Saturday, September 9, 2006

The Occupation of Iraqi Hearts and Minds

By Nir Rosen

Editor’s note: Truthdig contributor Nir Rosen, an American reporter who has lived for the last three years in Iraq and who can pass as Middle Eastern, describes what it’s like to live under the boot of a culturally callous—and sometimes criminal—occupying force in Iraq. “The occupation has been one vast extended crime against the Iraqi people, and most of it has occurred unnoticed by the American people and the media.”

"In reality both Abu Ghraib and Haditha were merely more extreme versions of the day-to-day workings of the American occupation in Iraq, and what makes them unique is not so much how bad they were, or how embarrassing, but the fact that they made their way to the media and were publicized despite attempts to cover them up. Focusing on Abu Ghraib and Haditha distracts us from the daily, little Abu Ghraibs and small-scale Hadithas that have made up the occupation. The occupation has been one vast extended crime against the Iraqi people, and most of it has occurred unnoticed by the American people and the media.

Americans, led to believe that their soldiers and Marines would be welcomed as liberators by the Iraqi people, have no idea what the occupation is really like from the perspective of Iraqis who endure it. Although I am American, born and raised in New York City, I came closer to experiencing what it might feel like to be Iraqi than many of my colleagues. I often say that the secret to my success in Iraq as a journalist is my melanin advantage. I inherited my Iranian father’s Middle Eastern features, which allowed me to go unnoticed in Iraq, blend into crowds, march in demonstrations, sit in mosques, walk through Falluja’s worst neighborhoods. I also benefited from being able to speak Arabic—in particular its Iraqi dialect, which I hastily learned in Baghdad upon my arrival and continued to develop throughout my time in Iraq.

My skin color and language skills allowed me to relate to the American occupier in a different way, for he looked at me as if I were just another haji, the “gook” of the war in Iraq. I first realized my advantage in April 2003, when I was sitting with a group of American soldiers and another soldier walked up and wondered what this haji (me) had done to get arrested by them. Later that summer I walked in the direction of an American tank and heard one soldier say about me, “That’s the biggest fuckin’ Iraqi (pronounced eye-raki) I ever saw.” A soldier by the gun said, “I don’t care how big he is, if he doesn’t stop movin’ I’m gonna shoot him.”

I was lucky enough to have an American passport in my pocket, which I promptly took out and waved, shouting: “Don’t shoot! I’m an American!” It was my first encounter with hostile American checkpoints but hardly my last, and I grew to fear the unpredictable American military, which could kill me for looking like an Iraqi male of fighting age. Countless Iraqis were not lucky enough to speak American English or carry a U.S. passport, and often entire families were killed in their cars when they approached American checkpoints."
A long article but well worth reading.

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