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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Beyond Fallujah

Posted by Thomas Nephew on June 3rd, 2004

…is the title of a quaintly unlinkable article in Harper’s Magazine. The report by Patrick Graham, a freelance Canadian journalist, recounts his experiences during “a year with the Iraqi resistance” to U.S. occupation forces in Iraq. One excerpt made me want to bang my head into a wall:

Mohammed’s group had stockpiled Russian-made SAM-7 Strela anti-aircraft missiles, which had come from the Habbaniya air base a few kilometers down the bluffs. We could see a tank there, parked under a guard tower. Before U.S. foces took over Habbaniya, they had watched as Mohammed and other Iraqis looted the ammunition.

“The Americans are so stupid — they almost gave us the weapons,” he said. “They thought we were thieves. They watched us taking RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] and other weapons and said, ‘Are you Ali Baba?'” This was what the G.I.’s called thieves and looters. “We said yes, so they let us in. They thought we were destroying the Iraqi army.”

Arrgh! I’d love to see that decision — whether it was a “who cares” or “right on! go ahead” — traced up the chain of command to the precise incompetent ass or asses responsible. And I’d like to know whether this was just at Habbaniyah or — as I suspect — something that happened throughout the country. It was a violation of ‘broken windows’ principles, the trust of law-abiding Iraqis, and the accepted responsibilities of occupying forces to let looters walk off with office furniture and the like. But it was near-suicidal naivete to let looters walk off with RPGs. I wonder whether misapplied notions like “property of the Iraqi people” or “right to bear arms” played a role.

More to the point of the article, Graham describes a nationalist/tribal resistance that doesn’t square with “Baathist dead-enders” or “foreign jihadists”:

Did you see Braveheart?” he asked me. “They throw out the British and the corrupt nobles. It is about hope. The people in the movie want freedom, and so do we. In the movie, the problems start because the British invaded and take the beautiful women and hurt the people. Because of the hard times, they gather weapons and get rid of the spies and traitors, isn’t that right?”

In the era of Jayson Blair and Judith Miller, it may be worth reminding oneself this story is one reporter’s snapshot of one set of informants/insurgents/resistance fighters. But it rings true, and seems an important corrective to the picture the Bush administration prefers to circulate.

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UPDATE, 6/4: May 29 Patrick Graham interview by Scott Simon on NPR (RealAudio or Windows Media Player options)

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