Our Life and Times
U.S. and militia brutality in Iraq
By Kevin A. Barry and Mitch Weerth
After over four years of war and occupation, the U.S. is further than ever from its goal of creating a new Iraq in its imperial image. In fact, the tide is clearly turning against the U.S., with no letup in sight.
In “The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness,” a probing article by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian published in the July 30 issue of The Nation, veterans recount the daily violations of human rights that have been perpetrated upon Iraqi civilians as part of the occupation.
In raids on homes, soldiers routinely destroy belongings—overturning shelves, dumping out the contents of refrigerators, and other indignities—and then merely say “sorry” if no ties to insurgents turn up. On the streets, U.S. military convoys often move at break-neck speed, injuring and killing Iraqis. When fired upon, U.S. troops are known to return fire indiscriminately.
Along with these brutal tactics has grown a racist ideology to justify it: "You can honestly see how the Iraqis in general or even Arabs in general are being, you know, kind of like dehumanized," said Army Specialist Jeff Englehart. "Like it was very common for United States soldiers to call them derogatory terms, like camel jockeys or Jihad Johnny or, you know, sand n----r." This extends to the dead as well, with soldiers routinely posing for “souvenir” photos with horribly disfigured Iraqi corpses.
Because the occupation lacks any real popular support, the U.S. has been forced to accept and support a Shi’a fundamentalist government with strong ties to the Iranian regime. That government, along with its sometime allies in the Mahdi Army of Moqtada Al-Sadr, has been conducting a reign of terror against the Sunni minority. Sunnis, who comprise about 20% of the population, were dominant under the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein.
While a minority inside Iraq, Sunnis constitute the overwhelming majority in the greater Muslim world. This assures a vast supply of volunteers for the Sunni resistance, especially since it can also draw upon funding from the former Ba'athist regime and states like Saudi Arabia.
It was Sunni fundamentalists—especially Al Qaeda in Iraq—who began the inter-religious bloodletting through a relentless campaign of terrorist attacks against Shi’a civilians. This continued, most recently in the northern village of Amerli, where over 150 Shi’as perished in a suicide bombing on July 8. In mid-June, Sunni jihadists blew up the Askariya Shrine at Samara. This thousand-year-old mosque is one of the most revered sites in Shi’a Islam. Last year, terrorists destroyed its golden dome. The June attack finished off the rest of this architectural treasure. Again a wave of reprisals against Sunni civilians and mosques has followed.
Many Sunni leaders, including tribal leaders and some Islamists, have begun to distance themselves from the extreme jihadists in their community, but they too have come under murderous attack.
Secular democratic forces have been almost completely wiped out or marginalized. Women have been forced to re-veil, and Shari'a religious law is being applied by local sheikhs in the spheres of family, marriage, and inheritance. In May, the Iraq Women’s Movement sent an open letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, protesting Article 41 of Iraq’s draft constitution, which would leave such “personal status” law to one’s religious community. It would take the country back to the era before 1959, when a new constitution enacted by the leftist Free Officers’ regime guaranteed women equal rights under law.
The above horrors meant that few noticed when Ali Hassan al-Majid—a.k.a. “Chemical Ali”—was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity on June 24. Al-Majid led the notorious “Anfal” campaign of 1987-88, in which 180,000 Iraqi Kurds were murdered, many of them via poison gas. Iraqi Kurds were paying attention, however, with thousands coming out into the streets to celebrate this long overdue verdict.
Published by News and Letters Committees