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May 21, 2005

Is the US Recruiting for the Insurgency?


by Kevin B. Zeese

The U.S. Army has missed its recruiting goals for the last three months. On Friday, May 20 they stopped recruiting to retrain recruiters who were misleading and threatening potential recruits. At the same time the resistance in Iraq is growing. Is the U.S. military more successful in recruiting for the resistance than it is for the U.S. Army?

The level of insurgent activity in Iraq today is four or five times higher than it was in early summer 2003 when there were 10-13 attacks per day. Currently, there are approximately 50 per day. A report released by the Project for Defense Alternatives explains why the resistance to U.S. occupation is expanding the root cause is the U.S. occupation itself. In a March-April 2004 poll sponsored by USA Today, CNN, and Gallup, 58 percent of Iraqis said US forces have behaved very or fairly badly. Indeed, nearly one in four Iraqis 22 percent have been "directly affected by violence in terms of death, handicap, or significant monetary loss" during the occupation according to a survey by the International Republican Institute.

The report, Vicious Circle: The Dynamics of Occupation and Resistance in Iraq, notes U.S. occupation offends many Iraqis every day. They face:

  • Constant foreign military patrols - about 12,000 per week;
  • Ubiquitous (and too often deadly) vehicle check-points;
  • Raids 8,000 total since May 2003; and
  • Citizen round-ups 80,000 detained since April 2003.

Perhaps the most invasive are house raids by U.S. forces. The International Committee of the Red Cross described how the raids are conducted in a February 2004 report:

"Arresting authorities entered houses usually after dark, breaking down doors, waking up residents roughly, yelling orders, forcing family members into one room under military guard while searching the rest of the house and further breaking doors, cabinets, and other property. They arrested suspects, tying their hands in the back with flexicuffs, hooding them, and taking them away. Sometimes they arrested all adult males in the house, including elderly, handicapped, or sick people. Treatment often included pushing people around, insulting, taking aim with rifles, punching and kicking, and striking with rifles. Individuals were often led away in whatever they happened to be wearing at the time of arrest sometimes pyjamas or underwear... In many cases personal belongings were seized during the arrest with no receipt given.... In almost all incidents documented by the ICRC, arresting authorities provided no information about who they were, where their base was located, nor did they explain the cause of arrest. Similarly, they rarely informed the arrestee or his family where he was being taken or for how long, resulting in the defacto disappearance of the arrestee for weeks or even months until contact was finally made."

Most of these intrusive and aggressive raids turn up nothing 70 percent according to one officer and most of those detained are soon released. The International Committee of the Red Cross reports being told by military intelligence officers that between 70 percent and 90 percent of these were being held by mistake an estimate affirmed independently by some who have worked in the system. These invasive house searches continue. Last week, U.S. marines went from town-to-town along the Syrian border searching houses and finding nothing but certainly seeding the ground for new resistance fighters.

The other common occupation-encounter is checkpoints. These are a constant reminder of occupation, can be intimidating and violent. Iraq Body Count, which surveys press reports of Iraqi war deaths, records a minimum of 90 civilians killed at U.S.-manned road-blocks between March 31, 2003 and April 21, 2005 no doubt a conservative estimate. The violence at checkpoints received international attention on March 4, 2005 when the automobile of Italian journalist, Guiliana Sgrena was fired on, killing her body guard. This occurred just after she was released as a hostage being held by insurgents. As has been noted in interviews with soldiers on DemocracyRising.US, these check points are poorly trained, equipped and as a result often do damage to U.S.-Iraqi relations.

In addition to road block searches Iraqis also witness daily, routine street patrols. An embedded reporter with Knight Ridder, Ken Dillian, describes how these operate in a February 2005 article:

"All day long, the soldiers pointed their guns at Iraqi civilians, whom they called 'hajis'... Wary of ambushes, they rammed cars that got in the way of their Humvees. Always on the lookout for car bombs, they stopped, screamed at, shoved to the ground and searched people driving down the road after curfew or during the day if they looked suspicious."

In addition to these daily interactions there have been major errors made by the U.S. military. Fallujahh, for example, did not become a hot-bed of resistance until U.S. military action against civilians in that city. Vicious Cycle provides examples:

  • The troubles in Fallujah began on April 28 and 30, 2003, when in two separate incidents US troops shot and killed between 13 and 17 people protesting the U.S. presence. Fifty more were wounded. Fallujah was further alienated by the 12 September 2003 accidental killing of 10 Iraqi police and security personnel as well as a hospital worker.
  • In the Mosul area, between 17 and 24 civilians were killed in four seperate incidents between 15 April and 26 July.
  • On 25 May 2003 in Samarra, four members of a wedding party were killed and nine injured when U.S. troops fired on their vehicles. Three days later a 12-year old boy and 15-year old girl were killed at a checkpoint. The incidents led to a spiral of local violence due to tribal dynamics.

Of course, the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal has had the broadest, most damaging effect. Opinion survey show a rapid decline in views of the U.S. occupation during the period the scandal came to light. A June 2004 poll by Oxford Research International found Abu Ghraib was the primary reason for the decline in support.

CIA Director Porter Goss recently testified before the U.S. Senate describing Iraq as a magnet and training ground for terrorists. Many Iraqis and others from the Middle East are joining the resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq resulting in increasing violence, loss of life and undermining the U.S.-supported government. In the future they are likely to focus their attentions on the U.S. outside of Iraq and within the United States. The need to enforce an unpopular occupation is undermining not only security in Iraq, but in the United States as well. In July 2003, President Bush urged "Bring 'em on," referring to the battle in Iraq. Unfortunately for Iraq and the United States he is getting what he asked for.

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Kevin Zeese is a director of Democracy
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