On Monday, one of the Iraqi reporters at the daily press briefing offered by General Kimmitt stated that he had noticed that United States soldiers randomly shoot Iraqi civilians including women and children, and asked whether this was policy. General Kimmitt patiently pointed out that the Coalition has very strict guidelines on use of force and rules of engagement, and that any deviation from this is investigated and if substantiated, prosecuted. He estimated that there had been less than 12 incidents in Iraq of violations of the use of force policy, and thought that the number may even be less.
There are two reasons why the Iraqi’s question is somewhat understandable. The first is that those who witness a shooting are often family, friends, or acquaintances, and are unlikely to say that their confidant did something wrong to provoke the response. It is far more common for an interested onlooker to suggest that someone was shot for no reason. The second is something that a strategy planner pointed out to me, and which I have now seen on numerous occasions. Iraqis as a rule are not prone to believe that an Iraqi has attacked another Iraqi. For example, they are very quick to assert that a bombing or shooting was the result of international terrorism, or the U.S., but they are unlikely to believe that even an Iraqi they would cast as an extremist is responsible, and this is constant even when substantial evidence points in that direction. The tendency rises to the level of cognitive dissonance. I have spoken with Iraqis who express their fear that a million Shia extremists are ready will at a moment’s notice die for the cause, and then moments later express that violence in Iraq is the result of international terror, because it is contrary to the nature of the Iraqi people to attack themselves. These reasons are not meant to downplay the real problem which occurs when abuse of force policy occurs, but the military does appear to take the issue very seriously, and the numbers suggest that such violations are extremely rare.
While the Iraqi journalist’s question is somewhat understandable, the following is not. A reporter for a major American network walked up to the Iraqi journalist after the briefing, and complimented him on his fine question. The network reporter knew better, or I should say, should know better. Even if you believe that there have been mistakes, or are morally outraged that there have been any collateral injuries, it takes a special kind of jaded bias to believe that "is it U.S. policy to randomly shoot women and children" is a good question.