The Art of Occupation
Do It Right or Don't Do It At All!
by Jerre Skog
October 25, 2003
American, British and a small sprinkle of other military forces sent by opportunistic leaders have been trying to bring a semblance of order to the illegally attacked country of Iraq for more than six months. Order is paramount for the puppet regime to function and the country's resources to be robbed by the same countries that attacked it. But order is elusive and the puppet exiles will not be in control for a long time without the help from large, ruthless and well armed American forces. Let's face it, US forces will not leave Iraq for some time! Expect GI Joes back by X-Mas 2009! Earliest! So far they have made a total mess out of their task.
American proconsul, or viceroy, L. Paul Bremer and his masters in Washington D.C. seem to be completely in the dark on the timeframe when a reasonable level of order can be expected to be in place and business as usual can take over. They also seem to be completely in the dark on how to handle a proper occupation without creating increased resistance and ensuring the continuous need for a large number of troops. In contrast to most other occupations throughout history, this is supposed to be about liberation and democracy -- two things neither the British Empire, the Third Reich nor the Soviets talked about. If you want to fake an orgasm you got to go through the motions and at least pretend a bit. If you want to fake a liberating occupation (such a nice contradiction in terms) you better do the same -- nobody takes your stated intentions seriously if you behave like an arrogant bully.
True, introducing democracy in Iraq is a tall order, especially when you haven't given a damn about it over the decades. The people earlier in power, when found, are either spirited away to detention or interrogation centers or riddled with bullets so there are not so many people left to negotiate a cease-fire or a capitulation on behalf of the people. The people splitting up in factions, religious, political and ethnic, is a further complicating factor after the disappearance of the earlier leaders who clamped down, hard, on any dissent and tendency to split (perhaps only a strong and ruthless man like, er... Saddam Hussein can prevent the country from falling to pieces). Whatever, now you are there, you want to introduce democracy and you want to enjoy the fruits of your illegal war. What to do?
The first thing about occupation is to create order. To do that you need to install confidence and trust in the population, not to mention acceptance of your motives and your, temporary, rule. That means you have to show some respect - at least pretense of it (remember the faking of orgasms!) - for the people. You have to meet them on an equal footing, respecting their culture, religions and customs and you have to come to them as friends and mentors not as ignorant cowboys shooting up the saloon to demonstrate your superiority.
The forces on the ground must never refer to the ones they are supposed to liberate as "motherfuckers" or "terrorists". You greet Iraqis with the proper name and title and ask respectfully what it is you want to know, not in a Montana or Texan version of English but in correct Arabic -- remember Iraq was the cradle of civilization while your forefathers were still trying to figure out how to make a fire -- and if you want to search a house you don't, under any circumstances, barge in in the middle of the night knocking down doors and manhandling the womenfolk. It might be accepted in downtown Los Angeles but it's definitely frowned upon east of Suez.
If you tell people nearing a checkpoint to stop, do it in Arabic. An Iraqi might understand the word "freeze" in English, but when it's 105°F in the shade he sort of gets confused over the meaning. And don't, DON'T, add the little complimentary nickname "asshole"! It's considered demeaning and derogatory.
If the soldiers going in to win hearts and minds meet some group throwing stones or even taking pot shots within 500 yards of them, they ought to back down and allow the situation to cool down. To react to some shots from a house by calling in jetfighters or tanks and turning the neighborhood to rubble means you are deep in the shit democracy-wise.
There are many other no-nos of occupation that the Coalition ought to understand. If you "shock and awe" the victim-country during the war, it shouldn't result in the deaths of 10,000 innocent civilians -- this leads inevitably to hard feelings -- and if you did, you better pay compensation before asking the surviving relatives to spill the beans on uncle Hassan, who just so happens to have a Kalashnikov in the shop. You shouldn't put 10-year-olds in a prison cage for months together with hardened criminals just on suspicion of theft of a small bag of popcorn. You shouldn't apply different standards of law than those applying to you, which means it's bad form to shoot someone just because you're pissed off at your president. You don't kick people into unemployment without proof of evildoing. You don't take into your employ former regime agents that you for many months earlier accused of working for a bloody tyrant. The easiest way to understand how to go about things to avoid creating more resistance is: Do NOT do as Ariel Sharon' soldiers do in Gaza and the West Bank!!!
Last but not least, at least TRY to give a pretense that Iraqis matter. It might be unrealistic to ask the jittery troops to sit down and have a cup of tea and discuss the harvest with the locals before coming to the point of whether or not Saddam has been seen in the area, but to tie their hands behind their backs, force them on the ground and putting bags over their heads before screaming abuse, demanding they come clean or they "are dead", is not the proper way of obtaining cooperation. When Iraqis happen to stop some American bullets or are hit by missiles or grenades, try to record the numbers of dead and at least make a show of investigative motions. The demonstrations of total disregard for what happens to Iraqis when Coalition bullets fly, that Human Rights Watch criticized on BBC World TV on Oct 21st, is one of the sorrier aspects of the American Empire's regards for the rest of the world. The Full HRW report says it all.
It might be a good idea to study other imperial occupations. The British occupation of the Indian subcontinent can be said to start with the battle of Plassey 1757, even if trade posts were set up many years earlier. The British East India Company was, after the Sepoy mutiny in 1857 replaced by the King's troops, who stayed until independence in 1947. That's 190 years. British soldiers had to live for generations in India to secure the businesses and revenues they were there to protect. They behaved just like the Americans do in Iraq these days. Arrogantly, insensitively and responding with violence to the slightest provocation. The British never perfected their occupation but after some decades, however, some of them learnt that to rule a foreign people you have to speak their language, understand their customs and religions and respect their ways.
Now the British were not foolish enough to try to take over a country of a few hundred millions in one big bite. They used the salami-tactics, taking over slice by slice of the subcontinent, beginning with the states Bengal, Orissa and Bihar and, most important of all, they didn't kick out the ruling elite! They left the Nawabs, Sultans and Maharajas in power and forced them, using military might, to cooperate. Thus the traditional rulers allowed the British to collect land revenues and do trade in return for getting help to maintain law and order and protect them against their neighboring rulers. With time the British swallowed up or kicked out the local potentates and took direct control and after many decades they started to get an inkling of how to avoid creating resentment and resistance. After 190 years the British occupiers were forced to get out and democracy could finally come to India. The years of occupation had led to a few positive things for the subcontinent but very limited. The cost to India and private British soldiers didn't equal the wealth that had been gathered in the hands of a limited number of businessmen and politicians in Britain. Both were immense, though.
The German occupation of European countries was brutal. The self-declared Aryan Uebermenshen ruled the occupied with a fist of iron and total obedience, raw materials and slave labor were the demands. Resistance was met with violence, censorship was imposed and local rulers, "Quislings" were appointed. A German killed by resisting individuals could lead to the rounding up of ten or more locals for execution and whole villages were destroyed to demonstrate the might of the arrogant occupier. The Nazi occupation lasted at the most 6 years. As any historian could have told, violence was met with violence and rule based on violence can not prevail in the long run.
The Soviet empire lasted nearly 45 years. Propaganda and brainwashing were the preferred instruments of occupation with violence backing it up whenever necessary. Occupation in the true sense actually didn't go on for so many years -- Puppet governments were soon in place -- but a heavy presence of Russian troops ensured obedience all the time though they usually tried to avoid being too obvious in daily life. Censorship, propaganda and secrecy were everywhere (though less than in the occupier's own Russia!). Leaders were chosen that toed the line and there was a transfer of resources to Russia. Under the guise of socialist democracy, attempts were made to give legitimacy to occupations that were largely intended to give Russia a buffer between themselves and a perceived western aggression. The Russian occupations were not completely unsuccessful. Many ordinary people had, if you discount the limits to travel, modestly good lives and jobs and housing could always be found. Education health service and education were free or very cheap and a pension was assured. Curiously enough, oppression was worse in the land of the ruler than in the countries ruled (but still the average Russian himself was better off under communism than under the robber capitalism that followed)!
If we compare which type of occupation the Coalition forces are exercising in Iraq, the closest would probably be the Soviet one in theory and the Nazi one in practice. The occupation is supposed to be for the good of the Iraqis, democracy and freedom soon coming, but it is conducted in way that the Nazis could have taught. Almost every credible report from independent journalists speak of arrogance, ignorance, insensitivity and aggressivity on the part of the Coalition occupiers. Outbreak of resistance is met with ridiculously overwhelming violence, censorship is almost as tight as it was under Saddam, baddies from the former regime are employed and the governing council appointed by the Americans is headed by an exile who hasn't been in Iraq for thirty years and whose foremost qualification seems to be that he has filled American ears with lies to get the war started and embezzled a few hundred millions in Jordan. Law and order is deteriorating and a large number of people are starving while the Coalition commanders are dining comfortably behind heavy fortifications. The resources of the country are sold out cheap to foreigners in cahoots with the occupiers and the oil is taken to pay for the repair of the destruction caused by the invader. Yep, it's the Nazis all over again! When it gets a little more desperate we can expect 10 Iraqis to be executed for every American casualty and the concentration camps filling up with imagined "evildoers"! The adoption of Soviet style propaganda and face-saving PR efforts can't conceal the arrogant brutality.
That the American occupation of Iraq will last 190 years is not probable. 45 years too, is unlikely. Six years is no impossibility given the way it is done. Just like the "War against Terror", the occupation of Iraq creates more resistance and more new individuals willing to hit back with every new day. Whatever the coalition forces will or will not learn in how to do things, nothing can hide the fact that they are there illegally in order for the country to be robbed of its valuables and to establish yet another number of military bases from which to control and dominate the world.
The pipelines will go on burning until the Iraqi people are allowed to and able to come together and elect a truly democratically representative government not forced on them by a country that violates international laws and disregards human rights.
Perhaps all those who prefer real democracy to the American one ought to pray that the Iraqi resistance will in the end succeed to kick out the occupier and its puppets.