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Oct 17, 2005

Extreme Home Make Over: Iraq Edition


On Saturday, I took notice of a couple images revealing a heavier U.S. military hand in the Iraqi elections than we've been led to believe.  In retrospect, what surprised me most about these images was they existed at all.

It's been a little surreal combing through the newswires in the midst of the Judith Miller/PlameGate controversy.  Apparently, its been popular lately for the MSM to reference how it shilled for the Administration in the lead up to the Iraqi invasion.  Interesting point, considering the situation remains virtually unchanged today.

While the newswires are filled with wonderful images of Iraqis with inked fingers, or Iraqi voters waiting in long lines to vote on a constitution that was effectively drafted by the U.S., why is there virtually no mention in the MSM of the desperate tactics being employed by the Bush administration against innocent Iraqi civilians in the name of a war that defies definition?

Just a quick turn around the blogosphere turns up reports of ongoing U.S. military bombing and terror campaigns throughout Anbar Province resulting in torrents of people having to abandon their homes and seek out refugee camps.  There are allegations by the U.N. that U.S. forces are depriving civilians of food and water as a military tactic.  Also, sites such as Back to Iraq (link) now conclude that Iraq is literally in a state of civil war.  (Despite its singular significance, the ethnic cleansing being carried out by the Kurds is usually cited among various pieces of evidence for this conclusion.)

If all this is true, however, how are we supposed to look at the pictures?

As with the images I posted on Saturday, what we are left to do (in the best tradition of I.F. Stone) is to seek out those images that manage to reveal a fuller story; identify those that clearly contradict the party line; challenge those that blindly reinforce what we're supposed to think; and also take account of stories where images are notable for their absence (such as newswire documentation of bomb damage, refugee camps, or more than a photo or two from locations such as Tal Afar).



If you're constantly being told that a coherent, respectful, systematic, logical and effective process of search and investigation is taking place in cities like Tikrit, it's easy to consume these two photos at face value.  With that kind of reassurance, who would assume that these searches and interrogations aren't earning the appreciation of the Sunni population, and that the people are happy for us to stop by, take a look around, blow a few things up, and just repeat it again and again and again?

(image 1: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP. US soldiers from Charlie Company 2/7 infantry division search a house during a raid in Tikrit, 175 kms north of Baghdad. September 18, 2005.  Via YahooNews. image 2:  Tauseef Mustafa/AFP. US soldier talks to an Iraqi man during a patrol of Tikrit.  October 2, 2005. Via YahooNews.  image 3: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP. US soldier from the Alfa company 2/7 infantry division questions an Iraqi woman during a raid in Tikrit.  October 2, 2005. Via YahooNews.)


Great picture of Home Invasion. More and more the soldiers and the Bush Administration look like clones out of the Star Wars movies. Unfortunately this is all real.

Thanks, Bagman, for comments in Paragraph #6 -- an excellent brief explanation of the purpose for the site.

It would be interesting to juxtapose photos like these with similar photos taken of US soldiers with civilians during the Vietnam war. Americans' political amnesia is breathtaking. Look at the expressions on the civilians' faces in these pictures. Could they be more disgusted? Is bringing in dogs to search a person's home any way to win hearts and minds?

I and looked at some of the equipment costs. Headgear for "night vision" (aptly named, does not work near dawn or dusk only thermal imaging does used in fires and even archaeology, buried stones hold heat, or what the Swedes have invented gated-laser imaging for terrestrial and underwater remote sensing, probably to guard the "caves" their navy is kept in since WWII. Recently we've joined up, "Svensk testad" (Volvo motto) they run their Stirling engine sub off California, we try to "hear" it) about $4-$5000. William Shatner wore one doing a border patrol on horseback, after trying to save the huge fish, the whale-shark (40'+ fish eats krill only like a whale, though a fish) so I think some of the photos were taken at night, with the infrared helmet attachment. I spent many a day looking through an infrared transit, which can bounce off prism mirrors thousands of feet for engineers (and in space?). After CBS news reported Irak (Sp.) overwhelmingly for their Constitution, and I read Associated Press says overwhelming numbers of Sunnis turned out against, ABC news last night reported two provinces against, which are geographically large. I think part of this is over who controls the Mosul oil fields, where the ancient city of Nuzi was dug up in the 1930's by Starr of Harvard, part of Mitanni, near Kirkuk, and where the Ency. Britanica reports "catholics" from 300 AD onward, and if the Kurds, who live in 3 or four countries on Iraq's borders, have autonomy in Iraq. One of my former archaeology professors at Stony Brook University, as reported, is trying to secure funds to rebuild Iraq's archaeology collections, by training Iraqis, and getting no commitments beyond a short term one year deal.

All of these images reveal an amazing contrast — a conflict, really — between the human and the inhuman. Even though photo #1 shows no live Iraqis interacting with the soldiers (who are nearly collapsing under their high-tech gear), there is plenty of touching evidence of the human, possibly innocent, family who lives there (for one thing, it's someone's bedroom). See the photo stuck in the corner of the vanity mirror, the baby's walker shoved out of the way, the closet doors ajar exposing private contents and the bed rucked up and used as a table for the soldiers' convenience. No matter WHAT legitimate reason the soldiers MIGHT have to search this home or harass these civilians, the images bring to mind images of the terror tactics of the Nazis — complete with German shepherd! Unbelievable. This looks SO BAD. And remember, thanks to the Internet we're not the only Western (WW II-affected) audience viewing such pictures.

Just this morning, I heard on the news that the US military had bombed about 70 insurgents. The Army claimed they trying to place an IED where a previous one had exploded. The news also reported that eyewitnesses claimed that the people killed were innocents who were merely curious about the site.

I don't consider either side of this ingenuous. I don't think I'm in a position to really know what the truth is. I'm sure the Army makes mistakes, and ID's things wrong sometimes. But I'm also sure the insurgent have their dedicated "spin doctors" who will lie to reporters.

I don't think field reporters don't think about these things, but there's a structure there that means they, and consequently me, will have a devilshly hard time getting to the truth.

On NPR's Sunday news show yesterday, there was an intriguing sign of the cluelessness of the U.S. reporters who are observing the faked vote: The NPR host was interviewing the Washington Post's Baghdad bureau chief (whose name I forget) who announced that she believed the vote was going well and that the situation in Iraq was looking good because the number of car bombings had greatly decreased over the past few days. What she didn't mention was that the U.S. military placed a lockdown on vehicular traffic for the voting period. No car bombs have gone off because nobody is allowed to drive a car.

Remember this the next time you hear an upbeat report from the Post's Baghdad reporters about the Iraq debacle.

Congratulations. I'd never heard of you until you caught the attention of a French "journalist" who recommends you. Of course, he's a complete idiot with an incredibly warped view of the world. Good luck with your continued bashing of America and its troops, and your belittling of the brave free Iraqis in their pursuit of freedom. Meanwhile, I'll be sure to forget your URL.

Whats fascinating is the use of the dog in the first picture.

Dogs are considered to be filthy animals in certain Islamic, specifically Arabic Islamic, teachings. At the very least its a direct insult to the people whose home the US soldiers are searching.

More sinisterly dogs are used extensively in US backed torture chambers today, and have been since at least the 1950's when Qutb was tortured with one in Egypt.

I'm genuinely surprised that the US military would let such a photo be taken at any time, never mind now.

Aside from everything else, Muslims don't have dogs in their houses. They're considered unclean, and anything that's touched by their saliva has to be washed.

I saw a headline that the U.S. Army killed 70 "terrorists", but I don't believe that they can tell the difference between Iraqi men who are insurgents and those who aren't. I think the way it works (as in Fallujah) is that they tell everyone to leave, and then whoever's left is, by their definition, an "insurgent/terrorist".

Over 20 years ago I visited a Latvian-American intercampus fellowship (Buffalo/Stony Brook) woman grad student in the Belmont section of the Bronx, NY. Mt. Carmel, its also called and today still has the Italians, and other ethnics, including a mosque today. I live near a "Bronx Moslem Center", in what was one of CWA's offices (Communications Workers of America) on Rhinelander Ave. There was someone then handing out literature then that showed four skulls, the wild wolf and two others between and the modern canid or dog, an evolution to show why Muslims don't like dogs in the "City of God" because of the wildness they represent. It might be also be compared w/ bovids or pigs, which are known in 5 or 6 generations to revert to wild boar. Marvin Harris, an anthropologist, also pointed out that, pigs as a resource, require a lot of water and shade or they burn-up in the sun, hence the possible functional reason for the proscription against them in the Middle East (in, "Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches". He taught at Columbia University and wrote "The Rise of Anthropological Theory" a large tome used in some anthropology classes, used in the two I had with Marvin Opler. His brother Morris I later found out, had two out of his three briefs read by the Supreme Court over the rights of Japanese-Americans in internments during WWII. He had studied the Apache for the U of Chicago Ph.D. Marvin Opler was an "honorary Navaho" and taught in the Psychiatry Dept. and the Anthropology Dept. as then NY State University at Buffalo). The dog might be a "flash point" though we cheer when they save Hollywood, left behind in New Orleans and the service dogs in Vietnam.

"I'd never heard of you until you caught the attention of a French "journalist" who recommends you."

Johnny Bravo, does this mean you're into the French press?

That line is awesome. The ultimate rouge insult, a "french"-"journalist".
Bag, I think you have a T-shirt concept there ... - Recommended by French Journalists

We seem to have a lot of out-of-state tourists lately....

There are other sites that also offer some insight into what is really happening in Iraq so we don't have to rely on the not-so-real-news. Operation Truth and Michael Moore's sites are good sources for learning how the soldiers are really doing and what they actually are encountering over there. I also liked Michael Moore's book, "Will They Ever Trust Us Again? - Letters From the War Zone"

Invading occupation armies, in full arms, such heroes...ready to show the might of empire.
In what God's name do they have a right to come into Iraqi's home?
The whole charade of praise of new democracy in Iraq is spread and repeated in newspapers. Over and over the words are repeated - those planted lies from the white house like fog place the entire people under spell. The elections achieved nothing... but media will keep on parroting the lines ... yes the progress, yes there is a show of Iraqi against the violence...
Well it is all so hollow. The occupation forces have on the day of election caused more death and they call it justified...
The world is upside down.

It's a child's room; look at how tiny the furniture is. Maybe a little girl's. As in Viet Nam even children are suspects.

The man in the last picture looking at the camera is interesting. He either can't believe what is happening and that someone is snapping a picture of it (ala the last episode of Sienfeld where the go to jail for video taping the fat man being carjacked), or he is 1/2 incredulous and 1/2 looking at us (anyone viewing the picture) and kind of pleading for... I don't know, help? understanding?

I dont fault the soldiers for following order, nor for wearing protective gear, if I were in a war zone I would wear every bit of protective gear the military would provide (thats another topic), but its hard to argue that it does not make one's outfilt look a bit like a storm trooper outfit. Now we all know the stormtroopers outfit did not seem to help at all, I hope this gear helps the soldiers.

I am sure they can't wait until the raids and searches are over, I am sure they never know who's got gun, who's got a bomb, who's got a knife, who wants to take their life.

To gleex...
I cannot resist to write a remark to your post...
You seem to be so understanding and emphatetic to soldier in the picture. How much do you know about him? Has he killed any civilians?...and if he did, you probably understand he did not know if they were harmless!
My response, he does not have to be there! and he had a choice!
I don't care how he is dressed, but I do care about repression he actively pursues!
I am sure that you would also be in the resistance if the USA was invaded by a foreign power, so writing that you would also be in that outfit, means little to change my mind about the soldier.
You hope that the gear helps him to do what??? finish the kill? to survive with memories of what he has done?
You make it very clean and antiseptic... "they" and you...
Try to think about it that you may be "they" one day.

I.F. Stone's rules are excellent advice for viewing all news images:

  • Seek out those images that manage to reveal a fuller story.

  • Identify those that clearly contradict the party line.

  • Challenge those that blindly reinforce what we're supposed to think.

  • Take account of stories where images are notable for their absence.

They also apply to the BAG, and to anyone placing news images in front of us.

For better or worse (and it looks like the latter), the U.S. is going to be in Iraq for some time. Coalition soldiers, whether American, Iraqi, British, or whomever, are fighting insurgents in urban warfare. House-to-house searches are an unfortunate, but common (certainly not desperate) tactic used in war throughout history. They will probably not go away in Iraq until this mess is over.

Looking at the three images selected for this post, there's not enough going on to justify the Extreme Home Make Over title. The soldiers are calm, the room is undisturbed, the dog is under control, no weapons are at the ready, and no one is being arrested or threatened. The Iraqi woman and man look annoyed, but not frightened or highly emotional.

An extreme situation may have existed before (or after) the photographer came around, but there's no evidence of it in these particular images.

The photographer, Tauseef Mustafa, is no stranger to dangerous, bloody confrontations. Note his Kashmir photographs (Google cache), and he's also been around the Iraqi block a few times, too. I doubt if he missed anything.

You need better visual evidence than this, BAG.

I imagine that soldiers aren't real thrilled about conducting home searches, either. Who knows what they might walk into, or worse, not walk out of? Like Gleex mentioned above, who wouldn't wear any piece of gear that might keep them alive and in one piece?

Unless the photographers are invisible, it seems the military is very aware and tolerant of them. They're apparently going with soldiers on patrol, and are literally shooting images over their shoulders. If the military didn't want these photographs taken, they could easily deny photographers access, or seize cameras and film.

Why is the military allowing such <irony>surprisingly incriminating</irony> photographs to be taken and published? In the case of these three images, they're pretty innocuous, given the situation.

But it might also be freedom of the press.

The most errant portion of your post, excluding grammar!!! and near accusations of murder, is that I am blanketing a faction as "they". I talk about the soldiers in the formal, and then I use the term "they" - big difference following a noun with a pronoun and doing a Danforth "your people". Also, are you indicating that I pulled a "your people" with all Iraqi people? Read it again, “they” is a reference to soldiers after I identified them as such.

I don’t wish to change or know your mind, nor did I make any attempt to change your mind. I wished, and did comment on picture #3 as the man's expression struck me deep. I also wanted to comment on the storm trooper mention from above, and my thought has always been that if protection is available I would use it even if it was a stay puff marshmallow, or darth vader suit because I would be afraid to die. I could be wearing a darth vader suit and be the nicest person on the planet. How many people jumped on Rummy when the troops did not have bullet proof vests…and now they have too much gear? And I would think the rest of the sentence would be obvious...I hope it helps him to come home from the war, including helping him kill anyone who tries to harm him. To survive to make new memories, would you have him die for the crime of being a low paid soldier on a fucked up planet? Is it his fault that people want to kill him? As far as you know he has done NOTHING WRONG, regardless of the justification of the war or the actions of criminal soldiers. In the wide world people, including the people of Iraq, are in situations not of their making, but they have to deal with them. This is not a photo of an in the field summary execution, this is not a photo of him smashing the mans bones with the butt of his rifle, or draping underwear on his head as has been reported and photographed during other events. The soldier has not even breached the threshold of the man’s home. All sides are fighting and or dying in the cities.

You paint me as an apologist for a war criminal, worry about your own projections; you very nearly have the soldier as a civilian killer. Would you tell –him- off or spit on him since you do not support the war to prop up the Shia and ensure the flow of oil to the connected? Are you angry that our image is suffering due to the combat calculus to gear the troops for their own survival over looking non-“storm troopery”? I understand your concern, and feel the brunt of your passion (in your attack on me) about the entire mess, but how to gear our troops, which is what I commented on, is not the same issue as how, when, and where (or even why) they are used.

If that soldier is an "evil" person (as are a certain percentage of all persons in all walks of life) is beside the point, I do not know – we don’t even see his face. Just like a commuter in a car might be a vicious, selfish daredevil who endangers everyone on the road, or perhaps they are a nice person, a defensive driver. You don't flip someone off before they cut you off (if at all). I can surely extend the same benefit of the doubt to the soldier in the picture. The tactic of home raids has been well commented upon, though not by me in my post, nor on this site by any combat participants or indigenous recipients. In America we have all been schooled on issue like this, such as England demanding the colonist board the English soldiers.

If you are a soldier your command does not let you choose what you want to do or where you want to serve, you follow orders, and orders (ex. “take the gloves off”) come from the top-down just like shit. That soldier or Guardsman likely has no choice, not being able to turn back the hands of time and un-sign up for the military (perhaps they did re-enlist, I doubt it was so they could run back out and kick in some doors and steal things from Iraqi homes). For all you or I know they signed up in order to get help paying for school, or to fight the 9/11 terrorists, some are as big a Bush opposer as you and I.

I mean, the guy is checking the fellow’s wallet for God sake. What you see as antiseptic I see as unbiased – the most interesting element in that picture is the expression on the homeowners face, he is looking directly into the camera, he is looking directly at me. Show me a picture of the soldier stomping on the homeowners head, or audio of him screaming "towel head" and you would get a different analysis of picture #3. And before you project anything else on me, I choose that one picture because I felt like it after it struck me when looking at the images, not as some sort of pro-home raids propaganda. The other thing that struck me was that comments on the gear were restricted to the imagery, and made no mention of the functionality.

Among other things you missed in reading my post is that I am not an apologist for the soldier, I feel pity for him. Regardless of if he has bought into the gung-ho attitude, which would help him survive, he is doing someone else’s bidding, and keeping someone else safe (some would say all of us). Someone is making barrels of money, and this soldier has a 1% chance he will die before he gets back to his home. He has a 5 – 10% he will come home with a Purple Heart or lost limb, or eye, or face. He has a great chance of financial ruin, or divorce. Some of the soldiers die having never seen their new baby, nice job huh? So no, I am not going to call him a civilian killer for no reason. The Iraqi people have just as many issues, countless (and uncounted) deaths and destruction of property, and it is in their home and homeland, their babies are in a war zone, so they are in the same boat.

Are you telling me if you were drafted into a war you though unjust that you would not wear a storm trooper outfit if it would protect you as a protest? And if you would object to the point of going to jail let me assure you that anyone who found themselves over there would gear up - on either side of the conflict. Blame the soldiers for the war, omg what has debate come to. Are you suggesting that the soldier should die because you don't support the war, and feel bad that we will be plagued by the evil deeds you have project upon him? It’s bad enough that these images in other parts of the world will lead to a blanket condemnation of all of our troops. I do not think all of our troops are bad, no matter that the war is a mess and our image is stumbling. Some other parts of the world can afford this view since to them it’s local & personal, or strictly a geopolitical consideration they see the forest for the forest. It is important to realize how the world perceives the war and the tactics employed, and to analyze that without a doubt. But not every tree is a Donald Rumsfeld or Ricardo Sanchez, the troops I know are good and honest people.

Here are some gems from your post:
You seem
you probably
I am sure that you
You hope
You make

You do not know me. Try to think about what it would be like to be civil for one day, or at least don’t sit in judgment of other people.

Just for you here is my analysis of the others:

#1: They are searching some potentially innocent person’s bedroom with a big scary dog; if this happened to me I would be scared. If they took anything from my room I would be mad.

#2: The soldier is obviously not listening to the Iraqi woman. He likely does not speak her language. Wow, that’s like a metaphor, and a problem.

Overall I doubt this strategy, much like our SOD’s strategy to torture people, will work out very well in the neither the long, nor the short term. Unless the strategy is to establish a monopoly on violence, weapons and training for the Shia, that would have a remote chance of success. How is that, did I tow the line of your ideology enough for you to stop being an ideology judge troll?

The reason this post is so late is that things like the pettiness of people, and what going on in the world can keep a person up nights. Thanks for adding to the problems of the world in your own small, but vicious way. Attack the perceived dissenters as un-patriotic, or un-humanistic, or un-you-like. Blame the soldiers for the war, what’s the point of debate anymore? After/If this ring of corruption and power topples the next one will be just like it, only it will be someone else more like “us” defending “them”.

Bodyguard I wouldn't like your job
Snakes in the grass they know not God
Polytricksters drinking human blood
Concrete heart can hold no love

Hey hey don't feel no way
I just can’t sorry for the bodyguard
Who got a gun
Who got a bomb
Who got a knife
Who's gonna lose their life

- Steel Pulse

Here is where someone as petty as Dick Cheney or you would make it personal. For me, I will just steal a line: “Good night and good luck.”

Extreme Home Makeover is the name of a television show. In the show people are gifted with newly made over houses. It is a positive thing.
The pictures show soldiers with cameras on their helmets - thus the reference to the television show. If one was going to jump to conclusions about the title wouldn't one's first thought be, "gosh, those Iraqis are getting a cool new house?"
In this case we'd be jumping to conclusions if we assumed extreme makeover was a bad thing. I think it's a legitimate use of humor/sarcasm in that we can fairly safely assume that these folks aren't getting a new house despite the 'reality tv' camermen.
There is an awful lot of wholesale destruction of residential areas in Iraq inflicted by US firepower. There are generally promises to rebuild things bigger and better but Fallujah, for instance, isn't exactly echoing with Ty Pennington's signature, "Driver, move that bus!"...even a year after the Marines levelled it.
I feel that the American TV viewing public would benefit from a whole passle of Iraq based reality shows. Fear Factor, Real World, Surreal Life, Survivor, Great Race, Punk'd, Big Brother...
And the Stormtrooper reference struck me as mostly visual analysis considering the desert setting and the heavy gear. The fact that our troops do resemble imperial soldiers is undeniable...whether we're talking of Romans or Star Wars. Aliens comes to mind as well.
I didn't get the impression that any posters were upset that the soldiers were wearing armor so it doesn't qualify as a 'flip-flop' on the issue of getting troops the equipment they need. Nor has Rummy remedied the lack of armor for a great many soldiers.
Whether or not the soldiers in these photos have done anything wrong themselves I believe that one can choose to participate in a war or not. If the war in question is, say, unconstitutional then a soldier should act according to the oath that was taken to uphold the Constitution. Same goes for illegal orders that direct one to torture or kill innocents.
So far no one's been drafted. I also know a few soldiers and I wouldn't say any of them were bad people. I still don't buy the idea that there are only a few bad apples causing problems. I also don't feel that "following orders" is any more valid as a defense for Americans than Iraqi Republican Guards or the Wermacht.
Does it take more courage to face jail or worse for not participating or to face death and dismemberment among other horrors in hopes of surviving however many deployments the Pentagon throws at you so as not to rock the boat...regardless of the negative impact you may have in country?
BAG didn't exactly slam anyone. Comments posted aren't the site's responsibility.

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