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The Freedom

by Christian Perenti

As a reporter for The Nation, Christian Parenti visited Iraq three times after the fall of Baghdad — arriving once in a flotilla of high-speed SUVs (to escape ambush at checkpoints) and once in a prop plane doing a death spiral (to avoid surface-to-air missiles). He embedded with both Marines and insurgents; he interviewed Iraqi citizens, National Guardsmen (both in-country and after their return to Florida), sheiks leading the resistance, and cynical journalists.

The resulting essays in The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq (The New Press) are fragmentary and slanted, snapshots framed by strong opposition to Bush's war. Parenti takes his title from the ironic observations of his Iraqi interpreter: "We have the gas-line freedom, the looting freedom, the killing freedom, the rape freedom ... I don't know what to do with all this freedom."

Though he sometimes slips into odd eruptions of pedantry — referring to the Sunni as "irredentist" or as a "polynucleated scholarly meritocracy" — Parenti accurately notes that Americans are now engaged in "the kind of war our military is least prepared to fight: a highly politicized, media-saturated, urban counterinsurgency."

His snapshots illustrate America's "imperium delirium."

When he arrived, for example, the entire town of Abu Hisham — all 7,000 residents — was on lockdown. Out of desperation, Americans resort to mass incarceration, as if to punish all Iraqi citizens.

During house searches, U.S. Marines rifle through underwear drawers as scandalized wives and humiliated husbands look on.

Boulevards in Sadr City are flooded ankle-deep with raw sewage. As Parenti reports, "Bechtel has the $1.8 billion contract to rebuild Iraq's water, sewage and electrical systems," though "local engineers say the firm has done next to nothing."

An Iraqi man weeps because he has just been splattered with his best friend's skull fragments and brain matter. An American grunt walks over and yells, "Hey! No crying in baseball!"

Relatives of Iraqi civilians mistakenly gunned down by American troops endure bureaucratic run-arounds before finally being allowed to take their loved ones home — as decomposing corpses stuffed into taxicabs.

But then that kind of outrage couldn't possibly obstruct Iraq's steady march toward democracy. We can all rest assured that the American occupation will succeed — because, as H. Paul Bremer III assured the world in June 2003, "We dominate the scene and will continue to impose our will on this country."

Publication date: 1/20/04

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