Sunday, September 03, 2006

Operation Forward Together Forever?

From President Bush's Radio Address on Saturday:

Working side by side with Iraqi forces, we recently launched a major new campaign to end the security crisis in Baghdad. This operation is still in its early stages, yet the initial results are encouraging. The people of Baghdad are seeing their security forces in the streets, dealing a blow to criminals and terrorists. According to one military report, a Sunni man in a diverse Baghdad neighborhood said this about the Shi'a soldiers on patrol: "Their image has changed. Now you feel they are there to protect you."

Some might look at "military report" and Washington Post and say, "same difference," but - none-the-less - Bush's Sunni soundbite was actually taken from a WaPo article published on August 18 called In Baghdad, a Push to Alter Perceptions, written by Sudarsan Raghavan:

Hamid Ayad could not forget the last time U.S. soldiers came to his door two years ago. They tossed smoke bombs and burst into his home, then arrested his four brothers, he said. They were later jailed at Abu Ghraib prison.

Three days ago, another group of U.S. soldiers came to his home in the volatile western Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriyah, this time accompanied by Iraqi troops. The U.S. soldiers politely asked if they could enter his large home. They asked to register his family's eight cars, and they did not confiscate the family's AK-47 rifle, their only means of protection.

That made Ayad, 24, feel more confident about the Iraqi soldiers. Only two months ago, Shiite Iraqi soldiers on patrols in Amiriyah taunted Sunnis like him, he said. They did little to shield residents from the sectarian clashes strangling their lives. But on this day, the Iraqi soldiers he met were courteous and seemed genuinely concerned.

"Their image has changed," said Ayad, who holds a business degree but is unemployed. "Now, you feel like they are there to protect you. They are not acting or faking. The Americans have them on a tight leash."

Bush left out the "tight leash" part.

So are we winning the hearts of Iraqis with the latest plan called "Operation Forward Together"?

I don't know...because I'm not there (if I had the opportunity to go, see and report for myself I'd jump at it). I can only trust what I read in the "military reports."

But it seems like this operation mostly entails US troops accompanying Iraqi troops as they politely knock on Iraqi resident doors - instead of tossing in smoke grenades first - to check sects and count the number of military-age males and weapons in each residence before moving on to the next small village. Sounds more like totalitarianism dressed up as public relations than bringing Democracy to the Iraqi people to me, but I'm no Donald Rumsfeld.

Now, I can't say for sure whether this is the same Hamid Ayad, but this one featured in a USA Today article almost two years ago was 23 at the time and studying at Baghdad's Al-Turath College when he was quoted in a USA Today article entitled Beheadings' 'theater of terror' amplifies insurgents' message written by Gregg Zoroya, Larry Copeland and C├ęsar G. Soriano:

At Baghdad's Al-Turath College, the killings were the topic of discussion before class. One who did not wish to be identified said she hated the bloodlettings and did not consider them representative of the culture.

But at least one classmate disagreed. "Sharia (Islamic) law and our history say that traitors or collaborators should be killed in this manner," says Hamid Ayad, 23, a Fallujah native now living in Baghdad. "It is permitted to behead them in this way, like a sheep is beheaded, as long as the cut is towards the direction of Mecca. This is Islamic punishment and the Mujahadeen (holy warriors) are simply following the words and deeds of the prophets. ... NGOs (non-governmental organizations) like the Italians are innocent, but the Americans and British, they deserved it."

If that is the same Hamid Ayad, then it's just more proof that the situation in Iraq is not as simplistic as President Bush and company continually make it out to be.

"On one side are those who believe in freedom and moderation -- the right of all people to speak, worship, and live in liberty," Bush said on Saturday. "On the other side are those driven by tyranny and extremism -- the right of a self-appointed few to impose their fanatical views on all the rest."

If that is the same Hamid Ayad, then it sure is tough to say which side of President Bush's vision of Iraq that he would feel most comfortable living in.


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