Recent Events Add to Complication in Iraq

Andrew Fitzgerald Adams is a UC Berkeley student and frequent contributor. Respond at [email protected]

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With a few photographs and a couple of minutes of video tape, the guards at Abu Ghraib prison have undone any good will the United States had gained in Iraq. Images of naked prisoners placed in compromising positions, under the threat of electrocution from a few demented guards have spread. And now, the United States must contend with a building reputation in Iraq as a nation of immoral and unprincipled brutes.

Many Iraqis get their news from rumors in addition to official news sources. During the Hussein regime, Saddam used this rumor mill to increase his own power and the threat of heinous retribution. In the same way, up until he was finally forced to run from his palace, Hussein was able to convince the Iraqi people that he had the upper hand on President Bush.

Since the U.S. toppled Hussein's regime, Iraqis have become more reliant on the rumor mill for information. Newspapers that U.S. forces see as sympathetic to insurgent causes have been shutdown, as many thought they were the only newspapers free from Western influence, their replacements are judged as tools of the United States.

Insurgent forces could, and likely will, utilize rumors to convince Iraqis that Americans have no respect for human rights, especially those of Iraqis.

When Americans first entered Iraqi cities last spring, the liberated peoples showered the troops with flowers and praise.

Unfortunately, this did not last. Since the end of major combat operations 12 months ago, 500-plus Americans have been killed by guerrilla tactics that U.S. forces are familiar with due to involvement in Somalia, Rwanda and other urban-based campaigns. This form of warfare gives a distinct advantage to the home team because they are better able to exploit familiar terrain.

But it is our experience with this style that complicates our presence in Iraq. Last month was the 10th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Americans refused to enter the conflict because we had seen the disaster in Somalia on live television, which culminated in the desecration of U.S. soldiers' bodies by furious mob. The knowledge that our inability to act in Rwanda cost more than half a million lives has strengthened our resolve to stay and finish the job in Iraq.

Rwanda and Somalia were, however, humanitarian missions meant to save the lives of innocent people, while the campaign in Iraq is to increase American security. We entered Iraq to root out weapons programs and eliminate any Al Qaeda influence so our country would be safer.

U.S. security is crucial, so we were willing to take the risk that we would be left to rebuild the country on our own, a task that would take at least the better part of a decade. Reasonable estimates for rebuilding Iraq range anywhere from five to 20 years. Bosnia, where 4,000 U.S. are still stationed, is smaller and less hostile than Iraq. It has been rebuilding for eight years since the U.S. intervened, showing the resolve and investment required.

Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East from 1997-2000, gave a speech concerning the march to war: "We are about to do something that will ignite a fuse in this region that we will rue the day we ever started." He went on to outline how attacking Iraq would lead to legions of angry mobs taking to the street to vent their anger.

Well, that fuse has been lit, although instead of a huge explosion, it has been more of a slow, drip-drip of attacks. Now, with the fuel of the prison photos, Iraqi insurgents will be able to swell the number of recruits to continue active resistance into the next decade. It is too late to debate why we got involved in the first place. However, it is not too late to replace the leaders that failed to recognize the reality awaiting in Iraq.


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