Tuesday afternoon, April 29, just checking out the news online. MSNBC. Very mainstream, trustworthy reportage.
“US fires on Iraqi crowd, killing at least 13.” In the town of Fallujah, MSNBC reports, U.S. soldiers opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators (boys 5-20 in age) this morning, 10:30 Baghdad time, protesting the troops’ occupation of the school where (according to MSNBC) the boys used to normally study, but now is used as those troops’ headquarters. The story cites al-Jazeera as reporting that the soldiers fired after “someone threw a rock at the school.”
“Dr. Ahmed Ghanim al-Ali, director of Fallujah General Hospital, said there were 13 dead, including three boys under 11 years old. He said his medical crews were shot at when they went to retrieve the injured, which he said numbered 75 people.”
I move on to CNN and peruse their coverage of the event. Here it’s a kind of Rashomon: “Conflicting accounts emerged Tuesday about a clash between the U.S. military and civilians in Iraq that witnesses and Red Cross officials said killed at least 15 Iraqis and wounded up to 53 others.”
Members of the U.S. Army’s 82 Airborne Division, according to the U.S. Central Command (in Kuwait), “fired back in self-defense” after “the protesters fired on the soldiers with AK-47s.” The report quotes an Army sergeant who “shot at what he saw,” and what he saw “was targets. Targets with weapons, and they were going to harm me.” (This strikes me as perfectly understandable, and I feel for the sergeant in this occupying army who has to deal with such consequences of the occupation, which certainly aren’t his fault. He probably just wants to go home, which is of course what the Iraqis are encouraging him to do.) He added: “It’s either them or me, and I took the shot, sir, and I’m still here talking to you.” Someone told CNN that ‘the soldiers fired first; others said residents threw rocks at the troops when tempers flared.'”
“A second U.S. soldier said the clash began when some of the protesters started throwing rocks at the soldiers and others started chanting. ‘Then others joined in throwing rocks, and others brought weapons to the party,’ the soldier said. ‘Then they started firing them — not just into the air but toward the soldiers on top of the buildings.'” But this soldier “said he’s not sure who started shooting first”‘ in a confrontation that “went on for hours.” Hours of confrontation between the 82nd Airborne and angry schoolkids, tempers flaring.
Later, Tuesday afternoon (about 4:35 EST): now CNN says the school (termed “an elementary school”) was taken over because it was thought to house weapons, but says none were found. It repeats the “tempers flared” theme. Little detail, report over in seconds, there being many more significant events to cover.
Just trying to think about what spin will be given this sad Soweto-like story about the chanting, rock-throwing dead boys in the next few days. From Central Command’s point of view, I would expect something along the following lines. Fallujah is a Sunni rather than Shia community, so this exchange can’t and won’t be connected to any nefarious Iranian Shiite interference, but it could be depicted, maybe, as is a city with some diehard Saddam Hussein supporters who for some reason reject the presence of the liberators and so engage in terrorism against them. Some of these teens and pre-teens, with both rocks and AK-47 rifles (one should emphasize the presence, or use, or threatened use of the latter), attacked those liberation forces, obliging them to defend themselves in a manner that, while producing a regrettable loss of life, requires no apology. Indeed, the very occurrence of such incidents shows the need for a strong, positive U.S. presence of two or more years to insure the establishment of democracy in Iraq.
Shooting schoolboys is sometimes necessary, especially when you’ve taken their school, and they want to take it back, and they don’t want you there, and they’re armed with rocks, or whatever’s on hand. And occupation is liberation, and good is bad, and up is down, and Iraq is free.
GARY LEUPP is an an associate professor, Department of History, Tufts University and coordinator, Asian Studies Program.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org