Virulent Racism, Disregard for Civilian Life Mar US Military Approach: British Commander
Sean Rayment of the Telegraph reports a story today that should be on the front pages of every American newspaper. He reports extremely deep dissatisifaction in the British officer corps with American military counter-insurgency tactics.
The critique begins with attitudes. The officer quoted says that the US military looks at Iraqis as “Untermenschen,” a Hitler-derived term for inferior human beings. ‘ “My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans’ use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don’t see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are.” ‘
This attitude tracks with what I know of racial attitudes that are all too common (not universal) in US military ranks. Press reports speak of US troops and some officers routinely denigrating Arabs. Even calling them “hajjis” and “Ali Babas” betrays the attitude. (Hajji is a strange thing to call Iraqis, who have lived under a militantly secular socialist regime for 35 years and most of whom couldn’t have gone on the pilgrimage to Mecca even if they wanted to). [Readers wrote in to suggest that the term is Hadji, a reference to cartoon figure Johnny Quest’s South Asian, beturbanned sidekick.] The contempt for Iraqis and Arabs and Muslims that is widespread in the ranks, the British maintain, spills over into operational plans, creating a contempt for human life and a willingness to endanger and kill civilians in a ruthless effort to get at insurgents. This approach produces, of course, further insurgents.
The officer said, “When US troops are attacked with mortars in Baghdad, they use mortar-locating radar to find the firing point and then attack the general area with artillery, even though the area they are attacking may be in the middle of a densely populated residential area. They may well kill the terrorists in the barrage, but they will also kill and maim innocent civilians. That has been their response on a number of occasions. It is trite, but American troops do shoot first and ask questions later. The US will have to abandon the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut approach – it has failed. They need to stop viewing every Iraqi, every Arab as the enemy and attempt to win the hearts and minds of the people. “
I was sure that the British military in Basra were royally ticked off at the trouble Bremer made for them in going after Muqtada al-Sadr. The British military felt badly used in Bosnia by British politicians, and I was told that as a result, their officers have decided to speak out when they fear it is happening again. British military spokesmen in Basra have sometimes verged on insubordination. It is clear, for instance, that they felt Bremer should have acquiesced to Sistani’s demand for direct elections this spring (which might well have forestalled the current blow-up), and they said so. When I mentioned the FT reports of these comments to reporters in London, they were surprised, since they had been attending briefings at Whitehall, where Blair and Jeremy Greenstock were opposing elections in accordance with US preferences.