Saturday, March 04, 2006

DAILY WAR NEWS FOR SATURDAY, MARCH 4, 2006 Photo: An Iraqi policeman stands guard as hundreds of people from the Basra, Amara and Nasiriyah areas gather for Friday prayer after a call from the member of parliament from the Al-Fadhila party, Sheik Sabah al-Saiedi, in Basra, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, March 3, 2006. The Al-Fadhila party threatened to cut off oil cease the export from Basra city if their demand to protect the citizen and provide services were not met by the government. (AP Photo/Nabil Al-Jurani) Bring ‘em on: US soldier dies at Brooke Army Medical Center from injuries received on November 21, 2005 from an IED in Iraq. Security Incident: Four Iraqi police officers were killed in Mosul as they left a police academy. Two more police officers killed by roadside bomb in Mosul. Iraqi army recruit shot dead at a wedding ceremony. Bodies of two policemen (who had been kidnapped) were found shot in the head in Kirkuk. Two more bodies found in Iskandariya. Gunmen kidnapped Abdul Rahman al Zabawee, a member of Fallujah tribal leader’s council. Security Incident: Car bomb killed two civilians and wounded three police officers in the town of Salman Pax. A mortar round landed in a market and bus station in another nearby town (another article says Gisr Diyala is the town), killing seven and wounding twenty. Security Incident: A Shi’ite lawmaker was seriously wounded when gunmen fired on his car in Basra. An aide was killed and two bodyguards injured. This article says 25 were injured (and at least seven killed) in the attack on the bus terminal and also says that it was a car bombing, not a mortar attack. Police found four bodies that were handcuffed and shot and left in Baghdad and south of Baghdad. This article also says this: “The militia that kept order Friday was the same force accused of going on a rampage of reprisal attacks against Sunni Muslim mosques and clerics after the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in the central city of Samarra.” They are talking about Sadr’s militia. Note they changed their traditional militia outfits, which is possibly due to the fact that there are people out there dressing like them and pretending to be them. Security Incident: BAGHDAD - A mortar round landed near a building in the green zone 15 minutes after the Interior Minister Bayan Jabur had given a news conference there, a source from the Interior Ministry said. No details of casualties or damage were available, they said. BAQUBA - Six policemen were injured when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol in Baquba 65 km (40 miles) to the north of Baghdad, police said. In a separate incident a girl was killed and eight other civilians injured when a roadside bomb exploded in Baquba, police said. REPORTS Ethnic Hatred in Iraq Has Become Entrenched, Political Solutions Elusive Zeena Ahmed, a Shiite Muslim who lives in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood in western Baghdad, has come up with a plan if a Sunni mob attacks her family. She'll run to the back of the house, scream for help and hope to escape slaughter. She's certain the attack will come. Alaa al Badri, a Sunni who lives in a Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, has a hard time forgiving himself for not going to the streets with a gun this week when he heard the local Sunni imam calling for help on a loudspeaker, saying that the mosque was under attack. He'd have gone, al Badri said, but he was worried that his Shiite neighbors would slip into his home and murder his wife and children. More than a week after the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra ignited sectarian fighting that left hundreds dead and dozens of mosques burned, the continued violence and mistrust have made it clear that Iraq's multiethnic society has ruptured and won't soon heal. Scores of Iraqis like Ahmed and al Badri now cower in their homes, hoping that the next major bombing doesn't provoke unrestrained violence. Interviews this week with ordinary Iraqis, top Iraqi officials and analysts made it clear that the nation, almost three years after the U.S. invasion, is teetering: As politicians stumble to form a unified government almost three months after national elections, hatred and fighting are pushing the nation toward civil war. Many Iraqis interviewed by Knight Ridder said they're worried that the attack on the Askariya shrine - which houses the remains of two of Shiite Islam's 12 imams - pushed the fight beyond Sunni attacks on Shiites and Shiite militias who are killing Sunnis toward a sustained sectarian war that could last for years. War of the Mosques When is the moment you realize your country is on the brink of disintegration? Perhaps it is when you are too scared to remain in your own home. That's the way it felt to Muhammad Ali, a 27-year-old Sunni in Baghdad's mixed Shia-Sunni neighborhood of Doura. In the hours after a terrorist bomb in nearby Samarra last week destroyed the sacred Askariya mosque—where revered Shia imams are entombed—angry Shiites, their faces wrapped in kaffiyehs, roared down Ali's street in Opel and Kia passenger cars bristling with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. Minutes later, Ali heard three loud blasts: a nearby Sunni mosque had been hit with RPGs. "We were terrified," says Ali, his voice cracking. "We never had something like this in my neighborhood." Early the next morning a friend came by Ali's house with a blunt warning: "Get out." A half kilometer away, the friend said, he'd come up on a large field bordering railroad tracks, a place where kids normally kick around a soccer ball. Now it was littered with the victims of Shiite reprisal attacks. "Sometimes people throw their heavy garbage in this place," says Ali (not his real name, which he fears would make him a target if published). "Now they are leaving bodies. It's unbelievable." Braving a harrowing dash through militia checkpoints in a taxi, when AK-47s were waved in his face, Ali brought his mother, two sisters and brother to safety at an uncle's house in a Sunni-dominated area. There they remain, frightened and waiting for what comes next—fearing both the known and the unknowable. Life Returns to Samarra in Wake of Shrine’s Bombing Life is back to normal in the northern city of Samarra, which was placed under a 20-hour-a-day curfew following last week’s attack on the Shiite holy shrine there. The shrine, one of the holiest for Muslim Shiites in the world, was still closed but preparations were underway to repair the damage it sustained as a result of the bombing. The outer walls of the once golden dome shrine are clad with black placards as a sign of mourning. The placards were put in place by the mainly Sunni-dominated tribes in the city, declaring their denunciation of the attack. Iraqi security forces had cordoned off Samarra and only allowed traffic to and form the city on Monday. Fuel and food was running low in the city, home to nearly 250,000 people but supplies began flowing once the troops removed restrictions on movement of people and vehicles. Samarra, a bastion of U.S. resistance, is a tribal society. Powerful tribes, inside and in the outskirts, are know to have opposed coercive measures from any government in the past. The Sunni tribes have for centuries guarded the Shiite shrine in their midst and have vowed to contribute to its reconstruction. Addressing more than 1,000 worshippers who had crammed the mosque, Dhai said: “The people of Samarra have protected the shrine for centuries and no one dared to touch it. Those committing this vicious crime wanted evil for this city and its inhabitants.” Beaten to Death in Basra Baha Moussa was working as a night-shift receptionist at the Ibn al Haithan Hotel in Basra when British troops raided the premises. The 23-year-old was arrested along with other members of the hotel staff, and taken to a nearby British military base for questioning. Four days later his father identified Baha’s corpse in a morgue. He had been beaten to a pulp."When they took the cover off his body I could see his nose was badly broken," said Daoud Moussa, a senior Iraqi police officer. "The skin of his wrists had been torn off. The skin on his forehead was torn away. On the left side of his chest there were clear blue bruises. On his legs I saw bruising from kicking." Almost three years later, three soldiers belonging to the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment are awaiting trial in Britain over Baha’s death, one of them charged with manslaughter, the other two with "inhumane treatment."Why there isn’t a straightforward murder trial is a telling question about British sincerity to fully prosecute soldiers accused of torture and other war crimes. What’s even more telling is that this week there was a small report in the British media that the commander of the troops charged over Baha’s killing is to be promoted. Despite also facing trial for negligence, Colonel Mendonca has been selected to attend a top military college aimed at "grooming the next generation of generals," according to The London Times. The signal that this sends out cannot be understated. It signals that the British authorities are not serious about dealing with allegations of war crimes. As the lawyer acting for Baha Moussa’s family said, the British government is perpetuating a "history of impunity." Iraq’s Ban on Vehicles Brings Calm to Baghdad A government-imposed ban on vehicles brought calm to Baghdad today, but Iraqi officials reported the slaying of 19 workers Thursday night in an attack on two brick factories in a poor, predominantly Shiite town where 47 workers had been pulled from buses and killed last week. At the same time, Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, said today that he believed "the crisis part of this is past," in reference to the sectarian conflicts that erupted after the bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine last week. Still, General Casey did not rule out the possibility that sectarian tensions could be rekindled or grow into a civil war. "We know there are plenty of people trying to provoke a civil war," he said at a televised briefing in Baghdad. Iran to Invest $1 Billion in Iraq Iran has agreed to invest $1 billion to rehabilitate the country’s industrial sector, said Industry and Minerals Minister Abdulaziz al-Najafi in a statement. The statement, obtained by Azzaman, said the money from Tehran will be invested in several industrial projects and Iraqi entrepreneurs were welcome to make use of it. It said the money will be in the form of a long-term loan as it is being raised by an Iranian bank set up to encourage Iranian exports. The statement said the bank has already earmarked up to $400 million for immediate investment and urged Iraqi entrepreneurs to hold talks with the Iranians on the kind of projects they want to participate in. The Iranian side will cover the whole financing but only own 33% of the projects to be implemented. The other 66% will be owned by the Iraqi side. Iraqis will start paying their share of investments 10 years after the completion of these projects in addition to only 1% interest. The statement quoted the minister as saying that it was essential “for all Iraqi industrialists in take part in the legal, technical and economic negotiations with Iranian side that are scheduled to start very soon.” Najafi said his ministry was keen to take part but would rather encourage the private sector to have the lion’s share of the investments. “Iraq’s economic policy for the future is to solidify the private sector to enable it to have a pivotal role in the economy,” the minister said. It is the first such deal the ministry signs with a foreign country. Negotiations with other countries failed due to security reasons. However, the Iranians have said they will proceed ahead with their investment despite mounting insecurity. AC-130 Gunships Returning to Iraq The U.S. Air Force has begun moving heavily armed AC-130 airplanes — the lethal "flying gunships" of the Vietnam War — to a base in Iraq as commanders search for new tools to counter the Iraqi resistance, The Associated Press has learned. An AP reporter saw the first of the turboprop-driven aircraft after it landed at the airfield this week. Four are expected. The Iraq-based special forces command controlling the AC-130s, the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, said it would have no comment on the deployment. But the plan's general outline was confirmed by other Air Force officers, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject. Military officials warned that disclosing the location of the aircraft's new base would violate security provisions of rules governing media access to U.S. installations. The four-engine gunships, whose home base is Hurlburt Field in Florida, have operated over Iraq before, flying from airfields elsewhere in the region. In November 2004, air-to-ground fire from AC-130s supported the U.S. attack that took the western city of Fallujah from insurgents. Basing the planes inside Iraq will cut hours off their transit time to reach suspected targets. The left-side ports of the AC-130s, 98-foot-long planes that can slowly circle over a target for long periods, bristle with a potent arsenal — 40 mm cannon that can fire 120 rounds per minute, and big 105 mm cannon, normally a field artillery weapon. The plane's latest version, the AC-130U, known as "Spooky," also carries Gatling gun-type 20 mm cannon. The gunships were designed primarily for battlefield use to place saturated fire on massed troops. In Vietnam, for example, they were deployed against North Vietnamese supply convoys along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, where the Air Force claimed to have destroyed 10,000 trucks over several years. The use of AC-130s in places like Fallujah, urban settings where insurgents may be among crowded populations of noncombatants, has been criticized by human rights groups. The slow-moving AC-130s also offer an intelligence gathering advantage in the Iraq fight: sophisticated long-range video, infrared and radar sensors. American commanders are marshaling all available tools to detect the Iraqi insurgents' stealthy operations, especially at night, when they plant roadside bombs targeting American road patrols and convoys. The Air Force's senior tactical commander in Iraq said the AC-130 can be both a high-intensity and low-intensity weapon. "It's got tons of guns, and it's got all kinds of stuff on it that can be applied to the problems you have," Brig. Gen. Frank Gorenc, who refused to discuss the current AC-130 deployment, said in an AP interview. That "stuff" includes "the ability to take these high-tech pods and to use them to find guys planting (bombs) and to find other nefarious activity," he said. The Predator drone — the MQ-1 unmanned aerial vehicle — has been a reconnaissance workhorse in Iraq, but Air Force officers say they don't have enough to meet demand for missions. The fiscal 2007 Defense Department budget proposed last month by the Bush administration envisions spending $1.6 billion on additional reconnaissance drones. US Military to Continue to Pay Iraqi Media The U.S. military will continue to pay Iraqi media to publish reports favorable to American forces following an investigation into the controversial practice, the top US General in Iraq said on Friday. Army Gen. George Casey, commander of U.S. forces there, told reporters in a teleconference from Iraq that the investigation by a Navy admiral ordered by Casey "found that we were operating within our authorities and responsibilities." Some members of the U.S. Congress raised questions about the payments when it was revealed in December that Iraqi journalists and newspapers were being paid to use articles produced by the military. Casey said he had not issued an order to halt the payments. "And, right now, based on the results of the investigation, I do not intend to in the near term," he said. Sent to me by email: $121.2 billion – latest supplemental request for Iraq and Afghanistan wars: of this total, $71.2 billion is for fiscal year 2006, bringing that total to $121.2 billion, while $50 billion is for fiscal year 2007) $375 billion – total provided by Congress before the new request for Iraq and Afghanistan wars plus enhanced security at military installations, including more than $260 billion for the Iraq war alone $495.8 billion – total for Iraq and Afghanistan wars plus enhanced security after the $121.2 billion request $6.1 billion – monthly costs for Iraq war [Source: Figures from House Budget Committee, Democratic Minority, February 9, 2006] Tribes Move to Fill Security Vacuum Major Iraqi tribes are in talks for a joint front on how to reinstate quiet and security in the aftermath of the bombing of a major Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra last month. The bombing has raised fears of civil war with scores of mosques burned and hundreds of Iraqis killed so far. Many Iraqi tribes transcend the current sectarian Sunni/Shiite divide. Major Sunni tribes, with members in central and southern Iraq, are coordinating efforts to ease current tensions and form a “National Tribal Front”. The front, once formed, is expected to include tribes with immense influence in central and southern Iraq. The move is spearheaded by tribes in the Province of Anbar, the main stronghold of U.S. resistance, and is led by Sheikh Mohammed Saleh Fayadh, a powerful tribal chieftain. “Our main target is to bury the current sectarian feud before it snowballs and leads to more catastrophes with the main beneficiary being the American occupier,” Fayadh told Azzaman. He said though he was arranging for the meeting, the overture was first made by tribesmen in southern Iraq who are members of dominant tribes in Sunni dominated areas. He said many Shiite tribal leaders had contacted him condemning acts of violence that followed the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra. “Those inciting violence are trying to distort the image of the people of Iraq whether Shiites or Sunnis,” Fyadh said. The tribes played a pivotal role in bringing about some form of normalcy shortly after the U.S. invasion, but the political factions who ruled the country and U.S. policies have plunged Iraq into turmoil. Talabani Says He Has Assurances US Forces to Stay as Long as Needed President Jalal Talabani on Saturday underscored the need for a unity government in Iraq after a spasm of sectarian killing and said he had been assured U.S. forces would remain in the country as long as needed - ''no matter what the period.'' Talabani spoke to reporters after a meeting with Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, who met with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad on Saturday. Abizaid said he was ''very, very pleased with the reaction of the Iraqi armed forces'' during the violence that broke out after the Feb. 22 bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra and reprisal attacks against Sunni Muslims that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war. ''We should understand that the terrorists are trying to create problems among the Iraqi people that can lead to difficulties between various groups,'' he said after a separate meeting with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. ''We should not fall into their trap. We are stronger than they are. We will ultimately prevail.'' The surge of violence, which killed at least 500 people since last week, has tangled negotiations to form a new government after December parliamentary elections and threatened American hopes of starting a troop pullout this summer. Turkey Says US Troops Must Stay in Iraq, Fears Vacuum Turkey's foreign minister said on Thursday U.S. troops should not quit neighbouring Iraq prematurely, but denied media reports suggesting he feared such a withdrawal might help Iran stir up militancy in the region. "The Iraqis should be able to administer themselves, but we say the withdrawal of coalition forces before these things can happen would cause a vacuum, a gap," Abdullah Gul told reporters in televised remarks. Turkey, which hosted Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari on Tuesday, has been alarmed by the escalating violence between Iraqi Sunnis and Shi'ites and fears all-out civil war could plunge the wider region into turmoil. Turkish newspapers quoted Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda on Thursday as saying Gul had told him during talks last month in Ankara that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would greatly bolster Iran's influence. Gul was also quoted as saying Iran might then be able to export its militant brand of Shi'ite Islam to Turkey, which is mainly Sunni Muslim but has a secular political system and is firmly anchored in Western institutions. Gul said Turkey had no reason to fear such a development. "Turkey has shown itself as a model country... We have begun European Union membership talks. It is very false to say such a country could be affected by another country's regime," he said. (Got all that? Tribes are stepping up to fill in the security vacuum, while both Talabani (Kurd) and Turkey says that the US forces need to stay, or there will be a security vacuum. Meanwhile, the Kurdish, Sunni, and Sadr’s politicians have called for Prime Minister al Ja’afari to step down. Now read what the Kurdish press has to stay about Iraq’s nominated and current Prime Minister and his recent visit to Turkey during the crisis over the shrine bombing. – Susan) Have Your Say: Should Kurds Back Off From Their Challenge To Ja’afari? In his official visit to Turkey, Ja'afari totally undermined his alliance with Kurds, and travelled to Turkey without Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd. Ja'afari , however, was accompanied by some Turkmens. While in Turkey, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, strongly criticised Ja'afari and now the Kurds and Sunni Arabs have formally asked Shiia list to withdraw the candidacy of Ja'afari for post of Prime Minister in the new Iraqi government. Ja'afari was given the candidacy for Prime Minister following an internal vote among members of his list. Support from members allied with Muqtada al-Sadr proved instrumental in his victory in this internal vote. Now the United Iraqi Alliance, Iraq's dominant Shi'i list, is backing Ja'afari and the Shi'i bloc seemingly does not see any issue with Ja'afari's visit to Turkey. What do you think will happen from here? - Do you think that the Shi'a are now planning with Turkey and hardline Turkmens to disregard previous guarantees of de-Arabisation? - What will the Kurds do? Do you think Kurds will accept Ja'afari as PM? If they do, do you think they will lose credibility? From past experience, one can anticipate that Kurdish bloc will back off from their position. What do you think? - Do you think Kurds can work with someone like Muqtada al-Sadr, who has openly declear a war against Kurds and federalism, the backbone of Kurdish bloc's policy? (My own analysis is that the politicians in Iraq are out of touch with the people, and they are managing to turn the American game of “let’s you and him fight” right back on the Americans. Hard to say if this is on purpose or not. – Susan) Top US General Dismisses Grim Abuses Report A senior U.S. military commander has branded as "propaganda" a new report from a major human rights group revealing that of the 98 detainees who have died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since August 2002, 34 are suspected or confirmed homicides. The group, Human Rights First (HRF), adds that another 11 cases suggest that death was a result of physical abuse or harsh conditions, but only 12 deaths have resulted in punishment of any kind for any U.S. official. Most of the report's data is derived from U.S. military documents, including the 34 cases classified as homicides. The remark was made by Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmett, the Central Command deputy commander for planning and strategy in Iraq, regarding an HRF report released Feb. 22 which charged that in close to half the deaths surveyed by the organisation, the cause of death remains officially undetermined or unannounced. Overall, eight people in U.S. custody were tortured to death. The report, entitled "Command's Responsibility", says that of the 34 homicide cases so far identified by the military, investigators recommended criminal charges in fewer than two thirds, and charges were actually brought (based on decisions made by command) in less than half. While the Central Intelligence Agency has been implicated in several deaths, no CIA agent has faced a criminal charge, the report says, adding, "Among the worst cases -- detainees tortured to death -- only half have resulted in punishment and the harshest sentence for anyone involved in a torture-related death has been five months in jail." (And, sadly, we may never get any of them to face criminal charges or take responsiblity for these hideous crimes. - Susan) OTHER NEWS: After all we heard about the capture of a Saudi man in Iraq who is accused of being part of the bombing of the Saudi Arabia oil plant, we get this story in the Arab press, but not the western press: Saudi Detained in Iraq Mentally Ill The Saudi captured in Iraq, who confessed to being part of the Feb. 24 Abqaiq refinery attack, is deemed mentally ill and not wanted by Saudi authorities, the Interior Ministry announced yesterday. The Kingdom has requested the Iraqi authorities to provide Abdulrahman Musleh Al-Harbi with proper medical treatment, according to an Interior Ministry statement. A source at the ministry told Arab News that a background check on the suspect showed him to have a history of mental illness. COMMENTARY Country in Turmoil Iraqi politicians are apparently unconcerned with the current turmoil in the country. They are more concerned with the turmoil in their own ranks; and let the country go to hell. Instead of focusing on the issues threatening the country’s future, our politicians are busy conspiring against each other, attacking each other and undermining each other. They seem to be in one valley and the Iraqi people in another. “The way current political affairs are being handled have got nothing to do with the country’s problems,” told me one of these politicians who did not want to reveal his name. As political factions and their leaders squabble among themselves, the country is almost on the brink of civil war. Despite the apparent turmoil, the country is still without a functioning government. The tragedy is that those responsible for the failure to form a new national government are themselves aware that each passing day brings the country closer to full-scale sectarian war. Amid this turmoil, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari went ahead with a three-day visit to Turkey as if he had everything under total control. Jaafari had better spent his time working harder to have his new government in place but it seems we are a country with no law and order. Some described his visit as unconstitutional. But do we really have a constitution to blame Jaafari for? The one on which we had the referendum last year has not turned into law yet and the one the Americans had drafted for us – the infamous Transitional Administrative Law – the politicians have placed in their drawers and is only cited as means to achieve special ends. Jaafari still needs two-third parliamentary majority to be legally installed as prime minister. The parliament itself has yet to convene. Nonetheless, and despite the turmoil, he went ahead with his foreign trip. We are a country with no constitution, no functioning government, no law and no order. Our politicians simply do not care. Working within a constitutional arena will hold them accountable. They have turned the country into a playground and are happy to be seen playing like children. We Can’t Force Democracy The decision to remove [Saddam Hussein from power] was defensible, while not providential. The portrait of Iraq that has emerged since his fall reveals him as the Hobbesian nemesis who may have kept in check an even greater anarchy than the kind that obtained under his rule. The lesson to take away is that where it involves other despotic regimes in the region -- none of which is nearly as despotic as Hussein's -- the last thing we should do is actively precipitate their demise. The more organically they evolve and dissolve, the less likely it is that blood will flow. That goes especially for Syria and Pakistan, both of which could be Muslim Yugoslavias in the making, with regionally based ethnic groups that have a history of dislike for each other. The neoconservative yearning to topple Bashar al-Assad, and the liberal one to undermine Pervez Musharraf, are equally adventurous. (Part of article by Robert Kaplan, Washington Post) Comment -- Robert Kaplan expresses a commonplace view of what went wrong in Iraq: the American mistake was not to recognize the fractured nature of the country and thus anticipate the anarchy that would be unleashed by toppling the regime. It's a way of looking at the situation that serves to diminish American culpability. It amounts to saying, that place was so badly broken before we got there that there's no way we could fix it. It's a kind of innocent ignorance that serves as a balm to a troubled conscience. It's a way of avoiding confronting the possibility that this horrible mess is of our own making; that it happened not because this was Iraq's fate but because a dreadful amount of power could freely be exercised by a dangerously ignorant American administration supported by people whose knowledge of the world is pitifully limited. Kaplan is correct in concluding that, "Political change is nothing we need to force upon people; it's something that will happen anyway." What he fails to observe is that the American urge to change other countries is driven by a conviction that we can know where to lead them even if we don't understand their history or culture - it's a quasi-religious conceit that parades itself as goodwill. And now, even while Americans in increasing numbers believe that the "US should mind its own business internationally," an influential minority is still intent on pursuing an evangelical foreign policy agenda. Even now, there are those in the Pentagon who imagine that they have the capacity to "amplify the moderate forces" in the Middle East, yet no clearer measure of America's current influence in the region can be seen than in a recent statement from Syria's liberal opposition. Damascus Declaration turned down $5 million offered by the U.S. State Dept., saying that its credibility would be damaged if it accepted the cash. Founding member Hassan Abdel Atheem told Reuters, "Our project is nationalist, independent democratic change in Syria, not through occupation or economic pressure as we see the United States doing." Iraq: A Solution to Nothing "Duty," "honor" and "country" mean little when the majority of the American citizens supposedly being served by the ongoing occupation of Iraq are more interested in "American Idol" than the process of bringing peace and stability to ancient Babylon, or when American politicians seem content to continue to allow the men and women who honor our nation through their service to die while those in power grasp for a politically face-saving way to "solve the Iraqi problem." And herein lies the problem: We continue to try to solve a problem we have yet to define, meaning we are seeking a solution to nothing. America continues to pretend that we are building something of value in Iraq. And yet, common sense dictates that when one seeks to build on a corrupt foundation, whatever it is that is being constructed is doomed eventually to collapse. Our nation's involvement in Iraq is based on as corrupt a foundation as imaginable. We didn't go to war for sound national-security reasons (i.e., a threat that manifested itself in a form solvable only through military intervention), but rather for domestic political reasons based on ideology that exploited the fear and ignorance of the American people in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world. In the topsy-turvy world of domestic American politics, this reality continues to fail to resonate. Those who opposed the invasion of Iraq continue to be demonized and marginalized, while those who supported it are embraced and applauded. This "through the looking glass" quality in the American body politic not only hamstrings the nation collectively on the issue of solving the Iraq problem, but also continues to distort reality when dealing with other emerging problems confronting our country and the world, such as the looming crisis with Iran over its nuclear programs. Even as we fail to grasp the lessons of our unraveling failure in Iraq, we seem to be moving full steam ahead into a similar catastrophe in Iran, making the same mistakes by embracing a threat model (nuclear weapons) void of any hard evidence, and promoting a solution (democracy) that is undefined. Who Will Extinguish the Fires of This Warfare? Since the fall of Baghdad to U.S. troops on April 9, 2003, a new kind of war has started in our country which is more barbaric, more vicious and more evil the modern world has ever seen. Instead of planting democracy, tolerance, human rights and reconciliation, the U.S. occupation has bred sectarian and ethnic strife and an atmosphere of insecurity in which human life has become worthless. Sectarian tensions, which were non-existent, began to surface under the banner of multi-party system and pluralism. The occupation may not directly be responsible for the current divisions in the society but it has encouraged them and paved the way for them to take roots that have become almost impossible to wipe out. The sectarian ditches were dug by Iraqi hands but the occupation helped in the digging, filling these ditches with fuel and setting them on fire. It is naïve to blame the bombing of the shrine of holy imams in Samarra for the current upheaval. Sectarian tensions were simmering and the bombing was only meant to add more fuel to the already raging sectarian fire. Iraqis have gone through wars and suffering and the hardest were the 13-year-long U.N. trade sanctions which impoverished the Iraqi society, emaciated its women and children and had almost ruined the infrastructure. It is good to try to contain the disturbances in the aftermath of shrine’s bombing but those in charge must remember civil strife will persist unless the reasons that led to its creation are addressed. There are factions who seem to be pleased to see the country in such turmoil. They think immersion in sectarian schemes and divisions and the shedding of streams of innocent blood will serve their vicious intentions. Filling Iraqi streets with tanks, armored personnel carriers and troops will not solve the problem. Iraqi leaders need to utilize this embarrassing moment to agree upon a national project to save the country. We are in need of a broad national government that reinforces national unity, dissolves armed militias, puts an end to kidnapping and killing and reinstates law and order. The Myth of Civil War The destruction of the shrine in Samaraa, where the two imams, Ali Al-Hadi and Al-Hassan Al-Askari, were buried, generated a tsunami of well-deserved condemnations from one end of the world to the other, until there is nothing to add or improve on what has been said. It is now time to assess the aftermath of this crime and where it left Iraq. Analysts worldwide are already proposing theories about civil war as if we are standing before a scene from Rwanda or Bosnia. Iraq is not very well, to be sure, but to speak of civil war is to show complete detachment from the realities of the country. Iraqis were hailed for having their third democratic vote in December 2005. Yet we already began to witness several steps to separate the elections from their political consequences. At the centre of this effort is the overt participation of US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, whose visibility and conduct is more like that of Paul Bremer, the former civil administrator of Iraq during the period of official occupation. While the ambassador is perhaps trying to show the world that the US is helping with this difficult process, his involvement sends the wrong message to the people of Iraq. The plight of Iraqis in the past eight decades is a legacy of the political engineering of British king-makers who cared more about establishing a friendly government than about establishing a democracy. There is hardly any difference between then and now. The problem of Iraq is the lack of a strong and fully sovereign government. The country now is a confederacy of incoherent and unaccountable provinces with a failing central government. City councils from Basra to Mosul are made of gangs and militias operating with no oversight or any mechanism to ensure performance or transparency. What remains of Iraq is a de facto independent Kurdistan where the laws of the central government do not apply. On the front of reconstruction and services, billions of dollars were spent without any visible change in the daily life of Iraqis. It remains to be seen how long Iraqis will endure living in sub-human conditions while their country is one of the richest in the world -- all under the insidious excuse of the lack of security, as if one failure is a valid justification of another. If there is going to be any war in the short term, it would be an all out revolt to take the country back from the corrupt and incompetent politicians who recklessly took the people's loyalty for granted. PEACE ACTION: Women Say No to War. Over 30,000 Women around the world have signed this petition to say no to war. Please sign! PEACE ACTION: Quaker Conference on Torture will be held on June 2-4, 2006 at Guilford College, Greensboro NC. The keynote speaker, Jennifer Harbury, is a leading and eloquent voice in the rapidly growing movement to expose and end torture as an instrument of public policy. Her own husband, Everardo, was kidnapped and tortured to death by Guatemalan military, acting in collaboration with American officials. Jennifer's books, “Searching for Everardo: A Story of Love, War, and the CIA in Guatemala, and Truth, Torture”, and “The American Way: The History and Consequences of U.S. Involvement in Torture”, tell this story and point the way toward action. She most recently helped establish a Unitarian anti-torture campaign, and now works with TASSC. This conference is being organized by QUIT, the Quaker Initiative to End Torture. QUOTE OF THE DAY: Let your lives speak. (George Fox)


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