War News for Monday, September 26, 2005
Bring 'em on: Seven policemen and three government workers killed in suicide bomb blast at a police checkpoint near government buildings in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Nine Iraqis, including five police commandos, killed in suicide bomb attack on their convoy in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Six bodies, including that of a female in her twenties, found by police in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Seven Iraqis, including two children, killed by a mortar attack in Samarra
Bring 'em on: Four Iraqi soldiers wounded in mortar attack on their checkpoint in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Six Iraqis killed and nineteen wounded by car bomb attack in Musayyib
: The U.S. military reported that a soldier assigned to the 56th Combat Brigade Team was killed and two others were injured when their vehicle rolled over near the western town of Trebil on Sunday. The incident was under investigation, the military said.
: French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called for "an international conference on Iraq with all the political parties in Iraq, to be able to think of tomorrow so that Iraq remains one country and there will not be any partition by one side or the other."
Murdoch spins for Blair
: Two SAS soldiers rescued last week after being arrested by Iraqi police and handed over to a militia were engaged in a “secret war” against insurgents bringing sophisticated bombs into the country from Iran. They had been in Basra for seven weeks on an operation prompted by intelligence that a new type of roadside bomb which has been used against British troops was among weapons being smuggled over the Iranian border.
Juan Cole refers to this story in his daily weblog also; one thing that annoys me is that he accepts this story, hook, line and sinker.FUCK OFF Diplomacy
: British officials in Iraq have ruled out an apology for the mission to rescue two undercover soldiers from a Basra police station last week, saying police in Iraq's second city had disobeyed orders from their bosses in Baghdad.
: The Observer reported Sunday detailed plans on military disengagement are being drawn up and will be published next month. A document detailing the withdrawal is being prepared by Britain and the U.S. to be presented to the Iraqi parliament in October. The Observer says Britain has already privately informed Japan - which also has troops in Iraq - of its plans to begin withdrawing from southern Iraq in May, a move that officials in Tokyo say would make it impossible for their own 550 soldiers to remain.
: Mr Blair told BBC's Sunday AM programme that there was no "arbitrary date being set" for withdrawing troops. The Prime Minister admitted he had underestimated the insurgency, but insisted his strategy was right.
Reports and Analysis
Failing Iraqis and the Troops
The leadership in Baghdad changed yet again this year. Negroponte left Baghdad in March to become director of national intelligence. He was replaced by Zalmay Khalilzad. But the turnover in the Iraqi government was far more important: religious Shi'ites, led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, took charge, a severe irritant to many Sunnis. "The insurgents see al-Jaafari as a traitor, a man who spent the Iran-Iraq war in Iran," says a senior military officer. "And many of the best officers we have trained in the new Iraqi army--Sunnis and secular Shi'ites who served in Saddam's army--feel the same way." Al-Jaafari did not help matters by opening diplomatic ties with Iran, apologizing for Iraq's behavior in the Iran-Iraq war and cutting economic deals with the Iranians.
In fact, some Iraq experts in the U.S. intelligence community have come to the conclusion that Iraqis' courageous recent steps toward democracy--the elections in January and the writing of a constitution that empowers the religious Shi'ites and the Kurds (though it is resoundingly opposed by the Sunnis)--have left the country in a more precarious position. "The big conversation in our shop these days," says a military-intelligence officer, "is whether it would be a good thing if the new constitution is voted down [in the public referendum] next month."
Iraq experts in the intelligence community believe that the proposed constitution, which creates autonomous regions for the Kurds and Shi'ites in the oil-rich north and south, could heighten the chances of an outright civil war. "A lot of us who have followed this thing have come to the conclusion that the Sunnis are the wolves--the real warriors--and the religious Shi'ites are the sheep," says an intelligence officer. "The Sunnis have the power to maintain this violence indefinitely."
Another hot debate in the intelligence community is whether to make a major change in the counterinsurgency strategy--to stop the aggressive sweeps through insurgent-riddled areas, like the recent offensive in Tall 'Afar, and try to concentrate troops and resources with the aim of improving security and living conditions in population centers like Baghdad. "We've taken Samarra four times, and we've lost it four times," says an intelligence officer. "We need a new strategy."
But the Pentagon leadership is unlikely to support a strategy that concedes broad swaths of territory to the enemy. In fact, none of the intelligence officers who spoke with TIME or their ranking superiors could provide a plausible road map toward stability in Iraq. It is quite possible that the occupation of Iraq was an unwise proposition from the start, as many U.S. allies in the region warned before the invasion. Yet, despite their gloom, every one of the officers favors continuing--indeed, augmenting--the war effort. If the U.S. leaves, they say, the chaos in central Iraq could threaten the stability of the entire Middle East. And al-Qaeda operatives like al-Zarqawi could have a relatively safe base of operations in the Sunni triangle. "We have never taken this operation seriously enough," says a retired senior military official with experience in Iraq. "We have never provided enough troops. We have never provided enough equipment, or the right kind of equipment. We have never worked the intelligence part of the war in a serious, sustained fashion. We have failed the Iraqi people, and we have failed our troops."
Opinion and Commentary
There is now near-universal agreement that the western occupation of Iraq has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster; first for the people of Iraq, second for the soldiers sent by scoundrel politicians to die in a foreign land. The grammar of deceit utilised by Bush, Blair and sundry neocon/neolib apologists to justify the war has lost all credibility. Despite the embedded journalists and non-stop propaganda, the bloody images refuse to go away: the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops is the only meaningful solution. Real history moves deep within the memory of a people, but is always an obstacle to imperial fantasists: the sight of John Reid and the Iraqi prime minister brought back memories of Anthony Eden and Nuri Said in Downing Street just before the 1958 revolution that removed the British from Iraq.
The argument that withdrawal will lead to civil war is slightly absurd, since the occupation has already accelerated and exacerbated ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq. Divide and rule is the deadly logic of colonial rule - and signs that the US is planning an exit strategy coupled with a long-term presence is evident in the new Iraqi constitution, pushed through by US proconsul Zalmay Khalilzad. This document is a defacto division of Iraq into Kurdistan (a US-Israeli protectorate), Southern Iraq (dominated by Iran) and the Sunni badlands (policed by semi-reliable ex-Baathists under state department and Foreign Office tutelage). What is this if not an invitation to civil war? The occupation has also created a geopolitical mess. Recent events in Basra are linked to a western fear of Iranian domination. Having encouraged Moqtada al-Sadr's militias to resist the slavishly pro-Iranian faction, why are the British surprised when they demand real independence?
The Iranian mullahs, meanwhile, are chuckling - literally. Some months ago, when the Iranian vice-president visited the United Arab Emirates for a regional summit, he was asked by the sheikhs whether he feared a US intervention in Iran. The Iranian leader roared with laughter: "Without us, the US could never have occupied Afghanistan or Iraq. They know that and we know that invading Iran would mean they would be driven out of those two countries."
Fakher is one of 56 journalists to be killed in Iraq since the war started. He is also the 36th Iraqi journalist to be killed, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Last Wednesday Ahlam Youssef became number 37. An engineer working for the Iraqi TV network, she was gunned down in Mosul with her husband.
"With the foreign press unable to move around freely for fear of attack, Iraqis have become the eyes and ears of the world in this conflict," reads a statement by CPJ Executive Ann Cooper on their website. "The recent violence is threatening to cut off this critical source of information."
As reporting from Iraq is becoming almost impossible, new ground rules have been set for most of the foreign media. Apart from a handful of journalists, everyone goes out in armed convoys, if they go out at all. If you are six feet tall, fair-haired and stupid enough to come to Baghdad, then you might as well stick to the hotel swimming pool or your agency fortress, and the occasional trip embedded with the US Army. Instead you can count on your Iraqi employees to go out and get you the story.
A mixture of guilt, responsibility and ambition keeps driving Iraqi journalists to push the limits a bit further every time. The intoxication you get from reporting the truths after so many decades of lies is indescribable. You feel you can tell the world what is really happening, but you also feel that you are safe because of the way you look, because of your scruffy beard or your moustache. But far from being immune, the Iraqis are the ones getting killed.
Iraqi journalists, like local journalists all over the world, don't have the luxury of leaving the country every few weeks at the end of their stint. The few who do get to leave the country end up like refugees, drinking heavily in London pubs before being dragged back into the inferno.
The idea of independent Iraqi journalism is being killed only two years after it was born, a little of it dying with each of these brave 37 people. Iraqi journalists are being killed by the Americans, the insurgents, the militias and the police. They are often intimidated and threatened by anyone who doesn't like their coverage. There are no ground rules for them; they won't be allowed the luxuries of the fast car and the bodyguard, and they often have houses and families in the local area. They can be located easily, which is why they are often in the firing line.
So let’s take a test. What do you remember of the dramatic events in Basra this past week, in which two British soldiers were stopped, arrested and later rescued by units of the British force but not before two tanks were lost to petrol bombs, and their occupants pelted with stones as they fled in flames?
Do you recall that:
A: The British soldiers were disguised as Arabs?
B: That there was a substantial cache of arms in the car they were driving?
C: That, when questioned, they refused to show their documents to the police (which, of course, might have ended the whole fracas before it blew up into a crisis)?
D: That the Iraqi police were only doing their duty: It is their job to stop cars being driven by “Arabs” who look suspect (the British disguise may not have been totally clever)?
E: That no explanation has been given by the British authorities as to the nature of this undercover operation; nor has the press probed to find out, although soldiers have been given permission to grant interviews to convey their side of the story?
F: That the British soldiers shot and killed an Iraqi police officer who was doing his duty, and that this murder was unprovoked since there are no reports of the Iraqi policemen opening fire on the disguised British soldiers?
G: That the initial attempt to suggest that the arrested soldiers were handed over to some dreaded militia (very useful, that Moqtada Sadr) was quietly forgotten after it had served the purpose of muddying the sand, to reposition a phrase?
H: That the British blasted open the jail in which the soldiers were held, and in the process permitted over a hundred prisoners at the very least to escape, doubtless strengthening the insurgents thereby?
I: That the justification offered for this illegal invasion of a country’s prison was that “75 percent” of the Iraqi police had become loyal to anti-occupation militias, and therefore could not be trusted with the lives of British soldiers? And that if it is indeed true that 75 percent of those who are meant to fight alongside the British forces in Basra have turned, then Britain and America are arming, training, feeding and building a force in which 75 percent are ready to turn their weapons against the British and Americans. Even Vietnam cannot boast of a somersault at such speed. I quote from a conservative British newspaper, reporting from Basra: “The two men were held in a building belonging to the shadowy Internal Affairs Department.” Hullo. The official Internal Affairs Department of the Iraqi government in Basra has become “shadowy”? Where’s the light then, Brother Blair?
J: That, by the rules laid by George Bush, who has said that anyone not in uniform is an illegal combatant and therefore not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention, the two British soldiers could not claim the status of prisoners of war?
In the "green zone", the Iraqi National Assembly drew up a constitution on which the people are meant to vote next month. It has provisions to enshrine women's rights but, in reality, vigilantes and criminal gangs determine whether women may walk bare-headed, or dare to leave their homes at all. Politicians in the green zone, guarded by US marines, operate under the illusion that they live in Iraq, but the real Iraq starts only beyond the razor wire and concrete blast blocks.
Reality is too dangerous for most foreign journalists, myself included, so we have to rely on our own lack of illusion. Every day, I see the pictures satellited in from Baghdad - broken bodies and overfilled hospital wards, arbitrary soundbites: "A vehicle drew up and we heard an explosion", "My brother is missing."
The illusionists would say I am just dwelling on the bad news. What about all the places in Iraq where there are no bombs? Hard to say, because it's too dangerous to get to them. When I talk to Iraqi friends and acquaintances on the phone, they tell me I have no idea how bad it is. The Iraq they live in is painfully real and leaves no room for illusion. And yet the British and US governments, and their supporters, insist, in the face of increasing violence, that talk of civil war is scaremongering. Until those who make decisions about Iraq face reality, there is no hope of rescuing it from the abyss.