Monday, December 04, 2006

Good Reading

Since the amount of embedded reports has dropped to almost nil, it is no surprise that the main stream media is able to offer little in regards to the on-the-ground situation in Iraq. Fortunately, a great deal of soldiers have been actively writing about their experiences in Iraq, offering the public a unique window into the Iraqi conflict.

The Nation recently published a very interesting article written by Major Bill Edmonds, a US Army Special Forces Officer who served in Iraq for one year advising Iraqi intelligence officers. Maj. Edmonds laments the cultural divide that seperates Iraqis from US soldiers and is frsutrated by the latter's reluctance to even attempt to overcome it.
"I have come to realize that we isolate our soldiers from the societies in
which we operate. We airlift and sealift vacuum-sealed replicas of America to
remote corners of the world; once there, we isolate ourselves from the very
people we are trying to protect or win over."
He found that this lack of awareness was a huge contributing factor to the insurgency.
"'It is how you act," he [a captured Iraqi insurgent] says, 'and how
we are treated that makes me fight. For many Iraqis this anger at you is just an
excuse to kill for money or greed. But for most others, they truly feel they are
doing what is right. But you give them this excuse; the American military gives
them the excuse.' So now terrorist leaders pretending to be pious Iraqis target
this very common base anger, Iraqis fight and civilians raise their fists to
salute the Holy Fighter."
Make sure to read the entire article.

Soldiers are also well poised to analyzes the current situation in Iraq. In an article for CSIS, Lt. Col. Stephen Sklenka, USMC discusses the perils of withdrawal. Col. Sklenka argues that U.S. troops in Iraq are serving two very important purposes: (1) stemming the influence of Iran in Iraq and thereby forbidding Iran from become a regional hegemon and (2) preventing a genocide.

The former argument is more or less common these days; however, I haven't heard too many people using the term "genocide" yet. Though his analysis may seem a bit alarmist, Col. Sklenka's overall argument is quite persuasive. Here is an excerpt:
"In the quest for political and economic supremacy, there are strong indications
that Shi’a leaders are not just aiming for dominance over the Sunni, but rather,
full and complete subjugation of their traditional antagonists. The only
thing preventing fulfillment of their unspoken goal is the presence of US and
coalition forces. If those troops, serving in a de facto mediating
capacity, are removed from Iraq, the already high level of violence will
potentially rise to unspeakable levels of horror as Shi’a death squads assert
their newfound dominance. If the current rate of killing is occurring
while American forces are still in Iraq, one can only conclude that removal of
US forces from that country will be accompanied by an exponential increase in
violence. "
I have a bit of problem with this argument. I'm not sure whether it is fair to say in certain terms that removal of US forces will result in exponential increase in violence. Sure it is likely, but arguments that the presence of US troops incite a great deal of violence are not entirely without merit. Moving on:

In fact, it is not beyond reason to forecast those levels of violence
approaching, if not actually assuming, religio-genocidal proportions as Shi’a
seek to exterminate their Sunni adversaries. For those who dismiss the likelihood of sectarian violence reaching such an extreme, it is important to remember how the various groups in Iraq tend to view themselves.

Unlike their neighbors to the north who consider themselves Kurds first and then
Sunnis, the vast preponderance of Shi’a and Sunni identify with their sectarian
affiliations first and embrace their secular identities a distant second.
That distinction is important because it lays the foundation for understanding
the cultural-ethnic dynamics that have existed in the region for hundreds of
years, long before the concept of an Iraqi nation was articulated.


Palooka's Revenge said...

I come tumbling, stumbling. Someone pushed me but I can't remember who. Perhaps one of the Iraqi blogs I regularly read.

I think you are representative of what I've been looking for though I'm not sure why or, for that matter, if I even know what that is. But this entry at least is representative. Its all I've read so far. But I intend to read more.

So just what am I looking for?Acurate information perhaps? Balanced point of view maybe. One that is not vested in frozen, polarized views pervasive on all sides? I can find lotsa those. I'm looking to expand my network that rather recognizes those and points them out as such and how they are feeding our dilemna. And one from which I can learn and expand my own view. For burning within me is the unrequited question... WHY? Why are things as they are in this war?

Its appaling that we run around killing each other without asking this question. I know its not a simple issue. And I know all sides are involved. But I know we americans have responsibilities here that are not being owned and that is costing us dearly. All sides do.

So much is vested in its own interest. Nothing wrong with that. Admirable even. Its just that so often the views are narrow and cannot see beyond that narrowness; limited by those vested interests and alignments. Sunni, Shia, American, Israeli, hawk, dove, etc. So much twisted information, propaganda, banter, bigotry, hatred, special interest, bullshit, denial. Lotsa denial.

Don't get me wrong, I can name-call with the best of them. But I come out of a deeper, dare I say, esoteric hunger. One that seeks to identify the deeper, fundamental causal factors and just what it is that empowers those factors in the condition that everyone on every side finds themselves in. For without that I will never find peace to my question and thus will never get to the next question... "okay, so what do we do about it?" And, "how do we change for the better"?

Your post really touched me because you recognized the value in Major Edwards observations. Military "conditioning" is not limited to skills and physical training. Our "attitude" is costing us dearly. And its OUR attitude!

I've read reports that american troop support for the war runs 80% which leads me to one of my questions: do you have any data on troop support you feel is unbiased?

Which leads to another question: you stated, "a great deal of soldiers have been actively writing about their experiences in Iraq, offering the public a unique window into the Iraqi conflict."

Can you provide me with some links? I have none and I'd love to hear what they are saying.

I was also quite taken by the words and wisdom of the iraqi captor. He recognized how this aloofness on our part feeds the anger and hatred within himself and his fellows. He even recognized how his fellows use this as an excuse to justify their own inclinations. And he recognized how his fellows use this to target the iraqi people to gain support for themselves.

Interesting! Thats exactly what goes on on our side!!

mikevotes said...

Hey, it's not just the western embeds that have been pulled out in this last round of violence.

I'm a picture buff, and even the Iraqi photographers have been pulled back judging from their output.

You'll occasionally see a photo from a hospital or morgue, but unless it's a protected function like the Sadr protests last week, the photogs really no longer go on the streets.

I noticed you'd linked to me. I will happily reciprocate soon.


Matteo Tomasini said...

thank you very much for the kind comments. Regarding your request for further reading, I would first of all direct you to an interview we did with Capt. Jon Powers who served in Baghdad and Najaf with the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division. Powers is currently the director of War Kids Relief, a program of Veterans for America that assists Iraqi youth by funding orphanages and youth centers to help keep kids off the streets and out of militias and insurgent groups. In the interview, he
discusses the alarming crisis facing Iraqi youth and examines strategies that can stabilize Iraq. I had meant to include a link to the interview in this post but then completely forgot. Anyway you can find this interview and others at

In terms of books there have been several worthwhile ones published recently. I can definitely recommend "What Was Asked of US"- features stories from 29 servicemen recounting individual incidents, "No True Glory"- an account of the assault on Fallujah, and "Waging Peace"- the story of a special operations team tasked with rebuilding Iraq. There are certainly others, but watch out as many can be overly patriotic or simply poorly written or edited.

It really is a shame that Iraqi photographers no longer feel safe enough to do their job. They were providing such a valuable service to the world. Words alone cannot do justice to the situation in Iraq.

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