U.S. forces were about to conduct an early-morning raid today in Sadr City, a poor part of Baghdad, when they found themselves under attack by automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades. They naturally called in air support.
When men are shooting at you from the tops of buildings, alleys and cubbyholes in the neighborhood, it’s hard to know where to shoot back. They can move around easily. You can’t.
Because the Americans were originally in the area to look for a man who might be a “Special Groups” member behind numerous kidnappings in the city, the official U.S. press release following the resulting carnage stated that “49 criminals were killed ...”
Looking to capture one criminal, the three separate air strikes killed at least 49 of them. No mention of the wounded, or the destruction of property. Iraqi officials say women, children and old men are among the dead.
"Criminals?" Women. Children. Doddering old men.
The Americans say, straight-faced, that they weren’t aware of civilians in the area. This beggars belief.
OK. In the twisted, up-is-down funhouse that the once-beautiful city of Baghdad has become over the last four-and-a-half years of war, American forces are calling down air strikes in an impoverished neighborhood where a criminal might be hiding. I’ve no argument that kidnapping isn’t a crime, or that catching someone who plans and executes such crimes should be caught, tried and punished.
And I’ve no argument, either, that in war it isn’t only soldiers who die. In a war such as America is waging on Iraq, the soldiers on one side aren’t fighting uniformed and disciplined enemy soldiers on the other. Instead, they’re fighting local guerrillas who don’t play by the rules, who don’t wear uniforms and who melt into the populace when they’ve achieved their goal or run out of bullets. And shit happens.
This type of war cannot be won by either side. And it’s the civilians who end up bearing the worst if it. Women, children, and elders. Lives are lost or ruined, homes destroyed, livelihoods taken away.
The disingenuous response by America’s military PR hacks that "Ground forces reported they were unaware of any innocent civilians being killed as a result of this operation," is horrifying.
They call in early-morning air strikes where many poor people are living, blow the hell out of the place and claim they “weren’t aware of civilians being killed”? Yet 49 "criminals" died.
"Most of those killed and wounded were women, children and elderly men which shows the indiscriminate monstrosity of the attacks on this crowded area," said Abdul-Mehdi al-Muteyri, an official loyal to Moqtada Sadr. The attack, he said, was “simply barbaric.”
Well, the rhetoric is a little over the top, right? We don’t like Moqtada Sadr. He’s a “radical Shia cleric” and the alleged leader of an army of shadowy guerrillas who have been giving us headaches for years now.
Still, when soldiers are reduced to bombing areas in which they know there are innocent civilians, it’s time to reassess the mission. This type of “battle” has been going on for far too long in Iraq. Saddam is dead. There were no “weapons of mass destruction.” America’s shaky public objectives have been accomplished, whatever that means. But because of us, Iraq is now fighting a civil war, a religious and power-grabbing war. America’s troops are being forced to do the work of policemen – raiding homes in the dark hours before dawn, looking for criminals. Yet when they’re attacked by guerrillas, they behave like the soldiers they are and call in air support to bomb everything. It’s like tossing a hand-grenade into a sweets shop to kill a few annoying wasps.
Really, it has to end before our idiotic gun-barrel democracy wins more hearts and minds.
Note: The photo was taken in March, 2003.