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November 14, 2006

Marked As Allies

Baquba



by Chris Maynard

Over the weekend, a morgue worker tends to body bags is Baquba, Iraq, in the province of Diyala, east of Baghdad. Diyala has a mix of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, which at this point is the equivalent of dousing sticks of dynamite with gasoline and sending in a two-year-old with a Zippo.

A horrifying piece by the New York Times Richard Oppel describes Iraqi military commanders, who happen to be Shiite, rounding up residents, who happen to be Sunni. The Iraqi general in charge is working off a list he claims comes from Baghdad. The list also contains the names of almost all the local Sunni sheiks and other leaders who the American military has marked as allies in their efforts to contain sectarian violence.

In April there were four civilian homicides a day, and now there are ten a day. The death rate isn’t helped by Sunnis killing Shiites to avenge Sunni deaths in Baghdad. And then there are the Kurds. Like everything else in Iraq, it is very complicated, which is why readers frequently never make it past the photographs.

This one was taken on Sunday, when 100 people were killed in Iraq. It adds a new dimension to the pictures of the dead, see-through body bags. As reluctant as the Western press is to show corpses of occupying troops, there’s never been much compunction against running images of the occupied. Maybe we’re inured to shots of stretchers filled with draped bodies, or street processions led by open coffins, or perhaps there’s just a built-in aspect of civil “us” versus the mob of “them.”

Here in America we seem to want to prettify our dead: a large part of a funeral parlor’s work is cosmetic, making sure the corpse looks good. A widow decides on a closed coffin for her husband’s wake because she’s ashamed that he was so skinny at the end; cancer will do that, but why should there be shame? What made the photographs from New Orleans so shocking was how dead the people were. They were swollen by gas, bobbing in the water. The country really wasn’t prepared for that.

And now, we have clear zipped up bags holding the dead, twenty-first century versions of the funerary veil. This is not what the Administration means when it talks about transparency. No favorite suit, no neatly combed hair and last close shave, just a piece of white paper slipped in, presumably listing the circumstances of death.

One popular way of allowing ourselves to look away from these scenes is to say “Oh, it cries out for a Goya.”  We can make out heads, shoulders, arms, the darkness of crotches. Would it be any worse if we could see bullet holes and crooked limbs and final grimaces?  If the light had been different we would see even more, but this is probably more than enough at the moment.

(image: Mohammed Adnam/A.P.  Baquba, Iraq.  November 12, 2006. nytimes.com)

  • http://mdhatter.blogspot.com mdhatter

    a friend of mine (really!) is fascinated with the video clips and photo’s of the death and destruction. Your choice of photo is rather tasteful in comparison. You want to turn away, but it is irresponsible not to own this.
    Also, unlike all prior wars, this war has included not just photo’s, but also short unedited video clips straight from the field, available on-line for those willing to find them.

  • http://www.dock.net/fuming_mucker/ Darryl Pearce

    The Japanese director Kurosawa recounts an early scene from his childhood: when he and his brother walked around Kanto looking at the death and destruction caused by an earthquake. His brother forces him to look at the dead bodies explaining, “If you shut your eyes to a frightening sight, you end up being frightened. If you look at everything straight on, there is nothing to be afraid of.”
    Horrible, yes. Disgusting, yes. …but no fear.

  • gasho

    Visually, the shot looks like the piles of dead fish at a fish market. The image is of a sea of bodies, and they flow right off the page in 3 directions. Who refuses to call this a civil war, anyway? If the US wasn’t there (and I don’t think we have ANY idea who we are fighting for or against at this point) it would have to be called a civil war – because there would be no other description.
    I wonder if Bush has dreams of walking miles and miles through dead bodies on his way to his interview with Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates? How could anyone believe in Heaven and Hell, then create Hell on Earth and expect to go to Heaven?
    I believe in Karma (as opposed to the heaven/hell dichotomy) but that sure as HELL doesn’t make his future much brighter!! In every case, Sea of Bodybags=bad sitch.

  • Noname

    A single live man. Wading in a sea of corpses.

  • http://www.woodka.com donna

    If only we could make Dubya go look at them. If only he could be forced to see the destruction he’s created.
    If only his parents had been honest about Robin.

  • lytom

    What is horrifying about these dead people hidden under the plastic covers? Sanitized for a view that is not respectful to the dead and dehumanized by the plastic. Wrapped in plastic and not in a traditional “coat.” Untimely death, faces hidden from us, do not let us see the individuals, only the sea of the dead.
    What everyone needs to see are who these people were and see their faces in time of happiness. They all share the last moment of their breath, their thoughts at the point of realization of the nearness of the death and the terrible thought, that they cannot say good bye to their loved ones… The reality, that they will not have prayers and tears in parting. The invisible links to family members who survived and now are in mourning and full of anger of losing what they have loved are just in spectator’s imagination.
    The numbers tell of the magnitude of the daily killings directly and indirectly by the occupation forces on behalf of the US citizens. They are told by military that it is done for the “defense of the US” and that it is the “War against the terror.”
    And now, the reason seems to be accepted, that it is oil. So what is the price of life lost in Iraq? What keeps the occupation machine going on blasting support for the troops to Iraq?
    For whom the bells toll?

  • MonsieurGonzo

    New York Times : “Witnesses said as many as 50 gunmen [dressed in Iraqi police commando uniforms and driving vehicles with Interior Ministry markings] arrived at the Ministry of Education compound at midmorning, forced their way past a handful of guards and stormed through a four-story building, herding office workers, visitors and even a delivery boy outside at rifle point. After women were separated, the men were loaded aboard a fleet of more than 30 pickup trucks and two larger trucks, then driven away through heavy traffic toward mainly Shi’ite neighborhoods on the City’s eastern edge, officials and witnesses said.
    Seeing this, most Americans will surely ask, “Where the hell were our troops?”
    It is “doubly shocking” because ~ what has not been clear to most Americans is how utterly dis-associated their military presence is from the people and places that their forces are supposedly occupying.
    For all their might, American Troops for all intents and purposes have been rendered impotent: They are quite literally barricaded in their own Green Zones and Forward Operating Bases; their vital/incessant convoys, more like high-speed subway trains, running through one-way tunnels from which glimpses of “IRAQ” must seem but a blur; their only reconnaissance limited to bird’s eye aerial views and frightening, night-time patrols, seeing through that eerie green light what must look like a vision of Hell out of Hieronymous Bosch.
    Aidez-Moi
    In the past i have stated in this forum how important it was for Americans to understand that “The Mission” in IRAQ was “occupation,” rather than some vague notion of War On ____ ~ knowing that notion, that “We are occupiers,” is understandably difficult for American idealists to accept; ie., there is no Glory here.
    Today i shall go so far as to say that we are not now beginning some vague process of a “withdrawal” from IRAQ…
    …rather, imho it is important for Americans to understand that We are engineering the rescue of AngloAmerican forces : They are in-check captives, entirely isolated, holding on to otherwise meaningless lilly pads in the midst of an almost inconceivable Hell of our own leaders’ making.

  • notabeliever

    God, forgive us…

  • jt from BC

    Oil is a main ingredient in petrochemicals, essential for the manufacture of gasoline and plastic zippered death bags.
    the curse of black gold/ some collateral damage/ incidental costs for empire/ courtesy of foreign racketeers.
    Iraqis line up for gas in the hundreds as thousands lie down in shrouds produced from an oil derivative.

  • Paul

    George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfield and Karl Rove (plus many others) should be (and need to be) prosecuted and tried for their Crimes against Humanity.
    War’s like Iraq should not be allowed to happen (built on Lies and ignorance) and the perpetrates need to be held accountable.
    How many innocent people need die for these greedy self serving ignorant bastards?
    Say what you like about Saddam Hussein but Bush AFAIC, is no better, Morally or Ethically.
    I honestly believe that people like George Bush get off on the fact that people can, and do, die because of their decisions.
    They are addicted to power, and what is the ultimate in power? Having the lives of so many distinguished with a stroke of a pen.
    The man is an absolute disgrace!

  • http://ruinsofempire.blogspot.com/ Rafael

    jt:
    Your use of the word “racketeer” reminded me off this:
    “I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purifly Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras “right” for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested… . Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents.”
    General Smedley Butler(USMC)

  • jt from BC

    Rafael, how interesting I was actually thinking of Smedley Butler-empire-USA-racketeering-and the lines you quoted.

  • ummabdulla

    Does anyone know if those General Smedley Butler quotes are known much among Marines?

  • http://mdhatter.blogspot.com mdhatter

    Leave the Marines alone. They only do exactly as they are told.

  • http://haveskunk.blogspot.com have skunk

    Here’s a tip:
    Has anyone else noticed that Shrub’s “big push” phrase and plan for Iraq is a line lifted from the movie, “Lawrence of Arabia.” No kidding:
    http://haveskunk.blogspot.com/2006/11/big-push-keeping-to-script.html

  • GeorgeF

    @mdhatter
    That’s the problem: Soldiers, who blindly follow any order tend to forget that they had sworn an oath – not on the Generals, but on the constition and to protect her. And there something is said about human rights and the value of human life. Gen. Butler may have recognized it – late, but it is never too late.

  • jt from BC

    ummabdulla > its my opinion that marines are given the sanitised version of this outstanding General who is historically the Godfather of the USMC
    I extracted the following from an article by Butler Shaffer who teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. (April 29,2003)
    “American military academies have apparently expanded their curricula to include the training of future officers to become military occupiers of other countries. One West Point cadet expressed an awareness of the interconnected nature of her military training and the political domination of a nation. Contemplating her possible assignment to Iraq upon graduation, she pondered how she “might have to go over there and basically be mayor of a town.” This young woman would be well advised to read Gen. Butler’s book!
    http://www.lewrockwell.com/shaffer/shaffer42.html

  • jt from BC

    GeorgeF
    My army career was brief but I have no reason to believe that the conditions which General Smedly Bulter laid out in 1935 have changed *in practise*
    “I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service ” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smedley_Darlington_Butler

  • http://ruinsofempire.blogspot.com/ Rafael

    “might go over there and be a mayor of a town.”
    Ah yes, woderful, cheerful democracy at work. Which reminds me, I have to post my On the Shelf review of Thom Ricks Fiasco, an excellent book, except at the very end, where the need to justify Imperial Amerika overrides his good sense and skews his historical analysis.

  • GeorgeF

    @ jt: Sorry, I have served for 25 years in the Federal Armed Forces Germany (General Staff Corps). We – officers as well as – were trained intensively on constitutional matters, wich here include the Geneva Conventions, which are part of the constitutions by law. Yes, the crimes of our fathers were certainly the background. Therefore a word like: Discipline is a benefaction for all, but bove discipline stands the human being (v. Moltcke, Chief of Staff in the Prussian Army, victor of the campaigns in 1866 and 1870).

  • GeorgeF

    Sorry for the “typos” – therefor a correction:
    @ jt: Sorry, I have served for 25 years in the Federal Armed Forces Germany (General Staff Corps). We – officers as well as NCOs and men – were trained intensively on constitutional matters, wich here include the Geneva Conventions, which are part of the constitutions by law. Yes, the crimes of our fathers were certainly the background. Therefore a word like this was held high: Discipline is a benefaction for all, but above discipline stands the human being (v. Moltcke, Chief of Staff in the Prussian Army, victor of the campaigns in 1866 and 1870).

  • jt from BC

    GeorgeF, don’t be sorry, I’m familiar with the concepts you sight as are Military Officers and NCO’s in Western Countries.
    The Geneva Convention and discipline is one thing, but military history informs of our failures in these areas as neither rare or exceptional, that is why I put *in practise*.
    From overt to covert operations since 1945 “incidents” continue to dribble out, and the “don’t ask don’t tell” principle, functioned efficiently before it became a policy concerning Gays in the US Military.
    I suspect given the 24/7 intensity of present day conflicts its not just “a bunch of bad apples” but well trained career officers of all ranks who neglect frequently to ask certain questions.
    The following five minute interview is of a US officer outsourced to evaluate a mercenary company and standard contractors in Iraq.
    I try to imagine him serving “in house” especially during the time Brigadier General Janis Karpinski was railroaded.
    She has appeared in a two hour documentary special on Canadian television (CBC) and last week gave a half hour interview on CBC radio discussing the principles you mentioned. As you are probably aware she is now a Colonel. ( from my research anything less than commendations and/or promotion to the rank of Major General demeans her service but more importantly questions the integrity the US Department of Defence)
    All Things Considered, November 28, 2005· T. Christian Miller of the Los Angeles Times discusses the suicide of Col. Ted Westhusing, a military ethics scholar, in Iraq. Westhusing’s suicide note lashed out at officers and expressed despair over allegations of corruption and human-rights abuses against the contractors he oversaw. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5029893
    I’m not a pacifist but admire Mahatma Gandhi whose warriors discipline flawlessly proved that *the human being was the first consideration.*
    On a lighter side you’ve got another spelling mistake in your latest correction, as an English speaker I would have a half a dozen without my spell check so I’m adept at reading misspelled words. cheers, jt

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