Friday, September 9, 2011

Why Most Iraqis Will Be Happy to See the US Gone

The NYT's John Burns reports on a British commission's findings about British troops' horrific treatment of Iraqi prisoners in Basra shortly after the invasion in 2003.  Robert Fisk - who knows both Iraq and the people affected by all this much better than does Burns - has an even more incisive take, including the fact that the father of a young man brutally beaten to death by the "Tommies" was a member of the Iraqi police, and that his son - before he was killed - has told his father that he'd witnessed British soldiers busting open a hotel safe and then stuffing their pockets with the contents (which was why, the father-policeman believes, the Brits killed his son). 

Burns also notes that when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, British officials commented that the British army - as opposed to the inexperienced, undisciplined Yanks who brutalized Iraq detainees at Abu Ghraib prison - had a long tradition of dealing with insurrections (Northern Ireland, for example) as well as dealing with Arabs, given Britain's long colonial involvement in the Middle East, and could be trusted not to resort to such tactics.

So much for that.

But as I enter a new semester of teaching about the history of the Middle East - including a course on the long history of Iraq and Iran - I have to remember that the 18- to 22-year-olds who dominate that class were essentially still little kids when Abu Ghraib happened; were probably oblivious to it then; and now have at most only a dim awareness of what it was.  For Iraqis, though, the memory has been seared more deeply - and the news of the British commission's report is likely to pick open whatever scabs that may have begun to congeal over the wounds.

Reports have been rife over the last couple of months about how the US has been pressuring the Iraqi government to allow perhaps 10,000 US troops to stay there after 31 December. A number of Iraqi commentators - especially among the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds - have insisted that US troops will need to stay if Iraq is not to descend again into civil war.  But the broader popular sentiment - especially among Iraq's Arab Shia - seems to be that all US forces need to leave by the end-of-year deadline.

The new British report will only increase that sentiment.

And as we embark upon a weekend of flag-waving and chest-thumping as we commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, we in the US need to remember that, in the view of most Iraqis, whatever little good that might have come from the US-Anglo invasion of their country in 2003 - an invasion that was predicated largely on the need for payback and pre-emptive deterrence after 9-11 - was vastly outweighed by the brutality and humiliation that it brought.

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