By Joshua Holland
Posted on February 22, 2007, Printed on February 23, 2007
This clip from LiveLeak doesn’t have any action, but it speaks to several issues.
First, it shows how little nuance there is in our discourse about Iraq. These, after all, are Sunni militiamen – the bad guys; the bitter dead-enders; the Saddamists and the violent extremists who hate democracy. But while there are Sunni groups that fit that description, these guys seem to be (and obviously I can’t tell for sure) a bunch of family men trying to protect their homes (the Adhamiya district has been a fat target for Shiite death squads).
So think about these Joes the next time someone’s prattling on about “Islamofascists” and “terrorists” in Iraq. These conflicts, like the Clash of Civilizations in the larger sense, are driven by small groups of maniacs on both sides, and many, many ordinary people (like these guys appear to be) are caught in the cross-fire.
It also speaks to the increasingly popular – and wholly colonial – narrative being embraced by more and more of the war’s apologists: that the Iraqis are a bunch of inherently blood-thirsty maniacs who can’t get along without the guidance of the Great White Sahib, and that our only real fault in setting the country on fire is that we underestimated the thuggish nature of those bloody wogs. The next time you hear a derivation of that (already tired) argument, consider what these guys are saying: yes, there are U.S. troops and Iraqi National Guardsmen, but they can’t stop the bloodletting. What’s more, the Sunnis in Adhamiya equate the Iraqi security forces with Shiite militias, and rightly so.
Only after we dismantled a functional Iraqi government –- a policy choice -- did these guys feel the need to pick up their AKs and go stand in the street, ready to shoot at any stranger that approaches. It's happened all over Iraq: a couple of tortured bodies show up, and that's followed by a back-and-forth of revenge killings -- "cyclical violence." If a government can’t offer some measure of security, people will take it upon themselves to protect their families. That has nothing to do with culture; it would be just as true if marauding death squads from Oakland were freely grabbing people in San Francisco and leaving their mutilated corpses on the streets.
Finally, I think it shows just how impossibly difficult our troops’ so-called “mission” is in Iraq. Here are a bunch of heavily armed Iraqi men standing on a street corner. Are they good guys? Are they bad guys? You’d be hard-pressed to tell from a distance, and it would be impossible to really know without speaking a common language.
Here’s an article with a bit more in-depth background on what’s going on in the neighborhood.
Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer.