Wednesday, March 22, 2006
DAILY WAR NEWS FOR WEDNESDAY, March 22, 2006
Cartoon: “The third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq”, by Steve Bell.
Bring ‘em on: A suicide car bomber struck a U.S. military convoy on the main road leading to Baghdad International Airport on Wednesday morning, an Interior Ministry source told Xinhua. It was not clear whether there were any casualties among the U.S. troops.
Bring ‘em on: Rebels blasted an Iraqi police station with grenade and mortar fire before dawn on Wednesday, killing four policemen in Madaen, south of Baghdad, police said. They said they had detained about 70 suspects in raids in the town after the assault. [This is quite different from what most reports are saying about how "U.S. and Iraqi forces captured 50 of them after a two-hour gunbattle".]
Bring 'em on: Roadside bomb strikes British patrol killing civilian and wounding British soldier in southern Basra.
Update: In the Tuesday attack in Muqdadiyah, about 100 gunmen cut phone wires and fired rocket-propelled grenades in a daring operation that freed 18 fellow insurgents who had been captured in police raids just two days earlier. Police said 15 other captives were sprung in the assault on the Muqdadiyah lockup. Twenty Iraqi security men and at least 10 insurgents were killed in the attack.
In an Internet posting Tuesday night the military wing of the Mujaheddin Shura Council, a militant Sunni Muslim insurgent group, purportedly claimed it carried out the operation. The Web posting said the group killed ``40 policemen, liberated 33 prisoners and captured weapons.'' The claim was posted on the Iraqi News Web site and could not be independently verified.
U.S. helicopters were in the air above the jail after the insurgents had fled. Police said there was firing into the air by residents, but it was not clear if the American aircraft were the target. None was hit.
Both U.S. and Iraqi military officials had said last year that the area was no longer an insurgent stronghold, but Tuesday's attack showed the militants still could assemble a large force, capable of operating in the region virtually at will.OTHER SECURITY INCIDENTS
Police discover a total of 13 corpses Tuesday, nine of them in Baghdad. The other four bodies, full of bullet wounds, were found on the shores of the Tigris river about 55 miles south of the capital.
Gunmen kill employee of Baghdad mayor's office while he was driving in Dora in south Baghdad.
Pilgrim and 22 wounded when gunmen ambush truck carrying Shi'ite pilgrims in western Baghdad. The pilgrims had been returning from the Arbain mourning ritual in Kerbala. A bus travelling on another road in the same area was hit by machinegun fire 2-1/2 hours later. 21 people were wounded in that incident.
Two police commandos wounded when roadside bomb explodes near their patrol in southern Baghdad.
Two policemen killed and one wounded when gunmen ambush their patrol in western Baghdad.
Police find three bodies with gunshot wounds to the head and with their hands bound in southern Baghdad.
Four bodyguards for the electricity minister wounded when gunmen ambush their convoy as they headed to Baghdad airport to pick up the minister.
Body of man wearing Iraqi military uniform delivered to morgue in the southern city of Kut. The man had been killed outside Madain, a morgue official said.
Gunmen kill three civilians transporting bricks on a country road outside Baqouba. A roadside bomb then exploded when a police patrol went to the site, wounding one officer.
Bush says decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq for "future presidents" to make.
Aid agencies unable to enter Samarra, where a major US and Iraqi military operation is underway. "Our convoys sent on Sunday and Monday have been prevented from entering the city by US troops and our information from inside is that families are without food, power and potable water, particularly because they cannot leave their homes," noted Abdel Hameed, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS). This, they say, has left hundreds of families without medical assistance and food supplies.
"Innocent people and especially children are suffering from a lack of supplies in and on the outskirts of Samarra," said Muhammad al-Daraji, Director of the Monitoring Net of Human Rights in Iraq (MHRI). "US and Iraqi military groups have prevented the entrance of local NGOs as well as the media to show the reality of human rights violation inside it," he added.
According to al-Daraji, no citizens have been allowed to leave the city, some 120 km north of the capital, Baghdad, since the operation began on 16 March.
Nearly 1,200 families have fled the city to Baghdad and are living in abandoned buildings and makeshift camps, according to local NGOs who are monitoring. Few of them have received assistance so far. More than 40 people have been treated in the local hospital with injuries caused by the air-strikes and 22 bodies have been taken to the hospital since 17 March.
The Ministry of Interior said that no civilians causalities have been reported so far and more than 80 insurgents have been arrested since the operation began on Friday. "No casualties were reported among Iraqi security forces, civilians or coalition units" the US forces press service said.
Video of civilians killed by U.S. Marines in an Iraqi town in November shows residents describing a rampage by U.S. soldiers: A copy of the video, given to Reuters by Iraq's Hammurabi Organisation for Monitoring Human Rights and Democracy, showed corpses lined up at the Haditha morgue. The chief doctor at Haditha's hospital, Waleed al-Obaidi, said the victims had bullet wounds in the head and chest.
Most residents interviewed by Reuters in Haditha on Tuesday echoed accusations by residents in the video that U.S. Marines attacked houses after their patrol was hit by a roadside bomb. They said the Marines opened fire on houses. "I saw a soldier standing outside a house and he opened fire on the house," said one resident, who did not want to be identified.
The video given to Reuters shows bodies piled in the back of a white pickup truck outside the morgue. Among them was a girl who appeared to be about three years old. One man wept and leaned against a wall as he identified a relative and other residents inspected bodies in the morgue. One man's face had been torn apart by bullets, while a blackened corpse was missing legs and forearms.
The video also showed houses with bullet holes in the walls, pieces of human flesh, pools of blood and clothes and pots scattered across floors. In one home, a young boy wept as he sat beside a corpse and said: "My father. My father."
Abdel Rahman al-Mashhadani, head of Hammurabi, said U.S. Marines had killed 15 people in Haditha after the roadside bomb attack. The group's Haditha branch said it got the video from a local man.
Mashhadani said he had brought the case to the attention of the United Nations office in Baghdad. "These violations of human rights happen every day in Iraq," he told Reuters.
On Tuesday, residents of Haditha had similar accounts to those on the video.
"This room had a family of eight inside, children and their father and mother," one man said of his relatives who were killed in their home. Another resident confirmed his account, saying one of the children was three years old.
"They are all gone," he said.
U.S. senators visiting Iraq press al-Jaafari on formation of “national unity” government. Al-Jaafari said he believed Iraq's most difficult political hurdles had been crossed and predicted a new government would be ready in the coming weeks. "I hope that the formation of the new government does not last beyond April," al-Jaafari said after the meeting.
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said: "April is fine, but it is necessary that this commitment be kept in order for there to be continued support for the presence of American troops in Iraq." The committee chairman, Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican, said decisions on the U.S. troop presence would be made not only by Bush, Congress and other leaders, but also by the American people — a seeming allusion to declining U.S. popular support for the Iraq war.
Artifacts returned to Iraq Museum: The Antiquities Inspectorate in the southern city of Najaf has retrieved more than 200 archaeological pieces that were stolen mainly from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.
The inspectorate’s head, Mohammed Hadi, attributed the success in finding the missing artifacts to a ruling by city’s high-ranking clerics banning trade in antiquities and demanding the return of the stolen items. “Many residents have responded to the call by these holy men,” Hadi said, adding that he expected more items to be handed in to antiquities offices across the country following the edict.
Elaborate U.S. bases raise long-term questions: The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that's now the home of up to 120 U.S. helicopters, a "heli-park" as good as any back in the States.
At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq's western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.
At a third hub down south, Tallil, they're planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.
Are the Americans here to stay? Air Force mechanic Josh Remy is sure of it as he looks around Balad.
"I think we'll be here forever," the 19-year-old airman from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., told a visitor to his base.
The Iraqi people suspect the same. Strong majorities tell pollsters they'd like to see a timetable for U.S. troops to leave, but believe Washington plans to keep military bases in their country.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
BUSH'S EXAMPLE FOR WHAT'S GOING WELL IN IRAQ
Tal Afar; war crimes in Bush’s dystopia:
"The strategy that worked so well in Tal Afar did not emerge overnight -- it came only after much trial and error. It took time to understand and adjust to the brutality of the enemy in Iraq. Yet the strategy is working." --- George Bush 3-20-06.
Bush’s March 20 speech to the City Club of Cleveland was the most derisory string of lies in modern-day oratory. Aside from the dreary repetition of terror-related slogans that appear with mind-numbing frequency, Bush droned on for a good ten minutes about America’s great success in Tal Afar.
If that sounds obscure, it’s because it was intended to be. Independent media has been banned from Tal Afar throughout the conflict so accounts of the massive carnage and devastation have been sketchy at best. This allows the prevaricator-and-chief to simply make up the facts as he goes along; a talent for which Bush has shown amazing aptitude. If Tal Afar is the idyllic, democratic utopia Bush boasts about, then open the city to "unembedded" journalists who can confirm what he says and provide us with the details. That, of course, will never happen because along with the stories of brutality and slaughter, journalists are bound to find trace-elements of the chemical weapons that were used on the civilian population. Proof of war crimes and illegal weapons-use would undoubtedly throw a wrench in Bush’s Pollyanna fairytale.
The siege of Tal Afar was recently celebrated on CBS’ 60 Minutes in a segment called "Tal Afar: Al Qaeda’s Town"; a thoroughly absurd piece of Pentagon-inspired propaganda intended to shore up flagging support for Bush’s war. Like Bush’s speech, 60 Minutes devoted considerable energy to revising the city’s’ recent history and creating an upbeat story of benign occupation. The real story of Tal Afar, however, is quite different than the bubbly narrative told by Bush or his acolytes at TV’s most popular news-magazine.
According to Bush, Tal Afar was a city of 200,000 that had been taken over by Al Qaida "terrorists", although he fails to explain how a few hundred fighters took control of an entire city. Then, the terrorists did what terrorists always do in Bush-world…they terrorized people.
Do we see a theme developing here? It gets even better.
Bush says: "The savagery of the terrorists is hard for Americans to imagine. They enforced their rule through fear and intimidation…In one grim incident; the terrorists kidnapped a young boy from the hospital and killed him." (There’s no record of this incident) "And then they booby-trapped his body, he was blown up. (Never happened) "These weren’t random acts of violence; these were deliberate and highly-organized attempts to maintain control through intimidation. In Tal Afar, the terrorists had schools for kidnapping and beheading." (Schools for beheading?) "And they sent a clear message to the citizens of the city: Anyone who opposes their reign of terror will be murdered." (absurd)
Bush goes on: "The terrorists were deliberately firing mortars into playgrounds and soccer fields filled with children" (nonsense) "Communities became armed enclaves. If you were in part of Tal Afar that was not considered friendly, the terrorists cut off your basic services like electricity and water." (The US military destroyed the water and power lines prior to the siege)
Finally, Bush leans towards his audience and in an ominous-sounding whisper says, "In one cache of weapons we found an axe inscribed with the names of the victims the terrorists had beheaded." (Turned out to be Cheney’s)
Patting himself on the back, Bush adds cheerily, "The operation accomplished all this while protecting innocent civilians and inflicting minimal damage on the city." (Goes without saying)
The real story of Tal Afar is dramatically different than Bush’s deluded account and considerably more tragic.
The siege of Tal Afar began on September 2, 2005. It was the largest military offensive since the assault on Falluja a year earlier. In 2004 the US military attempted to take over the city but was rebuffed by heavy fighting. After that, the guerilla movement inside the city intensified expecting a future attack.
A US officer told the Washington Post, "The September operation basically made people angry, which the insurgents were able to take advantage of. It had the opposite effect as intended. We created a power-vacuum and they filled it"
Approximately, 5,000 American and Iraqi troops sealed off the city, enclosing it behind a massive wall of sand with military checkpoints. Then the city’s people were forcefully evacuated leaving them to fend for themselves. The Red Cross was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the exodus and was unable to provide shelter, water, or food for many of those who fled. Regrettably, thousands of people chose to stay and withstand the withering assault rather than expose themselves to the Shiite death squads from the Interior Ministry who were operating in conjunction with the American forces. The city was then relentlessly pounded for more than a week by Abrams tanks, F-16s, helicopter gun-ships, and heavy artillery. At least four mosques were bombed and the Sarai area was hammered persistently with 500 and 1000 lb bombs. The Iraqi newspaper Azzaman reported, "Eyewitnesses spoke of 'scores of casualties due to indiscriminate bombing".
The entire operation was conducted in relative secrecy because the people in the United States were more focused on the unfolding Katrina tragedy.
The siege was executed according to the normal protocols; massive destruction of personal property, leveling areas where resistance appeared, snipers picking off anything that moves on the city streets, and the routine rounding up of anyone who seems at all suspicious.
"Thousands of Tal Afar residents were trapped inside Sarai by the cordon of tanks and barbed wire that was flung up around the district to prevent resistance fighters from escaping." (James Cogan WSWS)
"Significant parts of Tal Afar are reported to be in ruin. Electricity and phone services have been cut off and hospitals are breaking down. The Iraqi human rights Center issued an urgent appeal t the Iraqi government to stop the assault and allow rescue teams to access the area to deliver food, water and medical supplies." (James Cogan WSWS)
"Islam online.net" reported that "Residents of Tal Afar have sent out an SOS to the international community to interfere with the continuing bombing of their devastated city, revealing a terrible humanitarian crisis."
"The Americans are bombing the city with chemical weapons", one unidentified man said, adding that other residents are complaining of suffocation and other health problems related to exposure to US ordinance.
The report is consistent with evidence of banned weapons that were used in an earlier attack on Falluja.
The idea that Tal Afar was an Al Qaida stronghold was a ridiculous public relations scam to conceal the operation’s real objectives. The siege was clearly designed as part of a broader "scotched-earth" policy directed at Sunni cities. That’s explains why "not one foreign fighter was captured in the siege despite claims that the city was a haven for foreign terrorists." (Linda Heard)
Colonel Greg Reilly admitted as much to Al Jazeera saying that the resistance "went into hiding, avoiding us. That’s why there’s no fighting. They are not putting up a fight."
Unfortunately, the Pentagon’s de-facto news blackout kept this story from receiving any serious attention in the press.
Local Iraqi journalist, Nasir Ali, summarized the goals of the siege saying, "Every time the US Army and Iraqi government want to destroy a specific city they claim it hosts Arab fighters and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi."
Ali is correct, but there is a more sinister motive as well, the deliberate "preemptive" purging of Sunnis to roll back the mounting pressure from the resistance. The attack on Tal Afar was not a battle with terrorists but a clear attempt at ethnic cleansing.
Following the siege the Red Crescent reported that "170 people from Tal Afar had been made sick from "inhaling gases" and "curious poisons"; another indication that proscribed weapons were used on civilians.
James Cogan reports that, "The US led offensive has left hundreds of homes, shops, offices and mosques severely damaged. US and Iraqi troops have now rampaged through every home in Tal Afar searching for surviving insurgents or weapons caches. When residents are able to return to their houses, they will find their doors and widows kicked in, their furniture smashed, and their personal effects ruined or looted."
Summarizing: Tal Afar was forcefully evacuated, ruthlessly bombarded, brazenly captured and laid to waste….but no sign of Al Qaida? As Colonel Reilly said, "They went into hiding".
Jonathan Finer clarified what really took place in Tal Afar in a Washington Post article:
"Tal Afar was 70% Sunni Turkmen and 30% Shiite Turkmen. The Sunni Turkmen had thrown in with Saddam, and more recently to radical Islam. The Shiite Turkmen lived in fear of their lives.
So Kurds and Shiite are beating up on Sunni Turkmen allies of Sunnis Arabs. …It’s mainly about punishing the Sunni Turkmen for allying with the Sunni Arab guerrillas."
So, the US role in this bloody farce has been to aid and abet the forces that are promoting sectarian violence and civil war; that much is crystal clear. None of this has anything to do with Bush’s endless palavering about Al Qaida. Tel Afar was about "ethnic-payback" pure and simple; a strategy that fits seamlessly with the broader aims of the occupation to crush the indigenous resistance and to "divide and conquer".
The widely-respected Council of Nineveh issued a statement from the Brussels Tribunal that was ignored in the western media but is worth reiterating here:
"The truth of what is happening in Tal Afar of the extreme use of force and the use of internationally forbidden weapons of poison gases, cluster, microwave, and napalm bombs, we demand that autopsies be carried out on the corpses of our sons who fell in the barbaric aggression to verify the inhuman practices carried out by the American forces and the (Iraqi) militias that participated in the massacre of Tal Afar."
"The massacre of Tal Afar"?
That doesn’t sound much like Bush’s flowery rhetoric about "children playing on the streets and shops opening", does it?
And, it doesn’t coincide very well with the president’s version of 'fighting bloodthirsty terrorists’ and their "hateful ideology" or "spreading liberty and democracy" to the people of Tal Afar.
What took place in Tal Afar was a massive, protracted war crime engineered by the White House, executed by the Pentagon, and papered over by the collaborative-press. The rest is just the delusional ravings of a homicidal maniac.
Bad example…Tal Afar: In his speech yesterday, George Bush said:
In this city, we see the outlines of the Iraq that we and the Iraqi people have been fighting for….The story of Tal Afar also shows that with a basic level of safety and security, Iraqis can live together peacefully.
A desperate attempt to show Americans that the US is making progress in Iraq, lack of a single example Bush chose Tal Afar as a model.
First, Tal Afar is not a “city” as you understand the word, Tal Afar is much, much smaller than a city and something just bigger than a village.
To refresh your memory, Tal Afar is the same “city” where US soldiers killed Iraqi children and later faked images by implementing weapons besides their dead bodies.
We had a long discussion before on this here.
How safe is Tal Afar?,
This Arabic link from Iraqi website today says it all, I will translate it as it is:
Mortar fire attack on coalition head quarter in Tal Afar injured one soldier, transported later to the hospital.
Sister cities: Sitting 230 miles west of Baghdad, Rutbah joins Tal Afar, Mosul and Samarra as cities where the U.S. military has tried to block outsiders and impede insurgent mobility by erecting large sand walls with bulldozers.
Azzaman editorial: The shallowness of the U.S. ambassador in Iraq: U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalil-zad has repeatedly shown that he is nothing but a shallow person. This is why his behavior is tantamount to that of a circus conjurer who relies more on dexterity than his mind.
And recently he barely avoided the spilling of rivers of blood through some irresponsible statements he made regarding the latest spiral of violence in the country. He did retract his statements, blaming poor translation. We would have believed him if this was his first blunder.
Stupidity, rashness and shallowness are the characteristics that can be attributed to anyone placing the responsibility for the worsening conditions in the country on any quarters other than the U.S. Iraq is a failed country because of U.S. arrogance and the shallowness of its ambassador.
[Azzaman is a Western-leaning Iraqi paper.]
REALITY-IMPOSED TRUCE WITH IRAN?
Iran's Supreme Leader sanctions talks with U.S. on Iraq, saying Iranian officials would tell the U.S. to leave the country. "If Iranian officials can express Iran's opinion about Iraq to Americans and make them understand Iran's views, talks on this issue are not problematic," Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters, said in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
"But if (talks) mean opening up an arena for deceitful Americans to continue their bullying attitude, talks with America on Iraq are banned," he said in a televised speech. "Our clear opinion on Iraq is that the American government should leave Iraq and stop provoking ethnic tensions and creating insecurity so that (Iraq) has peace and security," Khamenei said.
Iraqi political sources said they expected the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, to meet with Iran's representatives this week.
Tehran could be holding the electoral fortunes of the Republicans Republicans as well as the fate and the future of the war-devastated Iraq in its hands. Analysts have lately started to suggest that Tehran could be seen as holding the electoral fortunes of the U.S. Republican Party as well as the fate and future of the war-devastated Iraq in its hands.
According to an editorial published earlier on Lebanon’s leading Arab-Language newspaper Annahar, Iran, which America considers its biggest challenge in the Middle East, could help the Bush administration pull its coals out of the Iraqi fire … for a price.
The Bush administration, now facing deadlock in Iraq, is trying to get help from regional powers, on top of which is Iran. Washington needs those countries' support which could help it stabilize Iraq and prevent a civil war that would spread and devastate neighboring countries as well.
And that’s why Washington is reaching out to Iran for talks regarding the situation in Iraq. But what the Bush administration doesn't know is that Iran will compromise with it if, and only if, it is beneficial to Iran.
What the U.S. fails to recognise is that more challenges in the region are awaiting it as a result of its failure in Iraq. There’s a tremendous amount of pressures descending on the American President to take some measure that would improves the situation in Iraq, currently facing an unprecedented level of violence and unrest, before the midterm elections in November.
Failing to contain the current turmoil in Iraq, or if the situation aggravates, could mean an end to the Republican majority. A truce with Iran is now more urgent than ever.
Rumour: Have 6000 Iranian soldiers surrounded Baghdad? ANN, an Arab news network, just interviewed Riyadh Al Rikabi, a former Shia Baathist living in Najaf, who said that 6000 Iranian soldiers had infiltrated the borders and were taking up positions in and around Baghdad.
This is, as yet, of course, unverified news. However, it does mark an interesting turn of events (if true) since the US and Iran are purportedly in talks on how to curb the violence in Iraq.THE IRAQ WAR: THREE YEARS ON
Robert Fisk: It is the march of folly: In 1914, the British, French, and Germans though they would be home by Christmas. On the 9th of April 2003, corporal David Breeze of the 3rd Battalion, 4th US Marine Regiment - the very first American to enter Baghdad - borrowed my satellite phone to call his home in Michigan. "Hi you guys, I'm in Baghdad," he told his mother. "I'm ringing to say 'Hi, I love you. I'm doing fine. I love you guys.' The war will be over in a few days. I'll see you all soon."
Civil war? There never was a civil war? It is a tribal, not a sectarian society. Some organisation wants a civil war; oddly, it was an occupation force's spokesman, a certain Dan Senor, who first warned of civil war in Iraq at an Anglo-American press-conference in 2003. Why? We talk of civil war far more than the Iraqis do. Why? Repeatedly, we are told that Iraqis and Westerners are kidnapped by "Men wearing police uniforms" or by "Men wearing army uniforms".
What is this nonsense? Are we really to believe that there is a vast warehouse in Fallujah containing 8,000 made-to-measure police uniforms for potential insurgents? No! The truth is that many of the policemen and soldiers or Iraq, upon whose loyalty and courage our retreat, according to Bush, depends, are themselves insurgents. So deeply have the nationalists/Islamists forces infiltrated these men that the Bush-Blair promises of withdrawal are the very opposite of the truth. We are on our own. We may persuade our ex-spooks, like the former "interim prime minister" Iyad Alawi, who obediently claimed yesterday that therewas a civil war in progress, to try to frighten Iraqis. The reality is that our armed presence in Iraq is destroying an entire people.
Accepting Reality: America has lost the war in Iraq. The chance for victory vanished long ago with the hearts, minds, arms, legs and lives of the Iraqi people. The insurgence hasn't won; rather the American government never obtained the formula to win. America, led by war-bent hawks (Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz) entered this war with many interests. Among them, the control of a major supply of Mideast oil, military bases, reconstruction contracts for cronies (i.e. Halliburton and Bechtel), a new ally/puppet in the region, securing Israeli dominance, showcasing new products for the arms community, and the greater concept of making Baghdad a haven for US corporate expansion (thereby planting a McDonalds and Starbucks on every street corner). In this excess of interests, the US neglected a major factor in the equation—the Iraqi people. Every time another suicide bomber enters the marketplace, Iraqis are reminded of the utter failure and incompetence of the US government. Nonetheless, those war-bent hawks couldn't pass up the idea of a cheap war coupled with a swift victory. What they didn't realize (or refused to listen to) was that after decades of heartbreak and struggle under Saddam Hussein, the last thing Iraqis needed was to get "liberated" for an era of struggle under US occupation.
The Iraqi people know what to expect from occupation. They remember the 1982 Israeli siege of Beirut, the 22 year Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, and the 38 years of oppression that continues to plague the lives of Palestinians. Iraqis also witnessed the US bombing campaign of 1991, the reneged US support of a postwar Shia uprising, and the sanctions that left Iraqi women and children forgotten. While the West mainly erases these events from their minds, the people of the Middle East, and more specifically Iraqis, must endure the consequences of these events.
If the Bush administration interviewed my father, a 59 year old, Christian Republican Arab doctor living in the US, they would have realized, "Arabs don't like to be occupied." Arabs—be it Sunni, Shia, Coptic, Orthodox or Maronite—don't want to be invaded by a Western force capable of bombing Baghdad to oblivion. Nevertheless, many Muslim and Christian Arabs in the Middle East send their children to Western schooling and profoundly appreciate Western Culture. As James Zogby—president of the Arab American Institute—pointed out on CNN, Americans can see the integration of US based multinational food chains and stores in Saudi Arabia. More than 70 McDonalds and 32 Pizza Huts spread across the country, while a 69,000 sq ft Chuck E. Cheese opened in Jeddah in 2001, with bumper cars, a bowling alley and a new ice rink. There is thirst for American culture within Saudi society, without the aggression and ramifications of US foreign policy.
The most important single factor that shapes Americans' attitudes to any war is whether they think America will win, explains Christopher Gelpi, an associate professor of political science at Duke University who specialises in public attitudes to foreign policy. Over the past year, the percentage of Americans who believe the US is "certain to win" [in Iraq] has plummeted from 79% to 22%; those who are either certain it will not win or believe this to be unlikely have risen from 1% to 41%.
"They are in big trouble," explains Gelpi. "Bush's speeches, even as late as December, managed to shore up public opinion a little bit. But what you can do with speeches at this point is pretty limited. It's not even clear who's listening."
Victory now may mean little more than avoiding the worst: David Mack, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and one of the organizers of a pre-war State Department study on how to rebuild Iraq, which he says was largely ignored by the administration, said victory now may mean little more than avoiding the worst.
"Americans would like to think that for all we've done, we should have gotten something really good for our efforts," he said. "We just have to accept that we are not going be happy with the outcome. In fact, nobody over there in the region is viewing any of this as being positive."
Mack added, "Did I imagine when we went in things would become this bad? No, I never envisioned we'd have this disaster."
The Besieged Press of Baghdad: "Ladies and Gents," the South African pilot matter-of-factly announces over the intercom, "we'll be starting our spiral descent into Baghdad, where the temperature is 19 degrees Celsius." The vast and mesmerizing expanse of sandpapery desert that has been stretching out beneath the plane has ended at the Tigris River. To avoid a dangerous glide path over hostile territory and missiles and automatic weapons fire, the plane banks steeply and then, as if caught in a powerful whirlpool, it plunges, circling downward in a corkscrew pattern.
Upon arriving in Amman, the main civilian gateway to Baghdad, one already has had the feeling of drawing ever nearer to an atomic reactor in meltdown. Even in Jordan, there is a palpable sense of being in the last concentric circle away from a radioactive ground zero emitting uncontrollable waves of contamination.
Almost nowhere in our homogenized world does crossing an international frontier deliver a traveler to a truly unique land. There is, however, no place in the world like Iraq. Even at Amman's Queen Alia International Airport, one finds hints of this mutant land to come. Affixed to the wall above a baggage carousel is an advertisement for "The AS Beck Company, Bonn, Germany: CERTIFIED ARMORED CARS." The company's logo is a sedan with the crosshairs of an assault rifle's telescopic scope trained on the windshield on the driver's side. "WHEN GOING TO IRAQ, MAKE SURE YOU DRIVE ARMORED!" the ad proclaims cheerfully. At the departure gate, a crimson placard warns against carrying FORBIDDEN ITEMS: "Gun Powder, Golf Clubs, Hand Grenades, Ice Axes, Cattle Prods, Hocket Sticks [sic], Meat Cleavers and Big Guns," making one wonder if "little guns" are OK.
The small Royal Jordanian Fokker F-28-4000, which makes daily trips to Baghdad, sits out on the tarmac away from the jetways as if some airport official feared it might prove to be an airborne IED (improvised explosive device, a US military acronym). Those of us on this hajj to the global epicenter of anti-Western and Islamic sectarian strife are an odd assortment of private security guards, military contractors, U.S. officials, Iraqi businessmen, and journalists; a young man in a sweatshirt announces himself as part of the "Military Police K-9 Corps" (bomb-sniffing dogs).
The Baghdad International Airport terminal is full of armed guards and ringed by armored vehicles. I saw no buses or taxis awaiting arriving passengers. Almost everyone is "met." I am picked up by the New York Times's full-time British security chief, who has come in a miniature motorcade of "hardened," or bomb-proof, cars, escorted by several armed Iraqi guards in constant radio contact with each other.
As America approached the third anniversary of its involvement in Iraq, I had gone to Baghdad to observe not the war itself, but how it is being covered by the press. But of course, the war is inescapable. It has no battle lines, no fronts, not even the rural-urban divide that has usually characterized guerrilla wars. Instead, the conflict is everywhere and nowhere.
[Excerpt from an article by author Orville Schell published in the April 6, 2006 issue of the New York Review of Books.]
SPOTLIGHT ON RUMMY
The two faces of Rumsfeld: Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, sat on the board of a company which three years ago sold two light water nuclear reactors to North Korea - a country he now regards as part of the "axis of evil" and which has been targeted for regime change by Washington because of its efforts to build nuclear weapons.
Mr Rumsfeld was a non-executive director of ABB, a European engineering giant based in Zurich, when it won a $200m (£125m) contract to provide the design and key components for the reactors. The current defence secretary sat on the board from 1990 to 2001, earning $190,000 a year. He left to join the Bush administration. The reactor deal was part of President Bill Clinton's policy of persuading the North Korean regime to positively engage with the west.
Just months after Mr Rumsfeld took office, President George Bush ended the policy of engagement and negotiation pursued by Mr Clinton, saying he did not trust North Korea, and pulled the plug on diplomacy. Pyongyang warned that it would respond by building nuclear missiles. A review of American policy was announced and the bilateral confidence building steps, key to Mr Clinton's policy of detente, halted.
By January 2002, the Bush administration had placed North Korea in the "axis of evil" alongside Iraq and Iran. Two years after leaving ABB, Mr Rumsfeld now considers North Korea a "terrorist regime _ teetering on the verge of collapse" and which is on the verge of becoming a proliferator of nuclear weapons.
He Doth Compare Too Much:
The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said yesterday that the US could not afford to wait for conclusive proof of Saddam Hussein's weapons programmes before it attacked Iraq, and he equated the reluctance of America's allies to get involved with the appeasement of Nazi Germany. --- The Guardian, 8/21/02
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is comparing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to Adolf Hitler in the final days of Nazi Germany. "Like Hitler in his bunker, this violent extremist, failing to advance his political objectives, now appears committed to destroying everything and everyone around him," Rumsfeld said. --- AP, 5/26/05
"Adolf Hitler wrote things and people didn’t believe it. Here you have a person from an important country, a big country, with an intelligent and educated population that’s acquiring nuclear weapons, seems to be on a path to do that saying those things." --- Donald Rumsfeld on Iran President Ahmadinejad, Fox News, 1/18/06
Rumsfeld...likened al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin while urging Americans not to give in on the battle of wills that could stretch for years. --- WaPo, 2/3/06
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld likened Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Adolf Hitler, reflecting continuing tension in relations between the United States and the Latin American government. “I mean, we’ve got Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money,” Rumsfeld added. “He’s a person who was elected legally — just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally — and then consolidated power and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others.” --- AP, 2/3/06
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is warning that Western countries must increase their defense budgets in order to prevent the rise of a "global extremist Islamic empire" that could be as deadly as Hitler's Third Reich. --- Newsmax, 2/6/06
"Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis." --- Donald Rumsfeld, WaPo, 3/19/06
During the past few years in the U.S., we've witnessed state-sanctioned torture, extralegal domestic surveillance, a preemptive war based on false pretenses, and a party-above-nation cult of personality. Those who have noted the lessons learned from 1930's Germany have been dismissed as shrill or loony. So what do Rumsfeld's frequent and increasing use of Hitler analogies betray about him---his veracity, his character, his motives?BEYOND IRAQ
Fukuyama's effort to rescue the reputation of neoconservatism echoes the dissidents' attempts to distance communism from Stalin: Francis Fukuyama was one of the 25 original neoconservative signatories of the Ur-document of the modern movement, the Project for a New American Century's 1997 statement of principles calling for a return to "Reaganite military strength and moral clarity". As a historical footnote, not one of the signers supported President Reagan in his detente with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that helped end the cold war; many of them were fierce critics of Reagan's rejection of then neoconservative dogma. Indeed, one of the signers, Frank Gaffney, was dismissed from his position as deputy assistant secretary of defence as a prelude to Reagan's embrace of Gorbachev.
In September 2000, PNAC issued a statement (pdf) calling for a "process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change" in US foreign policy, but fretted that domestic political conditions would not permit such a convulsion "absent some catastrophic and catalysing event - like a new Pearl Harbour". One year later, the "new Pearl Harbour" - the September 11 terrorist attacks - provided the casus belli for the "revolutionary" upheaval of US policy under Bush.
Now, three years after the invasion of Iraq, Fukuyama has published a cri de coeur, describing the Bush administration's blunders and "poisonous" factionalism that has mangled a once supposedly coherent neoconservative philosophy. Among other revelations of America At the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy, Fukuyama has discovered that the neocon pundit Charles Krauthammer is a dreamer in his projection of the US ability to remake the world in the neocons' ideal image. Attempting to rescue neoconservatism from itself, Fukuyama posits that the Bush administration in Iraq is guilty of heresy, of liberal taint, in its belief in "social engineering". Fukuyama wants to emphasise the conservatism over the "neo". "I did not like the original version of Leninism and was sceptical when the Bush administration turned Leninist," he writes. But Fukuyama's effort to rescue the reputation of neoconservatism from Bush eerily echoes dissident Communists' attempts to distance the idea of communism from Stalin. Fukuyama's disenchantment has not yet progressed to the final god-that-failed stage. He still evades the pragmatic judgment that Bush's consequences are the inescapable results of neoconservatism and not its aberration.
Noam Chomsky: Latin America and Asia Are at Last Breaking Free of Washington's Grip: The prospect that Europe and Asia might move towards greater independence has troubled US planners since the second world war. The concerns have only risen as the "tripolar order" - Europe, North America and Asia - has continued to evolve. Every day Latin America, too, is becoming more independent. Now Asia and the Americas are strengthening their ties while the reigning superpower, the odd man out, consumes itself in misadventures in the Middle East.
Regional integration in Asia and Latin America is a crucial and increasingly important issue that, from Washington's perspective, betokens a defiant world gone out of control. Energy, of course, remains a defining factor - the object of contention - everywhere.
China, unlike Europe, refuses to be intimidated by Washington, a primary reason for the fear of China by US planners, which presents a dilemma: steps toward confrontation are inhibited by US corporate reliance on China as an export platform and growing market, as well as by China's financial reserves - reported to be approaching Japan's in scale.
In January, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah visited Beijing, which is expected to lead to a Sino-Saudi memorandum of understanding calling for "increased cooperation and investment between the two countries in oil, natural gas and investment", the Wall Street Journal reports.
Already much of Iran's oil goes to China, and China is providing Iran with weapons that both states presumably regard as deterrent to US designs. India also has options. India may choose to be a US client, or it may prefer to join the more independent Asian bloc that is taking shape, with ever more ties to Middle East oil producers. Siddharth Varadarjan, the deputy editor of the Hindu, observes that "if the 21st century is to be an 'Asian century,' Asia's passivity in the energy sector has to end".
The key is India-China cooperation. In January, an agreement signed in Beijing "cleared the way for India and China to collaborate not only in technology but also in hydrocarbon exploration and production, a partnership that could eventually alter fundamental equations in the world's oil and natural gas sector", Varadarjan points out.
An additional step, already being contemplated, is an Asian oil market trading in euros. The impact on the international financial system and the balance of global power could be significant. It should be no surprise that President Bush paid a recent visit to try to keep India in the fold, offering nuclear cooperation and other inducements as a lure.
Meanwhile, in Latin America left-centre governments prevail from Venezuela to Argentina. The indigenous populations have become much more active and influential, particularly in Bolivia and Ecuador, where they either want oil and gas to be domestically controlled or, in some cases, oppose production altogether. Many indigenous people apparently do not see any reason why their lives, societies and cultures should be disrupted or destroyed so that New Yorkers can sit in their SUVs in traffic gridlock.
Venezuela, the leading oil exporter in the hemisphere, has forged probably the closest relations with China of any Latin American country, and is planning to sell increasing amounts of oil to China as part of its effort to reduce dependence on the openly hostile US government. Venezuela has joined Mercosur, the South American customs union - a move described by Nestor Kirchner, the Argentinian president, as "a milestone" in the development of this trading bloc, and welcomed as a "new chapter in our integration" by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian president.
Venezuela, apart from supplying Argentina with fuel oil, bought almost a third of Argentinian debt issued in 2005, one element of a region-wide effort to free the countries from the controls of the IMF after two decades of disastrous conformity to the rules imposed by the US-dominated international financial institutions.
Steps toward Southern Cone [the southern states of South America] integration advanced further in December with the election in Bolivia of Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous president. Morales moved quickly to reach a series of energy accords with Venezuela. The Financial Times reported that these "are expected to underpin forthcoming radical reforms to Bolivia's economy and energy sector" with its huge gas reserves, second only to Venezuela's in South America.
Cuba-Venezuela relations are becoming ever closer, each relying on its comparative advantage. Venezuela is providing low-cost oil, while in return Cuba organises literacy and health programmes, sending thousands of highly skilled professionals, teachers and doctors, who work in the poorest and most neglected areas, as they do elsewhere in the third world.
Cuban medical assistance is also being welcomed elsewhere. One of the most horrendous tragedies of recent years was the earthquake in Pakistan last October. Besides the huge death toll, unknown numbers of survivors have to face brutal winter weather with little shelter, food or medical assistance.
"Cuba has provided the largest contingent of doctors and paramedics to Pakistan," paying all the costs (perhaps with Venezuelan funding), writes John Cherian in India's Frontline magazine, citing Dawn, a leading Pakistan daily.
President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan expressed his "deep gratitude" to Fidel Castro for the "spirit and compassion" of the Cuban medical teams - reported to comprise more than 1,000 trained personnel, 44% of them women, who remained to work in remote mountain villages, "living in tents in freezing weather and in an alien culture", after western aid teams had been withdrawn.
Growing popular movements, primarily in the south but with increasing participation in the rich industrial countries, are serving as the bases for many of these developments towards more independence and concern for the needs of the great majority of the population.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "We will continue until we see the last general running for a helicopter on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad," --- statement from Stop the War Alliance organizing a rally outside the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, on the third anniversay of the invasion of Iraq.