard and executioners. Elite fighters received Jawa motorcycles. Immediately after the war, Jawa motorcycles were available in every market in Iraq that sold scooters and motorcycles. Some had been stolen from government buildings in the frenzy of looting that followed the war and was directed primarily against institutions of the former government. Soldiers of the Army unit I accompanied were always alert for Jawa motorcycles, and indeed it was true that many Iraqi paramilitaries had used them against the Americans. On a night the troop had received RPG fire, its members drove back to base through the town. When they spotted a man on a Jawa motorcycle they fired warning shots. When he did not stop they shot him to death. “He was up to no good,” the captain explained.

On Nov. 26, 2003, after two weeks of brutal daily interrogations by military intelligence officers, Special Forces soldiers and CIA personnel, Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, the former chief of Iraqi air defenses whose arrest I had witnessed, died in a U.S. detention facility. Twenty-four to 48 hours before that, he had been interrogated and beaten by CIA personnel. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division began looking into Mowhoush’s death that same day. The next day an Army news release stated that he had died of natural causes. “Mowhoush said he didn’t feel well and subsequently lost consciousness,” according to the statement, “ … the soldier questioning him found no pulse and called for medical authorities. A surgeon responded within five minutes to continue advanced cardiac life support techniques, but they were ineffective.” On Dec. 2, 2003, an Army medical examiner’s autopsy said the general’s death was “a homicide by asphyxia,” but it was not until May 12, 2004, that the death certificate was issued, with homicide as the cause. The Pentagon autopsy report in May said he had died of “asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression” and that there was “evidence of blunt force trauma to the chest and legs.” Mowhoush was one of several Iraqis whose death certificates were not issued until May of 2004, long after their deaths.

American soldiers had no mission and viewed Iraqis as “the enemy” through a prism of “us and them.” An officer returning from a fact-finding mission complained of “a lot of damn good individuals who received no guidance, training or plan and who are operating in a vacuum.” Inside the G2, or intelligence, section of the Army’s civil affairs headquarters in Baghdad, on a bulletin board I saw an anecdote meant to be didactic. It told of American soldiers suppressing Muslim Filipino insurgents a century before. They dipped bullets in pig’s blood and shot some Muslim rebels, to send a warning to the others. A Latino civil affairs officer, fed up with Iraqis, explained that the only solution was to shut down Baghdad entirely. Military civil affairs officers are supposed to provide civil administration in the absence of local power structures, minimize friction between the military and civilians, restore normalcy and empower local institutions. One brigade commander explained to a civil affairs major that “I am not here to win hearts and minds, I am here to kill the enemy.” He failed to provide his civil affairs team with security, so it could not operate.

One morning in Albu Hishma, a village north of Baghdad cordoned off with barbed wire, the local U.S. commander decided to bulldoze any house that had pro-Saddam graffiti on it, and gave half a dozen families a few minutes to remove whatever they cared about the most before their homes were flattened. In Baquba, two 13-year-old girls were killed by a Bradley armored personnel carrier. They were digging through trash and the American rule was that anybody digging on road sides would be shot.

The 4th Infantry Division was especially notorious in Iraq. Its soldiers in Samara handcuffed two suspects and threw them off a bridge into a river. One of them died. In Basra, seven Iraqi prisoners were beaten to death by British soldiers. A high-ranking Iraqi police official in Basra identified one of the victims as his son. It is common practice for soldiers to arrest the wives and children of suspects as “material witnesses” when the suspects are not captured in raids. In some cases the soldiers leave notes for the suspects, letting them know their families will be released should they turn themselves in. Soldiers claim this is a very effective tactic. Soldiers on military vehicles routinely shoot at Iraqi cars that approach too fast or come too close, and at Iraqis wandering in fields. “They were up to no good,” they explain. Every commander is a law unto himself. He is advised by a judge advocate general who interprets the rules as he wants. A war crime to one is legitimate practice to another. After the Center for Army Lessons Learned sent a team of personnel to Israel to study that country’s counterinsurgency tactics, the Army implemented the lessons it learned, and initiated house demolitions in Samara and Tikrit, blowing up homes of suspected insurgents.

It is hard to be patient when mosques are raided, when protesters are shot, when innocent families are gunned down at checkpoints or by frightened soldiers in vehicles. It is hard to be patient in hours of izdiham, or traffic jams, that are blamed on Americans closing off main roads throughout Baghdad. The Americans close roads after “incidents” or when they are looking for planted bombs. Their vehicles block the roads and they answer no questions, refusing to let any Iraqi approach. Cars are forced to drive “wrong side,” as Iraqis call it, with near fatal results. Iraqis have become experts in walking over the concertina wire that divides so much of their cities: First one foot presses the razor wire down, then the other steps over. They are experts in driving slowly through lakes and rivers of sewage. They are experts in sifting through mountains of garbage for anything that can be reused.

It is hard to relax when the soldier in the Humvee or armored personnel carrier in front of you aims his machine gun at you; when aggressive white men race by, running you off the road as they scowl behind their wraparound sunglasses; when soldiers shoot at any car that comes too close. Iraqis in their own country are reminded at all times who has control over their lives, who can take them with impunity.

An old Iraqi woman approached the gate to Baghdad international airport. Draped in a black ebaya, she was carrying a picture of her missing son. She did not speak English, and the soldier in body armor she asked for help did not speak Arabic. He shouted at her to “get the fuck away.” She did not understand and continued beseeching him. The soldier was joined by another. Together they locked and loaded their machine guns, chambering a round, aiming the guns at the old woman and shouting at her that if she did not leave “we will kill you.”

The explosive-sniffing dog in front of the Sheraton and Palestine hotels is hated by the Iraqi security guards as well as the American soldiers who stand there because it, like the rest of us who live in the area, is subject to olfactory whims as it imagines every day that it smells a bomb, forcing them to close off the street for several hours. Two of my friends were arrested for not having a bomb last week when the dog decided their bag smelled funny. They were jailed for four days.

Imagine. The American occupation of Iraq has lasted over three years. The above stories are based on my two weeks with one unit in a small part of the country. Imagine how many Iraqi homes have been destroyed. How many families have been traumatized. How many men have disappeared into American military vehicles in the night. How many crimes have been committed against the Iraqi people every single day in the course of the normal operations of the occupation, when soldiers were merely doing their duty, when they were not angry or vengeful as in Haditha. Imagine what we have done to the Iraqi people, tortured by Saddam for years, then released from three decades of his bloody rule only to find their hope stolen from them and a new terror unleashed.

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