Notice to Iraq: Let us protect you, or be shot

December 14, 2003|By G. Jefferson Price III | G. Jefferson Price III,PERSPECTIVE EDITOR

FORGET WHAT IRAQ is going to be like after America is finished with that ancient, troubled land.

I'm worried about what the experience will have done to America, at home and abroad.

Sordid is a word that comes to mind to describe what's happening.

Enough has been said and written about the huge deceit that the Bush administration used to send American forces to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein and to occupy Iraq.

First, it was weapons of mass destruction, which no one has found. And it was about the Baghdad regime's ties to terrorism, specifically the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks against American targets, about which no persuasive evidence exists. And it was about bringing democracy to Iraq, fashioning a land of liberty from the ashes of despotism, creating a place and a people whose example would shine like an irresistible beacon in a region of darkened autocracy, theocracy and corruption.

The truth is painfully different. It suggests a leadership here that seems not to know what it has gotten itself into, or how to get out of it, and is insulting true allies, humiliating the Iraqis whom America is supposed to be helping, creating an environment in which favored American corporations apparently are profiting from the havoc and misery wrought by war. All this while soldiers are left to face danger and death and to do the work of civilian administrators while an American viceroy and his janissaries sit safely in a heavily guarded compound in Baghdad.

The last of these impressions comes from an article by Lucian K. Truscott IV, which appears in this section today. Truscott, a 1969 graduate of West Point and scion of a prominent American military family, visited Mosul and Baghdad and has written one of the most disturbing reflections on the American experience there. Those who read the article should know it was written before attacks by Iraqi insurgents injured more than four dozen Americans there last week.

Truscott's article was written for The New York Times, which published it last Sunday.

Also in that newspaper last Sunday, an article by Dexter Filkins described the tactics being used by the U.S. military in its intensified campaign to get at the Iraqi insurgents.

These tactics include surrounding Iraqi communities in barbed-wire fences. They include arresting the relatives of suspected anti-coalition insurgents and destroying buildings they may be using.

If these methods seem familiar, it is because they are the same as those Israel has used against the Palestinians under every government since the founding of the Jewish state. In fact, the Israelis took those tactics from the British, who used them against Jews and Arabs when they were trying to govern what was then known as Palestine. The tactics did not work for the British (in Palestine, or later in Northern Ireland) and they have not worked for the Israelis.

But U.S. military authorities quoted in the Filkins article not only acknowledge the similarity, they say they have taken lessons from the Israeli experience in the West Bank and Gaza and turned to Israel for help.

Filkins quotes an article in Army Times in which Brig. Gen. Michael Vane reported that "we recently traveled to Israel to glean lessons learned from their counterterrorist operations in urban areas."

That's scary.

Just as scary were some of the comments made by soldiers quoted in Filkins' artcle which were eerily reminiscent of the American military attitudes in Vietnam.

"With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people we are here to help them," said Lt. Col. Nathan Sassman, commander of a battalion keeping an eye on the village of Abu Hishma that's surrounded by barbed wire.

And at that fence there's a sign. This is what it says:

"This fence is for your protection. Do not approach or try to cross or you will be shot."

Are we about saving these people, or what?

Sometimes, last week in particular, it seemed as if some Americans are in Iraq for the money, the multibillion-dollar pot of gold that the Bush administration got to pay for rebuilding Iraq and supporting the U.S.-led military and civilian infrastructure.

Take Halliburton Co., the Texas firm where Dick Cheney was the chief executive before he became vice president.

Halliburton was awarded a contract said to be worth about $5 billion for Iraq reconstruction projects. This was a no-bid contract. Halliburton just got the job because, it was said, nobody else could do it. As if that didn't stink enough, reports last week revealed that Kellogg, Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, may have overcharged the U.S. government by more than $60 million for fuel delivered to Iraq from a Kuwaiti supplier.

Then there was the matter of the Bush administration deciding that France, Germany and Russia would be barred from bidding on reconstruction contracts in Iraq to be paid out of the $18 billion approved by Congress.

That's because they didn't support the war. Fair enough - maybe. But at the same time Bush dispatched former Secretary of State James A. Baker III to try to persuade those countries to forgive the billions of dollars Iraq owes them. That seems unfair. In fact, it seems like a shakedown.

So much for the nobility of the American cause. Most important, Americans are still dying in Iraq. The American leadership's behavior dishonors them.

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