cause and effect: losing hearts and minds

To recap some recent events:

Operation Iron Hammer - also called "Shock and Awe II" - was a massive heavy-duty military operation launched in Iraq by US forces about two weeks ago. The offensive was carried out in a bizarre manner, such as targeting empty buildings such as a textile factory:

American soldiers came to the neighborhood several hours before the attack, local residents said, warning of the impending strike and making sure that everyone in the area was evacuated. Then an American AC-130 gunship strafed the building, knocking holes in the walls and wrecking much of the textile machinery arrayed inside.

After the strike, the Americans came back but detained no suspects, not even the owner of the building, and found no weapons.

The owner, Waad Dakhil Bolane, who said the Americans had warned his guards of the impending air raid, shook his head in befuddlement.

"Does this look like a military base to you?" he asked, standing inside his factory, which was still filled with textile machinery. "The Americans came here, told the guards to leave and then attacked. I don't understand."

One week later, the occupation forces started adopting distinctly Israeli tactics:

In a tactic reminiscent of Israeli crackdowns in the West Bank and Gaza, the U.S. military has begun destroying the homes of suspected guerrilla fighters in Iraq's Sunni Triangle, evacuating women and children, then leveling their houses with heavy weaponry.

At least 15 homes have been destroyed in Tikrit as part of what has been dubbed Operation Ivy Cyclone Two. Among them were four houses allegedly belonging to suspects in the Nov. 7 downing of a Black Hawk helicopter that killed six Americans. Those houses were leveled Sunday by tanks and Apache helicopters.

Family members at one of the houses, in the village of al Haweda, said they were given five minutes to evacuate before soldiers opened fire.
"This is something Sharon would do," said farmer Jamel Shahab, referring to the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon. "What's happening in Iraq is just like Palestine."
Farmer Shahab, 41, stood amid the rubble of the former home of 55-year-old farmer Omar Khalil, who was arrested shortly before the home was destroyed. The military said Khalil's son, who escaped, was one of the suspects in the downing of the Black Hawk.

Khalil's wife, Kafey, sat wailing near her wrecked house. "I have no son. I have no husband. I have no home. I will be a beggar."

Kafey Khalil said military officials first visited the house two days ago, demanding that her husband turn in her son. He refused. Then about 10 p.m. Sunday, the military returned, she said.

"They started shouting at us: 'Get up! Get out!' " she said. "They brought a big truck for us. It was so cold we felt like we were dying. After five minutes they started shooting. We didn't have time to get anything but blankets. They brought in the tanks and the helicopters and started bombing."

The analogy between the West Bank/Gaza and Iraq is a poor one. The rationale for occupation is completely different and an analogy cannot be used to justify using the same tactics. But doing so anyway will accelerate the process by which the two occupations do indeed become analogous. Juan Cole's comments are cogent:

Shock and awe does not work. Period. No enemy army has ever been cowed by mere firepower alone. Especially in a guerrilla war, what counts is getting people on your side. If you try to scare them (i.e. terrorize them) into cooperating, you will only alienate them. I remember seeing footage in Vietnam of carpet bombing. And then after it was over, the Viet Cong just got out of their tunnels and resurfaced. All that bombing in Afghanistan a couple of years ago did not destroy the Taliban or al-Qaeda, either.

That people in Iraq are now comparing US tactics to those of Sharon on the West Bank is truly scarey. Occupation is an ugy word in the Arab world, but Sharon's kind of occupation is evil itself. That comparison should not be what we are going for.

And now, today we have a display of actual hatred towards the US forces - in Mosul, outside the Sunni triangle - of a kind we have never observed before from the general public:

The 101st Airborne Division said its soldiers in Mosul were shot while driving between U.S. garrisons. Several witnesses also said the soldiers were shot during the attack in the Ras al-Jadda district, though earlier reports by witnesses said assailants slit the soldiers' throats.

Bahaa Jassim, a teenager, said the soldiers' vehicle crashed into a wall after the shooting. Several dozen passers-by then descended on the wreckage, looting the car of weapons and the soldiers' backpacks.

After the soldiers' bodies fell into the street, the crowd pummeled them with concrete blocks, Jassim said.

The response? Moral outrage at the barbarous savages and a hint of suggestion once again that Islam may be relevant. All well and good, but largely misses the point. Unlike in Israel and the West Bank, one could argue that preventing such anger towards US forces is a legitimate and essential security objective in our goal to build a democratic and US-friendly Iraq. And this backsliding from recent appearances of progress in that regard is a Bad Thing:

I just do have to remark that this incident is an alarming indication that the US is losing the battle for hearts and minds. Mosul is not in the Sunni Arab triangle where hostility has run high, though it does have a substantial Arab population, and a long-lived Muslim Brotherhood branch. But my impression from earlier reports was that progress had been made. I guess you can win hearts and minds or you can pound an Iron Hammer, but it is tough to do both.

The point is that the US forces are not seen as saviors but are objects of anger. NOW. In Mosul, not just Tikrit. The question becomes "why?" and the impact of previous policy must be assessed honestly.

I never thought I'd pine for the good old days of realpolitik. The new Sanctimonipolitik is much more harmful to our self-interest.

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