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Build Respect, Build Peace

October 20, 2003

The U.S. military did a masterful job fighting the war in Iraq. Building a nation from what remained has proved the more difficult job, and for that Iraq needs more soldiers like Army Sgt. Dujon Moss.

As The Times' David Holley reported this month, Moss saw his job of training Iraqi security forces as something broader. He wanted to instill confidence and "let them know they are somebody." To educate himself and show respect, Moss tried to learn Arabic, not in the classroom but on the parade ground. He listened to recruits and sought the correct pronunciation. The extra effort has won him friendship and respect from the recruits, a lesson the Army's top brass should notice and absorb.

Moss' treatment of his men contrasts sharply with the mistreatment of other Iraqis by other U.S. soldiers. The PBS news magazine show Frontline, in a recent episode called "Truth, War and Consequences," showed troops shooting a car that a group of Iraqis had apparently used to steal wood. The soldiers then crushed the car with their tank. "We try to stop them from looting and they don't understand," said one soldier. Destroying the car "is what you get when you loot." What the taxi driver who owned the vehicle got was the loss of his family livelihood.

The show portrayed other U.S. soldiers fatally shooting a man they thought had been firing at them, then learning, as one soldier said to another, the man was "just somebody standing on the side of the road." The soldiers shrugged and walked away. Though such heedless incidents were more common early in the occupation, the tone they set has not been erased.

Occupation troops need to protect themselves and continue to root out remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime. They also need to make sure Iraqis understand the orders they are given, whether it be to drop their guns or leave a house so it can be searched. That underlines the need for more interpreters. It also should motivate the Army to teach some basic Arabic to more troops. Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command and the grandson of Lebanese immigrants, is fluent in the difficult language. He provides a good top-down example.

U.S. forces have done a good job of peacekeeping in missions to Bosnia and Kosovo. International troops have been equally good in providing security in Kabul, the Afghan capital. U.S. troops outside the capital have a separate job of continuing to battle Taliban remnants.

Iraq is more difficult to the degree that U.S. troops trying to keep the peace are also skirmishing with resisters. Even so, the Pentagon will have to increase the ranks of troops capable of being police as much as soldiers. That would help reduce the danger to other soldiers working to reopen schools and build roads. The steady thrum of resistance in parts of Iraq is not divorced from the troops' regard for ordinary Iraqis.

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