SHADOWS AND HALLUCINATIONS IN OCCUPIED IRAQ During another interview, Staff Sergeant McGuire, who, like the people of Falluja, is deeply religious, puts it quite succinctly: “There’s no nice way to search someone’s house. I think about how if we did this in eastern Tetmessee, where I am from, they’d just as soon shoot you as look at you.” BY CHRISTIAN PARENTI
PHOTOGRAPHS BY TERU KUWAYAMA
The New Press, New York, November 2005
$14.95 PB; 208 pp.
[Excerpts, Part 2: Highly recommended. T] Eventually the talk turns to the CO, Rodney Sanchez. I immediately liked Sanchez when I met him, but I soon learned that his men almost uniformly loathed him. The CO’s sins began with his first address to the troops upon taking command of the company a few months before the war. As one soldier explained it, Sanchez committed the ultimate military faux pas by immediately bragging about his background in the active-duty National Guard Special Forces. At the first company address he allegedly dipped his shoulder and crassly pointed out his “long tab,” the patch reading “Special Forces.”
“You just don’t do that shit,” says Brunelle, himself a former Army Ranger.
Like a lot of the young men in Alpha Company his father served in the military, Vietnam, and saw lots of combat. Brunelle and Crawford, both from military families, have absorbed that ethos of macho modesty: respect is earned; decorations and qualifications are not pointed out or bragged about. The CO’s next mistake was to get most of his company wiped out in a war game exercise. “We started taking fire, and he didn’t wait for the PL (platoon leader) to report, he just sent us running through the woods and we all got wasted,” explains a soldier.
Sanchez’s final sin was committed during another botched war game, when he called in a fake artillery strike on his own forward observers.“In the regular army you’d get canned for that sort of thing,” the guy comments.
As a warm-up for the invasion of Iraq it did not bode well.
Then in Iraq, Sanchez did things like micro manage ambushes and screw them up. Howell’s squad was once sent out to catch a crew of insurgents who were planning to hit the Club with RPCs, but Sanchez refused to give the squad permission to fire on the carload of attackers, even as the vehicle circled the building several times. In the end the insurgents managed to hit the Club with an RPG. Sanchez of course blamed Howell, even though the CO had prevented the squad from firing on the attackers when the chance presented itself. On another occasion the CO ordered Howell and Brunelle to sweep an area on foot where there was a known IED. By the time Alpha Company was garrisoned in Baghdad the soldiers under Sanchez by and large thought of him as an inept and arrogant amateur. “It’s not just the traditional thing of the grunts hating the officers: this guy really sucks,” says Sellers. ***************************************
These young guys from rural and suburban Florida feign a callous disregard for the world, but it is clear that the war is eating at them.
They are proud to be soldiers and don’t want to come across like whiners, but they are furious about what they’ve been through. They hate having their lives disrupted and put at risk. They hate the military, or at least the Guard, for its stupidity, its blowhard brass living comfortably in Saddam’s palaces, its feckless lieutenants who do stuff like raid the wrong house despite clear directions and worried suggestions from the grunts to consult the intelligence. They hate Iraqis for trying to kill them. They hate the country for its dust, heat and sewage-clogged streets. They hate having killed people. And because they are, in the main, just regular, well-intentioned guys, one senses the distinct fear that someday some of them may hate themselves for what they have been forced to do here. To assuage these pressures many turn to pharmaceuticals. In the big city of Baghdad, “the freedom” means cheap drugs. No law and order means no need for prescriptions, so Baghdad is awash in high-quality steroids, painkillers and sedatives.
Military squads will stop on patrol and take on supplies from the local pharmacy. A lot of soldiers, in Alpha Company and elsewhere, are “juicing” on steroids, taking a subcutaneous shot in the butt once every week. It’s the drug that makes you stronger, mean and angry. How could the army object? And to calm those same ‘roid-hyped emotions, there is always plenty of cheap Iranian Valium to help you get a solid night’s sleep after patrol.
Among the regular Valiumheads I met in Baghdad were journalists, NGO workers, alcoholics from devout Moslem families hoping to hide their abuse, hotel staff, and an upright young college girl whose father and brother were lost somewhere in Abu Ghraib prison.
People talk about it openly, just like they talk about IEDs. “Yeah, I know it’s all very stressful. Have you discovered Valium?” At times it seems like the whole city is high, floating in a diazepam haze, coasting through one deranged situation after another with pharmaceutically enhanced ease. War and the risk of being killed give one license to do all sorts of self-destructive things.
On our last time out with Howell’s squad we roll at night in two Humvees. Now there’s more evident hostility from the young Iraqi men loitering in the dark. Most of these infantry soldiers don’t like being stuck in vehicles. “We’re legs, infantry. I hate these Humvees,” says Howell while scanning the rooftops and doorways with occasional blasts from a floodlight.
At the sight of a particularly large group of youths clustered on a blacked-out corner the Humvees stop and Howell bails out into the crowd. There is no interpreter along tonight.
“Hey, guys! What’s up? How y’all doing? OK? Everything OK? All right?” asks Howell in his jaunty, laid-back north Florida accent. The sullen young men fade away into the gloom, except for two who shake the sergeant’s hand. Howell’s attempt to take the high road, winning hearts and minds, doesn’t seem to be for show He really believes in this war. But in the hot Baghdad night his efforts seem tragically doomed.
Watching Howell I think about the civilian technocrats working with L. Paul Bremer III at the Coalition Provisional Authority. I recall a group of them drinking and laughing poolside at the cushy Al-Hamra Hotel (they cycle in on three-month contracts). The electricity is out half the time, most people are unemployed, and the occupodians hold endless meetings about nothing. Meanwhile, the city seethes. The Pentagon, likewise, seems to have no clear plan; its troops are stretched thin, lied to, and mistreated. The whole charade feels increasingly patched together, poorly improvised. Ultimately, there is very little that Howell and his squad can do about any of this. After all, it’s not their war. They just work here. *************************************
Despite its secrecy, the basic contours of the resistance seem clear. There are distinct but overlapping networks of groups, organized into autonomous cells. The most common type of resistance cell seems to be Baathist and made up of former military or intelligence veterans, many of whom are also deeply religious and work with the communities in their mosques.
The resistance also includes non-Baathists, nationalists organized along lines of religion and clan. But even these forces usually interface with components of the fallen regime’s more than 400,000 strong security forces. And beginning in the winter and bursting into full recrudescence during the spring of 2004 were the Shiite militiamen of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, or Jeshi Mahdi, who formed another enemy of America. As the crisis grew, many mainstream Shiites joined the Mahdi in their fight, if not in their religious beliefs.
Strategy for this diffuse collection of fighters is simple, almost intuitive. First, undermine the legitimacy and operations of the occupying powers by creating chaos and fear through sabotage and terror. Second, attack America’s allies and the occupation’s weak points so as to isolate the US. Third, attack and coopt Iraqi collaborators, like the police and the new National Guard. Fourth, kill and maim American troops to wear down the occupiers’ morale. It’s simple and brutal, but vast sections of world politics hinge on the outcome of this struggle. He says that his group has “many eyes” working inside the police and in the new Iraqi army. This is totally believable since there are continual reports of Iraqi police and ICDC men firing on American patrols. The occupation’s “puppet army” is a thoroughly booby-trapped tool: use it too aggressively and it might blow up.
As for the underground’s structure and methods, the man confirms a general picture that has been gleaned from other press accounts and recent military intelligence: the resistance is highly decentralized and is kept so by fear of spies and lack of secure communications.
Often fighters are related and operate in units that are all kin. Other cells are more formal and maintain their anonymity from each other as much as possible by using noms de guerre. Cells operate in small networks or completely alone. Compartmentalization is their key to survival; it makes the underground forces resilient and hard to crush because it limits every US victory and inroad into the resistance. The military could bust this cell in Adhamiya and torture the truth from each of its members, but how far would the trail lead? Eventually the US forces would be back at square one: getting bombed and not knowing who was doing it.
In short, the mind of the resistance is everywhere; there is no head to cut off. Its strategy does not take the form of a plan but rather that of a logic or sensibility embedded in Iraqi culture: repel the invader. And this leaves American forces baffled, striking at shadows. The Sunni guerrillas are less a movement in the traditional sense than a collection of nationalists and soldiers with serious grievances, military training, and ready access to both weapons and targets. One thing is for sure: this is an insurgency that will be nearly impossible to crush. The resistance will never win militarily, but as the cell leader who rode with me in Abu Hassan’s BMW explained, maybe it does not need to. ********************************************************
During these searches the paratroopers are not unduly aggressive, but, as in the school, they often have to damage property, and it is clear that many people, particularly the women and children, are scared. The men are more often humiliated and angry. In most of Iraq, women are not supposed to be seen by strange men. And now the weary paratroopers are rifling through their underwear drawers and herding them outside while their men watch helplessly. “Who shoots at us from these buildings? Are you with the Baath Party? Hey, get a ‘terp over here. Ask this guy if he’s with the Baath Party.”
As a journalist, even being around these searchers is nauseating, let alone forcing myself to go inside and see or film the action up close. One becomes party to the spectacle of occupation and the ritualized humiliation of the people of Falluja.
Even the soldiers, numbed as they are, feel this, and when pressed they will admit it.
“Who are we to search these peoples’ homes? Do we really have the right to do this? Yeah, I wonder about that stuff a lot,” says Staff Sergeant Luis “Doe” Pacheco, the company medic, one night in his hooch. During another interview, Staff Sergeant McGuire, who, like the people of Falluja, is deeply religious, puts it quite succinctly: “There’s no nice way to search someone’s house. I think about how if we did this in eastern Tetmessee, where I am from, they’d just as soon shoot you as look at you.” For some of these searches I tag along with an intelligence officer, Captain Mark Zahanczewky aka Captain Z. His line of questioning keeps returning to the issue of foreign fighters. His subjects keep claiming that the attacks on Americans are the work of Syrians. The intelligence officer seems ideologically predisposed to seeing his work as part of the War on Terrorism and fixates on this theme of bad outsiders. Maybe it’s for my benefit.
“Ask him if Syrians come here,” snaps Z to his interpreter. “Oh, yeah? Look, tell him we got his wife inside, and she says there were Syrians here and that I want to know which one of them is telling the truth.”
But when I speak with other soldiers, including Captain Caliguire, they confirm my suspicion that very few foreign fighters have been caught. The reality is that most attacks against US soldiers are the work of locals. When the locals blame Syrians it is a rather transparent attempt to redirect the interest of the US military. ‘What are they going to say? “No, it’s us Fallujans who are shooting at you”? The official line in the military now is: “Everything is intelligence-driven.” As one of the war’s star generals put it, “You have to be able to identify the structure of who is out there and who their leaders are; what their support system is; where their weapons caches are; who’s funding them.”
If that task is left to monolingual intelligence officers like Captain Z, then put your money on al-mujahadeen. Things on the radio net are getting confused. Because the paratroopers are using a device called Warlock, which jams the radio frequencies used by garage-door openers and other remote-control devices that trigger IEDs, their own radio network is getting scrambled.
As we move forward Bacik stops to explain to Lt. Lipscombe what’s going on. It’s a quintessential example of stressed-out combat vernacular. “What’s up?” asks Lipscombe. “The 1st is down there. I gotta tell them to get their fucking crunchy fucking fucknuts the fuck out of there.” “Roger that.” Then it happens again, the rapid bomb-bomb-bomb of several RPGs and more small-arms fire. This time an armor-piercing RPG has hit one of the Bradleys; the engine is destroyed, but no one is hurt.
Silly Bullshit Dept. February 12, 2006 Xymphora, xymphora.blogspot.com [Excerpt]
A common theory is that the upcoming attack on Iran is due to Iran's plan to establish an oil bourse to trade oil in Euros. Any American geopolitical thinkers worried about the value of the American dollar would be worried about keeping the dollar as the world reserve currency, and the cost of an attack on Iran, a cost which would be enormous (in total, probably five to ten times the one or two trillion the Iraq war will cost) and would all have to be borrowed, would do much more to finish the American dollar as a reserve currency than any oil bourse would. The bourse might have a small effect, as countries which need to buy oil might find it handier to keep more of their reserve currencies in Euros, but the overall status of the American dollar is much more dependent on the continued general financial health of the United States. American planners may very well be looking to the bourse as an excuse to gently deflate the overly high value of the dollar. [And that’s not half of it. What the paranoid idiots don’t get is that somebody can sell a million barrels of oil at 4:34 pm for dollars. At 4:35 pm they can sell the dollars as they buy euros in the trillion dollar a day interbank currency market. Buyers can keep all their currency reserves in euros, and if they wish to buy oil priced in dollars, just buy some dollars with the euros at the time of purchase, and use those dollars to pay for the oil. Duh. [What does matter is what offshore holders do with their vast holdings of U.S. treasury paper. Compared to those holdings, the cash generated by the oil market is chump change. T]
U.S. OCCUPATION RECRUITING DRIVE IN HIGH GEAR;
RECRUITING FOR THE ARMED RESISTANCE THAT IS
An Iraqi citizen waits as foreign troops from U.S. Marines 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) search his home in the village of Abu Rayat February 4, 2006. REUTERS/Bob Strong
[Fair is fair. Let’s bring 150,000 Iraqis over here to the USA. They can kill people at checkpoints, bust into their houses with force and violence, overthrow the government, put a new one in office they like better and call it “sovereign,” and “detain” anybody who doesn’t like it in some prison without any charges being filed against them, or any trial.] [Those Iraqis are sure a bunch of backward primitives. They actually resent this help, have the absurd notion that it’s bad their country is occupied by a foreign military dictatorship, and consider it their patriotic duty to fight and kill the soldiers sent to grab their country. What a bunch of silly people. How fortunate they are to live under a military dictatorship run by George Bush. Why, how could anybody not love that? You’d want that in your home town, right?] OCCUPATION ISN’T LIBERATION
BRING ALL THE TROOPS HOME NOW!
The Death Blossom Feb. 20, 2006 By Michael Hastings and Scott Johnson, Newsweek [Excerpt]
U.S. troops shake their heads over a phenomenon they call the "death blossom": under sudden fire, Iraqi soldiers sometimes start shooting in all directions, like lethal flower petals.