Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Talk of Iraq

Iraqi Translator watching accused Iraqi Terrorist

Diyala Province

Iraq has a smash-hit television show: "Terrorism in the Hands of Justice." The hour-long episodes without commercials are shown six nights per week on a government-owned, US-sponsored station.

I watched an episode with nine Iraqi translators working for the US Army. The translators say they "love the show," "watch it every night," and that Iraqis "downtown" chatter every morning about the latest episodes.

The format is simple: Captured insurgents start by admitting to crimes, such as killing Americans or Iraqi civilians. The insurgents also admit that they have not committed the attacks because of religion or national defense, but because their families are threatened, or that they are paid for the attacks, or both.

Some admit to taking the money from attacks, then to getting drunk or hiring prostitutes. The suspects on the episode I watched had not yet been sentenced. This situation can vault the mind's eye to disturbing vistas about the state of "civil rights" here. Yet Iraq is at war with itself, and justice in this area of the world is as far behind, by comparison, as are their non-existent space programs. For any country not at war, the idea of forcing suspects onto television—before being sentenced—is far beyond the boundary of mere "wrong." But I walked among the smoking debris of yet another car bomb a couple days ago. Civil rights require that most people respect the civilization enough to stop those who do not. Some folks in Europe and America are saying that the show is a travesty of civil rights. They are right. Better ideas are welcome.

If the television program is a Psyop ploy, it seems to be working. The episodes have so angered many Iraqis that tips to authorities are radically increasing. In a raid some days ago, based on information from such a tip, Iraqi and US forces killed about 85 insurgents. I accompanied a reconnaissance yesterday looking for more insurgents, and the US captain leading the patrol told me that one of the suspects on the television show had come from a village we were in. The captain said that the suspect had admitted to beheading 23 captives.

Many Iraqis apparently have felt that insurgents were attacking the government based on religious duties. The "invisible" insurgents can seem omniscient and increasingly omnipotent. When the people see that many insurgents are merely killers for hire—street thugs who talk with street dialects—the citizens call authorities. Psyop, or just smart, the program is working.

The peace can be won here, but the steep road ahead is only for the strong.