A letter from a reader: The rules of engagement in Iraq

July 16, 2008:

In his heartfelt response to William K. Mettler '51's Jan. 23 letter on Iraq civilian deaths, Will Bardenwerper '98 recounts his and his unit's exemplary conduct there (Letters, March 19).

Sharply differing personal accounts of the U.S. military's conduct were given by Iraq and Afghanistan vets testifying at the recent Iraq Veterans Against the War's Winter Soldier investigation. Blatant disregard of the rules of engagement were cited – grossly disrespectful behavior toward civilians and reckless, random fire – ordered, encouraged, or condoned by commanding officers. This haunting testimony is available at HYPERLINK "http://www.warcomeshome.org/wintersoldier"www.warcomeshome.org/wintersoldier, HYPERLINK "http://www.ivaw.org/"www.ivaw.org , and HYPERLINK "http://www.democracynow.org/"www.democracynow.org.

The New York Times' Baghdad bureau chief, John Burns, reported March 6, 2005, that "American soldiers operate under rules of engagement that give them the authority to open fire whenever they have reason to believe that they or others in their unit may be at risk of suicide bombings or other insurgent attacks." Burns cited "numerous accounts of apparently innocent deaths among drivers and passengers who drew American fire, often in circumstances that have left the Iraqis puzzled as to what, if anything, they did wrong."

The staggering toll in Iraqi civilian deaths, from 10 years of sanctions and post-invasion, may now be in the millions. Why? Grossly disproportionate and destructive U.S. weaponry, and training that treats every Iraqi as a potential enemy. This, as our disastrously bloody occupation has proved, can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

San Francisco, Calif.

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