Once seemingly immune to the violence that has plagued the rest of the country, Basra Province, the heart of Iraq's Shiite south, has sunk into chaos. Shiite political parties and their militias are fighting to control the provincial government and the region's oil wealth, contributing to some of the worst rates of killing since the invasion, with 174 killings in the past two months -- double the amount from the previous two months, according to the Basra police.
The above is from Sabrina Tavernise and Qais Mizher's "Iraq's Premier Seeks to Control a City in Chaos" in this morning's New York Times. The puzzlement is probably the hallmark of the article (and reappears as wonder enters the article on why a single Toyota can't be found).
It helps to wring your hands and forget basic facts when discussing Basra. That way you can note the death of nine British troops in May and bemoan "Why! Why! Why!"
But the attitude didn't just change one day. Certainly, events in Septemeber of 2005 effect attitudes today.
Have we forgotten (Darryl Worley! Where are you!) those events?
From Kim Sengupta's "Basra voters say it is time for soldiers to go" (Independent of London):
"I felt proud that the Iraqi police had arrested the British soldiers, it is our country and our laws should be obeyed", said Zainab.
Her colleague Fatima added: "I do not like seeing foreign soldiers on our streets, they should go."
What is surprising about these views in Basra is that they came from two educated, middle class women speaking fluent English who have frequent contact with the British and have little sympathy for the Shia militia who have infiltrated the Iraqi police.
In fact, the women admit they are very wary of the same police who had arrested two British special forces soldiers, triggering a rescue mission in which British forces smashed their way into a police station.
Their sentiments, echoed by others, do reflect, however, the new, public mood of defiance and nationalism among the Shia of Iraq as they prepare for power for the first time in 100 years.
Remember that? The standoff when the two British soldiers were held? Remember why they were picked up to begin with?
From "The Third Estate Sunday Review News Review 10-09-05:"
The Brussels Tribunal also has addressed what the two British intel agents may have been doing in Basra when they captured last month. The two, attempting to pass for Arabs, were stopped by Basra police and found with weapons including explosives. That hasn't been addressed in the United States but in Scotland and other nations, it has made the news. More information on this can be found in "The Salvador Option exposed. Who's Blowing Up Iraq? New evidence shows that bombs are being planted by British in Basra" at the Brussels Tribunal Organization.
From Tom Hayden's "Hawks Block American Withdrawal Plan" (The Huffington Post):
The British press has been more forthright in reporting troop withdrawal plans since last September's peace rallies.
Just a month ago [Feb. 2] the London Times announced an "acceleration" of plans by Britain and America for pulling out one-third of their troops this year. On March 5, the Telegraph's defense correspondent followed up by reporting that "all" British and American troops will be withdrawn in the next 12 months. Two days later, the British commander in Iraq withdrew the withdrawal hints, saying instead that a pullout of most troops might be "reasonable" by summer 2008. [NYT, Mar. 8, 06]. The New York Times says that the "widely expected" announcement of US troop cuts now was "muted." [nyt, Mar. 2, 06]
The stated reason, or pretext, for suspending the withdrawal plan was the bombing of the Shiite shrine and several days of sectarian bloodletting at the end of February. The US ambassador delivered the message "just before key US decisions are expected on whether the situation in Iraq has improved enough to allow for a reduction in US forces this year", the LA Times reported.[mar 7, 06]
We may never know who blew up the mosque and, with it, the prospects for troop withdrawals. It is assumed that the villains were either deranged Sunnis acting on their own, or al-Zarqawi cadres intent on civil war. There is another perspective for close observers of dirty wars, the possibility that the bombing was planned and handled by elements of Western counter-terrorism forces. Similar tactics were employed by British agents during the long conflict in Northern Ireland, and heavily-armed British commandos disguised as Arabs were captured in Basra just last year. One of the oldest imperial strategems is to divide and conquer, incite sectarian divisions, and justify military occupation to keep the natives from killing each other. This is precisely the justification for continued war that is heard from those who have admitted the original invasion was a "mistake."
And from "United Iraqi protests against US divide and rule policy" (The Socialist Worker of Great Britain):
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.
Less hand wringing and a little more memory might lead to a more informed article. There are other events that have happened in Basra but certainly the discovery of two British soldiers, attempting to pass themselves off Arabs with weapons in their car did a lot to raise suspicisions. The British response to the arrests did a lot to rack up the hostility factor as the residents of Basra saw their police station attacked by tanks when their police had done what any police force discovering people with weapons should, arrest them. To ignore those events is to ignore reality. (But hand wringing is so much easier than focusing on reality apparently.)
"Trends" without facts are useless as reporting but the two reporters need not worry, the most useless reporter is not them, it's John F. Burns who manages to make the usual ass of himself that we've all (sadly) grown to expect. Today he does it with "U.S. Troops Kill 2 Women, and Iraqi Death Toll Grows." First he throws a little dirt at the victims, the two women killed yesterday, by twice stating that one of the women "may" have been pregnant. Reports from the Associated Press, Reuters and the AFP have already addressed that she was pregnant (and on her way to the hospital) but Burnsie needs to ignore outside reports, if he didn't, he might have to present more than the US military point of view.
Two women died (the male driver was injured) and Burns, a supposed reporter, is only interested in repeating what the military told him. Fat and comfy in the Green Zone (a little more if the rumors taken to the Guild are true), Burns waits to be fed what to say. And he can't even be bothered noting the living witness' remarks (other news outlets did but then Burns isn't interested in news, just military press releases from the Green Zone). The military said it and that's good enough for Burns. Isn't it time he turned in his press credentials? (Before Erika points it out in an e-mail, it should be noted that manly -- in his mind -- Burns has never demonstrated an ability to cover Iraqi women so this silence may also be just another example of a pig too busy snorting to do what a reporter is supposed to do -- question, get more than one side of the story, and then process it.) Burns can't even be bothered to note the women's names.
From yesterday's entry:
This as the Associated Press reports that American forces shot and killed two women, one of them pregnant, at a checkpoint today in Baghdad. Nabiha Nisaif Jassim, thirty-five-years-old, was being rushed to the hospital by her brother, Khalid Nisaif Jassim, with her cousin, Saliha Mohammed Hassan, also in the car. Both women were killed. The brother, who was driving, denies the US accounts that the area was a clearly marked check point. A US spokesperson e-mailed a weasel word statement to the Associated Press where they note that the woman "may have been pregnant." Naibha Nisaif Jassim was rushed to the maternity hospital (her intended destination) but both she and the child she was carrying died. A US spokesperson, emailing Reuters, called the deaths "a mistake."
Naibha Nisaif Jassim and Saliha Mohammed Hassan. The two women who died, the two deaths Burns can't explore, let alone offer the names of the women. Instead, as is too often the case in the Times, they're left nameless and their stories untold. Don't kid yourself that Burns reports.
Burns even ignores the e-mail to Reuters. He's not a reporter and the best evidence of this may be manly (in his mind) Burns juxtaposing two events:
In the latest in a series of killings of people involved with sports, Ali Jaafar, a sports broadcaster for the state-owned television channel, Al Iraqiya, was slain by machine-gun fire as he left his home for work. Last week, three members of the national tennis team were gunned down on a Baghdad street.
That's an interesting comparison since the comparison real reporters made was to the death of other journalists (see Reporters Without Borders for one of many examples). But Burnsie is so manly (in his own mind) that it's all about sports.
While Burnsie picks and chooses from wire reports and speaks to a few military spokespeople, Martha steers us to some actual reporting on Iraq. From Ellen Knickmeyer and Saad al-Izzi's "Iraqi Students Are Tested by Battle Outside: Gunfire Interrupts Exams in Baghdad" (Washington Post):
For many of the 12-year-olds bent over their final exams in classrooms where the stifling heat already edged toward 100 degrees by 9 a.m., Wednesday's tests would signal the end of their families' days in Iraq.
With the school year reaching its close, and life in Baghdad unbearable for many, some of the mothers at al-Mahaj school in north Baghdad's Adhamiyah neighborhood began collecting the school records that their sons and daughters would need in new homes in other countries. They would soon join a three-year exodus of the middle class from Iraq, where outbound flights are booked near-solid through June, travel agents say.
School guards with AK-47 assault rifles stood watch around al-Mahaj. Fathers chatted outside, their own pistols discreetly hidden under shirts or tucked away close by in their cars: Kidnapping is rampant in wartime Baghdad.
Sometime after 9 a.m., bullets started flying. The 12-year-olds, well into their math tests, "were terrified," screaming and sobbing, said Um Bakir, a mother who recounted the battle. The parent of a sixth-grader, she would identify herself over the telephone only by her family name, which means mother of Bakir. She refused to identify her son, citing fears for the family's safety.
The shooting sprawled over three neighborhoods -- one Sunni Arab, one mostly Sunni, one Shiite -- where busy streets form the otherwise unremarkable dividing lines. Insurgents, Shiite militias, Iraq's overwhelmingly Shiite police, the slightly more trusted army forces -- all were said to be in the fight. Residents could not be sure, or tell how it started. In the fights that roil many of Baghdad's neighborhoods, with automatic-weapons fire heavy and explosions sounding, no one without a gun sticks his neck out to investigate.
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