By Jono Kinkade
See the occupation of Iraq through the eyes of Molly Bingham and Steve Connors. After spending over a year working in Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion, Bingham—who has spent years covering conflicts in Rwanda and the Congo—worked as an official photographer for the Office of the Vice President, and then made a career decision to go and see what was really going on in the Middle East. Connors spent nine years in the British Army—serving much of that time in Northern Ireland—and then went to cover conflicts in Eastern Europe. He went to Iraq after the March 2003 invasion and saw an intimate portrait of the life and the motivations for what we now know to be the Iraqi insurgency.
*City on a Hill Press (CHP):* Who are the insurgents?
*Steve Connors:* We found it was kind of every man. The first person we met and spoke with was a teacher. There was a former special-forces officer, there was a woman who was a wife and a mother, and in general they were sort of ordinary people. There was one guy who fought alongside the Palestinian people for 20 years, from 1970 onwards. We spoke to about 45 people [in total], and they really were from all walks of life.
*Molly Bingham:* The film is specifically about Iraq—it’s shaped and colored and textured by the history, the culture, and the religion of Iraq. But taking a step back, it is also an updated study on the human condition under occupation. Around the world and throughout history we have seen occupations, and we have seen resistances to those occupations, and this is really just the 8.0 version, if you will, of what resistance looks like in the 21st century, with the modern capacities and the issue at hand, with the Internet, and countries that are a washed with weapons, and the borderless kinds of societies that we have. So I think it is about Iraq, but it also [takes a] step back to see that it is really not that weird that people, human beings, feel the need to defend their homeland against foreign troops.
*CHP:* Were many insurgents also fighting in the sectarian conflicts between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam that we hear so much about?
*MB:* That puts your finger right on the other major issue. We need to set up the five myths about Iraq, and this is the second one, that there is a monolithic insurgency—and there absolutely is not. There are definitely divisions, there is a civil war going on in Iraq, that’s for sure, and there is sectarian violence happening in that civil war; but the majority of the violence is political. That political division casts around the issue of whether the country should be divided up, i.e. the partitionists, and the nationalists, the people who want to keep the country together.
The people that we spoke to, their primary target is the United States and the foreign troops that are in Iraq. Their secondary target is the Iraqi police and army, whom they view as collaborators for working with the Americans. Statistically as well, the Department of Defense quarterly reports to Congress show that averaged from April of 2004 to the end of this summer , 74 percent of significant attacks in Iraq targeted the U.S.-led coalition forces. Sixteen percent targeted the Iraqi police and army, and the remaining 10 percent targeted civilians. Now obviously civilians are dying in much larger numbers because they are physically, completely unprotected and they don’t [receive] the great medical care that U.S. soldiers get in that golden hour, that first hour after an attack or an incident.
The perception here is that a huge amount of violence is actually targeting civilians and a minimal amount of violence is targeting the foreign troops in Iraq, and that is just not the case.
*SC:* The narrative that is being set up right now in the United States, or has been set up—and whenever we do screenings I see all the heads nodding in the audience—is that the United States military is currently deployed in Iraq to stand between two sides in a civil war and to prevent a genocide. That is not happening. An ABC-BBC poll that I saw from August of 2007, [showed] that 78 percent of Iraqis believe that the U.S. military creates more conflict than it prevents, which is why 71 percent of Iraqi’s want the U.S. military to withdraw from the country.
*MB:* Just to pile on more on the stats—93 percent of Sunnis, 62 percent of Shia, and 15 percent of Kurds think it’s perfectly alright to attack and kidnap U.S. or foreign soldiers in Iraq, so the notion that [the insurgency] is some marginal element of Iraqi society that is fighting against our presence there is just a complete absurdity.
*CHP:* Do you think the media coverage in the United States is misrepresenting the motivations for insurgency attacks in Iraq?
*SC:* In a counter-insurgency war, the idea with information operations is to try to draw the enemy as marginal to the society—that these are not people that are in the mainstream, these are criminals, dead-enders, former Bathists, Al Qaeda, foreign fighters, etc. The Iraqi people are constantly bombarded with this.
The problem is that the Iraqis take a look at this on television and say, “Well I actually know that Omar and Ahmed down the street and around the corner are involved in this, and they don’t fit that description at all. So there is a certain level of disbelief, when the U.S. military is talking about [Iraqis] who attack the U.S. military.
The Iraqis have this local knowledge that they contrast and compare this information with. In an information age, you cannot direct that information at the Iraqis and not have a spillover effect.
*CHP:* Do you see a sense of similarity then in the sense of nationalism and patriotism between American soldiers and Iraqi insurgents?
*MB:* Yes. These are just people that find themselves on different sides of history. I don’t think there is a tremendous difference between the [Iraqi] warrior who we interviewed, and a young, committed officer [in the U.S. military] who’s fighting in Iraq right now. There is not a significant difference. They are educated, intelligent, resourceful people who believe in their country and who believe in the freedom of their country. They are fighting from opposite sides of the same story.
*SC:* Except one is at home and the other one isn’t, therein lies the difference.
*MB:* One is going to fight until the foreign troops are gone, and the other is going to fight until he gets told to go home.
*CHP:* Is there a particular experience that you had that really left a mark in your memory?
*MB:* Everyday I woke up thinking that it was bad, and wondering whether it could get worse. And everyday that we were there, from right after the fall of Baghdad through June of 2004, every day got worse.
And for me the culmination of that process was the [unveiling] of the torture at Abu Graib. I shook my head and thought: “Wow, so we invaded this country to liberate a people, we arrest a lot of them and put them in the same prison that Saddam Hussein was famous for torturing people in, and we torture them. That’s just messed up. At one point I realized that I don’t care what we do, I don’t care how much like an angel every U.S. citizen behaves in Iraq for the next 20 years, we are never going to be able to undo that.
_Meeting Resistance will be at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel St., Santa Cruz, on January 20 at 7pm. Tickets will be $8 at the door. _