Two Sides | The Nation


Two Sides

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During the meeting to go over Operation Dozer's after-action report, which is a meeting of all the platoon and squad leaders, the issues discussed are, not surprisingly, all tactical. The very serious and bespectacled Captain Caliguire runs down the list of what worked and what didn't. Absent from the discussion is the issue of winning over hearts and minds.

Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.

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Christian Parenti
Christian Parenti
Christian Parenti, a Nation contributing editor and visiting scholar at the CUNY Graduate Center, is the author of...

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"On that front," explains Caliguire later, "we do our best. We treat people with respect and dignity, but you can't win them all. Security comes first. Do people resent the house searches? Yes. But my job is to bring security to Falluja and keep my men safe. And there's not gonna be any reconstruction or NGOs or UN in here if there isn't security first."

Relaxing on his cot, Lieutenant Bacik makes similar points. "I do what I am told. If they want me to build a bridge, I'll do it. But now we have to suppress this resistance. We fight with restraint and discipline and concern for civilians, but this is a war."

In short, the 82nd is doing what seems to work best for its specific purposes--"search and attack." That means arresting and killing the underground and its supporters. They use cordon search operations, undercover Special Forces, local spies and information extracted from detainees--who, by the Pentagon's own admission, are subject to psychological torture such as isolation and prolonged sleep deprivation. With its intelligence, the 82nd launches continuous lightning raids in and out of Falluja.

As for the delicate task of winning the people's loyalty, that is up to the civilian-run Coalition Provisional Authority, which so far can't seem to provide jobs, fix the electricity, clean up the garbage or get the oil flowing. In the meantime, the war in Falluja is far from over.

Elsewhere in Iraq, one can find less precise US tactics that at times look like Israeli-style collective punishment. In Samarra I meet the newly arrived Stryker Brigade, named after the unit's special new armored personnel carriers that have high wheels and elaborate medieval looking metal grilles skirting their sides. The cagelike grilles are designed to catch and thus minimize the blast impact of RPGs.

Only three weeks "in country" and the Strykers have lost five guys and two vehicles. One of the nervous GIs, in the middle of a big cordon search operation, confirms what people in Samarra have been saying: Not far away the resistance knocked out a Stryker with a mine. In response, the Stryker Brigade destroyed two homes with bulldozers.

On the southern edge of Baghdad, under a date palm canopy and among the misty winter fields of al-Doura, a town known for its resistance activity, a farmer named Abdel gives a tour of his crop beds. Poking up from the brown stalks are between fifteen and twenty clean, white, unexploded US mortars. One local told a journalist that the military said the mortars would be removed when the farmers handed over resistance fighters. "How I am going to plant these fields?" asks Abdel.

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