Ion Grumeza

Author, historian, educator, and philosopher

Deadly Non-Combat Accidents in Iraq

Opinion Page Submission
Christian Science Monitor


Deadly Non-Combat Accidents in Iraq
  By Ion Grumeza

When handling a loaded weapon in a hostile land under the pressure to kill or be killed, any soldier can make terrible and costly mistakes. Daily we see obituaries about our boys killed in the “conquered” Iraq, which by now should be pacified and vacated by the American troops and their allies.

A common accident is so-called “friendly fire,” which is anything but friendly and has taken the lives of too many coalition soldiers who were fighting to eliminate terrorism.

This kind of regrettable accident is not new, and one may recall that in World War II many American infantrymen lost their lives because the American planes dropped their bombs on them. These deadly accidents were caused either by foot soldiers changing their ground positions into the enemy territory, or simply because pilots read their maps incorrectly. At one time the flying fortresses even dropped bombs on Soviet troops, mistaking them for the German enemy.

The military campaigns in Korea and Vietnam were also filled with these types of friendly accidents, but in Iraq, things are different. This time our planes, helicopters, and artillery fire at targets they often do not see, marked only on computerized maps. Night vision devices are great, but they can confuse friendly and unfriendly phantom silhouettes, too far away to be correctly identified.

A nineteen-year-old frightened solider can be confused enough to kill a comrade coming the wrong direction. This most unhappy and unwanted war accident happens all too frequently. Further complicating the situation, when coalition soldiers accidentally kill each other, mistrust and hard feelings brew among otherwise reliable allies.

Yet, the most serious accidents are inflicted by the Iraqi civilians who may or may not be fanatic guerillas, but are certainly frustrated citizens under a foreign occupation. They may perform deadly acts not because they love Saddam Hussein, not because they have patriotic feelings, and not because they have a cause.They may simply hate the perceived insensitive attitude of Americans.

Let me explain. Iraqi society is based on cash transactions. Basically, each entrepreneur carries his investment and profit with him. When such a “loaded” person is searched for weapons at a check point, all his portable wealth is confiscated by the American soldier on post duty. Because no receipt is issued to the suspected “terrorist,” we have an “accident in the making” generated by the now-impoverished Iraqi who is forced into a sudden bankruptcy by his “liberator” who is supposed to make his life free and better.

This kind of incident generates another accident when the bitter Iraqi decides to revenge his loss. When the next American is killed in action, he or she may be a victim of that revenge. But in the eyes of Iraqis, all Americans are the same, and the sniper or bomb thrower does not care if he kills the right or wrong soldier.

Another source of accidents can be as subtle as the unwanted and uncomfortable touch of a GI on the body of a local, most likely a woman. Iraqi men are most possessive and protective of their women, and they will kill anyone who touches them. One may project that if an American were to date a Muslim woman in Iraq, it would not be surprising if thousands of Allah worshippers swore revenge on both the soldier and the woman.

Because the tribal Iraqi society is very territorial, Americans just happen to virtually step on ancient rules they have no idea they are desecrating. Forcibly entering houses or religious sites in search of terrorists, our brave soldiers may cause the accident of invading well-guarded Muslim privacy. The next thing we know, another American is killed for nothing to do with the original offense.

The list of military accidents goes on, each with the most trivial reason behind them. But one thing must be remembered: in any war, most victims are the innocents who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Stray bullets mortally hit distant civilians who happened to stop their trajectory, and sophisticated CIA operated drones drop their Hellfire missiles on family houses or into innocent groups of people. Destined to kill militants and terrorists, these remote-controlled aircrafts proved equally deadly and blind, killing civilians uninvolved in any type of combat, along with some American soldiers in Pakistan and American citizens in Yemen. So far, the American government did not apologize for the innocent killed, nor compensated their families. Designed to take aerial pictures of the enemy’s deployments, this pilotless plane was soon armed and used in a show of force in Balkan and desert wars. Intended to save lives, it turned into another killing machine that destroys at random, increasing innocent casualties. 

As for the soldiers, they would do better to read the history of the country they plan to invade and conquer. All lessons of history repeat, and it is useful to learn them in order to prevent regrettable accidents—especially deadly military accidents that have nothing to do with actual combat casualties.

© 2003 Ion Grumeza