"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

End Of The Innocence

Haditha Signals Beginning of End of Iraq War

Comparisons are being made between the alleged massacre — it's still being investigated — in the Iraqi town of Haditha of some 24 civilians by U.S. Marines with the killing of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops in the village of Mai Lai in 1968 in the middle of the Vietnam War.

Those comparisons are invalid: What reportedly happened in Haditha is far worse.

Only in certain respects was Mai Lai worse. The deaths there totalled an incredible 400, rather than two dozen. Not a single shot was fired by any of the Vietnamese villagers at the U.S. soldiers who had descended on them from helicopters, while the Marine convoy of Humvees was hit by a car bomb as it approached Haditha. One Marine was killed and two others were wounded.

Yet two defining differences between the two terrible events mark Haditha as the worst atrocity by far.

What allegedly was done at Haditha was not done by raw draftees, or conscripts, but by elite professionals — that is, by highly trained and highly disciplined troops.

That the Marines would be edgy and angry at the death of a comrade is understandable. They didn't, though, then go on a rampage. Instead, their alleged killings were spaced out and deliberate.

First they apparently stopped a car with four students in it, ordered them out and shot all. Then, they entered three houses and killed almost everyone in it, of whatever sex and age.

The second critical differences between the two outrages is that the alleged crime in Haditha happened after Mai Lai took place.

This means that all the publicity about that earlier crime, and all the shame so many Americans then felt about it and expressed so clearly and loudly, and all the systems and controls instituted by the military to make sure it could never happened again, made not the slightest bit of difference.

Indeed, it appears that one new practice instituted by the U.S. military since the Mai Lai massacre amounts to a technique for covering up crimes like it. This relates to the way the cover story about the alleged Haditha massacre began to fall apart.

The killings happened last November. Once it was realized that some of those shot down could not have been insurgents — the dead included women and children, one as young as 2 years old — approval was given for cash payments to be given to survivors as compensation.

Some survivors, though, complained that they hadn't received any payments — in effect, "hush money" — as recompense for dead relatives.

Marine officers began to notice discrepancies in the numbers of the dead that they had been given and the numbers of those alleged to have been insurgents, as a consequence of which their relatives were ineligible for any compensation.

As with Mai Lai, the Marine chain of command was incredibly slow to gather the courage it took to accept that a massacre had almost certainly taken place and, therefore, to investigate aggressively. The actual turning point was the first media story on what had happened, in Time magazine last March.

Between Haditha, about which the White House has now gone into full damage control mode, and Mai Lai, there is one significant similarity.

What Mai Lai did was to turn American citizens against the Vietnam War by making them realize what the war was doing to their own troops. This was that it was demoralizing and debasing otherwise decent young Americans, out of fear, out of hatred, out of sheer despair at being trapped in an unwinnable war — because it involved, inevitably, killing many innocent citizens as well as actual insurgents or guerrillas.

The alleged Haditha massacre, once its full details are made public, will undoubtedly push American public opinion toward the same tipping point.

Abu Graib. Guantanamo. Haditha. And most probably many others which now will come to light. We are witnessing the beginning of the end of the Iraq war.

Richard Gwyn's column appears Wednesdays and Sundays.

© 2006 The Toronto Star

Democritized Iraq: A Gangster State

"Rules fell away along with the regime of Saddam Hussein, leaving a broken landscape of sagging state institutions. Ambitious political parties, criminal gangs and the region's vast network of tribes, stepped in to fill the vacuum. "So much of the state melted after Saddam fell," U.S. official said."

State Has 'Melted,' Leaving Basra In Chaos

BASRA, Iraq The message in the Shiite newspaper was perfectly clear: Watching soccer is a dangerous distraction. It leads to celebrating in the street, listening to music, waving flags and seeing scantily clad female fans - all forbidden.

Fadhila, one of the many religious Shiite political parties that proliferate in this southern city, was handing out copies at Basra University.

Iraqi leaders have called on the army to halt this once-quiet southern city's slide into chaos. But the problems run far deeper than tanks and machine guns can reach.

They begin in Basra's institutions, where political parties have taken root, forming morals patrols in the halls of Basra University, moving into the flimsy police force and controlling the guard force that protects the important sites at the state oil company.

"We're into political porridge," said Brigadier James Everard, commander of the British forces that patrol southern Iraq. "It's mafia-type politics down here."

Many parties - there are six in the Basra Provincial Council - have their own militias, and those armed groups have been fighting battles over political causes in recent months. The result has been a soaring murder rate, the second- highest casualty month for the British military since the start of the war and an absolutely terrified population.

"I cannot talk with you," said Sajid Saad Hassan, a professor at Basra University's agriculture college. "I haven't joined a party and no militia is protecting me."

As military planners contemplate the future of this war, they are seeing a southern Iraqi landscape that is infinitely more complex than it was at the start of their effort.

For the last three years, Baghdad has put its resources into fighting an insurgent war in central and western Iraq, and the predominantly Shiite south has been allowed to go its own way.

But rules fell away along with the regime of Saddam Hussein, leaving a broken landscape of sagging state institutions. Ambitious political parties, criminal gangs and the region's vast network of tribes, stepped in to fill the vacuum.

"So much of the state melted after Saddam fell," U.S. official said.

Among the first steps for the new state was the building of a police force. But the police chief at the beginning was weak, and the parties quickly began to bully him.

Politically motivated recruiting increased the size of the force, which now has 15,000 members, twice as many as it should have, a British official said.

Major General Hassan Swadi al-Saad, the city's police chief, said he had resisted influence by the parties, a practice that had nearly cost him his life. Last week his convoy was bombed - an attack that he said was probably carried out by police officers working for one or another party.

On Tuesday, gunmen killed one of his senior guards and wounded another.

"The parties are assassinating one another for posts," he said.

The governor, Muhammad al-Waeli of the Fadhila party, detests Saad and blames him for the dismantling of several special police units - those handling major crimes, internal affairs and criminal intelligence. The British suspected some officers of the units of committing crimes. "They were assassins going around killing people," said Laszlo Szomoru, a senior police adviser here.

The province has sunk into political paralysis as Waeli has tried - and failed - to fire Saad. The provincial council, for its part, has tried, also unsuccessfully, to remove Waeli, but has not been able to achieve the two-thirds majority required to do so.

The parties' influence extends beyond the police into the court system, frustrating efforts by the British to bring to justice those they consider corrupt. In January, for example, the British authorities identified several men they said had been running death squads, siphoning oil and shooting at British soldiers. So commanders arrested them.

"You arrest someone and the next day, you're on the phone to the governor, to the chief of police," Everard said. "We say, 'We know he's yours, but we did it for the following reason.'"

When British commanders release Iraqis into the Iraqi justice system, those with powerful political connections almost immediately go free. "The justice system here is a bit like a bucket with a hole," Everard said.

By Sabrina Tavernise The New York Times