Part Five--U.S. Military: Good Morning, Baghdad!
By: Lee Siu Hin
Without 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 "hoods."
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
police", and most of the tasks performed by them these days involve
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," he says.
By 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 troops
occupying 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,
New 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 move on."
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 Iraqi resistance.
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,
Parrish recalls two of his friends from the base who were killed recently,
"The soldiers who died
two 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
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).
With 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 at checkpoints
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
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, Iraq
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
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 enemy.
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 not murder".
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."
To 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
and its general lack of knowledge of the faith and culture of the Iraqi people
effectively nullify the win.
One 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 during detention.
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) 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,000) from As'ad Ibrahim Mahdi's house.
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.
Useful links in Iraq (U.S. military and administrators in Iraq)
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) U.S. occupied administrator/shadow government
Iraq Reconstruction Task Force
CPA Rewards to capture Saddam Hussin
U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
U.S. DoD News About the War on Terrorism
"Report From Baghdad" CD-ROM on Sale!!
Dear peace activists:
Pacifica Radio KPFK Los Angeles Reporter Lee Siu Hin's July 2003 trip to U.S.
occupied Iraq. An interactive CD-ROM with articles, over 50 photos, and hours
of audio & video interviews includes:
- People of Iraq, former Iraqi military commander, general manger of
- U.S. Military: interview at U.S. military base, and follow their patrol and
raid in Baghdad;
- Human rights workers from UNICEF, Voice in the Wilderness, Amnesty International;
- Shi'ite and Sunni religious leaders from Baghdad, Fllujah, and more!
You can see part of the CD-ROM contents on our webpage:
To order "Report from Baghdad" CD-ROM, end check/money order to:
1013 Mission St. #6, South Pasadena, CA 91030
Each CD costs: USD.00 plus USD.50 S/H (work both PC and Mac)
The CD sells will be benefit the Baghdad Independent Media Center, ActionLA,
*Additional donations are welcome, and it will be tax deductible.
For more information, tel: (213)413-1778 e-mail: info@ActionLA.org
Lee Siu Hin
Peace, No War
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