14 November 2003

Occupation enters critical phase

The clashes between resistance fighters and US forces in the streets of Iraq continue to anger the Iraqi population, who blame the US for the current instability in the country. Recent polls from Iraq show that much of society now views US forces as occupiers rather than as liberators. These feelings of distrust can be expected to intensify the longer US and guerrilla fighters continue to battle in the cities of Iraq.

The source of many Iraqis' anger is the overwhelming force frequently used by US soldiers in response to attacks and civil disruptions. While this strategy is effective in large, open terrain such as the desert and when dealing with regular military units, it is typically ineffectual when used in dense urban environments filled with people carrying out their daily lives. Instead, this policy may virtually guarantee otherwise avoidable losses of civilian life and also add to an increasingly negative image of the US presence.

The more Iraqis who have a negative image of the US presence, the greater the risk that otherwise uninvolved Iraqis will either cooperate, support or sympathize with anti-US guerrillas. This is already evident in cases of resistance by Iraqi civilians; for example, in the Sunni triangle city of Abu Ghraib, US troops have been consistently fighting both residents and guerrillas. Unless US forces are willing to lock down these cities completely, conducting operations in places such as Abu Ghraib seems counterproductive and may only embolden the guerrillas.

In addition to stimulating resistance, operations in cities such as Abu Ghraib, along with the use of overwhelming force, hurt the image of US involvement in Iraq. For instance, New York Times reporter Alex Berenson recently reported that in Abu Ghraib US troops 'fired on a photographer trying to cover the fighting and barred reporters from viewing the scene'. While such controversial images may be suppressed in the US, they are not elsewhere; as well as on Arab television, European news networks frequently show videos of US troops responding with overwhelming force in the middle of busy market streets. Instead of attempting to prevent these images from reaching the outside world, greater peacekeeping training must be given to US forces to prevent their fighting methods from turning off not only Iraqi society, but also the wider world.

I suspect most Americans are unaware of the levels of violence being used in Iraq. That may even include the president. Who on the palace staff would be brave enough to tell him?

Increasing the levels of violence is just going to create more revenge groups. We were told this occupation, this 'liberation' would be different, although we were never told how or why. So far all we've seen is bungled colonialism and ineffectual resorts to overwhelming force - resorts that only serve to increase resistance. The occupation might have had a chance if they'd shown signs of governing in the interests of Iraqis. Halliburton put an end to that scenario.

Thought is more important than force.

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