This may not be a popular thing to say: But the truth is that the Haditha massacre, as awful as it apparently was, isn’t the most important story coming out of Iraq involving Americans killing civilians. And it isn’t the one that’s ultimately likely to do the most damage to our standing, or what little is left of it, among the Iraqi people.
Americans have a dirty little secret in Iraq and Afghanistan (secret here not there), which is that we have grown distressingly comfortable with killing innocent civilians, where doing so enhances the safety of our own people.
This isn’t about massacres like Haditha, or even intentional homicides like those committed against Iraqi prisoners; it’s about priorities set by our government — priorities that seem quite clearly to place a much higher value on the lives of American troops, than on those of, say, Iraqi and Afghan children.
I don’t doubt that our military really does, as they claim, go to considerable lengths in trying to minimize civilian casualties: But in a crunch our priorities lie elsewhere.
We hide in the Green Zone in Iraq, in what can best be described as the world’s most heavily guarded “gated community,” where only a select few Iraqis are permitted to enter; and when we do venture out, we take our gates with us, establishing “prohibited areas” and roadblocks outside of American outposts. And any Iraqi who blunders into our space stands a good chance of dying — gunned down in response to a very legitimate fear of suicide bombers.
The reports keep rolling in: “Children killed as US troops fire on van at roadblock,” “US Troops Kill Eight Iraqi Civilians at Roadblocks,” “Former Marine Testifies to Atrocities in Iraq,” “Iraqi civilians killed at checkpoints,” “A Checkpoint of Responsibility” and so many more.
And then this just a few days ago:
U.S. forces killed two Iraqi women — one of them about to give birth — when the troops shot at a car that failed to stop at an observation post in a city north of Baghdad, Iraqi officials and relatives said Wednesday.
Nabiha Nisaif Jassim, 35, was being raced to the maternity hospital in Samarra by her brother when the shooting occurred Tuesday.
Jassim, the mother of two children, and her 57-year-old cousin, Saliha Mohammed Hassan, were killed by the U.S. forces, according to police Capt. Laith Mohammed and witnesses.
The U.S. military said coalition troops fired at a car after it entered a clearly marked prohibited area near an observation post but failed to stop despite repeated visual and auditory warnings.
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Jassim’s brother, who was wounded by broken glass, said he did not see any warnings as he sped his sister to the hospital. Her husband was waiting for her there.
“I was driving my car at full speed because I did not see any sign or warning from the Americans. It was not until they shot the two bullets that killed my sister and cousin that I stopped,” he said. “God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here. They have no regard for our lives.”
Meanwhile, the United States is increasingly turning to air power in preference to troops when fighting battles in both Iraq and Afghanistan, a move calculated to reduce U.S. casualties, but just as certain to increase losses among civilians.
It’s important to remember that these decisions aren’t being made by the troops on the ground themselves, young men and women placed in an untenable position by the mendacity of our political leadership. This comes from the top — a calculated, though obviously far from successful, effort to keep down American casualties in the hope of salvaging public support for the War in Iraq.
But my God, all moral issues aside, what an awful price we’re paying for this in terms of our long term political goals in the region. In just the last few days we’ve seen violent anti-American riots in Kabul, in what the Associated Press describes as “a display of rising resentment over civilian deaths in the war against insurgents.” The new Iraqi ambassador to the United States has publicly accused U.S. forces of murdering his cousin and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki just yesterday “lashed out at the American military . . . denouncing what he characterized as habitual attacks by troops against Iraqi civilians.”
I strongly opposed going to war with Iraq, but like a lot of other people, once the invasion was over I largely bought into the theory that having “broken” Iraq we were duty bound to “fix it” before leaving.
But I’ve learned something since then: I’ve learned that having a moral duty isn’t necessarily the same thing as having the ability to actually carry it out. And as my friend Horace once said, if anything’s become clear in the years that have passed since this war started, it’s that while, without a doubt, we had what it took to break Iraq, we don’t have what it takes to fix it. They’re going to have to do that on their own. We can and should help, but not by occupying the country through force of arms. The only thing our continued presence is doing is feeding the cycle of violence.
It’s over. It’s time to come home.