Sunday, January 29, 2006

Scenes of Liberation

As I noted earlier, in The March Up West and Smith provide a useful corrective to those revisionists who claim the Bush administration lied when they said our forces would be greeted as liberators by the Iraqi people. Below is a sample of the reception given to the Marines of 1st Recon, as chronicled by Evan Wright in Generation Kill. (And bear in mind, Wright is an editor at Rolling Stone, a magazine that has been vitriolic in its opposition to the war).

p. 72, Burayqat An Rataw: "Keep your eyes on the swivel," Colbert reminds his chatty team. "This is backcountry."
"But villagers who come out by the trail greet the Marines with smiles."

p. 125-6, North of al Kut: "Two hundred meters past the corpse, there's a farmhouse with a family out front, waving as we drive by. At the next house, two old ladies in black whoop and clap. A bunch of bearded men shout, 'Good! Good! Good!" The Marines wave back. In the span of a few minutes, they have gone from kill-anyone-that-looks-dangerous mode to smiling and waving as if they're on a float in the Rose Bowl parade.
"A kilometer or so onto the trail, we are surrounded by lush fields of grain, then small hamlets nestled beneath palm groves. Rays of sunlight poke through the clouds, turning the dust in the air silver. Fick's impression is that the 'whole place tingles.' And not in a bad way. More villagers run out from their homes, cheering. Grinning fathers hoist up their babies. By one house, teenage girls in maroon dresses sneak out from behind a wall. Defying tradition, their heads are uncovered, displaying pretty faces and long black hair. They jump up and down, laughing and waving at the Marines. . . .
"The road dwindles to a single, rutted lane. We crawl along at a couple of miles per hour, then stop. Several boys, about nine or ten, scramble up from a dry creek bed on our right. They come within about five meters of the Humvee and start yelling, 'Hello, America!'"

p.147, Al Gharraf: "Two men standing by the road outside the shattered town grin and give us the thumbs-up."

p.161, Ar Rifa: "Meesh [the unit's translator] belches. It takes him a long time to answer. Meesh does everything at a sclerotic pace. Even rolling his eyeballs to look at you seems to tax him. He builds up his strength, taking several drags from teh Marlboro hanging from his lip, and says: 'The people of Ar Rifa are grateful to be liberated and welcome the Americans as friends.'"

p.202-203, near Al Hayy: "A shoeless farmer approaches. His face is narrow and bony from what looks to be a lifetime of starvation. Shaking his fist, speaking in a raspy voice, he says through a translator that he's been waiting for the Americans to come since the first Gulf War. He explains that he used to live in a Shia marshland south of here. Saddam drained the marshes and ruined the farmland to punish the people there for supporting the 1991 rebellion. 'Saddam believes if he starves the people we will follow him like slaves. It's terrorism by the system itself.'
"I ask the farmer why he welcomes Americans invading his country. 'We are already living in hell,' he says. 'If you let us pray and don't interfere with our women, we accept you.'
"The farmer, with gray hair and his narrow face wrapped in wrinkles, looks to be about sixty, with a lot of those being hard years. I ask him when he was born. 1964. I tell him we're the same age. He leans toward me, smiling and pointing to his face. 'Compared to you, I look like an old man' he says. 'This is because of my life under Saddam.'"

p.226, Ash Shattrah: "By sundown, any thought that this could be a revenge mission completely disappears. Dozens of Iraqi citizens approach Alpha's hunry Marines on the perimeter, bearing gifts of tea, bowls of rice and flat bread, which Marines refer to as 'Hajji tortillas.' Some townspeople, speaking broken English, are eager to point out enemy positions. A few invite the Marines to come into their homes for a proper meal. Patterson is now forced to order his Marines, who hours before had been fantasizing about killing everyone in the town, to stop eating food brought to them by the locals."

p.227, Ash Shattrah: "After their exciting night at the water plant, the Marines leave Ash Shattrah early in the morning. Locals cheer. To one of Patterson's officers, 'The change in the town was dramatic, like someone pulled a thumb off their backs. We liberated them.'"

p.229-230, Al Hayy: "Civilians line up by the side of the road when First Recon's convoy assembles for its departure. The morning's show of American airpower has whipped them into a frenzy. They greet the Marines like visiting celebrities. 'Hello, my friend!" some of them shout. 'I love you!' It doesn't seem to matter that these young men have just witnessed portions of their city being destroyed. . . . Farther on, there's another shot-up car, with a male corpse next to it in the dirt. More kids dance around the carnage, giving thumbs-up to the Americans, shouting, 'Bush! Bush! Bush!'"

p.233-234, Al Muwaffaqiyah: "The battalion convoy pulls onto a dirt lane and enters a series of shaded agricultural hamlets. We stop, and the residents pour out from their homes, waving and smiling. To the Marines, the villagers' warm welcome is confusing, given the fact that less than two kilometers down the road their neighbors were just wiped out by a 1,000-pound bomb dropped by an American F-18. . . . We see the tiny heads of children poking around the corner of a small adobe hut. Several girls, maybe eight or nine, run toward us. . . . A few hundred meters up from Colbert's team, Meesh meets with villagers, who warn the Marines against trying to enter Al Muwaffaqiyah. They give Meesh detailed information about paramilitary forces that are setting up an ambush on the main bridge leading into the town."

p.256, Al Muwaffaqiyah: "Originally, the Marines in Bravo were told they were going to speed through the town, but there is a delay. While we wait, young adolescent boys trickle out of the deadly ruins. They come to within thirty meters or so of the Humvees and wave. One kid, probably about eleven, stands in the wreckage of a buidling destroyed by the Marines. He blows kisses and shouts, 'I love you, America.'"

p.275: "The battalion spends two days on the road. Huge, cheering crowds turn out in towns Marines smashed through just days ago. Kids run around in muddy lots beside the road, playing soccer, screaming 'Bush! Bush! Bush!' or 'America! America!' It's the Marines' moment to be hailed as conquerors, or liberators or heroes."

p.288, Baghdad: "We enter the eastern outskirts of Baghdad, an industrial district of factories and warehouses. The streets are filled with newly liberated Iraqis in the throes of celebration. Though the city center will not fall for another twenty-four hours, freedom fills the air, along with the stench of rotting corpses, uncollected garbage and overflowing sewers. . . . As we pass by, the looters wave and give us the thumbs-up -- thanking the Marines for making all this possible. Some stand in clusters, chanting the words everyone in Iraq now uses to hail the American liberators, 'Bush! Bush! Bush!'"

p.325-6, Baghdad: "Young men line the street and greet the Marines in halting, yet formal English. 'Good morning, sir," they say.
"The Humvees drive for about 500 meters until a cluster of residents blocks the road. They stream out of their homes bearing jugs of water and hot tea, which they offer the Marines. Small girls emerge carrying roses for the Americans.
"The neighborhood me gather around the Humvees, puffing cigarettes and bitching about life under Saddam. Most of their complaints are economic -- the lack of jobs, the bribes that had to be paid to get basic services. 'We have nothing to do but smoke, talk, play dominoes,' a wiry chainsmoking man in his late thirties tells me. 'Saddam was an asshole.'"

p.328, Sadr City: "On the morning of April 13, Colbert's Humvee leads the rest of the platoon into the slum know as Seven Castles. . . . The platoon stops in the crest of the berm overlooking the neighborhood.
"Within minutes hundreds of children run up and surround the Humvees, chanting, 'Bush! Bush! Bush!' They are soon joined by elders from the neighborhood. . . . Fick [the platoon leader] tries to find out what the neighborhood requires. Initially, elders who emerge from the mob tell Fick they need just two things: water and statues of George Bush, which they plan to erect up and down the streets as soon as the Americans help them pump out the sewage currently flowing in them."

So for whatever mistakes were made after the fall of Baghdad (a subject I'll tackle after I've read Bremer's memoir), it is important not to let revisionists obscure the fact that our troops WERE greeted as liberators by the Iraqi people.