Posted by Sheldon Rampton on June 22, 2006
Hadji Girl
Joshua Belile performs "Hadji Girl" at the Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq.

If you want to understand why the war is going so badly in Iraq, it may help to examine the recent reaction to "Hadji Girl," the videotaped song about killing Iraqis by U.S. Marine Corporal Joshua Belile. The song became controversial when the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) discovered it on the internet and objected to its lyrics. "Hadji Girl" tells the story of a soldier "out in the sands of Iraq / And we were under attack":

Then suddenly to my surprise
I looked up and I saw her eyes
And I knew it was love at first sight.

And she said…
Dirka Dirka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah
Hadji girl I can’t understand what you’re saying.

The girl says that she "wanted me to meet her family / But I, well, I couldn’t figure out how to say no. / Cause I don’t speak Arabic." They visit her home, a "side shanty" down "an old dirt trail," and as soon as they arrive,

Her brother and her father shouted…
Dirka Dirka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah
They pulled out their AKs so I could see

... So I grabbed her little sister and pulled her in front of me.

As the bullets began to fly
The blood sprayed from between her eyes
And then I laughed maniacally

Then I hid behind the TV
And I locked and loaded my M-16
And I blew those little fuckers to eternity.

And I said…
Dirka Dirka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah
They should have known they were fucking with a Marine.

The song is gruesome, to be sure, and CAIR complained that it celebrated the killing of Iraqi civilians. The video shows Belile performing the song before a laughing, applauding audience of fellow soldiers at their base in Iraq. Recognizing that the song could only bring bad publicity, U.S. military officials promptly issued a statement saying that it was "clearly inappropriate and contrary to the high standards expected of all Marines." Belile also apologized, saying the song was intended as "a joke" and that he didn't intend to offend anyone.

Pro-war pundits, however, actually rallied to the song's defense. The conservative Little Green Footballs weblog thought news reports about the video controversy were the "mainstream media disgrace of the month." There's nothing wrong with the song, the Footballs said, because it doesn't actually describe a soldier killing civilians: "the people who kill the 'little sister' in this darkly humorous song are — not the Marines — but her father and brother, as they attempt to perpetrate an ambush." Some of the comments on LGF even called it "a wonderful song," and attacked the "nutless Pentagon star-chasing bastards" for their "capitulation." Here are some of the other comments about the song, from Little Green Footballs and elsewhere:

  • "Damn it, we are in a fucking war! Nobody whined about 'insensitivity' to the fucking Japs and Jerries."
  • "I expect more from the Pentagon. The State Dept & the CIA are just a bunch of cucumber sandwich eating fools. The Pentagon USED to be about waging war on our enemies. Now they just want to kiss up to them."
  • "I'm Proud of my fellow Marines in that video. That is EXACTLY the espirit de corps needed, the HIGH MORALE needed in the middle of a combat zone where those self-same jihadists are trying to kill those Marines every single day.
  • "Insensitive? Marines insensitive? God I hope so. We need them to kick ass and follow orders but we don’t need them to be particularly sensitive. A sensitive Marine Corps will be the death of this country."
  • "One of the things CAIR didn't like was the phrase 'Durka Durka Mohammed Jihad, Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah' which makes fun of the Arab language. To hell with CAIR and to hell with the Arab language. ... And the Islamist pigs can keep going to hell."

As these comments illustrate, defense for the song quickly turns into traditional conservative anger at what they see as censorious "political correctness." They have a right, they insist, to be insensitive and hostile to Arabs and Muslims. I would argue, in fact, that this cultural xenophobia is the main theme of the song and that the violence in it is a secondary byproduct.

Let's start with the title, "Hadji Girl." The term "hadji" (also sometimes spelled "haji" or "hajji") is the Arabic word for someone who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. In Iraq and Afghanistan, it has become a common slang term used to describe the locals. According to a dictionary of war slang compiled by GlobalSecurity.org, the term is "used by the American military for an Iraqi, anyone of Arab decent, or even of a brownish skin tone, be they Afghanis, or even Bangladeshis" and is also "the word many soldiers use derogatorily for the enemy." Related terms include "haji mart" (a small store operated by Iraqis) or "haji patrol" (Iraqi soldiers).

The term seems to have come into usage even before the war began in Iraq. Its use was noted following a U.S. military investigation into the 2002 murder of two prisoners at the Bagram Collection Point in Afghanistan, by some of the same soldiers who later oversaw abuses at Abu Ghraib. ''We were pretty much told that they were nobodies, that they were just enemy combatants,'' said one of the soldiers at Bagram. ''I think that giving them the distinction of soldier would have changed our attitudes toward them. A lot of it was based on racism, really. We called them hajis, and that psychology was really important.''

One of the prisoners beaten to death at Bagram was an innocent taxi driver named Dilawar whose only offense was that he happened to drive his taxi past the American base at the wrong time. According to Corey E. Jones, one of the MPs who guarded him, the beatings intensified when "He screamed out, 'Allah! Allah! Allah!' and my first reaction was that he was crying out to his god. Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny. ... It became a kind of running joke, and people kept showing up to give this detainee a common peroneal strike just to hear him scream out 'Allah.' It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes."

The term "haji" is not simply an ethnic slur, like "gook," "jap," "jerry" or "nigger." All ethnic slurs entail hostile stereotypes, but "haji" is a specifically religious stereotype based on hostility toward Muslims. In our 2003 book, Weapons of Mass Deception, John Stauber and I described the efforts that the Bush administration has undertaken to rebrand America in the eyes of Arabs and Muslims, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects including Radio Sawa, Al Hurra, a "Shared Values" campaign, and the Council of American Muslims for Understanding. Through glossy brochures, TV advertisements and websites, the United States has sought to depict America as a nation of religious tolerance that respects and appreciates Islam. These words, however, are constantly being undermined by the actual deeds and attitudes of the Bush administration's most ardent supporters, including soldiers in the field in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the White House has tried to frame the war in Iraq as a "war on terror," its own supporters keep reframing it as a war against Islam. This is a serious, if not fatal error. Rather than fighting a few thousand actual terrorists, the United States is positioning itself in opposition to one of the world's major religions, with more than a billion adherents worldwide.

Culture Shock and Awe

"Hadji Girl" also refers to another aspect of soldiers' experiences in Iraq: the language barrier that prevents them from communicating effectively. The refrain, "Dirka dirka Mohammed Jihad / Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah," is borrowed from the movie "Team America: World Police." According to filmmaker Matt Stone, the phrase is not real Arabic but a parody of "Arabic gibberish which they just go, you know, 'Dirka-dirka, Muhammad, Muhammad Ali.' ... And that, to me, is what terrorists sound like when I look at their little tapes that they release." This inability to comprehend the local language contributes to the soldiers' inability to distinguish between friend or foe, forcing them to suspect that anyone — including the beautiful girl you just met, or her family — might be a terrorist.

These facts began to shape the relationship between U.S. soldiers and Iraqis early in the war, as Associated Press reporter Andrew England noted in September 2003:

Young American soldiers — many carrying out operations they have little training for — find themselves in a hostile environment, unable to speak the local language or distinguish "the good guys from the bad guys."

Most just want to survive and return home. Some have grown to despise Iraqis, whom they call "Hajis," scowling rather than waving as they pass locals along highways and dirt roads. ...

"I hate the Hajis. All of them are liars. They injured one of my soldiers," said one.

"You don't want to know what I think about them, they shot at me one too many times," said another.

Aidan Delgado
Conscientious objector Aidan Delgado describes his experiences in Iraq.

It is worth noting that one of the few conscientious objectors who have actually served with the military in Iraq, Aidan Delgado, had a very different perspective of Iraqis because he did know how to speak the language:

It was tough for me to see brutality coming out of my own unit. I had lived in the Middle East. I had Egyptian friends. I spent nearly a decade in Cairo. I spoke Arabic, and I was versed in Arab culture and Islamic dress. Most of the guys in my unit were in complete culture shock most of the time. They saw the Iraqis as enemies. They lived in a state of fear. I found the Iraqis enormously friendly as a whole. One time I was walking through Nasiriyah with an armful of money, nadirs that were exchanged for dollars. I was able to walk 300 meters to my convoy -- a U.S. soldier walking alone with money. And I thought: I am safer here in Iraq than in the states. I never felt threatened from people in the South.

It would be a mistake to imagine that the casual brutality of "Hadji Girl" is coming from people who are simply evil or racist or cruel. The soldiers occupying Iraq are normal men and women who, in other circumstances, would never commit the abuses that have been documented in Bagram and Abu Ghraib and that are now alleged in Haditha. The situations in which this war has placed them — far from home, surrounded by a foreign language and foreign culture, carrying guns and fearful for their lives — have brought out behaviors that we would not see otherwise. If American soldiers and Iraqis could meet under different circumstances, things would be different. Here, for example, is how Iraqi blogger Salam Pax described his experience upon visiting the United States and having dinner with an American soldier:

You have no idea how strange it feels that we share so much in common. When I told him I would never actually approach an American soldier on the street in Baghdad, he told me that if we were in Baghdad he would probably be talking to me with his gun pointing at me because he would be scared shitless. Yet there we sat, drinking beers together.

America's cultural isolationism and prejudices are exposed by "Hadji Girl," but that's only part of the story. The war itself is encouraging these dark aspects of human nature, by bringing Americans and Iraqis together in an environment full of tension, fear, hatred and violence. And if the war itself is creating these evils, how can it hope to end them?

Comments

I remember hearing "haji" as far back as 1989 when I lived in Los Angeles. It seemed to apply to anyone from North Africa to Bangladesh. The derivation from the Haj didn't occur to me until more recently when someone pointed it out. Probably the people I heard using it in '89 weren't aware of it either.

I think that the marine was just bored and wanted to write a humorous song to pass the time and give himself and his buds somthing to laugh about. Nothing is wrong with the song, cause its just that a song. Dont take it too seriously, it's not that big of a deal.

Setting aside the question of what on earth anybody could possibly find humourous about this demented song, I choose instead to take issue with your observation that the song is "Not that big of a deal"???

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/30/AR2006063000495.html

"Troops Facing Murder Probe
Atrocities Against Iraqi Family Alleged

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 1, 2006; A01

BAGHDAD, June 30 -- The U.S. Army is investigating allegations that American soldiers raped and killed a woman and killed three of her family members in a town south of Baghdad, then reported the incident as an insurgent attack, a military official said Friday.

The alleged crimes occurred in March in the insurgent hotbed of Mahmudiyah. The four soldiers involved, from the 502nd Infantry Regiment, attempted to burn the family's home to the ground and blamed insurgents for the carnage, according to a military official familiar with the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was providing details not released publicly."

Maybe Joshua Belile was there when the soldiers raped that 14 year old girl in her home with her family present and when they killed the girl's family and the girl after they got threw gang raping her. As evidenced by his song he seemed to have known alot about that story before it was ever "officially" investigated or made US news. I watched his performance of "Hadji Girl" on the video several times and I got the impression that he had written that song straight from the gut, like he wanted the world to hear every line of the story. First time I viewed it I immediately thought he has either heard about this story or had witnessed it first, hand, that it had some personal meaning to him. Regardless alas, we all now know "Hadji Girl" is a true story. If he survives Iraq (G-d willing), maybe he will write a book about how he came up with that little number.

Hi there.
As my user name and subject line imply, that used to be my job. Sometimes when you take a life it is funny. Watching a human body instantly become lifeless and tumble awkwardly in the heat of battle is a stress reliever; knowing that you eliminated the enemy (before he elimiated you) and watch him disgracefully land head over heels. Killing is what we as the US military are trained to do, whether you like it or not - that's just the facts. Why else have a military?

That's the culture we as free individuals were impressed by, voluntarily joined, and maintain in order to keep you safe at home so you can freely express however you feel about absolutely any subject in the world. Like it or lump it, it's just the way it is.

Now don't get me wrong, taking a humnan life is a hard thing to do - especially your first time. There is something unnatural about it. But, when you have to do it over and over again, and you are trained to seek it out and do it instantly, and rarely get a chance to engage the enemy in a face-to-face fight because he resorts to IED's you become apathetic to it; and indeed it can be quite motivating and hillarious to mow a line of terrorists down as they run from house to house across an alley way. Watching them just get caught up in a stream full of hot lead and dropping like flies - man, I miss it in a way.

But, like I said, it's part of our military culture that we FREELY joined and enjoy, approve of, and love. I cannot expect you to understand the "why's"; but I do expect you to hear our side and accept that it is the way it is and that you can't change it. Remember, we're risking OUR necks to keep you safe so they don't come here and commit another 9/11. And I'm fine with that. The military isn't for everyone. I don't ask for special thanks. I volunteered. All I ask is for you to allow us our rights as Americans to joke around and be who we are amongst ourselves.

I think it's a bit hypocritical to judge a situation if you've never been exposed to it. But feel free to be a hypocrite because we've got your back and will die for your right to be one.

Obviously "USMarinesTanker" doesn't know the meaning of the word "hypocrite." A hypocrite is someone who advocates one course of action and does the opposite. This soldier is imagining that a hypocrite is someone who "judges a situation if you've never been exposed to it." By that standard, everyone in the world is a hypocrite: if you judge a terrorist without having actually been one, you're a hypocrite; if you judge Ken Lay without having been the CEO of Enron, you're a hypocrite, etc., etc. That's nonsense.

As for the notion that soldiers are "risking their necks to keep us safe," I don't believe that. Soldiers may believe that's what they're doing, but the evidence tells us otherwise. The number of terrorist attacks worldwide has risen dramatically and exponentially since the war in Iraq began. The entire Middle East is in flames, and it's only a matter of time before this blows back to American shores. It's certainly true that soldiers are "risking their lives" (and sometimes losing them), but soldiers of every nationality risk and lose their lives. During the Iran-Iraq war, hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides risked and lost their lives, but rather than making anyone safer, they impoverished and brutalized both countries. That's what the current war in Iraq is doing, also. It's making us less safe, not more so.

For the record, I don't think that soldiers are primarily to blame for the evils of war. The politicians who start wars are the people who deserve the lion's share of blame. I even agree that soldiers have the right to make morbid jokes, given the horrors that they experience. However, I don't believe that soldiers should be bigots, and "Hadji Girl" is a song that reflects cultural ignorance and bigotry against Arabs and Muslims. Supporters of the war seem blind to this fact, and that's part of the reason the war is going so badly. If you can't understand or appreciate the culture of the country where you're fighting, how can you hope to win hearts and minds, or even to understand your enemy?

I appreciate you responding to me in this forum. Thank you also for the eloquent way you brought to light my misuse of the word hypocrite. The casual observer would say you are against Operation Iraqi Freedom as part of the greater Global War on Terror. You say that this military action is making us less safe. I must in turn ask you when the last terrorist action on U.S. soil was after 9/11? I must also ask if you have personally seen the lives of Iraqis being bettered through U.S. construction, engineering, medical care, fiscal policy, and private donations? Have you personally heard dozens of Iraqi citizens tell you that they thank Allah for the United States and what we are doing for them? Have you even heard stories of such happenings from friends/the drive by media? Winning the hearts and minds indeed.

My guess would be no; but perhaps you have such occurences listed elsewhere in your blog. Anywho, it is my firm belief through PERSONAL observation that we are making the world a safer place by liberating Iraq and bettering the lives of each person in the aforementioned ways. After all, when plumbing comes to an area and people don't defecate in the street and wipe their rear with their left hand and continue on in conversations as if the pile of human feces weren't there in their midst, is not the world safer? When power lines no longer criss cross dangerously and hang low in the streets, is the world not safer? When women can choose to dress as they wish, go where they wish, not be forced to carry ALL private possessions on her head and walk 5 ft. behind her husband who carries nothing, is the world not safer? When women are not beaten or sold simply because a male in their family wishes to, is the world not safer? When people have work, and money, and food, no longer fear for their lives and can reach their fullest potential for growth, is the world not safer?

True, there is sectarian violence in Iraq; but I believe that to be the natural "hiccups" so to say, of an oppressed people born in a culture of violence and reprisals that is thousands of years old, coming of age in a brave new world of Democracy. True, Muslim terrorist groups are attacking elsewhere in the world; but evidence suggests that these attacks are a last futile attempt of a global terrorist organzation whose infrastructure is in its death throes.

Do not lose sight, my young Padawan, of the true two-fold goal of OIF, it is: to make Iraq stable in all things a nation should be, and to hand over that new hope to the Iraqis to independently and FREELY govern themselves however they see fit.

Of course "Hadji Girl" is a bigoted song. That's why it's funny. Remember, we are American citizens too and have the same freedoms as you. So good for you if you don't believe servicemembers (only the Army is known as Soldiers. It is disrespectful to call a Sailor, Airman, or Marine anything but what they are) should be bigots. In an ideal world no one would be. You ask how can we hope to help the country we're in if we don't understand their culture. Well, the answer is we can't. The government pays people with shiny stuff on their collars to be the ones who understand, and deal with the populace on a regular basis. They're the ones who do the problem solving. We enlisted are the trigger pullers, the wrench turners, the cooks, etc. My job wasn't to hand out soccer balls and build schools, it was to destroy the enemies of our country and our allies with cold, ruthless efficiency.

On that note, this war is not "going so badly" as you put it. We are killing terrorsits on unprecedented levels, we are blowing up their IED's before they get them out of their workshops, we are killing their top leaders left and right, we are winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi populace. Again, I have seen this with my own two eyes. Have you? Or have you just rehashed and spewed out what the drive by media and others have stated before, this time claiming it as your own? But like I said before, feel free to do whatever you want, and think however you want because we've got your back and will die for your right to be free.

USMarinesTanker writes, "The casual observer would say you are against Operation Iraqi Freedom as part of the greater Global War on Terror."

That's correct. I don't believe that "Operation Iraqi Freedom" is helping to win the war on terror. In this regard, my opinion is the same as 8 out of 10 terrorism and national security experts when they were [http://www.columbusdispatch.com/national-story.php?story=dispatch/2006/06/29/20060629-A3-00.html surveyed recently]. In the words of Michael Scheuer (formerly the CIA's top Osama Bin Laden expert), "The war in Iraq broke our back in the war on terror. It has made everything more difficult and the threat more existential."

USMarinesTanker also writes, "I must in turn ask you when the last terrorist action on U.S. soil was after 9/11?"

The 9/11 terrorist attack was the single largest terrorist attack ever on U.S. or any other soil. It took years of planning and probably at least a million dollars to carry out. The fact that an unprecedented attack on that scale has not happened again in the five years since really tells us very little about whether the terrorist threat has increased or decreased. However, we do have other indicators which tell us that the terrorist threat has increased. Every year since 1985, the U.S. Department of State has been required to publish an annual report, titled Patterns of Global Terrorism, which tracks countries and groups involved in international terrorism. The 2004 edition of Patterns of Global Terrorism tallied attacks for 2003 (the first year of the war in Iraq). It turns out that 2003 saw 175 significant terrorist attacks (defined as attacks in which lives are lost or there is injury and property damage of more than $10,000) -- the largest number of significant terrorist attacks since 1982. The following year, the numbers were even worse -- 651 significant terrorist attacks, nearly four times the amount of the previous year’s embarrassment, with 1,907 people killed and 9,300 wounded -- roughly a tripling of the previous year’s casualty toll. Iraq alone saw 198 attacks that year -- nearly the worldwide total for 2003 -- but even if all of those attacks were omitted, the number of terrorist attacks in the rest of the world were still more than double the all-time record. The numbers were so bad that the Bush administration decided not to publish Patterns of Global Terrorism at all in 2005. In its place, the State Department created a new report, Country Reports on Terrorism, which omitted the statistical information provided in the previous reports. And it should be noted that the 651 terrorist attacks tallied for 2004 did not include attacks on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, or even attacks on Iraqi civilians by other Iraqis. The long-standing US definition of international terrorism, used by "Patterns of Global Terrorism," defined it as violent acts against non-combatants, and it has to involve the territory or citizens of more than one country. (Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City would also not fit this definition of terrorism.) The National Counterterrorism Center, a government agency created by President Bush in 2004, has compiled a separate report that does include other incidents not previously classed as terrorism (although attacks on soldiers are still excluded). Using this more inclusive definition, the number of terrorist incidents in 2004 would be 3,192.

The National Counterterrorism Center’s new database on terrorism was announced publicly in July 2005. That same month, a series of coordinated bombings hit London’s subways and a bus during rush hour, killing 56 people and injuring 700 -- the deadliest single act of terrorism in the United Kingdom since the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The terrorists, claiming affiliation with Al Qaeda, released a statement calling the attack "revenge against the British Zionist crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan." It was the second act of Al Qaeda violence against a European nation providing military support to the war in Iraq. The previous attack, a series of coordinated bombings against commuter trains in Madrid, killed 192 people and wounded 2,050 and triggered the electoral defeat of Spain’s ruling party.

The fact that these attacks happened in Europe suggests that Al Qaeda's focus for now is on peeling away the last vestiges of international support for the U.S. war. Once they've accomplished that goal, I expect that they'll attack again in the United States. In other words, they have a strategy, and it seems to be working. What you have, on the other hand, is bravado.

USMarinesTanker also writes:

I must also ask if you have personally seen the lives of Iraqis being bettered through U.S. construction, engineering, medical care, fiscal policy, and private donations? Have you personally heard dozens of Iraqi citizens tell you that they thank Allah for the United States and what we are doing for them? Have you even heard stories of such happenings from friends/the drive by media? Winning the hearts and minds indeed.

No, I haven't seen those things. I see them mentioned in vague general terms by supporters of the war like yourself, but even supporters of the war rarely give specific examples. I do spend quite a bit of time reading weblogs written by both Iraqis and by U.S. military personnel, and the main thing I find striking about the milblogs written by people stationed in Iraq is how rarely they mention any of the good news you describe, or for that matter how rarely they describe any meaningful interactions at all with Iraqi nationals. The most common interaction I see described in milblogs consists of handing out candy to children (although that seems to happen less and less now), or else overt statements of hostility written by soldiers who don't know the difference between friendlies and enemies. I know there have been efforts to rebuild schools and so forth, but the impression I get (based on multiple sources of information) is that those efforts pale compared to the suffering and chaos that the war has unleashed.

When I read Iraqi weblogs, moreover, the trend is really disturbing. I've been tracking them for awhile, so I have some idea how things are trending. Here, for example, is the URL to a short list of English-language Iraqi weblogs that someone put together two years ago:

http://www.rc3.org/2004/04/entry_6169.php

Iraqis (like any group) have diverse opinions, and in the immediate aftermath of Saddam Hussein's fall, quite a few of them actually did welcome the U.S. invasion and occupation. There's no question that Saddam was a brutal monster and that plenty of people welcomed his fall. The Iraqi blogs on the list above include a range of opinions: from people who opposed the occupation from the outset, to people who welcomed it and even thought the U.S. needed to be more aggressive. If you visit those weblogs now, however, you'll find that even the ones that were supportive of the occupation two years ago have soured on it now. Take, for example, "Hammorabi," who was passionately pro-occupation to years ago. (He was probably the most pro-occupation blogger on the entire list.) If you visit his site today, you'll find a posting complaining that "[http://hammorabi.blogspot.com/2006/07/american-soldiers-committed-terrorist.html American soldiers committed terrorist action and crime]" and stating, "The one thing which has to be said at this moment is that the occupation of Iraq should end sooner rather than latter. [sic] The last 3 years converted Iraq into the most dangerous place in the world and made it the country of death, blood, killing, destruction, assassinations, rapes, and every possible crime. Crimes from the kind mentioned here will turn all the Iraqis into the resistance against the occupation especially with the failures achieved over the last three years."

You're telling me that your experience suggests otherwise, and that I should defer to your judgment because you've been there and I haven't. But "Hammorabi" has been in Iraq a lot longer than you were, so he has more experience than you do. Moreover, he actually speaks the language and knows the Iraqi street. I'm more inclined to think he knows what he's talking about than I am to think that you do.

Thank you again for taking time to encourage discourse. Now, where to begin...... let's start at the top.

Terrorist attacks in the United States:

You mention an increase in global terror which may very well be true and is disappointing. For reasons to which I am not privy, the current administration did change the name of the terror report; and while it fits the agenda of those against Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)and the administration, it is folly to say that they did it to hide the truth about an increase in global terror incidents unless one is privy to such decision making.

However, despite the increase in global terror incidents there have been NO (zip, zero, zilch, nada, none, etc.) terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11. True, 9/11 took years to plan and untold amounts of money and logistics to carry out, however, the Department of Homeland security, FBI, CIA, local and state governments have prevented at least two terror attacks on the U.S. and it's people http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=2109053 , http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/07/07/tunnel.plot/index.html , and have also aided the Canadians (our own backyard) in stopping an attack from a cross-border cell http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/americas/06/03/canada.terror/index.html since 9/11. Our government is doing it's job of protecting us quite well.

Evidence also suggests, as you noted, that Al-Quaeda has shifted it's attacks elsewhere in the world, e.g. London, Madrid, and Canada. But I must disagree that this trend is primarily designed to "peel[ing] away the last vestiges of international support for the U.S. war." From a military viewpoint, this change in tactics is instead an attempt to show the world that Al-Quaeda still has some teeth left (propaganda effort). Al-Quaeda is trying to maintain the fight in areas that they can still hit (The U.S. mainland is too strong) in order to recruit and supply new bodies for the fight in Iraq that it IS losing. (Note: over 80% of the fighters in Iraq are from foreign countries - more on this later.) If they could hit the U.S., they would, but they cannot. These attacks can therefore realistically be viewed as "the death throes" of an organization on the verge of collapse.

Iraq Reconstruction:

For many of us who have spent a tour or three in Iraq/Afghanistan, the memories are a jumbled puzzle that blend into one picture as time marches inevitably onward. Perhaps that is why you only hear "vague" references of the reconstruction and P.R. that is successfully completed and continuously underway in Iraq. There is simply so much that it's hard to pick out notable moments.

Personally, I have seen 5 schools rebuilt in the cities of Al-Fallujah, Nasr wa-Salaam, and Ar-Ramadi. I have also seen 3 hospitals rebuilt or modernized in those cities. I have seen dams built, electricity restored, running water installed, parks cleaned up, rubbish removed, and elections free of violence take place. Like I said before, the government pays the officers to be the true P.R. people. They are the ones with the authority to make decisions and speak on behalf of the U.S. And that number is a small corps indeed, covering a large country. The enlisted pull guard duty and watch out for VBIED's. Our concerns lie with observing all, taking it in, and disregarding the vitally unimportant without effort while the Officers do the talking. So, it does not surprise me in the least that the vast majority of milblogs that you read do not describe the restoration of Iraq, in particular, if you were to read those of Marines.

We operate in the Al Anbar province of Iraq which is the stronghold of the insurgency, the "Wild West" if you will. This area is vacant, its cities far-flung, and has lots and lots of war going on. The vast majority of time is spent attacking the enemy, preparing for the next mission, and catching some z's when possible. There is not too much reconstruction going on out there....yet. The north and east are primarily held by the Army, and it is here and in the British-occupied south that the major reconstruction efforts are taking place.

Note, also, that the majority of officers, in particular those of high rank that are leading these sorts of missions, are middle aged men and women. They are occupied with the running of their units, reporting to higher commands, performing their job, writing/calling home, and grabbing some sleep and chow when they can. They are potentially less-inclined to be as "tech saavy" as those raised on computers and the internet; and also have not necessarily been swept up in the blog craze. I have read a good assortment of milblogs myself, and I assure you that overwhelmingly they are written by the junior enlisted. As a young Lance Corporal in Iraq, I remember that when we had a rare day off and all the maintenance was complete and guard duty or radio watch was finished, my buddies and I would trot down to the internet center on base and find a room filled beyond capacity with primarily 18-25 year olds busily click-clacking away. Rarely would I see anyone much older than that.

In response to: "I know there have been efforts to rebuild schools and so forth, but the impression I get (based on multiple sources of information) is that those efforts pale compared to the suffering and chaos that the war has unleashed", I cannot recall a single news account (paper, tv, radio) of one successful reconstruction effort. No one reports them because it doesn't sell. It's a shame that the world is being duped by all the reports of every bomb and bullet; but not of the good things being done. Yes war is suffering and chaos; but the whole country is not war. Mostly, it is the Al-Anbar province. If you will remember, only the provinces of the Sunni Triangle (3 of 17) would not hold national elections in February of 2005.

Iraqis don't want us there:

No one wants an occupying army setting up shop in their homes for time frame yet to be determined. I certainly would not and would definitely go to war over it if the conditions were right (or wrong, I should say.) However, when I spoke with Iraqis working on base, or that rare occasion when guarding an election site, or dam, etc. they were genuinely happy to have us there. I've had mothers showing their toddlers how to blow kisses at us, I've had teenage girls smiling and flirting by showing their hair from under a veil, I've had countless young boys come up for pictures and to shake my hand (granted, sometimes they were disappointed when I wasn't giving out free stuff). I've sat down and eaten dinner in the chow hall and had conversations in broken Arabic and broken English about what life was like before and after Saddam. All of this was well into the occupation and all of this was overwhelmingly positive.

True, most Iraqis don't want us there; but the majority of those understand what we're doing and tolerate us because we're helping them to live better than before. They are willing to deal with us because its in their best interest. Remember what I said before, about 80% or so of the insurgents come from OUTSIDE Iraq. I've killed Turks, Lebanese, Persians, Saudis, and even a few white people from Chechnya. I would think that if the majority of Iraqis wanted us gone so badly, they would rise up and fight us. But they are not doing that. It's the foreign Islamic Fundamentalists who want us out because they want Democracy to fail. They want the United States to fail and die. They want fanatical Islam to rule the day so they can have absolute control over man, woman, and child. But the Iraqis don't want that. They want what we all want, that is: to simply be allowed to live freely, have kids, provide for them more than what they themselves had, and get old, fat, and happy for the rest of their days.

Yes, the streets of some of Iraq are violent and deadly; but not really more so than Compton, Detroit, Queens, the Bronx, Miami, etc in MOST cases. Yes, I know, L.A. doesn't have IED's going off. The inaccurate reporting of the agenda-driven media compound this problem. This sectarian violence stems from the violent culture of survival and reprisals that has been existence for thousands of years. The Sunnis and the Shi'ites are working out their differences in the way it has been done since time began, that is: "You hit me, so I'll hit you harder." In the Arab world, strength is fundamental to respect is to being in control.

May I also remind the reader that NO U.S. Troops have been charged with any war crimes other than the Abu Ghraib "torture" scandal. Our Marines in Haditha and Soldiers accused of raping and murder of a 14 y/o girl are innocent until proven guilty.

Looking forward to your opinon.

USMarinesTanker wrote,

However, despite the increase in global terror incidents there have been NO (zip, zero, zilch, nada, none, etc.) terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11.

I suppose you think repeating synonyms for zero adds rhetorical emphasis to your point, but I already acknowledged in my previous reply to you that there has not been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. My point is that terrorism worldwide has risen dramatically since the invasion of Iraq. To assume that this will not eventually blow back to U.S. soil is wishful thinking.

As for the three instances of thwarted terrorism that you listed, I'm certainly glad that the would-be perpetrators were caught, but the war in Iraq didn't play any role in helping stop them. Two of your three examples -- the one in Florida, and the one in Canada -- were cases of "home-grown" terrorism, in which the people arrested were citizens of the countries they planned to attack. How many were from Iraq? Zero. Nada. Zip. Assem Hammoud, the ringleader of the second example on your list, was Lebanese and was arrested by Lebanese authorities. (It's fortunate that they were able to apprehend him before Israel began bombing.) According to one of the officials who interrogated him, he [http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/the-new-prince-of-terrorism/2006/07/08/1152240535591.html became involved with militant Islamic websites in 2003, soon after the U.S. invaded Iraq]. "He was angry with what America was doing in Iraq, and he began spending time on these Islamic sites and chat rooms," the official said. "He became more and more deeply involved. He sank into this extremist environment." In this case, in other words, it's possible that the war in Iraq may have been what motivated him to become a terrorist. So kudos to the FBI for catching him, but I don't see how this shows the war in Iraq making us safer.

The disturbing thing to me about these plots -- none of which came close to fulfillment, fortunately -- is that two of your three examples involve people who were citizens of either the U.S. or Canada deciding to become terrorists. We're fortunate that they were so amateurish, because home-grown terrorists are going to be harder to stop than foreign citizens. And the fact that we're talking about this kind of anger from people whose nationalities and ethnic backgrounds are this diverse demonstrates my point that making the WORLD a more dangerous place also increases the danger of attacks on U.S. soil.

USMarinesTanker also wrote,

I cannot recall a single news account (paper, tv, radio) of one successful reconstruction effort. No one reports them because it doesn't sell.

For starters here, I should point out that the examples you cited of successful efforts to interdict terrorists in the United States and Canada were all taken from news accounts. You're playing a contradictory game here. On the one hand, you cite the news media as authorities when it helps make your argument. On the other hand, you dismiss them as biased when their reports don't support your argument.

It's true that journalists are more inclined to report dramatic events than non-dramatic ones, but that's a distortion whose effects are a lot more complicated than your comments suggest. In 2001, for example, approximately 100 times as many people died prematurely in the United States from tobacco-related diseases as died from terrorist attacks, but guess which threat got more coverage? Media sensationalism also helped spread the lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that got us into this war in the first place. You're presuming that the media have an anti-war agenda, but it's just as easy to make the argument that they actually have a pro-war agenda.

You write that you haven't seen any news accounts of reconstruction efforts, but I have seen some. I agree that there haven't been many, but some of the reasons for this don't support your assumptions about a "media agenda." For one thing, the situation in Iraq has gotten so dangerous for journalists that they have to take extraordinary security measures, which in turn limits their reporting. A case in point is ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff, who visited Iraq in January for the precise purpose of doing what you accuse journalists of failing to do: reporting the good news that the Bush administration complains is ignored by the news media. Woodruff spent a day chatting with friendly Iraqis on the street and eating ice cream at a Baghdad shop to show the "normal" side of life in Iraq. The following day, he and an ABC cameraman were badly wounded and nearly killed traveling in a routine military convoy. Incidentally, the war in Iraq has already been the deadliest war for journalists since World War II. So far, 99 journalists and their assistants have been killed in the war, which is more than the number killed during 20 years of war in Vietnam or the civil war in Algeria.

Finally, there is one other reason why journalists are unlikely to focus on reconstruction projects. When they do publicize them, the projects become targets for terrorist attack. You might want to read the observations of Robert J. Callahan, a former press attache at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad:

http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=4071

He writes,

Well, the media did run positive stories, perhaps not as many as we would have liked, but again the situation in Iraq often made it difficult, impractical or counterproductive to get coverage for the good news. For example, we stopped taking reporters to the inaugurations of many reconstruction projects because, as we quickly learned to our dismay, publicity might invite a terrorist attack. On several occasions, one involving a school, terrorists struck the site and killed innocent people the day after an article or television story appeared. We concluded that good publicity simply wasn't worth the cost in lives and damage, and we stopped advertising them. It was frustrating, to be sure, but prudent.

USMarinesTanker also wrote,

Over 80% of the fighters in Iraq are from foreign countries.

I don't know where you come up with a figure like 80%. It's the opposite of everything I've seen from every other source. The Washington Post reported last year that foreign fighters comprised between 4 to 10 percent of all insurgents:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/16/AR2005111602519.html

I know you don't trust the news media, but if you read the article, you'll see that its information is taken from U.S. military officials whom it quotes by name. CENTCOM estimated in the summer of 2005 that 90 percent of the insurgency was Iraqi and Sunni, with a maximum of 10 percent foreigners. Who should I believe, you or CENTCOM? Moreover, these estimates are consistent with what President Bush said in November of last year in his "Plan for Victory" speech to naval cadets at Annapolis. According to Bush, "The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are by far the largest group. These are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, who miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein. And they reject an Iraq in which they're no longer the dominant group. ... The second group that makes up the enemy in Iraq is smaller but more determined. It contains former regime loyalists who held positions of power under Saddam Hussein, people who still harbor dreams of returning to power. ... The third group is the smallest but the most lethal: the terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda."

Finally, USMarinesTanker wrote:

May I also remind the reader that NO U.S. Troops have been charged with any war crimes other than the Abu Ghraib "torture" scandal. Our Marines in Haditha and Soldiers accused of raping and murder of a 14 y/o girl are innocent until proven guilty.

It's interesting that you feel compelled to put quote marks around the word "torture." Do you believe that torture happened at Abu Ghraib, or don't you?

Since you read milblogs, I'm sure you know that many milbloggers and supporters of the war are utterly contemptuous of the torture revelations at Abu Ghraib. It's not uncommon to see people write that the only bad thing about Abu Ghraib was the fact that the photos got published. A number of people have suggested that newspapers were guilty of treason for publishing the photos, and there has even been talk about shooting reporters for treason. (So much for the notion that this war is being fought to protect our rights back home.) Joseph Darby, the soldier who first reported the abuse at Abu Ghraib, was denounced for doing so. His home was vandalized, and he and his family received so many death threats that they had to go into protective military custody at an undisclosed location. This suggests to me a culture within the military that is not very receptive to investigating its human rights abuses.

Of course you're right that the Marines in Haditha and the soldiers accused of murdering that 14-year-old girl are entitled to a fair trial, with a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. They have the same rights as the accused terrorists you mentioned in Florida or anyone else who is accused of a crime. Everyone has that right. This doesn't mean, however, that the rest of us have to wait until after the trial before we form any opinion. I believe that the accused terrorists in Florida are guilty (even though they haven't gone to trial yet), and I also believe that the marines in Haditha and the soldiers accused of rape/murder are guilty. I believe this based on the information I've seen to date, and I'm prepared to revise my opinion if I see other information that suggests otherwise.

In the case of Haditha, I think they're guilty in part because I've watched the video of an interview with James Crossen, the marine who was badly injured by the roadside bomb in Haditha that served as a catalyst for the killings. (Another marine, Miguel Terrazas, was killed.) Crossen was removed from the scene for treatment of his injuries and did not see the killings firsthand, but he was friends with the soldiers who did the killing, and he has spoken with them after the events. The interview makes it clear that he thinks of them as "good guys" and that he is not at all sympathetic with the Iraqis who were killed, but nevertheless he believes that the marines committed a massacre. I don't think he'd be saying that if he didn't have good reason to believe it were true. Here's the video so you can watch it yourself:

http://www.king5.com/sharedcontent/VideoPlayer/videoPlayer.php?vidId=68258&catId=81

As for the rape/murder of the 14-year-old girl and her family, the circumstances under which this came to light (through the confession of one of the soldiers involved), combined with other known facts about the character of the instigator, Steven Green, suggest to me that the charges are probably true.

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