Al Fallujah is known in Iraq as the "city of mosques." There is a reverence for the holiness of the city and Muslim leaders made clear to American troops that they did not want them in their city. The US troops responded by saying they had to be there for "security." The Muslim leaders, led by Sunni Imam Jamal Mahmood, said they had their own security. The US troops were determined to stay. They say, Saddam had weapons factories there. The Iraqis say the "factories" have been destroyed and there is no need for the US troops to stay. This is a situation that the Americans cannot say is being fomented by the Shi’a or Iran because Al Fallujah has always been a Sunni stronghold.
What happened next has raised questions among Iraqis and many international Middle East experts. Crowds gathered and demanded the troops leave. As the crowds became louder and more insistent, the American troops fired into the crowd and killed 13 people and injured more than 20 more according to doctors at the local hospital. The American troops said they were fired on; but all other witnesses at the scene denied the gunfire came from the demonstrators. Today, 2 more people were killed and more injured, with the Muslims of Al Fallujah and the city officials saying no one shot at the Americans, the American troops claiming otherwise.
There is something troubling about this situation. Why is it that crowds of people cannot be dispersed by tear gas rather than bullets? Certainly, this is not an unknown tactic.
Furthermore, why is it that the American troops insist in remaining or trying to remain in these "holy cities"? Surely, the commanders must be at least half way intelligent; they should know this will cause upset and protests. Or, are these commanders following orders from above so that there can be cause for firing on the crowds in order to terrorize them into submission-just as the Israelis do to the Palestinians? Are the American troops following the Israeli style of occupation, massive force, even against stone and shoe throwing protesters to show them that America controls Iraq and that the Iraqis had better get used to it in a hurry?
Where did I get this idea. Ironically, from a rabbi who is a friend of mine, a man who protested Sharon’s brutality in Israel because he said it was against Judaism. He called me and said, "Look at that, it’s Israel and Palestine all over again!" At first, I thought it was his fixation and anger, but then as time went on, I began to feel that he was right.
Just as America has hired many former KGB agents to work with the Homeland Security Agency, so too has the National Transportation Security Agency that "protects airports" hired many former Mossad agents. We also have the tie in between the Israeli and the American military on so many levels, why not on the levels of strategy and crowd control. This is not normal command procedures for American troops when confronted by a demonstrating crowd; they are told not to cause civilian casualties-at least they were up until this new administration. Has something changed in our military rules of engagement when dealing with crowds? Has America taken on a new military culture? If so, we need to know.
I am worried that our men are becoming part of a new brutality as seen through their behavior in Iraq. I remember one young soldier, early in the war, when interviewed on TV saying, "I want to get my nose wet-I want to get me some Iraqis, I want to kick some butt." These are not the words of a mature human being-they are the mouthings of an immature and impressionable TV spawned juvenile who neither realizes the value of human life or the humanity of the soldier fighting on the other side. Many of the US military, when I have heard them at West Point and in Annapolis, sound the same as our Commander in Chief, Bush, when he says, "I’m gonna git him, dead or alive."
It almost sounds as if he’s come out of a bad Western movie. But to hear Rumsfeld, Cheney and Franks and some of the other generals speak, I can start to believe that our men are getting the same cruel orders the Israelis have given their soldiers when they go in and kill demonstrators. If not, then why were there children killed in this massacre they perpetrated in the last few days in Al Fallujah? Surely, the children did not shoot at them, if anyone shot at them at all. NO, something is wrong in this scenario and should be the subject of congressional hearings. Just what are the orders to our soldiers and who is giving them. There has to be an explanation for the shootings in Al Fallujah two days in a row, without apology; with a terse, "we heard gun shots coming at us"-with the Imams and the cities leaders contradicting them.
It is also strange that the people have their own security, but that our troops refuse to leave, but want to remain to provide "security" and end up shooting civilians in the town square just because they were protesting. But lest you say I am one-sided, allow me to say, suppose there were shots at them. I understand, having been in combat, that you would consider shooting back. However, we always understood that you don’t just shoot your gun off at first blush, you have to look at what the situation is, where the shots may be coming from, and then the best way to return fire without killing innocent civilians in the process-this is true in the military and in our police training. To shoot into the crowd of protesters two days in a row, killing unarmed civilians (in all cases these people killed had no weapons, though someone else, somewhere else, may have had weapons-that is still a moot point), including children, is not something our military has ever allowed, advocated or allowed to happen without arrests and punishment.
As a veteran and as a US citizen, I am waiting to see what the military will do about these killings in Al Fallujah. I hope our congress will look into this matter and find out if our troops are being given new orders of engagements toward civilians, or are our troops so poorly trained that they panic at the slightest thing.
SAM HAMOD is an expert on world affairs, especially the Arab and Muslim worlds, former editor of THIRD WORLD NEWS (in Wash, DC), a professor at Princeton University, former Director of The National Islamic Center of Washington, DC, an advisor to the US State Department and author of ISLAM IN THE WORLD TODAY. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org