WASHINGTON/BAGHDAD, 10 March 2004 — The US military is about to add a new exotic weapon to its already impressive arsenal in Iraq. But in contrast to other armaments, this one does not shoot or explode. It screams and hollers.
A defense contractor announced it had secured a one-million-dollar deal to supply the First US Marine Expeditionary Force, slated to rotate into Iraq later this month, with a so-called Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD.
“Deliveries under the contract have begun with completion expected by early April,” American Technology Corporation said in a recent statement.
In layman’s parlance, it is supplying the military with a giant loudspeaker that seems to borrow some of its technology from modern pest-control devices that shoo away mice and other pesky critters with the help of ultrasound.
While LRAD can boom commands, it can also deliver a shrill 145-decibel tone over a distance of more than 300 meters, causing splitting headaches, pain, panic and, in some cases, even hearing loss, according to military experts.
The sound is about twice as powerful as the scream of a standard smoke detector. And earplugs won’t help, the experts added.
Peter Dotto, a retired Marine Corps colonel who now works on non-lethal weapons at M2 Technologies, Inc. said the device was likely to be used for “crowd control, area denial of personnel including check point operations, and clearing buildings.”
The loudspeaker is particularly effective in dispersing hostile demonstrations of the type witnessed in Iraq earlier this month or in driving insurgents out of rat holes without exposing US troops to hostile fire, the experts explained.
The weapon has a powerful champion in US Sen. Olympia Snowe, who said LRAD was going to afford the military “a new and dynamic non-lethal capability” and made sure it was included in a $87-billion supplemental package approved last year to finance military operations and reconstruction projects in Iraq.
“I believe that our nation has an obligation to provide our men and women in uniform with the best resources possible,” Snowe stated.
But military expert and frequent Pentagon critic William Arkin said that while the weapon could be effectively used to chase terror mastermind Osama Bin Laden out of his cave, its use in Iraqi cities could harm the sick, elderly and children. “The US is making a huge mistake by trying to quietly deploy a new pain-inducing weapon without first airing all of the legal, policy and human rights issues associated with it,” Arkin wrote in The Los Angeles Times.
However, a unified Iraq remained a distant goal yesterday after an interim constitution sparked opposition from the country’s Shiite spiritual guide as well as a group of lawmakers who had signed on the dotted line.
As the US-led coalition pushed ahead with plans to hand back sovereignty to a caretaker Iraqi government, Shiite Governing Council member Abdel Aziz Hakim said Iraqi leaders must help decide who will run Iraq from July and create a system for democratic elections by the end of the year, before trying to resolve their problems with the interim constitution.
The new constitution hasn’t raised hopes for Iraqi farmers in the Yusfiya town caught between their fear of American troops and the guerrillas who fight them. “All we want is stability. We hope this constitution will help us but I don’t think it will. How can we think about our future when our sons are detained?” said Jasmiya Muhammad, whose two sons were arrested by US soldiers.
“How can we live like this? The Americans take our children and the resistance shoots at the Americans or detonates bombs. We can’t go out at night,” she added, sitting with two other women in black veils whose sons were also detained.
The pomp of the signing ceremony didn’t raise spirits in villages around Yusfiya, 35 km southwest of Baghdad. Residents are too preoccupied by American raids on their homes that have taken away a large chunk of the local male population. “I really don’t think this constitution means anything. We want our leaders to come out here and look at the poverty and ask about our sons,” said Jassim Mohammed Jassim, whose son has been detained for seven months.
“The Americans won’t leave anyway. This constitution was signed to keep us quiet. They will set up bases and stay here.”
Iraqis in farming villages like ones around Yusfiya are not impressed with the Governing Council’s feat of resolving just enough political and sectarian differences to sign a law. Guerrilla attacks around them have triggered raids by US troops that alienate residents and drive some to join the insurgents, instead of waiting for democracy.
Breaking that vicious circle and making Iraqis more confident in the postwar political process is crucial to stabilizing the country ahead of the power handover and after 24 years of dictatorship under Saddam Hussein. But some Iraqis just see a new set of troubles. “My son served in Saddam’s army for 18 years. He suffered and we suffered and we were relieved when it ended. Now he has been in an American jail for a long time,” said Jassim.
His son is among more than 10,000 Iraqis who have been detained by the American military on suspicion of rebel activity since a US-led invasion toppled Saddam in April.
Jassim recalls being visited by a Baath Party member who threatened to jail him if he didn’t join a state militia under the old regime. Now Jassim is bitter over American troops sweeping his village and he fears the guerrillas who plant bombs and shoot at US convoys near his fields will invite more hardship.
“My son was not a guerrilla, he was farmer. But I would not object if he died fighting the Americans,” said Jassim. Iraqis can only hope that the country’s nascent political process will eventually deliver stability. “What can we do? All we can do is hope that it will change. There is always shooting. We don’t know who the rebels are and we want the Americans to leave us alone. We just want to sleep peacefully,” said Najim Abdullah, a farmer.