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Nir Rosen is a fellow at the New America Foundation and a free-lance writer. His book on postwar Iraq, "In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq" was published by Free Press in May 2006.
His articles from Iraq and elsewhere are available on www.nirrosen.com....
The Occupation of Iraqi Hearts and Minds
Several hours later, a call was intercepted from the Ayoub whom the Americans were seeking. “Oh shit,” said the S2 captain, “[we’ve got] the wrong Ayoub.” The innocent father of six who was in custody actually was a worker in a phosphate plant the Americans were running. But he was not let go. If he was released, there would be a risk that the other Ayoub would learn he was being sought. The night after his arrest a relieved Ayoub could be seen escorted by soldiers to call his family and report he was fine but would not be home for a few days. “It was not the wrong guy,” the troop’s captain said defensively, shifting blame elsewhere. “We raided the house we were supposed and arrested the man we were told to.”
When the soldiers who had captured Ayoub learned of the mistake, they were not surprised. “Oops,” said one. Another one wondered, “What do you tell a guy like that, sorry?” “It’s depressing,” a third said. “We trashed the wrong guy’s house and the guy that’s been shooting at us is out there with his house not trashed.” The soldier who shot the nonlethal ordinance at Ayoub said, “I’m just glad he didn’t do something that made me shoot him [with a bullet].” Then the soldiers resumed their banter.
A few days later, the Army did a further analysis of the phone calls that had originally sent them in search of a man named Ayoub. In the calls, Ayoub had indeed spoken of proceeding to the next level and obtaining land mines and other weapons. This had rightfully alarmed the Army’s intelligence officers. But at some point an analyst realized that Ayoub was not a terrorist intent on obtaining weapons; he turned out to be a kid playing video games and talking about them with his friend on the phone.
The Procrustean application of spurious information gathered by intelligence officers who cannot speak Arabic and are not familiar with Iraqi, Arab or Muslim culture is creating enemies instead of eliminating them. The S2 captain could barely hide his disdain for Iraqis. “Oh he just hates anything Iraqi,” another captain said of him, adding that the intelligence officers do not venture off the base or interact with Iraqis or develop any relations with the people they are expected to understand. A lieutenant colonel from the Army’s civil affairs command explained that these officers do not read about the soldiers engaging with Iraqis, sharing cigarettes, tea, meals and conversations. They read only the reports of “incidents” and they view Iraqis solely as security threat. The intelligence officers in Iraq do not know Iraq.
In every market in Iraq hundreds of wooden crates can be found piled one atop the other. Sold for storage, upon further examination these crates reveal themselves to be former ammunition crates. For the past 25 years Iraq has been importing weapons to feed its army’s appetite for war against Iran, the Kurds, Kuwait and America. When empty, the crates were sold for domestic use. The soldiers with the Army unit I was with assumed the crates they found in nearly every home implicated the owners in terrorist activities, rather than the much simpler truth. During the operation described here I saw one of the soldiers find such a crate overturned above a small hole in a man’s backyard. “He was trying to bury it when he saw us coming,” one soldier deduced confidently. He did not lift the crate to discover that it was protecting irrigation pipes and hoses in a pit.
Saddam bestowed his largesse upon the security services that served as his praetorian guard and executioners. Elite fighters received Jawa motorcycles. Immediately after the war, Jawa motorcycles were available in every market in Iraq that sold scooters and motorcycles. Some had been stolen from government buildings in the frenzy of looting that followed the war and was directed primarily against institutions of the former government. Soldiers of the Army unit I accompanied were always alert for Jawa motorcycles, and indeed it was true that many Iraqi paramilitaries had used them against the Americans. On a night the troop had received RPG fire, its members drove back to base through the town. When they spotted a man on a Jawa motorcycle they fired warning shots. When he did not stop they shot him to death. “He was up to no good,” the captain explained.
On Nov. 26, 2003, after two weeks of brutal daily interrogations by military intelligence officers, Special Forces soldiers and CIA personnel, Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, the former chief of Iraqi air defenses whose arrest I had witnessed, died in a U.S. detention facility. Twenty-four to 48 hours before that, he had been interrogated and beaten by CIA personnel. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division began looking into Mowhoush’s death that same day. The next day an Army news release stated that he had died of natural causes. “Mowhoush said he didn’t feel well and subsequently lost consciousness,” according to the statement, ” ... the soldier questioning him found no pulse and called for medical authorities. A surgeon responded within five minutes to continue advanced cardiac life support techniques, but they were ineffective.” On Dec. 2, 2003, an Army medical examiner’s autopsy said the general’s death was “a homicide by asphyxia,” but it was not until May 12, 2004, that the death certificate was issued, with homicide as the cause. The Pentagon autopsy report in May said he had died of “asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression” and that there was “evidence of blunt force trauma to the chest and legs.” Mowhoush was one of several Iraqis whose death certificates were not issued until May of 2004, long after their deaths.
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