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The incredible lightness of non-being in Iraq


An eerie silence surrounds the now routine horrors of Iraq. Scores of lives are snuffed out and yet there is hardly any reaction. The apathy is eerie and unexplained, almost psychotic.

When five people are killed in a discotheque bombing in Israel, it is the subject of condemnations by Israel, by the Palestinians, by the Americans and by the EU. Telephones ring in the middle of the night in the capitals of the world, and hasty consultations consider the proper reponse to the heinous crime. In Israel itself, the event is studied by security professionals. Searching questions are asked about how the bomber could have carried out his task undetected, how he could have slipped through the security cordon, the checkpoints the barrier. The lessons are learned. Over the years of the Intifada, Israel has learned many lessons about security. Though the security apparatus is not perfect, apprehension and prevention of suicide bombers before the fact, such as the huge car bomb found this week are a matter of course.

The bombings in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Spain likewise attracted the attention of the world, and no doubt lessons were learned and security improved.

In 2002, Israel killed about 56 Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp. Over half of these people were terrorist combatants according to estimates of humanitarian groups. For many weeks the media of both the Arab world and the West carried stories and analyses and condemnations of the Israeli deed. Israeli PM Ariel Sharon was shown eating babies in a cartoon. Movies were made about the Jenin "massacre." Monuments were erected to the "martyrs" of Jenin, and Arab world columnists and anti-Zionists still rant about the "crime" that the evil Zionists committed in Jenin.

On Monday, about 125 Iraqi Arab people are killed in Iraq. Nobody seems to care. It might make headlines for a day or two. In a week it will be forgotten, except by the families of the victims. It is reported in some Arab dailies as another success of the "resistance." The Iraqi government might or might not make some pro-forma statement of regret. Mr. Bush hardly reacts at all to the pain and suffering inflicted on the Arab people of Iraq whom he claims to be liberating. Perhaps the familiarity and regularity of the routine have dulled our senses, and perhaps the governments do not want to emphasize their weakness and powerlessness. However, we cannot ignore the phenomenon: though over a hundred people were murdered, the world reacts largely with indifference.

What is more important perhaps than the lack of official and media reaction, is the fact that no lessons at all are learned from successive bombings by the Iraqi or coalition security forces . Almost every bombing in Iraq takes place according to one of two or three scenarios. Scenario number 1 is exemplified by Monday's bombing in Hila. The government is recruiting for something. A crowd of applicants gathers. There are no precautions taken to protect people in any way. No thought is given to distributed processing or to sheltering the waiting applicants. Inevitably, the suicide bomber arrives and kills scores of people. This tragedy has played itself out repeatedly, as though the Iraqi government has a self-destructive psychosis or total amnesia, that causes it to repeat the same dangerous and senseless actions over and over. Scenario number two relies on crowds gathering in mosques, and was demonstrated once again in this year's Ashura carnage. Everyone understood beforehand that there would be suicide bombings, and some even voiced concern. Everyone knew, but nobody did anything. No effective measures were taken to protect people or to foil the suicide bombers.

In marked contrast, the number of coalition soldiers killed by terrorist action, rather than face to face combat, is comparatively low. The incidents involving deaths of coalition soldiers almost never involve terror attacks directed at them. American casualties in the Hila bombing were a coincidence. A guard was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Obviously, the guard was not guarding Iraqi civilians. There are no mass killings of hundreds of troops, such as occurred in Lebanon in the 80s. The "resistance" direct their attacks away from coalition troops. The terrorists kill Iraqi civilians, government employees and police. They kidnap journalists and foreign workers, regardless of their political sympathies. They rarely go after the US soldiers who are supposedly their number one enemy. Shouldn't the resistance be targeting the unpopular coalition forces rather than killing their own civilians? Wouldn't a high casualty rate of US soldiers help their supposed cause of evicting the foreign troops, much more than murdering Iraqis?

Isn't it true that there are less successful attacks against US soldiers because they are a formidable and secure target? Isn't this the reverse of the normal logic of war? The top priority mission of an army is usually to prevent injury to civilians on its own side, but in Iraq, the soldiers are secure and protected and the civilians are not. Knowing that heavy casualties among their forces could make continued US occupation politically impossible, the coalition governments have invested a great deal in the security of their troops. Sophisticated electronic devices, well barricaded headquarters and expert security precautions protect coalition forces from the kind of suicide attacks perpetrated against Iraqi civilians. Iraqi civilians don't get such protection, because their lives are not so politically valuable. We could not imagine that, for example, the US Army would announce that a thousand American soldiers will gather in an unprotected marketplace or a mosque or church at a certain date and time. It is like drawing a bullseye on those people. However, that is more or less what is being done to Iraqis, and that is why the suicide bombings have had such devastating effects.

At the same time, the pattern of attacks remind us that the "resistance" terrorists are not carrying out a war against foreign occupation, but rather, for the most part, a civil war against the Iraqi government and against the Shi'a majority. The people who were killed in the Ashura attacks were not Western "Crusaders." They were Shi'a Muslim worshippers, killed because they belong to the wrong sect.

Despite the rosy optimism generated by the relative success of the Iraqi elections, the continual carnage is ominous. Even more ominous is the fact that nobody is doing very much about it. No lessons are learned, and it seems there is no progress whatever in thwarting terrorism except worthless accountings of "body counts" and spurious estimates of the number of remaining "insurgents," reminiscent of Vietnam. The coalition forces are not entirely to blame. They are looking out for number one, first and foremost. The Iraqi government may have few resources, but there is no evidence that they are even trying to use what they have to thwart terror attacks. What is involved after all is simple precautions such as closing off streets, changing meeting places at the last moment, keeping crowds spread out, organizing recruiting so that crowds don't gather, regulating crowds of worshippers. A government that doesn't care enough about its own people to take even these measures, that won't even try to protect them, cannot stay in power, regardless of whether they are elected democratically or otherwise.

However, that is all out of our hands for the most part. We are mostly just observers. At least, perhaps we can remember and honor the Iraqi victims of the Saddamist terror, the so-called "resistance." Everyone seems to have forgotten these poor souls.

Ami Isseroff

Post Script:

Shortly after I wrote the above, I was happy to see that at least Iraqis are beginning to be concerned and protested the negligence and stupidity that allowed Monday's car bombing, which killed over 125 people. I was also gratified to see the following headline, one day after the horrific blast: "Official: Pentagon Must Stop Iraq Blasts." I was appalled to read however, that this was only a call by General Abizaid to take care of roadside blasts that target US soliders. The bombing in Hilla and the previous Ashoura bombings were not mentioned at all. Iraqi lives don't count apparently. Coming one day after the suicide bombing that killed 125 Iraqis on Monday, it displayed incredible insensitivity to Iraqi casualties, which are hardly noted at all by the US government. Soon after Monday's bomb there was yet another suicide bombing of recruits gathered in a crowd. This time "only" a few were killed apparently.

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Replies: 17 comments

Everytime a car bombing occurs in Iraq, I cringe (15, 100, 5 being the tally of body count), and I eargerly await for how many American soldiers died, as a matter of interest to me being also American. But I also keep asking myself the same nagging question, are Iraqis better off with what the US did with the regime change? And on one level, I say yes, on the other I ask myself one more corollary question: Where they ready to assume responsibility for their country yet? And my answer is not as clear as the first one.

Gifting a people their freedom, when they couldn't sustain it on their own, and earn it by themselves even with others' help, is akin to handing the car keys to a 3 years old, and telling him now you are free to drive, so go ahead.

That point of view is purely in direct contrast to the current US administration and the neocons push to rush to free people without a concept of nation building in place and without the maturity of purpose paving the way in these countries to allow a coherent transition of power. When we mix that with the level of terrorism that is masking further the obvious instability, a new dimension of volatility is experienced which induces our numbness and cynicism to such tragic events.

Are these Iraqis dying, for G_d and country? Is this the work of Ba'thsists holding on to power or is it OBL and his cohorts dragging a situation from bad to worse? Alas, not an easy picture or no clear answer jumps out...

Posted by Israel Bonan @ 03/01/2005 06:46 PM CST

I am sorry to say that the main purpose of the USA was to take the oil and this has been achieved so its a succes. These neocons are clever people and if they would care democracy in Iraq they would be doing something because they know as we know that Iraq is going to a permanent civil war. I do not think they like democracy even in USA because democracy leads to what they hate more : social security, medicaid, etc... They believe in caritative plutocracy as the best for economy and so for american society. And in this ridiculous countries such as Iraq they can kill each other (or eat each other or whatever their local culture lead them to) as long as the oil flows and do not throw planes to american buildings.

For me the most horrible was when a bus full of undergraduated Iraqui policeman was stoped and they were shot down one by one. These poor Iraqui police students need a Wingate if they are to survive.

Posted by Aleph @ 03/02/2005 11:04 PM CST

In my opinion the idea that the Neocons are exclusively driven by a desire to secure a steady supply of oil is profoundly wrong. Had that been the sole objective then keeping Sadaam Hussein in power would have achieved that much more effectively than suggesting, let along attempting to create a democratic Iraq.

I suggest that the Neocons are much closer to the Fundamentalist Muslims than most people in the world would like to acknowledge. It is a characteristic of the Neocons that their political outlook is driven by a particular Christian perspective which has its roots in 19th century Protestant Non-Conformism combined with the revolutionary characteristics of the United States. In my opinion the Neocons see the world in terms of pseudo-Biblical extremes, of right and wrong. As with all revolutionary states, the USA seeks to project its revolutionary concepts beyond its own borders and make the world in its own image. It is common for Europeans to misinterpret this tendency and to assume that Americans are somehow stupid and naive when they fail to recognise the nuances that Europeans perceive. However I believe it is not that Americans are stupid or naive, it is that their cultural framework determines that they do not recognise the same complexities. Nor does it immediately occur to them that other nations and cultures do not immediately share their own aspirations. Anymore than Fundamentalist Muslims perceive that other Muslims might not share their aspirations.

Behind this culturalisation is the firm 19th century belief that the individual has control of their own destiny, and within each one of us exists the potential to achieve success. Failure to attain success is primarily due to indolence upon the individual. Thus the provision of Social Security, Medicare etc is simply encouraging laziness. Further the origins of the Founding Fathers is in anti-government tendencies of 17th century England, it is not a coincidence that many dissenters and subsequent radicals of the English Civil War period found sanctury in North America, and flourished there. What ultimately caused the divisions between US fundamentalists and the primarily British counterparts was the fact that in post-revolutionary America, the Fundamentalists obtained power and their territorial wealth isolated them from the travails that their former colleagues experienced.

The Neocons are on a simple mission, to create a world according to their Fundamentalist vision. To date they have been very effective in using their culture and economic power to promote their vision.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 03/04/2005 11:12 PM CST

The Neo cons believe that political change in the Middle East is the road to peace and stability. There is a great deal of debate about this policy going on in Republican and Conservative circles. To say that neo-cons are fundamentalists is rather silly as the leading spokesmen for this policy are Jewish. Pat Buchanan is a fundamentalist Roman Catholic and he is an isolationist. Oil was not a reason for invading Iraq but it is a consideration in seeking stabilty in the Middle East.

Posted by Tim Sullivan @ 03/05/2005 05:28 AM CST

Excellent points Rod Davies and Tim Sullivan.

Posted by Razor Ace @ 03/05/2005 10:34 PM CST

It isn't good that normal Iraqis are dying because of these attacks but colonists in the American did the same with Britsh sympathysers.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 03/06/2005 07:17 PM CST

Both Rod Davies and Tim Sullivan made good points. For once I am on the same page as Rod Davies and also agree with Tim Sullivan. However a country can only keep their veiw enforced on someone for so long before that someone decides to rebel. History has shown that people accept certain cultures or certain aspects of a culture and not care about the survival of that culture. Greece and Rome are good examples of this as we acknowledge the culture's greatness but the empires no longer exist.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 03/06/2005 07:24 PM CST

Rod, you are right and I was rather simplistic. The neocons are chasing moral targets. However, if you take the Bush administration as a whole, adding Neocons ideas (so well described by you) with Mrs. Rice worship for raw power with Cheney&Houston lobby greedeness, we would have as total outcome the destruction of a country and the robbery of their oil.

Posted by Aleph @ 03/07/2005 02:05 PM CST

To Rod Davies:
As a Palestinian Christian this belief among conservatives scare me. It completely contradicts democracy and its values. When nations or empires start to try to enforce there on the rest of the world, the world will rebel and conform at the same time. However in the long run empires can only control the people for so long before people rebel and the empire falls apart. In a recent poll found that the more religous Americans are the more negative their veiws of Islam and Muslims be. This isn't good and what it tells me is that much of Christian teachings in America are teaching distrust and even racisism against Muslims. As a Christian Palestinian, I do not want to be caught between religion and nationality especaillaly when most issues in the Middle East are more socail by nature rather than religous issues.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 03/07/2005 08:04 PM CST

There is another element in understanding the US and to a lesser extent UK, and that is the nature of isolationism. Both states are instinctively isolationist, in the US this is articulated in the idea that the US can leave the world to its own devices. In the UK in tends to be articulated most frequently in antipathy to the European Union and desire to associate with the US and other English pseaking nations (despite them being in other hemispheres).
However this isolationist impulse is tempered by the experience of the first half of the 20th C when both states found themselves embroiled in World Wars.
Whereas for most of the world the lessons of WW1 & WW2 was that war is awful and to be avoided at all costs. The US & UK drew the lesson in 1945 that to be militarily weak and unwilling to take forthright action inevitably led to war as other nations exploited that reluctance. (Note that both US & UK massively scaled down their armed forces after WW1 believing that no nation would ever wish another world war.)
Although in recent times both US & UK established isolationist policies, they both learnt that failure to act in the Balkans resulted in genocide and the danger of escalation. PM Blair was allegedly much impressed by the arguments of Paddy Ashdown that had the UK (& US) taken decisive and direct military action at the outset, then none of the massacres would have occurred.
I believe that it with this at forefront both administrations came to the belief that if they did not act the Hussein regime would inevitably embark on further expansionist and destablising adventures. Hence why these two states were willing to initiate war in the face of world wide opposition. Fear drove them, a vision of a "democracy" enticed them, and oil just greased their already slippery path.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 03/08/2005 10:59 PM CST

To Mr. Rod Davies:

I happen to find something which seems to a bit disconcerting to me and I believe the Middle East as a whole. The strategy is called a Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm published in 1996. This strategy changes for the Middle East created partly by Douglas Feith, Richard Pearle, and others. These policies seem to have benn taking into effect over the past few years. It includes:
1. For Israel to:
A.* Change the nature of its relations with the Palestinians, including upholding the right of hot pursuit for self defense into all Palestinian areas and nurturing alternatives to Arafat’s exclusive grip on Palestinian society.(quote)

This could explain to why Yasser Arafat was not a man peace.

B.* Forge a new basis for relations with the United States—stressing self-reliance, maturity, strategic cooperation on areas of mutual concern, and furthering values inherent to the West. This can only be done if Israel takes serious steps to terminate aid, which prevents economic reform.(quote)

Recently the idea of making Nato apart of Israel's security has been brought or something like that. The paper feels that by eliminating aid to Israel then Israel will be forced to change its socailists structures. It veiws Labor Zionism (assuming the Labor party being apart of that) as "a large problem" that has hurt Israel's economy.

2. For the rest of the Arab world what should be dealt with an attitude:

While the mission of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies has broadened over the course of our twenty-three years of existence, the focus has not changed. The focus is the integrity of Western societies, or what is the same thing, the struggle within Western societies to resist, and to turn back, the Redirection of Western purposes by Western elites. These elites which have sought bases of agreement with Nazis, Communists and now with terrorist Islam, have targeted those fixed aspects of existence which informed the founding articulation of Western life --Self, Society, World, God --to Redirect the West toward a World State. At the root of this Redirection, that is, at the root of Elite impulse to barbarism stands --of all things --the threat of antagonism to what these Elites have posed as contrary dieties. Although these contraries are names for matter in motion, the names resonate with Western populations. Thus Democracy, the Open Society, Equality, Freedom constitute the sword's point aimed at Western peoples by the Elites today. The mission of the Institute and its programs is to expose this deception; most of all to indicate policies to reverse and restore what is now marked for destruction.(quote)

This could explain the democratic vision the conservatives has been pushing recently.

The ideas also include removing Saddam and creating an opposition or supporting an opposition to force Syria out of Lebenon.


This makes me angry it suggests that the more democratic the Middle East gets the less freedom it truly has since this "democracic vision" is nothing more than attempt to control the region or change the power structure. This strategy also veiws Israel as nothing more than a military base designed to insure the power structure of the Middle East is changed. The Arabs are nothing more than pawns who will resist certain governments when the conservatives want them to. I say the Middle East as a whole should start to break away from existing power structures. Arabs who want democracy should push for it on their own rather than waiting for an outside force that will be tempted to find ways of controlling that particular arab society. Israelis should start looking for their ownselves for security. What good is it if the conservatives support of Israel is to insure a military base to "Securing the Realm" of the Middle East. This strategy treat Israelis as soldiers and not human beings. Why would should the West decide what is best for us? It is time for us to decide our future.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 03/09/2005 01:11 AM CST

Studying history does help us all, bound as we may be to view it through our own narrow biases, put upon us by our upbringing, our education and our grudging yet sometimes myopic acceptance of modern media as a source of information. Glory to those of you who really do try to earnestly look at the issue through a wide lens,and save the blame and fingerpointing for those of lesser minds who can do little else.Enough of that has gone around for millenia. Us twenty first centurists have the distinct advantage of being able to look at the whole long length of it, talk to each other, and move resources. With the yet dim but distinctly dawning hope of a world community that until now was totally impossible, we have to be the problem solvers. Have hope, my brothers of all cultures. Maybe we can still do this in peace.

Posted by Pam Bland @ 03/09/2005 06:35 AM CST

To Butros Dahu

IMO the Arabs must start to re-examine their own history from a factual basis, rather than the myths that they have tended to rely upon to date. To do this they need to examine and seek to understand how they have arrived at where they are today. Equally they must look at the factual histories of the nations they have dealings with, and seek to understand how these nations have arrived at where they are. What the Arabs must stop doing is looking for fabulous conspiracies and outright fabrications to provide a palatable explanation of events.
Arab societies have been in decline for centuries, and have been eclipsed by both the European West and Oriental Asia. Yet for centuries they have persuaded themselves through legend they have retained dominance or a right to dominance by virtue of largely being Muslims. In the second half of the 20th C Arabs clung to apparent left wing ideas, but in fact sought a return to an apocryphal former golden era. Behind much of the language is a desire to turn the clock back to a pre-Tanzimat period, the Palestinian consitution even echoes this.
IMO the Arab street must come to terms with the real nature of its relationship with the rest of the world and seek strategies based opon reality. If it does not then it will remain weak and open to manipulation by the West.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 03/09/2005 10:29 AM CST

To assume that my post is an outright conspiracy itself makes no sense. This not people making up stories these are people some with influence(Douglas Feith and Richard Pearle) who in 1996 decided on how to deal with the Middle East. The problem with Arab societies is that they are not activists but reactionists. They only act when compelled to and when they do act it is not organized. They allow their leaders to decide for them rather than telling their leaders what they want. They refuse to understand from past mistakes and refuse to find the courage to stand up for themselves. In reality the Arabs had the ability to stop the Iraq war from happening but instead did nothing because they feel powerless without realizing how much power one can have. It is not the culture or past that holds them back. Its the failure of Arabs to understand their position in the present and in the future and realize on ly they can help themselves. They feel that either they become democratic or will be forced to become democratic by the West. I'm not saying I oppose democracy but if the purpose of being of being democratic is because the West told us to or supported us to then we Arabs didn't take the step on our own. We need to not be afraid of chaos and world opinion we need to decide what is best for ourselves and if we make mistakes we will learn from them. Our problem is we are afraid and refuse to make ourselves better but wait till others try to do it for us.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 03/10/2005 05:57 PM CST

My post may be conspiracy but it could also mean something since it some of the people behind it are Richard Pearle and Douglas Feith.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 03/10/2005 05:59 PM CST

Dear Butros
You misunderstand me - I do not imagine that your post is conspiracy. My comments were regarding Arab society in general. The prediliction for imagining conspiracy where none exists seems to be very prevalent, as does creating myths when facts are uncomfortable. I find it disturbing that some Muslims / Arabs I meet ernestly assure me that without the benefit of US and / or British ground troops the Israelis would never have won any of the early wars. As far as I am aware the sole time that either US or UK forces were directly deployed in any of these wars, was in 1948 when the RAF flew two ground support sorties against Israel in support of the Egyptian Army.
I think it was Bernard Lewis who proffered the explanation that Arab (& many other) non-democratic societies do organise themselves on the basis of covert cabals and thus internal events do occur due to conspiracy. It is therefore a natural extension for their populations to assume that everywhere else is just the same. Thus conspiracy theories find a credulous audience.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 03/11/2005 10:24 AM CST

In my opinion, our Troops are not fighting for my freedom, nor are they fighting for the freedom of the Iraqui People. They are fighting for their lives and the lives of their buddies. I hope and pray they will all be safe.

Posted by AL O'CANAS @ 03/12/2005 12:40 AM CST

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