Sunday, August 19, 2007

And the war drags on . . .

The Perfect Spy by Larry Berman, a political science professor at the University of California's Davis campus, is a fascinating account of An's life during the Vietnamese war with the US. Like Singer's biography of Debs, Berman's work presents the reader with a man whose life is more than the sum of its parts. An, who died a hero of the Vietnamese struggle for independence in 2006, lived two lives as a spy and a journalist. Berman's many interviews with An help him provide a picture of how An managed this while simultaneously keeping his allegiance to Americans he befriended and to the Vietnamese revolution. It's not 007 stuff that is related here, but intrigue exists, especially in the recounting of An's work prior to the Tet offensive in 1968 and in his efforts to get friends from the losing side out of Vietnam during the final days of the southern Vietnamese government in 1975.
Equally interesting to today's reader is the contextual information Berman provides throughout the book. As the United States edges closer to the fifth year of its war in Iraq, the descriptions of US tactics during the war in Vietnam make it clear that not only was the US involvement in Vietnam a combination of imperial hubris and human pride, it was very much a policy and not a mistake. As one analyzes US actions in that war forty years ago in light of the current one, it's quite apparent that many of the strategies that failed in Vietnam are being attempted again in Iraq and Afghanistan with minimal variation. Likewise, it becomes ever more apparent that , like the Vietnamese war, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not mistakes or blunders (as today's Democrats are so fond of saying),but essential parts of US geopolitical strategy. Even though it is clear by now that there are several differences between the US war on Vietnam and its current adventure in Iraq, there are similarities that can not be denied. One example came to me as I read Berman's description of the various factions in southern Vietnam and Washington's attempts to sort them out through bribery, political chicanery and murder. The description of these manipulations are reminiscent of the ongoing situation in Iraq, where multiple factions are struggling for control and US intelligence and other forces seem to shift their alliances every few months, seemingly without reason.
In the same manner that the US reader will see similarities between the way the war in Vietnam was waged in Vietnam and in the US media and political arena, so might the Iraqi or Afghani reader. Indeed, if I were a member of the resistance in those countries, I might even draw some useful lessons from An's insights and analysis as it was applied to the situation of the Vietnamese national liberation struggle by its fighters. Likewise, the astute reader of An's biography can not help but see how many of today's arguments used to justify the continued US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan are nothing but rehashed rationales from its debacle in Vietnam.

The above, noted by Mia, is from Ron Jacobs' "The Virtues of Resistance" (CounterPunch). An is Pham Xuan An and Jacobs is also reviewing Ray Singer's The Bending Cross, a biography on Eugene V. Debs. Meanwhile, the US military announces it is extended to the max and "nearly exhausted" while the country with the second largets number of troops on the ground in Iraq also notes that is extended to the max. And seven US service members ("Buddhika Jayamaha is a U.S. Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.") share their opinion in "Iraq As We See It" (click here for Common Dreams, click here for International Herald Tribune -- available in full at both without registration):

The most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. "Lucky" Iraqis live in communities barricaded with concrete walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal. In an environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act.
Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, "We need security, not free food."
In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are - an army of occupation -- and force our withdrawal.

Until then . . .

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, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 3689. Tonight? 3703. This as the US attempts to pull back from patrols in an attempt to lower fatalities in the lead up to Gen. David Petraues' September 15th report to Congress. While, as Tim Shipman (Telegraph of London) notes, also criticizing British forces for their own pull back:

A senior US officer familiar with Gen Petraeus's thinking said: "The short version is that the Brits have lost Basra, if indeed they ever had it. Britain is in a difficult spot because of the lack of political support at home, but for a long time - more than a year - they have not been engaged in Basra and have tried to avoid casualties.
"They did not have enough troops there even before they started cutting back. The situation is beyond their control.
"Quite frankly what they're doing right now is not any value-added. They're just sitting there. They're not involved. The situation there gets worse by the day.["]

Just Foreign Policy's count for the number of Iraqis killed since the start of the illegal war stands at 1,012,979. In some of the violence today . . . Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad motorcycle bombing that claimed 1 life, a Baghdad mortar attack that claimed 7 lives (forty-one wounded), a Baghdad roadside bombing that claimed 1 life, fifteen people kidnapped off a Baghdad bus, a 12-year-old boy (Hakam Falah Khalaf) kidnapped "in front of his family's house in Kirkuk (and, on Saturday, Raad Abdul was kidnapped in Al Hawija -- a truck driver) and 14 corpses discovered in Baghdad with another one discovered in Kirkuk ("Al Rashad area"). Reuters notes the Baghdad mortar attack death toll rose by 3 to ten, 1 person dead from a Baghdad bombing "in a garbage dump" and 3 people ("suspected insurgents") killed by US forces.

The illegal war has resulted in over four million Iraqis being turned into refugees internally and externally. A little over two million are external refugees. Dina Aboul Hson (Gulf News) reports on Sonia Azad, a twelve-year-old peace activist, who went to Jordan to film "a documentary about Iraqi children who are suffering in Jordan and make their voices heard in the United Kingdom and the United States. We will show the film at the House of Commons." China's People's Daily Online observes that "Jordanian Eductation ministry estimated taht at least 50,000 Iraqi students [children] were expected to flood scholl system on Sunday across Jordan" as a result of "a decision finalized by the Jordanian Ministry of Education last Monday, which allows all Iraqi students, with or without a residency permit, to study in public schools as of the beginning of this scholastic year." The bulk of the external refugees have gone to either Jordan or Syria. Martin Patience (BBC) notes that puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki will spend three days in Syria starting Monday and "The issue of Iraqi refugees is also expected to be raised as there are almost two million refugees in Syria." If that number is correct, then the number of external refugees has risen dramatically. In the spring, the estimate was 2.1 million external refugees with the bulk of them going to Jordan and Syria. Last month, Amnesty International estimated there were 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria:

Syria is the only country that has so far kept its border open to refugees fleeing the sectarian violence in Iraq. It is estimated that there are now some 1.5 million Iraqis living in Syria, with around 30, 000 more arriving each month. The majority have arrived during the last 17 months following the bombing of al-'Askari Shi'a holy shrine in Samarra on 22 February 2006. This attack, apparently carried out by members of al-Qa'eeda in Iraq, severely damaged the shrine and also triggered a widespread intensification in the level of sectarian violence between Shi’a and Sunni armed groups.
Amnesty International sent a three-person fact-finding delegation to Syria between 13 and 30 June 2007 in order to investigate the situation of Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers. In particular, Amnesty International looked into their legal status, their access to services such as health, education and housing, the impact that the presence of Iraqi refugees is having on the local community and on the Syrian economy, and how the Syrian authorities have been responding to continuing influx of Iraqis. Amnesty International also sought to find out whether the pledges of economic and other assistance to Syria, and Jordan, the other main country of refuge for Iraqis, by governments that attended an international conference held on 17-18 April 2007 in Geneva, have been honoured or not. At that conference, convened by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) specifically to address the potential humanitarian crisis arising from the flight of refugees from Iraq, governments were invited to assist Syria, Jordan and other countries affected in their efforts to afford protection and meet the other needs of the refugees. In the course of the visit, Amnesty International's delegates met with several senior Syrian government officials, including the Deputy Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Health, Education, Higher Education, and the Minister for Cooperation with the Red Crescent Society. They also met with representatives of some national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), United Nations (UN) agencies, such as UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and some European Union (EU) diplomats.
Amnesty International's delegates interviewed dozens of Iraqis of diverse backgrounds who had been forced to leave Iraq and had gone to Syria in search of safety. Most of them had personally suffered serious human rights abuses, including rape and other forms of torture, and were traumatized as a result but with no possibility to receive appropriate treatment.

Turning to the internally displaced in Iraq, last Tuesday the Yazidi sect was targeted with multiple bombings in northern Iraq and the death toll climbed to over 300 (the BBC counts 344 dead from the bombings, four-hundred wounded, in their most recent report). With more on the region, this is from Corey Levine's "Baghdad Diary: Gripped by tragedy" (Kalinga Times):

Although the Yazidis, who are found onlin in northern Iraq, speak Kurmanji (a northern Kurdish language) and many of their cultural practices are observably Kurdish, they are not ethnologically considered Kurds. However, in the sectarian maelstrom that defines current day Iraq, Kurds are arguing for the Yazidis, whose numbers reach approximately a half million, to be recognized ethnically as Kurds, particularly as many Yazidis reside in communities near Mosul, the oil-rich city close to the border of Iraqi Kurdistan.
In a kind of tit-for-tat situaion, in the contested city of Kirkuk, on which a referendum will be held next year, the government of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan has been quietly encouraging the migration of Arabs from the oil-rich city through generous relocation allowances and offers of exchanges of land with Kurds living in the south. Although benign compared to what Saddam enforced on the city's Kurdish population in the 1980's of murder, mayhem and forced expulsion in an attempt to 'Arabize' the city; an exodus is an exodus, is an exodus, particularly when the potentials spoils offers as great a reward as one of the prime oil fields in the world's second largest oil producing country.
In other places in Iraq, particularly Baghdad, the sectarian violence is also leaving its mark on the demographics of the country in terms of shifting populations. I am reminded of Bosnia at the height of the war there when previously ethnically mixed communites became mono-ethnic entities either due to forced expulsion or the sense that it was much safer to be with 'your own kind'.
With similar patterns of 'ethnic cleansing', Iraq is quickly becoming the country with the largest number of internally displaced. According to the UN agency responsible for refugees, the total number of internally displaced people in the country is inching towards the two million mark.

Internal and external refugees, well over a million Iraqis dead from the illegal war, basic services still not met (electricity, potable water, security, etc.), the US and the UK militaries both stating they are "stretched," the death count for foreign (non-Iraqi) forces rising constantly, the five year mark of the illegal war six months away and no 'progress' to show for the illegal war. (No surprise there.) Tell Congress, as Iraq Veterans Against the War, Tina Richards and Military Families Speak Out are, Fuding the war is killing the troops. It's not saving them, it's not saving Iraqis.

Pru gets the last highlight, from Great Britain's The Socialist Worker, "Get the troops out now: not one more day, not one more life:"

Why is Gordon Brown sending troops to kill and die in a war that is lost?
Another week, and another six young British soldiers lie dead in the mire of Iraq and Afghanistan.
These wars have been lost. They could never have been "won".
Yet Gordon Brown is prepared to throw away the lives of more soldiers, and countless Iraqi and Afghan civilians, so that George Bush can say that Britain is still on board in his "war on terror".
One such soldier was 20 year old private Craig Barber. He was killed last week trying to stop the constant barrage of mortars that are falling on the last remaining British outpost in Iraq.
British troops have little influence over the south of the country. They are under daily attack by a resistance movement that is growing more confident.
In September last year British commanders launched "Operation Sinbad". They hoped the operation would check the growing influence of the resistance.
It was the last roll of the dice by the occupation in the south in an attempt to win the war.
But far from bringing security, it accelerated the collapse of the Iraqi authorities installed by the British in 2003.
Shortly afterward British troops abandoned their headquarters in Basra and ­withdrew to the airport on the outskirts of the city.
Their presence at the airport serves no ­function beyond saving the reputation of George Bush.
The US fear that if the British withdraw fully then the pressure will mount on the US to do the same.
So British soldiers remain under siege, hunkered behind sand bags, occasionally sending out patrols. It was during one of these missions that private Craig Barber was killed.
The pointless death of Barber, and the 238 other servicemen and women before him, is the bloody price that British soliders pay for Gordon Brown's "special relationship" with the US.
The following should be read alongside this article: »
Chaos in Iraq as occupation fails» Civilian casualties accelerate in Afghanistan
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