Army’s Iraq Handbook: Avoid War Crimes And Beware Arab Paranoia

February 26, 2010 9:40 am

A 2003 handbook for the U.S. 1st Infantry Division in Iraq exhorts soldiers to “Do your best to prevent war crimes” and warns that “when an Arab is confronted by criticism, you can expect him to react by interpreting the facts to suit himself or flatly denying the facts.”

The document, obtained and posted by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, runs nearly 100 pages outlining on the history of Iraq, the customs of Arabs, and the rules of war.“What we were doing back then was developing a campaign plan to fight a counterinsurgency years before it became popular,” Maj. Gen. (Ret.) John Batiste told TPMmuckraker in a phone interview today. Batiste, who wrote a brief letter preceding the handbook, now runs a steel company in New York.

Batiste said that every soldier in the 1st Division got a copy of the handbook. “The whole idea to change attitudes and give people alternatives to the insurgency was foremost,” he said.

Some of the sections of the handbook describing Arabs are, to put it lightly, reductive.

Concerning criticism, the handbook advises: “The Arab must, above all else, protect himself and his honor from this critical onslaught. Therefore, when an Arab is confronted by criticism, you can expect him to react by interpreting the facts to suit himself or flatly denying the facts.”

And it says the Arab world view is “based upon six concepts: atomism, faith, wish versus reality, justice and equality, paranoia and the importance of family over self.”

Under wish versus reality, the handbook says: “Their desire for modernity is contradicted by a desire for tradition (especially Islamic tradition, since Islam is the one area free of Western identification and influence). Desiring democracy and modernization immediately is a good example of what a Westerner might view as an Arabs ‘wish vs. reality.'”

It warns that Arabs in Iraq might be suspicious of U.S. objectives, categorizing this concern as “paranoia”: “Arabs may seem to be paranoid by Western standards. Suspicion of US intent in their land and a cautious approach to American forces are a primary example. Some Arabs view all Westerners as agents of the government that may be ‘spies.’ ”

As Nate Jones of NSA notes, the handbook, which appears to date from the second half of 2003, belies any belief that U.S. soldiers would be “greeted as liberators.” Jones writes:

On the contrary, it stated that Iraqis had “fears of American mistreatment,” held “suspicion of US intent in their land,” and would be “cautious”–not gracious–toward Coalition forces. The Handbook also correctly predicted the Iraqi people’s coolness toward Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon’s first choice to govern the new Iraq. He was “viewed with suspicion by some Iraqis due to his proximity to the US administration and to the fact that he has been absent from Iraq for the best part of 45 years.”

While the handbook does not list an author, Batiste told us that it was written by the division staff.

Read the whole thing:

Soldiers Handbook Iraq

Late Update: This section from A. J. Rossmiller’s book Still Broken suggests that the advice from the 2003 handbook was pretty standard for Iraq-bound recruits:

We had plenty of classroom training, which was mostly tedious but occasionally entertaining. The sections on the region were like Middle East for Morons; the one-page summary of the “Culture Guide to Iraq,” for example, included the helpful hints that “Arabs usually believe that many, if not most, things in life are controlled by the will of God (fate) rather than by human beings. That is why it is difficult to get an Arab to do any form of planning for the future” and “Arabs are an emotional people who use the power of emotion in forceful and appealing rhetoric that tends toward exaggeration. In their exaggeration, wish becomes blended and confused with reality.”

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