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How GI bullies are making enemies of their Iraqi friends

by Fuck Bush and Kerry Tuesday, Apr. 13, 2004 at 4:21 AM

Still refusing to acknowledge a rising consensus among observers that it faces a broad-based nationalist movement, President George Bush insisted in a weekend radio address that "a small faction is attempting to . . . seize power", and his Baghdad spokesman, Dan Senor, railed against "two-bit thugs . . . despised by a majority of Iraqis". But, while the Americans kill Iraqis in the numbers that they have taken to, they will have little or no support from Iraqis - no politician or religious leader can afford such an association. Personally many find it distasteful and if they were to support it publicly, they would go through their lives fearing a fate similar to that of the US security contractors in Falluja.

How GI bullies are making enemies of their Iraqi friends

The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

April 12, 2004 - 1:10AM

Iraqis who detested Saddam and welcomed the invasion are uniting against a new perceived oppressor - the US. Paul McGeough reports from Baghdad.

It should have been a weekend of celebration - the first anniversary of the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the first chance in decades for millions of Iraqi Shiites to join the Arbi'een pilgrimage to the southern shrine city of Kerbala - their holiest day which had been outlawed by Saddam.

Instead, the country is in convulsions and it seems the Americans have already lost the battle for Iraqi hearts and minds.

The Tigris River was like glass beneath an empty corn-blue sky as we set out for the Mother of All Battles Mosque to talk to Sunnis and Shiites, who, after centuries of enmity, were working together, packing trucks for a humanitarian convoy to besieged Falluja.

We were approaching an overpass when suddenly there were multiple explosions and a towering pillar of smoke. Ammunition was going off in the blazing wreck of a US tank on the highway below. The rest of the US convoy had fled, but one of the insurgents had hung back to observe their handiwork.

When we slowed to ask a man on the bridge what had happened, he jumped into a car that went off at speed, saying: "I'm from Falluja. Now I go back to continue fighting."

Under the next overpass, 37-year-old Sallah Hashosh was selling lambs for the feast that marks Arbi'een. But business was poor. People were too frightened to leave their homes. Clutching a fat-tailed, woolly lamb that he reckoned should fetch $A60, he confessed to being confused.

"I didn't expect this. It was good that Saddam fell, but unless the Americans go, all Iraqis will fight. We are becoming one nation."

We were on the road to Falluja, so it was reasonable to conclude these were reflections of a Sunni. But the sheep-seller was a Shiite.

In the last week the Americans have managed what the Iraqis have been unable to achieve in a year - a sense of national unity. But the glue is outrage and anger as Iraqis who have stood back from Washington's attempt to remake the country have found voice and weapons to challenge the US occupation.

The Americans have isolated themselves by mistakenly believing they could challenge the Mehdi Army of the radical Shiite Moqtada al-Sadr at the same time as it mounted a punishing attack on the vexing Sunni city of Falluja, west of Baghdad.

The Iraqi Governing Council, the ineffectual body Washington stacked with friendly exiles, turned against the US for the first time; many in the new Iraqi police force fled their posts; an entire battalion of the new Iraqi army is said to have refused to join the assault on Falluja.

By some estimates, as many as 25 per cent of the new Iraqi security forces, on which the US is depending to impose law and order after June 30, has quit or simply melted away.

It was one thing for the Americans to be killing small numbers of Sunni insurgents, but when the guns were turned on majority Shiites last week and the Iraqi death toll in Falluja was being counted in hundreds, Iraqis said "enough".

To Western eyes, the Iraqi tactics are appalling - particularly the butchery of US security contractors and hostage-taking - but they required a smarter response from the US.

On Thursday last week, the US commander, Ricardo Sanchez, was dismissive about negotiating with the Falluja insurgents, yet in the face of actual and threatened resignations by IGC members, he caved in.

With the end of the religious commemoration at Kerbala yesterday, the Americans say they will embark on a new assault on elements of the Mehdi Army still in control of sections of the holy cities of Najaf and Kufa. They also intend to arrest Sadr on a murder warrant, a move many Iraqis warn will stoke the revolt.

Hachim Hassani, an Iraqi Islamic Party alternate ICG delegate, said: "The coalition has opened too many fronts in Iraq, alienating a large swath of the population. The Iraqi people now equate democracy with bloodshed."

But the most stinging rebuke came from a man on whom the Americans thought the could rely - the highly-respected Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister of Iraq who is so close to Washington that three months ago he was given the honour of escorting the First Lady, Laura Bush, to the State of the Union address.

That he spoke out was bad enough for American credibility here; but that he chose to do so on Al Arabiya, the Arab satellite TV channel so hated by the Pentagon, was open defiance.

Pachachi, an IGC member, invoked one of the constant Arab criticism of the Israel's collective punishment of whole Palestinian families or communities in the occupied territories, when he said: "It is not right to punish all the people of Falluja, and we consider these operations by the Americans unacceptable and illegal."

The upshot is that the Americans have made something of a national hero of Moqtada al-Sadr, and in the eyes of many Iraqis they have become a heavy-handed occupation force with its own designs for post-Saddam Iraq.

Still refusing to acknowledge a rising consensus among observers that it faces a broad-based nationalist movement, President George Bush insisted in a weekend radio address that "a small faction is attempting to . . . seize power", and his Baghdad spokesman, Dan Senor, railed against "two-bit thugs . . . despised by a majority of Iraqis".

But, while the Americans kill Iraqis in the numbers that they have taken to, they will have little or no support from Iraqis - no politician or religious leader can afford such an association. Personally many find it distasteful and if they were to support it publicly, they would go through their lives fearing a fate similar to that of the US security contractors in Falluja.

Unless the US can pull back, it risks having no Iraqi administration for what is largely a ceremonial return of sovereign power to Iraqis on June 30. There is still no agreement on the make-up of the proposed administration, and the events of the last week could leave the US alone at the negotiating table as it attempts to craft one.

The US is close to being as isolated in Iraq as the Firdos Square plinth from which US forces stage-managed the demolition of a statue of Saddam on April 9 last year. Few Iraqis were there to celebrate last year and none were in the square for the first anniversary.

Access was denied as part of a tight US security lockdown. US tanks prowled the square and loud-hailers were used to warn that those who approached the square could be shot on sight.

The only other weekend activity in the square was the arrival, almost to the hour of the anniversary of the statue coming down, of a team of US soldiers.

Despite the chaos across the city, it was deemed important enough for them to be sent to the square with a ladder to remove posters of Moqtada al-Sadr that Iraqis had hung from the obscure sculpture which has replaced Saddam on the plinth.

But just off the square, in a shuttered shop, there was a stunning measure of how the US has squandered Iraqi support.

The 56-year-old shopkeeper was too scared to give his name. Among his bolts of cloth and bottles of detergent, he talked about how this time last year his family's hopes were so high, but now they feared that things would just get worse.

The son of a Shiite father and a Sunni mother, he spoke of his two brothers who Saddam had executed as political prisoners, and then he gave his verdict on the occupation: "The invasion was a bad idea. Saddam was bad and Bush is bad - but we'd have Saddam back any day."

Sadeer, my driver in Baghdad, is leaning the same way.

When he arrived at the Palestine Hotel yesterday he was limping; the leg of his jeans was soaked in blood. The cut was small and we were able to bandage it, but George Bush had lost another Iraqi friend.

Sadeer, a 28-year-old Shiite, had been an enthusiastic supporter of the Americans and he takes his life in his hands by working for me. Iraqis are being executed just for being in the company of Westerners.

But his encounter with a bullying US soldier, who roughed him up as he came through the security cordon around the hotel, has pushed him into the nationalist Iraqi camp.

When the GI challenged him, Sadeer tried to explain in his limited English that he entered the hotel routinely. But he was barked at, shoved away and then belted on the foot with a rifle. He used to slow in traffic to greet the US troops. Now he has turned: "Americans bad for Iraq - too many problems."

Leaving the hotel on foot, we had to go through the same streets to get to his car. I tried to explain our movements to the officer in charge of a US tank unit, but we were greeted with a stream of invective.

As I thanked the officer for his civility and moved on, one of his men fell in beside me, mumbling. Asked to repeat himself, he exploded: "Don't you f---in' eyeball me."

Nodding to his officer and raising his weapon, he shrieked: "He has rank to lose. I don't. I'll take you out quick as a flash, motherf---er!"

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