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Jun 09, 2005

As Simple As That


As much as I've read about and seen images of car bombs and suicide attacks, I realize it's actually next-to-impossible for me to relate to such a thing. 

On the other hand, the destruction of an awning at a roadside cafe?  In that case, I more than understand the importance of a little shade and a few minutes of repose in the way stations we maintain along our various routes.  If you're talking about disturbing an awning in such a place; to tear this fabric; to alter this constancy--.   Well, that is a violence I can feel.

(And that's before saying anything about the mothers and the babies.) 

If you've been following the BAG this week, you're now more than aware of the comment thread running on my post (Punching Up The Orange - link) which has morphed into a combination seminar and Q. and A. with the photographer, Alan Chin. 

Alan has joined us from Baghdad where -- as an embed -- he was involved this past week in Operation Lightening, a joint U.S./Iraqi operation seeking out insurgents in the town of Mahmudiya. He took the shot in that post, and he also took this late April one above (which is incredibly striking, and which I cropped from the full version here.) I'm not sure how common it is for a person to write as clearly, vividly and emotionally as he takes pictures. This seems to be true in Alan's case, however, and you will understand what I mean if you examine his Kosovo War diary (link).

If anything, this discussion we've been having about the Mahmudiya photo on the "Orange" post points up to me just how fundamentally out of touch we are with the situation in Iraq, and just how cumbersome it is for the journalists there -- as talented as they are -- to deliver a bigger picture.

Part of the problem -- I now better understand -- involves the constraints of "old journalism." It seems like it's just not enough anymore to read a static news report or see a single image and be satisfied with that. Just like I do, more and more of us see a news photo and the next thing we know, we find ourselves fishing through YahooNews in order to locate the pictures that immediately preceded and followed it so that we can piece together for ourselves more of what was going on. At the same time, we become compelled to find voices -- such as those of the brilliantly sensitive 17 year old Najma, from Mosul (link) -- who can illustrate for us what is happening beyond "the filter" (in the form of the government, the military or the media). It is for this reason that the direct pipeline to Alan is so powerful, so satisfying, so interesting, and ultimately -- such a relief.

We have a few questions.  He has a few minutes.  Really, it can be as simple as that.

(image: Alan Chin.  April 30, 2005 in Iraq.  From:


This is the photo in Alan's gallery that popped out at me as well. I was hoping you would choose this one to highlight. The billboard ... what is up with the billboard? The mother and child look Caucasian, or am I seeing things?

Michael, you are on to something when you write that these images are the ones that bring it home for us. You are not alone. Remember the photo of the young girl covered in blood whose parents had been gunned down at checkpoint? I posted that one on my political blog and the reactions I received were interesting. Most ran along the lines of "Oh My God, I haven't seen this in the papers ... you need to publish more of these to wake everyone up!" But there was one comment that was curious and I'm still pondering it. A young mother was quite upset with me and took me to task. I paraphrase: "Please don't publish graphic war photos on your front page. I know that war is hell and I don't have to see the evidence to know it. Seeing these graphic images without warning are paralyzing and make me shut down ..."

See, I think that is true for a lot of us. Because we are so sheltered from the fear of physical threat to ourselves, it is hard to relate to a life that faces it every day. But these photos that show the civilian element -- homes, cafes, family gatherings -- have the potential to bring it home and quietly ask the viewer to imagine the civilian experience of this war.

Alan wrote a bit about Operation Lightning and how homes were targeted as suspected havens for insurgents. My question: When you burst into a home, what are you looking for? How does one recognize an insurgent?

My understanding is that this insurgent group is rather fluid and may include Iraqi civilians who have grown angry at the occupation of their land. Reading the following report this morning only raises more questions ...

'Good and honest' Iraqis fighting US forces:

At the same time, we become compelled to find voices -- such as those of the brilliantly sensitive 17 year old Najma, from Mosul (link) -- who can illustrate for us what is happening beyond "the filter" (in the form of the government, the military or the media).

not to wax too philosophical, but in going to other sources, we're simply choosing different filters (which isn't to say we shouldn't do it -- just that we should be aware we can never get the "whole story").

I agree that the mother & chlid look out of place. I think the mother is even flashing a little shoulder. Iraqi barbers who cut in a Western style are being murdered for just that, so a stylish cut like that would be hard to come by if even desired.

Big thanks to AC for the shots and for staying there to do so.

Truth is in the eye. Words are for molding.

When I have travelled in Russia and in the Middle East, I have found the cyrillic and the arabic alphabets very unsettling. Even if you can't speak the language, a familiar alphabet allows one to figure out the sense of things. But written communication is slammed shut in the Middle East.

I feel the same sense of disassociation when I look at this picture. Everything is both familier and alien to my eye--the visual images are as uninterpretable to me as the written alphabet. The dessicated landscape, the dust, the concrete building, the tattered red & white awning. This is so far from the lush, green prosperous Midwestern summer around me. And for all I know, the billboard says, "American infidels eat babies, beware."

In the midst, a bombed out car. Something familiar, yet a nightmare image. You are right: This is the place where my knowledge of suicide bombings, my world and their world connect.

I am grateful to Alan Chin for his photos--his eye and instincts are communicating a complex image of the Iraqi reality. I find it impossible to assimilate these images--to fit these images into my mental image of Iraq. I would like to think that these images force me to envision something different.

This reminds me of the picture you had up a few weeks ago--of soldiers sitting in front of cartoon characters. Elements of our world transformed by a different reality.

"Heaven and Hell"
What attracts my eyes in the foto is the advertising billboard. It has so much disparity with the rest of the scene. Human factor is staring at me and it has power to make me project number of things in an emotional message.
1.There is no difference between people. (How the baby looks is not important, it is still a baby.)
2.What the US has caused by its deliberately planned aggressive action against Iraq is criminal. US public giving support to occupation is criminal and against humanity. Is the US public really deadened by their quiet patriotic support of the occupation of Iraq to what is right and wrong?
How you proceed from then on depends on your view, feelings and how much you believe “My country right or wrong”.
Life goes on in Iraq, people who had normal lives, if they have survived, are now changed and carry on to survive. The advertisement seems out of line now, there is no peace and there are no good prospects in Iraq for Iraqis. They have been conquered and now are ruled by a foreign power which even suicide bombers cannot defeat for now.
One more image should come to mind and that is the city of Falluga. The destruction of it by US assaults and bombings caused more dead than all the suicide bombings together, yet the media tries to use the suicide bombers as scapegoats, as a reason why the occupation is not successful.
Are Iraqi going to survive? If they do, it will not be thanks to US occupation, but in spite of it.

About the comment "fishing through Yahoo to find" the picture sequence: I do it too, and this gives me the idea that a photog like Alan could possibly give us a slo-mo documentary by posting all photos taken in one day, or on one subject (his choices, of course) to give us the experience of the day/moment. I'll link to his site, maybe he's already doing this.

"Iraqi barbers who cut in a Western style are being murdered for just that, so a stylish cut like that would be hard to come by if even desired."

No such thing.. Believe me.

I just came by as I saw I have traffic coming from here. Thanks for the link.

I think if someone photoshopped a Starbucks logo on a couple of things with the would YOU feel...maybe Americans can get a freaking clue to what is happening over there on a daily basis.

i, too saw this via alan's link and found it striking, however i had a slightly different reaction. your comment, " I realize it's actually next-to-impossible for me to relate to such a thing", i realize was referring to the event; the car bombing, however, i read it referring to the photo. a fleeting thought i had before i 'contextualized' the image (wish i had a better word for it) was that it reminded me of some of the inner cities i've seen.

i live in on the east coast, and while, fortunately, we haven't had any car bombings, this is very reminicent (on first glance) of alot of the east coast slums and extremely destitute neighborhoods in our inner cities.

the thought 'is this the american style democracy we're delivering?' crossed my mind. this immediately gave way to the realities of imagining a car bombing tearing through a neighborhood and the human cost. then the thought of the little cafe being struck brought to mind the film 'the battle of algiers' (which i had seen for the first time last year) and the disturbing bar/cafe bombing scene.

the billboard makes me think (and this reveals my western prejudice); 'here's a promising, modern, civilized culture and look what's become of it'. like the post-industrialized, impovershed and violent cities of south america, africa and southeast asia (particulary in the 70's & 80's).

I'm honored to have had Najma stop in. Having had Alan here this week, I'm really compelled to bring other people into the conversation who are either in or from Iraq to help us look at some images together. I have so many things I'm trying to keep going at the same time, but I think I will write her with the BAG story.

I have to also say that the experience with Alan Chin has had quite an impact on me. Before this week, these images existed in a much more abstract realm. All day today (in between seeing patients, and while going through images from Iran and Egypt), I kept thinking about how Alan was in that room during that raid, and so the situation, and that woman, and that baby, and that soldier are absolutely real. I'm not saying I didn't know that before, but the direct link (and the personal narrative that Alan added on the other post) brought in vividly alive for me. I'm not sure what effect this will have as I go forward, but I believe it will make a real difference. Maybe it will cause me to make fewer assumptions and ask more questions. In any case, it brings a lot more reality to the endeavor.

BTW, it is so gratifying to have real discussions going on the BAG. It's what I've wanted for some time. As it rolls though, I sometimes worry that I'm not getting in on the conversation enough. I'm pretty sure I've read almost every post to the site. I just checked and Typepad says there have been 2751 of them. At the same time, it's been tough this week because I find that -- between researching and writing the entries -- I don't have enough time to hang out with all of you in the cafe. (And then, with conversations going on multiple posts, it's like there are three cafes rockin' on the block at the same time!)

Oh well, I've got to get back to Iran and Egypt.


In a way, this surreal photo seems to represent for me, life as usual in so many places throughout the world these days. Some folks have already mentioned inner cityscapes in the US. I would add third world cities and towns, many American Indian reservations, even Europe is not immune. I say "surreal photo" because the billboard and the people walking around represent everyday "stuff" in our modern lives--family, freedom of movement, it even looks like one of the guys walking is carrying an ice cream cone/snack. In a way, despite the surrounding carnage, I almost feel reassured by this photo--humans can (and do) overcome/adapt to so much. Hmmn, come to think of it, maybe it's not the photo that's surreal, maybe it's just me!! cj


I didn't understand your comment regarding my comment about Iraqi barbers. Can you expand upon your "No such thing." I need comprehension to believe.

Here's a link to one of the many stories I based my comments on.

Your site, Najma, was quite a topic of conversation in this household. Nice work.

Here are the first experiences from my heart and my conciousness as I took in this photo:

I felt weeping in my heart. As a personal experience. For the suffering of the Iraqi people.

Then I felt the weeping of souls.

I felt their weeping most when I took in the photo of the mother and baby positioned above the carnage and wreckage.

In this picture (of the mother and child) I saw the symbolic hope of humanity - I saw innocence and vulnerability; protected and cherished, and the promise of embodied love for us all. I felt the innocence of souls as they are born into tiny helpless bodies and how, even as embodied experiences prove otherwise, there is always a kernel of this hope in the human heart.

I saw hope among the wreckage. My heart was at once filled with pain for the suffering of these people whom I have never met, whose culture and lives I know so very little of, who are dying because of actions my governement has taken. They are dying, they are living in fear, most, I understand, lack electricity and plumbing, jobs, and for others, even food.

And yet in the Iraqi people, I feel hope. In this picture especially, I feel the energies of hope, implicit in the picture, which survives symbolically above the wreckage - the devastation.

I feel hope and pain as I look at the survivors, walking through the wreckage. I want to cry out "I am so sorry, I am so sorry that you are suffering so. I am sorry that I am a part of the nation who has brought this suffering to you. In the false name of democracy."

Kerstin thank you for this comment:

...Because we are so sheltered from the fear of physical threat to ourselves, it is hard to relate to a life that faces it every day.

I feel the truth in what you are sharing. And as a result, I feel that in the near future, because of the national disconnect from the literal hell we have created in Iraq, that we as a nation are going to suffer in similar ways in which the Iraqi people suffer. It feels so true in me. That the laws of the universe, even the laws of the human heart, deem this to be so. We cannot on one hand be associated with such death and devastation and the stripping away of the humanity of another people, and then claim - "we are innocent, are hands are personally clean."

Our hands are not clean, and we have allowed contempt to enter our hearts as a nation and evil to be committed in our name.

And again, I defer to Kerstin's comment to thank Alan Chin for his work:

"But these photos that show the civilian element --homes, cafes, family gatherings -- have the potential to bring it home and quietly ask the viewer to imagine the civilian experience of this war."

Brilliantly said Kerstin. Brilliantly done Alan.

Peace. Johanna

some notes on this photo, this car bomb killed 2 people and wounded 6. Near the same spot the day before, there were two other suicide bombs. By the standards of what happens here this was a relatively minor incident. You hear about something like this, you rush there. As I approached with my translator, the Iraqi police saw a pick-up truck coming towards the scene, and they ran towards it, firing warning shots in the air. They have a justified worry about follow-on attacks. In this case it was a false alarm.

I should point out that the damaged cars are not the bomber's. the bomb car usually disintegrates almost entirely, scattering metal all over the area, and often the only thing left is the engine block, if that.

As always, I worked quickly, and left as soon as my translator finished interviewing some of the witnesses. It was only when I came home and started editing my photos that I saw the ad with the mother and baby on top of the building, I had not noticed it at all while there! and it is only in the first photo, an overall of the scene, that I took. the rest of my photos focused on the destroyed cars. One ran in the NYTimes, small, the next day. I was told they didn't have space for this one to read properly, so the closer up detail was used instead. Obviously this was the more powerful image.

Billboard ads like this are fairly common in Baghdad. I think this one is for milk or baby formula or something like that. The woman looks to me like a generic Asian rather than Caucasian. A lot of multi-national companies have ads like this that can be used in many different countries at the same time.

I don't know about barbers but I did get a severe haircut that makes me look like an thug...

My reaction to the photo is that the monsters who did this should be hunted down and killed like the scum they are, before they start doing that here as well (as they did in New York City and Washington D.C., if anyone rememebers that). It really puts photos like the house raid one in context. The reaction of most readers here, that we should do everything we can to interfere with the efforts to stop bombers who do this, is too bizarre for me to grasp. If LA were under going this kind of attack, what would the people there think of police raids on suspected bombers? Would they be worried about frightening the people in the raided houses? How long would the bombers remain sympathetic figures? It's easy to mock the efforts of the Iraqi security forces and the Coalition when it's not your friends and neighbors getting blown up.


How, exactly, is detonating car bombs next to road side cafes "fighting U.S. forces"? Nobody is doing more to ensure the continued presence of Coalition troops than the bombers.


Why aren't you complaining about the USA occupation of Germany or Japan? They've been occupied for over 60 years. Why don't we have a timetable and exit strategy for those countries, as The BAG asked about Iraq in a post that's been disappeared?

Of course, the caliphascists in Iraq are fighting against Iraq suffering the same fate as Germany and Japan, being turned in to stable, prosperous democracies. I presume that's also the kind of "against humanity" result you object to as well.


Isn't the the suicide bombers who bring this misery to the Iraqis? Is your view that only Americans have moral agency, therefore only Americans can be to blame for anything? The fastest way to bring peace, recovery and self-rule to Iraqis would be for the bombers to stop bombing. Yet they don't and somehow in your view that makes the USA problem. As noted, this photo make me angry at the people who did this, not at those trying to stop them.

Mr. Chin;

I understand your surprise. I do amatuer photography and am frequently surprised by what shows up in the images that I didn't even notice when I tripped the shutter.

We all go to hair-dressers (Women) and have our hair cut the way we want it. There was nor is nothing to fear of there more than in any other place.

It is not possible for insurgents nor anyone else to know what hair-cut I've made unless he sees the hair, which is not possible because I wear hijab, just like about 90% of the Muslim population in Iraq.

The ad in the photo (The one with the mom and the baby) is about air-conditioning! It says "Samsung air-conditions, always the best".
Usually, those photos are not of Iraqis, as I'm almost sure this one is (Not of Iraqis), but if it is, there's nothing wrong with it.


that's very funny, air conditioning! i should have had it translated for me but i just assumed it was for some infant product...

i am sure you have a better hair-cut than me, too!

and a small point, 90% of Muslim women in Iraq wear hijab, but you are not counting all the Kurdish women, are you? because most of them don't, certainly not in Erbil or Suley, and in Baghdad would you say maybe the percentage is lower, too, maybe more like 50 or 60% and not 90%, at least in the more secular neighborhoods?

certainly in the south, in najaf or nassariya or basra it will be more like 90% or more...

It's 90% in Mosul, certianly lower in Iraq as a whole.. Sorry for the mistake and thank very much for the correction.

Alan Chin:

I think this one is for milk or baby formula or something like that.

Actually the billboard is for a Samsung airconditioners. The Arabic writing translates as "Samsumng Airconditioners are always the best." Not that they will be of any use now with all the power outages in Iraq.

I just noticed Najma's post. I guess I should have read through all the comments before posting. Sorry.

Just had to post a quick response to Annoying Old Guy. I'm a political scientist based in London who does a lot of work on Iraq. To understand the violence in Iraq as 'Them' (you know, the terrorist guys) against the USA (the geographical entity as opposed to those Americans who happen to be occupying Iraq) is grossly misleading. Most insurgent groups target their violence gainst the Occupation and its Iraqi proxies and perceived collaborators. However, there has also been a rising amount of political violence amongst various factions, employing similar methods as the insurgents (assassinations, car-bombings etc).

It is worth noting that several studies have suggested that far more Iraqi civilians over the last two years have been killed by Coalition activity, mainly aerial bombardment, than insurgent attacks. The destruction of whole civilian neighbourhoods in places like Fallujah, Najaf, Baghdad etc was due to the continued unleashed firepower of USAF, not car-bombings.

AOG ~ You said "Nobody is doing more to ensure the continued presence of Coalition troops than the bombers."

And I say: "Nobody is doing more to ensure the continued presence of the bombers than the Coalition troops."

This, however, is a point the war cheerleaders do not want to concede. But there is a direct correlation between the perception of occupation and the rise of suicide bombers.

The suicide bombers are fighting U.S. forces indirectly when they blow themselves up next to roadside cafes. Each time they are successful in killing more civilians, the pressure on the U.S. to leave ratchets up a notch.

To be clear, I think suicide bombing is abhorrent and frightening as hell. But do I think it is justification for the U.S. to fight an endless war? No.

I'm interested in reading the new book coming out by Robert Pape titled "Dying to Win." He is quoted in the following news link: "In stationing large numbers of troops in the country for what appears to be years to come," Pape said, "what we've done is we've given suicide terrorism a new lease on life."

From ABC News "Why Insurgents Seek Victory by Suicide Bomb"



Isn't the the suicide bombers who bring this misery to the Iraqis? Is your view that only Americans have moral agency, therefore only Americans can be to blame for anything? The fastest way to bring peace, recovery and self-rule to Iraqis would be for the bombers to stop bombing. Yet they don't and somehow in your view that makes the USA problem. As noted, this photo make me angry at the people who did this, not at those trying to stop them.


I can see that our perspectives are different. I do not wish to question your beliefs in answering your question but to share more deeply concerning mine.

I remember when this war was in its early stages when the government and media were trying to convince us of the necessity of the war. I remember feeling inside of me -"they are lying." How did I know this? I don't know, but I trusted my intuitions. I also felt deeply inside of me that what we were doing was wrong. Deeply and profoundly wrong. And I knew that there would be implications of our actions like we have never experienced in our past.

I felt as if the literal gates of hell were being opened by our actions. Call it apocalyptic language if you will. But I feel that many people do not understand the full implications of our actions as "crusaders" as our President let slip in a speech he made.

There is something going on in these times that is bigger than the usual warmongering behaviors of our human past. And the United States was created, in my belief, to be a nation in which we would be the leaders in the evolution of humanity.

I feel everything that is the opposite of Christ and Christianity in the behaviors of many of those who come in the name of Christ - especially our President and his staff, and many political leaders.

Yes, AOG, I believe the USA is the problem - for I believe in the law of " for every action there is a reaction."

My heart goes out to all who are suffering for our actions; every man, woman, child, and animal caught up in the hell we have created in Iraq. That excludes no one. My heart goes out to every living being that is suffering there. No matter whose side they are on.

Peace. Johanna


You might want to investigage the history of the following cities to better understand what the "unleashed firepower of USAF" is really like: Dresden, Hiroshima, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Berlin. You might also want to look up Aachen for illumination on what a city destroyed by ground combat looks like. It is precisely the resort to this kind of hyperbole that demonstrates the fundamental weakness of the anti-invasion case.

I also have difficulty believing studies that claim proportionately higher civilian casualites for the short, precision bombing campaign in Iraq than in firebombed and nuked Imperial Japan. It seems much more like the fables of a massacre in Jenin.


I think we'll just have to disagree, because I believe that no one is doing more to ensure the continued activities of suicide bombers than the suicide bombers and their support network. You seem to view them as mindless automatons who have no choice about how to respond to the occupation, whereas I hold them personally and morally accountable for their actions. Do you ever ask yourself what the bombers would achieve if they were successful? I look at Germany and Japan in light of their occupation by the USA and think "that's what could happen to Iraq if the occupation is a success". What historical model do you use when considering the same for the caliphascists? Ba'athist Iraq? The Iranian mullahocracy? The Saudi Entity? I simply cannot imagine how anything the bombers are doing or might accomplish would benefit Iraq or Iraqis.

You might also note that the source you provided claims that most (if not all) of the bombers are foreign, which hardly bolsters your claim that they are natives fighting the occupation.


I think our basic difference is that I believe that other nations and people can act and the USA react whereas you see it as the USA acts and everyone else reacts. I believe everyone has moral agency, not just Americans.

It seems much more like the fables of a massacre in Jenin.

The link you provided says that war crimes were committed in Jenin. Any Israelis held accountable for these crimes?

AOG, I would like to buy you a one-way ticket to one of Iraq's towns or villages so that you can enjoy the freedoms your army and mercinaries brought to Iraq.

AOG ~ You write: "I simply cannot imagine how anything the bombers are doing or might accomplish would benefit Iraq or Iraqis."

I can't either. Did I imply as much?

What they are doing -- blowing themselves up -- is enormously successful in terms of putting pressure on the occupiers to leave. Do I think the bombers have Iraq's best interests in mind? Obviously not.

You write: "I look at Germany and Japan in light of their occupation by the USA and think "that's what could happen to Iraq if the occupation is a success."

Well that's incredibly optimistic, but have you read the latest accounts of trying to train Iraqi's to act as soldiers for their own defense? It's incredibly disheartening. One Iraq soldier was even quoted as saying they wouldn't be ready to fight on their own "in a thousand years." A U.S. soldier (or officer, can't remember offhand) is quoted as saying that there are cultural obstacles that may never be overcome (the article did not specify what those cultural obstacles might be).

By the way, I'm not the one claiming the "natives are fighting the occupation." If you follow the first link I provided, you'll find that the "Good and honest' Iraqis fighting US forces" line is actually a quote from one Major General Joseph Taluto:

"A senior US military chief has admitted "good, honest" Iraqis are fighting American forces.

Major General Joseph Taluto said he could understand why some ordinary people would take up arms against the US military because "they're offended by our presence".

In an interview with Gulf News, he said: "If a good, honest person feels having all these Humvees driving on the road, having us moving people out of the way, having us patrol the streets, having car bombs going off, you can understand how they could [want to fight us]." ...

I find this an interesting report in that my previous understanding was that the insurgency was made up primarily of non-Iraqis (as reported by ABC and elsewhere).

i want to start my remarks by commenting that reading all of these comments here, almost everybody seems to allow their partisan beliefs to affect their analysis of what is happening. Which, from a practical point of view, may not be the most useful view to look at it.

Like anyone else I have my opinions on what should and shouldn't be done. But as an observer I have to take all parties at face value, to a degree, and try to see things from their point of view.

What you have here in Iraq is a guerilla war, an insurgency. You have insurgents that want to force the Americans to leave and by extension, overthrow the Iraqi government that was elected under American sponsorship . And you have the Americans and the government trying to eradicate that insurgency.

That's it. The reasons and motivations and politics and morality and all that are well and good. What it comes down to is an armed conflict, a war. So the only criteria that make sense, really, when looking at all this, is, how good is each side at what they are trying to accomplish?

And that's where all the contention is, because nobody wants to acknowledge facts that go against their opinion. Nobody likes to admit that might be wrong, or that things aren't going according to plan.

First, the insurgency. I should say, the Zarqawi/foreign fighters + Sunni/nationalist coalition that is the inurgency. They are quite effective, as we've seen, in inflicting small numbers of casualties on US forces and a significantly higher number on Iraqi police and army. In doing so, they force the US and the government to spend almost all their resources here in the attempt to provide security. They go after pipelines, electricity, they cut off roads by attacking vehicles, with a small number of attacks they have a large impact. By terror attacks on civilians they de-stabilize public order and paralyse commerce. These are tactical victories. They hold the initiative as to when and where to strike. But for their long term goal, they are not strong enough, their base of public support too narrow, to actually force US withdrawal or government collapse by military or psychological means. Suicide bombing is not going to force the US to leave. So, practically, their best bet is to fight until they can achieve a favorable negotiating position vis-a-vis their enemies. The problem is, this may be true of the Sunni/nationalists, but not the Zarqawi/foreign element, as it is hard to see them negotiating now or in the future. So the insurgency's main flaw is this lack of a unified, achievable political goal.

For the US, this is all failure, if success is defined as a peaceful, pro-US Iraq and to make the world safer for America and Americans. The army is tied down here at great expense, the war is unpopular with most, actually, all, of our allies in NATO and with the rest of the world as well. The US would like nothing more than to "win" and leave. But that's not happening, at least not on their time-table. At best, at very best, this will eventually be a very limited success that exacts a very high, tragic, excruciating price.

But for the Iraqi government and the Shia and Kurdish populations that elected it, the long term prospects are good if they can weather the storm for the next year or two and survive. Now, that is the huge open question. Can they convince enough Sunnis to participate? If not, and everything goes to hell and degenerates into full civil war, are they strong enough to win it? Will they survive, even if the US occupation were not an issue, their meddling neighbors on all sides, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria?

As for the Iraqi army itself, it strikes me that all these accounts of their failure reflect the bias of the Americans training them. The US want to create a professional army in the image of their own. They forget that the Iraqi government does not need such an army to win. There is a willingness to take casualties, that the US army and society do not have. It's like when everyone thought the Afghan Northern Alliance soldiers or the Bosnian Muslim soldiers were no good because they wear sandals, run around in beaten up pick-up trucks, and suffer defeats from time to time. But in the end both those forces were victorious, not just because they had help from the US as the Iraqis also do, but because they got just good enough. Good enough may not be as good as what all these analysts think is good enough. It may just be, there are more of them, and sooner or later their weight will beat down on the insurgents and the Sunni minority that supports them.

unfortunately, as I think my attempt at an even-handed prognosis makes clear, the human cost, the cost to morality and civil society, the economic cost, all the costs are so very high, no matter which side you are on. you can blame the US for starting the war and perpetuating it. You could blame Saddam for truly one of the most murderous tyrannies around. You could blame both, or neither. But no matter what, you are looking at a conflict that will take plenty of more lives before it is done.

But no matter what, you are looking at a conflict that will take plenty of more lives before it is done.

What is a life? What is it worth? When you are exposed to horrible experiences of death and suffering daily, what happens to your soul (spirit)? To your psyche?

How important is it for us as individuals, as a collective, as a nation to look at our soul(s)(spirit) and question what the consequences of our actions are, especially when it invloves death and lifelong suffering for the survivors? And I am not speaking from the religious sense. But from a purely spiritual sense.

Or shall we detach emotionally, then analyze and intellectualize our experiences?

How many more shall die in the name of freedom?

Would we not as Americans do the same (as the Iraqi's and the foreign jihadists) if China invaded us for the actions of our government and our President? Would there not be an insurgency to fight those who invaded our country and setting up their form of government? We do not understand the Arab/Muslim peoples. And our governments actions prove that we do not respect them (Gitmo for just a start). We do not respect their religion, their customs, their lives.

As long as we stay in Iraq innocent people will continue to die. We will never, ever, win this occupation. These are a strong, proud people. As we are. We would never surrender our country. Nor should we expect them to. And I am sorry that probably a worse form of extreme government will most likely come into power as a result of our actions, but at least there would be a hope of diplomacy brokered by other Arab/Muslim countries having a chance. We had no right to invade a sovereign country. We were wrong and thousands of innocents are dying for it. Will continue to die daily. As we enjoy lives in an alternate reality of summer vacations, family picnics, graduation parties and blockbuster movies.

My heart weeps. Peace, Johanna


Thank you for making the strong distinction between pragmatics and polemics.

I don't know if it is a particular attribute of the blogosphere, or the intensely polarized political environment in the country (which I can't decide is worse now than I ever remember -- or not). (Or, maybe it's partly due to my long time reader, AOG, who likes to give the BAG a good shake once in a while.) Whatever it is, I'm often guilty of looking back and affixing blame at the expense of accepting "where we are now" complete with the attendent (and, usually, ideologically non-conforming) complexities of the situation.

It's always interesting to be reminded of facts we are all aware of (such as the competing interests of the foreign fighters versus the disenfranchised Baathists ...versus other groups with competing interests besides) knowing that, at times, one can hardly bare the inconvenience when there is an ideological axe to grind.

By 'unleashed firepower of the USAF' I was not meaning to imply that the bombing of Iraq was of the same scale or nature as the carpetbombing of Germany or Japan during WW2. I also have concerns about placing an over-reliance upon the (in)famous Lancet study, though it should be born in mind that the widely quoted 100,000 deaths figure was the median point of a large range (a consequence of the difficulties of conducting such a study in such dangerous and difficult conditions).

The main point of my post was to 'play devil's advocate' and highlight the fact that the US (and indeed British and other Coalition forces) have been engaged in a destruction of Iraqi infrastructure and life (as have the 'insurgents'). Airstrikes against targets in Iraq have largely been ongoing - indeed it is 'news' when there have been no strikes for a period of a couple of weeks. I am currently engaged in ongoing research to try to ascertain the scope of this largely unreported air war.

Obviously, the combined effect of aerial bombing and groundfighting (use of heavy machine guns, artillery etc), has been to cause considerable damage in residential areas across Iraq, damage which it would seem certainly rivals that caused by the various insurgent groups.

I share other commenters concerns for the health and humanity of those caught up in this horrible situation.

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