In a move which by most standards is wholly counterproductive to the success and credibility of their nation’s government, Iraq released on Sunday an Iraqi militant (Laith al-Khazali) held in connection with a 2007 attack that left five US servicemen dead. (Read article here).
The incident, in Karbala in January 2007, involved twelve gunmen in five SUVs, attired in “American-looking uniforms" and carrying "U.S.-type weapons,” who after navigating perimeter checkpoints, opened fire on US troops. One was killed outright, and four other servicemen were taken hostage by the gunmen, who fled the scene. A short time later, three of them were found dead in a neighboring province, and a fourth was found with a grievous gunshot wound. He died en route to the hospital. The Iraqi government, however, is apparently not particularly concerned with this.
Laith al-Khazali was detained by US troops in March, 2007, and at some point turned over to the Iraqi government for imprisonment and trial. On Sunday, an Iraqi government spokesman stated that he was released in a “gesture by the Iraqi government as part of the national reconciliation process with militant groups.” Yet according to the US military, the militant group al-Khazali represents, (League of the Righteous, also known as Asaib ahl al-Haq, or AAH), has no quarrel with the Iraqi government. AAH militants instead ”oppose foreign military forces in the country.” What reconciliation, therefore, does the Iraqi government expect to accomplish by this gesture? Accepting AAH has a state-sanctioned militia?
Additionally, AAH may now be contributing to sectarian and regional division in Iraq. AAH militants were at one time in good standing with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, but their recent cooperation with the Iraqi government has branded them an enemy to Al-Sadr and his enormous militia. Will these two groups now focus their activities on each other? If so, then the Iraqi government has accomplished nothing more than inciting further acts of violence by its own people and against its own people. And now, one more known fighter (from a group which incidentally has ties with Iran) is free to contribute to this chaos.
The inexplicable decision to release this militant speaks volumes about the Iraqi government, their poor choices, and potentially a total ineptitude at self-governance. For a culture that proudly claims the Babylonian Hammurabi as their own, a man reputed with establishing the philosophy of “Rule of Law” (and that no single person is above it), they are boldly demonstrating their total disregard for due process and justice. This incompetent government, mind you, is the very one under which US security contractors now fall. Will they receive similar clemency in a “gesture of goodwill” towards the United States, or will they be somehow subject to a different standard? Ignoring justice once severely undermines, if not destroys the credibility of the entire system. For lack of a better way to put it, the Iraqi government is now negotiating with terrorists – specifically those that have proven their lethality and intent on violence. Why would they wish to gain the allegiance of such a group?
The collateral damage from this gesture will be immense. What incentive does the US military now have to exhibit any confidence in the Iraqi justice system? Why should the US hand over militants at all, if odds are these same men will be soon back on the streets committing heinous acts against whatever victims they choose to hate? How do the Iraqis intend to appease the five families now missing a loved one?
At its core, this decision is a blatant insult to the efforts of US servicemembers to improve a country long plagued by corruption, ruled by dictators, and subdued by fear. Does the government’s disinterest in justice fairly represent the country as a whole? If so, why aid those who don’t wish for any aid? If a freely-elected government clearly indicates they don’t care about those that ensured their freedom, then why bother preserving it? Finally, why help a country that is completely unwilling to help itself? This is not a gesture of reconciliation; it is devolution to shameless sycophancy.
To Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican: rest in peace. A few of us still give a damn.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved