Is Iraq Vietnam?

By Mark Follman
Published October 15, 2004 5:27PM (EDT)

Defenders of President Bush's invasion of Iraq have bristled when opponents of the war have compared it to the slow-motion disaster in Vietnam three decades ago. But the picture in Iraq has been darkening for weeks if not months now -- whole cities taken over by insurgents, a wave of civilian kidnappings and beheadings, crippling attacks on the country's nascent oil infrastructure, and, just yesterday, terrorist strikes in the heart of the U.S. citadel in Baghdad.

Now comes an astonishing measure of plummeting U.S. troop morale. "Platoon defies orders in Iraq,"from the Clarion Ledger today:

"A 17-member Army Reserve platoon with troops from Jackson and around the Southeast deployed to Iraq is under arrest for refusing a 'suicide mission' to deliver fuel, the troops' relatives said Thursday. The soldiers refused an order on Wednesday to go to Taji, Iraq -- north of Baghdad -- because their vehicles were considered 'deadlined' or extremely unsafe, said Patricia McCook of Jackson, wife of Sgt. Larry O. McCook.

"Sgt. McCook, a deputy at the Hinds County Detention Center, and the 16 other members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company from Rock Hill, S.C., were read their rights and moved from the military barracks into tents, Patricia McCook said her husband told her during a panicked phone call about 5 a.m. Thursday. The platoon could be charged with the willful disobeying of orders, punishable by dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and up to five years confinement, said military law expert Mark Stevens, an associate professor of justice studies at Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount, N.C."

While President Bush has taken to calling Iraq "hard work," some U.S. lawmakers are wondering out loud if it's become unnecessarily dangerous work -- because of the administration's failure to properly equip U.S. forces. "I have had similar complaints from military families about vehicles that weren't armor-plated, or bullet-proof vests that are outdated," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told the Clarion Ledger. "It concerns me because we made over $150 billion in funds available to equip our forces in Iraq. President Bush takes the position that the troops are well-armed, but if this situation is true, it calls into question how honest he has been with the country."

The extreme behavior of the soldiers in the 343rd, a supply unit whose general mission is to deliver fuel and water, reflects a serious disconnect between the administration's mantra of progress in Iraq, and the perspective of at least some of the U.S. soldiers fighting for it. "'I got a call from an officer in another unit early [Thursday] morning who told me that my husband and his platoon had been arrested on a bogus charge because they refused to go on a suicide mission,' said Jackie Butler of Jackson, wife of Sgt. Michael Butler, a 24-year reservist. 'When my husband refuses to follow an order, it has to be something major.'"

Check back with Salon later today -- our Washington correspondent Mary Jacoby will have more on the 343rd's mutiny.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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