In the Belly of the Green Bird
The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq

Nir Rosen

Author: Nir Rosen

Free Press, 2006


Nir Rosen is a fellow of the New America Foundation and has written for The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Magazine and other publications. He grew up in Israel and speaks Arabic. He entered Iraq in April 2003, mingled among Iraqis and befriended them.

Rosen was in Fallujah in 2004. Chapter Five of his book is titled "The Heart of the Insurgency: Fallujah, Summer 2004." In 2007 the U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, would celebrate Fallujans running Fallujah, but in 2003 the U.S. military was following a strategy of defensive military control where it could (not against looting because looting was not a threat militarily). The population of Fallujah was predominately Sunni and had been supporters of Saddam Hussein. The Americans met with the mayor and, according to Rosen, drove around town in Humvees broadcasting a recorded message:

Allied forces are here to bring peace to Iraq and Fallujah and to rebuild Iraq. Do not throw stones. Do not try to hurt them. Thank you for your cooperation.

The Americans bulldozed a lot, created a soccer field and gave the mayor soccer balls to hand out to children. Elsewhere they handed out food, fuel, schoolbooks, medicine, candy and toys.

Fallujans were opposed to the presence of a foreign army from the start. The Americans were beating on their doors in search of weapons. Local leaders and citizenry met and complained, and they appealed for calm. Sheikh Abdel Hakim Sabti of the Suheib bin Sinan mosque gave the Americans six months to prove themselves, and if nothing changes, he said, there would be jihad. There were those who did not want to wait. A sign in a mosque called for honorable men in Fallujah to take part in a Jihad against the men who bring evil into Iraq. There were incidents and retaliation by the U.S. force, which further increased the bitterness toward the Americans. Rosen believes that it was the presence of U.S. forces that was the "chief cause of insecurity and violence" in Iraq. It would be a common point of view among Americans that the Iraqis had no right to resist a foreign military invading their community. Others would believe that it would have been best if the U.S. military had left the city for the Fallujans to control.

"Things got worse and worse, month by month," writes Rosen, "until finally, on April 30, 2004, four American contractors were killed and mutilated." The impulse of the U.S. command was to get tough. Strategists saw the incident as an humiliation that could not be tolerated. That they should not have been there to begin with was not for them a question worth consideration. The result was Operation Vigilant Reserve, designed to pacify Fallujah, and, in November, Operation Fury, which Rosen describes as having "leveled" the city. In various countries t-shirts would be worn that read, "We are all Fallujans." Rosen writes that "The American war in Iraq, meant to democratize the region, had instead radicalized it."

In Chapter Seven of his book, Nir Rosen covers the Iraqi elections of January 2005. He quotes President Bush as saying:

Across Iraq today men and women have taken rightful control of their country's destiny, and they have chosen a future of peace and freedom.

Rosen describes something else. He writes of all the main parties in Iraq – hundreds of them – being "based on local, tribal, ethnic, or religious identity or specific issues," with some parties "based around a family or tribe, some around a city or town" and many led by clerics. He adds:

Iraq's election law itself seemed designed to promote civil war. Although the diverse country is divided into eighteen provinces, it had only one electoral district. California, which is roughly the same size as Iraq, has fifty-three. How could a Shia from the southern marshes expect his interests to be represented by a politician from Baghdad ... or Mosul? Ethnic and religious blocks preferred one district because they were nationally known, and they would be able to avoid challengers who had genuine grassroots support on the local level.

Rosen suggests that a democratic outcome was hampered also by clerics who opposed the occupation being arrested or under threat of arrest. The election results:

Shia and Kurdish turnout approached 80 percent, while most Sunnis boycotted. In Samara, a Sunni city of 300,000 north of Baghdad, only 1,400 people voted, and they probably belonged to the city's tiny Shia minority.

Nir Rosen was not imbedded or hanging out with others from the United States, and he viewed the war other than from the point of view of those in the U.S. military doing their duty or doing what they believed was right. Rosen saw a lot that was negative, and in his years in Iraq the war was going badly for the U.S. and Iraqis. In an afterword titled "Republic of Fear," Rosen writes of an incident that followed a roadside bombing that killed several U.S. soldiers. Someone fingered a particular house where a businessman named Sabah lived with his two brothers, their wives and six children. The family was affluent and Rosen was told that "when you a have a wealthy family people hate them, so we think somebody in the neighborhood said we were in the resistance." In the house the soldiers pushed people around, beat them and broke Sabah's nose. The translator for the soldiers abused members of the family verbally, described graphically by Rosen. The family was ordered out of the house, except for Sabah and a brother. Three shots rang out. Iraqi National Guardsmen who were outside the house attempted to rush in, but they were blocked, the translator scolding them with the question "Who told you to come in?" The translator emerged with a picture of Sabah and tore it up in the face of Sabah's wife, telling her that her husband was dead.