April 18, 2015
Ugly Americans in Iraq
Posted on Jun 27, 2006
By Nir Rosen
Editor?s note: The following is an oral history of a U.S. soldier who served with the Army?s Special Forces during the allied occupation of Iraq in 2003 and 2004, as told to journalist Nir Rosen.
It is a companion piece to Rosen?s essay ?The Occupation of Iraqi Hearts and Minds,? which describes his experiences as an American reporter who sometimes passed as a Middle Easterner during the occupation.
The oral history is composed almost entirely of e-mail correspondences that Rosen received from the soldier, who wished to remain anonymous.
About the soldier: He served in Iraq during 2003 and 2004 as part of a Special Forces unit whose job, as he told Rosen, was to ?hunt enemies and destroy their networks?—to go after ?former masterminds and leaders of Saddam?s Baath Party.? His targets soon morphed into members of ?Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia? and insurgents—?a broad term that extended to criminals, influential gangs, bomb-making masterminds and generally pissed-off Arabs across the Sunni Triangle laid off by CPA Order #2—which dismissed all Baath Party members.?
The soldier left the Army in May 2005 but can be recalled in case of a ?national emergency.? He joked to Rosen that ?the day we invade Iran or North Korea is the day that I become a Canadian citizen.?
Square, Site wide
Rosen met the soldier in Washington, D.C., during the spring of 2006 and struck up a friendship, ?feeling a bond,? in Rosen?s words, ?that all who have served in Iraq in some way must feel.?
About the soldier?s wish to remain anonymous, he wrote the following to Rosen:
Nir Rosen’s account of the soldier’s oral history begins below.
My friend wanted to begin his recounting of his time in Iraq by discussing ?the character of the American men fighting this war.? He joked that ?it might be a shock to some of the architects of this war that our fighters don?t read magazines like The Weekly Standard or The New Republic or give a rat?s ass about where our occupation in Iraq is headed.? He continued: ?The reason most of them signed up for service (me included) was to get some action, destroy Al Qaeda and come home with a body count to brag about at a local bar. Who gives a fuck about the rest? I think it can be best summed up in a conversation I overheard at my recruitment station. When one kid was asked why he joined the infantry, he didn?t have any doubts: ?I enlisted to kill towelheads.?
“The very nature of special operations and the infantry is to kill and/or capture dangerous people, destroy shit and prevent attacks. Creating rapport with the local population isn?t really part of the vocabulary—especially if the local population is as insanely dangerous as Iraq. In the eyes of many fellow soldiers who signed up because of 9/11, and because of the Bush administration?s portrayal of Iraq as part of the ?war on terror,? many of the guys fully believed that they were in a hunt [for] men responsible for the blood bath in lower Manhattan.? My friend added that regardless of where soldiers are, ?be that a foreign country or a local bar in a military town, they usually wear out their welcome anywhere they go—they?ve perfected the skill.?
My friend stressed that ?our officers took extra special care to fully explain the Rules of Engagement (ROE) in formal briefings to men in my company, and over the course of 140 missions they practiced professional restraint with their actions. But there is also a golden explicit rule with everything you do in war: Make sure that your ass comes home alive. This necessitates aggressive infantry platoon behavior on the part of the U.S. military that ultimately results in something quite the opposite of our stated goals: ?building democracy? and winning ?hearts and minds.? While we were largely successful in hunting the men we were pursuing, my personal impression was that we probably created two times more insurgents than we caught, not to mention the communities we greatly angered with our raids. Our actions were a direct contribution to, as [allied commander] Gen. George Casey said in September 2005, an occupation that is ?fueling the insurgency.? ?
He told me a story about his platoon?s return to the U.S. after its second deployment to Iraq, when its members went to see the premiere of the film ?Team America.? Made by the creators of television?s ?South Park,? ?Team America? was a comical marionette action flick about a jingoistic fire team whose utter recklessness was matched by their righteous yahoo attitude that America must preserve the very fabric of civilization. No film has more accurately depicted our presence in Iraq; it was a looking glass and it instantly became a platoon favorite. There is a classic scene in the movie where Team America?s overbearing red, white and blue helicopter lands on top of a bazaar in the Middle East, crushing an Arab?s cashew stand. The side of the helicopter read: ?We Protect, We Serve, We Care.? That scene hit so close to home, it was scary. Later in the movie, in a high-speed chase against terrorists, a missile gets misfired and destroys the Sphinx (in Egypt). ?The movie theater, packed with guys from my platoon, was howling with laughter. We even sarcastically recited lines from the theme songs ?Freedom Isn?t Free? and ?America, Fuck Yeah? before and after missions on our third tour in the winter of 2005. By then the disconnect between the lofty rhetoric of our leaders and the crap we dealt with on the ground couldn?t have been greater. The mentality of soldiers in Iraq is compounded by a group of factors—wrecked relationships, senselessly drawn-out deployments, sex/alcohol deprivation, and getting mortared on a nightly basis, to name a few.? He added that ?Iraq is a scary fucking place. Every hard-hitting thing we did there was due in large part to our fear of that place.?
My friend explained that over the course of his three deployments to Iraq he discovered what he described as a ?breakthrough method of communicating in foreign languages. It was so cutting-edge that Rosetta Stone [the language-training program] doesn?t even know about it. It goes something like this: The louder you yell at an Arab in English, the more the Arab will understand you. I?ve seen this done by my brothers in arms on a hundred-plus occasions. Hell, even I did it. And let me be the first to exclaim that it works wonders. The language barrier has done irreversible damage to our entire occupation.
“On the rare occasions that we?ve had men who speak the language with us, it has yielded key information—in one case it almost resulted in the capture of a high-value target. I can?t begin to imagine the kind of miscommunication damage we could have avoided had we had interpreters during two of our three deployments. Nothing adds to the disconnect between U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi populace like absolute miscommunication. We are astronauts and they are Martians, plain and simple. The average soldier looks like Buzz Aldrin, loaded with enough high-tech gear to land him on the set of a sci-fi flick. Every night we descend unexpectedly upon Mars from helicopters. Under the cover of darkness we prowl across mud-hut villages on the search for wanted Martians that communicate with each other in weird, harsh sounds. As a matter of fact, the glow on our eyes created from our night observation devices earned us a nickname by Sunni Arabs across Al Anbar; they called us the ?men with green eyes.? ?
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