The Battle for Hearts and Minds Rages on.

Reuters reports that US soldiers shot and killed the 17-year-old son of Hamad al-Qaisi, the governor of Northern Iraq’s Salahuddin Province. The killing took place during a raid on a family home, where the governor’s son was staying. One other relative of the governor’s was also killed and three people were wounded.

A US military statement says that an al-Qaeda financier was wounded and captured during the raid. The statement also explained the killing of the governor’s son thus:

As they entered the target building, coalition forces encountered two armed men. Perceiving hostile intent … they shot and killed the men. It was subsequently determined that the two … were related to the governor.”

But it seems there’s some uncertainty around the circumstances that resulted in the killings. According to the Boston Globe, Hussam—the governor’s son—was shot in the head, stomach, and shoulder while he slept. Hussam’s cousin, Uday Khalaf, was killed as he tried to enter Hussam’s room.

This is precisely the sort of thing that makes the battle for hearts and minds in Iraq an unwinnable one. The deputy governor of Salahuddin province reported at least two other attacks that followed the same pattern, accusing US soldiers of using excessive force when conducting raids. The attack was also condemned by the Salahuddin provincial council as an indication of “how the American forces disregard the souls of Iraqi citizens.”

If Iraqis get the sense that US soldiers don’t value their lives, it’s going to be pretty tough to win their hearts and minds. After all, what happens when US soldiers storm a house in search of al-Qaeda operatives? Regardless of who the soldiers are looking for, when they enter an Iraqi home, they’re going to encounter Iraqis. Whether or not they’re armed or affiliated with al-Qaeda doesn’t change the fact that they have friends, neighbors, and relatives who are not going to be happy when they are captured, wounded, or killed. And the killing of any Iraqi has the potential to alienate and radicalize countless others, whose deaths will only anger and radicalize even more Iraqis. It’s worse than a vicious cycle: It’s more like an avalance that picks up greater mass and momentum as it moves down the mountain!

In the short term, brute force might carry the day in Iraq. In the long run, though, it’s a losing game unless the intent is to kill everyone in Iraq. The other option, of course, is to withdraw US troops and put an end to this war.


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