April 25, 2007

Meet the Iraqi Police in Kirkuk

Handcuffed Suspect 1.jpg

This is the second in a two part article. Read Part One, Where Kurdistan Meets the Red Zone, here. Scroll down for video.

KIRKUK, IRAQ – Kirkuk, like Baghdad, is one of the most dangerous places in the world. Car bombs, suicide attacks, shootings, and massacres erupt somewhere in the city every day. It is ethnically divided between Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmens, and is a lightning rod for foreign powers (namely Turkey at this time) that interfere in the city’s politics in the hopes of staving off an ethnic unraveling of their own.

The city’s terrorists are mostly Baathists, not Islamists, and their racist ideology casts Kurds and Turkmens as enemies. They’re boxed in on all sides, though, and have a hard time operating outside their own neighborhoods. In their impotent rage they murder fellow Arabs by the dozens and hundreds. They have, in effect, strapped suicide belts around their entire community while the Kurds and Turkmens shudder and fight to keep the Baath in its box.

Kurdish and Turkmen neighborhoods are safer than the Arab quarter, but the city is out of control. Car bombs can and do explode anywhere at any time.

Typical Kirkuk.jpg
Kirkuk, Iraq

I spent the day with Peshmerga General “Mam” (Uncle) Rostam and Kirkuk’s Chief of Police Major Sherzad at a house Mam Rostam uses a base in an old Arab neighborhood that now belongs to the Kurds. Just after lunch Major Sherzad’s walkie-talkie began urgently squawking.

Major Sherzad Walkie Talkie.jpg
Kirkuk Police Chief Major Sherzad answers a call from the station

“There has been a shooting,” he said. “Two men on a motorcycle rode down the street and fired a gun at people walking on the sidewalk. One of the men was apprehended. They are bringing him here.”

For some reason I assumed when the chief said “here” he meant the police station. He did not. He meant Mam Rostam’s.

“They will be here in two minutes,” the chief said.

“Here?” I said. “They’re bringing him here? To the house?”

“They will bring him here before taking him down to the station,” he said. “I’ll interrogate him here. I’m not going to feel good until I slap him.”

An Iraqi Police truck pulled up in front of the house and slammed on the brakes.

“Here he is,” the chief said.

I grabbed my video camera, flipped the switch to on, and ran out the door.

Both Major Sherzad and Mam Rostam slapped the suspect around, rifled through his personal items, and discovered the astonishingly stupid excuse he and his friend had for shooting at people – an even dumber excuse than if they had been political terrorists.

It was a strange and surprising interruption in the middle of a relaxed interview – basically an episode of Cops in Iraq.

Watch the video. Don’t continue reading until after you’ve watched the video.

The suspect was taken down to the station. Chief Sherzad went down there to interrogate the shooter – assuming the shooter actually turned himself in. Mam Rostam, my colleague Patrick Lasswell, our translator Hamid Shkak, and I returned to the porch and sat again in our plastic chairs.

“Where were we?” Mam Rostam said, as though nothing important had happened and we could return to our interview now. What else was there to talk about, though, aside from what had just happened? I still wasn’t sure who this guy was and why he and his friend were shooting at people.

“Those guys are not terrorists,” Mam Rostam said. “But they are troublemakers, young people messing around in the town. But we have to seize them and investigate them to find out why they are doing this. People think there are terrorists and that we are not taking care of it.”

“Well, what happened exactly?” I said. I obviously did not yet have an English-language transcript of the video. Our translator Hamid couldn’t hear everything that was said during the interrogation. “What makes you say he is not a terrorist? He was shooting at people.”

Mam Rostam 2.jpg
Peshmerga General “Mam” Rostam

“This guy’s identification card in his clothes, in his luggage, shows that he belongs to the Kurdistan Democratic Party,” Mam Rostam said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not a terrorist, but he’s not a stranger, he’s from the city, he’s known by people who work with the Peshmerga [the Iraqi Kurdish army]. But there are still some questions to be answered as soon as we capture the other guy.”

“You hit him very exactly, it seemed,” Patrick said. “You knew exactly how hard to hit him. His face wasn’t damaged. I would have broken his nose.”

Mam Rostam laughed. “He still seems like a teenager,” he said. “We have to fight them a little bit, to teach them not to do dangerous things, just to stop them where they are. They need to be adjusted more than they need to be punished. So we’re trying this stage with them first. If it doesn’t work, then there is another issue.”

“His teeth were still intact,” Patrick said.

Mam Rostam laughed again. “Those slaps were advice,” he said. “Because the city is unstable, we have to be a little bit violent with people to stop them. Otherwise they won’t be afraid to do many other evil actions. We have to be a little bit severe.”

Kirkuk Hideous.jpg
Everything in Kirkuk is severe.

“What do you think is going to happen in Kirkuk if the United States withdraws from Iraq next year?” I said, wondering if the city would become much severe very quickly.

“It will not be good,” Mam Rostam said. “Not for Iraq and especially not for Kirkuk. At a minimum there will be trouble with the neighbors, with Turkey and Iran. They will interfere.”

“They will interfere in Kirkuk in particular?” I said.

“Especially in Kirkuk,” Mam Rostam said. “Turkey is always interfering. But I believe the U.S. won’t leave Iraq until 2025. That’s my guess.”

“Even in 2025,” Patrick said, “you will ask us to stay longer for tea.”

Really. It’s hard to extract yourself from any kind of social event in the Middle East without being ordered to drink yet another tea.

“If America pulls out of Iraq, they will fail in Afghanistan,” Mam Rostam said.

Hardly anyone in Congress seems to consider that the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan might become much more severe if similar tactics are proven effective in Iraq.

“And they will fail with Iran,” he continued. “They will fail everywhere with all Eastern countries. The war between America and the terrorists will move from Iraq and Afghanistan to America itself. Do you think America will do that? The terrorists gather their agents in Afghanistan and Iraq and fight the Americans here. If you pull back, the terrorists will follow you there. They will try, at least. Then Iran will be the power in the Middle East. Iran is the biggest supporter of terrorism. They support Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Ansar Al Islam. You know what Iran will do with those elements if America goes away.”

I seriously doubt Iran would actually nuke Israel, as many fear, if the regime acquires nuclear weapons – although I’ll admit I’m a bit less certain of that than I am of, say, Britain and France not nuking Israel. The Iranian regime, most likely, wants an insurance policy against invasion and regime change. The ayatollahs will then be able to ramp up their imperial projects in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Gulf with impunity.

“Is Iran doing anything here with the Shia Arabs in Kirkuk?” I said. When Saddam Hussein ethnically cleansed Kurds from portions of Kirkuk he replaced many of them with Shia Arabs from Najaf and Karbala that he wished to be rid of. “And what about Moqtada al Sadr? Does he have a presence here?”

“Officially and obviously, no,” Mam Rostam said. “Neither the Iranians or Moqtada al Sadr exist here at all as far as we know. They might be here secretly. They probably are. But there is nothing official or apparent.”

Our encounter with the young punk of a Kurd notwithstanding, most of the violent troublemakers in Kirkuk are Arabs. Most of the victims of violence are Arabs, as well. While sitting a kilometer or so from Kirkuk’s Arab quarter I felt physically repulsed from the area. Going there without serious weapons and armor would be suicidal. What about average Arabs, though, in Kirkuk? They can’t all support the Baathists and Islamists.

“What do the Arabs who live here think of you?” I said to Mam Rostam. “And I mean the civilians, not the terrorist groups.”

General Rostam is well-known in Iraq as a formidable military leader and a genuine bad ass. His body is covered with battle scars, but he’s damn near invincible. He’s the last guy you want on your case if you work with Al Qaeda or the Baath.

Sherzad and Rostam.jpg
Major Sherzad (left), local tribal leader (center), Mam Rostam (right).

“I have good relations with them,” Mam Rostam said. “They come over to the house. Last time some of the Arab tribal leaders came over I took them to our headquarters in Suleimaniya. We enjoy our relations with them. We have no difficulties with them and no differences in our opinions.”

Don’t be surprised by his statement. Obviously he’s exaggerating to an extent. Somebody in that quarter doesn’t agree with his opinions or there wouldn’t be car bombs. But it’s only logical that a typical Arab in Kirkuk wishes to see an end to the insurgency and the terror campaign. Why wouldn’t they? Most of the bombs explode in their neighborhoods. Some of them kill hundreds of people. If the Kurds of Kirkuk live in fear of the bombs, imagine how most of the more-endangered Arabs must feel.

*

It was the end of the day and time for Patrick, our translator Hamid, and I to head back to the sanctity of the Kurdish autonomous region. There are no hotels in Kirkuk, and it would have been madness to spend the night in one if there were. Last year a reporter and a photographer from National Geographic were issued death threats by cell phone mere hours after they arrived in the city.

The three of us said our goodbyes to Mam Rostam after we finished our last glasses of tea. He told me to visit him again if I find myself in Kirkuk in the future while embedding with the American military.

“Do you know a safe way out of the city?” I said to Hamid, who was designated as permanent driver. “This is not the kind of place where we want to make a wrong turn and end up in the wrong neighborhood.”

Hamid Shkak 2.jpg
Hamid Shkak, driver and translator

We had nothing to worry about. Mam Rostam sent some of his men to guide us out of town in a convoy.

I kept snapping pictures on the way out. Kirkuk is unspeakably ugly. I felt gloomy and depressed just driving through in a car. It’s hard to believe people live in places like this and have to put up with its problems. The northern Kurdish cities of Dohuk, Erbil, and Suleimaniya are ramshackle and haywire compared with American cities, but they look like lovely Italian hill towns compared with Kirkuk. Perhaps it’s no surprise that some half-baked and immature individuals take to shooting at people on thrill rides to relieve the pressure.

Kirkuk Typical 3.jpg
A typical view of Kirkuk, Iraq, in the central government region

Dohuk Before Rain 2.jpg
A typical view of Dohuk, Iraq, in the Kurdish autonomous region.

“If the Los Angeles chief of police were caught slapping a suspect on video,” I said to Hamid as he drove, “he would likely be fired.”

Hamid bristled with annoyance. “Do you think American police officers could handle a city like Kirkuk?”

Actually, yes. I thought of that famous line in Casablanca when the German Major Strasser asked Rick, Humphrey Bogart’s character, if he could imagine Nazi troops in New York. “There are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.”

But that’s not the real reason. The real reason is that no American officers would join the Baath or Al Qaeda. Far too many officers do in Iraq, which makes a secure environment nearly impossible.

“I don’t mean it as a value judgment,” I said to Hamid. “That’s just how it is. Americans don’t tolerate police violence, even against someone who might deserve it. And yes, I think American police could handle a place like Kirkuk. At least we can be certain the police won’t defect and side with the terrorists, as they often do there.”

We arrived in Erbil, the capital of safe and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, in less than an hour. Central government territory is just a few minutes drive south of the city. It’s surreal that Erbil suffers no terrorism while Kirkuk explodes every day. There is no formal border between them, and you could ride a bicycle from one to the other in just a few hours.

There might as well be a border between them. I visited Iraqi Kurdistan four times in fourteen months. But I never felt like I’ve been to Iraq until I went to Kirkuk.

Iraq isn’t a country. It is a geographic abstraction.

Post-script: Patrick Lasswell also wrote about the police smackdown in Kirkuk, and he spent more time on that subject than I did.

Post-script: If you like what I write, don’t forget to pay me. Travel in Iraq is expensive, and I am not able to do this job without your financial assistance. If you haven’t donated before, please consider donating now. If you have donated before (and a thousand thanks for doing that), please remember that my expenses are ongoing and my donations need to be ongoing too.

(Email address for Pay Pal is michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com)

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Many thanks in advance.

All photos and video copyright Michael J. Totten

Posted by Michael J. Totten at April 25, 2007 02:11 AM

Comments

Michael:

Where I currently am Youtube is blocked, so I can't download your videos. Don't suppose its possible to mirror host them somewhere else is it?

I disagree with your asssessment that a regular US police force could handle Kirkuk; am a little surprised you would even consider the idea considering the history of our involvment in Iraq. Police work is one thing, fighting an insurgency is another; which is why military forces are required to provide the extra muscle and protection for the police. You have to have both to end an insurgency.

As far as slapping someone around, some people you can reason with, others you should be gentle with. Idiots like this character you knock him around a little and get his attention. It just might work - just because someone does a stupid dangerous act doesn't mean they are all bad. Taking the trouble to get his attention now might save a lot of trouble later on down the road. Physical force is a highly underrated motivational option in the politically correct US of A.

Love your reporting on the Kurds. Keep it up.

Posted by: H. Short at April 25, 2007 04:55 AM

Great reporting Michael.
It is amazing to think how rich and beautiful that city could be if they put aside their differences and developed their oil industry. It isn't easy of course, but the difference between what is and what could be is staggering.

Posted by: Keith at April 25, 2007 06:32 AM

Not to gainsay what you said about US police never joining an Al Qaeda or Baathist type party--but in the earlier parts of this century many US police did join a terrorist organization--the KKK. It would be interesting to compare the situations of the South (and Illinois) to Iraq today as regards to the stress between the federal agenda vs the local ethnic agendas in the police departments. What made those cops join the KKK? What made them quit? What will make the Iraqi cops stop joining the sects?

Posted by: ben at April 25, 2007 08:46 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 04/25/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by: David M at April 25, 2007 08:49 AM

Thanks for the work michael. excellent report.

abit of translation for that video which was not in the subtitles:

at start Mam Rostam asks the police cheif if he is a kurd and the police chief says "yes", Mam Rostam says "give him a good beating for that". which means he is deeply angry that a kurd is doing such stupid thing.

Regards,
Shvan

Posted by: Shvan at April 25, 2007 09:14 AM

One way to cut down on the "sect joining" would be to (but how?) block the sects from threatening family reprisals if an officer doesn't join. Especially difficult with the extended family/clan loyalties common there.

Posted by: Brian H at April 25, 2007 09:23 AM

I was in Kirkuk and met Mam and his remarkable compatriots. I smelled the tobacco and felt the force of character. I saw the land and heard the warning to all America as to what's at stake.
I even have the proof in photographs and video that I was there.

Michael, Haven't always seen eye to eye with your analysis visa vi Lebanon but this work is first rate. Bravo

Posted by: Rubin at April 25, 2007 11:54 AM

Michael, another blogger posted this same exact piece, with photos. Are you running around in a group?
http://www.moderaterisk.net/2007/04/community_policing_in_kirkuk.php

Posted by: Rey at April 25, 2007 01:26 PM

Yes, Rey, Patrick was my traveling companion. I wrote about him in the piece and linked to his blog at the end.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 25, 2007 01:41 PM

As someone who's been in Kirkuk since August 2006, I'd like to add a post-script to Mr. Totten's report. I patrol the streets, talk to all parties, and deal with the "much severe" every day. There are some additional details to this city that will provide further context to Mr Totten's article.

Most of the Iraqis I talk to have a less than favorable view of their city leaders, to say nothing of their central government. Corruption is rampant in their society, and almost anyone in a position of power is either a known crook or an unusually stealthy crook. As an example: despite substantial funding from Baghdad, the police lack serviceable weapons, ammunition, uniforms, and other very basic equipment. One of the main reasons? The supply chain which oversees the equipment turns a hefty profit off of these goods by selling them in the local markets rather than issuing them to the Iraqi Police. This is known by the city leadership and Coalition Forces, yet it continues unabated, often under the direction OF the city leaders.

That being said, the citizens of this city are amazingly resilient and upbeat people. Sure, they expect an infuriatingly frustrating amount of handouts from Americans. Yes, they sit around, watch embarrassing American TV shows, smoke a never ceasing chain of cigarettes and drink bottomless cups of chai when it seems like they should be chasing insurgents.

However, they are some of the bravest and most generous people I've ever met. The police face death, kidnapping, or horrible mutilation everytime they search a vehicle, arrest a suspect, or simply show up for work, yet they continue to volunteer in significant numbers. With some US prodding and oversight, schools are being built, water is being cleaned, trash is being picked up, and the city is beginning to look like any normal New Mexico town (sorry, New Mexico). Attacks are cyclical, and when there's a bad day its usually very bad, but on the whole the city has seen violence reduced over the past eight months.

We do expect violence to increase as we approach elections this coming fall. We do expect interference from Turkey and Iran. We know we will be successful in defeating these efforts. We don't expect our country to abandon the men and women we've worked side by side with for over four years. I implore all responsible Americans to hold our government to the commitment we made to the hundreds of thousands of people in this city and the millions across the rest of this blossoming democracy.

Posted by: Matt at April 25, 2007 02:01 PM

Yeah, I feel dumb. I didnt connect that Patrick was the blogger posting on the other site until after I posted my comment. Just thought someone was lifting your stuff.

Posted by: Re at April 25, 2007 04:35 PM

Re,

If someone is lifting my stuff, I definately want to know about. So I appreciate the concern, really. I have been plagiarized before (by a major publication), and I have a lawyer.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 25, 2007 04:37 PM

Michael,
just in case
and to be clear..
my tour through Kirkuk was not a literal trip, but a trip nonetheless taken upon the last two blog posts. >:

Posted by: Rubin at April 25, 2007 06:04 PM

Micheal,

Kirkuk is certainly important city in Iraq. As you know there is not only Kurds living there. Are you planning to talk to Turkmens and publish them on our site here? Or are you continue on publishing news related to Kurds only?

Regards,

Posted by: efe at April 25, 2007 06:12 PM

Michael, you were right about having video. I've always loved your articles, and pics, but video takes the reader to places a picture just can't. The video was good, and it made me feel like I was right there watching the arrest go down. I'm so excited that you have been able to add video to your work!

I also liked the way you put the two pics of Iraq (Kirkuk & Dohuk) next to each other for a good comparison. I've also enjoyed the teamwork between you and Patrick. You guys seem to work well together. I hope you are able to more of this in the future.

As far as the article goes, it's another good read. I've learned to love the Kurds thanks to this forum, and I thought this "encounter with a young punk of a Kurd" was handled well by the Kurds/Iraqi police, etc. Those slaps reminded me of some "Italian slaps" I've seen doled out at my friends house, lol.

My husband and I support our Troops, and we agree with what Mam Rostam said. We support the important work going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's too bad that a good portion of the MSM doesn't report the whole story so that more Americans can support the WoT as well, sigh. God bless our Troops, and the Coalition Forces. Thanks Michael.

Posted by: Renée C. at April 25, 2007 06:55 PM

Yeah, Michael, please share a bit more, perhaps inbetween stories, about the Turkmen. The little you mentioned previously was a pleasant surprise to me.

Posted by: Renée C. at April 25, 2007 06:58 PM

One thing that struck me in the video: the suspect, on the phone with his friend, says "Here is Kak Sherzad, speak with him." Is Maj. Sherzad so prominent in Kirkuk that the friend would know his name?

Great reporting as always, Michael. And I second the request for Turkmen coverage.

Posted by: Timothy at April 25, 2007 09:45 PM

Renee C.,

Turkmen (Turkomen) are not impossible to reach, but it is expensive to go to and stay in Iraq. This isn't (entirely) a pushing of the tip jar. We have to triage the hell out of our "To Do" list or we won't get anything done. There are several stories we really wanted to get that we didn't. That rat basta...excellent reporter Richard Miniter just got a story we wanted and worked to get but pulled back at the last minute so we could get this one.

Let me tell you a story...nah...I'll make it a post like I planned. Seriously, everytime we think we've run out of things to report on in Kurdistan, we find another six to ten stories to cover. Keep bugging us, especially when we are running up to our next trip and while we are there. It is harder for us to interview Iraqi Turkomen when we come back.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at April 25, 2007 11:42 PM

Amnesty International seems to think that being gay is enough to incur the abuse of American police officers. But being straight doesn\'t necessarily spare you a beatdown.

As for American cops not joining terrorists, I\'m afraid that\'s more than a little naive. Dirty cops exist everywhere. A quick trip to LA, Chicago, New York or Miami will show you that there are cops involved in all sorts of racketeering, drug dealing and whatnot.

And what about the Military Police in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and any number of secret American \"black sites\" scattered across Poland, Romania and elsewhere? Do Americans tolerate that?

Furthermore, how can you be so self-righteous about the terrorism created by the war that you supported and actively argued for?

(The picture of Dohuk is lovely, by the way.)

Posted by: Abu Lawrence at April 26, 2007 01:16 AM

Amnesty International seems to think that being gay is enough to incur the abuse of American police officers. But being straight doesn’t necessarily spare you a beatdown.

As for American cops not joining terrorists, I’m afraid that’s more than a little naive. Dirty cops exist everywhere. A quick trip to LA, Chicago, New York or Miami will show you that there are cops involved in all sorts of racketeering, drug dealing and whatnot.

And what about the Military Police in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and any number of secret American “black sites” scattered across Poland, Romania and elsewhere? Do Americans tolerate that?

Furthermore, how can you be so self-righteous about the terrorism created by the war that you supported and actively argued for?

Is it just me, or is there something a little off about your friend Patrick’s seeming approval of the violence?

“You hit him very exactly, it seemed,” Patrick said. “You knew exactly how hard to hit him. His face wasn’t damaged. I would have broken his nose.”

(The picture of Dohuk is lovely, by the way.)

Posted by: Abu Lawrence at April 26, 2007 01:23 AM

Amnesty International seems to think that being gay is enough to incur the abuse of American police officers. But being straight doesn’t necessarily spare you a beatdown.

As for American cops not joining terrorists, I’m afraid that’s more than a little naive. Dirty cops exist everywhere. A quick trip to LA, Chicago, New York or Miami will show you that there are cops involved in all sorts of racketeering, drug dealing and whatnot.

And what about the Military Police in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and any number of secret American “black sites” scattered across Poland, Romania and elsewhere? Do Americans tolerate that?

Furthermore, how can you be so self-righteous about the terrorism created by the war that you supported and actively argued for?

Is it just me, or is there something a little off about your friend Patrick’s seeming approval of the violence?

“You hit him very exactly, it seemed,” Patrick said. “You knew exactly how hard to hit him. His face wasn’t damaged. I would have broken his nose.”

(The picture of Dohuk is lovely, by the way.)

Posted by: Abu Lawrence at April 26, 2007 01:23 AM

As for American cops not joining terrorists, I’m afraid that’s more than a little naive. Dirty cops exist everywhere. A quick trip to LA, Chicago, New York or Miami will show you that there are cops involved in all sorts of racketeering, drug dealing and whatnot.

Americans also have a pretty low tolerance for dirty cops- pretty much every police department in an urban area has an Internal Affairs branch do deal with that- but there is a difference between a cop stealing drugs out of the evidence room or taking a payoff to ignore mobsters, and working for terrorists. Drug dealers and mobsters are just out to make a buck. Terrorists want to overthrow governments.

I know the line may seem fuzzy in other countries, especially because several terrorist organizations have turned to criminal activities for fundraising after the Soviet Union stopped sending them checks. In the US, the distinction is quite clear.

And what about the Military Police in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and any number of secret American “black sites” scattered across Poland, Romania and elsewhere? Do Americans tolerate that?

What is your specific grievance? There may be websites where merely saying "Guantanamo Bay" might be considered a valid argument, this isn't one of them.

Posted by: rosignol at April 26, 2007 01:56 AM

If you think that everyone you label as a terrorist wants to overthrow the government, you\'re sadly mistaken. Many of these people have no job but are armed, so racketeering, killing for money, kidnapping, drug-smuggling, arms traffic, etc. are all ways of making money, and as such are no different from dirty cops involved in crime in the US.

Terrorism is a criminal activity and a technique. It is not an ideology.

Are you serious? What is my grievance with places where torture is routine and where the rule of law, as set out by the Geneva conventions and monitored by the International Commission of the Red Cross, is systematically ignored? Do I really need to spell it out for you?

Here, I\'ll draw you a picture:

1. Totten makes a comment about police violence in Iraq and says that it is not tolerated in the US.
2. I mention several cases where American police brutality, to the level of torture and murder, has occurred and continues to occur.
3. I ask if that is tolerated by Americans.

That seems pretty straight forward to me. If you\'re not seeing the connection, you obviously don\'t want to.

Posted by: Abu Lawrence at April 26, 2007 02:39 AM

Americans may have a low tolerance for actual dirty cops, but I would be very surprised if even video of a cop cuffing a suspect like this would get one fired.

I actually think it's a stretch to call what Mam did "police violence." Maybe you can't see its real extent from the video, but it didn't look as rough as the horsing-around that occurs in any locker room with teen-aged boys.

Posted by: TW Andrews at April 26, 2007 06:06 AM

If you think that everyone you label as a terrorist wants to overthrow the government, you\'re sadly mistaken. Many of these people have no job but are armed, so racketeering, killing for money, kidnapping, drug-smuggling, arms traffic, etc. are all ways of making money, and as such are no different from dirty cops involved in crime in the US.

...except that motive is what differentiates terrorists from criminals.

Criminals want money.

Terrorists want to compel a government to make certain decisions.

Why is this so difficult to understand?

Terrorism is a criminal activity and a technique. It is not an ideology.

For terrorists, profit is a means to achieve a political or legal objective.

For a criminal, profit is the objective.

See the difference?

Are you serious? What is my grievance with places where torture is routine

Hardly. If it was routine, we wouldn't be sending people to prison for doing it.

and where the rule of law, as set out by the Geneva conventions and monitored by the International Commission of the Red Cross, is systematically ignored? Do I really need to spell it out for you?

I suggest you read the Geneva Conventions.

When you do, you will discover that the Geneva Conventions apply to two very specific groups:

1) Lawful combatants, who bear arms openly, make an effort to distinguish themselves from civilians, and are accountable to a chain of command that is part of a government which is party to the Geneva Conventions (and yes, all three criteria must be met)

and

2) noncombatant civilians, who do not bear arms or conduct offensive operations.

If someone is not in either category, the Geneva Conventions are not applicable.

So as far as al Qaeda or the other various jihadis are concerned, the GCs are irrelevant- by their own actions (specifically, their failure to honor the Geneva Conventions with regards to their prisoners) they have forfeited Geneva Convention protections and made themselves outlaw in the oldest sense of the word: someone not protected by law.

Do you understand the concept of reciprocity? That is the foundation every treaty is based on. The agreement is valid so long as both parties honor the agreement. If someone does not honor the agreement, the other party is released from it's obligation to honor it.

It's not a difficult concept to understand.

.....

More generally, any thinking person should be able to understand that if you extend the protections accorded uniformed soldiers to non-uniformed combatants, you eliminate the means soldiers use to distinguish combatants from civilians. This will ultimately result in more dead civilians.

On the other hand, if you extend the protections accorded to civilians to non-uniformed combatants, while denying those protections to uniformed soldiers, you eliminate the reason to use soldiers in combat (as opposed to funding insurgent proxies). This will also result in more dead civilians in the long run.

Posted by: rosignol at April 26, 2007 07:04 AM

MJT- I know you're sharp enough to know you're getting a 'best-of' tour of the Kurdish zone, but you may want to re-assess just how 'normal' things are outside of the cities.

If you are willing to ask your hosts some very uncomfortable questions, I would be very interested to hear what they have to say about this-

http://www.aina.org/news/20070425181603.htm

Posted by: rosignol at April 26, 2007 07:24 AM

yeah, right:

Abu Nidal and Carlos the Jackal weren't in it for the money, the IRA, ETA and the PKK didn't evolve into criminal racketeering networks - they were only making money for 'the cause'

you don't seem to know much about terrorists or terrorism

Posted by: novakant at April 26, 2007 08:22 AM

novakant,

Carlos and Abu Nidal were also crazy and got quite a lot of power from being terrorists. But they weren't in it for the bling and the hookers. Every interview with them indicates that they were sick bastards who really loved having an excuse to ruthlessly violate other humans.

One of the key differences here is that Chief Sherzad and General Mam Rostam are not sick and they are not out of control.

Abu Lawrence is tarring all US servicemen who handle prisoners with the same brush. He rather conveniently ignores every verifiable report on conduct in Guantanamo so he can focus on the truther party line. There is little point in arguing with him, he knows that he is right. In his special world, Chicago cops take money from Iranian agents and sneak suicide bombers into their district buildings all the time, because that's what all dirty cops do.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at April 26, 2007 09:14 AM

If the US had treated pursued the suspects of the terrorist attacks of 2001 with the means of traditional law enforcement, the Geneva Conventions would not apply. However, this is obviously not what happened. The US engaged in armed combat with Afghanistan, and as such the Conventions apply, since they are applicable to “all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties.” Both the US and Afghanistan are contracting parties.

So first of all, Taliban soldiers. As the military of the government of Afghanistan, these soldiers are obviously Prisoners of War and thus subject to the Geneva Conventions. That the US did not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan is irrelevant: Article 4 of the Third Convention states that “members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power” are covered.

Now to al-Qaida: Article 5 of the Third Convention states, “Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.”

Since the Convention covers “members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict, as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces,” and since many of the foreign nationals fighting in Afghanistan were part of the “55th Brigade” (which fell under the Taliban chain of command), there is some doubt as to which non-Afghan nationals were under Afghan control and which were not. Until the US conducts fair and legal tribunals for these people, even those who are not “lawful combatants” are to be legally treated as POWs.

Furthermore, Article 50 of Protocol I defines a civilian as such: “A civilian is any person who does not belong to one of the categories of persons referred to in Article 4 A (1), (2), (3) and (6) of the Third Convention and in Article 43 of this Protocol. In case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person shall be considered to be a civilian.”

Here, civilians are defined negatively, which is to say that they are defined in opposition to combatants. Legally speaking, then, if one is not a combatant, then one is a civilian. So, technically, no one is not covered by the Convention. But even in the (impossible) case that there were someone who doesn’t qualify as either combatant or civilian, Article 1 of Protocol I explicitly states how that person should be treated:

In cases not covered by this Protocol or by other international agreements, civilians and combatants remain under the protection and authority of the principles of international law derived from established custom, from the principles of humanity and from the dictates of public conscience.”

As for your claims about reciprocity, the fact that one side breaks international humanitarian law does not give the other side the right to do so as well. International humanitarian law is non-reciprocal and therefore different from much other international law in that the beneficiary of its norms are given protection even if they are in violation of those same norms. Simply put, two wrongs do not make a right in international humanitarian law. Any claim to the contrary betrays an obvious misunderstanding of one of the foundations of international humanitarian law.

Reprisals, which are unlawful acts done in response to other unlawful acts, are explicitly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions in Protocol I (Articles 20 and 51), Convention III (Article 13) and Convention IV (Article 33).

Finally, Chief Justice Aharon Barak of the Israeli High Court made a poignant argument when he ruled against the legality of the separation wall:

This is the destiny of a democracy: She does not see all means as acceptable, and the ways of her enemies are not always open before her. A democracy must sometimes fight with one arm tied behind her back. Even so, a democracy has the upper hand. The rule of law and individual liberties constitute an important aspect of her security stance. At the end of the day, they strengthen her spirit and this strength allows her to overcome her difficulties.”

Posted by: Abu Lawrence at April 26, 2007 09:17 AM

In response to the questions of motives for criminal and terrorist acts, it really depends. Just as many American soldiers are in Iraq and Afghanistan because of GI bills that pay for them to go to college rather than any lofty and abstract geopolitical ideology, many low-level foot soldiers, particularly in Iraq, are in it because it pays well.

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, for example, found documents to show that al-Qaida has a health programme for its members.

Assigning motive to individual members of the Iraqi insurgency, supporters of the Taliban or even al-Qaida foot soldiers without knowing the specifics of each case is just like assigning a party line to each and every American soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan. All of these groups have stated motives and strategies, but only as groups.

I suppose that there's an argument to be made for saying that in a volunteer army, militia or guerrilla force, individuals are responsible for the overall goals of the larger organization. But that would make it responsible for an American to be against the war while "supporting the troops," now wouldn't it?

Posted by: Abu Lawrence at April 26, 2007 09:46 AM

Abu Lawrence,

Just as many American soldiers are in Iraq and Afghanistan because of GI bills that pay for them to go to college rather than any lofty and abstract geopolitical ideology[...]

You are a twerp. You keep insulting American military personnel and you offer nothing decent in return. By describing a world filled with self-serving dupes you deny the honor and sacrifice of millions of people who have lofty ideologies and fulfill them with arduous and hazardous service.

Here's a piece of news for you, everybody in that video was committed to the security of Iraq, even the kid getting slapped. There were no terrorists in this instance, just a young man whose friend was an idiot. He was getting the treatment even after he showed he was part of a security force to teach him a lesson. That's how things work in the real world.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at April 26, 2007 10:06 AM

Rosignol,

Kirkuk is hardly part of a "best of" tour. It's more like a "worst of."

Also, that article you linked to is from Mosul, which is outside Kurdistan and very much a part of the Red Zone. Mosul is a terrible place, and too dangerous to visit without American military protection.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 26, 2007 11:28 AM

If financial reasoning has so little to do with the decision to join the military, then why do recruiters focus so much on under-priveleged neighbourhoods in the US? Why are so many American soldiers from poor and minority backgrounds?

If the decision to go into the military is only an ideological one, then why aren't you serving in Iraq right now since you seem to be so in line with American ideology abroad?

Saying that many people in the military are there because of financial concerns is not an insult; it's a reality. I'm not passing any kind of judgment here. I have personally known more than a few Americans who joined the military so that they could go to college or repay student loans; some of them were even in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you think that's an insult to them, maybe you should take it up with them, not me.

Obviously not all of those serving in the military do so for the financial or educational benefits, but to discount this is to live in an world of polyannish naiveté, where real-world concerns don't enter into your armchair quarterback view of militarism.

But don't take my word for it. University of Rochester economics professor Steven E. Landsburg has this to say about a volunteer army in his textbook Price Theory and Applications:

...the Selective Service Board will draft young people who are potentially brilliant brain surgeons, inventors and economists -- young people with high opportunity costs of entering the service -- and will leave undrafted some young people with much lower opportunity costs. The social loss is avoided under a voluntary system, in which precisely those with the lowest costs will volunteer.

Posted by: Abu Lawrence at April 26, 2007 11:48 AM

Abu Nidal and Carlos were undeniably motivated by money, that's not to say this was their only motivation - but you'll have a hard time attributing a consistent 'cause' to them qua being terrorists, as rosignol did

the cause is more prominent in the cases of the terrorist organizations mentioned, but it is important to note that such groups tend to develop a criminal socioeconomic dynamic of their own, which is unrelated to the cause they started out fighting for and in some cases supercedes it

the German RAF was different in this regard, not being interested in money, except to finance their actions, but ironically didn't really have much of a cause

the Italian mafia employs terrorist tactics and is motivated to a large extent by money

the point is that terrorism is a tactic used by very divergent people with very different motivations and lifestyles and only focussing on their actions, their evilness, perceived irrationality or proclaimed causes without seeing the larger picture doesn't help the analysis - if you want to defeat them you have to understand them first

Posted by: novakant at April 26, 2007 11:58 AM

...al-Qaida has a health programme for its members

Now that's an incentive to blow yourself up....

Posted by: mertel at April 26, 2007 12:11 PM

Do you understand the concept of reciprocity? That is the foundation every treaty is based on. The agreement is valid so long as both parties honor the agreement. If someone does not honor the agreement, the other party is released from it's obligation to honor it.

Oh my god - the whole criminal justice system is deeply flawed. We grant horrible criminals all these wonderful rights and they don't play by the rules at all, keep on killing people and stuff. I say, let's just whack 'em all.

Posted by: novakant at April 26, 2007 12:51 PM

Novakant: Why are so many American soldiers from poor and minority backgrounds?

Partly for economic reasons, as you say, but also for cultural reasons. Working class people have more respect for the military, in general, than middle class and elite people do. Come out to my state of Oregon some time and see which cities and neighborhoods display open support for the military and which ones tend not to.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 26, 2007 01:01 PM

"Come out to my state of Oregon some time and see which cities and neighborhoods display open support for the military and which ones tend not to."

Painfully true, Michael. I live in Portland, and have visited many other small towns in this State and elsewhere. What you did not mention was the most obvious corellation. The big towns are dominated by those more affected with their high degree of academic matriculation. The more time most populations have spent inside academia, the more of them will oppose the predominant culture of the US, in almost anything!

That's the effect we saw when giving talks on Space Industry. When we talk of space pioneering in Portland, we get a few interested people, but many more who are afraid we are trying to repeat in Space the disenfranchisement/destruction of the Chinookian speaking tribes that used to live here.

When we give the same talks at a fair in a place like the Rogue River valley, we have had to schedule for multiple talks, because the room couldn't hold all the people interested. There were kids who came back to hear every repetition of that talk, and asked good questions each time. Not surprisingly, they were miner's kids.

It was typical of the matriculated that your Abu Lawrence quoted an academic who obviously used a single factor for his opportunity cost analysis, their future earning ability. Indeed there is no indication that he would factor in the particular non-monetary cost that so many who serve in the military pay attention to. That is the cost of a successful continuing assault on industrial society by reactionaries, to the people who serve, and to their families, and all they hold dear.

Indeed the US military has a higher percentage of high school graduates than the general population. The officer corps has a higher percentage of graduate degrees than the general population who have 4 year degrees.

They are, simply, among the people who have not been taken in by the academic assault on industrial culture. In this they are definitely different.

As are you, in your own way.

Regards,

Tom Billings

Posted by: Tom Billings at April 26, 2007 08:13 PM

This is the most interesting debate I've ever seen in this comment section that didn't involve me. :-D

More generally, any thinking person should be able to understand that if you extend the protections accorded uniformed soldiers to non-uniformed combatants, you eliminate the means soldiers use to distinguish combatants from civilians. This will ultimately result in more dead civilians.

This one seems iffy, there are lots of ways to tell combatants from civilians besides slapping them around, and slapping them around does not solve the problem, as many nasty nations can report.

On the other hand, if you extend the protections accorded to civilians to non-uniformed combatants, while denying those protections to uniformed soldiers, you eliminate the reason to use soldiers in combat (as opposed to funding insurgent proxies). This will also result in more dead civilians in the long run.

This is maybe the best iteration I've ever seen of this POV, roz, but you realize that your second paragraph basically describes the twentieth century, right? I'm not sure, empirically, that you're correct that more civilians are dying. So, you have to question the whole thesis that insurgent proxies are more lethal than armies, or else find some other factors that overcompensate for this alledged effect.

Meanwhile:

Oh my god - the whole criminal justice system is deeply flawed. We grant horrible criminals all these wonderful rights and they don't play by the rules at all, keep on killing people and stuff. I say, let's just whack 'em all.

Amen.

On the other hand, Mike Totten is right in his general point about differing standards of police violence, but it's also possible to make the point that Mam Rostam is possibly (probably?) relatively less violent, by comparison, than any competing authority figures in the area. Often in a given environment, the least violent guy is the best option available, so there's no point in bringing him down too much.

So, to disagree with a liberal for once:

Amnesty International seems to think that being gay is enough to incur the abuse of American police officers. But being straight doesn\'t necessarily spare you a beatdown.

As for American cops not joining terrorists, I\'m afraid that\'s more than a little naive. Dirty cops exist everywhere. A quick trip to LA, Chicago, New York or Miami will show you that there are cops involved in all sorts of racketeering, drug dealing and whatnot.

Abu, if you're trying to make the case that America has not achieved perfect intolerance of police violence, I'm sure you're right. Probably other countries do better than us. I'm pretty sure we make a heck of a lot more effort to stop it than the Kurds - who make more effort to stop it than the Iraqi Army - who make more effort to stop it than Al-Sadr - who make more effort to stop it than the Baathists - who make more effort to stop it than Al- Queida. In roughly that order.

You seem to be equating psychopathic violence in Iraqi security forces to that in American security forces. That's a false equivalence. One thing you can learn from reading quotes from Iraqis over a few years is that they have a lot more casual relationship with violence than your average American. Pretending otherwise reminds me of the naivete i'd expect from a neoconservative.

Posted by: glasnost at April 26, 2007 09:40 PM

This is the most interesting debate I've ever seen in this comment section that didn't involve me. :-D

More generally, any thinking person should be able to understand that if you extend the protections accorded uniformed soldiers to non-uniformed combatants, you eliminate the means soldiers use to distinguish combatants from civilians. This will ultimately result in more dead civilians.

This one seems iffy, there are lots of ways to tell combatants from civilians besides slapping them around, and slapping them around does not solve the problem, as many nasty nations can report.

On the other hand, if you extend the protections accorded to civilians to non-uniformed combatants, while denying those protections to uniformed soldiers, you eliminate the reason to use soldiers in combat (as opposed to funding insurgent proxies). This will also result in more dead civilians in the long run.

This is maybe the best iteration I've ever seen of this POV, roz, but you realize that your second paragraph basically describes the twentieth century, right? I'm not sure, empirically, that you're correct that more civilians are dying. So, you have to question the whole thesis that insurgent proxies are more lethal than armies, or else find some other factors that overcompensate for this alledged effect.

Meanwhile:

Oh my god - the whole criminal justice system is deeply flawed. We grant horrible criminals all these wonderful rights and they don't play by the rules at all, keep on killing people and stuff. I say, let's just whack 'em all.

Amen.

On the other hand, Mike Totten is right in his general point about differing standards of police violence, but it's also possible to make the point that Mam Rostam is possibly (probably?) relatively less violent, by comparison, than any competing authority figures in the area. Often in a given environment, the least violent guy is the best option available, so there's no point in bringing him down too much.

So, to disagree with a liberal for once:

Amnesty International seems to think that being gay is enough to incur the abuse of American police officers. But being straight doesn\'t necessarily spare you a beatdown.

As for American cops not joining terrorists, I\'m afraid that\'s more than a little naive. Dirty cops exist everywhere. A quick trip to LA, Chicago, New York or Miami will show you that there are cops involved in all sorts of racketeering, drug dealing and whatnot.

Abu, if you're trying to make the case that America has not achieved perfect intolerance of police violence, I'm sure you're right. Probably other countries do better than us. I'm pretty sure we make a heck of a lot more effort to stop it than the Kurds - who make more effort to stop it than the Iraqi Army - who make more effort to stop it than Al-Sadr - who make more effort to stop it than the Baathists - who make more effort to stop it than Al- Queida. In roughly that order.

You seem to be equating psychopathic violence in Iraqi security forces to that in American security forces. That's a false equivalence. One thing you can learn from reading quotes from Iraqis over a few years is that they have a lot more casual relationship with violence than your average American. Pretending otherwise reminds me of the naivete i'd expect from a neoconservative.

Posted by: glasnost at April 26, 2007 09:41 PM

Crap. Feel free to delete those duplications.

Posted by: glasnost at April 26, 2007 09:45 PM

"They are, simply, among the people who have not been taken in by the academic assault on industrial culture."

Geez, Tom, what a load of crap.

I've seen rural Oregon. Beautiful country.

But outside of a few playgrounds for the wealthy (Bend, Cannon Beach), all I saw was poverty and rotting industrial graveyards...and WalMarts every 30 miles or so.

Kirkuk looks pretty good in comparison to rural Oregon.

Posted by: alphie at April 27, 2007 12:36 AM

Alphie: Kirkuk looks pretty good in comparison to rural Oregon.

That's complete and utter horseshit, and you know it.

Alphie: I've seen rural Oregon. Beautiful country.

See?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 27, 2007 12:57 AM

Michael,

Humans can take no credit for an area's natural beauty.

Kirkuk represents an Iraqi failure.

Rural Oregon represents an American failure.

The only other place I've seen in America with such abject poverty is Appalachia.

Judging by all the abandon lumber mills and fish processing factories I saw there, I'd guess American "industrial society" shipped all the jobs overseas.

Posted by: alphie at April 27, 2007 01:41 AM

Oh, for God's sake Alphie, rural Oregon isn't a failure. Where, exactly, have you witnessed this supposed collapsed industrial society you speak of? I have been down literally every road in this state, and I drove across the entire continent last year. Rural Oregon isn't the richest countryside in America, but it is by no means the poorest. Not even close.

I just got home from IRAQ. You have no idea, obviously, how galactically superior Oregon is to Iraq. Comparing Oregon to Kirkuk makes you look like an extreme idiot with absolutely no world perspective at all.

You (apparently) haven't seen Ashland or Hood River or Joseph or Sisters or Jacksonville or Enterprise or Silverton or, it seems, anywhere in the Willamette Valley beyond Portland, let alone the Hood River Valley, the Columbia River Gorge, or the Oregon Coast beyond Cannon Beach.

Burns, I'll grant you. Burns is a hole. So are Springfield and The Dalles.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 27, 2007 02:00 AM

Michael,

You do realize I was (mostly) joking with my comparison, don't you?

I was replying to Tom's rant about rural Oregonians resisting the "reactionaries assault on industrialized society."

The only industry I saw still operating in rural Oregon was one rather nice cheese factory.

Posted by: alphie at April 27, 2007 03:15 AM

If financial reasoning has so little to do with the decision to join the military, then why do recruiters focus so much on under-priveleged neighbourhoods in the US? Why are so many American soldiers from poor and minority backgrounds?

They aren't. While military service is a good way for people of limited financial means to learn a trade or save for college, such people are not significantly over-represented in the US military.

http://www.heritage.org/Research/NationalSecurity/cda05-08.cfm

If you believe that the US military goes after underprivileged, poorly educated minorities and uses them as fodder for combat units, you could not be more wrong.

Take a look-

http://icasualties.org/oif/ETHNICITY.aspx

For your convenience, the Heritage link above has a table on US military recruits by race-

http://www.heritage.org/Research/NationalSecurity/images/table3.gif

- which show that both the composition of the overall military, as well as the casualties sustained in Iraq, are roughly in line with the US population.

If the decision to go into the military is only an ideological one, then why aren't you serving in Iraq right now since you seem to be so in line with American ideology abroad?

Ah, the chickenhawk argument. I was wondering how long it would be before you resorted to that.

If someone's opinions on military actions can be dismissed on the basis of that person not being a member of the military, is it also logically valid to dismiss the opinions of people who are not politicians on political issues?

How about the opinion of non-Iraqis on Iraq?

Non-Lebanese on Lebanon?

Non-Americans on America?

The answer to this question was figured out a very long time ago. Attacking the person making the argument, instead of addressing the argument itself, is an ad hominem argument, and is not logically valid. A good idea is a good idea regardless of who is promoting it, a bad idea remains a bad idea in the same situation.

[this is particularly important to remember when dealing with someone who has such poor taste that they chose the russian word for 'openness' for their pseudonym] ;-)

The chickenhawk argument is not a valid debating point. It is an attempt to end debate and drive other points of view from public discourse by implying that the speaker is a hypocrite and a coward.

Saying that many people in the military are there because of financial concerns is not an insult; it's a reality. I'm not passing any kind of judgment here. I have personally known more than a few Americans who joined the military so that they could go to college or repay student loans; some of them were even in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you think that's an insult to them, maybe you should take it up with them, not me.

Did you bother to ask them if those were the primary reasons for doing so, or if they were secondary considerations? If you are still in touch with them, please ask, it sounds like the answers may surprise you.

In any case, it is now April of 2007. Everyone who joined after September 12, 2001 did so knowing that being deployed in harm's way was not just a possibility, it was likely. The standard contract is 4 years active duty, it is reasonable to assume that everyone who wanted the financial benefits but was not willing to face combat has left the service.

Obviously not all of those serving in the military do so for the financial or educational benefits, but to discount this is to live in an world of polyannish naiveté, where real-world concerns don't enter into your armchair quarterback view of militarism.

I would say that volunteering to join the military- any military- and not being willing to face combat and risk death goes well beyond mere naivete and into the land of the utterly stupid.

The business of the military is killing the enemy and wrecking their stuff, if you try to carry out these missions, it is expected that the enemy will try to prevent you from doing this by attempting to kill you and wrecking your stuff.

But don't take my word for it. University of Rochester economics professor Steven E. Landsburg has this to say about a volunteer army in his textbook Price Theory and Applications:

[...]

Professor Landsburg has identified one of the many reasons a volunteer military is superior to a conscripted military, however, the primary reason the US has a volunteer military is not economic, but political.

-----

ps to MJT: Oregon is, with all due respect, a bit weird, Portland even more so. In the rest of the country, the ones who show the most respect for the military are the lower and middle class neighborhoods, and the ones most commonly expressing disdain are the over-educated types (not necessarily the same thing as the upper class).

Posted by: rosignol at April 27, 2007 04:36 AM

Do you know what I find strange? All the guys have really, really good haircuts. The motorcycle guy even has his hair styled.

Posted by: Solomon2 at April 27, 2007 07:13 AM

More generally, any thinking person should be able to understand that if you extend the protections accorded uniformed soldiers to non-uniformed combatants, you eliminate the means soldiers use to distinguish combatants from civilians. This will ultimately result in more dead civilians. -me

This one seems iffy, there are lots of ways to tell combatants from civilians besides slapping them around, and slapping them around does not solve the problem, as many nasty nations can report. -not me

Yeah, but you generally have to get within a few meters to do it. An AK-47 is effective out to about 200-300 meters, and fires a round that is quite capable of penetrating most body armor (which is only really intended to protect from pistols and shrapnel). A guy wearing an explosive belt can probably kill everyone within 10 meters. A car bomb can kill everyone within 30-50 meters.

How close do you, a soldier, want to let those civilians(?) get when your life is riding on the answer?

This is not a hypothetical situation, it's what soldiers in Iraq have to deal with constantly, and they only have to screw up once to end up dead.

On the other hand, if you extend the protections accorded to civilians to non-uniformed combatants, while denying those protections to uniformed soldiers, you eliminate the reason to use soldiers in combat (as opposed to funding insurgent proxies). This will also result in more dead civilians in the long run. -me

This is maybe the best iteration I've ever seen of this POV, roz, but you realize that your second paragraph basically describes the twentieth century, right?

I am very aware of that. It is the primary reason I believe non-uniformed combatants should be punished harshly, and that the people who fund, equip, and command such people should be punished even more harshly.

Ideally, warfare would only be engaged in by uniformed soldiers accountable to a national government.

I'm not sure, empirically, that you're correct that more civilians are dying. So, you have to question the whole thesis that insurgent proxies are more lethal than armies, or else find some other factors that overcompensate for this alledged effect.

The majority of the dead are almost always civilians, even when the war is being fought by soldiers vs other soldiers.

This is basically unavoidable in the total-war era, as infrastructure that supports the war effort is considered a legitimate target. Usually, such facilities are full of civilians, who are employed producing military equipment or other supplies, or is a dual-use facility that serves civilian needs in addition to military needs (power plants, for example). The only thing that can be done to avoid this (beyond having national leaders- in all relevant countries- wise enough to resolve disputes without resorting to war) is to fight using means that will bring the conflict to an end as quickly as possible.

The problem is that the involvement of insurgents and irregulars extends the duration of the conflict dramatically, and insurgents (in particular) frequently take harsh measures against the civilian population to eliminate collaborators and informants. Soldiers don't need to do this, because they do not try to "swim among the masses like fish swim in the sea" in order to avoid being identified as combatants and being dealt with accordingly.

Posted by: rosignol at April 27, 2007 07:30 AM

I second the pro-Oregon comments. My wife and I went to Oregon last weekend for a visit; it is great there. If Kirkuk is like rural Oregon then they must have great wineries.

Posted by: Keith at April 27, 2007 07:33 AM

In the rest of the country, the ones who show the most respect for the military are the lower and middle class neighborhoods, and the ones most commonly expressing disdain are the over-educated types (not necessarily the same thing as the upper class). That's a hell of a generalization. And it's really an urban/rural split almost as much as a class split. I grew up with working class/rural Americans who have a lot of respect for veterans and for people who serve, but I've heard plenty of cynicism about the military as an organization, and plenty of dislike of officers. I've heard just as much vituperation towards Bush/Rumsfeld and the brass from working class people as I have from academics. On the other hand, in my experience anyone in academia who comes into contact with our officer class - and a lot of officers do programs at places like Harvard's Kennedy school and Stanford - are uniformly impressed by the calibre of our officers, who are generally extremely articulate and hardworking. I know for a fact that consulting firms - where the elite like to meet - look very favorably on service in the armed forces. I've spent time with officers of the Chinese, Russian, British and US armed forces and our guys are cleary much better than the Chinese and Russians. When it comes to officers Patrick is right - they definitely are not in it for the money, and they have a high level of dedication. Larry's probably closer to the truth though when it comes to our enlisted men - it's a mix like any large organization will be, with plenty of people who are motivated by money, by the chance to get out of a small town, or even by the chance to play with deadly weapons. Pretending all our soldiers are saints is ridiculous, the US is after all a country that founded on the principle that large standing militaries of professional soldiers are a bad bad thing.

Posted by: vanya at April 27, 2007 07:44 AM

According to the 2002 report by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness entitled “Population Representation in the Military Services: Fiscal Year 2002,” for enlisted soldiers, minorities, and particularly blacks (although not Hispanics) are overrepresented in the military.

Race/Ethnicity. The military attracts and retains higher proportions of Blacks and "Other" minority groups but lower proportions of Hispanics than are in the civilian labor force. As Table 3.3 indicates, the overall proportion of enlisted minorities was higher than in the civilian labor force in FY 2002 (38 and 32 percent, respectively). However, Hispanics were underrepresented among enlisted members (10 percent versus 14 percent). In FY 2002, 22 percent of the enlisted force was Black, compared with 13 percent of the civilian labor force (18–44 year-olds). The Army had the highest proportion of Black enlisted members in FY 2002 (28 percent).

Changes over time in the percentage of Black enlisted members in each Service are
shown in Figure 3.3. Black soldiers in the Army increased from 18 percent in FY 1973 to a high of 33 percent in FY 1981. That proportion decreased to 30 percent by the mid-1980s, in large part due to an increase in entrance standards and the Army's decision not to renew enlistment contracts of low-scoring members who entered during the ASVAB misnorming. The proportion of Blacks in the Army has decreased slightly during the past 10 years, from 32 percent in FY 1990 to 28 percent in FY 2002. The Marine Corps has experienced slight decreases in Blacks during recent years too. Decreases in the Army and Marine Corps parallel the drop in minority accessions in FY 1991 and the concomitant decrease in the propensity to enlist among Black youth. The Navy, on the other hand, has exhibited a consistent long-term increase in the proportion of Blacks, from 8 percent in FY 1973 to 21 percent in FY 2002. In all Services, the percentage of female members who are Black significantly exceeds the percentage of male members who are Black, 34 percent compared to 20 percent for all Services in FY 2002 (Appendix Table B-25).

In the introduction to this report, it states that minorities are not overrepresented, but when you focus only on enlisted soldiers (something the report waits until page 68 to do), you see that it is a different story altogether.

It breaks down like this:

White: 62% military v. 68.4% civilian
Black: 21.8% military v. 12.6% civilian
Hispanic: 10.0 military v. 13.0% civilian
“Other”: 6.3% military v. 5.1% civilian

As for education, the results are similar:

While the percentage of enlisted soldiers with high school diplomas or GEDs is generally higher than the population at large (this makes sense because that is one of the requirements for enlisting), when you look at the percentage with any college experience, the difference is striking:

Army: 10.7%
Navy: 5.9%
Marine Corps: 3.4%
Air Force: 87.8%
Overall DoD: 10.1%

Civilian population: 56.2%

I’m not sure why this is, but the Air Force is an outlier for both college education and ethnic make up. The Air Force is, for the most part, white (71.8%) and college educated (87.8%).

Posted by: Abu Lawrence at April 27, 2007 08:21 AM

Sorry, I screwed up the italics on that one. You can delete the first post:

According to the 2002 report by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness entitled “Population Representation in the Military Services: Fiscal Year 2002,” for enlisted soldiers, minorities, and particularly blacks (although not Hispanics) are overrepresented in the military.

Race/Ethnicity. The military attracts and retains higher proportions of Blacks and "Other" minority groups but lower proportions of Hispanics than are in the civilian labor force. As Table 3.3 indicates, the overall proportion of enlisted minorities was higher than in the civilian labor force in FY 2002 (38 and 32 percent, respectively). However, Hispanics were underrepresented among enlisted members (10 percent versus 14 percent). In FY 2002, 22 percent of the enlisted force was Black, compared with 13 percent of the civilian labor force (18–44 year-olds). The Army had the highest proportion of Black enlisted members in FY 2002 (28 percent).

Changes over time in the percentage of Black enlisted members in each Service are shown in Figure 3.3. Black soldiers in the Army increased from 18 percent in FY 1973 to a high of 33 percent in FY 1981. That proportion decreased to 30 percent by the mid-1980s, in large part due to an increase in entrance standards and the Army's decision not to renew enlistment contracts of low-scoring members who entered during the ASVAB misnorming. The proportion of Blacks in the Army has decreased slightly during the past 10 years, from 32 percent in FY 1990 to 28 percent in FY 2002. The Marine Corps has experienced slight decreases in Blacks during recent years too. Decreases in the Army and Marine Corps parallel the drop in minority accessions in FY 1991 and the concomitant decrease in the propensity to enlist among Black youth. The Navy, on the other hand, has exhibited a consistent long-term increase in the proportion of Blacks, from 8 percent in FY 1973 to 21 percent in FY 2002. In all Services, the percentage of female members who are Black significantly exceeds the percentage of male members who are Black, 34 percent compared to 20 percent for all Services in FY 2002 (Appendix Table B-25).

In the introduction to this report, it states that minorities are not overrepresented, but when you focus only on enlisted soldiers (something the report waits until page 68 to do), you see that it is a different story altogether.

It breaks down like this:

White: 62% military v. 68.4% civilian
Black: 21.8% military v. 12.6% civilian
Hispanic: 10.0 military v. 13.0% civilian
“Other”: 6.3% military v. 5.1% civilian

As for education, the results are similar:

While the percentage of enlisted soldiers with high school diplomas or GEDs is generally higher than the population at large (this makes sense because that is one of the requirements for enlisting), when you look at the percentage with any college experience, the difference is striking:

Army: 10.7%
Navy: 5.9%
Marine Corps: 3.4%
Air Force: 87.8%
Overall DoD: 10.1%

Civilian population: 56.2%

I’m not sure why this is, but the Air Force is an outlier for both college education and ethnic make up. The Air Force is, for the most part, white (71.8%) and college educated (87.8%).

Posted by: Abu Lawrence at April 27, 2007 08:29 AM

If the decision to go into the military is only an ideological one, then why aren't you serving in Iraq right now since you seem to be so in line with American ideology abroad?

Ah, the chickenhawk argument. I was wondering how long it would be before you resorted to that.

If someone's opinions on military actions can be dismissed on the basis of that person not being a member of the military, is it also logically valid to dismiss the opinions of people who are not politicians on political issues?

How about the opinion of non-Iraqis on Iraq?

Non-Lebanese on Lebanon?

Non-Americans on America?

The answer to this question was figured out a very long time ago. Attacking the person making the argument, instead of addressing the argument itself, is an ad hominem argument, and is not logically valid. A good idea is a good idea regardless of who is promoting it, a bad idea remains a bad idea in the same situation.

That would be one thing if the discussion were not about the motives that lead one to enlist in the military. Since the motives of individuals are at issue here, the argument is obviously and necessarily based on the person.

So if someone says that ideology is a better indicator of enlisting in the military than is socio-economic levels, it makes sense to ask why ideology seems to be a poor indicator for his decision to enlist or to remain a civilian.

So since the opinion being expressed is about one's motives for joining the military rather than what the military should be used for, your little spiel about ad hominem arguments is what we call a non sequitur. (Since I'm not a dick and don't feel the need to talk down to you, I won't define that one for you.)

As for my friends, of the three that are in the US military, one is a white enlisted guy from rural America, another a black enlisted guy from urban American, and the third is an officer in the Navy who went to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. The first two joined because they needed money to go to college, but were neither economically underprivileged enough to get the need-based scholarships necessary for them to go to school nor financially privileged enough to not have to worry about paying for school. They were both from the lower-middle class. The third friend went because he was interested in a career in the military as an officer, and as a Math/Science student, the Navy offered good prospects for him. He was from a solidly middle-class background.

I've had long and hard talks with all three of them, and all of them have very mixed feelings about the track the country was on and the role that they play in American foreign policy. The first voted for Bush both times, the latter two neither.

But at the end of the day, those are just anecdotes, and I think the military's own stats speak more clearly about the make-up of enlisted soldiers.

As for the idea that people from rural and lower/working class backgrounds have more deference for the military, that may or may not be true. But if it is true, it would be difficult to say if that is a cause or an effect of heightened military enrollment. After all, if more people with those backgrounds enlist, then it stands to reason that those who know them personally, their friends and family, are likely to have more respect for their choice to enlist in the military.

Finally, this article is an interesting read for those interested in recruiting techniques at high schools:

Military recruiting saturates life at McDonough High, a working-class public school where recruiters chaperon dances, students in a junior ROTC class learn drills from a retired sergeant major in uniform, and every prospect gets called at least six times by the Army alone.

Recruiters distribute key chains, mugs, and military brochures at McDonough's cafeteria. They are trained to target students at schools like McDonough across the country, using techniques such as identifying a popular student -- whom they call a "center of influence" -- and conspicuously talking to that student in front of others.

Meanwhile, at McLean High, a more affluent public school 37 miles away in Virginia, there is no military chaperoning and no ROTC class. Recruiters adhere to a strict quota of visits, lining up behind dozens of colleges. In the guidance office, military brochures are dwarfed by college pennants. Posters promote life amid ivy-covered walls, not in the cockpits of fighter jets.

Students from McDonough are as much as six times more likely than those from McLean to join the military, a disparity that is replicated elsewhere. A survey of the military's recruitment system found that the Defense Department zeroes in on schools where students are perceived to be more likely to join up, while making far less effort at schools where students are steered toward college.

...The Defense Department does not track the socioeconomic background of its recruits, although Rangel has commissioned a Government Accountability Office study of the matter. The military also does not collect data for how many recruits it gets from which high schools; that information gets no higher than local recruiting commands.

But in 1999, the RAND Corp. conducted a study seeking patterns among qualified high school seniors.

"It turned out that kids who were of upper income were more likely to go to college, but it also turned out that kids from lower incomes had better chances of getting need-based financial aid to college," said Beth Asch, a RAND military personnel analyst. "So when you look at who goes to the military, you tend to get those in the middle."

Local recruiters use a computer system that combines socioeconomic data from the census, high school recruiting data for all four services, ZIP codes with high numbers of young adults, and other information to identify the likeliest candidates.

The obvious school districts that get screened out are those affluent enough that most of their students are probably college-bound. But recruiters also put less energy into underclass high schools, because they do not want prospects who might be ineligible because they drop out of school, have criminal records, or do not score high enough on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

Posted by: Abu Lawrence at April 27, 2007 09:06 AM

I am very aware of that. It is the primary reason I believe non-uniformed combatants should be punished harshly, and that the people who fund, equip, and command such people should be punished even more harshly.

Right, but my point was that there's nothing severely wrong with the current state of affairs. Arguably it's hard on uniformed soldiers, but I'm not sure the overall lethality of civilians to violence, globally, is up. I think it's down.
See, your supposed 'solution' set, in practice, leads to horrifically violent mass punitive campaigns a la the Nazis vs. the Serbs. I'm not sure that's what you were intending to suggest, but I don't see how we can be harsher than what we're already doing, which is killing them, without... well, killing anyone who might be them on sight, and we all know what happens when we start using those kinds of rules of engagement. So, if your concern is that irregular warfare extends conflicts and makes more people die, I'm not sure it's accurate. 60 million people died in World War II, which was the point at which genuine industrial warfare became almost universally prohibitively sacrificial. For everyone. Irregular warfare in most cases, even at its most brutal, quite likely kills less people than the equivalent industrial warfare. That's why it's used.

Case in point: Iran-Iraq war vs. current scenario

Posted by: glasnost at April 27, 2007 11:32 AM

Perhaps I missed (in the midst of all the academia regurgitation) the stats on patriotism...

My nephew (who falls in the 62%, high school grad, upper-middle class category) joined the Navy because 9-11 ticked him off and he wanted to be on the team who's putting their money where their mouth is!

He sacrificed going right on in to college, but he plans to go later. I am extremely proud of him and his patriotism!

By the way Michael & Pat...you're doing a heckuva job and thanks for all your hard work as well as keeping us informed. Be careful.

Posted by: Hal at April 28, 2007 01:19 AM

Wow
Abu Lawrence do you have any thing to do in your life besides commenting in the Michael’s blog?
Let see April 26 1:16 am 1:23 am 2:39 am 9:16am 9:46am 11:48 am.
April 27 8:21 am 9:00 am
I think if there is any thing as the best comment spammer of the year you will be….
Oh, no wait a minute,ladies and gentlemen the crown goes to...

******glasnost*****

Posted by: Soran at April 28, 2007 02:45 AM

MT: This is why I think you deserved being picked over Michael Yon. Yon writes great stuff, but he doesn't interact with his readers. As I've said before, besides superb reporting you're the best I've seen at handling comments, and these are great examples:)

Michael Totten:

"That's complete and utter horseshit, and you know it."

"Oh, for God's sake Alphie, rural Oregon isn't a failure."
-------

Patrick S. Lasswell: "That rat basta...excellent reporter Richard Miniter"

That was an excellent report, I was quite impressed. However, afterwards I wasn't so impressed reading that hit job he did on Yon earlier this month. WTF is this guy's problem?

Posted by: H. Short at April 28, 2007 10:43 AM

I am very aware of that. It is the primary reason I believe non-uniformed combatants should be punished harshly, and that the people who fund, equip, and command such people should be punished even more harshly.

Irregular warfare in most cases, even at its most brutal, quite likely kills less people than the equivalent industrial warfare. That's why it's used.

glasnost - What you call 'irregular' warfare is the deliberate targeting of unarmed civilians as a means of achieving political goals. While this strategy causes fewer civilian deaths than 'regular' warfare, it does destroy the trust and security that a modern nation-state needs to thrive and grow. If use of irregular warfare grows, the failure of most nation states to effectively combat it will cause more damage to society than industrial warfare ever did.

Societies that are formed by and ruled by terrorism are, by default, failed states.

In any case, the reaon why irregular warfare is used is definitely not because it 'kills less people'. It's used because the most morally flexible among us consider it to be a cheap and easy way to wage war.

If the people who fund, equip and command terrorists were targeted harshly, terrorism would no longer be so cheap and easy. Terrorism's supporters are the weakest link in the terrorist infrastructure, relatively unprotected and easily found. Targeting them would not only win us this war, it would save the most innocent lives.

Posted by: mary at April 28, 2007 01:14 PM

If the people who fund, equip and command terrorists were targeted harshly, terrorism would no longer be so cheap and easy.

Everyone agrees with taking out individuals who plan or direct terrorist attacks. We already do this as well as we know how. Therefore, it seems clear that Ros was talking about some higher level of violence. For example, if you had enough eyes and info, you could probably link 40% of Iraq's population to some possibly terrorist group in some way. Mass action against that 40% would sure discourage terrorism. That's sort of Al-Sadr's plan when he empties neighborhoods of Sunnis.

Treating 'supporters' harshly enough to wipe out irregular warfare in a territory has, so far in history, meant something close to ethnic cleansing. More carefully pinpointed (and genuinely just) retribution is already the game plan.

Posted by: glasnost at April 28, 2007 11:43 PM

Drifting back to the Iraqi Kurds for a moment...just read the story on the Turkish military warnings to Gul and Associates, plus the sizable number (1 mil plus, approx) of secular protesters in the streets. Question then for those might know is when the Iraqi Kurds are threatened by Turks over the PKK and such, just which faction of the Turkish establishment is on board with the warnings? Military secularists, Islamist govt leadership, or both? Serious implications both ways it would seem.

Posted by: allan at April 29, 2007 11:34 AM

I like his line about Mam Rostam being able to teach Dirty Harry a thing or two, and the last, one-line paragraph is a classic that concisely describes why the current administration is just short of clueless on what to do (or not do) in the Iraq (and the entire Levant, for that matter). Until they understand both tribalism and nationality (and nationality is not citizenship in a state—that’s an entirely different thing) our efforts will continue to proceed in fits and starts.

And Abu, you're a completely ignorant fool. Recruiters don't focus on 'underprivileged' neighborhoods--they focus on kids who would fit with the military. They get graded on their recruits finishing basic and then technical training. And if you would bother to do some basic research, you would find that the middle, and in particular the upper middle class of America, is overrepresented, demographically, in the military. A lot of that consists of officers like me (soon to be retiring USAF Lt Col, deployed twice since 9/11--the 1st time with a 5-day old daughter), who could have succeeded as a civilian, but CHOSE to serve their country.

We apply the GC to terrorists because we are BETTER than them, period. They are sub-human scum, and we, in our well-intentioned, albeit clumsy manner, are trying to build a future worth creating.

Posted by: Allen at April 29, 2007 04:40 PM

Great reporting, Michael. (Great writing, too!)

Posted by: Krista at April 29, 2007 11:31 PM

For example, if you had enough eyes and info, you could probably link 40% of Iraq's population to some possibly terrorist group in some way. Mass action against that 40% would sure discourage terrorism. That's sort of Al-Sadr's plan when he empties neighborhoods of Sunnis.

If you had some common sense you'd realize that this wasn't what I was suggesting. Targeting the general supporters of terrorism is pointlessly brutal and a waste of time.

Targeting the powerful financial and political supporters of terrorism is what I was talking about. This is also what Bush was talking about in his speech after 9/11 when he stated that the states and organizations that support terrorism were, indeed, terrorists. The 'nonviolent' powerful supporters of terrorism are as important to terrorism's infrastructure as the actual terrorists, and they're far more vulnerable.

Of course, the states and organizations that support terrorism are some of Bush's closest friends and allies. If Bush had the courage of his convictions, we'd have won this war by now

Posted by: mary at April 30, 2007 03:35 AM

This is also what Bush was talking about in his speech after 9/11 when he stated that the states and organizations that support terrorism were, indeed, terrorists. The 'nonviolent' powerful supporters of terrorism are as important to terrorism's infrastructure as the actual terrorists, and they're far more vulnerable.

Well, that was the other half of my point - everyone's already on board, including liberal old me, with most of that (although we may draw the kill lines in different places, it's the same basic game plan).

As for states - Of course, the states and organizations that support terrorism are some of Bush's closest friends and allies.

Well, we have similar sympathies, but the fact is that states and mass movements are just not as simple to crack as isolated, clandestine groups. Iraq should make that perfectly clear. Chaos and anarchy breed terrorism, so it's not enough to just go bomb Iran and Syria or attempt to violently overthrow their governments. You can't really stop a state from supporting terrorism by bombing it. You might get an agreement to cooperate afterwards - or you might get the exact opposite. And we cannot - are literally incapable - of neighborhood level policing one billion muslims. The Iraq approach to ending terrorism runs into practical limitations on resources - almost immediately.

So that's the problem. We don't have the cards to play Dirty Harry with every player in the game at the same time.

Posted by: glasnost at April 30, 2007 09:42 AM

Chaos and anarchy breed terrorism, so it's not enough to just go bomb Iran and Syria or attempt to violently overthrow their governments. You can't really stop a state from supporting terrorism by bombing it.

I wasn't talking about bombing anyone, or overthrowing governments. When we overthrow one of these terror-supporting governments, their neighbors send in the insurgents and we have a situation like Iraq.

The best solution is to weaken these governments by targeting their economies and their intelligence networks. We may even be doing something like that in Iran. If we are, at least our government has proven that it learns from its mistakes.

Posted by: mary at April 30, 2007 03:12 PM
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