Aug. 10, 2003. 01:00 AM



One cringes on hearing some Americans analyze non-Americans.

Here is Lt.-Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, chief commander in Iraq, announcing the curtailment of U.S. raids in the futile search for Saddam Hussein, Baathists and other troublemakers — raids that have alienated Iraqis because troops were often ending up at the wrong address due to faulty intelligence:

"We created in this culture some Iraqis that then had to act because of their value systems against us in terms of revenge, possibly because there were casualties on their side and also because of the impact on their dignity and respect."

Set aside the awkward lingo. The message is clear enough:

Iraqis are resisting the occupation not because innocent bystanders are getting killed or injured in ill-conceived and ill-executed American operations.

Nor because doors to people's homes are being kicked down in the middle of the night, their meagre possessions turned topsy-turvy and their cash, essential for survival in the absence of banks, seized.

Nor because men are being dragged out in pyjamas, gagged and detained in frequent cases of mistaken identity; women are having their privacy invaded by aggressive and foul-mouthed strangers; and children are being frightened and psychologically scarred.

No, none of that, said the general, but because Iraqi culture and custom dictate they act up under such circumstances!

What planet do these Americans live on? Or are they so preoccupied spinning propaganda that they have no sense of reality? Or is it that they just don't care what anyone thinks beyond their core constituency of fellow citizens and foreign fellow travellers?

So monumental has the mismanagement of post-Iraq been that essential services and law and order are still not back to pre-war levels. Looting has given way to carjacking and kidnapping.

Iraqi frustrations over rampant crime have the eerie echo of women in U.S.-controlled Afghanistan who lately have been complaining that, under the Taliban, they were at least safe from rape.

The Americans are operating in chaotic conditions under which many are getting killed. But they have contributed to the chaos by being ill-prepared for post-war Iraq, by being culturally clueless and trigger-happy.

After all, the British — in charge of Basra and other southern areas — are doing a far better job of managing the supposedly far more troublesome Shiites.

American haplessness can be seen in their guesswork on who might be attacking them: "Saddam Fedayeen, displaced Baathists, some Islamic extremists, the so-called Army of Muhammad, Wahhabis, maybe some Al Qaeda terrorists, Iranian-backed Shia — who knows?" said Maj. Scott Sossaman, a battalion leader, in a typical comment.

The bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad Thursday had the stamp of Al Qaeda terrorism. If so, the Americans have been going after the wrong people on false assumptions and weak intelligence.

The latter emanates from too much reliance on technology and on "experts," in Iraq and back in Washington, who speak no Arabic and have little or no feel for the pulse of the land or its people.

Beyond the house raids, Americans have angered Iraqis by detaining about 5,000 people, many on the flimsiest of suspicion, for weeks.

They're being held under inhumane conditions, with no opportunity to get word back to their families.

French and British media are reporting from the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, once again in use, and from other detention centres.

Detainees are held under "tarps surrounded by barbed wire under blistering sun," says the Liberation of Paris Web site (

It quotes one as saying that prisoners are punished at the slightest infraction and "made to stand for hours in the sun, arms and legs outstretched."

Others are said to be "thrown in the dirt on their stomach, with their hands tied, under the hot sun."

Amnesty International has just condemned such American abuses. Ironic, since the liberators are ostensibly there to establish democracy and the rule of law.

Then there's the callous or casual American approach to collateral damage caused in the hunt for Saddam or by measures to subdue the resistance.

Between six to a dozen bystanders were gunned down during a wild, and unprovoked, shootout by the elite Task Force 20 during a recent raid in Baghdad in pursuit of him.

Sixteen were killed in the April bombing of a restaurant where he was supposed to be.

We don't know how many died in the cruise missile attack on "a Saddam bunker" on the eve of the war.

Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker magazine has just revealed that 80 innocent people were killed in a June 28 raid near the Syrian border on a convoy that was thought to be carrying Saddam and his entourage.

American soldiers have killed more than 30 people by firing on demonstrators in Baghdad, Falujah, Mosul and Karbala.

How many dead Iraqis, soldiers and civilians, during the war and since its end May 1?

No one knows for sure. Or cares. Not the U.S. military. As Gen. Tommy Franks said, "We don't do body counts" — of the enemy. Not the American media, either. They don't even seem to make an effort.

According to, run by academics and peace activists, the reported civilian death count, so far, stands at "a minimum of 6,087 and a maximum of 7,798."

The estimated number of injured is 20,000.

American forces have been given the benefit of the doubt because they've been facing guerrilla attacks. But their actions and, in fact, their entire approach to the occupation raise disturbing questions, summarized in what Iraqis most often ask visitors: "How do Americans think of us, as Iraqis or as animals? Why do they treat us like cattle?"

-- Haroon Siddiqui is the Star's editorial page editor emeritus.