Saturday, October 27, 2007

Take A Deep Breath, Let's Look Under That Rock

Some people prefer not to look under the rock, though -- you don't know what's underneath, and it can be easier not to find out.

Via McQ, an article in today's Los Angeles Times about Marines "declaring war on garbage" in Ramadi:

Lt. Sayce W. Falk stopped mid-stride and stood in the dust-fine, silvery sand. He smiled serenely at the scene ahead.

"Good. That is good," the lanky Marine said in a quiet, almost reverential tone as he watched workers load filth into the back of an orange dump truck. "It makes me happy, just to see them working."

t would be an understatement to say that Falk has a passion for picking up trash. Like the other Marines in his infantry unit, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Falk sees trash pickup as the key to maintaining security in Ramadi, where a decision last year by Sunni Arab tribal leaders to turn against insurgents has brought calm to the once-violent capital of Anbar province.

Falk is one of several members of the unit who were in Ramadi in early 2006, when U.S. convoys raced down the main drag at 65 mph to dodge insurgent gunfire. Every patrol risked hitting buried bombs or being caught in a gun battle.

The situation had changed by the time the unit returned in April. Marines trained as snipers, tank experts and riflemen found those skills unnecessary here. Instead, they became masters of municipal mess, working under the theory that the way to keep the Iraqi city from going back to the insurgency was by improving the quality of life, from the fetid ground up.
Maj. Rory Quinn, the unit's executive officer, said that every little improvement helped keep Ramadi free of bombings.

"I've got to fix sewers today to buy three more days without one. You're constantly buying yourself three or four days to prevent another Iraqi from wanting to go out and kill Americans."

Wow. That certainly speaks volumes about the security situation, doesn't it?

And then there is this:
Even as they oversee such projects, the U.S. troops are trying to wean local officials from depending on them for services that should be funded and provided by the government. They remind them that this unit will leave Iraq in November.

Well, gosh. I guess those local officials will just have to pull their "How To Form a Government" books out of their desk drawers and get cracking. That's a little riff on what we production editors used to joke about telling the marketing and p.r. people who wanted to know why a book that had been sent to the printer the day before wasn't ready yet: "I guess I'll just have to pull my printing press out of the drawer." Except we had it better than Iraqis because we did not have to deal with an army of Uber-Senior Managing Production Editors from the book publishers of another country taking over our offices uninvited, running the show and then telling us we really needed to start running the show while continuing to run the show.

But I digress. McQ links to the LAT piece, and then writes:
As has been noted here numerous times, the change in Anbar province has been nothing less than miraculous. So miraculous that the Marines are asking to be shipped to Afghanistan so they can get into the fight again.

Look, you can achieve miraculous results if you don't care about the means used to achieve them. But the catch is that you will never be able to trust the results to stick. So it seems to be in Ramadi, where there are "no more enemies to chase" -- but the executive officer of the American infantry unit there has to keep finding sewers for Iraqis to fix to "buy three or four more days to prevent another Iraqi from wanting to go out and kill Americans." That's the kind of miraculous result that you can never take your eyes off of, because as soon as you do, it will explode in your face.

And the reason why is because U.S. troops (following orders based on a corrupt strategy developed by military and civilian planners far from Ramadi) used ugly, unprincipled means to achieve those ends.

About a month ago, after Gen. Petraeus had given his upbeat report to Congress about conditions in Iraq post-escalation, Katie Halper at AlterNet interviewed Rick Rowley, an independent filmmaker, about a video he had made showing quite a different reality than the one Petraeus spoke to Congress about. The interview is worth quoting at length, because, better than anything else I've seen, it shows just how deeply the Bush administration has misrepresented the Sunni leaders the U.S. embraced in Anbar and lays bare the lie behind the meme that Anbar is now a place where Iraqis can feel safe and secure, and live free from sectarian violence:
Katie Halper: What brought you to Iraq, and what were you hoping to capture?

Rick Rowley: We knew that one of the major stories the Army was going to use to justify keeping troops there was the supposed success in Anbar. The first investigation we did was into the Anbar reconciliation program. We spent six weeks crisscrossing Iraq, embedding with different militias to try to get a picture of the state of Iraq during the surge.

KH: You were the last Western journalists to videotape an interview with Abu Risha. What was he like? What was his significance?

RR: He seemed stiff and scripted. He told us some incredible lies during the interview. Three times he said he was the leader of all the Arab tribes of Iraq -- both Shia and Sunni. And like a bad poker player's tell, every time he told a lie he sniffed loudly.

He was a figurehead for a movement, the face they put on this story. Operationally, militarily, he wasn't particularly important. In his interview with us he said there was 100 percent security in Ramadi, that he was head of all of the tribes in Iraq. That has proven, in a horrifying way, to not be true. His assassination has blown a hole in the American story about security in Anbar. It's going to have a chilling effect on other tribes in other parts of the country who were thinking it might be safe to work with the Americans.

KH: Bush and Petraeus are hailing our alliance with Sunni tribes in Anbar. Can you tell us about these "freedom fighters" the U.S. is now allied with?

RR: There have been a lot of reports about the fact that the people who the U.S. is working with, the supposed "freedom fighters," the "counter-insurgents" are former insurgents. They were Iraqi al Qaeda before they started working with the Americans. That is troubling because if they were fighting the Americans once, they'll fight Americans again. And more troubling for the future of Iraq is the fact that many of the tribes that the U.S. is working with are war criminals who are directly responsible for ethnic cleansing and who are using American support to prepare for sectarian civil war. The U.S. is funding Sunni militias. They already funded the Shia militias. They're now funding all sides of this sectarian war.

KH: How did you discover that the Sunni militias with whom the U.S. is working are engaged in this sectarian violence?

RR: We embedded with the Americans for a week, and we found that in the town Fallahat, where there used to a lot of Shia, there are now no Shia. So we tracked down the displaced Shia families and found them living on the outskirts of Baghdad in a refugee camp that no Western media and certainly no camera crews have ever filmed. There are no services, no doctors, no hospitals, no schools, no running water, no work, no sanitation. People have to walk, in some cases, for miles to just get polluted tap water out of hoses. People who have tried to return home to pick up their rations have been killed on the highway. So no one can leave.

The refugees we talked to knew the names of the people who had kicked them out and bombed their houses. And they are exactly the same tribes the Americans are working with. So the people the Americans are working with are responsible for sectarian ethnic cleansing. Malaki's head of negotiations with Sunni groups told us the groups the Americans are working with include some of the country's worst war criminals, responsible for beheadings and mass executions.

KH: Even if these militias are responsible for this violence, how do we know that the U.S. military knows this? Is it possible they don't?

RR: We have proof that the Americans should know it. The American soldiers set their core operating base in a house they knew used to be inhabited by Shia. And all the Shia were gone. So it's just whether they decided to ask the obvious question or not.

KH: How does what Petraeus and Bush are saying contrast with what you saw and filmed on the ground?

RR: The story that Petraeus and Bush are saying is fantastic -- a Lawrence of Arabia figure named Abu Risha rose out of the desert and behind him the noble tribes of Anbar rose up and they kicked out al Qaeda. Well, it's safer for American soldiers there, but it's not safer for the Shia citizens there. The U.S. is funding sectarian militias fighting in a civil war in order to momentarily decrease attacks on Americans.

KH: And how, exactly, is the U.S. supporting the militias?

RR: The soldiers on the ground aren't hiding anything. They were amazingly open and honest about the whole process with us. Through a combination of threats and enticements like money and releasing their kids from prison, the U.S. military has gotten groups to join a coalition. They're paid money for small construction projects, and they're eventually incorporated into the Iraqi police force, where they're armed and paid, given a gun, a badge and the power to arrest.

There have been reports that some American army units are directly giving them weapons. I didn't see anyone give an M16 to anyone. But I did see a U.S. captain hand wads of cash to militiamen who were guarding checkpoints. Petraeus says they're not supplying guns. That might be true. But saying the U.S. military is just applauding from the sidelines and not providing material support to these militias is a lie.

KH: Why would the U.S. want to support these militias?

RR: It's an easy way to produce immediate statistical successes on the ground, a decrease in attacks on American soldiers. And this is a long-term strategy. Petraeus came in with Negroponte with the so-called "Salvador Option" for Iraq, arming death squads to kill insurgents as the Reagan administration did in the 1980s in El Salvador. In 2004 he incorporated all of the Shia militias into the Iraqi security forces and basically created Shia death squads and secret torture prisons we've all heard stories of. Now they're funding Sunni militias and Sunni death squads[.]

Although I've quoted a large part of the interview, it's worth reading the rest. A clip from the video is posted at the top of the article.

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