We asked dozens of readers who have written us about Iraq to give us their thoughts on a number of questions raised by the U.S. military's recent struggles against insurgent forces there, and by the capture of Pfc. Matt Maupin of Batavia by those forces.
The questions we asked:
1. Should we consider these forces to be an "army," a political insurgent movement, a terrorist group or merely criminals?
2. Depending on how we define them, what does that mean about how we should conduct this war?
3. What should we expect from the enemy? What are the rules of engagement?
4. Is Maupin a prisoner of war, a hostage or a kidnap victim?
5. Should the government negotiate with these forces, perhaps working out a prisoner exchange for the release of Maupin?
We received replies from all political points of view and all walks of life, including a Desert Storm veteran and the father of a soldier serving in Iraq. Here are some of the responses.
1. In 1998 Osama bin Laden declared war on America and the West, giving the world two options: submit to Islam or die. Coalition forces and most Iraqis are now facing terrorists who are bin Laden's foot soldiers in his declared war against the civilized world.
2. The conflict in Iraq is only one front in the global war against aggressive Islamo-fascism. In Iraq, we must follow the Geneva Convention and minimize innocent civilian casualties. That said, we must be committed to total victory and do what is necessary to secure it. The only exit strategy is total victory.
3. We should expect gruesome unconventional tactics from the terrorists. To them, the end justifies the means, and they are not bound by international law. The terrorists will use any method to inflict death and suffering on their opponents. They are not constrained by rules of engagement. The burden is on our forces to follow international law and preserve innocent civilian life. Our forces are performing in an exemplary manner under very challenging conditions.
4. Maupin is a prisoner of war and must be given the all the protections guaranteed by the Geneva Convention. His captors must treat him well. We all must pray for him, his family, and all our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
5. I hope Maupin is good health and will be released soon. Unfortunately, negotiation or prisoner exchange are not the ways to achieve a quick release of Maupin. A prisoner exchange will only release to the terrorists more killers dedicated to killing more Americans and freedom-loving Iraqis. And once they are released, they will kill.
How do we define the forces that are attacking Americans in Iraq? There appears to be a collusion of forces serving different masters but joined against us in holding the same goal in common - the acquiring of power and dominance in Iraq once they get us to turn tail and run before our job of establishing a secure and democratic Iraq is accomplished. And what should we call them? Why, our enemies, of course, to be vanquished as well as murderers and traitors to the people of Iraq who are genuinely seeking freedom and a better life. Maupin and POWs are pawns being used to break us down and demonstrate how weak we are because we care. We should demonstrate that our compassion and concern for our own is not an Achilles heel by remaining firm and finishing the job we set out to do while sending in special forces to retrieve our people. If we succeed in Iraq, we will have established a beachhead of freedom that, if allowed to take hold and flourish, has the power to grow and liberate that entire part of the world, and in doing so go a long way in winning the war against those who threaten our lives and security. As always, truth and freedom are the antidote to lies and enslavement. There is nothing more subversive we could do against the terrorists than spreading this antidote in their own back yards.
I do not know who has captured Maupin. That is why I would like to hear and see interviews with all the folks in Iraq. Why are they fighting people who are trying to help them? It is all very confusing, and I see nothing in the media to answer who these people are who are killing the people from many countries who are there to help them. Don't they realize the money, time, and lives we are giving up to help them have a better life?
You ask, "How will we define these people who are fighting our soldiers now?" That is really my question, too. I can't understand why the media do not interview these people to find out why they are so upset with the United States and other countries who are there to help them have freedom, and as a country, be in control of their own country via the ballot box. I have the feeling that they do not understand what a democracy really is and means to them. Maybe it is education that is needed here. I wonder if the military has tried to tell the Iraqi people why we are there and what a democratic government means. Apparently, many do not know or they would not be fighting. Having lived for many, many years under a dictator, they may not comprehend what a democratic government means to them.
It took many years for us to develop a truly democratic government. The colonists knew they wanted freedom to worship but did not know at first how to set up such a government that would provide for such freedom. Now, the courts - some of the judges - are trying to take this away from us here in America.
John A. Michael
1. There are numerous political insurgent groups vying for power. The enemy is too numerous to attempt normal military action against them. They have no base of operations, they hide in homes, businesses, autos - where and how do you weed them out?
2. With regard to how we conduct this war, the problem is whom do we defeat? I say we have accomplished our original goals, and when we "hand the keys" to the Iraq Governing Council June 30, we should start to draw down the troops rapidly. Any government we help establish with our fingerprints on it will never be accepted by the Iraqi people. They will consider it a puppet government.
3. I expect more of the same from the enemy, whomever they are. My opinion, you defeat one group and another splinter emerges. The battle will be endless with no clear cut victory possible. The rules of engagement will be shoot at whoever shoots at you first, a clear disadvantage to our troops with more loss of life.
4. Maupin is a hostage. He is being used to trade for something the insurgents want, apparently a prisoner exchange, although they have not named whom they want. They likely will not obey Geneva rules of engagement, they are heavily armed fanatics looking for a piece of the new government. Who are they - are they Sunnis, are they Shiites? This is the problem; who is the enemy and how do you deal with them?
5. Yes, we should offer an exchange for his release. This young family man should not suffer any longer than he has, and our bravado that we do not negotiate is wrongheaded, it's easy for us to say if we do not have a loved one in Iraq. They are part of a heavily armed citizenry in Iraq that is hell-bent on getting us out using whatever means necessary. This war, which I supported and still do, has been won by the Coalition. Saddam is gone, Iraq has been disarmed, no one has found weapons of mass destruction, let's start moving out before more men and women lose their lives, or are horribly maimed for life. It is not worth the sacrifice to continue rebuilding an ungrateful Iraq, let them do it on their own. To use a baseball analogy, it is not necessary to go into extra innings when we have won the game.
1. These forces are a political insurgent movement in opposition to our continued occupation of their country.
2. I would not refer to this as a war. This is an occupation by our forces that is being resisted. After all, Iraq did not attack us, we attacked them.
We should terminate this occupation by removing our forces and our presence in Iraq as soon as practically possible. Hopefully Bush is serious when he claims the United Nations will take the lead in creating a new interim Iraqi authority. This could be an important first step. I am skeptical. I am afraid this could be merely a fig leaf cover for continued American occupation and an American stamp on whatever government eventually emerges there. Bush should do more. He should go before the United Nations and ask for a Security Council resolution to turn both responsibility for the transition to a new government and an international security force to keep the peace to the United Nations. At the same time he should (by personal visits) enlist the strong support of our major NATO allies in order to gain their full fledged cooperation and pledges of troop support as part of a U.N. peacekeeping force. The key here is our exit from Iraq, the removal of our stamp on what eventually emerges there. Otherwise we will be there indefinitely, putting our young soldiers at endless risk for I see no end to insurgency against us as long as that's the case.
3. I expect continued resistance from these insurgents as long as we occupy the country and dictate the composition of the government that emerges there. In that situation, given the hatred directed at us from being the occupiers, it seems that "anything goes" as far as rules of engagement are concerned. They will continue to hit at us; we will respond with massive force in an effort to eradicate them ... and on it will go. Vietnam redux.
4. Maupin is a hostage.
5. I would negotiate for his release but as part of the broader plan I outlined above. In other words, a prisoner exchange but at the same time having Bush aggressively moving to involve the United Nations to replace us. However, I do not expect Bush to do this. If Maupin's life is deemed expendable by the Bush government in order to continue this occupation until it ends on Bush's terms, what happens to Maupin will depend upon the insurgents.
Gerald E. Kerns
1. The resistance faced by U.S. and Iraqi security forces in Iraq could best be characterized as a political insurgent movement, though much of the influence for the insurgency is coming from outside of Iraq's borders. A combination of Saddam loyalists, who are in danger of losing their favored status in a democratic government, have joined forces with terrorist elements, who realize that a democratic Iraq and the example it would set poses a serious threat to their existence.
2. The recent resistance in Iraq and the many headlines it has generated has made the war difficult to palate for the American people, and that is exactly the intention of those who resist. Spreading democracy in a society that has been dominated by violence and tyranny for so long is a daunting task and one that requires a steadfast commitment from the American people and its leaders. Backing down to those who oppose democracy in Iraq would set a dangerous precedent and serve to embolden our enemies. The war must be fought to win without losing the clear sense of purpose that took us to Iraq in the first place.
3. As President Bush has stated numerous times, we are fighting a different style of war. Our enemy will not face us on a battlefield and fight a traditional war. Instead it will hide among the civilian population, attack using terrorist tactics and fight with whatever desperate measures are available. Our troops are fighting an enemy that is not constrained by rules. While the United States must tread carefully and continue to demonstrate its goodwill to the Iraqi people, it can show no quarter to an enemy that is searching for American weaknesses to exploit.
4. By definition, a hostage is an individual who is held by one party to demand concessions from a second party. Maupin and the gut-wrenching images of an American soldier being held prisoner, are being used to weaken support for the war back in the United States. The kidnapping of a single soldier cannot deter our military, but placing that image on televisions and newspapers across America can have a profound impact on a compassionate public. Maupin is a hostage, and the ransom is the support of the American people for the war effort.
5. While we would all like to see Maupin released, the United States cannot set a precedent in which kidnappers/terrorists are rewarded for crimes against Americans. Negotiating for Maupin would fix a short-term problem, but the consequences could result in many other Americans being abducted and paraded in front of cameras. As much as our hearts go out to Maupin and his family, we can't give in, even this one time, and risk encouraging our enemies.
I believe the Iraqi Army has been defeated, so any fighting taking place has to be by political insurgents and as such can not be considered an "army." From my experience, I believe that the only thing insurgents or terrorist groups understand is force. You have to kick their butts to get their attention. Any hesitation or delay in responding is perceived by them as weakness or lack of will to fight for your cause.
I'm not sure that I would call this a war, because war denotes nations' desire to perpetuate their way of living, and I don't believe the Iraqi "nation" wants to return to a dictatorship. Some Iraqis may be hesitant about showing their full support for our efforts, but that is probably due to the fear that we may abandon them to the evil forces that surround them; Iran, Syria and the Saudis, plus the gangsters still fighting us.
"Rules of engagement?" Thugs don't play by rules unless it's to their advantage. We are at a disadvantage because the news media keeps insisting that we follow "rules," and that plays right into the hands of the insurgents/terrorists. The problem is, because of the liberal media slanting all their "news" stories, will the American people be willing to stand by the troops and back them to get the job done right, regardless of our losses?
I do feel sorry for any Iraqi that is being held as a captive/shield by the insurgents, but it comes down to: Do we fight to free Iraq and destroy a source of terrorist attacks? Or do we worry more about killing a few Iraqi citizens, thus giving the bad guys a free pass to attack us another day? Not to sound cold-hearted, but in any war, civilians are an expendable commodity.
Maupin has to be a hostage and the fact that you are dealing with thugs makes his position almost hopeless. If we delay an attack, hoping to spare his life, you may vary well endanger many other American lives. I would be very leery of "stopping the fighting to set up an exchange of prisoners." While we're following the "rules of exchange," who knows what the other side is planning and any delay is an advantage to them.
Cletus J. Holtgrefe
1. They are a combination of terrorists, criminals and remnants of Saddam's army.
2. Even if they are in one of the three categories, the war should be conducted in a manner consistent with the Uniform Code Of Military Justice, and those we capture treated as if they were prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention. This enemy is one that dresses as civilians and thinks nothing of sacrificing innocent civilians and/or themselves to attain their goal of forcing the United States out of Iraq and eventually out of the Middle East.
4. Maupin was taken as a POW because it occurred during a military engagement. But it remains to be seen if he becomes a hostage.
5. No. He should be visited by the Red Cross, as we have allowed the Red Cross to visit Saddam. And once we negotiate with these animals while we are still engaged in hostilities with them, we are doomed to lose the war in Iraq.
George E. Bryant
(USAF SMSgt., Retired),
West Chester Township
1. When our loved ones are in harm's way, we emotionally want to label the attacking forces with despicable labels, but such terms don't bring us any closer to resolution. As horrible as their actions may be, I find it is difficult to label the attacking forces as a terrorist group, criminals, political insurgents or a legitimate army. Unfortunately they do appear to represent the extraordinarily hostile attitude that a significant portion of Iraqis feel toward the American occupation.
2. Our conduct is a function of our own morality and should not be based on the conduct of those attacking us. Thus far our military forces are to be commended and thanked for doing an incredible job in an extraordinarily difficult situation. It is our political leadership that has failed. In entering this war President Bush discarded the opinions of most other nations to further his own preconceived notions, tarnishing our relationships in the process. We now need the cooperation of those countries. When we truly work in concert with the world's nations, we will be able to honorably extricate ourselves from this mess. But we must remember that how we act politically cannot be separated from the military conduct of the war.
3. We should expect extreme measures because they fervently believe in their cause. They do not have our military might and consequently must use cunning. When our Revolutionary War soldiers fought the British by attacking from the forest, we believed them to be clever and brave while the British believed them to be cowardly. We should expect the enemy to use whatever means possible. Unfortunately, that involves horrible actions that should remind us not only of the brutality of war but what has brought them to such cruelty.
4. What would we consider a captured "enemy" to be if he or she was acting in support of military action? I assume we would consider that person to be a POW. We should expect Maupin to be treated by the Geneva Convention, just as we should abide by it.
5. Negotiations, in my opinion, are always wise. We have exchanged captured militants in virtually every engagement in which we have been involved, no matter how objectionable the enemy.
Since the 1983 suicide car bomber in the Lebanon barracks, we as a "civilized society" continue to be shocked at suicide bombers and anarchists who kill Americans and then drag the bodies through the streets or burn and mutilate them, or who use commercial airliners full of passengers as missiles to destroy large buildings full of civilians.
Americans and Europeans are fundamentally different from Afghans and Iraqis. Why? In terms of religion, the former is based on 2,000-plus years of Judeo-Christian philosophy to "love and respect one another"; the latter is based on the Quran, which promises things will be better in the next life than in this life. In terms of nations or governments, for the past 1,500 years, most of Europe went through hundreds of years of tribes and warlords, to empires, and finally to voting democracies, with executive and legislative branches, just in the past two centuries. America, since Jamestown was first settled in 1607, is largely an extension of Europe, yet it took more than 180 years until the United States became a voting democracy, with a president and Congress. The Afghanistan region has had nothing but centuries of tribes and warlords - until the artificial "installation of a president" (Hamid Karzai) during this past year. Whether it can proceed with a successful representative democracy is still an open question. The Iraq region, likewise, has had nothing but centuries of tribes and warlords, followed most recently by three or four decades of severe oppression by a military dictator. We in an advanced Western civilization therefore cannot understand the complete absence of the Geneva Convention war rules in Third World countries, including suicide bombers, taking hostages, and complete disrespect for wounded and dead soldiers and civilians.
Bottom line: It takes centuries for a country to evolve naturally into a voting democracy. For a Third World Muslim country or region to be pushed suddenly into having a modern voting democracy in a matter of weeks or months, after centuries of nothing but tribes and warlords, is highly unnatural. This plan to hand over the country to the Iraqis June 30 by the Bush administration therefore seems quite naive.
1. The unfortunate part in all of this is that the consequences of taking over Iraq were not carefully considered by our government leaders. Thus, the existing tragedy of what American soldiers are up against. Taking a step back and allowing the U.N. to step in might be our only salvation. The forces our servicemen are in battle with are a proud fanatic religious group who use terrorism tactics to rid their country of what they consider infidels.
2. Conducting the war, at this point, in the way we are doing so is a no win situation. Due to the insurgence of American forces, Iraq is in the midst of a holy war for power by Shiite and Sunni Arabs. American soldiers are simply left caught in the middle. The U.N. needs to be brought in to restore order.
3. Simply put, there are no rules of engagement. The Iraqi insurgent forces know they can never oust the U.S. out of Iraq by conventional war means. Hence, terrorism is the only weapon they can use in the hope of ousting the U.S..
4. Maupin would be a POW in a conventional war. However, due to the circumstances of this war, he is a hostage. Under these circumstances, the Geneva Convention means nothing and his captives will do whatever they see fit.
5. You cannot and should not negotiate with terrorist forces. Who would we release? A dangerous terrorist who will kill or capture more of our troops.
Vaslav J. Rice
The terrorist group that captured Maupin wants to get maximum leverage against our leaders in Iraq by showing his picture and giving hope to those of us who believe in the basic value of human life.
It is telling that these terrorists can use this man as a token. They put no value on life. A man whose life means nothing to them, can best be used to play upon the emotions of a people to whom life is sacrosanct. Peggy Say, back in the '80s, was a strong critic of President Reagan because he refused to negotiate with terrorists concerning her brother, Terry Anderson. She found out later that there were "quiet negotiations" that were successful. Perhaps this will be true this time. Our prayers are with you.
1. Let's remember that the United States illegally attacked Iraq for fraudulent reasons on the orders of a president who misled all of us, including Congress. It follows from this that the occupation is also illegal. So Iraqis have a right under the Geneva Conventions to resist the occupation, the same as we would if the United States were being occupied. It is certainly a political insurgency but it is more than that. A growing number of Iraqis, as well as Americans and people around the world, want the United States out.
2. We won't need to conduct this "war" if we return the country to its people and get out. The United States should allow the United Nations to arrange for an interim government and begin withdrawing as soon as possible.
3. Since we shouldn't be there, we should expect exactly what we are getting: resistance. That said, prisoners on either side should be treated humanely and with respect.
4. It seems to me, all that really matters is the safe return of Maupin - along with the rest of our troops. The way to do that is for the U.S. occupying forces to begin withdrawing from Iraq in earnest.
5. Now that everyone knows the case for the invasion of Iraq was a fraud, the United States should begin withdrawing its troops and turning over authority to some neutral body like the United Nations. Once it becomes clear that the United States is pulling out, there is little doubt prisoners and/or hostages will be released.
In the era of the war on terror, these terms have really lost their meaning. They are used interchangeably by our leaders and government officials, depending on their propaganda value. The enemy are called "criminals" when we want to ignore their politics, "combatants" when we want to disregard their right to due process and "terrorists" when we need to frighten the public into exchanging our liberties for security.
2. What we have in Iraq now is no longer a war. The war is over, and what remains is civil and political chaos, which cannot be contained by military force alone. We must focus on restoring peace and order, which calls for:
Internationalizing the peacekeeping presence, via the United Nations.
Accelerating the withdrawal of coalition troops, which have become an inflammatory presence in the region.
Letting go of any conceit that we can impose a particular (read: secular, capitalist, democratic) form of government on this country.
3. The problem with Iraq is that these forces are not a single entity. They are not one but several, united only in their opposition to the American occupation. Some are Baath loyalists, some are native Islamic fundamentalists, some are imported terrorists from elsewhere in the Arab world. Perhaps some are simply criminals benefiting from the prevailing anarchy. So "rules of engagement," in the military sense of the phrase, really don't apply.
4. Maupin is a political hostage. There is no longer a war, so there can be no prisoners of war.
5. It is truly regrettable that this young man from my home county has become a political pawn in a debacle visited upon him by the government he trusts and serves. He doesn't deserve the hostility that is more properly aimed at those who are really responsible for this ill-conceived war: the Bush administration and its allies. So let's ask Maupin what he wants. For once, we might consider the opinion and feelings of someone who is actually putting his life on the line in this conflict.
Dr. F.S. Leeds
I pray for the safe return of Pvt. Matt Maupin to America, as well as those who are still fighting to establish a seemingly unwanted democracy in Iraq.
I think that we should consider their forces pro-Iraqi and anti-American. These people not only do not love us as Americans but they also do not love one another as Iraqis.
We should be careful not to get bogged down in a war that seems to be uniting the Arab world against us. Democracy at any cost is foolhardy.
We should suspect that the enemy will fight a guerrilla war against the U.S. The rules of engagement are murky and different to discern. Urban warfare puts American soldiers at more risk of dying.
Pvt. Maupin is a POW and a hostage. The enemy wants to use him and others to sway world opinion on their side. It is not the policy of the U.S. to negotiate with those forces. However, saving any American soldier's life is worth the effort to talk anyway you do it.
The fundamental question we should always ask ourselves is not what is an enemy but who is the enemy. When our vision becomes so blurred that we have to define the "enemy" in the battlefield, victory becomes elusive if not impossible. "Enemy" is the force whose sole intention is to destroy us anyway they can. This means sabotaging our interests here and abroad and killing as many Americans as possible. Therefore enemy has no face: age, gender, race or nationality. We are confronted with an elusive and cunning enemy who will stop at nothing in the name of their God and their cause. Whether our enemies are defined as terrorists, criminals, military, political insurgents, or non-combatants, and whether we sympathize or even believe in their in their cause is totally irrelevant. The fact is that our enemy has only one objective - the death of every American. Putting aside all political rhetoric about helping other nations and bringing democracy to oppressed and unfortunate people, America is in reality fighting for its survival. Fighting for freedom and our way of life has never been cheap and it is not now and it never be. America at this point has two choices: 1. Defeat the enemy at all costs; or 2. Withdraw within the boundaries of our shores and let the world take care of their problems. The choice we make will determine the future of our country.
North College Hill
1. Are they supporting a failed regime, or trying to take power? Then it is an insurgency, and should be treated as rebels against the valid Iraqi government. If they are just against the Americans, then they are terrorists. If they are out for themselves, they are criminals.
2. It doesn't matter how we define them. I assume they are breaking Iraqi law, or what should be Iraqi law, and should be treated accordingly, using our troops, the Iraqi police and their judicial system to capture and try them.
3. I don't think we can expect any rules from the enemy. If we think we have found a rule, they will change the rule or break it.
4. Pvt. Maupin is a kidnap victim. We have for all intents and purposes made peace with the Iraqi government, so that rules out a POW status. His status as a hostage is a possibility, but only because of the demands to insure his release. It doesn't really matter to me what they call his status; he is an American soldier, and is entitled to every American's every effort to gain his release.
5. Negotiation gives status. We cannot negotiate with, and we cannot tolerate the existence of groups who fail to respect the basic human rights granted to each of us by our God. Every effort should be made to secure his safe return, but not at the expense of our principles.
We said we were going to attack Iraq and we did - a de facto declared war. Just because some of the combatants du jour don't wear the uniform of the Iraqi army doesn't make them any less an enemy. Therefore, all of the rules of the Geneva Convention apply, i.e., Maupin is a POW and we should negotiate a trade.
The capture of Maupin is indeed heartbreaking for the family and friends of the family, but is one of the realities of war. The insurgents who are now in battle with our troops in Iraq are desperate to win at anything and will not hesitate to maim, capture, and kill our troops to achieve this goal. They are a rag-tag group of malcontent criminals who are making life miserable for their own people and being led by a like-minded clergy who vehemently oppose anything we are trying to accomplish in Iraq.
I feared that we were not fully prepared to fight this kind of battle when we invaded Iraq, but I also feel now that we are catching up very quickly to this type of warfare.
The Army has classified Maupin as captured, which carries POW status. While we have captured many of the enemy's men, I would hope that our forces will be extremely careful about any prisoner exchange.
A friend of mine, Richard Maupin, who is a relative is very adamant on their classification, writes: "There is no way that anyone can honestly negotiate with criminals. If they were trustworthy human beings, they would not take hostages."
We all hope and pray for Maupin's safe return.
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