Saturday, September 16, 2006

NYT: RIng around Baghdad (Edward Wong)

The Iraqi government plans to seal off Baghdad within weeks by ringing it with a series of trenches and setting up dozens of traffic checkpoints to control movement in and out of the violent city of seven million people, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Friday.
The effort is one of the most ambitious security projects this year, with cars expected to be funneled through 28 checkpoints along the main arteries snaking out from the capital. Smaller roads would be closed. The trenches would run across farmland or other open areas to prevent cars from evading checkpoints, said the ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf.
"We're going to build a trench around Baghdad so we can control the exits and entrances so people will be searched properly," he said in a telephone interview. "The idea is to get the cars to go through the 28 checkpoints that we set up."

The above is from Edward Wong's "Iraqis Plan to Ring Baghdad With Trenches" in this morning's New York Times. I guess it's their version of a border wall? A moat around Baghdad. A modern day moat. Wong (rightly) raises the issue of a traffic snarls and wonders whether the 'trenches' would result in some of the interior checkpoints being taken down? If not, the long lines of traffic will become even longer.

But that's the thing, the checkpoints already exist and they haven't stopped the car bombings.
What they're doing reminds me of the 'burglar bars' ('burglarer bars'?) that went up on some homes in areas of high crimes many years back. If you remember those, you probably remember the reports, following that fad, of people who ended up dying in house fires because they couldn't climb out their own windows as a result of the bars. So the moat (we'll stick to calling it that although there's no talk of filling it with waters) that's supposedly going to save them could lead to a huge problem should residents have the need to evacuate the capital immediately. That's something that should worry all the residents, including those in the Green Zone. An orchestrated car bombing hitting several sections of the city could result in mass panic and an attempt to leave the city that, thanks to the moat, would create new problems.

The checkpoints haven't worked thus far. (In fact the violence has increased during the 'crackdown' -- and all it's versions. The 'crackdown' either began June 14th or June 15th depending on the time of the source. We're not all on the same time zone. Regardless, it's been three months and it hasn't worked. Juiced up, beefed up and it's still a failure.)

The aim of the moat, as is the aim of crackdown, is to push the violence out of Baghdad. That's for a number of reasons including the parliament's location (they're supposed to debate the federation issue today) and, most importantly, the location of the press. It's a bit hard to get those happy talk reports out of the Green Zone when even it is ringed by chaos and violence.
(And it was stormed in June, which is what caused enough panic on the part of the US military to institute the 'crackdown' via the puppet of the occupation. In August, mortars landed in the Green Zone wounding Australian troops.)

Unlike Falluja (or Ramadi currently), the military can't reduce the city to rubble. So they're attempting to force the resistance out. There's no concern as to where the resistance, if forced out, would go. (McCain's point about how the military appeared to be playing whack-a-mole.)

There's never been an alternate plan and there still isn't. The moat is yet another beefed up version of the tactic of 'crackdown' and it will probably work, in the long run, just about as well. Wong notes that despite the moat, ways into the city may be found. It's also true that the checkpoints have never worked (and no checkpoint will ever be 100% effective) and alternate means of entry won't need to be found if alternate means of concealment are discovered. (Or if, as many press reports have indicated, Iraqis just wave people through the checkpoints without examination.)

Wong also addresses the body count (Iraqi civilians who died in August) and does a better job with it than the Times has done previously so (as noted earlier this morning), that's going to be the excuse we use for dropping the feature planned on that at The Third Estate Sunday Review. (I also argued for it being dropped because I'm still sick. But only after reading Wong's report. Prior to that, I was willing to grit my teeth and go on through with the feature.)

On whack-a-mole, Thom Shanker's "U.S. Won’t Abandon Fight in Anbar, Commander Says " addresses that. And while it's a bit more convining than the claims by the British that they didn't abandon their base in Amara last month, the reality is that this is the point John McCain was making. (Again, we're not a fan site of John McCain's. McCain's arguing more troops be sent over, this community argues the troops need to be brought home.) If and when the US military manages to lessen some of the violence and chaos in Baghdad, if the troops aren't brought home, you can be sure they will be sent to other hot spots while the 'cooled' spots go hot again. The reason the military has to make this assertion is because of what Thomas E. Ricks (Washington Post) reported Monday that that Marine Col Pete Devlin's assesment "that the prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there, said several military officers and intelligence officials familiar with its contents."

And though I don't doubt the military intends to go back into al Anbar, the question should be asked whether or not they can afford to leave it right now if the military is expected to remain in Iraq for the duration of the Bully Boy's White House occupancy.

McCain argues more troops on the ground, we argue troops home. But his point about whack-a-mole used as a 'strategy' remains accurate. And if the assessment is that al Anbar is probably lost currently, the departure to bring more troops into Baghdad won't improve the lost-status.

We've avoided a story (my decision) since early September but the Times is writing about so we'll note it. First the excerpt, then comments. This is from Mindy Sink's "Mystery Deepens in Case of Missing Colorado Marine:"

The story was compelling. A marine home on leave from his first tour of duty in Iraq was injured in a fall while hiking down a mountain with a friend and vanished after the friend went to call for help.
As one of the largest search and rescue operations in state history was under way, speculation ran high that the marine, Lance Cpl. Lance Hering, 21, might have lost his memory or become disoriented as a result of his head injury or that a mountain lion or bear had attacked him.
On the second day of the search, investigators began to have their suspicions and have since said that it was all probably a hoax and that the marine might be on the run.

When he was considered in need of rescuing, it almost made the snapshot but there were too many things to note that day. By the next day, friends (in the press) were saying it might not be what it appears. Local press then began comparing Hering to Jeremy Hinzman. Jeremy Hinzman self-checked out of the military and went to Canada (where his case is on appeal and a verdict should be coming down shortly) due to his objections to the illegal war. Since Hering didn't make statements similar to Hinzman (and since there's no evidence that he's in Canada) that speculation didn't seem worth noting. Hering's brother has told the press (not noted in the Times) that earlier in his life, Hering had a head injury and lost his memory for a brief time.

Not slamming Sink for writing about it, but what did or did not happen and where Hering is or isn't is all speculation -- so we've avoided it here. He may have checked out. If he did and he's a war resister, we'll note him in future entries. If he's the victim of an accident or lost memory, we'll try to note it if there's a development. But we're not going to follow this daily. (Unless, a statement turns up by him, not someone else's remarks, that states his opposition to the war on the grounds that the war is wrong.)

A family member of one war resister contacted this site and rightly noted that we follow the case of someone who may not be a war resister. That is true and I'm bothered also by the fact that we have no statement from the person in question (no statement to the press). We're backing off from that because there are people who are resisting the war and we don't need to be closely following someone who has yet to make a statement against the war. That's not to slam the person, but that is to note that the person in question has never made a statement against the war. So to note the developments with an intro like "In peace news . . ." or "In news of war resistance . . ." is flat out wrong. Thank you to ___ (related to a public war resister) for making that point. That's not a slam to the person who hasn't but if others are making statements, then you either make your statement or not and you're termed a war resistor by whether or not you make a statement.

If Hering has decided to check-out, it could be for any number of reasons. If war resistance is the reason or one of them, we'll follow the story closely, if not, and this will be true of all cases, not what your parents say, not what your friends say, but what you say will determine whether or not we follow your case. People check out all the time, during war and during peace (or what passes for peace) and they can do so for any number of reasons including a bad experience while serving that is a valid reason but it's not really about war resistance.

The person has made no statement that I can find objecting to the Iraq war. That's not to slam the person or their issue but we're not going to lump it in with war resister or peace news anymore. It's not fair to the Kevin Bendermans, the Ehren Watadas, the Jeremy Hinzmans, the Camilo Mejias, the Brandon Hugheys, the Katherine Jashinskis, the Carl Webbs, the Patrick Harts, the Ricky Clousings, the Mark Wilkersons, the Kyle Snyders, the Darrell Andersons, go down the list. A statement doesn't need to be lengthy, but if the peace movement is supposed to devote time to your issue because you are a war resistor, you need to have made some sort of statement to justify that. I understood the e-mailer's point and regret the fact that we ran with the case of X as a war resistance story (which is how it's been portrayed). For it to be that, it requires that the person state: "I am against the war." They can say more than that but to be a war resister, they have to say at least that. Though X is opposed to continuing to serve, there is no statement by X that indicates X is against the war.

If suggested highlights come in and they refer to X as a war resister, we won't note them. We do follow the issues around Jake Kovco who was not a war resister (and his widow Shelley Kovco is in favor of the war). We could and can cover X in that manner. But it wrong to say, as the e-mailer pointed out, that X is a war resister when X has serious issues with the military but has not stated publicly any opposition to the war.

I should have caught that and my apologies for not doing so until it was pointed out. A friend or a parent's stance on the war is not necessarily the same as the person they're speaking for. And Herling's story indicates that. It would be very easy, as many in the media have, to run with it and claim he's checked himself out. But there's nothing that proves that. He's left no note, he's made no statement. The same reasons that led to us not following Herling's story should have resulted in less coverage for X. And certainly should have prevented me from dubbing X a war resister. (The fact that others were doing it doesn't apply as anyone who's ever gotten the "Well if everyone was jumping off a cliff, would you jump too?" lecture knows.) It was a mistake on my part and I apologize for the error.

Though the e-mailer was only writing in regards to what's gone up at this site (both in excerpts and my own statements), I did pass it on to others who do sites in this community. We'll respect the wishes of a family member of a public war resister and not dub X a war resister unless or until X speaks out against the war. For myself, I made the mistake and I apologize for it. It does devalue the work of those who have taken public stands against the war to call someone who has not a war resister. My error and it won't happen again with X.

There's a clergy who's been lauded by one blog for speaking out against the war and a member e-mailed that post. He wasn't speaking out against the war. His public demonstration wasn't at a rally against the war. (He's not against the war.) X may or may not be against the war. At this point, there's nothing in the public record to indicate a statement. There are statements similar to Herling's friend saying that Herling was against the war. His family denies that. So no one knows. When someone's alive and breathing, if they're against the war, they can say so. X hasn't and we won't bill X as a war resister despite the claims put foward by the media and by the people around X.

Speaking out comes with a price and the e-mailer noted that you can cop a plea by agreeing to stay silent. If that's the case with X, well X needs to make the best deal for X there is. Anyone does. And friends and family need to speak out for the people that they love. But just because a friend or a family member may be against the war does not mean that someone who's made no statement is against the war. If there's never been a statement by someone that they are against the war, we won't bill them here as a war resister (even though others may continue to do so).

As for Herling, whether he's a war resistor or not, hopefully, he'll turn up safe and sound and, if so, we'll note that fact. And to repeat, one more time, his brother has stated he had a head injury many years prior and suffered from loss of memory at that time. That statement doesn't make it into the Times this morning but it has made it into other press reports.

One more time, my apologies for my mistake. It does devalue the work of others who have spoken out and need support for their strong stands. Red flags should have been raised and it's my own stupidity that they weren't.

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