No shades of gray

Posted: Apr 08, 2003 12:00 AM

American soldiers have been disobeying orders. According to The Washington Times, some members of the Army's Civil Affairs Brigade stationed at Umm Qasr are routinely tucking extra cases of bottled water into their Humvees to distribute to thirsty Iraqi civilians. This is against regulations, as rations for soldiers are meant to be kept separate from relief to the civilian population.

But there are problems with the water supply to this region. Though military planners had hoped to have a pipeline and water delivery system providing fresh drinking water to Iraqi civilians running smoothly by now, there have been snags. The drivers assigned to truck water from the pipeline to populated areas have sometimes taken bribes to sell the water to farmers, instead, or have attempted to gouge the locals. The parched civilians who do reach water trucks are frequently trampled in the tumult that surrounds a delivery.

And so American GIs are tucking extra water into their Humvees and handing it out to civilians -- in some cases to the point where our soldiers are going without. The Navy Seabees have also leaped into action, rigging up two reverse-osmosis machines to remove the salt from seawater. "Officially, we're here to generate water for military use," said Petty Officer Ralph Moore, "but unofficially, we do what we can to help."

Has there ever before in history been an invading force that was more careful of enemy civilians than the enemy itself? The coalition is killing large numbers of Iraqis who choose to die for Saddam, but has made it abundantly clear that we are not at war with the people of Iraq and wish to spare them as far as is humanly possible.

The lights and power in Baghdad remain on (except when the regime darkens the capital for its own reasons), and the provision of humanitarian relief has been a top priority since the onset of hostilities. The Saddamites, of course, are trying every disgusting trick they know -- from using schools and hospitals as military bases; to firing from inside mosques; to literally driving women and children before soldiers into battle -- to encourage civilian casualties. Coalition forces have declined to oblige.

Of course there is tragedy in the fate of many Iraqis who feel they have no choice but to die for Saddam. His goons have reportedly entered the homes of thousands, threatening that children would be murdered if older boys and men did not go out to fight for Saddam. But this is part of the ongoing tragedy of Saddam's vicious rule. As Walter Russell Mead has pointed out, for every year that Saddam held power, 60,000 Iraqi children between the ages of 1 and 5 died. Death of innocents is the daily reality of life under Saddam Hussein.

Our soldiers have sometimes expressed incredulity at the suicidal nature of the poorly equipped and utterly outgunned Iraqis throwing themselves at our tanks and armored personnel carriers. I can think of two possible explanations. Some are sacrificing themselves to save their families, and others, Saddam's killers, know that the end is near and fear that their neighbors will exact revenge when the war is over. They'd prefer to die by American than by Iraqi hands.

As of this writing, the war has taken on a Twilight Zone quality. As members of the U.S. army smoke cigars in one of Saddam's largest palaces, and American C-130s land at the renamed Baghdad International Airport, the Iraqi minister of information insists that rumors of an American presence in the city are false. Civilians catch busses and make purchases at markets, and the nights are punctuated by blasts from the sky that make sleep next to impossible.

No one knows if Saddam is alive or dead, but the news of Chemical Ali's demise warms the heart. A cousin of Saddam's, Ali was the enforcer who gassed thousands of Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq and brutally suppressed the uprising in Basra following the Gulf War in 1991. (This war, for what it's worth, will probably become known as the Iraq War, not the Second Gulf War.)

There are no shades of gray in this war. At its conclusion, which God willing will come soon, we will celebrate the victory of light over darkness. War is a nasty, uncivilized, brutal business. But with that caveat, it is no exaggeration to boast that U.S. and British forces are now fighting the most humanitarian war in history.