Tuesday, December 14, 2004


On Shocks & Awes - an Iraqi Perspective

It is always surprising how some people think that because "we" are good and decent and have high and noble ideals, then everything "our side" does has to be good… or at least, justifiable. Thus, they justify to themselves and to others some truly grotesque acts. Such people exist in probably all countries of the world; America seems to have its fair share of them.


Shock & Awe

Shocking tactics to intimidate adversaries into submission are probably as old as human history. They were carried out by most nations throughout mankind's troubled and bloody history. I will restrict my post to recent "Shock & Awe" campaigns relating to Iraq.

Shock & Awe I

This was the official US army tactic during the Iraq war. The idea is to shock the opponent by an awesome show of force and superiority into submission. It is also argued that this may well result in a minimization of losses on both sides (some people still argue that the use of nuclear weapons in Japan also served this purpose of resulting in fewer final casualties – more people would have died if those nuclear bombs weren't used). You can find many references to this type of logic in neocon literature.

What is surprising is that many people in the States were not (and many still are not) appalled by what such a campaign really means in terms of human suffering.

If you come to think of it, that campaign was justified in the minds of many Americans by an earlier "Shock & Awe" campaign that was directed at the US in 9/11. To justify the campaign against Iraq, the US administration claimed that there were links between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda. Apparently it didn't make much difference to many of those people that those claimed links turned out mostly to be unfounded.

One little example: On the second day of the American army's "Shock & Awe" campaign to "liberate" Iraqis from tyranny and to secure the world from weapons of mass destruction, 3000 assorted bombs, missile and other explosive gadgets were dropped on Baghdad on a single day!

It was awesome! But what was awesome turned into something awful with the random killings, the Abu Ghraib grotesque abuses, the Fallujah-I, Najaf, Sadr City and Fallujah-II bombings. Some people would claim that the Abu Ghraib episode was the private "Shock & Awe" campaign of a few bad apples – some of those people got up to a year of imprisonment for it, some were even discharged from the army. It may however be argued that those episodes were seen to be merely a continuation of the original "Shock & Awe" strategy.

All truly shocking… and awful.

Shock & Awe II

Instead of producing the required result of total submission as neocon theory predicts, it produced a great deal of resentment and hatred (not unlike the reaction of many Americans to 9/11). This reaction fuelled what may be called the nationalist resistance. I maintain that this was mostly due to mistakes and blunders (and probably even some ill-intentions) by the current US administration in handling the occupation. In the days to come, this may well be related to the loss of the whole campaign.

However, other forces of darkness, lured by the US policy of taking the War on Terror to "them" started using Iraq as a base for their operations against the US.

Those people started using "Shock & Awe" methods in Iraq under the name of "resistance": Killing civilians at random, targeting innocent children, ugly slaughtering and beheading of Iraqis and foreigners, including international aid workers, etc. Video clips of these ugly things were produced and distributed for maximum effect! Incidentally, they also managed to discredit the above mentioned nationalistic resistance in the minds of much of the world and even in the minds of many Iraqis.

You have to admit that these barbaric acts were also shocking… and awful!


Both "Shock & Awe" campaigns have shocked decent people around the world. However, many people in the States were only shocked by the second campaign. Why? Because the first was conducted by respectable professionals who were doing it for a noble cause. Besides, pressing a button to send death to scores of people, or ordering such an act, is definitely more "civilized" than beheading them with a knife and recording the proceedings on video, isn't it?

The result is that the American "Shock & Awe-I" campaign and the "Shock & Awe-II" campaign being conducted by those forces of darkness have caused a great deal of suffering for the Iraqi people. In both cases, innocent people were the fodder in the tactics of "great" men in pursuit of what they regard as "noble" goals.


This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Curious that you don't mention the shock and awe manner in which Iraq was ruled by Saddam.

One big difference between the two; The US attacks were directed entirely at military and governemt targets. I even remember seeing the people of Iraq gathering by the river to watch and driving around the city during the bombing because they knew they weren't being targetted. We have even used bombshells filled with concrete instead of explosives to limit the damage to just the target. Sure some innocents were killed, war is hell. But the terrorists are intentionally targeting civilians, women, and children.


Additionally, your point that both sides claim the moral high ground is well taken. But the US is calling for free and open elections so that the Iraqis can determine their own fate. If the terrorists were so moral, they would agree to open elections too.


Hello Abu Khaleel,
For some reason the consequences of overwhelming force didn't really sink in until I saw the utter desolation of Najaf.
The real 'shock and awe' will occur when massive, overwhelming US aid, unstinting no stings attached is heaped upon the miserable people of Fallujah..in the spirit of 'the prodigal son' of the Bible.
"For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to give -- large or small -- will be used to measure what is given back to you."
I believe this is the way of peace in Iraq, but no one will take it. After all, it is Chrismas?

Hello Abu Khaleel,
Incidently, red-US bloggers it was the Marshall Plan that won the cold war not the millions of men and thousands of atomic bombs!

But the US is calling for free and open elections so that the Iraqis can determine their own fate. - thewiz

What if the US does not allow free, open, fair elections? They have a poor tract record for speaking the truth (WMDs, links to al Qaeda, flowers for the troops) either through ignorance or deceit.

All this violence is shocking and awful. And how will it end? If the US authorities cared about the Iraqi people, they would make a sincere attempt to count the dead and wounded and those who lost homes and businesses.... right? No sign they are going to do that ever.


From Circular, a question as usual
but I doubt that Abu or anyone else can answer this. Still someone may like to comment.

It seems to me that the most "shocking and awful" tactic being used by the Resistance is that of suicide bombing, which still seems to be happening at the rate of at least one a day.

(Historical sidebar: in WW2, the US Navy experienced a bit of shock and awe during the Okinawa campaign, when they came under massive organised attack by kamikaze pilots - they’d experienced sporadic instances before, but this was a deliberate last resort tactic, the Japanese theory being that their "moral" superiority, i.e. their willingness to die for the Emperor, would offset the Allies’ material superiority. Didn’t work, but fear of the same thing happening on a much larger scale during a mainland invasion was one factor in the decision to use the A-bombs. Suicide attack is a very difficult tactic to counter - the Israelis having to resort to a bloody huge wall? - and foreign to Western thinking, Western troops will sometimes fight to the last man, or sacrifice themselves for their comrades, but deliberately choosing to die is something else.)

So, who is doing this, and what’s their motivation? Its difficult to know, because obviously there’s not a lot of exit interviews, so to speak.

The standard or official US answer of course is that they’re all imported foreign fanatics, but I don’t think I buy that. Most serious estimates (like the CIA - are they serious?) say that there’s actually only a few thousand, possibly only a few hundred of them. (The Marines seem to have killed or captured only a tiny number in Fallujah.) And frankly they seem more the types to get their kicks from beheading other people, not blowing themselves up.

My instinctive guess, based on no evidence at all, would be that the majority of them, ie at least 50%, are Iraquis. And they can’t be ex-Baathists wanting to regain their former personal privileges. (I don’t have to explain the reasoning here, do I?) And my impression is that they wouldn’t be former Republican Guards - they didn’t seem the self-sacrificing types. Obviously they’re not the criminal element.

So what if they’re just "ordinary" Iraqis, royally pissed off about something - loss of family and friends, the mess that’s been made of their country, the tactics of the occupying army, the offence being done to their religion? I don’t see that it matters much whether their motivation is mainly religious, mainly patriotic, or a bit of both. What matters is that they are motivated, and that there seems to be an endless supply of them.

And they seem unlikely to all just take up accountancy after the "elections."

What if the US does not allow free, open, fair elections? They have a poor tract record for speaking the truth (WMDs, links to al Qaeda, flowers for the troops) either through ignorance or deceit. The UN will be monitoring and I hope will do a decent job. They did
the job in Afghanistan. The government has been making payment to Iraqis for losses suffered (I forget the Arab
term)although nobody can make up for the loss of life. Links to Al Queda have been found, some Iraqis did give flowers and as some Iraqis have said, Saddam himself was a WMD. We are not always right, we make mistakes but I remain hopeful that Iraq will eventually become a peaceful nation with self rule by Iraqis.

I'm not pro Bush by any means however, I don't believe that he or his administration should be blamed for the "lies". They were very believable and I believe that Chalabi was the instigator there. He would have done anything, including fabricating the info that Bush was given to take Saddam out and get himself in.
I was all for taking Saddam out. He killed more people than the U.S. shock and awe did and he would have killed more. Now the insurgents have killed more and caused more destruction to the country and it's people than any shock and awe of the U.S.

Dear Mister Abu Khaleel:

Please, read this:

About Our Reports From Mafkarat al-Islam.

This is aboute AMafkarat al-Islam web site.

What is your opinion?

Thank you in advance.

Álvaro Frota


The logic of yor last post is frankly, "circular" (warning: Attempted Humor, now you and Bruno can see why I don't try it very often). I really doubt you will find many secularist suicide bombers since, if you are royally "pissed off Iraq" from a self-interest stand point, you are far better off to express that anger by shooting an RPG, planting an IED, kidnapping or executing a "collaborator." The suicide route only makes sense from a self-interest stand point if the pay off is in the after life.

Further, please note that many of the victims or suicide bombers are Iraqis. This fact certainly argues against your Iraqi bomber theory. Also, since Iraq's boarders are extremely porous, it is possible that the foreign jihadi bombers are constantly replenishing their relatively small numbers with new arrivals.

Regardless of whether the bombers are Iraqi or foreigners, I suspect that nationalism may be part of the equation, but the primary justification has to be religious. You will note that the Palestinian suicide bomber profile is still a religously motivated young man, even though there have been a few secular bombers and even female bombers.

Of course, I would be interested in Abu Khaleel's thoughts on the matter.


Abu Khaleel:

Your last post begs three obvious questions, that is, (1) would it have been possible to remove Saddam's despotic regime without violence? (2) was there some level of violence that Iraqis would have found acceptable to remove Saddam's regime? (3) assuming Saddam persuaded the U.N. to lift sanctions as France
and Russia had advocated, would Saddam have rebuilt his military and threatened his neighbors once again? These are difficult questions that anti-occupation Iraqis generally attempt to avoid. However, in my view, they are legitimate issues to consider when weighing moral justifications for U.S. actions.

Also, I would like to address directly an assumption that you frequently make, that the dangers of Iraqi civil war after a U.S. withdrawal are less than that of the occupation. Have you considered that, in the Rwandan genocide/civil war, roughly one million Tutsi and Hutus were murdered in the space of 100 days. This ghastly feat was largely without the benefit of the modern weapons that Iraq is swimming in.

I know that you believe that Iraq is too ethnically and religiously mixed for anything like this to happen, but it is my understanding that similar mixtures between Hutus and Tutsi were also common in the urban portions of Rwanda. Frequent tribal intermarriage and urban tolerance did not prevent civil war and intentional genocide in Rwanda. In fact, the moderate Hutus were the first to be targeted by Hutu radicals. See http://www.ppu.org.uk/genocide/g_rwanda.html .

As in Rwanda, it would only take a small, radicalized segment of the Iraqi population to organize, arm itself and set upon its supposed enemies to ignite a violent conflagration. After the initial attack, the aggrieved community would undoubtedly seek to defend itself through force of arms and may even undertake revenge killings. It seems to me that most Iraqis, who call for an immediate U.S. withdrawal, have failed to adequately considered the horrors that are frequently unleashed in civil wars.

This mind set is understandable since most Iraqis consider the current state of violence and instability to be completely unacceptable. As a result, they seem willing to consider almost any change to the status quo. However, for the reasons discussed above, a quick U.S. withdrawal in the current climate would seem to be more perilous than a phased withdrawal after Iraq is more politically stable and has rebuilt its internal and external security forces.


Circular to Mark: re your post to me:
Good try anyway!
Two points. (a) From the reports I’ve read, I rather doubt that the bombers target Iraqi civilians that much (unlike in Israel, where the targets are definitely innocent civilians.) It seems to be more a matter of accepting civilian "collateral damage" in order to get the main target, ie US or ING troops and vehicles. (e.g. in that awful incident where a lot of kids got killed, it seems the bomber may have been after the convoy, and it just happened to stop in the wrong place?) And
(b) I did say that it doesn’t really matter whether their motivation is primarily secular or religious - although I guess from the US point of view it should be more worrying if it’s the latter.
I repeat my suspicion, reinforced by some news items one sees, that the foreign jihadist are to a considerable extent a propaganda creation of the US government still trying to link Iraq to the "War on Terror."
The point being that whether they are bombing, firing RPGs, laying IEDs or even beheading people, isn’t it in a sense inaccurate or incomplete to describe Iraqis within Iraq as "terrorists" rather than insurgents or resistants? Or patriots. If and when Iraqi killers appear in the US or Europe then sure they’re terrorists, but that hasn’t happened so far.

And even more Circular to Mark (after a stiff drink:)
And please don't use the "pre-emptive" argument that the reason there aren't any Iraqi terrorist outside Iraq is because you are taking them on within Iraq.
On that logic, it would make sense to send a platoon of Marines to N.Z. to take me out, in case I might one day translate my apparent anti-Bush attitude into action.
Actually one very small Marine would be all that's needed.

Marc and Circular,

This is just too interesting to me.I have to chime in.

(It's a slippery slope talking about the spiritual connection to a suicide bomber because you risk casting a bad light on all aspects of the religion. Just know when I refer to the spiritual element of a suicide bomber I'm not in any way refering to the religion as a whole.)

It appears to me that the suicide bomber is made out of circumstances beyond pure religious indoctrination. The term "suicide bomber" these days instatnly brings to mind a middle eastern context, but if you term it as a "murder suicide" then it's not so regional. We have our share of murder suicides here in the US that have nothing to do with religious motives. I imagine if one did a pysychological study on the phenomenon you would find the mental state of the kids from Colombine who shot up their classmates before killing themselves lived with a simmilar emotional state that leads people in Iraq to strap on a belt of explosives. There has to be plenty of powerlessness, shame, exposure to violence, depression in both cases. This is more human than spiritual.

It seems more likely that a layering of specific traumatic circumstances on a specific kind of personality would result in a suicide bomber being born. The religious aspects could be more of a facilitator then a generator. Greasing the wheel so to speak. Finding the willing participant and vetting them along their way to detonation, supplying them with all the required precepts and post-life expectations. If the spiritual aspect doesn't make a suicide bomber, it makes the process more effective.

If the suicide bomber were made by spiritual intervention alone then I'd think we'd see a lot more of them. The percentage of suicide bombers amongst all practicing muslims in Iraq is probably so damn small there's no way you could say the spiritual experience alone generates this kind of decision.

From this point of view you can intercept suicide bombers all week long but you will never get to the bottom of the barrel until you break up the circumstances that lead one to decide for themselves to be a suicide bomber.

For these reasons I find the notion that there is some set number of these suicide bombers hard to accept. And once they all blow up we'll bein good shape.


Your "acceptable collateral damage theory" is actually quite good evidence for the involvement of foreign jihadis in suicide bombings. After all an "Iraqi Nationalist insurgent" is much more likely to take a pass on a target, when faced with a high likelihood of Iraqi civilian casualties, than a foreign jihadi. Even a homegrown Iraqi jihadi is more likely to be concerned with the fate or his countrymen than would be such a foreigner.

Further, if I was a jihadi seeking to defend Islam against the American infidels, it would make a lot more sense for me fight them in Iraq than sitting around my house in Pakistan or the KSA. Bringing the fight to the American continent, while a desirable goal from a jihadi perspective, is probably beyond the means of most of that ilk. Thus, although the presence of foreign elements in the resistance is frequently used by both the U.S. and IG for propaganda purposes, it seems quite likely to me that a significant number or foreign jihadis are in Iraq, say on the order of several hundred to one thousand. Further, as I mentioned above, it is likely that their numbers are being replenished by new arrivals.

Concerning your second point, armed groups that seek political power via the psychological effects of targeting civilians for violent acts are by definition "terrorists." One can certainly be either a domestic or international terrorist. For example, the Uni-bomber and Timothy McVeigh are good examples of U.S. domestic terrorist. Of course, if your point is that it is difficult to make objective distinctions when dividing advocates of political violence into terrorists, rebels, freedom fighters, insurgents, or guerillas, I agree.



You raised several interesting points. I agree that their are certainly Iraqis that go through the traumatic set of personal circumstances and have emerged as "suicide murders" as you have labeled them. Further, I agree that one cannot wait for the suicide bombers to all blow themselves up to feel safe. There seems to be a large supply.

However, if you look at the lives of those suicidal terrorist that we are familiar, for example, the ring leaders of the 9/11 attacks, you can see that many of them were not the personally traumatized types. Their violent acts were inspired by deeply held religious convictions, although of a radically militant interpretation of their religion. The combination of religion with arms is not something that is new or unique to Islam or Iraq. There have been from time to time been militant religious groups in the country, like those headed by Jim Jones, David Koresh or abolitionist John Brown.

It would seem that many of the foreign jihadis are similarly inspired by militant religious beliefs. Some of them are leaving behind a wives and children to go fight in Iraq. See, e.g., the following link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41148-2004Nov10.html . In the words of Abu Thar the Yemeni Jihadi, "[T]he only place I am going from here," he snapped, "is heaven." This is evidence of religious devotion, not victimhood.

Please note that I am not asserting that religion has only a negative influence in human history, although oceans of blood has been shed in its name. In my view, religion has tremendous potential for both good and evil. Each of us as individuals has the power to use its positive potential in our lives and those that we touch.


Good points Mark:

I guess it's easy to predict the capacity for many to dismiss the content of such articles as propaganda. I'm not one of those people though I try to be cautious with what I take to heart form the news.

I would argue that those who took their own lives to execute the 911 attack may have still had their own sense of disenfranchisement and sense of powerlessness over what was hapening in their countries.

That said, I read the article you linked to with an eye for two things:

1) Evidence of disenfranchised and a sense of powerlessness

2)the involvement of religious figures in facilitating the jihadi trek

Here's what I saw for (1):

"Yemen's government cracked down on foreign support to the religious university where he had studied for six years, and he no longer received the $50 monthly stipend on which he lived. So he drove a cab"

"Abu Thar turned 30, and might never have tried to reach Iraq again but for the photographs that emerged of U.S. military police abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. "

And these from (2)

"From his university, run by a senior Yemeni cleric, he got the name of a man in Aleppo, a city in northern Syria, who would arrange for him to be smuggled across the desert border into Iraq."

He was weeping openly now, a thin man with a thin beard under a ragged tree in a courtyard in Fallujah. "You know these memories are the work of the devil trying to soften my heart and bring me back home," he said.

he met a young cleric who promised to help. He spent two weeks waiting in a small house filled with other jihadis. Each had a coordinator back home, usually the leader of a mosque or another prominent person who had vouched for him.


Circular to Mark and Fathom
1) Mark with all due respect you seem to be evading my point.
(a) "several hundred to a thousand" foreign jihadis does not seem to me to be a heck of a lot, given the size of Iraq, which sort of reinforces my suggestion that a lot of the suicide bombers are homegrown, and
(b) they’re not as far as I can see randomly targeting civilians, which is really what McVeigh did even though the building housed government offices. Most of them seem to going after either genuine military targets (troop convoys, checkpoints, Green Zone gates) or "collaborators" (ING and IP recruiting points, Green Zone gates.)
As for "advocates of political violence," strictly speaking the USA never actually declared war on Iraq in the old-fashioned sense, and Iraq, as a nation I guess, never formally surrendered or capitulated. So (as you seem to imply in your last paragraph) in my view the "terrorist" label is being used to distract attention from the fact that most of the resistance in Iraq is indeed coming from "rebels, freedom fighters, insurgents, or guerrillas."
It isn’t a matter of, "Shucks, Iraq woulda been easy if it wasn’t for these pesky terrorists," it’s a matter of "Shucks, maybe conquering nations nowadays ain’t as easy as we thought."
2) Fathom thanks for your last post in "Other side of the story." Your analysis of the mid-western mindset seemed to my struggling brain to be very perceptive and quite illuminating.
Then you went and spoilt it all by quoting someone who seemed to me to be basically just a variation on the "US hegemony, self-appointed world sheriff theme," or did I miss something?


Sorry, wasn't trying to spoil anything. When you brought up the question about perpetual war that book came to mind as a well researched perspective. My two paragraph synopsis would not do it justice. Your reaction was a common one judging by a radio interview with the author I heard on NPR. On face value alone the book stirred up some controversy. Upon reading it I found it offered good insights such as what to expect form a nation transitioning into the global fold. But don't listen to me, look into the book and see what you think. I'd be interested in hearing what you take away form it.


I think we can agree that the evidence is ambiguous as to the nationility of the bulk of suicide bombers in Iraq. As they blow themselves up and as Iraqi forensics system is probably stretched beyond the breaking point, the real answer to the nationality issue is both currently unknown and probably unknowable.

However, a group of with nearly one thousand members who are constantly replinishing their ranks is more than sufficient to bomb at the rate of one suicide bomber per day almost indefinitely.

As to your point about the geographic scope of the attacks, I haven't seen too many reports of suicide bombs outside of Baghdad and the Sunni triangle. Of course, the jihadi suicide bombing support system is probably broken up into a number of cells that are geographically dispersed. Thus, this issue does not strongly support your position.

I am afraid we will have to agree to disagree.


Actually "Shock & Awe" was not any official military tactic. That was just something some officer said off the top of his head, at a time after the war had officially started, but before anything else had happened yet for CNN to report.

To the other Anonymous: I wish you wouldn't make so many assumptions about the makeup of the insurgency. The fact is, according to the same military reports you cite, the insurgency IS made up mostly of former Republican Guard and Sunnis who benifitted greatly from the brutal oppression of the Shia under Saddam. Of course the suicide bombers are almost entirely foreign terrorists. Therefore willingness to face certain death is NOT a pre-requisite in being part of the insurgency, only a cruel mentality and thirst for power, and of course stupidity because their evil cause will never prevail.
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