Grab and Run


Time's Simon Robinson reports from Iraq:

Much has been written about how Iraqis complicated the task of rebuilding their country by looting it after Saddam Hussein's regime fell. In the case of the international airport outside Baghdad, however, the theft and vandalism were conducted largely by victorious American troops, according to U.S. officials, Iraqi Airways staff members and other airport workers. The troops, they say, stole duty-free items, needlessly shot up the airport and trashed five serviceable Boeing airplanes.

"Soldiers do this stuff all the time, everywhere. It's warfare," one military official told Robinson. "But the conflict was over when this was done. These are just bored soldiers."


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  1. but noam chomsky says corporate media lies! – joke 😉

    OK this story is most likely true (haven’t seen it verified anywhere else though) but so what’s so newsworthy about this anyway? chances are we will repair the damage and buy them new planes, etc.

    wasteful behaviour, commanding officer should be punished — but when you are getting your ass shot off a little rowdiness is to be expected (even for our well trained troops). Should we compensate them for the damage? absolutely, but I don’t think that is an issue.

  2. Yes. Compensate the airport authority tor the damage and move the f on. What a yawn.

  3. i dunno if i want my tax money to pay for these guys being hot shots and unnecessarily blowing shit up. you think this money is going to get pulled out of thin air to pay for this crap? these troops should get their pay docked and pay for it themselves.

    i get bored sometimes, but i don’t pull out the shotgun and start blasting up the neighborhood for entertainment. and if i did i wouldn’t expect anyone else to pay for it.

  4. The war would be a lot cheaper if we just let our troops loot everything and then divide the country up into fiefs and parcel it out to the officers.

  5. I trust that everyone who feels vandalism and looting by American soldiers is no big deal had the same reaction to the vandalism and looting in Los Angeles in 1992. And you’re all pro-Black Bloc, right? Just making sure.

  6. ^better yet, we could trade iraq to china in exchange for north korea, thussolving two prolems:
    1. iraq
    2. kim il poufy hair

    i bet they’d do it, too. unlike us, china doesn’t bother to conceal the fact that it is an imperialistic power- it even brags about it. in fact it traded some land to india just a few days ago.

  7. It appears to be an isolated incident. and no I don’t think people should be let off the hook for vandalism and looting, but i am also not naive enough to believe that young kids trained to destroy — under the stress of war — are above this type of behavior. That is why armies have dicipline and chain of command.

    nice moral equivalence btw: soliders in the stress of war versus criminals burning down their own neighborhood. And did the black bloc clean up their damage, as I am sure the military will? Jusk asking.

  8. Jesse – my read of the story shows lots of anonymous “sourcing” to unnamed American officials – over half of the material did not come from Lt. Welsh. I am sick to death of this kind of crap journalism, and will regard any story that relies so much on anonymous sources with a great deal of skepticism.

    That said, to the extent the allegations are true, it sucks that “our boys” did it. Somebody can and should be held responsible, and we should deduct the damage from the bill the Iraqis owe us for our operations in-country so far.

  9. Jesse –

    Nice comparison to the LA riots.

    Look, shooting up an airport terminal is one thing. Some Boeings though? You know how fooking expensive a 727 is, Hartin?

    I think some leeway should be given to soldiers under that kind of intense stress. But vandalism is vandalism. They should be held fully accountable. I’m sure the uniform code covers stuff like this.

  10. anon @ 02:14 PM

    poor argument on who cleaned what up. the military troops will be forced to clean their shit up, not because any of them voluntarily would.

    if our soldiers can’t be contained in the stresses of a war where we go almost completely uncontested, i cannot imagine how things will play out when we get into the shit a little deeper one day. i guess we can just drop a nuke and say that we got a little trigger happy due to stress.

    whatever happened to the term discipline?

  11. I wouldn’t say there was “moral equivalence” here, partly because that’s such an obnoxious clich? and partly because I agree that there’s a substantial ethical difference between what happened in L.A. and what happened in the airport. After all, the Los Angeles rioters had to live in the chaos they created, while the looters in uniform pissed on someone else’s territory.

    As for the Seattle Black Bloc — they did much less damage than the soldiers, and as far as I can tell they themselves (as opposed to local criminals who took advantage of the situation) did no looting. Other protesters organized a cleanup in the subsequent days, not unlike the cleanup now underway at the airport — except they did it with their own resources, rather than relying on your and my tax dollars.

    So no, there isn’t any “moral equivalence” here. What the soliders did was morally worse.

  12. so you agree that there is no moral equivalence between this and LA, which was my point. how something can then be morally “worse” is beyond me.

    the seattle black bloc is irrevelent as I admit I have no clue on the specifics, but remember you brought that into the agrument from what I assumed was evidence that both the troops and the bloc were looters – to excuse one is to excuse the other (which wasn’t my argument). Black blocs in other cities have been known for destruction and vandalism.

    as for the whole taxpayer bit, well the soldiers are our agents so we are responsible for the damage. that being said, action should be taken. Those PARTICULAR soliders and units should be diciplined through the chain of command. But again, this appears to be an isolated incident. Looting and pillaging by armies is as hold as history, especially when you have young, scared angry killers occuping unsafe, enemy territory in the heat of battle.

    On the whole our men and women were an incredibly diciplined and well trained force who made outstanding efforts to spare civilian property. I would challenge anyone here to try to dispute that.

  13. OK, if they looted they should be punished. But what is so important about this story? What’s the point in posting it, Jesse?

  14. because it’s an example of the shoddy inefficiency of the US army. reason advocates the privatization of the US army.

  15. efficiancy versus what alternative? and when has reason made that crazy argument?

  16. I’d like to know what our boys think of the local hash.

  17. if the army was privatized, private indiviudals would have possession of thermonucelar weapons. do you really think that’d be acceptable?

  18. “this is why we need private professional armies. not a bunch of yahoos that are young, dumb and full of cum.”

    The US Armed Forces are incredibly professional, disciplined, and highly trained. They are not a bunch of dumb yahoos. This incident should be cleaned up and the troops disciplined, but it is not par for the course.

  19. As for the local hash, I’d imagine it’s not too great. Fresh-made corned beef isn’t made much in Iraq, even among its remaining (and in no way European) Jewish population. Unless you want to pickle your own briskets, your only corned beef is going to be the canned variety, which is in fact popular across the Middle East. In Central and South Asia you can also readily find canned corned mutton; I have no idea how often that finds its way into Iraq. It is halal, so it could certainly be sold there. I don’t know how good a hash it makes. I suspect both the canned corned beef and canned corned mutton, which come in rectangular cans, were inspired by the SPAM consumed shipped to Allied troops back during WWII and the era postwar era. That’s why you’ll find SPAM and spam-alikes not only in the U.S.’s old Pacific Island empire but also across the former Soviet Union. I digress, though–SPAM is made of pork and is thus outside the culinary ken of Iraq’s Muslim majority.

    I think Americans in Iraq would have better luck tasty-breakfast-wise by going with more traditional Iraqi dishes, and waiting to come home to their favorite greasy spoon for some good hash. Who knows, though? Canned corned mutton may well be damn tasty scrambled in with eggs. I might have to get some and look into it.

  20. Best laugh I’ve had in a week. Thanks.

  21. On another note, I daresay the L.A. rioters of 1992 were, if not justified, at least more understandable than these alleged troops who trashed some jumbo jets. The people of South Central L.A. were long treated as criminals by the many nonresident business owners in the area: followed through small grocery stores by employees who saw thieves everywhere, greeted with plexiglass shields in front of the cashier, or met with the perceived slight when an Asian cashier won’t hand change directly to a customer. A lot of it was cross-cultural misunderstanding and bottled-up fear on both sides. This didn’t make the rioting and looting in any way right, but it explained part of the why.

    But trashing a civilian airport after the end of hostilities during a supposed war of liberation?

  22. Here’s why it’s a story: Because all we’ve been hearing about is the nobility of our soldiers. The beatification of our troops goes on and on. It’s nice to see that they can be as irresponsible and obnoxious as the rest of us.

  23. “were long treated as criminals by the many nonresident business owners in the area”

    gee, and crime rates were so low too.

  24. “after the end of hostilities”

    did this take place in the future?

  25. “both sides”

    yes, it was equally the asian-american community’s fault that the african-americans burned down their stores

  26. Did the soliders beat any innocent motorists in the airport? like we did to that honkey Reginald Denny?


    Gunfire killed 35, including eight people shot by law enforcement and two by National Guardsmen. Six died in arson fires. Attackers used sticks or boards to kill two others. Stabbings killed two. Six died in car accidents; two in hit-and-runs. One was strangled.

    The violence crossed racial and ethnic lines. The dead included 25 African-Americans, 16 Latinos, eight whites, two Asians, one Algerian, and one Indian or Middle Easterner.

    Men outnumbered women, 48 to 5.

    One of the more troubling statistics: 22 of the cases remain open, unsolved homicides.

  27. I’m not sure what this is about privitizing the military, but it is interesting to assume that this (or graver acts of irresponsibility) would not happen under those situations…that is if anyone is, in fact, making that assumption.

  28. class warfare

  29. this is why we need private professional armies. not a bunch of yahoos that are young, dumb and full of cum.

  30. An all female force would solve that last problem

  31. oh my! my lai all over again!

  32. Omigod – they stole duty-free items!

    As to the “needlessly” shooting up the airport – I seem to recall a number of attacks on our troops at the airport.

    This sounds too much like the museum “looting” to me; the accusers might have every reason to lie about who stole things and who broke things. I will take all this with a very large grain of salt until I see both (a) evidence of real damage and (b) evidence that it did not occur during fighting and (c) evidence that it really was committed by our troops.

  33. T. Hartin,

    Yes, American soldiers would, never ever loot. They are “our boys” after all. *chuckle*

  34. yes, we should just assume that they did. *chuckle*

  35. B, how do you know they’re not full of cum?

  36. Assume that they did”?

    The article rests largely on the testimony of an American lieutenant whose name is given in the story. Unless the piece is a complete fabrication, in which case it’ll be exposed as such by the end of the day, this really happened. There’s not much wiggle room here.

  37. SAD NEWS …

    Today, yet another American boy lost his life … Shot to death by an Iraqi sniper.

  38. I can imagine some wonderful Clancy books and James Bond films when the U.S. military, the strongest miltary in the world today, is privatized. We’d need a good villan who has a cat of course, and maybe some funky uniforms you know the ones the women wear need to be completely impossible to actually perform soldier duties in…

    Or someone could get their head out of their arse and figure out that there isn’t a single privaste sector company anywhere in the world that runs a war as efficiently as the United States military. Who would rather have do it? Microsoft? Jack ass.

  39. The privatize-the-military comment was obviously a joke, guys. Reason has never called for that.


    That’s a pretty pathetic website: It counts the Gulf War and sanctions dead as people murdered by Saddam, and it grossly exaggerates the sanctions dead as well.

  41. EMAIL:

    DATE: 12/10/2003 09:18:25
    Newness is relative.

  42. EMAIL:
    DATE: 12/20/2003 11:48:24
    I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.

  43. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/19/2004 06:45:24
    God had some serious quality-control problems.

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