Occupation and Terror

Two articles of great interest have pressed for an immediate start to the U.S.
withdrawal from Iraq. On July 5 General William Odom published "Supporting the
Troops' Means Withdrawing Them
." A faithful supporter of the military, General
Odom observes that the Iraq war has already taxed beyond endurance the physical
resources and morale of the armed forces. Today, a two-column editorial in the
New York Times offers a comprehensive indictment of the Cheney-Bush policy in
Iraq: the certain consequences of staying, the Times now concludes, would be
worse for both countries than the likely effects of a planned withdrawal.

General Odom's view carries credence from his unrivaled stature, during the Cold
War, as an expert on the role of military power in foreign policy, and from his
service as director of the National Security Agency under President Reagan. He
has opposed the Iraq war from the outset; and his predictions have come true.
The Times editorial deserves attention for another reason -- coming, as it does,
from the newspaper of record, whose credulous acceptance of cooked evidence
played a significant part in converting mainstream American opinion to favor a
war of aggression.

Both the above articles are written by and for Americans. It is hard but still
important to try to think of the Iraq war from the Iraqi point of view. The
op-ed column below dates from April 2004, after the first siege of Falluja; it
was offered to the Washington Post and the New York Times. The second siege,
anticipated here, would be launched in November 2004, only hours after the
results were announced of the re-election of George W. Bush. It would kill
6,000 civilians (according to the Red Cross), destroy 10,000 of a total of
40,000 homes (according to American officials), and leave 60% of the houses in
Falluja "completely crushed and damaged" (according to the BBC). What "the city
of mosques" looked like after the second siege, neither Americans nor Iraqis
have been permitted to see.

David Bromwich: Occupation and Terror: April 2004

As we look back on the convulsions of the last week, let us remember that the
American occupation of Iraq began catastrophically. In Baghdad, in April 2003,
our forces did nothing to stop the mob of rioters who ransacked and burned the
treasures of the national museum and library. Donald Rumsfeld said that the
riots were "untidy" because democracy was untidy. Our forces stood by and
watched, without instructions from their commanders, as their commanders stood
by, without instructions from the secretary of defense.

Last week, our forces retaliated against the killing and mutilation of four
American security guards by launching an attack on Falluja that killed 600,
many of them innocent civilians; for a giddy and sickening moment, it appeared
that a reckless use of force had united the rival Sunni and Shiite Moslems in a
war of national liberation against the United States. It may do so yet.
Meanwhile, the army spokesman, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, modeling his
words on Rumsfeld's, said that the attack was "tremendously precise" and that
Iraqis horrified by pictures of burned women and children were free to simply
"change the channel."

Thus, in just a year, we have brought Iraq from the deadly oppression of
despotism to the edge of violent anarchy. It is not for Americans to say which
is worse. We suffered neither the tyranny of Saddam Hussein nor the chaos that
followed "Shock and Awe," with the unending rout, over the past twelve months,
of accidental killings by Americans and the assassinations of Iraqis whom our
forces are helpless to protect.

To the people of an occupied country, the occupying power is guilty until proven
innocent. Last April, it was American immobility in the face of the looting that
made us guilty. This April, it was the savageness of our reprisals against a
whole city to punish the crime of a few. The military officers and high
commissioners who ordered American policy in these crises have made their
errors with impunity, protected by their peers, unrebuked by their superiors.
All this the Iraqi people have watched carefully.

Since Iraqis today know, as well as we do, that Saddam Hussein held no weapons
of mass destruction to provoke the war, what can they suppose our reasons were
for attacking and invading and occupying their country? We can only hope to
lead them to a generous inference by what we do in the aftermath. Yet the
loyalties and identifications that shaped the conduct of this war are
bewildering even to Americans. Who decided that our forces should adopt the
rules of engagement used by Ariel Sharon on the West Bank? The fact has been
noticed in the American press, but has loomed much larger in the Arab world. We
know that the policy makers around Vice President Cheney were struck by a
similarity between the predicaments of the United States and Israel under the
assault of terrorism. Yet there is also a vast difference between the two
situations. Israel may move its settlements out, but it can never move far from
the West Bank. This is a matter of geography. American forces, on the other
hand, can return to America. Why did we choose to create our own West Bank six
thousand miles from home?

We have not yet heard a press conference at which an American commander or
civilian officer says, "We had to destroy the city in order to save it." Yet
the common experience of Iraqis tells them that this may happen. It came close
to happening in Falluja. So it is right for Americans to be alarmed by the
comments that reporters have been quoting, over the past few weeks, from
conversations with ordinary Iraqis. They say that life is impossible with the
tanks of a standing army choking their streets. They say that you cannot have
freedom at the other end of a gun. In the midst of last week's fighting, a
woman told a British reporter from The Observer: "Now, it is worse than Saddam.
He killed secretly -- but the Americans kill us on the streets."

President Bush sought to reassure the Iraqi people when he declared in his press
conference on April 13 that America would not hesitate to use "decisive force."
This echo of General Kimmitt's words before the siege of Falluja gave notice to
the insurgent militias; but it also gave permission to American commanders in
the field. It was the unbridled utterance of a leader who does not foresee an
end to the occupation. Yet no people ever learned to be free under the coercive
imprint of an army of 150,000. Many Iraqis who want freedom plainly want the
Americans to leave their country. If there is a second Falluja, these many will
become most, and those whom we sought to liberate will turn against their
liberators.