US troops in Iraq: to stay or to go?

The New York Times reports:

The narrative of American officialdom here, civilian and military alike, is that United States muscle is used merely in service of supporting Iraq’s fledgling democracy. Iraq’s leaders and soldiers are the ones responsible, and seek American support only as needed. That may be literally true, but the reaction to a botched weekend raid in a village north of the capital that left three men dead, none the targeted insurgent, laid bare another truth: In Iraq, where grievances run deep, America will still bear the brunt of the blame when things go wrong, even if the facts don’t completely align.

On Saturday news began filtering out of Al Rufait, the grape farming village near Saddam Hussein’s hometown, Tikrit, that a nighttime operation conducted by Iraqi and American forces aimed at a suspected member of Al Qaeda had turned in to a shootout involving bullets, grenades and American Apache helicopters that left the tribal Sheik and two others dead, and several wounded, including two young girls.

A cloud of competing stories emerged, but the outrage from village residents and local officials was directed at the Americans, even though it was Iraq’s own security forces in charge of the mission, and Iraqi soldiers far outnumbered the amount of American boots on the ground, a United States military spokesman said.

Stories of American complicity in civilian deaths here are rare these days, and we made plans to head to the village the next morning. Before 8 a.m., two tribal leaders met us on the side of the main highway that connects the capital with the country’s north, and we followed their white pickup through winding roads that cut through vast green fields of grape vines. Visiting a village in the Sunni triangle suspected of having Al Qaeda sympathies on a day of anger toward a suspected American role in the killing of a respected tribal leader is a fraught exercise, and for only the second time of nearly a year in Iraq, I heard the metallic clank of one of our guards chambering a round in his assault rifle.

But the villagers were respectful, and just wanted to tell their story to a Western journalist, even if none of the customary tribal traditions such as a cup of chai were on offer. Surrounded by perhaps two dozen men, they took us through the village, recounting the raid and blaming the Americans. Not a cross word was said about Iraqi forces who the Americans said led the raid, nor of the Iraqi legal system, which had validated the raid with a judicial warrant.

“We will follow them to America and file cases there against them,” one of the villagers said. “There were more than 30 people here that saw what happened and all are ready to be witnesses.”

One tribal sheik, Youseff Ahmad, spoke about the debate about the future role of United States forces here that has dominated Iraqi public life of late. “We want them to leave, even before the end of this year,” Mr. Ahmad said. “They’ve destroyed us. They’ve only brought killing and disaster.”

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1 thought on “US troops in Iraq: to stay or to go?

  1. Steve

    Having hard the US forces BS about things before only to rescind their version once the situation has cooled and attention has gone elsewhere I think I would probably trust the witnesses and not the authorities.

    If it was Iraqi planned and run why have the US there at all?

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