Sunday, June 04, 2006

And the war drags on . . .

Iraq snapshot.

Friday, in Hibhib, Al Jazeera reports that a "US artillery round" killed three people (two instantly and a woman who was wounded later died), wounded three more and damaged six houses -- the US military has termed the incident an "accident" in a statement issued Sunday. Reuters reports that the US military said the round was fired "during training."

On Saturday, a bomb in Basra killed 28 people and wounded 62. (Miguel noted the bombing early this morning: "En Irak, una bomba ha matado a 28 personas y herido 62.") UPI notes that "four Russian diplomats were taken hostage." The Associated Press notes that in addition to the four kidnapped, another Russian diplomat was killed -- Vitaly Vitalyevich Titov. Focus reports that the Russian embassy identified the four as: "the third secretary of the Embassy Feodor Zaycev and the workers Rinat Agliulin, Anatolii Smirnov and Oleg Feodosiev."
Reuters notes the discovery, by police in Baghdad, of twenty-two corpses ("bullet wounds and signs of torture") while, near Baquba, police discovered eight severed heads. The AP estimates that "at least 42" people died on Saturday in violent attacks. Occupation puppet and prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has, thus far, not met his announced Sunday deadline to fill the empty posts in his cabinet. UPI notes that these are "the heads national security, defense and interior." (Again, it is three posts. Why press accounts sometimes only say "two," I have no idea. Marci found the UPI article and asked that we note it. Normally, we avoid it for obvious reasons, but there are three posts so we will note UPI tonight.) The BBC notes that Sunday in Iraq passed with the posts unfilled: "The defence and interior remain unfilled, and no head of national security has been appointed." In another report the BBC notes: "three crucial cabinet posts" remain unfilled and that "Sunday had been the third deadline given by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki for the ministers to be named." The AFP notes that US Secretary of State Condi Rice is sure that the post will be filled within the "next few days." In Dora, an amublance driver was shot to death and "a passenger was wounded." In Baquba, an attack led to the deaths of six police officers with two more wounded. BBC reports that the death toll rose to seven police officers.

On Sunday, KUNA reports that in Kirkuk, three Iraqis were killed, a nine-year-old child was kidnapped, and a bomb killed one police officer while wounding two. The AFP identifies the child
as "a nine-year-old shepherd boy" and notes that three people were kidnapped in Iraq on Sunday. The other three? In Latifiya, Reuters notes, assailants "stormed a school" kidnapped "the headteacher, a teacher and a guard." The Associated Press reports that, "north of Baghdad," assailants stopped two minivans and killed twenty-one Shi'ite students. The BBC places the deaths at twenty and notes that it includes "[c]hildren, students and elderly men." Reuters notes that, in Baghdad, police discovered fifteen corpses. In a later report, the Associated Press notes that the number reached sixteen corpses discovered in Baghdad with four more discovered in Tikrit. In Basra, police stormed a mosque and killed nine people. Reuters notes that a Sunni group states that the actual number of people killed in the mosque is twelve. Reuters reports that, in Samawa, "about 500" demonstrators gathered to protest for better services and less corruption -- two demonstrators and a police officer being wounded. No official word has released about the four Russians kidnapped but the AFP notes that there is unconfirmed talk that they've been released. Reuters notes the same rumor (notes it as unconfirmed). The AFP estimates the number of deaths in Iraq Sunday as "at least 43." This as KUNA reports: "Iraqi Vice-President Tareq Hashimi called on Sunday for the formation of a joint US-Iraqi or a neutral United Nations committee to probe US troops' violations in Iraq."

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 count for the American military fatalities in Iraq stood at 2464. Right now? 2475. But we mustn't talk of ending the illegal war and occupation, say the scolds and hawks. Liang notes an Associated Press article, "U.S. seeks stronger ties with Vietnam" and wonders if all the ones saying we have to say "remember or aware of the same talk about Vietnam. The US left Vietnam, finally, and all the dire predictions never came true." Excellent point.

And with that war, the people ended it. James in Brighton notes Severin Carrell's "Bring our boys home: Mothers say war was 'based on lies'" (Indpendent of London):

Tony Blair faces an unprecedented revolt from the wives and mothers of serving soldiers, who want British troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
Dozens of women whose sons, husbands and daughters are now in the Gulf or have served there, have joined a national campaign to be launched this week calling for Britain to pull out of Iraq. In a strongly worded statement passed to the IoS, they claim the war in Iraq "was based on lies", and call for British withdrawal "as a matter of urgency".
The organisers of Military Families Against the War, set up by the parents of dead armed forces personnel last year, say their movement is supported by hundreds of service families and that more than 100 families and veterans are actively involved.

And in the United States? Misty notes two items from CODEPINK:

Take a Stand by Signing the Voters Pledge!
What if millions decided to vote their conscience and said 'No More War Candidates'? The Voters Pledge makes visible a powerful political force, the peace vote, a force that politicians cannot continue to ignore. It sends a clear message to the hawkish minority that leads both major parties to end the occupation of Iraq and to end unprovoked attacks on other nations. Sign the Voters Pledge and ask at least 10 of your friends to sign as well. You can help get 2 million signers in 2006!


On July 4, we will launch an historic hunger strike called TROOPS HOME FAST in Washington, DC in front of the White House. While many Americans will be expressing their patriotism via barbeques and fireworks, we'll be fasting in memory of the dead and wounded, and calling for the troops to come home from Iraq. Read an interview with Diane Wilson to learn more. We're inviting people around the world to show their support for this open-ended fast by fasting for at least one day. Please sign here to join us in DC or to support us in your hometown and encourage your friends to do the same.

For the rest of the highlights we're focusing on the incidents under examination -- chiefly Haditha. Firs up, Alicia notes Chris Floyd's "Lesson Plan" (Moscow Times):

Many observers have compared the methodical murder of 24 innocent civilians by U.S. Marines in the Iraqi town of Haditha -- now confirmed by Pentagon and congressional sources -- to the infamous My Lai massacre in Vietnam, when U.S. troops slaughtered hundreds of civilians in a bloody rampage. But this is a false equation, one that gravely distorts the overall reality of the coalition effort in Iraq.
For it is not the small-scale Haditha atrocity that should be compared to My Lai. It is the entire Iraq War itself. The whole operation -- from its inception in high-level mendacity to its execution in blood-soaked arrogance, folly and greed -- is a war crime of almost unfathomable proportions, a My Lai writ large, a My Lai every single day, year after year after year.
Details of the Haditha killings are finally emerging after months of official cover-up and heated denunciations of anyone who questioned the shifting, conflicting stories issued by the Pentagon following the November 2005 incident. The horror speaks for itself: A unit of Marines from Kilo Company, thirsting for revenge after a roadside bomb killed a comrade, broke into homes near the blast area and systematically executed the civilians they found there, along with five men who happened to be passing by in a taxi, Time magazine reports.

What do trusted voices have to say about it? Camilo Mejia is featured in the next highlight.
Gareth notes Paul Harris' "US confronts brutal culture among its finest sons" (Observer):

Some American veterans have expressed little surprise at the latest revelations. 'I don't doubt for one moment that these things happened. They are widespread. This is the norm. These are not the exceptions,' said Camilo Mejia, a US infantry veteran who served briefly in the Haditha area in 2003.
American veterans have told The Observer of a military culture that places little practical emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties in the heat of battle, although they also point out the huge problems of urban fighting against a tough enemy that often hides within the civilian Iraqi community.
'In these circumstances you would be surprised at how any normal human being can see their morals degenerate so they can do these things,' said Garrett Reppenhagen, a former US sniper.
Mejia, who has served time in jail for refusing to return to Iraq for a second tour of duty, said there was widespread prejudice against Iraqis in his unit, and that Iraqis were routinely referred to as 'Hajis' in the same way that local people during the Vietnam war were called 'gooks' or 'Charlie'.
'We dehumanise the enemy under these circumstances,' said Mejia. 'They called them gooks in Vietnam and we called them Hajis in Iraq.'
Mejia described an incident in Ramadi when his unit was manning a roadblock near a mosque. When one car refused to stop, US soldiers opened fire on it. Then the American unit came under fire from elsewhere. In the resulting firefight, however, no insurgents were killed while seven Iraqi civilians stuck at the roadblock died. No weapons were found in the car that had refused to stop. 'There was no sense in it. There was no basic humanity. They were all civilians and we didn't kill any insurgents,' Mejia said.
Some have tried to defend the killings by pointing to the stress that US soldiers - many of whom are on their second or third tour of duty - are under. But it is clear that there are other, deeper problems within the US military that point to a widespread failure of command.
At the heart of the issue is a culture of violence against Iraqi civilians that has been present in large measure since the moment US forces crossed the border into Iraq - an inability and unwillingness to distinguish between civilians and combatants that as three years have passed has been transformed, for some, into something more deliberate.

Not exceptions, the norm. And not surprising for an illegal occupation. For the Iraqi reaction, James in Brighton notes Ben Gilbert and Stephen Khan's "Iraq promises its own inquiry as fury mounts over civilian killings" (Independent of London):

The Iraqi government has reacted furiously to a ruling that cleared American forces of executing a family of civilians north of Baghdad earlier this year, and pledged to continue its own inquiries into allegations of US war crimes.
An American military investigation this weekend cleared US troops of rounding up and deliberately shooting 11 people - including five children and four women - in a house in the village of Ishaqi, before blowing up the building.
But Iraq rejected the American exoneration of its own forces yesterday. Anger over the incident has raised tensions even further between the US government and the Iraqi administration it backs. Relations deteriorated throughout the week after a series of revelations and claims of criminal behaviour by US forces.

And Mia notes Robert Fisk and "his perspective" in "Liberators as Murderers" (CounterPunch):

Could Haditha be just the tip of the mass grave?
The corpses we have glimpsed, the grainy footage of the cadavers and the dead children; could these be just a few of many? Does the handiwork of the United States' army of the slums go further?
I remember clearly the first suspicions I had that murder most foul might be taking place in our name in Iraq. I was in the Baghdad mortuary, counting corpses, when one of the city's senior medical officials, an old friend, told me of his fears. "Everyone brings bodies here," he said. "But when the Americans bring bodies in, we are instructed that under no circumstances are we ever to do post-mortems. We were given to understand that this had already been done. Sometimes we'd get a piece of paper like this one with a body." And here the man handed me a U.S. military document showing with the hand-drawn outline of a man's body and the words "trauma wounds."
What kind of trauma is now being experienced in Iraq? Just who is doing the mass killing? Who is dumping so many bodies on garbage heaps? After Haditha, we are going to reshape our suspicions.
It's no good saying "a few bad apples." All occupation armies are corrupted. But do they all commit war crimes? The Algerians are still uncovering the mass graves left by the French paras who liquidated whole villages. We know of the rapist-killers of the Russian army in Chechnya.

Finally, Pru steers us to Simon Assaf's "Massacre at Haditha: how the occupation turned an Iraqi town into hell" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

The Iraqi town of Haditha will now forever be linked with the blood and terror of the US occupation. For many it will be Iraq's equivalent of Vietnam's My Lai, a symbol of the violence of imperialism.
Before the war the sleepy town of 70,000 on the banks of the River Euphrates was known mainly for its date growing.
Now it is known for a massacre. And that massacre has underlined the much wider process of invasion, and the urgent necessity for every one of the US and British troops to leave now.
At 7.15am on 19 November 2005, a roadside bomb in Haditha killed a 20 year old US Marine, Miguel Terrazas.
A statement released by the US department of defence said 24 civilians were also killed in the blast.
It was portrayed as another resistance operation that went wrong.
But a few days after the incident the Association of Sunni Scholars held a press conference in Baghdad where they challenged the official version of events. They revealed that US troops had massacred two families and a group of men in a taxi in revenge for the death of the soldier.
The US army dismissed the claims as "Al Qaida propaganda", and stuck to the story that the civilians had been killed by the roadside bomb. Later the story was changed to say that the victims were caught in crossfire between Marines and insurgents.
A team of military investigators made up of reservists from the US police took photographs of the scene and the bodies, but did not charge any soldiers.
They did not know that local journalist Taher Thabet had filmed the evidence and handed the footage over to a human rights group, who passed it to Time magazine.
Four months after the massacre Time published the story and the military had to reopen its investigation.
The truth began to emerge.
Witnesses described how US soldiers had dragged five men from a taxi and executed them. Soldiers belonging to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division, then moved from one house to another, seizing the families and killing them as they lay helpless.
This was not just a frenzied reaction. It took the Marines five hours to commit their crimes.
One survivor, a young girl, described long silences between killings. A 77 year old in a wheelchair was shot in the chest and abdomen as he clutched a copy of the Koran.
A young boy was fatally wounded and died after several hours as his sister cowered under the bed.
A Marine who was part of the "clean up crew" told the Los Angeles Times that the victims "ranged from little babies to adult males and females".
"I'll never be able to get that out of my head. I can still smell the blood," he added.
A neighbour said that after the killings a US official offered the survivors $2,500 in compensation, but the families refused to take the money.
After Time magazine broke the story the Marines admitted they had photographic evidence that showed the victims had been killed "execution style".
As with the Abu Ghraib scandal, there was an attempt to portray the massacre as the result of a breakdown in discipline brought on by the stress of war.
But this was not an isolated incident. The same Marine battalion involved in the Haditha massacre spearheaded the assault on western Fallujah in November 2004.
Kevin Sites, a journalist for NBC embedded in the battalion, reported that during the battle soldiers were ordered to "kill everything".
In February 2005 Socialist Worker published images and testimonies of survivors who described the deliberate massacre of civilians in the area.
In one incident survivors were ordered into a square in the centre of the city where they were mowed down by US soldiers and their Iraqi allies.
The same battalion is also accused of firing white phosphorus shells in the assault on the beleaguered city.
Another infamous incident also involved the same battalion. During fighting in Fallujah, Marines discovered wounded and dying resistance fighters sheltering in a mosque.
The men had earlier been disarmed by another patrol of soldiers. As the camera rolled, one marine stepped up to a wounded man and shot him dead.
The killing in the mosque was broadcast around the world, but neither the soldier nor his superiors were charged.
The Haditha massacre is not only about the crimes of a set of individuals or of one unit. It is an example of the systematic and much greater crime of Bush and Blair's war.
In the months after the fall of Baghdad, the US touted Haditha as a success story. The US army had rebuilt a vital power station at the Haditha dam and felt confident enough to hand over security to a small contingent of Azerbaijani troops.
But in the summer of 2003 US troops rounded up over 700 young men in a mass sweep. The raids fuelled growing anger at the occupation. By April 2004, Haditha joined the revolt across Iraq.
The US responded by isolating the town, blowing up most of its bridges and inserting teams of snipers. Later they shipped in Iraqi death squads. The town rose in rebellion, driving out US troops and the local authorities imposed by the occupation.
In the summer of 2005 Haditha’s hospital was destroyed in fighting. The cousin of Iraq’s ambassador to Washington was shot dead by US troops during a raid on his house.
One resident told the Arabic Al-Quds newspaper that US troops were threatening to kill civilians if attacks by the resistance did not stop. On 19 November US soldiers turned those threats into reality.
It shows how appalling the situation is today that the Haditha massacre hardly features in Iraqi news. For Iraqis the slaughter at Haditha is but one of a series of mass killings.
Last month US troops opened fire on two families driving through the northern city of Mosul. Soldiers then fired on locals who rushed to help the survivors, a wounded girl and an elderly lady.
On 15 May US troops raided a village near al-Latifiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad, and cut down 25 civilians who fled into a field. In August 2005, 23 worshippers were gunned down by a US tank gunner as they left Friday prayers in a Ramadi mosque. Nine of the victims were children.
In March this year, 37 Shia Muslim worshipers were executed under the orders of a US officer as they gathered for prayers in a Baghdad mosque.
The British and US troops must get out now. Every day they stay another Haditha threatens.
Stop the War conference
With Craig Murray, Tony Benn, George Galloway MP, Caroline Lucas MEP, Rose Gentle, Elaheh Rostami Povey (Action Iran), Yvonne Ridley (Islam Channel), Kate Hudson (CND), Jeremy Corbyn MP, Sabah Jawad (Iraqi Democrats), Explo Nani Kofi (African Liberation Support Group), Salma Yaqoob (Respect).
Saturday 10 June, Friends House, Euston Road, London WC1
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