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WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
Mercenaries hired to terrorize Iraqis

By Sharon Smith | April 30, 2004 | Page 7

NO SOONER did the Spanish government announce plans to pull its troops out of Iraq than the governments of Poland and Honduras followed suit. The Thai Senate is debating whether to withdraw its forces, and Nicaragua has already quietly done so.

True to form, Bush reacted to the Spanish decision by accusing the new Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of giving "false comfort to terrorists" in Iraq. In reality, the Bush administration is alarmed by this hemorrhaging of the "coalition of the willing" because it exposes the unraveling political disaster of its military strategy in Iraq.

At least 700 Iraqis--including hundreds of civilians--were mowed down by U.S. troops quelling the popular uprising in Fallujah in April. But we will never know exactly how many Iraqis were killed--because, as Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell explained to the New York Times, "We don't keep a list. It's just not policy."

More than 100 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq in April. In fact, mid-April was the deadliest two-week span for U.S. troops since October 1971, during the Vietnam War.

The Bush administration's strategy was to conquer and subdue Iraq with a lean and mean U.S. military force, supplemented by foreign troops, private security firms and--crucially--an Iraqi army of rapidly trained Iraqi soldiers. But the Iraqi army has proven to be an unreliable ally for U.S. occupiers--especially when called upon to kill fellow Iraqis resisting the occupation. U.S. officials admitted that half of its Iraqi army refused to fight when U.S. Marines began their massive assault on Falluja on April 5. In fact, U.S. troops found themselves fighting against some of the very same Iraqi soldiers that the U.S. military had trained in recent months--after they joined the uprising.

"They made a very big mistake in Fallujah," Iraqi journalist Majid al-Samarai explained to the Inter Press Service news agency. "They try to say they were fighting foreign Arabs and terrorists like Zarqawi, but they were not--just regular Iraqis in their houses who were tired of the occupation."

Incapable of ever admitting a mistake, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared that he will continue to look for ways to "outsource and privatize" the U.S. military. The U.S. is relying on a growing army of soldiers from private military contractors, such as Blackwater USA--the employer of the four American "civilian contractors" killed and mutilated by enraged Iraqis in Falluja.

These troops are mercenaries--Chileans trained under the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, South Africans who defended the former apartheid state, and ex-British SAS and U.S. Special Ops soldiers--now earning a bundle killing Iraqis on behalf of the U.S. government. Whereas the average combat soldier in Iraq earns $16,000 a year (more than 25,000 military families are eligible for food stamps), private security firms pay up to $1,000 a day for soldiers to fight high-risk battles in Falluja and Najaf.

Private military contractors--which now provide 20,000 soldiers to supplement the U.S. military in Iraq, larger than the British contingent--have begun coordinating since the attack on Falluja. Nevertheless, as the strain on U.S. troops reaches crisis proportions, Rumsfeld ordered 20,000 battle-weary U.S. soldiers who were due to head home to remain in Iraq.

With 40 percent of U.S. ground troops in Iraq already made up of reservists and National Guard, the Defense Department announced that the Selective Service is making preparations for another draft--"in case one is needed." Last week, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) proposed that the U.S. should consider reviving the draft to ensure that all Americans "pay some price" in a "generational--probably 25-year --war." White House Spokesperson Scott McClellan quickly responded with the not-very-reassuring comment that reviving the draft is not under consideration "at this time."

While answering reporters' questions about the 90-day troop extension last week, Rumsfeld said that soldiers "are fungible. You can have them here or there." Fungible, for those not schooled in "Rummy-ese," means "commodities" that can be "traded or substituted," according to the dictionary. Much like cannon fodder.

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