Iraq for Hire

AP just reported that the U.S. has a new plan for subduing Fallujah — hire the same guys who’ve been fighting the Marines. “A U.S. military officer privy to the negotiations said it was ‘very likely’ that the Fallujah Protective Army, which would fall under the command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, could include some gunmen who joined the uprising in Fallujah — particularly criminals who signed on for money, and former soldiers disgruntled at losing their jobs when the Americans disbanded the Iraqi army.

“The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that ‘hardcore’ fighters and Islamic militants would not be included.”

The press and most of the pundits will no doubt hone in on the apparent absurdity of hiring one’s enemies. They’ll overlook the odd theology/ideology bait-and-switch occurring here.

The U.S. would rather hire criminals — killers for pay — than men who fought for what they believed to be the good of their community, guided by religious principle. That makes sense if you equate religion with politics. You can’t hire ideological opponents of the U.S., since they’d have to betray their ideology — and thus prove their untrustworthiness — to work for the Marines.

But religious principle is not necessarily the same thing as ideology. It can be both more rigid and more flexible. Many Islamic militants, for instance, are guided by their sense of what’s best for the ummah, the community, as Karen Armstrong has written, “defined by practical compassion.” Building the ummah — always a work in progress — is considered by most Muslims to be the first and most important duty.

It’s easy to say that the Islamic militants fighting in Fallujah have a warped sense of community-building, but it’s inarguably superior to that of criminals-for-hire. Islamic militants, after all, are famed not just for suicidal combat, but also for medical clinics, clean water, and, ironically, providing protection from the very criminals the U.S. now plans to put on the payroll.

The Revealer predicts that the press will light into the military for this counterintuitive move, but they’ll ignore the military’s misunderstanding of Islam and the ummah. The reporters covering Iraq are political journalists. They pay attention to religion because they have to, but they do so in political terms. In their descriptions, Sadr is always first and foremost a political figure, and Sistani is of interest only inasmuch as he plays a role in Iraq’s potential electoral politics. And the faith of the men with RPGs? Good for a little orientalist color, perhaps, but it’s essentially irrelevant to the story. In the press narrative, Islamic militants are in effect a political party. Which means the Marines can make deals with the Iraqi resistance as if they were so many delegates at a political convention.

That leaves the pundits to argue over whether it was a bargain or a boondoggle, while murderers and thieves patrol Fallujah and the ummah keeps its own council.

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