Lying Media Bastards

January 16, 2007

Don’t Fence Me In


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‘Gated communities’ planned for Baghdad

The military’s new strategy for Iraq envisions creating “gated communities” in Baghdad — sealing off discrete areas and forcibly removing insurgents, then stationing American units in the neighborhood to keep the peace and working to create jobs for residents.

Sweet Jesus.

Here in the US, “gated community” is a phrase used to describe suburban neighborhoods surrounded by walls, where guarded or locked gates are the only entrances and exits. They are generally inhabited by fearful, upper-class white people, who are willing to pay good money to be shut off from the outside world. Ironically, these neighborhoods are usually in the most affluent, lowest-crime areas of town, and therefore would have the least need for walls and security.

So I was a little extra horrified when I heard the US military using this term to mean “neighborhood we are going to seal off and control with roadblocks and checkpoints.” The US version is luxury. The Iraq version is, well, Palestine. Or, as the article mentions, the “strategic hamlets” of the Vietnam war. Which is a bit of an exaggeration, as the hamlets were basically concentration camps. These “gated communities” will be some sort of cross between the WWII Warsaw ghetto and house arrest. For the Iraqis’ own protection, of course.

Apparently, this strategy is based upon the success of US tactics in the Iraqi city of Tall Afar, in which the US forces “built a berm around the perimeter to control access, then swept through to rout insurgents and Al Qaeda members.” Some critics point out that for the Tall Afar strategy to work in Baghdad, the US would need 150,000 troops in that one city alone. But journalist Matt Taibbi argues that Tall Afar wasn’t even that successful:

I was in Tal Afar’s “genuine success” story over the summer. It was such a success story that the city’s neurotic, hand-wringing mayor, Najim Abdullah al-Jubori, actually asked American officials during a meeting I attended if they could tell President Bush to stop calling it a success story. “It just makes the terrorists angry,” he said. At the meeting he pointed to a map and indicated the areas where the insurgents held strong positions.

“Here,” he said. “Oh, and here. And here. Here also….”

After that meeting, the unit I was with — MPs from Oklahoma on a personal security detail, guarding a colonel who was inspecting police stations in the area — went to a precinct house in one of Tal Afar’s “safe” neighborhoods. There I found five American soldiers huddling in a room about the size of a walk-in closet, hunched over a pile of MRE wrappers and PlayStation cassettes.

They seldom ever left that room, they explained. Occasionally they would have to go out and fight whenever someone started shooting at the police station (a regular occurrence, they said); sometimes they’d even round up the aggressors, only to have some Iraqi army creeps come by later and insist on the attackers’ release, telling the soldiers they had the “wrong guys.” The Iraqi army units and the Iraqi police in the town were constantly at odds and the soldiers there spent a lot of their time breaking up violent outbreaks between the two groups. In short, Tal Afar was a total fucking mess, a violent chaos, and yet Tal Afar is still upheld as the Iraqi success story

Taibbi admits that he wasn’t in Iraq that long, but that those are his impressions from his time there.

The supporters of this plan also point out that it was used successfully by the British in Malaya and Northern Ireland, and by the French in Algeria (well, allegedly successful. The Bush administration abuses history too much to take them at their word). Blogger and military history buff Steve Gilliard points out that at least the Malay example is flawed, because the insurgents there were a fairly unpopular minority, and were outnumbered by the British by about 5 to 1.

Again, I’d argue that this strategy is doomed to failure because a) the insurgents and militias can either leave the area and kill someplace else, b) the insurgents and militias can lay low for a while, or c) the Iraqi military, who will be responsible for much of this campaign, are so thoroughly infiltrated by Shia militias that they will follow their own agenda and not the Americans’. The only possible upside is that being imprisoned in their own neighborhoods will so enrage Iraqis, that the Shia and Sunni will once again come together, unified by their hatred of the Americans.

Which might be helped along with this little gem from Pharaoh President Bush, from a weekend interview with 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley:

PELLEY: Do you think you owe the Iraqi people an apology for not doing a better job?

BUSH: That we didn’t do a better job or they didn’t do a better job?

PELLEY: Well, that the United States did not do a better job in providing security after the invasion.

BUSH: Not at all. I am proud of the efforts we did. We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude, and I believe most Iraqis express that. I mean, the people understand that we’ve endured great sacrifice to help them. That’s the problem here in America. They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that’s significant enough in Iraq.

PELLEY: Americans wonder whether . . .

BUSH: Yeah, they wonder whether or not the Iraqis are willing to do hard work necessary to get this democratic experience to survive. That’s what they want.

Those damn Iraqis, too lazy to become democratic, so ungrateful for all those free explosives we sent them.

And finally, Bush is also saying that it’s “irresponsible” to oppose his policies for saving Iraq without proposing any of your own. Which is ridiculous, of course. It’s usually the smart course to oppose a bad idea. And why do I have to propose a solution to a problem that I don’t think can be solved?

Posted by Jake on January 16, 2007 12:09 am

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