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Confronting empire

June 22, 2007 | Pages 8 to 12

John Pilger | Martín Sanchez | Dahlia Wasfi | Camilo Mejía | Jeremy Scahill | Rob Will | Joel Geier

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Camilo Mejía

First soldier to go public with his refusal to redeploy to Iraq, court-martialed and imprisoned for seven months, and author of the new book Road from Ar Ramadi, about his experiences.

I WANT to start by sharing with you a passage from my book. This was after an ambush, and we went to the site to look for evidence. It was a moment of reflection while was in Iraq.

I was fascinated by how different Iraqi life was from our own back home, and wanted to find out more. The cultural differences were many, beginning with the language and religion, which seemed to dominate their lives.

What else to read

Haymarket Books is distributing audio CDs of all of the nearly 100 meetings at Socialism 2007. For a full list of meeting topics, see the schedule at the Socialism 2007 Web site. To order CDs of any of the talks, or for more information, call Haymarket at 773-583-7884 or e-mail [email protected].

You can also watch several presentations from Socialism 2007 by:

John Pilger

Jeremy Scahill


But another difference was the way that they related to one another--even across different clans and tribes and the different forms of Islam they practiced. There seemed to be a unity that spread through the differences among Iraqis.

I wondered if our presence had served to unite them more. If that was the case, I didn't feel very happy about contributing to that unity, which seemed to gain most of its energy from their resistance to us and our occupation.

I was captivated by the culture and the people of Iraq, and even though I hated being fired upon, I could not honestly say that I blamed them. And I was even more curious. I cannot say that in the middle of the violence and resistance, I ever felt hatred from the people of Iraq. If anything, I regretted the fact that being a U.S. soldier prevented me from experiencing the culture in any significant way.

The limited interactions I did have with the local people reinforced my belief that our occupation was wrong. In several conversations I had, both Shia and Sunnis told me that Iraqis were perfectly capable of governing their own country without the help of foreign armies. Even those who had been initially happy to see the U.S. military's arrival, and who despised Saddam, were now saying it was time for Americans to leave Iraq.

I wrote the following about a conversation I had with an old Shia man, who was upset after having been detained and injured by U.S. forces:

"I am really sorry about what happened," I said, switching my attention between my friend Mohammed and his Shia friend. "We don't really want to be here." "Oh, I know, I know," said Mohammed. "He's not upset with you," he said of the old Shia man, "but he wants the Americans to leave Iraq."

The conversation continued on in that fashion, with complaints about U.S. brutality following rapidly, one after the next. These were all educated men, especially the old man with the injury, who seemed to command respect even among the Sunnis, a majority among those present. It occurred to me that the deference shown to him stemmed not just from his wisdom and advanced years, but also because he was perhaps some kind of religious eminence.

I felt as though I was at a tribunal judging the American occupation, with me cast in the dual role as the defense counsel and the accused, and the elderly Shia speaking on behalf of the entire Iraqi people.

I didn't feel qualified to match my formidable opponent. In spite of his anger about the occupation, the old Shia did not descend to personal attacks on me. He engaged instead in a dignified and elegant dialogue about Iraq's right to self-determination. Though he still seemed upset, he was very cordial to me as he left.

There is a moral deficiency and a moral disconnect in the larger antiwar movement. We are able to view and condemn the occupation against the people of Iraq as immoral and criminal. But we choke when it comes to speaking about not just the right, but also the ability, of the Iraqi people to rise up in arms and fight for their liberation.

With about 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and over 120,000 mercenaries, and with U.S.-controlled militias operating with absolute impunity the streets and alleyways of Iraq, according to the Pentagon's own figures, up to 80 percent of attacks are directed against occupation forces.

It seems only natural that at the very least, we would be skeptical of the idea that Iraq is being torn by sectarian strife. Instead, we repeat the official line that there is a civil war raging between the Tigris and the Euphrates.

To say that because of the ages-old split between Shia and Sunnis, and because of the violence promoted by the occupation, Iraqis are bombing their own mosques and killing their own children is like saying that because of the split between Catholics and Protestants, were the United States occupied, Baptist Americans would be bombing Catholic churches, or Jesuits would be killing Jehovah's Witnesses.

We would never believe that Americans, instead of turning against the occupation, would be killing one another.

There is no ages-old war between Shia and Sunnis. In fact, they have intermarried and lived in relative peace and harmony for over 1,400 years. To say that because Saddam Hussein was a Sunni, Sunnis oppress all other Iraqis, is like saying that because Bush is a born-again Protestant drunk, Protestant are oppressing all other Americans.

What is ages-old is civil war as an excuse used by powerful militaries to continue occupying the countries they invade. When, in talking about the chaos and violence in Iraq, we refer to sectarian strife and civil war, we are doing a disservice to and undermining the struggle of the Iraqi people to fight for their liberation.

Even as an occupier, I always knew in my heart that the people of Iraq were able to see me as a human being, in spite of all, and that they realized that the real enemy, even as we fought one another, was way bigger than me and very far from them. It is perhaps that level and quality of humanity that is responsible for my own deficiency--my inability to accept that Iraqis under occupation are killing one another.

Maybe there is a civil war in Iraq. Maybe there isn't. If there is, according to the Pentagon, 80 percent of the violence will end when the occupation ends.

But what is certain, at least in my opinion, is that promoting the yet-unproven idea that there is a civil war in Iraq is helping the war criminals in the White House to continue justifying the occupation of that country.

Those who are against the war but somehow still believe in Western divine intervention so that Iraqis don't kill one another rely on the idea that there is a civil war to continue supporting the occupation of Iraq--which is to support the continued slaughter of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, close to a million and counting.

Understanding the Iraqi resistance requires us to view Iraqis and view ourselves outside of our culture and our religion. We need to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine, if only for a brief moment, that our streets were being occupied by the most powerful military on earth. Would we turn against one another?

When a bomb goes off by a Shia mosque, that's exactly what it is--a bomb going off by a Shia mosque. To my knowledge, no American serviceman or -woman ever goes to look for IDs on the charred bodies of the bombers.

We don't what happens. We know about the death squads, we know about the Salvador option, we know about the mercenaries. We cannot trust the embedded journalists, we cannot trust the Pentagon spokesperson. We cannot be certain that Iraqis are killing one another.

What we do know is that we have a resistance in the United States. What we do know is that we have Iraq Veterans Against the War.

We are war resisters. We have been incarcerated for refusing to go back to Iraq. We are in the active duty, we are in the reserves, we're on the bases, we're in the first GI coffeehouse. We are in the National Guard, we are in every branch of the military.

We are the muscle of the military, and we're going to see to it that the U.S. government can no longer rely on the military to fight illegal, criminal and immoral wars of aggression.

If it requires more Agustín Aguayos; if it requires more Jeremy Hinzmans in Canada; if it requires more Mark Wilkersons, who is in jail right now; then that's exactly what they're going to get, because we're not going to stop.

We're not going to stop until we bring down the war machine. We're here to end the war, and we're serious. Thank you for standing with us.


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