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August 24, 2007

The Roots of Iraqi Violence

Update:  Sorry about the lack of a title; I know how it interrupts the flow of the page.

by Stephen of the Thinkery, who writes really long posts.  You have been warned.

I've been spending some time with McClatchy's Daily Iraq Violence Roundup, and it's fascinating and horrifying. Unlike what we might read in our local newspapers or hear on the US versions of cable news networks, this attempts to be as exhaustive a list as possible of the shootings, kidnappings, suicide bombs, IEDs, pitched battles, car bombs, mortar attacks - everything that goes on in a single day in Iraq. Even though McClatchy relies upon their own correspondents in Iraq who peruse police, military (US and Iraqi) and medical reports - as well as their own sources, to be sure - they admit that there is no way to give a complete record of all that happens.

Here's the report for yesterday, August 23rd:

    Baghdad

- Around 8 a.m., mortars hit the Green Zone ( IZ) . No casualties reported.

- Around 9 a.m., a roadside bomb exploded at Na’iriya area of New Baghdad neighborhood ( east Baghdad) killing 1 person and injuring 5 others.

- Police found (12 ) dead bodies in the following of Baghdad’s neighborhoods ( 8 ) in west Baghdad( Karkh bank) ; 2 in Amil, 2 in Huriyah , 1 in Saidiyah , 1in Mansour , 1 in Jihad and 1 in I’laam. While ( 4 ) were found in east Baghdad ( Risafa bank); 2 in Sadr city , 1 in Ur and 1 in New Baghdad.

- Soldiers from Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, were targeted by insurgents while patrolling in Jisr Diyala, southeast of Baghdad, Aug. 21. U.S. Soldiers were unhurt, but two local children were caught in a roadside bomb explosion, killing one child and injuring another. Capt. Darrell Melton, Troop C commander, a native of San Antonio, described the incident. “The trail Bradley gunner was waving at two kids who were riding their bikes and were waving at my guys,” Melton said. “The next thing the Bradley commander knew, one of the kids was gone in a puff and he was thrown backward in the hatch. When he looked back, the other kid was crawling on the ground.” Melton said his Soldiers immediately dismounted their Bradley Fighting Vehicle and cautiously approached the wounded child. It is not uncommon for improvised explosive devices to be emplaced in groups and detonated on first responders coming to provide aid. “He (the wounded child) crawled a few feet, when the medic on site, despite the danger, ran out to him, picked him up and ran back to the Bradley to administer first aid,” Melton said. The medic was able to stabilize the wounded child, Melton said. Troop C then evacuated the child to a U.S. Army medical facility nearby. Such incidents are not unique to Troop C. Soldiers from Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, came upon a grieving family in the course of a routine combat patrol Aug. 13 in Salman Pak. Capt. Chris Pearson, of Birmingham, Ala., met with a local banking official in Salman Pak to discuss issues and prospective solutions concerning the banking industry in the local area. After the meeting, a town councilman approached him with a father who had lost his son earlier in the day to a roadside bomb. Pearson said he did not talk directly to the father, but the councilman explained the father just wanted to bury his son in accordance with Muslim tradition. “I expressed the Coalition’s condolences,” Pearson said. “Even though the IEDs target police or Coalition Forces, they can hit children and families. They are the ones that suffer.” The councilman informed Pearson that the family was having trouble getting through checkpoints and requested U.S. Soldier assistance in traveling to the cemetery. “Just to make it easier, we had them travel with us,” Pearson said. After dropping off the family, Pearson’s element began movement to Combat Outpost Cahill, north of Salman Pak. While traveling to COP Cahill, Pearson’s unit received word that the grieving family had run into another IED as they were returning from the burial. No one was seriously injured in the second incident. Pearson further explained that National Police, local Iraqi Police, governmental leaders and Coalition Forces all play a role in maintaining security in the area. When Pearson’s unit arrived in March, the local populace and Iraqi Security Forces had not yet developed a trusting relationship. “There are still a lot of improvements that need to be made,” Pearson said. “Everyday it gets better. There are highs and lows. They’ve begun attending meetings together and as long as they are communicating, it’s helpful.”

Anbar

- On Tuesday ( August 21) , a suicide bomber targeted a police check point at Dam street in Falluja (62 km west of Baghdad) injuring two people and he was killed by police.

Kirkuk

- Police found a dead body on Wednesday night for a civilian man ( 40 to 45 years old) at Ajaj village of Riadh district ( west of Kirkuk).

- Wednesday night, a car bomb targeted a convoy for a member of Hawija council board ( west of Kirkuk) injuring one guard who was transferred to hospital.

- Wednesday night, police arrested the media man of 1920th battalions in Kirkuk during a raid in Wahid Huzayran ( June 1st ) neighborhood in Kirkuk city.

Mosul

- Wednesday night, Iraqi army killed four gunmen during clashes took place at Noor neighborhood ( downtown Mosul city). In addition to that ,the army defused two car bombs at Harmat ( west Mosul) , Iraqi army said.

That medic from Troop C is a hero. He shouldn't have to buy his own drinks for the rest of his life. Even as our political leaders play their stupid games with each other, making our soldiers' mission more and more impossible, American troops do this type of thing every day. How I wish the rest of us could provide leadership worthy of their sacrifices and heroics.

Aside from the report on American troops, what you may notice is how it is Iraqi government forces and interests that are attacked the most. This bears out when looking through the other daily violence roundups. The majority of the attacks are upon Iraqi police, military and political leaders, along with government buildings. After that it's usually American patrols that are targeted. There's always dead bodies that have been found in various parts of Baghdad and at times other cities. Usually there's some mortar attacks (which seem to be rather ineffective), and then there's some car bombs and suicide bomb attacks.

What has really struck me about all this is how it doesn't completely fit the narrative of ethnic/religious violence about which we are constantly told. Don't misunderstand:  I know that Iraq has serious problems with ethnic and religious violence. However, most of the reports that come straight from the source, as opposed to being run through a White House/Pentagon/media filter, paint a picture of most of the violence being Iraqi and American forces under direct attack. And much of the rest of the violence simply has an unknown motivation. Was X attack that occurred in Y neighborhood religiously motivated? We don't know.

In a nation as awash in military-level ordnance as Iraq, it stands to reason that the violent crime wave which always accompanies the chaos of war would feature explosives and automatic weapons. How much of the violence that occurs in Iraq each day is a result of rival crime factions fighting one another? Or takes place during the a crime committed for monetary gain rather than ethnic strife? Again, we don't know.

What I do know, however, is that attributing the chaos and violence in Iraq almost completely to ethnic and religious motivations fits into a longstanding attitude that Americans have regarding themselves and other peoples. One of the legacies of Enlightenment thought is that technological development is accompanied by spiritual and moral development, and this is as true of "secular" people as it is Christians. In fact, the reason Fundamentalist Christians are trying to push things like Intelligent Design has more to do with the need to see their belief system as fundamentally rational than it does proselytization.  (See more I wrote about this here.)

Violence committed in the name of religion or ethnicity is irrational; everyone knows that. That's why we only commit violence in the name of democracy, freedom and defense. The fact that we have a higher level of technological development in this country than say, Iraq, means that we're more rational than they. If Iraqis are less rational, it stands to reason that their motivations for committing violence will be ethnic and religious in nature. Even if the target of that violence happens to be American soldiers, we can safely assume that it was Sunni or Shiite or Kurdish hatred that motivated it. Even if the target is an Iraqi police patrol made up of both Sunnis and Shiites, we can be sure that the motivation for the attack was hatred of either Sunnis or Shiites.

Again, I'm not trying to suggest that ethnic and religious violence doesn't happen. But making the assumption that all or even most of the violence in Iraq comes from those motives simply ignores the facts on the ground.

More troubling, though, is how such a belief plays into the Bush Administration's hands regarding the continued presence of American soldiers in Iraq. If much of the violence in Iraq is motivated by the presence of American soldiers and the perception that the Iraqi government is a bunch of puppets doing their American masters' bidding, then the longer American soldiers stay in Iraq, the worse the violence will be. If the Iraqi government is hated because people think that it's supporting American interests in opposition to Iraqi interests, then the longer American dictates its actions, the worse the violence will get.

However, if the violence in Iraq can be traced to the irrationality of ethnic and religious violence, then the presence of inherently rational actors like Americans will only improve the situation. Obviously, then, things will only get worse if Americans leave, because we would then just be leaving the irrational Iraqis to fend for themselves, and they will not be able to stop themselves from exploding into a vicious orgy of violence.

That outcome is by no means assured. Perhaps American troops are having a net benefit upon the levels of violence in Iraq. However, the discussion that needs to happen is an honest assessment of the truth of this, rather than assumptions based more in a belief of American exceptionalism than the facts coming out of Iraq.

August 24, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Stephen, I agree about the medic. He represents the courage and basic goodness that soldiers carry with them into terrible conditions.

I'm not aware of experts or government officials attributing the fighting in Iraq almost completely to sectarian strife. The reports I hear always include both that and, perhaps even more, efforts to attack the US and the Iraqi government. Al Qaeda-related or -type attacks, in particular, are generally understood to be ultimately aimed at us and the government, only using sectarian divisions and noncombatant targets as a means.

I don't think this report supports the view that most attacks are against Iraqi and US security forces. Those noncombatant bodies also represent attacks. While we often don't know from the reports what the reasons for the attacks are, those who investigate them generally suspect them to be based in sectarian strife. Even kidnapping for money and such is often segregated by sect. I think we also need to keep in mind that any action that involves US soldiers, even if only in response or support, which covers most actions against Iraqi forces, is going to be reported by the US military. Other kinds of fighting are believed to be very much underreported.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 24, 2007 12:15:13 PM

Other kinds of fighting are believed to be very much underreported.

Which is why McClatchy's reporting is so valuable, since it relies upon Iraqi government and medical sources in addition to US military sources, and is done by people who are actually in Iraq.

Posted by: Stephen | Aug 24, 2007 12:29:24 PM

Yes, I agree that's very useful. It's still believed to underreport nonmilitary attacks in places reporters don't get to (most of the country), and which the rather dysfunctional Iraqi government doesn't report. This kind of issue was illustrated forcefully in the Lancet study about Iraqi deaths, relatively few of which were reported by the government or known to reporters in Iraq.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 24, 2007 12:38:17 PM

Earlier in the year, Bill Maher had a guest on his show, a British reporter; she said the violence, bloodshed, and general danger were of such an Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here nature in many parts of the country, it was simply impossible to report on matters, that newspeople were forced to stay in a couple of areas, and even then, they risked their lives. The right-wing representative kept trying to paint a rosy picture (you know, the freshly-painted schools, the newly-opened supermarkets talking points), and finally the reporter turned to him and said, Have you even been to Iraq? (or similar).

Posted by: litbrit | Aug 24, 2007 2:16:28 PM

You can see the assumption that because a Shia and a Suni get in a fight that it is religiously motivated is one of those errors in thinking that persists despite being discussed pointedly in the article. Just as with the creationists, you are wrong when you point out something logical Stephen.

My son just went back to Iraq after his leave. He says it is difficult to say what motivates a particular group of bad guys. The Al Qaeida people are pretty obvious, but there is plenty of other violence that seems to be garden variety criminal. But everything seems to be WAY out of proportion like the guys who blew up a whole town last week.

The thing that REALLY frosts me is the new television ads that tell us to stay in Iraq because we will be attacked if we don't. They are too creepy for words. freedomswatch.org is doing them.

Posted by: Bob Calder | Aug 24, 2007 7:01:13 PM

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Posted by: judy | Oct 11, 2007 7:13:35 AM

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