Green Left Weekly: US Terrorises Iraqi Civilians

Published: Thu 27 Nov 2003 11:19 AM
Iraq - US Terrorises Civilians
By Rohan Pearce
The Green Left Weekly
A November 19 press release from the US military's Central Command was headlined, “Operations Make Iraq Safer, Improve Quality of Life”. It was referring to the renewed offensive by US occupation forces against Iraqi resistance fighters. The US invaders are “improving” the quality of life for Iraqis with the aid of 500-kilogram bombs, F-16 fighter-bombers, heavy tanks, the obliteration of the homes of “suspected” guerrillas, widespread arrests and the strafing of Iraqi cities, including Baghdad, by AC-130 gunships.
Operation Iron Hammer (centred on Baghdad) and Operation Ivy Cyclone II (Tikrit to Kirkuk) were launched in response to the downing of a US Chinook transport helicopter and a Black Hawk helicopter in early November. On November 11, the US carried out the first air strikes on Baghdad since it took control of the city in April. Near Fallujah, where resistance fighters shot down the Chinook, F-16s dropped three 230kg bombs.
Between November 12 and 16, US forces arrested more than 130 “suspects” in areas north and west of Baghdad. According to a November 15 statement issued by US Central Command, troops arrested 67 people “for further questioning” in Ramadi in one 24-hour period.
Tikrit, birthplace of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, located north of Baghdad, has borne the brunt of the crackdown. The British Independent's Phil Reeves reported on November 18 that the US had sealed the town with chest-high razor wire, only allowing Iraqis with identification cards issued by the occupation regime in or out. “Hey this is just like Gaza, isn't it?”, an Iraqi commented to Reeves.
US forces demolished between 12 and 15 homes in the area on November 16 and 17. A November 19 article by the Knight Ridder News Service quoted US Major Gordon Tate's justifications for the demolitions, which were carried out by Apache helicopters and tanks. “We don't just destroy their homes for no reason”, he told journalists. “I don't want to say they [military commanders] are cold-hearted. But if your house is used to make [homemade roadside bombs] or house Saddam loyalists, that's within the rules of warfare.”
On November 19, the US announced that it had dropped two 900-kilogram satellite-guided bombs near Baqouba, and 450-kilogram bombs on “terrorist targets” near Kirkuk in northern Iraq. A military spokesperson told Agence France-Presse that the targets, from which he claimed mortar or rocket attacks had been launched, “may be abandoned buildings, they may be overgrown”.
Collective punishment
At a press briefing the day before, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, when asked if dropping bombs on empty buildings was aimed at intimidating Iraqis, said: “All of our military operations have a military purpose. Some are to persuade. Some are to compel. Some are to kill. Some are to capture.”
Collective punishment is expressly prohibited under the terms of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Article 75 lists it among the acts which “are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever, whether committed by civilian or by military agents”.
While the Iron Hammer and Ivy Cyclone operations are a massive escalation of collective punishment, it's not a new policy. After the fall of Baghdad, strict curfews and mass arrests were two of the tactics used by US forces to try to crush resistance to the occupation.
In mid-October, the Independent's Patrick Cockburn reported, “US soldiers driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from loudspeakers, have uprooted ancient groves of date palms as well as orange and lemon trees in central Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerrillas attacking US troops”. According to the farmers, 50 families lost their livelihoods.
The latest operations are motivated by the original intentions of the “shock and awe” terror onslaught that Washington had initially planned for the invasion of Iraq. However, the massive global and US opposition to the war forced the Pentagon to limit the scale of the invasion's bombing blitz in order to reduce civilian deaths.
While the speed of the US “victory” over Hussein was welcomed by a White House under considerable public pressure to limit US casualties, it did not lead to the massive demoralisation and fear among the Iraqi population that Washington felt it needed to minimise subsequent resistance to the occupation.
In January, architect of the “shock and awe” campaign Harlan Ullman described its intent: “You're sitting in Baghdad and all of a sudden you're the general and 30 of you at division headquarters have been wiped out. You also take the city down. By that I mean you get rid of their power, water. In two, three, four, five days, they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted.”
The motive for the latest US campaign of bombings and raids is to break the will of the Iraqi population to resist. The escalation in overt displays of firepower aims to counter the growing belief among Iraqis (which was warned of in a November 10 memo from the CIA's station chief in Baghdad) that the resistance movement can defeat the US occupation.
Echoes of Vietnam
Like many of the Bush gang's policies, the push for terror-based counterinsurgency operations has been led by the so-called neo-conservatives.
In an October 26 Washington Post article, Gary Schmitt, a leading figure in the Project for a New American Century think tank, and the American Enterprise Institute's Tom Donnelly argued for a more vicious Vietnam War-style counterinsurgency strategy: “Even in Vietnam, classic counterinsurgency strategies and tactics proved successful — when given time and effort. There is no reason to believe they cannot work in Iraq where the insurgency problem is not as large or difficult, where there is no country like North Vietnam providing major assistance to guerrillas.
“Make no mistake: the United States knows how to fight such wars. It even has a how-to guide — the Marine Corps' Small Wars Manual ... But the American military experience distilled in the Small Wars Manual was largely forgotten in Vietnam. Instead, the United States pursued the big-unit, search-and-destroy approach... While Marine General Victor `Brute' Krulak pushed for a pacification strategy, and the so-called CORDS program — for Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support — was the kind of coordinated all-agency effort envisioned in the Small Wars Manual, the Army's `war of attrition' won out over traditional counterinsurgency strategy.”
The CORDS agency, established in 1967, combined personnel from the Pentagon, CIA, the US Agency for International Development and the US Information Agency. A 1992 article by the Baobab Press news service succinctly describes the program as “destroy-and-develop”. In addition to propaganda designed to mislead Vietnamese into thinking that the national liberation forces were on the verge of defeat, the CORDS program involved the destruction of entire Vietnamese villages and the creation of a police system “to create a climate of absolute terror”.
The Baobab Press article described how “CORDS forces took advantage of widespread destruction by initiating special `rebuilding' efforts to `reward' persons willing to accommodate the Americans. Where homes and farms had been entirely wiped out, resettlement was offered to those who would come to ideological terms with the destroyers...
“The coercive impact of this destroy-and-rebuild formula was deliberate and carefully pre-planned. By using such extreme measures to bring about total dependency on western assistance, the `pacification' program exploited the most basic human instinct — survival — to give US forces leverage over Vietnamese peasants who tended overwhelmingly to be politically neutral or loyal to the national unification effort.”
An October 9 report from the New York-based Guerrilla News Network described how a comparable process was occurring throughout Iraq. GNN reporter Gert Van Langendonck described how money poured has been into the Shiite town of Balad, “US$1.2m so far — providing help with the water and electricity supply, and fixing up schools”. But in the surrounding Sunni villages, “where the Americans get shot at get slapped with an early 7pm curfew; they get four hours a day of electricity and very little in terms of reconstruction projects”.
In a November 16 New York Times op-ed, Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank and a contributing editor of the neo-cons' flagship publication the Weekly Standard, also urged the Pentagon to consider assassination programs like those the US carried out in Vietnam.
Among Boot's recommendations, which included CORDS-style programs, was that the Pentagon apply the lessons of the infamous Operation Phoenix. “Phoenix was a joint CIA-South Vietnam effort to identify and eradicate Vietcong cadres in villages”, Boot explained. “Critics later charged the program with carrying out assassinations, and even William Colby acknowledged there were `excesses'. Nevertheless, far more cadres were captured (33,000) or induced to defect under Phoenix (22,000) than were killed (26,000).”
Many of those who Boot coyly describes as “cadres” were civilian supporters of the Vietnamese national liberation forces. Douglas Valentine, author of The Phoenix Program (Avon Books, 1992), described the operation as “aimed at `neutralising', through assassination, kidnapping, and systematic torture, the civilian infrastructure that supported the insurgency in South Vietnam. It was a terrifying `final solution' that violated the Geneva Conventions and traditional American ideas of human morality.”
The most infamous outcome of Phoenix was the massacre of more than 500 inhabitants of the Vietnamese village of My Lai in March 1968. Elderly villagers were bayoneted to death, other villagers were raped and tortured, and those still alive were ordered into a ditch, where US soldiers shot them en masse.
- From Green Left Weekly, November 26, 2003.
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