Iraqi military officials often refer to their American counterparts as “the friends,” a circumlocution full of Eastern subtlety that is often lost on the friends themselves. Add some more quotation marks, and it comes closer to the sense intended, “the ‘friends.’ ” Not sarcastic, exactly, but rather colored with mixed emotions, as in the sentence, “The ‘friends’ came by yesterday to complain again about payroll skimming.”
Americans find this hard to understand about the Iraq war, that their trillion-dollar enterprise in Iraq has made Iraqis and particularly the Iraqi military not only deeply dependent on America, but also deeply conflicted, even resentful about that dependency. After all, we saved them from defeat at the hands of a ruthless insurgency that a few years ago indeed could have destroyed them, and we spent 4,000 lives doing it, left probably 10 times that many young Americans crippled for life, and they’re not grateful?
That is not, at bottom, how the Iraqis see it. They are grateful, many of them, but gratitude is a drink with a bitter aftertaste. They also chafe at the thousands of daily humiliations they endure from a mostly well-meaning but often clueless American military. An Iraqi politician who wishes to remain nameless (“I have to deal with the friends,” he explains) tells of traveling with the Iraqi Army’s chief of staff, a general in uniform, epaulets bristling with eagles, stars and swords. They were at the Baghdad airport, about to get on one of the few Iraqi military planes, when an American sergeant stopped him and refused to allow him to board. Despite the general’s remonstrations of rank and privilege, the sergeant made sure the plane took off without him.
Read it all.
Posted August 31, 2009 at 9:00 am
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