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Sunday, December 05, 2004

We pay our slave laborers

the corvee, forced work parties

Returning Fallujans will face clampdown

By Anne Barnard, Globe Staff | December 5, 2004

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- The US military is drawing up plans to keep insurgents from regaining control of this battle-scarred city, but returning residents may find that the measures make Fallujah look more like a police state than the democracy they have been promised.

Under the plans, troops would funnel Fallujans to so-called citizen processing centers on the outskirts of the city to compile a database of their identities through DNA testing and retina scans. Residents would receive badges displaying their home addresses that they must wear at all times. Buses would ferry them into the city, where cars, the deadliest tool of suicide bombers, would be banned.

Marine commanders working in unheated, war-damaged downtown buildings are hammering out the details of their paradoxical task: Bring back the 300,000 residents in time for January elections without letting in insurgents, even though many Fallujans were among the fighters who ruled the city until the US assault drove them out in November, and many others cooperated with fighters out of conviction or fear.

One idea that has stirred debate among Marine officers would require all men to work, for pay, in military-style battalions. Depending on their skills, they would be assigned jobs in construction, waterworks, or rubble-clearing platoons.

"You have to say, 'Here are the rules,' and you are firm and fair. That radiates stability," said Lieutenant Colonel Dave Bellon, intelligence officer for the First Regimental Combat Team, the Marine regiment that took the western half of Fallujah during the US assault and expects to be based downtown for some time.

Bellon asserted that previous attempts to win trust from Iraqis suspicious of US intentions had telegraphed weakness by asking, " 'What are your needs? What are your emotional needs?' All this Oprah [stuff]," he said. "They want to figure out who the dominant tribe is and say, 'I'm with you.' We need to be the benevolent, dominant tribe.

"They're never going to like us," he added, echoing other Marine commanders who cautioned against raising hopes that Fallujans would warmly welcome troops when they return to ruined houses and rubble-strewn streets. The goal, Bellon said, is "mutual respect."

Most Fallujans have not heard about the US plans. But for some people in a city that has long opposed the occupation, any presence of the Americans, and the restrictions they bring, feels threatening.

"When the insurgents were here, we felt safe," said Ammar Ahmed, 19, a biology student at Anbar University. "At least I could move freely in the city; now I cannot."

A model city

US commanders and Iraqi leaders have declared their intention to make Fallujah a "model city," where they can maintain the security that has eluded them elsewhere. They also want to avoid a repeat -- on a smaller scale -- of what happened after the invasion of Iraq, when a quick US victory gave way to a disorganized reconstruction program thwarted by insurgent violence and intimidation.

To accomplish those goals, they think they will have to use coercive measures allowed under martial law imposed last month by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

"It's the Iraqi interim government that's coming up with all these ideas," Major General Richard Natonski, who commanded the Fallujah assault and oversees its reconstruction, said of the plans for identity badges and work brigades.

But US officers in Fallujah say that the Iraqi government's involvement has been less than hoped for, and that determining how to bring the city safely back to life falls largely on their shoulders.

"I think our expectations have been too high for a nascent government to be perfectly organized" and ready for such a complex task, Colonel Mike Shupp, theregimental commander, said at his headquarters in downtown Fallujah.

While one senior Marine said he fantasized last month that Allawi would ride a bulldozer into Fallujah, the prime minister has come no closer than the US military base outside the city.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry has not delivered the 1,200 police officers it had promised, although the Defense Ministry has provided troops on schedule, US officials said. Iraqi ministry officials have visited the city, but delegations have often failed to show up. US officials say that is partly out of fear of ongoing fighting that sends tank and machine-gun fire echoing through the streets.


The Marines let the men go after Hakki vouched for them, but not before the Iraqis grew angry that their motives had been questioned. The convoy headed onto the highway, but only after a dozen Marines had spent two hours organizing and searching the vehicles. Back at their headquarters, the team debated the procedure for allowing civilians to return. Major Wade Weems warned that there should be a set number per day so that a backlog would not form behind the retina-scanning machine, fueling resentment.

When they heard of the proposal to require men to work, some Marines were skeptical that an angry public would work effectively if coerced. Others said the plan was based on US tactics that worked in postwar Germany. DiFrancisci said he would wait for more details. "There's something to be said for a firm hand," he said.

This is not postwar Germany. Forced labor is a war crime. I know the US doesn't live in fear of the Hague, but considering the relative ruthlessness of the resistance, I would suggest one day of killing would end compliance with such orders. They can't even protect the National Guard, who are being executed like rats in a pantry.

They don't get it. The Fallujans will resist this. Not only that, the city isn't nearly safe enough for this. Now the cowardly exiles, who spend more time in London than Baghdad, want to impose colonial methods. Except these colonists have rocket-propelled grenades and AK's. The more desperate we become, the easier we are to strike. A crowd of people seeking to comply with this are a perfect human bomb target. Mocking the Americans once again with Iraqi lives.

Allawi is a thug and a murderer. He's also a big talking coward. A big man with a gun in hand, but a gutless coward without one. He's gonna send Marines to reinstitute the colonial state and they will die because of this. But Iraqis are not remotely interested in joining them, making us even more inept than the Belgians, Dutch or even Germans. Only Americans could create a colonial army we pay to kill us. Anne Garrels of NPR told an interesting story to her old friend Ted Koppel on Nightline last week.

Out of the 500 men in an Iraqi Army battalion set to deploy to Fallujah, 250 deserted right away. Out of the 250 left, 150 showed up in Fallujah. Even low level translators get death threats. Now the US wants to establish corvee labor in a society where they have no ability to protect the workers. And support for the resistance is so widespread that anyone working for the US may be killed at any moment. Anyone. And in this environment, they want to have work parties? Forget elections. Firm hand my ass. How are we going to be more firm than Saddam? Killing 300,000 people didn't keep people from shooting at Saddam, did it?

As you read about colonial warfare, keep in mind, even the Belgians had a native army. The Americans have been precluded from that by a fast-moving resistance. Cooperation with the US means death. Simple as that.

posted by Steve @ 8:59:00 PM

8:59:00 PM

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