'American soldiers in Baghdad, the fetid basement of Donald Rumsfeld's house of victory. Trapped in the polluted heat, often poorly supplied and cut off from regular news, many soldiers find themselves fighting a guerrilla war that they neither wanted nor trained for, nor fully believe in or understand. Here, the high-tech weaponry that so emboldens Pentagon bureaucrats is largely useless, and the grinding work of counter-insurgency is done the old-fashioned way – by hand.' -- Christian Parenti
On a trip to Iraq, US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld came under sustained attack for the poor quality of equipment that was putting US troops in danger.
This would have been a familiar story to those who attended the recent day long teach in at ULU organised by Iraq Occupation Focus.
US veterans who are speaking out against the war spoke at the conference on the lack of body armour, the lack of armoured vehicles and in general the poor state and inadequacy of equipment.
GIs are scavenging rubbish tips to find bits of scrap metal to provide some protection for their vehicles.
Others who spoke at the conference spoke of the poor training of the US troops, that when they were on the streets, you avoided them as they had the propensity to open fire on very little pretext and with no warning.
Paola Gasparoli (Italian human rights activist, Un Ponte per Baghdad) said they opened fire if they felt under threat, and that no one knew what the 'rules of engagement' were.
She gave as example an attack on a tank outside Abu Ghraib prison. In retaliation, the US troops opened fire on the surrounding area, killing two people in the nearby market.
Christian Parenti, in his excellent book The Freedom, describes an attack on a Humvee. At first there is an eerie silence. Then someone on a roof is spotted with a rifle. All hell then breaks loose as the US military open fire on the surrounding area. The firefight lasts for about two hours. Eventually some Bradley Fighting Vehicles pound the building with 25mm shells, although whoever was shooting from the building is long gone, or dead. A local store is set on fire, but amazingly, only two civilians are killed, caught up in the cross-fire, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
For a short period Christian Parenti is embedded with a small group of National Guardsmen. Long periods of boredom interspersed with short bursts of frenetic activity. They have no idea why they are there and don't want to be there. They are only in the National Guard to get free college tuition. They lack adequate body armour, lack armoured vehicles. They lack any understanding of the culture or terrain where they are. They are sitting targets for the Iraqis to pick them off. Their rifles are re-tooled hand-me-down M-16s from Vietnam, rather than the later M-4s. They lack adequate communication equipment, so out of their own pocket they bought Motorola walkie-talkies, which means all comms traffic is unencrypted. Their only other method of communication, is a satellite phone, which again they have had to club together to buy themselves.
As Parenti describes them:
'These young guys from rural and suburban Florida feign a callous disregard for the world, but it is clear that the the war is eating at them. They are proud to be soldiers and don't want to comes across like whiners, but they are furious at what they've been through. They hate having their lives disrupted and put at risk. They hate the military, or at least the Guard, for its stupidity, its blowhard brass sitting comfortably in Saddam's palaces, its feckless lieutenants who do stuff like raid the wrong house despite clear directions and worried suggestions from the grunts to consult the intelligence. They hate Iraqis for trying to kill them. They hate the country for its dust, heat and sewage-clogged streets. They hate having killed people. And because they are, in the main, just regular, well-intentioned guys, one senses the distinct fear that someday some of them may hate themselves for what they have been forced to do here.'
Later, on his last sortie out with the group, Parent reflects on their predicament:
'Watching Howell [squad leader] I think about the civilian technocrats working with L Paul Bremer III at the Coalition Provisional Authority. I recall a group of them drinking and laughing poolside at the cushy al-Hamra Hotel (they cycle in on three-month contracts). The electricity is out half the time, most people are unemployed, and the occupodians hold endless meetings about nothing. Meanwhile, the city seethes. The Pentagon, likewise, seems to have no clear plan; its troops are stretched thin, lied to, and mistreated. The whole charade feels increasingly patched together, poorly improvised. Ultimately, there is very little that Howell and his squad can do about any of this. After all, it's not their war. They just work here.'
One in four GIs have been killed through lack of body armour or armoured vehicles.
The attacks on Rumsfeld are not an isolated incident of discontent. More and more soldiers are speaking out against the war and questioning what they are doing in Iraq. Sitting targets whilst US corporations rape and pillage the country. Many soldiers are refusing to fight. The US Army has officially admitted to nearly 3,000 deserters, and many believe the true figure to be much higher.
The GI Rights hotline receives between 3-4,000 calls a month from soldiers wanting out.
A recent (Tuesday 7 December 2004, repeated 5pm Sunday afternoon) File on Four programme on BBC Radio 4 highlighted the poor quality of equipment and training and the shoddy treatment by MoD of families who have suffered casualties in Iraq.
Members of the Black Watch spoke out against the decision to move to Fallujah and provide backup for the US unprovoked genocide against civilians and openly called Blair a liar, until they were gagged. Before they moved into Iraq, British squaddies were forced to hand over their mobile phones to stop them reporting back home on the low level of morale and the atrocities happening in Iraq.
During the Vietnam War, US soldiers escaping the draft (conscription) were able to escape to Canada. Three soldiers have done just that, and are waiting to hear whether or not their claims for asylum are to be granted. If they are granted asylum, it will open the floodgates to US military personnel absconding across the border to Canada.
Even within the narrowly defined agenda of the neo-cons and neo-Fascists the war on Iraq is proving to be an unmitigated disaster.