Thursday, June 8, 2006

Iraq War: In the real world, there's not much "good news" to report about it

Two pieces from Knight-Ridder paint a sad picture of the American prospeccts in Iraq.  Tom Lasseter, who has consistently done some of the best reporting on the Iraq War, writes in Zarqawi's death not expected to have major impact on Iraq 06/08/06:

There are several issues [in the Iraq War], complex and murky, that remain:

-Most of the Sunni-led insurgency had little to do with Zarqawi. His bloodthirsty tactics, including beheadings and mass killings, angered Sunni leaders, some of whom turned against him. Those leaders see themselves as nationalists, fighting the American military presence. Most American military casualties in Iraq are caused by roadside bombs, a weapon typically used by Sunni nationalists, not by Zarqawi.

-Zarqawi appears to have come close to helping start a civil war, pitting Sunni Muslims against Shiite Muslims, by targeting Shiite innocents with car bombs and explosives-laden suicide bombers. Shiite militias, responding to the provocation, have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Sunni Muslims in the past year, and entire neighborhoods of Baghdad have been all but completely cleansed of residents of rival Muslim sects.

Flying over Baghdad in a helicopter recently, a Knight Ridder reporter saw street after street blocked with burned-out cars, tree stumps and concrete rubble to keep truckloads of Sunni or Shiite gunmen from rounding up the neighbors and killing them.

-Militias rule much of the country. Shiite militias control much of southern Iraq, the Kurdish militia controls the north, and the Sunnis in the west have turned to the insurgency as their de facto militia. The situation has pushed much of the bloodiest intra-Iraqi fighting to the central provinces - such as Baghdad, Diyala and Babil - where there are more mixed Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods.

-Iraq's security forces, while improving, are years away from being able to secure the nation. Units that used to throw down their weapons and run two years ago now stand and fight, but the task of turning the Iraqi army into a force that's loyal to the nation and not to sects has proved difficult. Iraqi police are widely regarded as being heavily infiltrated by Sunni insurgents in some areas and by Shiite militia members in others.

And their longtime military correspondent Joe Galloway, who is scheduled to retire very soon, writes in Innocents and grunts suffer for the incompetence of higher-ups 06/07/06:

If a few of those troops in Haditha snapped, driven mad by the senseless death of yet another brother in arms by the explosion of yet another IED, whose fault is this? It is theirs and their commanding officers', and if they're convicted they'll pay a terrible price.

But those who started a war for no good reason and managed it with the greatest accumulation of arrogance and ignorance and incompetence seen in wartime since World War I, or perhaps the Charge of the Light Brigade, will just fade away to live the good life on their fortunes.

I'm not quite so pessimistic on that last point.  I think there is a real possibility - distant, but real - that some of the major planners of the Iraq War will wind up in front of a court on war crimes charges someday.

As he makes clear in the section I just quoted, Galloway isn't making excuses for the killers in the Haditha massacre.  But he also isn't willing to let it be seen as just an isolated incident perpetrated by the familiar "few bad apples".  He writes:

Judgments will be rendered and lives and careers ruined, much as they were in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, and the people at the top will say that justice has been done and it was simply an aberration, a few bad apples.

But the real aberration is war, and always has been. The slaughter of innocents, accidental and deliberate, has occurred in every war man has ever fought. It was no different when Americans fought Americans in the Civil War in guerrilla campaigns in places such as bloody Kansas and the border states of Kentucky and Tennessee. Or in the great World Wars.

It's especially true in the wars of insurgency, in which the enemy cannot easily be distinguished from the innocents and strikes in infernal ways that regular soldiers find hard to deal with - Viet Cong booby traps, Lebanese suicide bombers and Iraqi roadside bombs.

Remember My Lai and Lt. Rusty Calley and Capt. Edward Medina? Under their command, U.S. soldiers rounded up and mowed down between 300 and 400 Vietnamese women and children and a few old men and left their bodies piled in a grotesque heap.

Or the recent revelations that the Tiger Teams of an elite American airborne unit ran wild in Vietnam for months, killing anyone and everyone they came across without regard to age, gender or innocence.

Those who romanticize war, those who turn soldiers into sentimental abstractions and those who cheer for war and killing lightly, are doing a terrible disservice to the world.

The damage from the Iraq War is already huge.  And since the Bush administration clearly has no clue how to get out of that war, the killing will go on with Americans as one of the combatants among a variety of partisan/religious militias for as long as Bush is President.

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