Using Falconry-style Techniques to Ensure Compliant Iraqis

Time was when visitors to Iraq would experience generous Iraqi hospitality, and not see Iraqi children and adults approaching visitors, including invading soldiers, for handouts of food, water, or other commodities. But after years and years of U.S. economic sanctions and disruptions of Iraq’s infrastructure by a war of aggression, things have changed. People are hungry in Iraq, and people are thirsty, and “hunger management” techniques by the U.S. may be creating a false appearance of Iraqi “willing” compliance with the U.S. manipulations of the Iraqi people.

The techniques involved are very similar to those used in the ancient art of falconry, which is an ancient art practiced for centuries in the Arab world and also practiced at a high level in America. Any competent falconer from Bakersfield to Ridyah to Alma Alty would recognize these techniques, which I will describe below:

Wild birds of prey, whether they be falcons, hawks, or eagles have a natural fear of man. When a falconer captures a wild raptor for future use in falconry, it is critical that that fear be overcome with trust and replaced with a certain bond between man and bird, because falconry is the art of taking wild game with a trained falcon (or other raptor). And no falcon will cooperatively hunt with (or in the immediate presence) of a human that it fears. The key to overcoming the innate fear of wild falcons by falconers is hunger management.

There are various minor differences between Arab-style falconry and falconry as practiced in North America, just as there are differences in how falconry is practiced in North America compared to Britain or Europe. But the basics are the same. When a fresh wild falcon is obtained by trapping or by purchase from trappers/dealers, it may first be hooded in a leather head covering to blind the bird from its initial shock of capture and fear of its handler. In some cases, the eyelids may be sewn shut in a process called “sealing” which sounds worse than it really is — Anything that prevents panic by a wild, freshly trapped bird speeds it process of acclimatization and dependency upon its new handler.

Ultimately, though, the hood has to come off, and the sealing threads have to be removed, and the bird faces the reality of capture and its dominance by the falconer. And by this time, the bird is getting hungry. A wild, fearful bird will not accept food immediately from its handler. The fear is so strong that moderate hunger will be overridden by the fear response. The bird may raise its hackles, hiss, raise its wings in defense posture, and generally make the falconer fully aware of its distrust, fear, and independent spirit. And the falconer will have started a written log with notes on the bird’s behaviors and will begin weighing the bird for analysis of how the bird responds at different weights, which become indices for hunger levels.

The bird may reject the initial offering of food — it almost always does. And that information is dutifully recorded and the bird is hooded again and put inside the mew till the next day. After a few hours or a day, the bird is brought out again, and again offered food. It is certainly hungrier than it was before. And it eyes the food. And it eyes the falconer. And it’s instincts cause an internal battle — fear vs. hunger. If the bird was captured as a hungry migrant or a juvenile who has not learned to hunt effectively, it may already be very hungry, and the temptation to take that morsel may be very great, and the bird may succumb quickly to its hunger and take that first morsel. Once that threshold is passed, and a morsel is accepted from the human, further progress comes rather quickly. Soon, the bird not only takes a morsel from the falconer, but it learns to step off a perch to the falconer. Then it overcomes another threshold by flying to the falconer in a room where the possibilities of escape are nil. Then, restrained from free flight by a long line called a creance, the hungry bird is flown outdoors to the falconer, who is using a supplemental training technique, a whistle or other noisemaker, to psychologically train the bird to associate feeding with sound. Thus, the bird is taught that the blowing of a whistle means a reward, and it comes when called. The rate of progress in this step by step process may be gradual or it may be rapid, but each step of the way, each feeding, each weight of the bird when it overcomes its fear and responds to management is duly recorded and becomes well known to the falconer. Each bird may be different, but the common factor among most all birds is that when its hunger is managed appropriately, and rewards are offered and accepted for display of behavior acceptable to the falconer, the bond between a formerly wild bird and a human is formed and birds are “trained” to accept the human and ultimately to hunt cooperatively.

In the case of hunger management in Iraq, a similar process can be used. Most humans of any nationality feel comfortable in their own natural setting, led by native leaders and depending upon their own society for succor and support. Outsiders are instinctively distrusted and perhaps feared. Usually, humans flee from things they fear, but if cornered, they may react defensively, even as falcons do. Ultimately, that fear may be overcome by offers of food, and trust can ultimately result from management of the hunger and overcoming the fear. Humans who would initially fight the invader become reduced to compliance and may ultimately bond with their captors and become cooperative with them.

The key question that eventually must be resolved is: how will the falcon react when flown free, and thus given the choice of returning to its new master? Certainly, the falconer hopes his training results in a bond strong enough to cause the falcon to return to the hunter if the hunt is not immediately successful, and to allow the falconer to approach and reclaim the falcon if it takes prey. In reality, “escapes” to the wild by trained falcons and hawks are commonplace, and especially so if the falcon is not traceable via human technology, such as miniaturized radio transmitters which can be attached to a free-flying bird and allowing for relocating the bird in the event that it flies away. Genetics also seem to play a role in escapism of wild trained raptors in falconry — highly migratory species and subspecies are much more prone to escape than sedentary local birds.

It remains to be seen how close the bond will be between the Iraqis and their American “liberators” (or captors, according to many). If reduced to utter dependency, the Iraqis may very well remain compliant for a while. But Iraqi history leads us to believe that the Iraqi people will not remain compliant for long. Ultimately the hunger management will not be adequate to hold them, and further military force (now called oppression) may be required to management long-term subjugation. Like the saker falcon, trapped, trained and trusted, the ultimate outcome may be an escape to freedom.

The writer is a member of several falconry and ornithological clubs and organizations. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from California, USA.