Sunday, March 05, 2006

And the war drags on . . .

Amnesty International has claimed that use of torture by US-trained security forces in Iraq is increasing and that thousands of prisoners are being denied basic human rights.
In a report published on Monday the human rights group suggests that many detainees being held by the US-led multinational force (MNF) are trapped in a system of arbitrary detention with some being held without being charged for more than two years.

The report, entitled Beyond Abu Ghraib: Detention and torture in Iraq, also says there is mounting evidence of torture by Iraqi security forces, working alongside the MNF, including the so-called Wolf Brigade that reports to the Iraqi interior ministry.
The report lists allegations from former detainees who claim that they were beaten with plastic cables, given electric shocks and made to stand in a flooded room as an electrical current was passed through the water.

That's from Al Jazeera's "Iraqi jail torture 'increasing'" and Lynda sent it in. It's Sunday and time for a look at what's going on by using sources from outside the United States mainstream media. You got Jess and Ty here filling in for C.I. Since this was announced days ahead of time a few of you sent in some questions for us with your highlights. So we'll try to answer those as we go through. But right now we're going from the Iraqi prisons to Guantanamo via Gareth's highlight, Kim Sengumpta's "Voices from Guantanamo: For the first time, details of Camp Delta inmates released to public" (The Independent of London):

The US government has been forced to release documents giving details of those being held at Guantanamo Bay after years of refusing to do so.
The 5,000 pages of transcript were handed over by the Pentagon on the order of a judge in response to legal action brought under the Freedom of Information Act by the news agency Associated Press. Much of the Bush administration's "war on terror" remains shrouded in overwhelming secrecy. The US government has kept almost all information about the detainees secret since opening the prison in January 2002.
The transcripts made public only reveal unclassified information. The detainees and their legal representatives are not allowed to know, for example, what other evidence the US authorities may have on them.
However, even this limited glimpse into the closed world of Camp Delta shows the arbitrary nature of the arrests which led to hundreds being incarcerated, without charge, thousands of miles from home.

Ty: That brings up our first question. Joan sent something and said not to use it if there was something better, on the G-Bay prisoners, but she was wondering how much a difference we thought the release of names made?

Jess: If nothing else, it keeps people aware, for one more news cycle, that we've locked people away in Guantanamo for years and years. But ideally it helps put a face on the faceless so we start thinking about them and Ty and I were happy to see that Joan used "prisoners." We agree with C.I. and Elaine, "detainee" is a word that the administration uses to make what they're doing sound "kinder and gentler." In fact, Rebecca wrote about this Saturday, so check that out. And we'll keep calling them what they are, prisoners.

But we have no control over what others call them so here's an article where they use "detainees." Polly sent it in and it's Jonathan Petre's "Williams: Cuba camp is setting a dangerous precedent America" (The Telegraph of London):

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has launched a scathing attack on Guantanamo Bay, condemning the US prison camp as an "extraordinary legal anomaly".
Speaking during an eight-day visit to Sudan, Dr Williams said yesterday that detaining people indefinitely when they had not been convicted, and denying them proper legal rights, set a dangerous precedent.

He said that the camp in Cuba had created a "new category of custody", in which detainees were prevented from gaining "the sort of legal access that we would probably assume to be important".
The archbishop said: "Any message given, that any state can just over-ride some of the basic habeas corpus-type provisions, is going to be very welcome to tyrants elsewhere in the world, now and in the future.
"What, in 10 years' time, are people going to be able to say about a system that tolerates this?"

Moving to Canada, Vic notes "Soldiers' bodies arrive in Canada" (CBC):

The bodies of two Canadian soldiers, victims of the same road accident in southern Afghanistan last week, arrived in Canada on Sunday.
Their caskets arrived at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, near Kingston, Ont., about 5 p.m. EST.
Master Cpl. Tim Wilson, of Grande Prairie, Alta., died of his injuries Sunday morning, three days after the collision near Kandahar.

Cpl. Paul Davis died Thursday when the LAV III armoured vehicle he and Wilson were riding in crashed into a taxi and flipped.

So we got two wars waging still, Iraq and Afghanistan. Think about that, two wars, as we move on to James in Brighton's highlight, Julian Borger's "US envoy hints at strike to stop Iran" (The Guardian of London):

The US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has told British MPs that military action could bring Iran's nuclear programme to a halt if all diplomatic efforts fail. The warning came ahead of a meeting today of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which will forward a report on Iran's nuclear activities to the UN security council.
The council will have to decide whether to impose sanctions, an issue that could split the international community as policy towards Iraq did before the invasion.

Yesterday the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said: "Nobody has said that we have to rush immediately to sanctions of some kind."
However the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, visiting Washington last week, encountered sharply different views within the Bush administration. The most hawkish came from Mr Bolton. According to Eric Illsley, a Labour committee member, the envoy told the MPs: "They must know everything is on the table and they must understand what that means. We can hit different points along the line. You only have to take out one part of their nuclear operation to take the whole thing down."

[. . .]
The CIA appears to be the most sceptical about a military solution and shares the state department's position, say British MPs, in suggesting gradually stepping up pressure on the Iranians.

James in Brighton notes that Condi says "Nobody has said that we have to rush immediately to sanctions of some kind" and says that must mean that they are going to rush immediately to sanctions. How come? Condi's known as a lie face around the world. So two wars and Bully Boy's itching for a third. Must mean Iraq is a sea of calm, right? Here's another item from Vic,
"Vigil to mark 100 days since aid workers' abductions" (CBC):

Four Christian peace activists kidnapped in Iraq in November will be honoured at a Toronto vigil Sunday evening, marking the 100 days they have spent as hostages. Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, along with American Tom Fox and Briton Norman Kember, were abducted from a Baghdad neighbourhood by a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigades.
A month has passed since the latest video was released showing the four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) still alive, but since then there has been no word on their fate from the kidnappers.

Iraq. Jill Carroll, freelance journalist working for The Christian Science Monitor, is still kidnapped with no word on her, the four CPT workers are still kidnapped. The place is still chaos, planned chaos by the administration. So join us in song:

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.
-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Let's do the fatality count for US troops in Iraq. Last Sunday when C.I. did this entry, the count stood at 2291. Right now, what is it? 2300. So what's the magic number? 2400? 2500? 3000? Higher? What's it going to take to make Bully Boy bring the troops home?

We think what it's going to take is the American people demanding that the troops come home, demanding in huge numbers, loudly. So make sure you've got something planned for March. Take part in something that's organized or organize your own house party or march or whatever. Make your voice heard.

One thing we like about these Sunday entries, and we like them, is that it helps us see stuff going on all over the world. Like Polly will remind everyone that England's planning on reducing the number of troops they have stationed in Iraq. Not just with a highlight, but it was last week or the one before where she brought it up again. Those are the sort of things that can fall through the cracks if you're just following the United States mainstream media. It may get a mention once and then it's on to something else. But news like that is much bigger than a one day cycle.
But it's treated like one and if you're not paying attention, you might miss it. We say all that to move on to Mitch's highlight, Ian Bruce's "Army to withdraw 1200 troops from Iraq" (Scotland's The Herald):

The Army plans to withdraw 1200 soldiers from three of the four southern Iraqi provinces under its control this year to free up scarce manpower and air transport resources for the UK's new Afghan deployment.
Military sources say the main Basra garrison will also be reduced from 5600 but that the numbers involved will be dictated by the security situation and the establishment of a stable regime in Baghdad.
The three-year occupation of the south has so far cost 103 British lives and £3 billion. Hundreds of troops have also been wounded, the vast majority since the official end of hostilities in May, 2003.
Sources say most of the 8600 UK soldiers will be pulled out by next spring. A token garrison could remain to keep a foothold in the region if the Iraqi government agrees to their continued presence.
In the meantime, commanders have been told to minimise further casualties by restricting patrols to those necessary for maintaining the security of bases and essential "ration runs" from the logistics hub at Shaiba, south of Basra, to outlying locations.

Now Mitch gets three more highlights because he found some more stuff that we think the community should be aware of. First, Nick Meo's "Baghdad: City of fear" (Scotland's Sunday Herald):

Iraqis are not sure whether their long agony will now take the form of a sectarian civil war, perhaps of the most brutal and costly kind. But they are talking about little else.
"I think it is coming, civil war," said Ali, a Shia taxi driver who didn't want to give his real name.
"The situation is getting worse and worse." He had been forced from his home in a Sunni area a few months ago. But he knows many people who have suffered much worse fates.
If civil war happens the past two weeks have given Iraqis a terrifying glimpse of what they must expect.
Violence is no longer just a matter of attacks by insurgents on coalition troops and Iraqi government forces. Now, with plans being drawn up for US and British troops to begin to pull out of the country, the three main cultural traditions -- Shia, Sunni and Kurds -- each fearful of the others, are manoeuvring for power and the result is bloody.
The flashpoint was the bomb attack on a revered Shia shrine in the town of Samarra, clearly designed to provoke a furious response.
Since then hundreds have died -- perhaps as many as 1300 according to one estimate -- mostly murdered by death squads linked to Shia militias. Sunni mosques have been bombed and burned.
And Sunni insurgents have responded with attacks in Shia areas. They have blown up minibuses full of commuters, possibly using suicide bombers, and set off car bombs in Shia streets. On March 1, when the situation was supposedly calming down, 69 people died.

Next we have Arkan Hamed, "Retired Iraqi Army officer," writing "'I weep at the thought of the suffering with which we Iraqis are living'" (Scotland's Sunday Herald):

I write this at 12.30am on Saturday morning and gunfire from clashes has been ongoing for two hours now. Thousands of bullets have been fired in this short time, reminding me of the big battles in which I took part as an Iraqi soldier during the Iraq/Iran war in the 1980s.
Yesterday, here in Baghdad, the Shia Badr militia from nearby Kadhamiyah were trying to attack our Sunni Abu Hanifa mosque.
Young people of our neighbourhood near the mosque were very alert and fought back against the Badr, killing four of them, according to what my sister heard from neighbours.
I got this news from her by the landline, as our cell phones are shut down, and also because we can't step over the doorway, we are stuck at home by the orders of Prime Minister Jaffari.
I stayed awake all night yesterday, alert and waiting for them to appear in my street, but thank God they did not. This is my life now -- fearing if we will be attacked even when hiding in our own homes. This is our new freedom and democracy.

Last one from Mitch, Iraqi shopkeeper Saddoun Abdul Sada's "'It's fair to say that the invaders have corrupted our entire country'" (Scotland's Sunday Herald):

I am sitting inside my house because of the curfew which prevents any of us from going out. It is very unlike the life we know of meeting with friends and taking tea outside.
As a 59-year-old retired merchant, I never thought that being a Shia or a Sunni in my country would matter so much. The situation now is very critical and very dangerous. The sectarian war is now at our door ... in fact it has now knocked on the door. This war has found a lot of supporters who seem to be welcoming any opportunity to fan the flames of conflict.
Baghdad and Iraq as a whole are both now facing something we would never have expected before the invasion.

Thanks to Mitch for those and, if you're an American member living in America, ask yourself when The New York Times ever offers anything like that? Answer: never. Dexter jots down whatever a military official says and that's really about all. C.I. would give Robert F. Worth a bit more credit, so we'll toss that in. But overall, they've done a horrible job covering the invasion and the occupation. Democracy Now!, independent media with nowhere near the money of the paper of record, has done an amazing job covering the issues. If you've watched Democracy Now!, you're not surprised by recent events. We know some of the members from outside the U.S. are already checking out DN! or Pacifica but we also know this is the entry they usually pass around to their friends and neighbors, so we wanted to get a plug in here for independent media, which you can access online from pretty much anywhere on the earth, and to answer DK's question which was, "How do you not be depressed, day after day, seeing the lies your media tells you?" The answer is we go to the alternative, independent media.

Now remember that England's gearing up to pull troops out of Iraq? Olive notes "S Korean troop cut in Iraq to begin in April" (Australia's ABC):

South Korea's planned one-third cut in its military in Iraq will begin next month, a military general in charge of South Korean troops in the Middle East told Yonhap news agency.
South Korea's Parliament approved a defence ministry plan in December to reduce its 3,200 troops in the northern Iraqi town of Arbil to 2,300 this year.

By the way, congratulations to Olive, Skip and other Australian community members on one of their countrymen, Dion Beebe, winning an Oscar tonight. Beebe did the cinematographys for Memoirs of a Geisha.

Remember the vigil in Canada that Vic steered us all to earlier? Polly notes "Vigils held for kidnapped Kember" (BBC):

Vigils to mark 100 days since peace activist Norman Kember was kidnapped in Iraq have been held across Britain.
Up to 100 people attended one of the hour-long vigils, in Trafalgar Square, London, for the 74-year-old and three of his fellow captives.
Mr Kember, of north-west London, went to Iraq with Canada-based peace group Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT).
"As people of faith we continue to place our trust that they're alive," a CPT member told BBC Radio Five Live.
Reverend Alan Betteridge, president of the Baptist Peace Fellowship, who has been a friend of Mr Kember's for more than 40 years, said churches throughout the UK had been asked to open their doors this weekend to allow people to pray for the hostages.
"It has been a weekend for prayer but also raising awareness of the situation because there is no news from Baghdad and so it's easy to forget the hostages," he said.

Vince asked if we could note an event in Canada this Wednesday and we know C.I.'s attitude would be that a) we do have members in Canada and b) it allows members, regardless of where they are, to see what's going on in the world and raise awareness. So here's the accouncement and you can read more by clicking here:

film screening @ Ontario College of Art and Design
LET THEM STAY: Voices of U.S. War Resisters in Canada--a new video narrated by Shirley Douglas
Including speakers from Artists Against War and Toronto Coalition to Stop the War
Thousands of young Americans have been leaving the U.S. military, refusing to participate in the illegal war and occupation of Iraq. Facing imprisonment, a small but growing number are coming to Canada in the same way that thousands of Vietnam War resisters did years ago.This is their story.

OCAD Auditorium
100 McCaul St., Toronto

Bonnie notes William Fisher's "Bagram -- 'Son of Guantánamo'" (IPS):

Legal, diplomatic, religious and human rights authorities are struggling to be heard on what many consider to be the "Son of Guantánamo" -- a secret prison in Afghanistan where the U.S. military is said to have been holding some 500 "enemy combatants" for as long as three or four years without access to lawyers.
The existence of the prison, located at Bagram airbase near Kabul, was reported last week by The New York Times. But the story was quickly relegated to back pages by the revelation that Dubai Ports World (DPW), a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, was about to take over the management of as many as six major U.S. seaports.
On the Bagram prison issue, the views of David Cole, one of the United States' foremost authorities on constitutional law, are typical of reactions obtained by IPS.
Cole, a professor at Georgetown University law school in Washington, said, "The Bagram story raises serious questions about the Bush administration's unwillingness to be bound by law. The administration chose Guantánamo in the first place because it thought it was a law-free zone. Now that the Supreme Court has said that the administration is actually accountable to legal limits at Guantánamo, it is turning to other avenues to avoid accountability. The only real solution is to conform its conduct to the law, not to continue to evade legal responsibility for its actions."
Times reporters Tim Golden and Eric Schmitt, who broke the Bagram story, wrote: "Some administration officials acknowledge that the situation at Bagram has increasingly come to resemble the legal void that led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June 2004 affirming the right of prisoners at Guantánamo to challenge their detention in United States courts."
They added, "Bagram has operated in rigorous secrecy since it opened in 2002. It bars outside visitors except for the international Red Cross and refuses to make public the names of those held there".

Markus notes this press release from Global Exchange:

Iraqi Women Make Rare Trip to the US to Share Their Stories, Call For an End to Violence
Will speak with members of Congress, meet with Cindy Sheehan, and deliver an urgent call for peace to the UN and White House

Global Exchange and CODEPINK
February 27, 2006
CONTACT: Andrea Buffa 510-325-3653
Tony Newman 646-335-5384
Medea Benjamin 415-235-6517
New York, NY -- Seven Iraqi women will converge in New York on Sunday, March 5th to begin a speaking tour to educate Americans about the reality in Iraq and meet with UN and US officials to call for a peace plan to end the escalating spiral of violence. The delegation is a diverse group, including Shia, Sunni and Kurdish women - some secular, some religious. All have paid a very high price for the war and occupation of their country, and want to tell their stories to the American people. Unfortunately, two Iraqi women whose families were killed by US troops were denied visas to enter the US as part of the delegation.
"These women are not politicians, but ordinary Iraqis who are desperate to see an end to the violence and are taking great personal risk to come to the US," says Medea Benjamin, cofounder of the CODEPINK and Global Exchange, the two groups organizing the delegation. "It's a rare opportunity to hear from Iraqis themselves, and we hope that US officials will listen."
The delegation is promoting a Women's Call for Peace, signed by over 50,000 women from around the world. The Call for Peace requests the withdrawal of all foreign troops and foreign fighters from Iraq, negotiations to reincorporate disenfranchised Iraqis, full representation of women in the peacemaking process, and a commitment to women's equality in the post-war Iraq. This Call is part of a
Women Say No to War campaign designed to bring women together across borders to demand an end to the bloodshed in Iraq.
Below are brief bios of the Iraqi women who'll be visiting the US as well as some highlighted events from their itinerary. To schedule an interview with any of the delegation members, contact Andrea Buffa at 510-325-3653,
•March 6, 12 Noon: In New York, the women will hold a press conference in front of the UN, and then march to the US Mission to the UN to deliver the Call for Peace.
•March 7, 11 AM: In Washington, DC, the delegation will join with US women, including Iraq veterans and Gold Star mothers Cindy Sheehan and Elaine Johnson, to meet with members of Congress.
•March 8, International Women's Day, 12 Noon: In Washington DC, Iraqi and US women will march from the Iraqi Embassy to the White House to deliver the Women's Call for Peace. On the same day, women in a dozen other countries will deliver the Call for Peace to US embassies around the world.
Nadje Al-Ali is a writer/researcher specializing in women in the Middle East. She is a founding member of Act Together: Women's Action on Iraq and mother of a 3-year-old daughter.
Faiza Al-Araji is a civil engineer, blogger (, religious Shia with a Sunni husband, and mother of three. After one son was recently held as a political prisoner by the Ministry of the Interior, the family fled to Jordan.
Souad Al-Jazairy is a writer, journalist and TV producer. Souad is a very active member in the Iraqi Women's League.
Eman Ahmad Khamas is a human rights advocate who has documented abuses by the US military in Iraq. She is a member of Women's Will, and is married with two daughters.
Dr Entisar Mohammad Ariabi, a pharmacist at the Yarmook Teaching Hospital in Baghdad, has documented the deteriorating health system. She is married with five children.
Dr. Rashad Zidan, a pharmacist, works in Baghdad and Fallujah with the Women and Knowledge Society to aid victims of war, especially orphans.
Sureya Sayadi, a Kurdish woman born in Kirkuk, is an activist for human rights in the Middle East, particularly for the Kurdish people. She now lives in the United States, but her family is dispersed in Iraq, Iran and Turkey.

That's pretty important so, if an event's taking place near you, be sure to turn out for it. Important events are happening all over the world as we near the third year mark of the illegal invasion/occupation of Iraq and Cindy notes Jennifer Gollan's "Campus military recruiters assailed in Marin" (The Marin Independent Journal) on the counter-recruiter movement:

Slick military recruiting techniques camouflage the perils of war and have no place in public schools, anti-war veterans said Thursday.
"All we want is for young people to have more information about the truth behind recruiters' promises and the realities of war so that they can make informed decisions about alternatives for their future," said Aimee Allison, a former combat medic in the Army Reserve turned conscientious objector, in a brief address before about 70 students, parents and teachers at San Rafael High School's auditorium. "On a personal and a systemic level, we believe that young people deserve more options, resources and support."
Allison, 36, a candidate for Oakland City Council, was among three keynote speakers at the "Truth and Lies About Joining the Military" forum. Lectures were also delivered by Aidan Delgado, 24, a Sarasota, Fla. resident who served in the Army Reserve during the Iraq war; and Pablo Paredes, 24, a former Navy enlistee from San Diego.
After Paredes refused to ferry soldiers to the Iraq war, a military judge sentenced him to several months of base confinement and hard labor. The military refused Paredes' application for conscientious objector status. Delgado and Allison were granted conscientious objector status and honorably discharged.
Some Marin and San Francisco educators, students and voters have become increasingly agitated by the No Child Left Behind Act requirement that schools provide military recruiters with students' contact information, with some citing students' constitutional right to privacy.
In November of last year, San Francisco voters approved a ban on military recruiters in public high schools. A month later, the Tamalpais Union High School District Board of Trustees approved a measure objecting to the federal government's capacity to withhold funding from schools that refuse to provide students' information to the Pentagon.
Also last year, David Crawford, a Tamalpais High School 11th-grader created a Web site "," in opposition of No Child requirements. He collected hundreds of student signatures, authorizing the school to withhold their names from military recruiters - an option permitted under the No Child law.

Liang steers us to Baghdad Burning where Riverbend's creating her own Oscars in "And the Oscar Goes to..." The whole thing's worth reading but we're going to note two things. First, a nominee for best actor:

George W. Bush in "OIF: The War on Terror" The third sequel to the original "Operation Iraqi Freedom: Weapons of Mass Destruction" and "Operation Iraqi Freedom: Liberating Iraqis". Bush's nomination comes for his convincing portrayal as the world's first mentally challenged president.

And a nominee for best actress:

Condi Rice in "Viva Iran!" as the vicious Secretary of State in the charade to stop Iran's nuclear power program (in spite of Iranian control in Iraq).

We haven't seen those ceremonies but since Condi is the only nominee for best actress, we're pretty sure that she won.

Okay, quickly, to answer some of your questions. Kyle noted that C.I. usually takes about three to four hours on these entries and wonders how long it took us? We're not done yet and we've already spent seven and a half hours. C.I. reads faster than we do and knows the community better so there's not any debate, like there was for us tonight, of "Is this a highlight members are going to be interested in?" Mia wondered why we've been the ones to fill in and why both of us? Because it's really a two person job and because it gives us a chance to help out the community. Before The Third Estate Sunday Review started, we were members of this community. We still are. If you check some of the older entries, you'll see us weighing in from the pre-Third Estate Sunday Review days. Liang wondered why Ava didn't help out too? Ava and me (Jess) help out with the e-mails and there's hardly a day that goes by where Ava doesn't say, "I'm going to do an entry on the main site or on the backup site" but then she comes across some e-mails from members that she feel should get real replies so she ends up focused on that.

But in terms of Sunday entries, forget it. She and C.I. do the TV commentary at The Third Estate Sunday Review by themselves. They pretty much toss that thing off quickly but it's usually a "We have nothing to say" or "We're not sure if we've got anything this week" and probably a lot of pressure on them both. Turning out the edition is always a marathon for all of us but after we're done, Ava doesn't get online at all on Sunday. She's sick of the computer by that point.

Susan wondered what we thought of the recent poll in the gina & krista round-robin about the songs? We thought it was kind of silly. Gina and Krista did it because C.I. asked for it and the reason there was some members felt that we should use some new songs and not something from the sixties. Okay, that might be good. But look what got voted number one, Tracy Chapmen's "Talkin' Bout a Revolution." Good song. But it came out in the 80s. The other songs will pop up on Thursday and I'm sure more as well but if the issue was newer songs, we (speaking only for us) thought it was kind of silly if the one nominated song the community gets behind comes from almost 20 years ago.

Music is important and it's important to the community so anything that gets behind more music, we can support. But we were glad that the majority opinion was to add another song to Thursdays but to keep "And The War Drags On" for the title and in that entry. That song was written about Vietnam but the excerpt that's used really does apply to Iraq as well. We also think it keeps the entry more focused. Also this war does drag on and that needs to be noted repeatedly.

Now it's time to wrap up and, as always, Pru gets the last word. She's steering us to "United Iraqi protests against US divide and rule policy" (The Socialist Worker of Great Britain):

The recent killings in Iraq are not due to entrenched divisions between Sunni and Shia. Dahr Jamail and Simon Assaf explain what's fuelling hatred -- and the battle for unity
On 23 February 47 factory workers were stopped at a checkpoint north of Baghdad, dragged out of their buses and shot dead. The brutal murders were reported across the world as another sectarian attack.
The victims were described as Shia Muslims. Their killers, we were to conclude, were Sunnis.
The next day it emerged that the men were a mix of Sunnis and Shias returning from a demonstration in Baghdad protesting at the destruction of the Golden Dome mosque in the northern city of Samarra.
Were they killed by Sunnis, or was this the work of the Badr Brigades -- the US backed sectarian militia that runs Iraq's interior ministry?
We will probably never know the truth behind these murders, or the attacks on shrines, religious gatherings and villages that have come to plague Iraq. What is clear is that there are forces attempting to tear the country apart operating with the blessing of the US and Britain.
Unity between Shias and Sunnis has always been a barrier to the success of the occupation.
In the months following the fall of Baghdad in 2003, Shias and Sunnis joined a growing revolt against US rule. This revolt reached a peak in April 2004.
Across Iraq tens of thousands rallied to Fallujah when the Sunni town became the focus of opposition to the occupation.
That summer major revolts broke out in the Shia heartlands of Sadr City in Baghdad and Najaf.
The insurrection engulfed the new Iraqi army. Shia soldiers mutinied when they were ordered to crush the uprising in Sunni towns, while growing cooperation between Shia and Sunni resistance fighters alarmed the US military.
With the occupation facing disaster, fostering sectarianism became the only strategy left open to the US and Britain.
US troops would storm into Sunni towns backed by Kurdish peshmerga fighters or the notorious Badr Brigades. These militias would leave behind a trail of destruction and resentment.
Sectarianism has never been a defining feature of Iraq’s history. Even at the height of Saddam Hussein’s rule, major cities such as Baghdad were integrated. Kurd, Arab, Sunni and Shia lived in mixed districts and many families and tribes have Shia and Sunni branches.
Opposition to Saddam Hussein’s regime emerged in Sunni towns like Fallujah and Ramadi as well as Shia cities in the south.
Systematic sectarianism is a direct result of the occupation and its supporters. The Iraqis have a term for them -- the "dark forces". These include masked gunmen, death squads, self serving politicians and special forces.
The majority of Iraqis understood that these forces were unleashed to divide them.
In 2005 the US strategy of dividing Sunni against Shia and Arab against Kurd was paying dividends.
A trickle of stories emerged of Shias fleeing Sunni areas and Sunnis leaving Shia areas.
In the north of the country Arabs, Kurds and the minority Turkmen were pitted against each other in a struggle over land and oil. Even in Baghdad, where many families are mixed, stories began to emerge of marriages splitting along sectarian lines.
But this strategy of fostering sectarianism backfired.
After the November 2005 elections the US discovered that they could no longer rely on one sect alone.
The biggest winners in the elections were Shia opponents of the occupation, while other groups in the parliament owed their allegiance to Iran. One of the first items of the parliament is a motion demanding the withdrawal of foreign troops.
The US responded by courting Sunni groups and encouraging them to form their own sectarian militias.
The destruction of the Golden Mosque and the wave of sectarian attacks it unleashed are a direct result of this strategy.
In the days after the attack on the shrine, sectarian mobs attacked Sunni mosques.
Often these attacks took place as the interior ministry police looked on. Gun battles between neighbourhoods, bomb attacks and random killings threatened to spiral out of control.
Leading Sunni opponents of the occupation were assassinated, and as Iraq hovered dangerously close to a civil war, US troops took the opportunity to fan out across Sunni areas in a new offensive against the resistance.
By last Friday a groundswell of solidarity between Sunnis and Shias began to turn the tide.
The Sunnis were the first to go to demonstrations in Samarra to condemn the mosque bombings. Demonstrations of solidarity between Sunni and Shia took place in much of Iraq – in Basra, Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Kut and Salah al-Din.
Thousands of Shias marched shouting anti-US slogans through Sadr City and in the city of Kut, south of Baghdad.
Muslims in Baghdad held joint prayers following announcements by Shia religious leaders not to attack Sunni mosques.
Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric, warned his followers that were involved in sectarian attacks, "Do not forget the plotting of the occupation, for if we forget its plots, it will kill us all without exception."
Sadr has called for united demonstrations against the occupation.
Across the Middle East thousands poured into the streets to condemn the desecration of the shrine. In Bahrain and Lebanon -- Arab countries with Shia majorities -- Shia demonstrators swelled the streets condemning the US, Britain and Israel.
Sectarianism threatens to tear Iraq apart. Nevertheless solidarity between Iraqis is still a powerful force.
Yet at every turn the occupation is fanning the flames of division. Far from keeping Iraq together the US and Britain is sowing the seeds of hate and division. This can only be stopped by ending the occupation.
A long line of colonial methods that have caused havoc across the globe
Divide and rule was the central plank of Britain’s imperial control from Bombay to Belfast, and from Nicosia to Nairobi.
The British pioneered the use of "pseudo gangs" -- military units posing as guerrillas in order to discredit the opposition to colonial rule--in Malaya and Kenya. In Northern Ireland security forces initially encouraged Loyalist murder gangs to terrorise the Catholic population and then used agents to target republican opponents.
The US picked up and developed the tricks of dirty war.
US journalist Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker, revealed how the US has set up "action teams" in Iraq and elsewhere which can be used to find and eliminate "terrorist organisations".
He quoted one former high level intelligence officer explaining, “Do you remember the right wing execution squads in El Salvador?
"We founded them and we financed them. The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren't going to tell Congress about it."
Since the invasion of Iraq, masked killers, private contractors, special forces (including the British SAS) and US backed militias have been spreading fear and stoking the flames of sectarianism.
We have had glimpses of the forces involved in this. Last September British soldiers dressed as members of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army were arrested in Basra.
The soldiers had arms and explosives in their vehicle. They were revealed to be members of the SAS involved in targeting members of the Mehdi Army.
Attempts to question the men ended after British tanks freed them from their Iraqi jail cells and flattened the police station where they were held.
The American Civil Liberties Union has uncovered documents relating to two secret military units. The revelations about Task Force 626 and Task Force 20 (see
Brutality of the US reign of terror, 25 February) showed part of the shadow war.
Other key players involved in fermenting sectarianism involve the militia belonging to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri). Its 10,000 strong militia, known as the Badr Brigades, was accused by a United Nations investigation of murdering opponents of the occupation.
Throughout 2005 thousands of mutilated bodies were turning up in canals, by the sides of roads or in rubbish dumps. These were overwhelmingly Sunni victims of the US backed Badr Brigades.
Shia Muslims opposed to the occupation were also targeted. Chief among them were supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr.
The Badr Brigades dominate the ministry of the interior and used the opportunity of the attack on the shrine to storm into Sunni districts to spread their terror.
The US has also been depending on the Kurdish peshmerga fighters.
The peshmerga originally emerged out of the Kurdish national liberation struggle, but since the occupation has allied itself to the US.
Peshmerga fighters have been involved in ethnic cleansing of Arabs and Turkmen in northern Iraq and joined US troops in their assault on Sunni Arab towns along the Euphrates valley.
Sectarian Sunni groups have also flowed into Iraq. Numbering a few hundred, they seized the opportunity to target Shia Muslims.
The US and Britain claim such groups are part of the insurgency, but they often clash with the resistance and enjoy very little support among Iraqis opposed to the occupation.
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