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Making nice

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In Fallujah, a city that has hosted some of the worst of the fighting and anti-American sentiment, it looks like the military is trying some different tactics in hopes of reducing the violence against our troops and begin working toward the ability to cooperate in the rebuilding of Iraq. One of the bigger things they’re trying is paying attention to the fact that for many Iraqis, retaliation upon American troops is a way for them to reclaim their honour after the loss or wounding of family members. Now, the idea of killing to satisfy a person’s honour may sound outmoded to us in the West, but whether we like it or not, it is a part of their culture, and we’d be foolish to ignore it.

Their culture, however, apparently offers another way for honour to be redeemed – the payment of “blood money”. Some may think is appalling to even consider giving people money for having killed or injured their families. Some may think it sounds a lot like what we do everyday in personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits. What matters, though, is if being willing to satisfy the honour of a family who has lost someone to the actions of the US Armed Forces without further bloodshed is a reasonable solution.

The way the military in the Fallujah area has handled it has been to offer offer formal apologies to the local tribal leaders and payment of $1,500 for each non-combatant killed and $500 for each non-combatant injured. I think it’s important to stress that these payments are only for the death or injury of non-combatants and not for anyone who had taken up arms against our soldiers. That, I think, is very reasonable.

It’s just one of the new tactics the military has tried in Fallujah.

Officers have ordered soldiers to knock on doors before conducting most residential searches. They have also permitted the mayor to field a 75-member armed militia and doled out nearly $2 million on municipal improvements instead of waiting for private American contractors to arrive.

In the most significant concession, the commanders have pulled soldiers out of every fixed location in the city, including the police station and city hall, leaving a police force run by Iraqis to man checkpoints and guard key installations.

As of now, it remains to be seen if measures like this are any kind of a permanent solution or just a “quick fix”, but they do seem to be having an effect.

In the turquoise-domed Abdelaziz Samarrai mosque, prayer leader Mekki Hussein Kubeisi used to rail against the presence of U.S. troops in this city. On Friday, he urged hundreds of men in ankle-length tunics to “be patient” and not to tolerate people who resort to violence.


Even Saleh, whose right foot was amputated after the school shooting, has mellowed. “I have nothing against them now,” he said as he showed off five crisp $100 bills he received from the U.S. military by way of the mayor.
He said that U.S. soldiers have visited his house four times — to apologize, to provide a medical check-up and twice to assess damages to his property. “They’ve changed my opinions,” said Saleh, 41, who hobbles around on crutches. “I used to hate them, but now I realize they made a mistake and they really want to help us.”

Other things they’ve been trying have been to come to town and speak with the religious leaders, whose opinions and very important to the Iraqis living in Fallujah.

The sheiks and clerics wanted the brigade commander to pull his troops out of the city. That request was immediately rejected. But instead of storming out, the sheiks made a series of alternative demands. They asked that tanks not be driven through residential neighborhoods at night. They beseeched soldiers not to frisk women or clerics. And they insisted that searches of cars and homes be conducted without a presumption of guilt that led to soldiers knocking down doors and dragging out occupants in handcuffs.

By agreeing to make these changes – with the understanding that if a woman or cleric pulled out a gun and started shooting “all bets were off” – the military showed that they were willing to work with the people in the city rather than constantly working against them. They also managed to show the city’s inhabitants that they could treat them with a basic level of respect, which tends to go a long way in any society.

The agreement to make payments for deaths or injuries wasn’t an easy one to make. Some were concerned that it might make us look like we were admitting some kind of fault or failure, but because it appeared that many of the attacks on our soldiers were direct retaliation by the relatives of people we had killed, it sounded like it might be effective. In my opinion, even if it does make it look like we may have done something wrong (and, I have to say, that killing non-combatants isn’t very high on my list of things that are ‘not wrong’ – even though at times it may be unavoidable if they’re mixed in with others who ARE trying to kill our soldiers), swallowing a bit of our pride to save the lives of our soldiers is well worth it.

Another way in which we seem to be buying a bit of peace in Fallujah is the use of $2 million dollars to help with reconstruction around town. By being able to help do things like restore water service, hospital and schools to functionality, we’ve managed to show that we’re serious about helping the people rebuild from the devastation our war created. That, I think, is a lesson that needs to be applied all over Iraq.

The Iraqis have so many reasons to be angry at us right now, but even if we’d handled other aspects of the war better, the amount of time it’s taking to get basic functionality of things like electrical service and clean water restored is, by itself, reason enough for many Iraqis to be angry and uncooperative (though I don’t think if our incompetence was limited to just providing utilities there’d be quite so many soldiers being killed). Imagine for a minute that it’s the hottest part of the summer, and you have no electricity (and thus no air conditioning) and no running water. Even if you have a nearby hotel that you could go to and rent a room in for a few days, until power is restored, you’re likely to be pretty grumpy about it (or at least every person I spoke to when I used to work customer service for a company that repaired things like electricity and water systems – and would pay for the hotel room while the work was being dine – were… I think I learned more swear words on that job than anywhere else, and had more than a few people say they wished they knew where our office was so they could come by and “pay us a visit”).

Add that base level of frustration to the indignity of having your country’s government overthrown by an arrogant group of blockheads (the President and his advisors, not necessarily our soldiers, though from some of the quotes I’ve read, I’m sure at least a few would qualify), and throw in everything else that’s happened since we invaded, and it begins to become easier to understand why they’ve been so enraged. Showing even a bit of compassion, competence and respect can go a long ways under circumstances like that.

Still, even with the concessions we’ve made, things in Fallujah aren’t perfect. We’ve helped establish and train a police force, a contingent of armed guards and a small (75 member) mayoral militia, so that most of the law enforcement and patrol duties are being handled by Iraqis, but US soldiers still run patrols as well, and not everyone is thrilled with the situation.

The reaction of people in the city has been cautious. Many who so ardently wanted American troops to leave now express deep reservations about the decision to allow the mayor — who was not popularly elected — to have his own militia. “This is the same thing Saddam did,” said Nadir Mukheef, the owner of a juice bar.

Many are still unsure of our motives for having attacked their country in the first place, and question if we’re really needed to keep the Ba’athists from regaining power.

A lot of what the military is doing there may be controversial. I expect that many – conservatives in particular – will find the idea of paying blood money for the deaths and injuries of even non-combatants too much of a concession, and letting the Iraqis police themselves too great of a risk. But on the whole, things do seem to be settling down a bit in the Fallujah area (though that can always change with one stupid move or misunderstanding on either side). I think it’s great that these commanders decided that, rather than ratcheting up the violence and aggressiveness further, maybe backing off a bit would help win some cooperation. I also hope it continues to go well. If it does, maybe some of these tactics could be tried elsewhere in the country – and maybe our troops can be home sooner, and in greater numbers.

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About thorswitch

  • Al Barger

    It’ll probably take a variety of approaches. The carrot will get you a lot more than the stick with lots of people. I don’t think Dubya or the administration has been particularly “arrogant,” but the tender sensibilities of some Iraqis are understandable nevertheless.

    For someone whose non-combatant family member has been killed, a $1500 payment seems perfectly reasonable. That’s not much money. It’s more of an honor thing, an act of us accepting blame to at least some degree. That’s fair enough.

    On the other hand, there are Ba’ath loyalists and outside agitators coming in just to screw with us, and making nice won’t get us anywhere with them. They pretty much just have to be killed.

    The trick comes mostly in telling who’s coming from which direction.