IRAQ: US occupation troops losing morale

Issue 

BY ROHAN PEARCE

There are an increasing number of reports in the corporate press that the growing armed resistance to the US occupation of Iraq and the deepening hostility of they face from the Iraqi population is causing US soldiers to lose morale.

"There are a lot of worrisome aspects about the current situation", Jeffrey White, a retired Pentagon Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, told the Washington Post correspondent Thomas Ricks. White added: "Resistance is spreading geographically, resistance groups seem to be proliferating in Sunni areas, resistance elements appear to be tactically adaptive, resistance elements appear to be drawn from multiple elements of Sunni society, our operations inevitably create animosity by inflicting civilian casualties, disrupting lives, humiliating people and damaging property."

Ricks canvassed the opinions of a range of current and former US military personnel on the continuing Iraqi resistance to the occupation. Richard Atchison, a former intelligence officer for the US military's Central Command, told Ricks he "thought we were holding our own until this week, and now I'm not sure". Similarly, Carlton Fulford, a former deputy commander of US forces in Europe, said: "The longer this goes on, the more violent these events will become. We learned this in Lebanon and Somalia — and Iraq is much more challenging than either of these."

Ricks also interviewed deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz for his June 27 article. Wolfowitz claimed that the attacks on US troops have been carried out by groups that "lack the sympathy of the population and they lack any serious source of external support". He added: "They're out to kill Americans in the mistaken belief from Somalia and Lebanon that we'll give up and go home. We're not going to."

However, Wolfowitz's bravado does not appear to be shared by the troops on the ground. A July 1 Washington Post article reported on the weariness and growing sense of paranoia among the GIs carrying out the occupation of Iraq, as well as their rising anger and sense of betrayal that they are still in the midst of deadly combat operations.

"US officials need to get our [expletive deleted by the Post] out of here", Staff Sergeant Charles Pollard, stationed in Baghdad as part of the 307th Military Police Company, told the Post. "I say that seriously. We have no business being here. We will not change the culture they have in Iraq, in Baghdad. Baghdad is so corrupted. All we are here is potential people to be killed and sitting ducks."

Pollard added: "I pray every day on the roof. I pray that we make it safe, that we make it safe home. The president needs to know it's in his hands, and we all need to recognise this isn't our home, America is, and we just pray that he does something about it."

Sergeant Sami Jalil, an Iraqi police officer under Pollard's command, said: "The truth has become apparent... The Americans painted a picture that they would come, provide good things to the Iraqi people, spread security, but regrettably... Iraqi people hate the Americans."

At a press briefing held on June 30, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld categorised the resistance forces, which have put the occupying forces on edge, as "looters, criminals, remnants of the Baathist regime, foreign terrorists who came in to assist and try to harm the coalition forces, and those influenced by Iran".

Rumsfeld desperately wants journalists to ignore the real factors which have led to mass protests and armed resistance by Iraqis to the US occupation.

Iraqi opposition to occupation is not the result of nostalgia for Saddam Hussein's rule (although this definitely exists, particularly in areas like Baghdad which have suffered severe power and water shortages since the war), but anger at the brutality of the occupation and the belief, seemingly confirmed by pronouncements from Washington, that the US intends to continue the occupation until Iraq's oil is under the control of the big US oil companies and a stable US puppet regime is installed.

Anger at the occupation forces has been fuelled by incidents such as the June 26 killing of Mohammed Kubaisi, a 12-year-old who lived in al Jihad in western Baghdad, by a US soldier during a search of houses in the area. According to his family, Kubaisi had climbed onto a roof to watch the search. United Press International reported that Kubaisi's mother, Wafaa, asked: "Why would an American with all his technology kill a child?"

Bob Graham, a journalist for the London Evening Standard, filed a report on June 19 after interviewing soldiers from the 3/15th US Infantry Division's Bravo Company. The soldiers' comments reveal the kind of mentality that the war and occupation have created, leading to tragedies like Kubaisi's murder.

Sergeant John Meadows told Graham: "You can't distinguish between who's trying to kill you and who's not. Like, the only way to get through shit like that was to concentrate on getting through it by killing as many people as you can, people you know are trying to kill you. Killing them first and getting home."

Corporal Michael Richardson, just 22 years old, said: "At night time you think about all the people you killed... There's no chance to forget it, we're still here, we've been here so long. Some soldiers don't even fucking sleep at night. They sit up all fucking night long doing shit to keep themselves busy — to keep their minds off this fucking stuff. It's the only way they can handle it."

Richardson added that all the soldiers in his unit were resentful that they had not been sent home. "It pisses everyone off, we were told once the war was over we'd leave when our replacements get here. Well, our replacements got here and we're still here", he told Graham.

Another soldier added: "We're more angry at the generals who are making these decisions and who never hit the ground, and who don't get shot at or have to look at the bloody bodies and the burnt-out bodies, and the dead babies and all that kinda stuff."

The deteriorating morale of the US troops stationed in Iraq is starting to worry the Pentagon brass, since they have very little possibility of replacing them with fresh troops. The July 3 Washington Post revealed: The [US] Army now has more than half of its 10-division active duty force assigned to Iraq. There is the equivalent of another division deployed in Afghanistan, and two to three are typically kept in reserve for a potential confrontation with North Korea. And, because the Army likes to keep three or four divisions training and preparing to eventually replace each division in action, the Pentagon at the moment has no troops to replace many of those on extended deployments in Iraq."

This "shortage" of troops, and the inability of the current 146,000-strong force in Iraq to crush the resistance, has led to calls by US politicians for National Guard divisions to be sent to Iraq or for more troops to be supplied by Washington's imperialist allies and east European satellites.

At the same time as US troops in Iraq are becoming angry that they cannot go home, public opinion in the US is beginning to see through the lies that President George Bush used to justify invading Iraq.

On July 1, the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes, revealed polling that showed a majority of Americans believe the Bush administration's claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links to the al Qaeda terrorist network amounted either to "stretching the truth" or deliberate falsehoods. Sixty-four percent believe the UN, not the US, should work with Iraqis to "build a new democratic government". Belief that the war "was the right thing for the US to do" has dropped to 46%, down from 53% in May.

From Green Left Weekly, July 9, 2003.

Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left, a vital social-change project, makes its online content available without paywalls. But with no corporate sponsors, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month we’ll send you the digital edition each week. For $10, you’ll get the digital and hard copy edition delivered. For $20 per month, your solidarity goes a long way to helping the project survive.

Ring 1800 634 206 or click the support links below to make a secure payment.