As Tony Blair flies into Washington for talks with Bush later this week, he faces criticism from Margaret Thatcher’s former foreign secretary and senior British commanders on the ground who are rebelling against U.S. tactics in Fallujah and elsewhere. Douglas Hurd, foreign secretary for both Thatcher and John Major, told the BBC, “You really don’t win hearts and minds by filling hospitals and mortuaries,” arguing that the U.S. must turn over power to those with real influence in Iraq, not just a group that “curried favor” with the Pentagon.
Robin Cook, who resigned from Blair’s government when it went to war, wrote in the Sunday Mirror that American policy in Iraq amounted to “ham-fisted overkill.” He said, “If the White House had wanted to help the terrorists find more recruits and funds they could not have hit upon a better way to do it.”
Meanwhile, British commanders on the ground in Iraq are condemning U.S. tactics as heavy-handed and saying they unnecessarily kill innocent civilians. One senior British officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Telegraph over the weekend that America’s aggressive tactics were causing friction among coalition commanders.
Speaking from his base in southern Iraq, this officer even invoked Hitler’s term for Jewish, Slavic, and Gypsy “subhumans.” “My view and the view of the British chain of command,” said the officer, “is that the Americans’ use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don’t see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as untermenschen.
“They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude toward the Iraqis is tragic, it’s awful. The U.S. troops view things in very simplistic terms. It seems hard for them to reconcile subtleties between who supports what and who doesn’t in Iraq. It’s easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far as they are concerned, Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them.”
Under British rules of engagement, troops would never be given authority to conduct attacks similar to the ones the U.S. carried out in Fallujah and elsewhere last week. The British military orders troops to open fire only when attacked, using minimum force and striking at specific targets. “When U.S. troops are attacked with mortars in Baghdad,” the officer said, “they use mortar-locating radar to find the firing point and then attack the general area with artillery, even though the area they are attacking may be in the middle of a densely populated residential area.
“They may well kill the terrorists in the barrage, but they will also kill and maim innocent civilians. That has been their response on a number of occasions. It is trite, but American troops do shoot first and ask questions later. They are very concerned about taking casualties and have even trained their guns on British troops, which has led to some confrontations between soldiers.”
Additional reporting: Alicia Ng
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 6, 2004