Sunday, September 07, 2008

And the war drags on . . .

The excruciating literalness of the Human Terrain Team's name is a product of the excruciating rigidity of the system it is designed to change. The program began as an offshoot of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, a task force assembled in 2003 to analyze the growing threat of IEDs in Iraq. Part of that effort was a computer database of cultural knowledge--culture in a can, as it were--that was supposed to help commanders identify the social networks behind IEDs, from the bomb makers and financiers down to the men who planted the devices. But commanders didn't need yet another piece of hardware, and they felt they were already drowning in information. What they needed, Fondacaro told me, were "expert culturally focused people who understand the operational relevance of cultural knowledge."
In 2006 the IED task force shelved the computer and started over with the Human Terrain System, the core of which is composed of five-person HTTs specializing in particular locations. Team members are drawn from a volunteer cadre of anthropologists, social scientists, and cultural analysts from both civilian and military backgrounds.
The principal goal of each team is to provide combat-brigade commanders with a nuanced view of the people who live in their areas of operation. Armed with such knowledge, commanders might be less inclined to accomplish missions using only brute firepower. Dropping a 2,000-pound bomb on a mud hut is a "kinetic" way to eliminate insurgents, along with most living things in a 400-meter radius. The "non-kinetic" approach favored by the Army's new counterinsurgency manual is to convince villagers not to harbor insurgents in the first place, and the hope is that this goal can be accomplished without firing a shot.

The above is from Steve Featherstone's "Human quicksand for the U.S. Army, a crash course in cultural studies" (Harper's magazine) and that's a pretty stamp way of looking at HTT. The reality is that these social scientists (and medically trained in some cases) are working counter-insurgency wherein they abuse their training and the ethical codes of their profession to learn how to subvert a local population. There is no difference between what they are abusing their training for and what happens during colonolization. From time to time you hear someone ask (in the US), "How could we have done this to the Native Americans all those years ago?" Self-interest, selfishness and a refusal to honor the humanity in all. And it goes on today in Iraq with the HTT teams. And centuries from now it will be, "How could we have done this to the Iraqi people?" and at the same time "this" will be being done to another group of people unless, by that point, we've found a way to be honest.

It's real easy to take that attitude of "it's all the way over there." It's very rare that these things take place nearby. You have to put up a little physical distance to get a ton of emotional distance. And it allows the notion of people are being helped -- both the US and the 'liberated.' And as the occupied people continue to resist, the same attitude allows them to be blamed and scorned as unappreciative and then beyond help -- so whatever happens to them, the feeling becomes, is what they deserved. And when that period arrives, anything can be done to a people and few raise an objection. Don't kid yourself that civilization is that much more advanced today than it was when what is now the US was being colonolized.

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)

August 24th, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war hit the 4,143 was the number. And tonight? 4155. Just Foreign Policy's counter estimates the number of Iraqis killed since the start of the illegal war to be 1,255,026 up from 1,252,595.

In some of today's reported violence . . .


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded two police officers, another Baghad roadside bombing that wounded three police officers, another Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded three police officers (that's eight wounded today), a Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded five people and a Mosul bombing that claimed 1 life ("police officer who was working for the Mosul governorate council").


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police officer shot dead in Bashiqa.


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 corpses discovered in Baghdad and 3 corpses of four "Awakening" Council members kidnapped in Anbar Province yesterday were discovered ("one is still missing"). Reuters notes a corpse discovered in the Euphrates river.

Reuters also notes that cholera has claimed 1 life today and that six more Iraqis have been diagnosed with it ("More than 4,000 cases of cholera . . . were diagnosed in Iraq last year.")

Erica Goode's "Car Bombing Kills at Least 6 in City in Northwestern Iraq," in today's New York Times, covers the Tal Afar car bombing that claimed 6 lives and left fifty wounded on Saturday including this:

Also on Saturday, Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special representative to Iraq, traveled to the holy city of Najaf to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite religious leader.
Mr. de Mistura said later that in the meeting the two men discussed the problems that have blocked passage of a provincial election law by Iraq's Parliament.

The UN working on the issue of provincial elections? But weren't we told this month that no law was needed? From the September 4th snapshot:

In other elections news, Iraq's Shi'ite vice president, Adel Abdul-Mahdi has declared that even if the Iraqi Parliament does not pass a law for provincial elections this year, they will take place. Reuters quotes him stating, "The elections will take place at the end of this year. If the parliament doesn't approve the (new) elections law, there is an old law. The government cannot delay the elections." That would mean ignoring the issue of oil-rich Kirkuk, as well as the United Nations which has stated they were working on a proposal that would be released shortly.

Adel Abdul-Mahdi's statements should have been loudy decried in real time but, as usual, there were other things the press had to focus on. Having ignored it real time, you'd think the news Goode reports would lead them to explore what it means when one of Iraq's vice president is an attempting to circumvent a law and call an ongoing United Nations' study meaningless?

Nicholas Spangler (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that Iraq sent their finance minister to Kuwait today re: Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991 in order to discuss "payment of debts and compensation" for that action.

New content at Third:

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Truest statement of the week III
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Editorial: The Sour Grape Girls
TV: More sexism, more self-promotion
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Isaiah's comic goes up after this. Pru notes "Reality behind the US rhetoric on Iraq" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

The US has made a great fanfare over the handing of control of Iraq’s Anbar province to its Iraqi allies this week.
It announced that US troops will no longer stage patrols in the Sunni Muslim province that has been at the heart of resistance to the occupation since 2003.
However the 25,000 US Marines stationed in the province will not be going home.
The majority will withdraw to the huge bases the US has built on the edges of Iraqi cities. The rest will be transferred to the killing fields of Afghanistan.
The US claims that the withdrawal is a sign of its success in drawing in the so-called "Awakening Councils". These militias are led by former resistance fighters who swapped sides following faction fighting between insurgents in 2006.
However the Awakening Councils, who are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, are hostile to the Shia dominated Iraqi government.
Now the Iraqi government has issued arrest warrants for the militias. This is threatening to unravel the US strategy.
The US is desperate to disentangle its forces from the Iraqi quagmire and is under pressure to withdraw all combat troops by 2011.
Meanwhile ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds in the north are threatening to spiral out of control as the Iraqi army moves into areas under the control of militias loyal to the Kurdish regional authority.
In the latest incident, the Iraqi army moved into the town of Khanaqin in the eastern province of Diyala. At stake is control over the oil rich city of Kirkuk.
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