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Iraqi civilians shelled by white phosphorus in Baaqubah.

Michael Gordon, a New York Times coorespondent embedded with the 1st Batallion, 23rd Infantry Regiment in Baaqubah, Iraq, a city with a population greater than New Orleans, gives us a little taste of what's been happening in the latest U.S. offensive:

Gordon: They've not only cut off the fighters, they've also cut off half of the city's population, because there are thousands of civilians, and they also can't get out. Americans in fact are discouraging them from trying to leave. They say "stay in your homes. Just sort of wait out the fight and you'll be okay." but a lot of people seem determined to leave anyway, because they're trying to get to the marketplace and the other side of the city, there are students who are trying to take exams, and a lot of them are trying to flee the fighting.

Interviewer: You know, in past operations, the US military has encouraged residents *to* leave a city when they were going in, knowing that there was going to be fierce fighting. That wasn't the case here, you were saying.

Gordon: Right. Their concern is that these insurgent fighters will just melt away in the population. That they'll put their guns down and just sort of blend in and pretend they're part of the normal citizenry. And so if thousands of people were to flee, they think these guys would succeed in sort of slipping out, and indeed they're letting people leave on a sort of a selective basis to go to the market, but their plan is to search the women and also make sure that they're women, and they're not letting military-aged males out, as they call them.

Interviewer: It seems that if the civilians are there and the Al Qaeda fighters are blending in with them in Baaqubah, that could lead to another problem for the military which is a lot of civilian casualties as they try to find the fighters.

Gordon: Yeah, there have been civilian casualties. I was just talking to our photographer and he had seen people who are hurt by phosphorus shells. But you know the civilian casualties are also being caused by the other side. I mean, really you have to realize what sort of western Baaqubah is. I mean what these insurgents have done is whole streets are just sort of fields of these buried improvised explosive devices. And these are large bombs that are buried underground with kind of cables so they can be triggered by the insurgents, and infact some of the houses here are wired with explosives and turned into traps. And what soldiers have been doing is moving pretty methodically very slowly with the soldiers ahead of the vehicles, probing for what they think the primary threat is, these massive roadside bombs. Sometimes they drop satellite-guided bombs on them or satellite-guided rockets and then there are some fairly large secondary explosions, so western Baaqubah is a fairly nasty place between the insurgent's roadside bombs and the Americans moving in.


This from the June 22, 2007 National Public Radio interview, "Baquba Residents Displaced by Insurgents" by Melissa Block and Michele Norris.

Given the reports from the scene, the title of the NPR article seems like an inaccurate description of what is occurring. Many of the insurgents are clearly fellow Iraqis, if not fellow citizens of Baaqubah, with close ties to the local community. The scale and depth of defenses indicates a level of cooperation between insurgents and locals comparable to that seen between Hezbollah and the civilians of Southern Lebanon. Like most Iraqis in a recent poll, they clearly believe that Iraqis have a legitimate right to use armed force to oppose foriegn occupation. In this case, both the civilians *AND* the insurgents are being displaced / squeezed by the U.S. military offensive, which, contrary to previous U.S. Defense Department statements, appears to be only marginally supported by Iraqi forces, at least on the frontlines of the battle. Not only are the Iraqi forces incapable of spearheading the assault, the U.S. commander in charge of the offensive claims that they might not even be up to the task of garrisoning the city after the assault.

A city of nearly 300,000 people is being destroyed, with the goal of rooting out a suspected 300 to 500 al Qaeda, half of whom the U.S. military admits have already left.

Like Fallujah, there are similar reports of men "of military age" (i.e. roughly between the age of 14 and 60) being forbidden from evacuating what is clearly a free-fire zone, thereby forcing all of Baaqubah's male population to either risk their lives trying to flee, risk being killed by artillery/aerial bombardment, risk being shot by U.S. forces, or, assuming they survive the assault, risk indefinite detention, interrogation, and possibly even torture or execution as a possible insurgent. Presumably, thousands of women will be allowed to flee the war zone before the final push, wailing as they are separated from their sons, husbands, fathers, uncles, and grandfathers, many of whom they will never see again.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote about American's fortuitous geographic isolation, free from "nations of eternal war." It is ironic that our overwhelming strength and geographical isolation has led us to a kind of moral and humanitarian isolation, exporting more weapons than all other nations combined, starting illegal military conflicts, and triggering horrible levels of suffering, death, and chaos that no American would ever stand for at home.
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