Michael T. McPhearson, May 28, 2004
March 2003, days before our invasion of Iraq I woke up from a disturbing dream where it appeared that I was watching a newscast of Palestinians clashing with Israeli Defense Forces that some how transformed to pictures of Iraqis clashing with U.S. forces. Today it is our reality. I wondered then, if I where confronted by these images how would I feel as an Arab living in the Middle East? What would I think? And most important, what would I do? I knew then as I clearly see now that I would be furious. I would think that the U.S. was unfair and sided with Israel. What would I do? Be assured resistance is without question, but how? Would I be a violent resistance fighter or a non-violent activist? It would be easy for me to say sitting here in the U.S. that I would use non-violent tactics to resist, but when one is surrounded by violence and if a loved one has been killed or seriously injured by your oppressor, well I don’t know if I have the courage and discipline to follow the road less traveled, the road of non-violence.
While I never pretend to have all the answers or a complete analysis of any situation, here are my thoughts on the resistance in Iraq and the continuing rise in violence.
Who are the insurgence or resistance fighters? I think it depends? I think the bulk of the initial resistance was spurred and organized by former Ba’thist Party members, al Qeada sympathizers and or operatives and other what I call Islamic Fascist who simply hate the West and particularly the U.S. I say bulk of the resistance because a smaller number were probably indigenous Iraqis who do not want the U.S. to occupy their country. The reasons I think most of the initial resistance were people other than regular citizens is simple. A majority of the people I spoke to during my trip to Iraq in December 2003 were happy that Saddam was gone. They made it clear to me that they hated Saddam and saw him as a monster. He made their lives hell. Many of them asked me to thank Americans for liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam.
This is not to say they where happy with the occupation. They were very upset about their conditions and treatment. But they were willing to give us, the U.S. a chance. A vivid illustration of this is a family we visited in Sadir City. We spoke to the father and son of the family. Both were angry about the occupation. Their anger was heightened by the death of Mohamed the family’s eldest son who was killed by U.S. soldiers. They thought he had been assassinated. The anger was thick in the air. Both explained that unless there was an apology and the killers brought to justice revenge would be taken against the coalition. Hani the younger son made it clear to us that this was not a threat it was a promise. When asked how he felt about the invasion he said, “Let me tell you these things about the beginning of this war. At the beginning of this war to be honest with you, every Iraqi people we have some hope that things would be changed better. Better things. But even before this accident. I mean the accident with my brother. Even this all begin to disappear. Because we see, we saw the situation. It changed to more bad. Very bad even than before.”
He went on to say when asked if he wanted the troops to leave, “The Americans shouldn’t leave and leave the situation like this unstable. They should leave after stability. There should be stability here. Because they make this situation like this, so they should give us the solutions about the problems they did.”
I heard from many Iraqis who had similar feelings that the occupation was intolerable, but they wanted the U.S. to ensure security and fix everything we broke before we left. Others wanted us to leave immediately. It was a mixed bag. I got the feeling that most Iraqis where willing to give us a chance at getting things right. Under Saddam the Iraqi people had no hope and now they do. But, they did no trust us. Once again Hani’s words say it best. “Before, anyone who has a big position in the Iraqi Army could kill you. So at the beginning of the war, we have hope that the situation would be better. And we accepted… OK let America take whatever from our fortune and give us what we deserve. It’s ok. Let’s share in this. But even these things did not happen. The sharing the fortune did not happen. So I do not know the solutions. I ask, and ask and ask.”
Unfortunately we were not getting things right. Electricity and gas were in short supply, unemployment was high, and people did not feel safe. But these problems were nothing compared to the treatment of the Iraqis by U.S. soldiers. We witnessed story after story of mistakes, abuses and accidents that caused humiliation, serious injuries and death. Electricity, safety and employment problems are forgotten once provided. Abuse, injuries and deaths are never forgotten and many times never forgiven.
So while we were trying to help the Iraqi people our methods have and continue to create enemies. I believe we are seeing the consequences of those mistakes today. I wrote upon my return from Iraq that:
“…in my eyes the bad outweighs the good. Due to the administration’s poor planning and disrespect for the opinions of the Iraqis, far too many U.S. troops and Iraqis are being injured (both physically and psychologically) and dying. If President Bush thinks he is winning the peace, he is mistaken. I say again, soldiers are not police. They are trained to use overwhelming force; the kind of force used against opposing armies, not civilian populations. Our leadership has put our soldiers in a no win situation. The current state of affairs has created new resistance fighters and the cycle of violence and suffering begins anew.”
So who is the resistance today? Of course we have al Qeada and their sympathizers as well as Ba’thist and others who gained from Saddam’s rule, but a growing number are everyday Iraq’s. They are people grateful to see Saddam gone, overjoyed with Saddam’s overthrow but frustrated and angered by U.S. occupation.
This anger has been enflamed by the Abu Ghriab pictures depicting abuse and torture of Iraqis by U.S. soldiers. The torture is not news to the Iraqis. While in Iraq we visited the prison. We where denied access to the facility, but we stood outside its gates and talked to many Iraqis. They told us about family members taken from their homes by U.S. soldiers without explanation or information about the person’s whereabouts. People were arrested for simply being a family member of a suspect or knowing someone wanted for questioning. We met a number of women who visited the prison everyday trying to find their loved ones. Many people were not sure if their loved one was in the prison. Others were informed by released detainees who upon returning home informed families. Iraqis described mild torture such as making people dance or stand for prolonged lengths of time to severe abuse such as electric shock. This behavior was reported from more than Abu Ghraib. Our returning report outlined these stories and recommended investigations.
President Bush’s appearance on Middle Eastern news media stating that the torture is isolated does not ring true to me and I doubt rings true to Iraqis. They were telling us these stories in December 2003. The U.S. did not acknowledge the abuses until much later. The pictures only confirmed what the Iraqis already knew. Bush’s appearance serves to verify that the U.S. cannot be trusted. Why try to tell Iraqis about something that is happening in their country and to their families? They know the truth no matter what the administration says.
I believe the extreme abuse depicted in the pictures is not the norm, but mild abuse, constant accidents, and collateral damage that injures maims and kills civilians appear to be common occurrences, especially lately with the escalation of violence as U.S. soldiers try to find insurgents. The problem is that more and more regular citizens are resisting. Violent resistance is spreading. The more people we detain or kill the more animosity leading to more resistance. If there was a time when the U.S. could win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people that time has surely passed.
I agree our country has an obligation and responsibility to help rebuild Iraq. We should provide money, resources, expertise and when appropriate people power. I also do not want to see Islamic fascist gain control of the country. But I really do not think they can. People who follow the Shia belief of Islam make up about 60% of the Iraqi population. The grand Ayatollah Sistani is the most powerful and influential Shia leader in Iraq. As of yet he has not turned completely against the U.S. He is certainly not aligned with former Ba’thist or al Qeada sympathizers. Most experts on the region consider him a moderate. It is believed that he may want to have a theocracy of sorts, but one that is not as conservative as the Iranian model but not as liberal as the Turkish model (which is more a democracy than a theocracy). If the Iraqis choose a theocracy so be it. It will be the road they chose to travel. It will be the beginning of a movement towards greater freedom. Please do not confuse the fascist mentality of the Taliban with a theocracy like that in Iran. While the Iranian human rights record is horrendous and for that matter so is ours, the leadership and more importantly the people of Iran are a hundred fold more progressive than the Taliban. Remember our country began as an extremely flawed democracy and continues to be less than a perfect Union.
We must also remember that Iraqis are willing to spill blood for their future. Such is the case today. While it appears they are reluctant to fight on the side of the U.S. against other Iraqis, it is clear that Iraqis who want to see a future without U.S. occupation are able and willing to fight U.S. troops. I believe they will also fight outside influences if need be once we get out of the way. But in the final analysis the decision as to whether or not Iraq should be a theocracy, monarchy or democracy should be left up to the Iraqi people. The U.S. should leave immediately and let the Iraq’s deal with each other. The longer we stay the more violence ensues. Yes if we leave there is a possibility of civil war, but our being there ensures civil war. Our presence creates the “us against them” mentality, Iraqis on our side fighting Iraqi insurgents. Our presence also legitimizes the use of violence as we us violence to maintain our occupation. When violence becomes the norm and the tool to create order it is very difficult to stop its use. The answer is clear. Bring Them Home Now.