uniforms, they are the average "Joe" or "Jane"
you see on the streets of America. Some of those I talked to were
nice people, but some of them were nasty. Before they were called
to duty, some were students and government workers. One was even a
school teacher with two kids at home. Except for a few, most had never
seen battle or death before. However, with guns and power, they became
the "boss" of the streets in Iraq, just like cops in the
Most of those currently in Iraq arrived after the
major combat in late April. Marines and British troops are staying
in southern Iraq, Army personnel are stationed around Baghdad and
Airborne units are based in northern Iraq. Some of the troops are
"regular army" mobilized from Germany, but many are reservists
called to duty early this year. Initially, they were told they would
be in Iraq for a few just months, but now they are being told they
must stay in Iraq for a year until next spring.
At post-invasion Iraq, officially U.S. troops are
not combat troops, but rather "military
police", and most of the tasks performed by them these
days involve street patrol or conducting
raids to catch what they call "the very bad people" from
Saddam's regime, social criminals or those attacking American troops.
Amnesty International's Curt Goerig criticizes many coalition soldiers
who engaged in post-invasion law enforcement duties in Iraq because
they "do not have basic skills and tools in civilian policing
and they are unaware of the law they are supposed to be applying,"
luck, I was invited by the U.S. military to stay and visit the 1st
Battalion, 37th Armored Division in Baghdad for a few days. They've
taken over Baghdad Island as their military
base, the biggest park in the city next to the Tigris River,
and now the park is off-limits to the Iraqis. There are over 1,000
the Island, including some soldiers from other battalions.
I interviewed many military personnel from
the base, and, depending upon which unit they're in, they come from
anywhere in the country, such as: California,
Alaska to Arizona, Virginia, Pennsylvania,
York to Florida. Asking why they are here in Iraq, most troops
told me they are coming to overthrow Saddam, and to free Iraqis
from a dictator. Some, like private Scanlon from Hampton Rds., Virginia,
were very straightforward: "We are here because we're told
to [be], this is our job,
you're here to do your job, and
During these interviews, I could clearly see signs
of the internal struggle these soldiers are going through, especially
when seeing their comrades injured or killed during ambushes by
Many U.S. soldiers told me they are proud
to have come to liberate Iraq from
Saddam, and restore social order.
But acknowledged that many Iraqis do not
like them. Anthony Parrish is from
task force 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Division and he says daily
attacks in Iraq against U.S. soldiers are common. Parrish is a native
of England who migrated to the United States, joined the army and
became a tank driver. He came to Iraq from Germany in May. He says
about his first couple of days in the base: "we got shot, we
got rounds coming at us, every time we went out, there's somebody
yelling [at us], everywhere people hanging chicken wire across the
street, dropping grenades off the bridges, shooting at you, even
children. We saw thirteen, fourteen-year-old children with weapons
- AK-47s, rifles, handguns."
Parrish recalls two of his friends from the base
who were killed recently, "The soldiers who died
people from the 1/36 [Armored Division]
one was in Charlie
company driving a Humvee and other one was a scout ... and both
got killed two weeks apart, and it was from ambushes and sniper
fire ... there's nothing we can do about that
I mean, we
miss them, they were good soldiers, both of them. But, that was
part of the job when you sign up."
According to the Department of Defense (DoD), for
the first 4 months of the U.S. invasion, there were approximately
300 U.S. and U.K. soldiers killed from both combat- and "non-combat"-related
deaths. But both Iraqis and peace activists in Iraq are skeptical
about this figure. In fact, even the DoD acknowledges that U.S.
military estimates relate only to fighting in or near Baghdad. They
make no other figures available, and rarely report the number of
injured soldiers, which is several times higher than the death toll.
In many cases, they aggressively cover-up their casualties and do
not allow journalists to report them.
When I was on the military base on the morning
of July 21st, two Humvees from the base were ambushed
and destroyed by rockets while they were out on morning patrol near
the base. One U.S. soldier and an Iraqi interpreter were killed,
and several others wounded. Rescue crews came and transported the
wounded back to the base, where a helicopter was dispatched to transport
them to the army hospital. I filmed the injured soldiers being taken
away by the helicopter. According to the media agreement between
the unit and me I was allowed to film events like this as long as
no soldier's face was in the picture, and no mention was made of
their identities. One of the base's commanders saw me filming and
got upset; he wanted to confiscate my film. I reluctantly agreed
to destroy the film because I did not want to be kicked out of the
base too soon with no chance to interview the soldiers.
With the U.S. death toll rising and public support
of the U.S. occupation in Iraq waning, the military is making sure
no negative pictures of soldiers' dead bodies are shown on American
primetime TV. Surely this would cause the further deterioration
of public opinion as well as troop morale. No, what the military
planners want is more cheerleading for the GIs. There's a proposal
from one of the producers at Fox TV - the most-loved television
station by the troops - to produce "COPS, the Baghdad specials."
Most soldiers have expressed, either privately or
publicly, that they want to go home to be with their families. 37th
Armored Division tank driver Jason Gunn says the hardest thing is
not the daily attacks against the troops, but the forced separation
from his loved ones. "You can deal with being shot at a lot,
because after a while you just get used to it, and you don't really
think about it, and you just keep your mind on what your job is
[because that's] what you have to do. But actually, when you come
back in and you're by yourself, you just start to think about your
family, your friends, being away so long, what they are doing, what
they have gone through, and how they feel [while we are in Iraq].
You know, what they hear on the news and you are not able to get
in touch with them, and they worry a lot. So that's probably the
hardest thing, missing friends and family." Gunn says.
There's no doubt that without Iraqi friends outside
the base, a soldier's life inside the base is almost like being
in prison. It's routine, dangerous, boring, hot, uncertain, and
boring military rations (it's not very bad taste, but will be tired
if eating same foods everyday).
daily attacks against U.S. troops and their bases, GIs are rarely
loitering on the street outside the capital. But you will see plenty
of them around Baghdad, either going through the streets with Humvees
or tanks, or otherwise barricaded behind tanks bearing machine guns
across the city. When they do venture off the base for personal
reasons, they are only gone briefly, maybe on the street shopping
or checking email at a cyber cafe, but always with tanks and guns.
Not surprisingly, one of the reasons retail
business has surged in Baghdad these days is the tremendous
buying power of the GIs, their preferred purchases being smuggled
electronic appliances or pirated DVDs.
Beyond what they were told, the average soldier
has very limited knowledge of the history and culture of Iraq, or
of the Islamic faith.
At the base while they were watching DVD movies
during a break, I asked several young U.S. soldiers how much knowledge
they have about Islam and Iraq, they said not
much. "Their [Iraqi] culture is definitely a lot different
than ours, different things in different perspectives, that's for
sure. Things we are taking for granted I think they don't
you know what I mean, they are just poor people in a poor society
trying to make it," PFC Stevens from Jackson, Michigan says.
They told me they learned much about Iraq through a DoD publication,
At my request, Rt.
Col. Garry Bishop, Battalion Commander for 1st Battalion, 37th
Armored Division, gave me a copy. This book is given to every U.S.
soldier who comes to Iraq. Its 385 pages can be broken down as follows:
key facts and cultural information accounts for 24 pages; history,
primarily focusing on the time period since Saddam's rise to power,
accounts for 17 pages; government, politics and economy accounts
for another 17 pages. By far, the largest part of this book, 270
pages, is devoted to information about Iraqi military and what kinds
of weapons they use.
Without any social and family support network, the
only "spiritual" guidance GIs have is the army chaplain,
who is a Christian. They are issued guidebooks, such as "Prayers
for Iron Soldiers" or "Iron Soldiers' Spiritual Fitness
Nuggets", which essentially justify going to war and killing
The army chaplain from the 37th Armored Division
offers the religious justification
to fight in Iraq. "I walk though the facts that when we are
defending ourselves, when we are in position to protect those who
cannot help themselves, when we are dealing with people who seek
to take the lives of and endanger the people we are protecting,
as long as we are staying within the rules of engagement that we
have," he explains, "the Bible says we're OK." But
he didn't say "thou shall not kill", just "thou shall
With complains against from the Iraqis, and soldier's
moral in crisis, Rt. Col. Garry Bishop defends they are coming to
protect Iraqi people, and many Iraqis
do support them. "We are making difference, we are seeing
the process." He says.
show that the U.S. Army is in complete control of Iraq, the unit
invited me to accompany them on one of their evening
raids in Baghdad's northern suburb to catch what they called
three "very bad people." They deployed
at least 100 soldiers, dozens of Humvees, tanks and helicopters,
but they never caught the "bad
guys" they were looking for.
There have been several major military successes
- for example, the arrest of top former Iraqi military commanders
and Ba'ath party officials during the much-publicized "Operation
Peninsula." However, the number of failures of general U.S.
operations in Iraq is far more distinguished. According to the Baghdad-based
English newspaper Iraq Today, false intelligence resulted
in the death of at least two blameless men. It led to the tribal
execution of an informant allegedly handed over by U.S. forces,
as well as to the detention of hundreds of innocent Iraqi men and
children who now view the U.S. military with far more anger and
indignation then they ever did before.
Capped by the recent succession of bombings
- the August 7th Jordanian Embassy bombing, the August 19th bombing
of the United Nations office in Baghdad where the U.N. special representative
in Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed, the August 29th bombing
in Najaf which killed 100, including the most powerful Iraqi Shi'ite
leader, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim - not only Iraqis, but
Americans are growing weary of the U.S. military's consistent failure
to restore social order and to end attacks by members of the Iraqi
resistance. They now view U.S. presence in Iraq as unambiguous military
oppression. Even when the military does, say, successfully catch
a handful of social criminals who
have terrorized city neighborhoods, its customary display of arrogance
and its general lack of knowledge of the faith and culture of the
Iraqi people effectively nullify the win.
example highlighting this ethnocentrism in the military's policy
is its extensive use of the body search, which is applied to men
and women alike. Iraqis feel American troops do not understand eastern
customs. Religious leaders are subject to searching, which is certainly
an affront. Even more egregious, though, is the search of Iraqi
women, which, in their culture and faith, is a great offense, so
much so that some are willing to die to protect against this violation.
Iraqi women have raised this issue with those in charge of the occupying
forces, to no avail. Although each U.S. patrol unit has female soldiers
to search women, according to Amnesty International's Elizabeth
Hodgkin, complaints have been made to U.S. and British authorities
because male soldiers have been allowed to search female prisoners
There have also been accusations against U.S.
troops of stealing during searches. According to a recent issue
of Baghdad's activist-run newspaper Al-Muajaha (translated
as "The Iraqi Witness"), on June 30th in Baghdad's Hay
Al-Resala Al-Oula district, a U.S. solider (not related to the 37th
Armored Division) allegedly stole 25,000 Iraqi dinars (equivalent
to US$16) from supermarket owner Samir Adbul Rasool Al-Humdani.
When Al-Humdani protested this theft, he was arrested by the troops.
In another incident, according to the Amnesty International report,
on June 26th, an officer from the 101st Airborne Division stole
three million Iraqi dinars (equivalent to US$2,000) from As'ad Ibrahim
Ironically, the most energetic in their welcome
of U.S. troops in Iraq are children under ten. You'll see a group
of curious but naïve Iraqi children surrounding GIs yelling,
"Hey, Mister! Mister!" waving and talking to them, and
trying to touch their guns. It's a charming moment, until you notice
the backdrop of destroyed buildings.