By: Greg Mitchell
Over the years, I have made few requests of readers of this column, beyond hinting that, maybe, you ought to return here from time to time. But now I have to urge you to drop everything, finish reading this come-on, and then link to the video described below. It?s the most revealing little (eight-minute) video I?ve seen yet on our country?s preposterous position in Iraq.
Aptly, it is titled, “Iraq: The Real Story.” It won?t turn your stomach, in fact, you may even chuckle in spots (like you might have done in reading much of ?Catch-22?). But, hopefully, you will end up screaming at the computer screen.
That?s partly because it arrives at such a critical moment, with the death counts for both Americans and Iraqis soaring, and the debate over what to do about this catastrophe reaching a fever pitch, even before the election of a new Congress.
Here?s what you will see (notice, I wrote will, presuming you will, indeed, follow the link below).
Sean Smith, the award-winning photographer for The Guardian in London, who has put in several tours of duty in Iraq (before, during, and after the 2003 invasion), recently embedded with the 101st Airborne, for six weeks. He ended up chronicling attempts by the U.S. Army in the northern Iraqi region around Hawija and Tikrit to hand over duties, or at least work with, Iraqi military and police — you know, helping them stand up so we can stand down. He?s now produced the video, which includes some of his photos, for the Guardian and the BBC.
It opens on a familiar note, as Smith observes that some in the 101st are on their third tour of duty. Many are just counting the days until they “are back in Tennesee.” Then they suddenly are shown in a six-minute firefight with insurgents, but no bodies are found, no prisoners taken, and they may have to wait days for more action. ?We do our jobs,? one young soldier says.
Then we watch the unit seize three Iraqis suspected of doing … something. They are ?bagged? — literally have bags placed over their heads — and taken away. Another couple locals are caught ?redhanded? planting IEDs. So far so good.
But then it turns ugly.
We tag along on ?a home visit for the 101st.” They have been tipped off that an alleged gun dealer was hanging with a local family but nothing is found. The angry family say it’s the sixth time they?ve been raided over nothing.
So where are the Iraqi forces in all this? Conspicuous by their absence. The same young soldier who spoke earlier tells Smith, ?I don?t think this country will ever be ready for U.S. forces to leave it. They?re too lazy.?
Then we see and hear an Iraqi soldier telling the Americans things were better off under Saddam. They had more fuel and electricity then. An earnest U.S. soldier asks, ?For those two things you are willing to give up your freedom?? His Iraqi ?comrade? replies, ?Of course I am, these are the essentials of life.?
The narrator then observes: ?The tension between the Americans and their Iraqi colleagues is never far away. An Iraqi officer has been heard over the radio telling his men not to fire at the insurgents.? So Americans go on the ?warpath.? They pay a visit to the offices of the local town council. Did I mention that a grenade had just been thrown from there into the next door compound — which happens to be headquarters of the joint command for the U.S./Iraqi force?
No one there knows anything about that so we watch as all in the town building, plus any bystanders, are herded outdoors into the noonday sun, where the Americans berate them. ?It?s another exercise that turns out fruitless for the Americans and humiliating for the Iraqis,? the narrator says. After a couple hours they are released, ?hearts and minds that much further out of reach.?
A few days later the Americans are again under attack, from another building, but they bust no one. Eventually they find four Iraqi policemen who say they have seen and done nothing, even though this seems to happen every day, so ?the Americans are not impressed.? Our guys complain that they also let suspicious traffic pass freely and allow illegal gas sellers to run free.
One of our officers tells them: ?You are doing nothing here.? He warns them they will be arrested if our guys get shot at again.
Blackout. New scene. ?24 hours on and the marriage of the Americans and the Iraqis looks headed for the rocks,? the narrator explains. We see maybe a dozen Iraqis kneeling on a porch, their hands bound behind them, in custody. Insurgents? Al-Qaeda terrorists? Maybe, at least, those black marketeers? Alas, no. Things have got so bad ?the Americans are raiding the offices of the Iraqi Army, their allies, the people they are training.?
Then we see our allies blindfolded and hauled away. Believe me, this image may stay with you awhile as a symbol of the entire war effort.
Finally, we learn that a hand grenade has been thrown at one of our armored trucks from inside the secure zone — from inside our own ?joint? command center. ?The insurgents, the terrorists, appear to be the soldiers of the Iraqi Army,? the narrator says simply. Well, what more does he need to say?
After more arrests, a U.S. soldier announces that?s one for us, zero for the insurgents. ?But if this is what victory looks like,? the narrator concludes, before the video ends, ?it is hollow indeed.?
To watch the video click here.