The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[casi] What Has Happened to the US Army in Iraq?


August 16, 2003

The View of an Aussie Vietnam Veteran
What Has Happened to the US Army in Iraq?


Recently there have been several reports of incidents in Iraq involving
the killing of civilians by the US Army. ("July 30--Two Iraqi civilians
on foot shot dead by US soldiers in the Mansour district of Baghdad,
Iraq. No weapons or explosives were found. August 8--US forces fire on a
car carrying an Iraqi family at a checkpoint north of Baghdad. Five
Iraqis, including three children, were killed, and two others wounded.
August 11--US soldiers kill six Iraqi civilians at three different
checkpoints in Baghdad, Iraq. No weapons or explosives were found." And
so on.)

There is no doubt that civilians are being killed in increasing numbers,
and the matter of army involvement is apparently being investigated.
Last month, before the present series of killings, a US military
spokeswoman, Major Josslyn Aberle, stated in an email to the Associated
Press (she refused to comment by interview) that soldiers "work very
hard to avoid collateral damage and injury to civilians, but regrettably
this happens sometimes." Certainly death and injury happen; and we'll
have a look at 'collateral damage' in more detail.

In September 2002 the Pentagon produced Joint Publication 3-06 :
'Doctrine for Joint Urban Operations' under the guidance and signature
of General John P Abizaid, at that time Director Joint Staff and now
overall commander of US forces in Iraq. Appearance of this manual five
months before the invasion of Iraq was doubtless coincidental, but it is
reasonable to suppose that it was distributed widely during preparation
for the war, which had been taking place for most of that year. One of
its instructions is that "Although civilians, non-combatants and
civilian property may not be specifically targeted, incidental injury
and collateral damage are not unlawful if caused incident to an attack
on a lawful target, and the incidental injury and collateral damage are
not excessive in light of the anticipated military advantage from the
attack." The words 'collateral damage' mean death, but I cannot
understand why soldiers refuse to use the word 'death'. If politicians
and bureaucrats want to try to deceive themselves and the world by
disguising the plain and horrible fact that people die violently and are
maimed in war, both by intention and in error, then let them. But
soldiers should face reality.

No matter the weasel words conjured up by desk-bound wordsmiths to
disguise shrieking, agonising bloody death caused by bullets gouging out
gobbets of flesh from bodies that spout showers and jets of blood like a
berserk fountain, there comes a time when the killing of civilians
demands proper investigation. There is no use having an internal
inquiry, because nobody is going to believe it when impartial accounts
by on-the-spot reporters contradict the findings. Deputy defense
secretary Wolfowitz was reported in London's Times as saying
contemptuously that "people in the Middle East will believe just about
anything" in order to justify Washington's exhibiting the bodies of Uday
and Qusay Hussein. He wanted to convince Arab viewers that the men were
dead, and, in the usual 'don't do as I do, do as I say' fashion of Bush
Washington, contradicted everything that the US had said about the
grossness and indeed illegality (by virtue of the Geneva/Hague
Conventions), of displaying mangled enemy bodies on television.

The point of noting this statement is that Wolfowitz was closer to
understanding the Iraq situation than he knew. People in the Middle
East -- and in America and everywhere else -- do tend to believe what is
shown on their television screens (even if it's Fox News, heaven help
us). But the problem (and regret) for such as Wolfowitz is that they
cannot prevent the truth becoming known eventually. When Arab television
stations show scenes of hellish carnage involving dead women and
children in Iraq this is decried as anti-American propaganda. But when
the Pentagon demands that Iraqi dead bodies be displayed like meat on a
butcher's slab, Wolfowitz declares it has to be done because Arabs won't
believe people are dead until they see them dead. This is crassly
condescending -- and tells us a lot about the mindset of the Pentagon as
represented by Wolfowitz and his chief, Rumsfeld, who is ever-ready to
explain how pleasant life is in Iraq now that it has been occupied. As
long ago as 11 April Rumsfeld was saying "here is a country that's being
liberated, here are people who are going from being repressed...and
they're free. And all this newspaper could do . . . they showed a man
bleeding, who they claimed we had shot -- one thing after another. It's
just unbelievable."

Unbelievable, indeed, because here is a description of one incident last
week, reported by Justin Huggler of Britain's 'Independent' newspaper,
but not mentioned in any US mainstream media, nor, of course, by the
fanatically pro-Bush, pro-war London papers, the Times and the Daily
Telegraph, both owned by magnates who have financially-related interest
in government media policies in the US and the UK.

"It happened at 9.30 at night . . . long before the start of curfew at
11 pm. The Americans had set up roadblocks in the Tunisia quarter of
Baghdad, where the abd al-Kerim [family] lives. The family pulled up to
the roadblock sensibly, slowly and carefully, so as not to alarm the
Americans. But then pandemonium broke out. American soldiers were
shooting in every direction. They just turned on the abd al-Kerims' car
and sprayed it with bullets." It was reported that "They killed the
father and three of the children, one of them only eight years old. Now
only the mother, Anwar, and a 13-year old daughter are alive to tell how
the bullets tore through the windscreen and how they screamed for the
Americans to stop."

Here is what US Army Manual FM3-06.11, 'Combined Arms Operations in
Urban Terrain' has to say about "Urban Operations Under Restrictive

"All enemy military personnel and vehicles transporting the enemy or
their supplies may be engaged subject to the following restrictions: a.
Armed force is the last resort. b. When possible, the enemy will be
warned first and allowed to surrender. c. Armed civilians will be
engaged only in self-defence. e. Avoid harming civilians unless
necessary to save US lives . . . . i. If civilians are in the area, do
not shoot except at known enemy locations . . . q. Treat all civilians
and their property with respect and dignity . . . r. Treat all prisoners
humanely and with respect and dignity."

Further, the Manual states "Soldiers should learn basic commands and
phrases in the language most common to their areas. When giving these
commands or phrases [sic] they should speak loudly and clearly at a
normal rate . . . All soldiers should be given a basic language
translation card." This is civilised common sense. There is nothing
sensational or impractical in these orders governing conduct of urban
operations by the US Army. Except that every one of these orders was
flouted last week, in considerable measure.

"Armed force is the last resort". Wrong. Armed force has been the first
resort. When four men suspected of being arms' dealers were detected by
US troops they were placed under observation. Reuters reported "When the
four men began unloading weapons and what appeared to be elements for
making bombs [from a car], US soldiers opened fire." Lt-Colonel Steve
Russell, the commanding officer of the soldiers who killed the men said
"They began to pull additional weapons out of the trunk and they became
combatants at this point." What does this say about the order "When
possible, the enemy will be warned first and allowed to surrender"?
There is no answer to that question (just as there is no justification
for killing unarmed people in riots because troops must "Avoid harming
civilians unless necessary to save US lives"). These men were civilians.
They were unloading weapons from a car. On 14 June the occupying power
declared display of weapons in public to be illegal but did not indicate
what punishment would be meted out to those who disobeyed its law. It is
not disputed that the men did not fire at American soldiers or in any
way threaten them. They were killed. That act was murder.

What has happened to the US Army?

Then there is "Treat all civilians and their property with respect and
dignity." This should be considered in conjunction with the declaration
by the US occupation administrator, L Paul Bremer, that "we" ought to
"remind ourselves of a range of rights that Iraqis enjoy today because
of the coalition's military victory." Well, here is a description of
some of the rights of women and children: "Col. David Hogg, commander of
the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, said tougher methods are
being used to gather intelligence. On Wednesday night, he said, his
troops picked up the wife and daughter of an Iraqi lieutenant general.
They left a note: "If you want your family released, turn yourself in."
Such tactics are justified, he said."

Since when were wives and children deemed non-civilians? Are children to
be used as bargaining counters? This is totally against the Geneva
Conventions and against all human decency. The Nazis did this, dammit.
It was one of their preferred tactics in occupied territories. Are the
wife and children of Colonel Hogg considered combatants, just because he
wears uniform? Can this man imagine what it would be like for his own
family to be treated like this? Do the American people know what is
being done in their name? This is terrible, and I never thought that an
officer of US Army could ever lower himself to this sort of despicable
action. I served in the Australian army in Vietnam and knew the US army
well. It was rough, tough and barbaric in these days, but I thought this
type of brutish and uncivilised behaviour was a thing of the past that
went out after exposure of the My Lai atrocities. Apparently not.

What about "Treat all prisoners humanely and with respect and dignity"?
Here is what happened to an Iraqi policeman, Sergeant Muhsen, after two
of his colleagues were mistakenly killed by US soldiers on 9 August.
"Three soldiers surrounded me. I got down on my knees, hands in the air,
holding my badge. One of them kicked me in the back and I fell to the
ground. Another one kicked me twice in the face. They put their boots on
my head and pressed it into the ground . . . I kept saying "police,
police". I don't speak English but it's the same word in Arabic . . ."
Sergeant Muhsen was not a combatant. One wonders if the soldiers who
killed the two policemen and beat up Sergeant Muhsen had been issued, as
required by the US Army's own manual, "a basic language translation
card" indicating that "police" means "police". And did they give the
police a chance to surrender before killing them?

Conditions in US jails in Iraq are quite as awful as they were under the
previous horrible regime, and, exactly as under that fascist domination,
ordinary citizens have disappeared, their place of detention unknown to
their families. The Geneva and Hague Conventions have been totally
ignored by the occupying power in a fashion that is not just despicable
but completely at odds with the declaration by Bush that "democracy is
being restored to Iraq". Democracy? Is it within the Bush definition of
democracy that, as recorded by Amnesty International, and reported from
first-hand by Associated Press, that a civilian detainee "was bound and
blindfolded, kicked, forced to stare at a strobe light [presumably after
removal of the blindfold] and blasted with 'very loud rubbish music'."
(He was released without charge.)

In the interests of democracy (or so one must presume) the occupying
power shut down the newspaper Al-Mustaqilla (The Independent) for
undisclosed reasons. On 21 July tanks blocked off the approaches to its
building, then soldiers and Iraqi policemen broke into the premises
where "They turned everything upside down, confiscated the newspaper's
safe (with 1.5 millions ID in it), the computers and personal documents
of the chairman, Mr. Abdul-Sattar Alshalan. They arrested Mr. Alshalan,
who is currently imprisoned at an unknown location." It is flagrant
violation of the Geneva Conventions to refuse to provide details of the
whereabouts of prisoners to next of kin. Mr Alshalan and thousands of
others are being kept in confinement by the US Army without any
notification of their location or physical condition being made
available to relatives or the International Red Cross.

This is not the US Army that I knew to be forged after the brutality of
Vietnam to be a highly efficient military organisation, yet one with
inbuilt compassion and high regard for human rights. What the hell has
gone wrong?

After the random killing of five civilians in a botched raid in Baghdad
on 27 July the regional commander, Lt-General Sanchez, was asked if
there would be any apology by the US Army for what occurred. He stated
that "Apologies are not something we have within military processes."
Here is some news for General Sanchez: apologies are something you
damned well ought to have within your processes. And if you don't
apologize for what the army has obviously done wrong, the entire
occupation force will be considered to be callous, arrogant, unfeeling
and as regarding itself above the laws of God and man.

There is no doubt that war crimes have been committed by US troops in
Iraq. The "Doctrine for Joint Urban Operations, JP 3-03, 16 September
2002, sums it all up. It states, quite rationally, that war crimes are
more likely to be committed when there are:

  (1) High friendly losses. [These are increasing week by week. Soldiers
have become extremely nervous and thus prone to panic and hence
unthinking action.]

  (2) High turnover in the chain of command. [All senior commanders have
been replaced within the last month, along with at least five lower down
the chain in the past ten weeks; anyone with the slightest knowledge of
the Art of Command would have told Rumsfeld that this was insane. It was
especially stupid of Rumsfeld to remove a young Marine officer from
combat service in Iraq to make him one of his ADCs.]

  (3) Dehumanisation of the adversary. [There is hardly a US soldier who
regards Iraqis as other than sub-human. They have been encouraged to
regard them as such, because they were sent there to "avenge 9-11", as
is indicated by the slogans on so many helmets.]

  (4) Poorly trained or inexperienced troops. [None of the troops
committed to Iraq by Rumsfeld were trained in urban guerrilla warfare,
which is what is taking place at the moment.]

  (5) The lack of a clearly defined adversary. [Of course there is no
clearly-defined adversary. It is probable that most Iraqis hated Saddam
Hussein, but loathing of the US increases every time a raid is conducted
at 3 AM with doors being kicked in, with men humiliated, blindfolded and
handcuffed in front of their womenfolk -- thus creating more

  (6) High frustration level amongst the troops. [Interviews with US
soldiers -- who are now forbidden to speak with the media -- have shown
their resentment of the Pentagon's handling of the occupation and their
own personal administration. One has only to go to American internet
sites such as to realise the enormous
frustration amongst soldiers serving in Iraq. Rumsfeld is detested and
despised. Not only this, but there were stories, denied by Pentagon
spokesmen, that combat pay was to be reduced. The fact that rumours of
this sort are being spread within the army itself is a sure sign of
exceedingly poor morale.]

What we see in Chapter III of General Abizaid's Manual is,
coincidentally and with horrific irony, an exact prediction of what is
happening in Iraq concerning war crimes. Every single one of the
criteria listed in the Doctrine is met with amazing exactitude. The
situation in Iraq is frightening, and every time another brutal arrest
is made, every time women and children are terrorised in the small hours
of the morning, every time a male civilian is humiliated and kicked,
every time a civilian is killed in a spray of unaimed bullets, there is
deeper hatred of the invader. It cannot be predicted how it will end.
But one thing is certain: the US Army must abide by its own rules. If it
does not, it will eventually suffer a moral and morale collapse. Another
victim of collateral damage.

Brian Cloughley writes about defense issues for CounterPunch, the Nation
(Pakistan), the Daily Times of Pakistan and other international
publications. His writings are collected on his website:

He can be reached at:

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]