Just when you thought things couldn't get much worse for the United States in Iraq, over Memorial Day weekend, details emerged from a Pentagon investigation of a November massacre of 24 civilians by U.S. Marines that some military analysts are calling a bigger scandal than Abu Ghraib.
Final reports by the Pentagon and Congress are sure to set off a firestorm here and abroad.
Point-blank shootings of a seventy-seven-year-old grandfather in a wheelchair, a three-year-old, and a five-month-old baby and mother, who was apparently pleading for mercy when she was killed, are some of the casualties. Not, as The New York Times first reported--giving the Marine Corps' official version of events--armed insurgents. The original Times story said that a roadside bomb aimed at a U.S. convoy killed 20 Iraqis, and a firefight between U.S. troops and insurgents killed several more.
According to a news analysis piece in Editor and Publisher, "U.S. Military Admits Iraq Massacre--Months After Press Reported it", Time magazine broke the massacre story in the United States last March, months after a video shot by a local journalism student and witness testimony to human rights groups had been reported in the Arab press. A.P. and Knight Ridder followed Time's lead.
Now more details of the Pentagon investigation are leaking out, showing My Lai-like behavior by Marines on a rampage in the insurgent-dominated town of Haditha.
It is a classic case of Vietnam-like mission confusion. Frustrated Marines are on edge, and have a hard time separating enemies from allies in this war. The original mission--finding weapons of mass Destruction and supporting democracy--have gone up in smoke. The troops are left in the middle of a civil war, viewed with hostility by many of the people they are supposedly there to help.
A neighbor of mine, back on a short leave from an 18-month tour as a National Guardsman in Iraq, expressed disgust with the Iraqis, describing them as a backward people who don't even want our help to build schools. They prefer that their kids remain ignorant, and work on the farm, he said. That alienated feeling is mutual, as Iraqis view the United States with increasing anger. It's not a hopeful atmosphere.
The Haditha massacre shows how badly things have deteriorated.
For the first time on Friday President Bush began making noises that things are going very, very badly in Iraq. He admitted that calling for the insurgents to "bring it on" was a mistake. He used the same word to describe Abu Ghraib. Soon he will have to address what John Murtha calls U.S. atrocities in Haditha. With U.S. support for the war already at an all-time low, and the number of U.S. casualties approaching 2,500 and Iraqi casualties estimated at between 38,000 and more than 100,000, it's time to put an end to this awful war, and finally admit that, in Bush's words, the whole thing has been a terrible mistake.