Sun, Jun 04, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Iraqi leaders using harsher tone with Washngton


The alleged massacre in Haditha is not the first time US soldiers in Iraq reportedly "flipped" and took revenge on civilians after being attacked. Nor is it the first time they have been accused of cruelty and resorting to violence too quickly.

It probably will not be the last time either, judging from a video broadcast recently by BBC television pointing to the possible killing of 11 innocent civilians in the Iraqi city of Ishaki by US troops last March.

Pictures of mistreated inmates at the US military's Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad were seen around the world. So were pictures of the Iraqi wedding party blown to pieces by a bomb the US dropped on what they said they had taken for a meeting of "terrorists."

Reactions are different now, however. Iraq's first permanent government since the fall of Saddam Hussein is stepping out from under Washington's wing.

It is condemning actions by US forces, without whose presence it probably would never have come to power. Most people agree that there would have been no elections last December had the US pulled out beforehand.

Unlike the earlier interim governments, which more or less obediently followed Washington's script in times of crisis, the new Cabinet has demanded an "official apology" for the bloodbath in Haditha. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called it a "terrible crime" and said Iraqis faced misbehavior by US soldiers daily.

His predecessors, interim prime ministers Iyad Allawi and Ibrahim Jafari, never spoke in such a harsh tone. Even before he officially took office, Maliki affronted the US government by saying after a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that there would be no "American veto" over the selection of his Cabinet.

There are several reasons for the more confrontational stance Maliki's government is taking with Washington. Firstly, Sunni Arab parties sympathetic to the insurgency are in the government for the first time.

Secondly, Iraqi leaders, if they do not want to be seen as US puppets, cannot fully ignore growing indignation in the populace over the behavior of US troops.

And thirdly, the new government can flex its muscles more than its predecessors could because it enjoys more democratic legitimacy.

The US Army's plans to give its soldiers in Iraq a crash course in ethics are an indication of the generally problematic relationship between the troops and the Iraqi people. No doubt this is due partly to frustration felt by some soldiers at the hate many Iraqis show toward them.

After all, US President George W. Bush and his administration told them they would be defending millions of Iraqi Arabs thirsting for democracy from a small minority of terrorists.

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