The Haditha Stratagem
We face an Islamist enemy for which no deception, no cruelty, no inhumanity is too low in battling the infidel. I have previously �argued that the Jihadis (among others) were fabricating incidents pointing to American involvement in massacres of Iraqi civilians. With the Haditha story, the subject has exploded across the media in a far more disturbing fashion than anyone could have wished. But there is one element that has been all but ignored: clear evidence that the insurgency has gone one step further, to actually contriving massacres involving U.S. troops.
Haditha is one of a flurry of mass—murder accusations leveled against American forces in recent months. Another serious instance occurred in Ishaqi, sixty miles north of Baghdad. On March 16, U.S. troops allegedly attacked the home of a local schoolteacher, killing eleven people, including women and children, before blowing up the house to conceal the crime. A video was released showing the victims being dug out, and the story was verified by local police.
The soldier's version was more prosaic: coming under fire from the house in question, they called in an AC—130 gunship to level the place. While plucking an injured Al—Qaeda gunman from the wreckage, the troops found four other bodies, including two women and a child. (A similar case in which U.S. soldiers were accused of murdering a family of three in Duluiya, a nearby village, had scarcely begun circulating before it was proven to have actually involved seven grenade—wielding terrorists.)
Ten days later, yet another such 'massacre' was revealed in Baghdad itself. Iraqi and U.S. troops raided an office complex held by militiamen, killing sixteen, capturing another eighteen, and rescuing a kidnapping victim. But by the next morning, the offices had been transformed into a mosque, the number of dead had multiplied, and the operation had become an all—American effort.
Initial media interest faded after the kidnap victim denied the mosque claim and revealed the torture scars he'd suffered at the militia's hands (he refused, probably wisely, to identify which militia it was). By this time, the Ishaqi story had also fallen apart, over conflicting accounts of the incident and the victim's identities, ages, and relationships to each other —— which didn't prevent a new video from popping up in the wake of the Haditha revelations. (Even as the video made the rounds, the Pentagon announced that the Marines involved had been cleared of all charges.)
What's striking about the Ishaqi report is its surface similarity to the Haditha incident. Both feature ambushes of U.S. troops, carried out from occupied homes, by a single gunman acting alone.
It's that last element that raises questions. A single shooter amid a group of unarmed civilians — that's a strange setup for an ambush. A one—man ambush is a contradiction in terms. A guerilla unit conducting such an operation would use all the men available, to concentrate fire and cause as much damage as possible. A single man may take a pot—shot or two and then break contact. But from a houseful of people, who will inevitably come under fire in return? There's no reason for that. Not unless it wasn't an ambush at all. Not unless a completely different effect was intended.
The war in Iraq is a low—level insurrection slowly — all too slowly — grinding to a halt. The insurgents have attempted to take and hold ground in cities like Tal Afar and Fallujah, and have failed. They have attempted to stop the electoral process through intimidation, and have failed. They have attempted to split the country through civil war, and have failed. Few tactics remain to them, one of which is to take a page from the Vietnam playbook and work the media, hoping that upheaval in the U.S. itself will win their war for them. And that requires a My Lai.
So they've been trying to arrange one. To create the conditions for a massacre. Ambushing Coalition troops from houses full of helpless, unarmed civilians, hoping that the soldiers would respond with all the firepower at their command, and exposing the resulting carnage to the full glare of the international media. That was the plan at Ishaqi, and it might have worked if the shooter hadn't survived. That was also the plan at Haditha —— and somebody walked right into it. Some young men angered beyond rationality at seeing a friend blown in half by an IED, driven by impulses we will never know, stormed the nearest homes to kill not only the lone terrorist (according to the account in Time, there were two AK—47s but only one gunman), but everyone else as well —— man, woman, and child.
If more proof is needed, consider the May 30 USA Today story�in which Marine Captain Andrew Del Gaudio described coming under machine—gun fire this past April after an IED killed four of his men. As he was about to engage, he saw that the enemy had placed a line of children in front of the gun, with two video cameras ready to film them as they were shot down. Del Gaudio held his fire, and was injured by the next rounds. His troops flanked the machine—gun nest before attacking, and the children survived. (Further testimony along the same lines in offered in the Wall Street Journal's June 6 'Best of the Web Today' by a unnamed officer under the heading 'Letter from Iraq'.)
Clearly, there is no conceivable way to exaggerate the sheer viciousness of the fanatic Islamist.
None of this excuses the alleged actions of the troops at Haditha. Nothing could excuse that. If guilty, they will be tried and punished as they deserve. But if they were goaded into attacking, if it was a setup, if the terrorists are deliberately working to create such atrocities, then it's a development we ignore at our peril. The My Lai paradigm must not be allowed to blind us to the possibility. This tactic (if that's the term I'm groping for) must be investigated, verified, and exposed. Otherwise Haditha, and the media firestorm surrounding it, will simply open the door to a never—ending series of such tragedies. To more lines of children, and more houses full of innocents.
J.R. Dunn is a frequent contributor.