Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Nir Rosen on The Surge

Nir Rosen is a freelance writer. He speaks Arabic and looks like an ordinary person in Iraq. His latest in Rolling Stone, The Myth of the Surge, is a close examination of the fiasco being advertised as a success.

This is not the first time I have linked to his work.

Winning Hearts and Minds
Nir Rosen interview in Al Jazeera
Iraq Slogger -- New to the aggregator

...To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or "the Awakening."

At least 80,000 men across Iraq are now employed by the Americans as ISVs. Nearly all are Sunnis, with the exception of a few thousand Shiites.
As Spainhour talks to the sheik at the mosque, two bearded, middle-aged men in sweaters suddenly walk up to the Americans with a tip. Two men down the street, they insist, are members of the Mahdi Army. The soldiers quickly get back into the Strykers, as do Osama and his men, and they all race to Mahala 830. There they find a group of young men stringing electrical cables across the street. Some of the men manage to run off, but the eleven who remain are forced into a courtyard and made to squat facing the walls. They all wear flip-flops. Soldiers from the unit take their pictures one by one. 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.

As the soldiers storm into nearby homes, the two men who had tipped off the Americans come up to me, thinking I am a military translator. They look bemused. The Americans, they tell me in Arabic, have got the wrong men. The eleven squatting in the courtyard are all Sunnis, not Shiites; some are even members of the Awakening and had helped identify the Mahdi Army suspects.

I try to tell the soldiers they've made a mistake — it looks like the Iraqis had been trying to connect a house to a generator — but the Americans don't listen. All they see are the wires on the ground: To them, that means the Iraqis must have been trying to lay an improvised explosive device. "If an IED is on the ground," one tells me, "we arrest everybody in a 100-meter radius." As the soldiers blindfold and handcuff the eleven Iraqis, the two tipsters look on, puzzled to see U.S. troops arresting their own allies.

...On one raid with U.S. troops, I see children chasing after the soldiers, asking them for candy. But when they learn I speak Arabic, they tell me how much they like the Mahdi Army and Muqtada al-Sadr. "The Americans are donkeys," one boy says. "When they are here we say, 'I love you,' but when they leave we say, 'Fuck you.'"

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