Monday, October 13, 2003

This article was brought to my attention this morning. It seems our wicked, wicked government is raizing the palm groves of poor innocent Iraqis in Dhuluaya.

Patrick Cockburn says so, and Patrick Cockburn is a respectable reporter.

His other articles are full of references to the "Iraqi resistance". Half his articles are datelined "Baiji", or "Baghdad" just after scurrying back from Baiji, one of the most violent and Ba'athist towns in Iraq, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, and notable mostly for oil fires and roadside bombs. But he writes his articles as if it's representative of the whole of Iraq.

Patrick Cockburn says so, and Patrick Cockburn is a respectable reporter.

Well, let's see what Patrick Cockburn is saying as of this weekend.

US soldiers driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from loudspeakers,

"Jazz". What's the chance of Americans playing jazz in this Year of Our Lord 2003? For that matter, have you ever stood nearby a bulldozer in full roar? How much can you hear over the engine noise? Right.

have uprooted ancient groves of date palms as well as orange and lemon trees in central Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerrillas attacking US troops.

Ooo. Evil. This is phrased officially. Must be coalition policy. Horrible stuff. Except I don't see any sourcing here. Maybe later.

Nusayef Jassim, one of 32 farmers who saw their fruit trees destroyed, said: "They told us that the resistance fighters hide in our farms, but this is not true. They didn't capture anything. They didn't find any weapons."

Other farmers said that US troops had told them, over a loudspeaker in Arabic, that the fruit groves were being bulldozed to punish the farmers for not informing on the resistance which is very active in this Sunni Muslim district.

Well, that's sourcing. But it isn't exactly official, is it? Not to mention hearsay. Oh, lookie. There's that "resistance" word again. So much sweeter than "terror bombers and saboteurs", isn't it?

"They made a sort of joke against us by playing jazz music while they were cutting down the trees," said one man. Ambushes of US troops have taken place around Dhuluaya. But Sheikh Hussein Ali Saleh al-Jabouri, a member of a delegation that went to the nearby US base to ask for compensation for the loss of the fruit trees, said American officers described what had happened as "a punishment of local people because 'you know who is in the resistance and do not tell us'." What the Israelis had done by way of collective punishment of Palestinians was now happening in Iraq, Sheikh Hussein added.

Ahah! Sourcing! And its a... sheikh. In the heart of the Sunni Triangle. Well-informed one, too, who knows about Israeli occupation policies. Hrm.

The destruction of the fruit trees took place in the second half of last month but, like much which happens in rural Iraq, word of what occurred has only slowly filtered out. The destruction of crops took place along a kilometre-long stretch of road just after it passes over a bridge.

Wanna bet that road was a favored ambush site? Any takers? Didn't think so. So it wasn't just an arbitrary act. They were clearing an ambush site.

The same paper quotes Lt Col Springman, a US commander in the region, as saying: "We asked the farmers several times to stop the attacks, or to tell us who was responsible, but the farmers didn't tell us."

Hey! We've got official sourcing! But Cockburn didn't do it - he cribbed it from a local Iraqi paper - not a particularly pro-US one, but not voice-of-the-resistance to-the-barricades stuff, either. Let's go look for that article... blast, Iraq Today doesn't seem to have much in the way of archives.

Still, see the ambiguity? He doesn't explicitly make the connection - "punishment=bulldozing". In fact, it definitely seems to leave open the alternate explanation, that the locals weren't keeping bombers and ambushers from hiding in those groves, and they were leveled to reduce the threat to that road.

Informing US troops about the identity of their attackers would be extremely dangerous in Iraqi villages, where most people are related and everyone knows each other. The farmers who lost their fruit trees all belong to the Khazraji tribe and are unlikely to give information about fellow tribesmen if they are, in fact, attacking US troops.

That sucks, having to face either bankruptcy or the hatred of evil men. Even more so if it's your cousins. Or yourself.

Asked how much his lost orchard was worth, Nusayef Jassim said in a distraught voice: "It is as if someone cut off my hands and you asked me how much my hands were worth."

Yeah, not exactly an answer, is it?

Look, it's sad that economically valuable grove land had to be bulldozed under to provide security on a road. It would be even more sad if they had to destroy the villages they thought were hiding the bombers and saboteurs and ambushers. It would be absolutely horrific if they resorted to hangings and assassinations and murders and all the horrors of really dirty COIN war. Destroying a couple of acres of trees is a small price to pay. There are much higher prices to be paid in insurgency war, if it goes on too long or too far.

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