November 21, 2006
And thus is the human cost of hatred.
A joint U.S. Iraqi raid into the Sadr City slums of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army led to a firefight between coalition forces and Mahdi Army militiamen. The fighting was intense enough that an air strike was called in on a building from which the militiamen were firing, leading to the deaths of this boy's younger brother and two others, the wounding of 15, and the capture of 7 militiamen, one of which is believed to have taken part in the kidnapping of a still-missing American soldier.
The Mahdi Army is one of the most active factions in the on-going sectarian violence in Baghdad, responsible for the kidnapping, torture, and murder of hundreds (if not thousands) of Iraqi Sunnis. The militiamen--likely his own relatives considering the fact that Iraqis tend to live in family compounds--attempted to use his home as a bunker. Of course, that doesn't matter to this child. He only knows that his baby brother is dead.
It's easy to sling blame around.
He and the rest of his family will likely grow up hating the United States and the Iraqi government troops that participated in this raid. It is highly unlikely that they will acknowledge their own far greater culpability.
Their neighborhood was raided because coalition forces were acting on intelligence that kidnappers and murderous thugs lived there, and these same thugs--perhaps his own father, brothers, uncles, or cousins--likely kidnapped, tortured and murdered fellow Iraqis, and then were daft enough to try to fight coalition forces from a home with children inside. While U.S. air support pulled the trigger on the munitions that killed his brother, the militiamen in their midst, firing at U.S. and Iraqi forces, caused that trigger to be pulled. They can add their own young relative to their body count. They will not stop for a second to think about the fact that they have likely caused the same trauma in loss in Sunni families just blocks or miles away.
Compounding the loss and magnifying the lessons unlearned are fellow Shiites like legislator Saleh Al-Ukailli.
"I am suspending my membership in parliament since it remains silent about crimes such as this against the Iraqi people," legislator Saleh Al-Ukailli told reporters outside the Imam Ali Hospital. "I will not return to parliament until the occupation troops leave the country."
Al-Ukailli is one of 30 legislators in Iraq's 275-member parliament who follow Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric whose main offices are in Sadr City.
Al-Ukailli could care less about "crimes... against the Iraqi people."
Like far too many Sadr loyalists in the Iraqi government, he seems to harbor no concerns about the crimes his fellow Shia perpetrate, and only professes outrage once they are forced to account for their own depravity. Left to their own devices, such men would continue to turn a blind eye to the slaughter of Sunnis and Kurds, as long as it suits his purpose. I have little doubt that men such as Al-Ukailli turn a blind eye when Sunni children have their fathers and brothers slaughtered. They are democratically elected, but still do not understand democracy, nor freedom, nor compromise.
* * *
And so here in America, over broadband networks in climate-controlled comfort, in a far more stable environment, we still carp over why we went to war, and when we should leave, and whether or not the cost we are paying as a nation is too high. We see things all too often through our own warped prisms, playing politics as children die.
"We caused this! Out of Iraq NOW!"
This is the cry I hear from many, every day, from both the political left which feels we never should have been there, and from moderates and many of those on the right who now feel our continued presence is a mistake. Our costs--1.7 lives a day--are too much for our mercilessly civilized post-modern sensibilities.
And yet we know the ugly secret, don't we?
We know that for every tragic loss of an American soldier, sailor, airman or marine in Iraq, Iraqi soldiers, policemen, and civilians pay a far higher price. We know that comparatively, our costs are few.
In a nation under severe internal strife, brave men in Iraq still show up at recruiting stations to become policemen and soldiers. They have nowhere to return to, nowhere to run, and have a simple choice; become a victor, or become a victim. In Ramadi, the capital of the al-Anbar province and long a stronghold of Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda terrorists, the Sahawa, or the Awakening, has come. Sunni tribesmen formerly allied with the insurgency are swelling police ranks, capturing and killing foreign terrorists and native-born anti-Iraqi forces alike. In Ramadi, it appears the Iraqis have shed enough blood to appreciate and crave both stability and freedom. It is slow going, but progress is being made day by day.
Will we eventually see that same yearning for stability, freedom, and peace in a far more complex Baghdad? History tells us that all wars eventually end as a matter of will or a matter of eradication. One side must either be utterly destroyed, or its will to fight must be. This is equally true in both conventional and asymmetrical warfare, one of which the U.S. military has won convincingly in Iraq, and the other, which must eventually be won or lost by the Iraqi people themselves.
The purpose of U.S. forces in Iraq is not to conclusively defeat the various anti-Iraqi factions, but to provide training and material support to Iraqi government forces so that they can win the war. At the same time, we seek to destabilize anti-Iraqi forces and help to provide an environment where political and social change can take root, as we are now seeing in Ramadi and elsewhere.
Our military does not need to "go big" in Iraq, but it does need to "go long," one of the things the Bush Administration has called correctly. We do not need more troops, but we need to utilize the soldiers we do have to train Iraqi forces and provide support for them as necessary in "the long war" to stamp out the insurgency by breaking the enemy's will to fight over time.
Part of that support will be engaging in raids that will on occasion lead to civilian deaths, especially when these civilians harbor anti-Iraqi forces of various stripes. If we don't mature enough to accept the fact that some innocents die in war, then the abandonment policy favored by some will certainly lead to far more civilian deaths through a far more violent civil war and a potential genocide. You can pay a blood debt of comparatively few lives now by continuing the mission, or set the stage for an even bloodier Iraqi future by withdrawing.
This is a cold, hard fact that few on the left will address or even admit. War is cruel by nature, but to abandon an ally while the conflict rages would be the cruelest atrocity of all.