U.S. troops morale plummets in Iraq

President Bush shocked many people last week when he responded to the increasing attacks on American troops in Iraq by saying, “My answer is, bring them on.”

A day after his comic-book-style comment, 10 U.S. soldiers were wounded in three incidents.

American soldiers are facing an average of 13 attacks per day, victims of a deepening guerrilla war. “They’re getting tired of us,” Spec. James McNeely told a Washington Post reporter. “Wouldn’t you be mad if they invaded your country?”

At present, 230,000 Americans are serving in or around Iraq, including nearly 150,000 inside Iraq. Their tours of duty are being extended indefinitely.

“The level of morale for most soldiers that I’ve seen has hit rock bottom,” an officer told the Christian Science Monitor. “The way we have been treated and the continuous lies told to our families back home has devastated us all,” a soldier wrote his congressional representative. An Army officer told the Monitor, “We feel like pawns in a game that we have no voice [in].”

More than 30 U.S. troops have been killed by “hostile action” since Bush declared major fighting over in his aircraft carrier photo op May 1. Hundreds more have been wounded.

“It’s not because of Saddam people are doing these things,” an Iraqi man told The New York Times recently. “It is because there’s no government, there’s no electricity, and just false promises.”

As a result of the war, 100 percent of Iraq’s 27 million people now depend entirely on food rations to survive, UNICEF’s chief representative in Iraq said last week.

Calling the crisis unprecedented, the United Nations World Food Program has initiated the largest emergency operation in the program’s 40-year history.

According to latest tallies, 8,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the war and many more badly wounded, leaving many families with no one able to work, and many children with no one to care for them.

Many stores and businesses remain closed and government employees have not been paid for months.

More than 400,000 former soldiers and civilian government employees are jobless. A former information ministry cartographer told a UN representative, “We thought our life would be easier after the war since we will have the freedom of expression, but now we are stripped of our jobs and have no choice but to go begging.”

A former Iraqi soldier told the UK Mirror: “Our patience has run out. We’ve no money to feed ourselves, we haven’t been paid for six months and we’re fed up with broken promises.”

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International charge that the U.S. and Britain are violating the Geneva Convention by holding more than 2,000 Iraqi detainees in “cruel, inhuman and degrading” conditions with no access to family or lawyers, no system for notification of arrests or where prisoners are held, and no access to judicial review.

“The notorious Abu Ghraib Prison, center of torture and mass executions under Saddam Hussein, is yet again a prison cut off from the outside world. On 13 June there was a protest in this prison against indefinite detention without trial. Troops from the occupying powers killed one person and wounded seven,” an Amnesty International representative reported following a visit to Iraq.

Amnesty International and other groups charged that the U.S. and Britain are denying Iraqis their right to determine the reconstruction of their country.

In a July 6 editorial, the Iraqi Communist Party’s newspaper Tareeq Al-Shaab said, “The country’s economic development is being formulated without consulting any of its many representatives, and without real participation by the Iraqi people in deciding their own destiny … agreements are concluded, contracts are signed, and deals get approved and distributed to big investors … Meanwhile, the Iraqis, who are the people concerned, are not asked for their opinion in all this, as if it is none of their business!”

Facing mounting pressure from Iraqi groups, U.S. occupation chief Paul Bremer has switched gears yet again, saying now that the U.S. will set up a “governing council” within two weeks. A number of Iraqi political parties say they will participate, but insist that they will not be rubber stamps for the U.S. and must have real political authority.

But U.S. commanders have halted planned local elections in cities and towns across Iraq. Instead they are installing handpicked administrators, many of them former Iraqi military and police officers linked to the Baath Party.

This is spurring wide anger and protests. In Najaf two weeks ago, several hundred demonstrators carried banners reading: “Canceled elections are evidence of bad intentions” and “O America, where are promises of freedom, elections, and democracy?”

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org