Thursday, November 18, 2004

Some words of sanity on Iraq from Juan Cole

Wars make it hard for even people of good will to keep their moral and intellectual balance. And in some ways this is especially true for the kind of conflict going on in Iraq right now--involving insurgency and counter-insurgency, terrorism, and a complicated range of armed groups with different aims and tactics, all deriving from a war about which many people already had passionate opinions and feelings.

The videotaped shooting of a wounded insurgent by a US marine in Fallujah was horrible. It looks like a war crime, and if that turns out to be the case, then the soldier involved should be tried and punished.

And as long as we're on the subject of Iraq, it's also worth adding the more general comment that the Bush administration's frequent tendencies to be cavalier about the laws of war (of which Abu Ghraib was one especially conspicuous result) have been inexcusable and appalling--and, even in purely pragmatic terms, idiotic and self-defeating.

=> However, a number of people have wanted to pretend that this shooting in Fallujah shows that the US troops in Iraq (and the whole war against Saddam Hussein & his regime) are morally equivalent to the terrorists among the Sunni "insurgents" who have systematically targeted, murdered, and mutilated Iraqi and foreign civilians; routinely executed captured prisoners; beheaded hostages; and so on. As Juan Cole points out, this is absurd and offensive.

Juan Cole is certainly not the only one to make these points, but he is especially hard to dismiss as an uncritical apologist for either the Bush administration in general or the Iraq war in particular. Cole is a prominent and sympathetic scholar of Islam and the Islamic world, with a strong sense of sympathy for the Iraqi people and for Muslims in general. He could not bring himself to oppose the Iraq war--precisely because of his sense of solidarity with ordinary Iraqis--and he has argued that military action against the Iraqi Ba'ath regime was in principle justifiable on both legal and moral grounds, but he has condemned the way that the war was actually justified and conducted, and he has been very critical (with good reason) of how the post-Saddam occupation of Iraq has been carried out. One may agree or disagree with Cole's positions on these matters (for me, it's some of both), but in either case he has to be recognized as someone who speaks with exceptional knowledge, credibility, and good judgment, and his views deserve to be taken seriously.

=> With respect to these specific issues, Cole's discussions over the past several days strike me as especially cogent. Some highlights:

[Wednesday, November 17]

But as I thought about it, it became clear to me that the author [in the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat] had put the marines and the Sunni Arab guerrillas who murder their hostages on the same level. Since I am after all an American, this equation seemed to me eminently unfair. The guerrillas in Fallujah were responsible for a lot of bombings and killings of innocent civilians in Iraq, which involved deliberately targetting and killing, e.g. Shiites. The Marines are, in contrast, a legitimate miliary force that is operating in Iraq with UN sanction. I personally think that the assault on Fallujah was problematic, ethically and politically. But it doesn't put the Marines in Zarqawi's camp!

The announcement by Iraqi state minister Qasim Daoud that the number of captured fighters stands at 1052 (with 1600 killed) underlines the point I made yesterday, that the murdering of prisoners is not a generalized practice.

[Thursday, November 18]

Readers have written me on all sides of this issue. [ .... ] Others expressed surprise that I declined to accept any comparison between the US Marine Corps and the guerrillas who beheaded aid worker Margaret Hassan. (!) I kid you not. They actually wanted to put them on the same plane.

Let me just clarify my comments. First of all, I did not say that the Iraq war was a legitimate war. It was not. It violated the charter of the United Nations. [I don't agree, but that's a secondary point here. --JW]

What I said was that the role of the US military and other multinational forces in Iraq is now legitimate because it was explicitly sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. This is true. Many readers appear to have forgotten all about UN SC Resolution 1546 (2004), which was adopted unanimously.

[ .... ]

So, the Marines at Fallujah are operating in accordance with a UNSC Resolution and have all the legitimacy in international law that flows from that. The Allawi government asked them to undertake this Fallujah mission.

To compare them to the murderous thugs who kidnapped CARE worker Margaret Hassan, held her hostage, terrified her, and then picked up a butcher knife, grabbed her by the hair, held her head back, and cut her throat completely through the spinal cord as she screamed with increasing difficulty, is frankly monstrous. The multinational forces are soldiers fighting a war in which they are targetting combatants and sometimes accidentally killing innocents. The hostage-takers are terrorists deliberately killing innocents. It is simply not the same thing. [my emphasis --JW]

On the Fallujah operation, and the insurgency more generally:

Now, I don't like the timing of the Fallujah mission. I don't like all the mistakes made along the way, which produced this operation. I don't like its tactics. I don't like the way it put so many civilians in harm's way. I don't like the violations of international law (targetting the hospital, turning away the Red Crescent, killing wounded and disarmed combatants), etc. I protest the latter. I don't know enough about military affairs to offer an alternative on the former issues, and don't mind admitting my technical ignorance. You can't do everything.

But the basic idea of attacking the guerrillas holding up in that city is not in and of itself criminal or irresponsible. A significant proportion of the absolutely horrible car bombings that have killed hundreds and thousands of innocent Iraqis, especially Shiites, were planned and executed from Fallujah. There were serious and heavily armed forces in Fallujah planning out ways of killing hundreds to prevent elections from being held in January. These are mass murderers, serial murderers. If they were fighting only to defend Fallujah, that would be one thing; even the Marines would respect them for that. They aren't, or at least, a significant proportion of them aren't. They are killing civilians elsewhere in order to throw Iraq into chaos and avoid the enfranchisement of the Kurds and Shiites.

Some of my readers still want good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats. That's not the way the world is. It is often grey, and very bleak.

Actually, there sometimes ARE unequivocal black hats. But otherwise, I would endorse these closing thoughts.

Unhappily,
Jeff Weintraub

________________________________

Juan Cole
("Informed Comment")


Thursday, November 18, 2004

More on Marine Mosque Killing

Iraqis continued to be furious Wednesday over the shooting by a US marine of a wounded Iraqi fighter in a mosque in Fallujah. Indeed, the Arab press in general expressed horror and outrage. Unlike US news outlets, al-Jazeera and other Arab satellite news stations actually showed the prisoner being shot, which made the footage more powerful. Ash-Sharq al-Awsat reports that both the Iraqi interim government and the Arab League have condemned the mosque shooting and demanded the perpetrator be tried.

US veterans and military justice experts were less willing to jump to judgment. They point out that the full context is not apparent from the snippet of film. This second team of Marines had not known that a previous team had left these wounded guerrillas in the mosque for subsequent medical pick-up, and appear to have assumed that they were active combatants and that one of them was a suicide bomber only pretending to be dead. Such contextualization and nuance were not part of the debate in the Arab press.

Readers have written me on all sides of this issue. Some have insisted that the wounded guerrillas were not technically prisoners of war, as I had termed them, and that the US marine's action cannot be judged until we have all the facts.

Others expressed surprise that I declined to accept any comparison between the US Marine Corps and the guerrillas who beheaded aid worker Margaret Hassan. (!) I kid you not. They actually wanted to put them on the same plane.

Let me just clarify my comments. First of all, I did not say that the Iraq war was a legitimate war. It was not. It violated the charter of the United Nations.

What I said was that the role of the US military and other multinational forces in Iraq is now legitimate because it was explicitly sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. This is true. Many readers appear to have forgotten all about UN SC Resolution 1546 (2004), which was adopted unanimously. Here is what the Security Council said about the issue at hand:

“9. Notes that the presence of the multinational force in Iraq is at the request of the incoming Interim Government of Iraq and therefore reaffirms the authorization for the multinational force under unified command established under resolution 1511 (2003), having regard to the letters annexed to this resolution;

“10. Decides that the multinational force shall have the authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq in accordance with the letters annexed to this resolution expressing, inter alia, the Iraqi request for the continued presence of the multinational force and setting out its tasks, including by preventing and deterring terrorism, so that, inter alia, the United Nations can fulfil its role in assisting the Iraqi people as outlined in paragraph seven above and the Iraqi people can implement freely and without intimidation the timetable and program for the political process and benefit from reconstruction and rehabilitation activities;

“11. Welcomes, in this regard, the letters annexed to this resolution stating, inter alia, that arrangements are being put in place to establish a security partnership between the sovereign Government of Iraq and the multinational force and to ensure coordination between the two, and notes also in this regard that Iraqi security forces are responsible to appropriate Iraqi ministers, that the Government of Iraq has authority to commit Iraqi security forces to the multinational force to engage in operations with it, and that the security structures described in the letters will serve as the fora for the Government of Iraq and the multinational force to reach agreement on the full range of fundamental security and policy issues, including policy on sensitive offensive operations, and will ensure full partnership between Iraqi security forces and the multinational force, through close coordination and consultation;

So, the Marines at Fallujah are operating in accordance with a UNSC Resolution and have all the legitimacy in international law that flows from that. The Allawi government asked them to undertake this Fallujah mission.

To compare them to the murderous thugs who kidnapped CARE worker Margaret Hassan, held her hostage, terrified her, and then picked up a butcher knife, grabbed her by the hair, held her head back, and cut her throat completely through the spinal cord as she screamed with increasing difficulty, is frankly monstrous. The multinational forces are soldiers fighting a war in which they are targetting combatants and sometimes accidentally killing innocents. The hostage-takers are terrorists deliberately killing innocents. It is simply not the same thing.

Now, I don't like the timing of the Fallujah mission. I don't like all the mistakes made along the way, which produced this operation. I don't like its tactics. I don't like the way it put so many civilians in harm's way. I don't like the violations of international law (targetting the hospital, turning away the Red Crescent, killing wounded and disarmed combatants), etc. I protest the latter. I don't know enough about military affairs to offer an alternative on the former issues, and don't mind admitting my technical ignorance. You can't do everything.

But the basic idea of attacking the guerrillas holding up in that city is not in and of itself criminal or irresponsible. A significant proportion of the absolutely horrible car bombings that have killed hundreds and thousands of innocent Iraqis, especially Shiites, were planned and executed from Fallujah. There were serious and heavily armed forces in Fallujah planning out ways of killing hundreds to prevent elections from being held in January. These are mass murderers, serial murderers. If they were fighting only to defend Fallujah, that would be one thing; even the Marines would respect them for that. They aren't, or at least, a significant proportion of them aren't. They are killing civilians elsewhere in order to throw Iraq into chaos and avoid the enfranchisement of the Kurds and Shiites.

Some of my readers still want good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats. That's not the way the world is. It is often grey, and very bleak.

posted by Juan @ 11/18/2004 06:14:24 AM

____________________

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Iraqi [actually, Arab] Press Reaction to Fallujah Mosque Killing
Al-Hayat: (trans. J. Cole): "The killing of a wounded Iraqi in a Fallujah mosque by an American Marine and the killing of the Iraqi-British hostage Margaret Hassan epitomize the battle taking place in Iraq. As the American military began its investigation of the marine's motives, an Islamic group broadcast a cassette of the slaughter of the female hostage."

"The American forces announced that they had established control over "all of Fallujah," affording the opportunity to Iraqis to gather up the bodies of the dead from the streets. At the same time, the battle shifted to Mosul, in hopes of taking it back from the gunmen who had taken control of its police stations. Gen. George Casey, commander of the US military in Iraq, said that his troops had come upon 15 foreign fighters in Fallujah among 1000 fighters who were all Iraqi. This statement contradicted American and Iraqi official pronouncements that had insisted that it was foreign fighters who had plunged into battle in the city."

I was initially a little surprised that al-Hayat (a Saudi-funded daily published from London, which is generally moderate with regard to attitudes to the US) paired the killing of Margaret Hassan with the killing of a wounded prisoner in Fallujah in this way. It seemed to take the edge off the rawness of the murder of the prisoner, to say that there are bad characters on the Iraqi side, as well.

But as I thought about it, it became clear to me that the author had put the marines and the Sunni Arab guerrillas who murder their hostages on the same level. Since I am after all an American, this equation seemed to me eminently unfair. The guerrillas in Fallujah were responsible for a lot of bombings and killings of innocent civilians in Iraq, which involved deliberately targetting and killing, e.g. Shiites. The Marines are, in contrast, a legitimate miliary force that is operating in Iraq with UN sanction. I personally think that the assault on Fallujah was problematic, ethically and politically. But it doesn't put the Marines in Zarqawi's camp!

The announcement by Iraqi state minister Qasim Daoud that the number of captured fighters stands at 1052 (with 1600 killed) underlines the point I made yesterday, that the murdering of prisoners is not a generalized practice.

Jim Crane of AP expresses healthy skepticism about the US military's hopes of making friends in Fallujah after they had flattened parts of the city. He also predicts that information about the true extent of civilian casualties will start coming out soon, when the Marines' grip on the city lightens.

The Boston Globe reports that the Baath Party had reconstituted itself in Mosul and was behind that city's recent insurrection. The US troops fought on Tuesday to retake police stations in the city of over a million. It appears that most Mosul police defected to the guerrillas.

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