Alleged wrongs by U.S. troops stir up discontent

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Allegations of misconduct by U.S. troops add a new ingredient to Iraq’s already combustible mix of violence, sectarian tensions and discontent over shortages of electricity, gasoline and water.

A cartoon published Sunday in the Baghdad newspaper al-Mutammar illustrated the exasperation growing among Iraqis, many of whom had hoped to be enjoying a better life after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.

The drawing shows a man on a hospital bed, his right leg in a cast marked “terrorism” and his left arm in a cast marked “American violations.” A patchwork blanket bears the word “utilities.” The patient’s head and nose are bandaged and he has a black eye.

But he smiles and holds up the V-for-victory sign with his right hand. “The price of freedom,” reads the caption.

While undermining popular support for the U.S. military presence, charges that American troops may have purposely killed unarmed civilians also are giving insurgents a boost.

“Can anyone blame Iraqis for joining the resistance now?” said Mustafa al-Ani, an Iraqi analyst living in Dubai. “The resistance and the terrorists alike are feeding off the misbehavior of the American soldiers.”

The alleged misconduct includes a November incident in Haditha that resulted in the deaths of up to 24 Iraqis, including women and children.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Sunday pledged a thorough investigation into the alleged Haditha massacre.

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the second-ranking U.S. general in Iraq, will soon review a preliminary criminal report into the alleged massacre by Marines of Iraqi citizens in Haditha, U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said Monday.

Pace acknowledged that the allegations have raised concerns among Iraqi officials and in the United States.

Other alleged misconduct involves a killing in a second town, Hamdaniyah, west of Baghdad. U.S. authorities cleared U.S. troops in a third case, the deaths of up to 13 people in Ishaqi, north of Baghdad.

Many Iraqis insist the cases represent only a fraction of wrongful killings by U.S. troops since the 2003 invasion, and complain of what they think is the low regard Americans have for Iraqi lives and culture.

Such sentiments produce supporters for the insurgents, most of whom are Sunni Arabs, like most victims of alleged wrongful killings.

The portrayal of Americans as brutal occupiers who are the root of all Iraq’s problems has long been a key component in propaganda from insurgents and their sympathizers, and the latest charges feed the perception of U.S. troops as trigger-happy and insensitive.

For the Americans, the negative image makes it more difficult to overcome their language and cultural isolation, complicating the effort to win over Iraqis – or to glean intelligence in areas where the insurgents are most active.

“There is nothing new or surprising for Iraqis,” said Hassan Bazaz, a Baghdad University political scientist who is from a prominent Sunni Arab family, about the recent allegations of troop misconduct. “The problem is that the outside world has been isolated from what happens on the ground in Iraq. What the media says now is only a fraction of what happens every day.”

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