Sunday, April 23, 2006

And the war drags on . . .

It's officially spring in Baghdad. We jokingly say that in Iraq, spring doesn't exist. We go immediately from cold, windy weather to a couple of months of humidity and dust storms, to a blazing, dry heat, i.e. summer. This is the month, however, for rolling up the carpeting and rugs and taking out the summer clothes.
Unpacking the summer clothes and putting away the winter clothes is a process that takes about a week in our household. When the transition from winter clothes to summer clothes is finally over, the house ends up smelling of naphthalene, and unused hand soap, which is sometimes used to store clothes or linen in order to ward off insects.
Besides the usual 'spring cleaning', etc. the last few weeks have been volatile, even by Iraqi standards. The area of A'adhamiya in Baghdad has seen some heavy fighting, especially during the last week. There's almost always some action in A'adhamiya but a week ago it got to the point where there was open fighting in the streets between Ministry of Interior militias and guerrillas. As a result of this, we have an elderly relative staying with us. Her son, my mother's second cousin, dropped her off at our house with the words, "Her heart can't take all the excitement. Some bullets shattered the windows on the second floor and we thought she was going to have a heart-attack."

Apparently prior to this latest outbreak of violence in A'adhamiya, there was a 'silent agreement' between the guerrillas and the Iraqi police that no attacks would be launched against Iraqi security forces in the area as long as Iraqi special commandos (Interior Ministry militias) would not attack homes in the areas as they have been doing for the last year.

"Life on the ground, as it goes on amid the violence," writes Amanda describing the excerpt above from Riverbend's latest, "A Royal Visit..." (Baghdad Burning). Amid the violence, amid the chaose. Olive notes "Six killed in mortar attack on Iraq Defense Ministry" (AFP via Australia's ABC) which covers an attack in the Green Zone -- resistance fighters fired upon the country's Defense Ministry with three mortars leading to the death of at least six and at least two wounded. The endorsement of Jawad al-Maliki for the new prime minister of Iraq may have pleased Bully Boy, but it's done little to change anything on the ground. (Australia's prime minister, John Howard, is pleased as punch with al-Maliki as well -- but anything that distracts from the legal trouble is probably a relief.)

Lynda notes that on the Arab world news page of Al Jazeera (English version), an online poll currently has 59% of respondents answering "no" to this question: "Will Jawad al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister-designate, help bring peace to his country?" It's a nonscientific poll but it may be the closest anyone comes to asking what people think of it? Foreign leaders weigh in at will, as though it's their country. People of the world?

Dominick notes Bradford Plumer's "Shifting of Chairs in Iraq" (MoJo Blog, Mother Jones):

That's the surface view. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine that this solves much of anything in Iraq. The Kurds, reportedly, don't like Jaafari because they want a Shiite leader more committed to the breakup of the country into autonomous provinces--something that could create a lot of chaos down the road. The Sunnis presumably don't like Jaafari because he backs Shiite death squads, but his preferred replacement, Abdel Mahdi, is a member of SCIRI, the party running the death squads.

Empiralism, the gift that never stops hurting -- er, giving. Heath takes us to more reality by noting Brian Conley's "Who is the Prime Minister, and Who Cares?" (Alive In Baghdad):

There are a variety of stories about "what happens next" that I’ll post at the end of this entry. None of them ask the most important question however, "What do the Iraqi people think about all this nonsense?"
Again and again and again, our accepted narratives about Iraq ignore the perspective of those most affected. President Bush says there isn't a civil war happening and doesn’t need to back it up because, well, when has he ever backed up any claims he's made?
The mainstream press and certain Iraqi politicians claim there IS a civil war, and their evidence is the alleged self-evidence of 50-60 killings per day, an increase in gun prices, etc.
Unfortunately neither of these perspectives appears built on an understanding or investigation of the Iraqi perspective. Ask the average Iraqi on the street who's in the parliament, and if he bothers to even consider the question-chances are its not worth his time--he may not even know who the leaders being considered today are.

But does it stop the press organs/house organs from rushing to find out Bully Boy's thoughts? Or to attempt to perceive them? No. The Bully Boy matters for the club newsletters like the New York Times. What Iraqi people think? Let them choke on so-called democracy, apparently.

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)

Last Sunday, the official American troops fatality count for those who died in Iraq stood at 2376. Right now? 2389. Three US troops died today in Iraq, five yesterday, the Associated Press is reporting. The war drags on. Iraqis? KUNA notes that six corpses were found in Baghdad (blindfolded, handcuffed and shot in the heads). Need more? Polly notes Ali Rifat's "Death squads target Baghadad's dustmen" (Sunday Times of London):

IRAQ'S dustmen -- mainly students working their way through college -- have become targets for assassination in the country's latest wave of ethnic violence.
In the past month 22 mostly Shi'ite dustmen have been killed on duty, prompting the governor of Baghdad to appeal to the public to protect them or face a refuse crisis in a city that is already in chaos.
Mountains of festering, unbagged filth are spilling across road junctions and street corners as the dustmen, who earn £1.70 for each four-hour shift, become increasingly wary.
One mother, Um Ahmad, lost two sons last week. Ahmad 21, and Ammar, 18, both engineering students, were killed with three colleagues as they collected rubbish in the al-Doura district of the capital.

The war drags on. Even as one exposure after another emerges. On the latest "HE DID KNOW!" news, Gareth notes Dan Glaister's "Bush ignored intelligence on Iraqi weapons, says ex-CIA officer" (Guardian of London):

A former leading CIA official said yesterday that the White House deliberately ignored intelligence that showed that there were no weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
Tyler Drumheller, who was once the highest-ranking CIA officer in Europe, told CBS's 60 Minutes programme that the White House shifted its focus to regime change in the months before the invasion.
"The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy," Mr Drumheller said.

Sounds like "fixed," right? Remember some of our "brave voices" who addressed the Downing Street Memos (if you can call it that) by trying to say that "fixed" might not mean "fixed"? Do you think they'll weigh in now? Or have they painted themselves so into a corner that even they grasp how useless they've mad themselves? James in Brighton's highlight continues the narrative, from Andrew Gumbel's "Bush was warned there were no WMD, says former CIA man" (Independent of London):

According to Mr Drumheller, Western intelligence services were told about Iraq's lack of chemical and biological weapons by Naji Sabri, a former Iraqi foreign minister. The CIA director of the time, George Tenet, took this information straight to President George Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and other senior officials, but it made no impression on them.

What does the Bully Boy have when p.r. spin fail him? (Fortunate for him, a compliant and unquestioning mainstream press). The war was sold (with lies and lapdogs) and Brandon thinks it might be a good time to look at P.R. in the US so he notes Susan J. Douglas' "Congenital Liars and Hypocrites" (In These Times):

The crowning achievement of the Bush administration's first term was public relations, spin and salesmanship. So how can it be that now, in addition to everything else it has bungled or destroyed, the administration has discredited public relations itself?
Ivy Lee (a.k.a "Poison Ivy"), the "father" of public relations in the early 20th century, pioneered what was then a revolutionary PR strategy: Tell the truth, appear open and thus sympathetic, and move on. For example, Lee counseled the Pennsylvania Railroad--notorious for its refusal to provide information or interviews to reporters, especially after accidents--to admit their mistakes, vow to do better and let newspapers in on the story rather than try to suppress it. He insisted that honesty and directness were better PR tools than deception. That way, of course, as corporations have found ever since, companies could also better manage the flow of information about themselves and more subtly craft their images.
But the Bush "CEO presidency" has used every PR trick in the book--and then some--not to try to put a more favorable spin on events and policies, but to spin flat-out lies into facts. And really, this administration has not been engaging in PR. It’s been engaging in distortions and lies--in other words, propaganda--and has helped blur the line between the two.

Jordan wondered if we could note an interview we noted yesterday. Yes, we can. From
Thomas P. Healy's "An Interview with Anthony Arnove: Out Now" (CounterPunch):

TH: You write that "withdrawal is the first step in the United States' meeting its obligations to the Iraqis for the devastation we've wrought." Let's say we actually do withdraw. Does the United Nations move in? Do we create a fund for reparations? What's the strategy?
AA: Well, I was in a meeting the other day with an Iraq vet named Geoffrey Millard, who had a very good comment. He's now declaring conscientious objection. He said, "Withdrawal is not a strategy, it's an executive order. You don't need a strategy. You just need to say, "We're giving up the project. We're not going to build long-term bases in Iraq. We're not going to continue to be the colonial power." This happens over and over again in history--the colonial powers have said, "We're staying forever, we can't leave." And then they're forced to leave.
So, that's the first step. The next steps are up to the Iraqi people. I don't think it's up to us to decide what they then ask other countries or the UN or the Red Cross or any other international humanitarian organizations to do. They may very well want their assistance. They may not want their assistance. Genuine self-determination, genuine democracy for the Iraqi people means that's their decision, not ours.
In terms of reparation, I think the moral case is very strong that the United States owes a great financial debt to the Iraqi people for the death and destruction that it has caused. Not just during this occupation but during all of the years of sanctions and during all of the years before that when we supported Saddam Hussein and of course also during the Gulf War of 1991. But the fact that there's a moral case for it doesn't mean that it will happen. The only way it would happen is if there is pressure, as I would hope there would be domestically and internationally, for the United States to pay reparations. Now we know from the Vietnam War that the opposite happened--that rather than paying reparations to the Vietnamese people, the United States economically punished the Vietnamese people for the crime of standing up against the United States and defeating the world's greatest imperial power. And we would expect they would try to do the same with Iraq but I think we as an antiwar movement shouldn't give up the day the war ends. We should be continuing to pressure the administration on this point and doing whatever we can to make sure that Iraqis have the resources they need to rebuild their country.

Right now the United States has bled the country of resources and has been preventing its development through a completely warped system of economic insertion based on a just a handful of contractors with close ties to the administration making loads of money while ordinary Iraqis have less electricity, less access to safe drinking water than even under the sanctions.

[Arnove's book is Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal and we weren't able to note it at The Third Estate Sunday Review this weekend due to time issues, but we'll grab it next week.]

Self-rule is at the heart of democracy, funny how the chattering class forgets that when they whine, "Where is the plan!" The occupation causes the violence, but the chattering class argues that the (illegal) occupation must continue to stop the violence. Gas bags float on their own fumes.

But back down to earth (yes, Susan, I was thinking of Carly Simon's "Back Down to Earth"), Skip notes Karen Collier, Scott Murdoch and Neil Wilson's "Soldier honoured in hometown ceremony" (Australia's Herald Sun):

The Gippsland community of Briagolong prayed yesterday for sniper Jacob "Jake" Bruce Kovco, 25, who accidentally shot himself in the head while cleaning a pistol.
And in a heart-wrenching farewell in a Baghdad hospital, the Melbourne-born marksman was draped in an Australian flag, a paratrooper's beret on his chest, as comrades said the Lord's Prayer over him.
His body was expected to be flown back to Australia today.
The popular private had been an army regular since 2002, fulfilling a lifelong dream. He served as a rifleman, heavy weapons operator and sniper with the elite 3RAR, the only parachute infantry regiment.
Pte Kovco and his widow, Shelley, grew up in Briagolong, where he was fondly remembered as a keen junior footy player and "good kid".
The couple lived with their two children, son Tyrie, 4, and daughter Alana, almost 1, near Sydney's Holsworthy Barracks.
A close friend said Pte Kovco was a doting family man and proud dad. "Jake had lots of good mates and a beautiful big smile.
"He absolutely adored his parents, the kids and Shelley," the friend said. "He was a real fun-loving 'bushie' who liked to go deer hunting."
Pte Kovco arrived in Iraq a month ago as part of a team of 110 guarding diplomats and government officials.

As always, we close with Pru's highlight. Remember that Iraq is only one destination in Bully Boy's terror on the world (aka the so-called war on terror). From Great Britain's Socialist Worker:

"George Bush pushes new nuclear nightmare"
It is the US that represents the real nuclear threat to the world today, not Iran.
George Bush is pushing for a multi-billion dollar programme to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons.
The Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) programme will include "tactical" nuclear weapons -- designed for use on the battlefield -- blurring the distinction between nuclear and conventional war.
This plan is particularly chilling, coming as US journalist Seymour Hersh exposed a Pentagon plan involving "the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon" against "underground nuclear sites" in Iran.
Hersh also reported that a "former official" in Washington had revealed that US warplanes based near Iran "have been flying simulated nuclear weapons delivery missions -- rapid ascending manoeuvres known as 'over the shoulder' bombing -- since last summer".
Congress has agreed to spend $15.5 million to develop a nuclear bunker-buster called the "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator".
The Bush administration is also investigating warheads that do not require underground testing. This would avoid the complications imposed by international treaties. Washington's contempt for such treaties is well known. In 1968, the US signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, pledging to reduce its stock of nuclear weapons.
However, today the US stockpile has risen to nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads, with more than half of them active or operational.
The pledge to build new tactical nuclear weapons makes a mockery of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which binds the US to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons, not their development.
The US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and has refused to support ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
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