Tony Shadid has a marvelously complex piece about what Greil Marcus would call the lipstick traces of the U.S. occupation of Iraq: the Baghdad tattoo artist who modifies American styles; the hesher who improbably dreams of becoming a Texas "country boy"; the Iraqi soldier who now wears the kneepads and thigh holster of his American counterparts. All this — tweaked-English idioms; cans of chewing tobacco; maybe something approaching a democratic order — will remain after the final American soldier departs. The Iraqis Shadid interviews have unresolved feelings about this unfolding legacy.

"I’m not defending their presence, but that’s not all it was. We have to be honest," Kasim told his friend. "We paid a very high price, but it was the price of freedom."

Chayan shook his head.

"We haven’t seen a bright side," he said. "Well, there’s no bright side to colonization, we can say that. But the Americans could have left something positive behind. What makes me sad, wherever I go, whenever I go, I just see remains of destruction."

Read the whole piece. It ends on an indictment of the occupation — and, more notably, those who lived through it — that’s no less potent for its elegant subtlety. But if the basic idea is that the culture of the occupation is an enduring one, it’s hard not to connect Shadid’s piece to this recent New York Times account of "lovelorn" Iraqi boys planting IEDs outside the houses of the girls who reject them. This is from a Baghdad police captain confronting the latest twist in sexual menacing and domination:

“I’m a detective, and I don’t even know how to make one of these, but all these kids do,” the captain said. “There was a percentage of young men who were cooperating with the Al Qaeda organizations, or the Shia militias. They’ve changed their minds about fighting now, but they still have good experience in how to make I.E.D.’s.”

It’s a shame that the Times piece is written in a lighthearted fashion, since the development it describes is the transference of guerilla and terrorist warfare onto gender relationships. The Americans may be on the way out, but this ought to teach that bitch to think she’s too good for me. Another legacy of subjugation and warfare.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

6 Comments