Monday, March 7, 2005

Death at a Checkpoint

A big diplomatic and political dust-up with Italy is in progress, after US troops at a Baghdad checkpoint shot and killed an Italian intelligence officer, and wounded a journalist last Friday night.

The New York Times tells us this morning that “[n]ext to the scandal of prison abuse at Abu Ghraib, no other aspect of the American military presence in Iraq has caused such widespread dismay and anger among Iraqis” then these shootings at checkpoints by Americans, who are authorized to open fire “whenever they have reason to believe that they or others in their unit may be at risk of suicide bombings or other insurgent attacks.”

The New York Times cannot seem to write anything about Iraq without mentioning the so-called “scandal” at Abu Ghraib. If the guerrillas gave up tomorrow, and all US troops came home, the Times would make its obligatory salaam to Abu Ghraib.

The shooting involving the Italians is regrettable, and surely everyone is sorry that the Italian intelligence officer was killed, and the journalist wounded. But how can anybody legitimately fault the US troops ? I wonder how the Times article would read, or any of the other commentary or reporting so far produced on this incident – including this piece – had the authors been forced to spend any time wearing a US uniform, manning a roadside checkpoint in Iraq ?

Writing an article for the New York Times or a piece in a blog on the anger of Iraqis at US checkpoints is a whole lot different from being a walking target, subject to having your own precious body filled with bullets or bomb fragments and winding up on the transport plane to Dover, for a funeral in a flag-draped coffin. If I were on that checkpoint, and these things were possibilities, woe betide the person who approached my position in any way other then very carefully.

Too bad for the Italian officer and his family. That officer probably knew the risks better than the journalist. As for the angry Iraqis, lots of innocent deaths are an unfortunate byproduct of guerrilla conflicts, which the originators of tactics such as suicide bombing would do well to remember.

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