U.S. War in Iraq

The Punishment of Abu Hishma

Revolutionary Worker #1223, December 21, 2003, posted at rwor.org

"With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them."

Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman, U.S. battalion commander, Abu Hishma New York Times , Dec. 6

The U.S. occupation authorities believed that someone in the Iraqi village of Abu Hishma was resisting.

In November, U.S. troops claimed they came under mortar fire from the orchards surrounding this town of 7,000 people. Convoys of occupying troops ran into improvised land mines on nearby roads. A few miles from town, rifle fire hit the passing U.S. vehicles. Then on November 17, the resistance fighters succeeded in killing a U.S. soldier with a grenade.

The occupation authorities responded with massive collective punishment.

First they sent a jet to drop a 500-pound bomb on the village. The whole landscape quaked as one home instantly became a crater.

Then heavily armed soldiers came to round up the village elders--taking away the mayor, police chief, and most of the town council.

Then, in early December, a U.S. force literally turned Abu Hishma into a prison camp. Five miles of razor wire now completely surround the village. All adult men must now carry photo identification cards-- printed in English.

The village is "locked down" 15 hours a day. People can no longer go to their mosque for morning and evening prayers. They cannot get to the gas station in time to avoid curfew each night. To travel or visit their fields, the inhabitants must line up at the only gate and display their photo ID to the soldiers. The U.S. commander announced the villagers would live like this until they turned over any resistance fighters to the soldiers.

"This is absolutely humiliating," said Yasin Mustafa, the town's grade school teacher. "We are like birds in a cage."

The sign on the razor wire says: "This fence is here for your protection. Do not approach or try to cross, or you will be shot."

Punishing the People

All across central Iraq, in both villages and cities, collective punishments have been going on in a U.S. offensive called "Operation Iron Hammer."

Money has flooded in to purchase networks of informants. U.S. forces have then arrested and interrogated thousands of adult men based on the charges of collaborators. People are being imprisoned merely for being relatives of suspected resisters.

The Dallas Morning News (Dec. 9) described how the Muslim cleric Abdul Qader was arrested by U.S. soldiers for criticizing the occupation in Friday sermons. After midnight, he was hooded and taken away for interrogations, beaten until one retina detached, and then released.

On December 2, a U.S. strike force entered the town of Hawija. Handcuffed men had the words "black list" written on the back of their necks, along with identifying numbers for use by interrogators. The U.S. officials admitted that these men were not themselves known to be active in the resistance.

Troops have rousted whole families from their homes without warning or discussion, and called in jets--leaving people stunned, looking into the crater. U.S. forces have destroyed irrigation works and bulldozed groves of orange, lemon and date trees.

These are all tactics employed by the Israeli punishment operations that target Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Logic of Imperialist Conquest

"You have to understand the Arab mind. The only thing they understand is force -- force, pride and saving face."

Capt. Todd Brown, company commander with Fourth Infantry Division outside the gate of Abu Hishma

"Experience continues to teach us many lessons, and we continue to evaluate and address those lessons, embedding and incorporating them appropriately into our concepts, doctrine and training. For example, we recently traveled to Israel to glean lessons learned from their counterterrorist operations in urban areas."

Brig. Gen. Michael A. Vane
Deputy Chief of Staff for Doctrine Concepts & Strategy
magazine, July 2003

"Get 'em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow."

Unofficial motto of U.S. officer corps in Vietnam

Lt. General Sanchez justified collective punishment at a press conference: "I guess what we need to do is go back to the laws of war and the Geneva Convention and all of those issues that define when a structure ceases to be what it is claimed to be and becomes a military target. We've got to remember that we're in a low-intensity conflict where the laws of war still apply."

Translated into human-speak: In this counterinsurgency, the people themselves, their livelihoods and homes are seen as legitimate military targets by the U.S. command.

Much of the U.S. ruling class (including both the White House and the Democratic presidential field) talks about their hope of bringing the troops of other countries onto the frontlines in Iraq: Bring in large numbers of Turkish or Pakistani troops! Or NATO and UN troops, and especially some new pro- American Iraqi puppet army. Replace some of the U.S. forces, they say, while (of course) keeping any "multilateral force" under unilateral U.S. command, serving the same imperialist U.S. goals.

However, the Bush administration (and Democrats like Gen. Wesley Clark) all insist that replacing U.S. forces can't happen before Iraq is pacified. What country will really join this occupation before "pacification" is complete? In other words, the only "exit strategy" the imperialists see here is victory over the Iraqi resistance.

And the only force really available to do that is the U.S. forces themselves. This was underscored this week when almost half of the new U.S.-trained Iraqi army walked out on December 10--complaining about awful conditions and fear of the Iraqi resistance.

The U.S. government and military increasingly admit that this dirty new war will require ruthless brutality. But (in classic colonialist logic) they insist it is the nature and culture of the people that force them to commit atrocities.

"Life is cheap in the Orient," American war makers once claimed in Vietnam, as they coldly killed millions of people--all in the name of freedom, of course.

In a chilling passage, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote (Nov. 5): "What will happen to the national mood when the news programs start broadcasting images of the brutal measures our own troops will have to adopt? Inevitably, there will be atrocities that will cause many good-hearted people to defect from the cause. They will be tempted to have us retreat into the paradise of our own innocence. Somehow, over the next six months.the president will have to remind us that we live in a fallen world, that we have to take morally hazardous action if we are to defeat the killers who confront us."

In other words, the people of the U.S. are now expected to embrace a mounting war of brutality in Iraq (and Afghanistan), all in the name of freedom, of course.

The truth is: "Operation Iron Hammer" follows the classic anti-people logic of imperialist counterinsurgency. Unable to identity the resistance fighters, the U.S. command intends to "drain the sea to catch the fish"--brutalize the people and treat anyone who doesn't collaborate as an enemy.

* * * * *

Oppressed people all over the world have seen these operations and tactics before.

We have lived through the police clampdowns in housing projects--where even relatives from outside your building are forbidden to visit. We have seen police sweeps that target Black and Latino youth and pack names into vast "gang" databases. We have seen how cops put guns to the heads of kids or plant "evidence" on them, and order them to provide information on their friends.

We remember the collective punishments of Nazi occupation during World War 2 and we have never forgotten the walling in of the Warsaw Jewish ghetto, when the inhabitants didn't know what to expect next from the enemy troops and tanks.

We see, over and over, the daily strangulation and brutalization of Palestinian villages in the West Bank by a heavily armed enemy who means the people ill.

So when we hear about these collective punishments in Iraq, many of us can see that the power of our own oppressors is being unleashed against our Iraqi sisters and brothers--in an unjust war to dominate and suppress.

The commander-in-chief in Washington, DC says, "You are with us or against us." That is a choice forced on the people of Iraq at gunpoint. And it faces all of us, across the world.