Sunday, December 16, 2007

You are either a "Concerned Citizen" or a "Terrorist"

The video posted below provides a rare, behind-the-scenes look at U.S. military dealings with some of the Sunni "Awakening" movements. It is purported to be a recording of a meeting between an Iraqi tribal leader, identified as "Sheikh Mahi," and Col. Stephen Lanza, commander of the 1st Cavalry's 5th Brigade Combat Team, responsible for the Rashid sector of southern Baghdad (includes the districts of Dora, Mahdiya, Abu Dshir, Saidiya, Bayya', Amil, Jihad, Attiba', Shurta, Suwaib, Muwasalat, I'lam, Risala, Ma'alif, and the nearby rural areas of Radhwaniya, Rai, Duwanim, Girtan, Rashid, Hor Rijab, Arab Jubour, Al-Bu Aitha and Arab Dulaim).

The undated video is painful to watch, both because of the terrible editing and the subject matter, but it doesn't appear to be dubbed. The posting that accompanied the video, originally found on Al-Jazeera's web forums, mentioned that the video was 30 minutes long and that it was filmed by someone attending the meeting in order to intimidate the tribal leader. The commander accuses the sheikh of being a "terrorist" for not reporting insurgents attacking Americans in his area. The sheikh looks devastated at this treatment, but he swallows it and offers to form a tribal force to guard the area, in return for U.S. funds and arms, of course.

EDIT: Apparently the video is from a 2005 PBS Frontline documentary, and the sheikh was brought in for interrogation after a rocket hit the U.S. military base in the area, wounding a soldier. So, I guess ignore the above paragraph.

It is hard to blame the sheikh in the video, despite the humiliating treatment he received, both from the U.S. commander and the Iraqi translator--who by the look and sound of him seems to be one those Chalabi-style exiles who have lived most of their life out of Iraq and then return and revel in treating their countrymen like dirt in order to please their newfound masters. The sheikh has the choice of accepting insurgents, or worse Al-Qaeda, to operate in his territory, risking that Americans come after him and his family, destroy his property, or kill them all in a strike against "suspected insurgents." Or, he could join forces with Americans to form an "awakening" group, and then risk that insurgents come after him for collaboration. Or, he could simply pack up and flee the country, like millions of Iraqis facing this dilemma decided to do rather than choose one or the other. The Iraqi government or Iraqi security forces are clearly not an option in this equation for well-known reasons.

I provided a transcript of the whole video below.

U.S. officer: The only way I can convince Col. Lanza not to put you in jail today is that there is an agreement that if you see these men, if you know they're setting up rockets, if you know they're fixing to set up some sort of ambush, then you have somebody call us and let us know that it's happened.
(Col. Stephen Lanza walks into meeting)
Sheikh: Welcome, I'm honoured. I apologise to the colonel.
Sheikh: Some people--
U.S. officer: In the district area, there is a misunderstanding going on between him and the people.
Sheikh: As far as I'm concerned, since the first day--
Sheikh: But some things could happen and I'm unaware of them.
U.S. officer: But there's things will happen, he doesn't know about.
Sheikh: So if my presence--my presence in the area is a problem, I'm ready to leave the area if you order so.
U.S. officer: If you want him to leave the area, he's ready to leave.
Col. Lanza: I have no reason to trust you. I have no reason to believe you. I have no reason to even believe anything you've told me today.
Col. Lanza: And there is no way, no way that you cannot know what is happening in your area.
(Iraqi interpreter provides translation)
Col. Lanza: And now you are asking me to give you a chance.
Col. Lanza: You come here today with no specific information.
(Iraqi interpreter)
Col. Lanza: I already know this ... So you have offered me nothing.
Col. Lanza: Rockets have been fired from your property, bombs have been planted right near your neighbourhood, right near your houses, right near your family's houses. It takes time to dig those bombs in, and people watch, people know, they watch the men dig those bombs, and they do nothing
(Iraqi interpreter)
Col. Lanza: You come to me today as the victim.
(Iraqi interpreter translates "victim" as "suspect" into Arabic)
Col. Lanza: But really you come as a terrorist ... as part of the Mujahideen.
(Iraqi interpreter)
Sheikh: I will bring together the people in my area, and we will set up guarding duties. If he [the colonel] orders, we can recruit the tribe as guards. Or how else does he want it?
Iraqi interpreter: He's gonna make some kind of neighbourhood watch or guards, if you want I can do that--
Col. Lanza: Why didn't you do it before? If you can do it now, why haven't you done it before?
(Iraqi interpreter)
Sheikh: I'm afraid of them [the Mujahideen], afraid.
Col. Lanza: This has been going on for eight months ...
(Iraqi interpreter)
Col. Lanza: The blood of two of my soldiers as well as numerous Iraqis are on your hands.
Iraqi interpreter: Tell them this thing should happen. Will they do it?
Sheikh: I don't have it.
Iraqi interpreter: What you just signed now is useless. This information you gave us, we already know. (Throws paper at sheikh)
Sheikh: You are correct.
Iraqi interpreter: Where are their addresses?
Sheikh: I will write their addresses now.
Iraqi interpreter: You know their addresses?
Sheikh: You mean their houses?
Iraqi interpreter: Write down their addresses. (Sheikh starts writing on paper)
Iraqi interpreter: He knows the addresses now.
Sheikh: I will write their addresses now. This one Fathi, first ... Dora.