The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Friday, August 10, 2007

News & Views 08/10/07

Photo: Iraqis chant slogans as they carry coffins of their relatives killed during a US military air strike in the predominantly Shiite Baghdad suburb of Sadr City, 08 August 2007. WISSAM AL-OKAILI/AFP/Getty

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Photos: Sadr City Enraged, Grieving Over US Airstrike

Iraqis protest civilians' killing in US airstrike

Protests broke out in al-Tareq district in eastern Baghdad's predominately Shiite Sadr City, with demonstrators carrying the coffins of people killed during a US air strike on Wednesday morning, Iraqi state-run al-Iraqiya TV reported.

Politics of the Sadr City attack

The US military operation in Sadr City yesterday, including house-to-house searches and arbitrary detention of persons from each household, followed by an air-strike, the whole thing timed to coincide with Prime Minister Maliki's visit to Tehran, is being reported in the US as a military event in the fight against alleged Iranian influence, and the discussion is mostly on the topic of "Iranian influence, or more Bush propaganda?" But this also obscures the fact that the event represents something of a political milestone in the evolution of American stratgegy vis-a-vis the Maliki administration. Here's what AlMalafPress.net had to say about the view from Sadr city: [We learned] from several participants in the protest demonstrations against the attacks to which Sadr City was subjected, that the participants shouted slogans calling for the toppling of the Maliki administration, which they accused of open cooperation with the occupation forces, in the interests of hanging on to their own positions and privileges. And members of the Sadr movement [agreed], including one person who is editor-in-chief of a newspaper published in Sadr City, who put it this way: "Maliki has forfeited [support in] this world and the next, and he will end in the same way that Saddam ended." US policy, outlined in the famous Hadley memo of November 2006, has been to move its Baghdad client, in various ways, toward a position more acceptable to its other Arab clients in the region, ahead of potential confrontation with Iran……

Tough security sends Iraq's Falluja back centuries

Residents of Falluja have seen their streets emptied of cars, motorbikes and even bicycles for more than two months under a vehicle ban aimed at curbing violence in the Sunni Arab town. And they are split. While some welcome the increased security, many complain that it is a form of collective punishment against a town which is synonymous with the insurgency against U.S. forces in Iraq's western Anbar province. "The decision to stop car movement is very unjust and an attempt to increase depression and poverty on the city," said Abdul-Karim Khalid, a 30-year-old car mechanic. "My work has stopped and I have been forced into unemployment. I have spent all my money to ensure my family lives." But his friend Saad Farhan says the vehicle ban is preferable to the violence that has blighted the town. "Before this was implemented, we greatly feared masked gunmen who killed civilians and escaped using cars," said the 33 year old, who sells car accessories. "We do suffer from a lack of work, but we have the blessing of relative quiet now," Farhan said. Iraqi authorities imposed the ban in the town to prevent drive-by shootings and car bombings that have plagued Falluja. According to a declassified U.S. intelligence report, attacks in the former insurgent stronghold of 300,000 people have dropped from nearly 200 a month in December to fewer than 30 in June.

Curfew Halts Publication of Baghdad Papers

Baghdad newspapers ceased publication on Wednesday because of the government-imposed curfew all over the Iraqi capital, in preparation for pilgrims to the Shiite shrine of Imam al-Kadhim tomorrow. Adnan Raddam, the editor-in-chief of al-Istiqama newspaper, issued by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), previously known as the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), expressed his great surprise at the curfew declared by the Iraqi government. The newspaper's editorial board and staff did not know about the decision until after it was made, Raddam told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) by phone. Meanwhile, Editor-in-Chief of the independent al-Dustour Ali al-Sharqi said that his newspaper will cease publication until Sunday morning, indicating that its administration only knew about the curfew on Tuesday night.

Pilgrims flood Baghdad, pray for safety

Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite pilgrims made their way on foot to a shrine in the north of Baghdad on Thursday, praying for safety at an annual rite marred by violence for the past two years. Pilgrims waved flags, chanted and beat their chests in a traditional Shi'ite gesture of ritual mourning. Others carried the symbolic green coffin of Imam Musa Kadhim, a Shi'ite martyr imprisoned and poisoned in Baghdad 1,200 years ago. Many had walked for days from distant towns in intense summer heat to reach the shrine where Kadhim is buried. Tents along the road offered water, juice, sweets and dates.

Lock Down

Last night the Iraqi government announced a three-day-curfew it would begin at 10 p.m. on Wednesday. So I planned my day around it, I had to go through a nearby neighborhood and interview people for a story then head to the Green Zone for some interviews at the U.S. Embassy. Canceled. The Iraqi government changed the curfew at 1 a.m. and I woke up and we were on lock down. Most of the staff couldn't get to work and Kevin, our security advisor, looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if I could still make the quick trip to the Green Zone.

On Thursday Shiites will make the pilgrimage to the Imam Mousa Ibn Jaafar al Kadhim, the seventh of the twelve revered Imams, descendants of the Islamic prophet Mohammed and his son-in-law Ali. According to Shiite lore, the Sunni Caliph Harun Rashid was threatened by the spiritual authority that Kadhim had due to his lineage. He imprisoned him for at least 15 years and according to Shiite lore, Kadhim was poisoned and dumped on a bridge in Baghdad. The story feeds into the lore of1400 years of oppression when Shiites clung to their beliefs under the more powerful Sunni sect. Every Imam, according to Shiite legend, were killed in battle or poisoned. The last, according to twelver Shiites, is the Mahdi, the hidden Imam who went into hiding and will return. They have kept their history and tradition alive through mourning the deaths annually.

Kadhimiya Pilgrimage Ends Safely

The rituals of the pilgrimage to the Shiite shrine of Imam al-Kazhem ended without any security breaches, the official military spokesman for the Baghdad security plan Operation Fardh al-Qanoon said on Friday. "Thank God the visits ended without any security violations," Brig. Qassem al-Musawi said in press statements on Friday. The visits to Imam Kazhem's tomb on his death anniversary occurred for the first time since 2003. The city of al-Kazhemiya, in the capital Baghdad, witnessed the death of more than 1,000 people in a stampede on Jisr al-Aiema (The Bridge of Imams) linking Kazhemiya to al-Aazamiya two years ago on the same occasion.

Gunmen in total control of major Baghdad district

The district of Doura in Baghdad is under the control of gunmen who have imposed their system of government based on strict interpretation of Islamic jurisdiction or Sharia. Amid the chaos in the area, described as one of Baghdad’s most violent, gunmen of all sorts and hues wreak havoc among the civilians, turning the district into an arena of murder and kidnapping. The gunmen’s major target is Iraqi Christians in Doura which used to have a sizeable Christian minority, numerous churches and five monasteries. The gunmen have established what they call ‘the Islamic Emirate’ in the area where they apply by force their own interpretation of Islam. Christians who refuse to convert to Islam have either to leave or pay a hefty tax.

Anti-Saudi Tide Rises in Iraq

This year's pilgrimage also comes amid an unprecedented wave of anger toward Saudi Arabia. Government and religious leaders here charge that the neighboring kingdom is doing little to stem the flow of its nationals to Iraq to wage "holy war" on Shiites. The Saudi backlash is being fueled by Iraqi media reports and Shiite leaders' condemnations of apparent fatwas, religious rulings by Saudi muftis calling for the destruction of Shiite shrines in Iraq. But some Saudi Arabian analysts say this is a way for Baghdad's pro-Iranian leaders to steer attention away from Tehran's involvement in Iraq and toward its Sunni neighbors. In spite of questions about their authenticity, the fatwas are stirring up much of the Shiite community and is indeed coloring this year's pilgrimage. "It is going to be the pilgrimage of defiance in the face of these fatwas that desecrate the imams and call for the destruction of their shrines," says Hazem al-Araji, a leader in the movement of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

"Every Shiite that venerates the imams must say to the mufti [Sunni cleric] that we will defend the imams with our blood," he says. As pilgrims began arriving Tuesday, the image of seventh Shiite Imam Musa al-Kadhim in shackles hung on banners over the neighborhood of Kadhimiya. The imam was poisoned about 1,200 years ago. His persecution resonates deeply in Iraq today as Shiites try to hold onto unprecedented political gains while being viewed with suspicion in the Sunni Muslim world, especially in Sunni-led Saudi Arabia where Shiites are seldom allowed to openly practice their religion.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Sunni Fighters Find Benefits in Alliance With US

The Sunni insurgent leader lifted up his T-shirt, revealing a pistol stuck in his belt, and explained to a U.S. sergeant visiting his safe house why he'd stopped attacking Americans. "Finally, we decided to cooperate with American forces and kick al-Qaeda out and have our own country," said the tough-talking, confident 21-year-old, giving only his nom de guerre, Abu Lwat. Then he offered another motive: "In the future, we want to have someone in the government," he said, holding his cigarette with a hand missing one finger. Abu Lwat is one of a growing number of Sunni fighters working with U.S. forces in what American officers call a last-ditch effort to gain power and legitimacy under Iraq's Shiite-dominated government. The tentative cooperation between the fighters and American forces is driven as much by political aspirations as by a rejection of the brutal methods of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, U.S. officers and onetime insurgents said.

…Across Iraq, a variety of Sunni insurgent groups, political parties and tribes are coming forward to help provide fighters for local policing efforts, with an estimated 5,000 having been rallied in Baghdad alone in recent months, according to Col. Rick Welch, head of reconciliation for the U.S. military command in the capital. "Some of the insurgent leaders may have a political agenda and want to run for office at some point," said Welch, who has helped negotiate with Sunni insurgent groups including the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the Army of Truth and the Islamic Army. [Or, they may want to be the ones in control of the area and it’s resources, which would make they just like the bush/cheney administration. No matter the motives of these Sunni groups, this plan is furthering the civil war in Iraq, and since the US has armed all sides in the conflict, we have to assume that was the goal all along. – dancewater]

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Leader Stresses Support for Iraqi Gov't

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has told visiting Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki that the presence of US and British forces are the biggest obstacle to restoring security in Iraq. The leader also told Maliki in the holy city of Mashhad that the Islamic Republic "fully backs Iraq's popular government". Ayatollah Khamenei said Washington wants to maintain a "puppet government" in Baghdad, calling on US forces to withdraw. "The occupying forces should leave Iraq and let the Iraqis decide about their own fate," the leader said. "The occupiers claim that if they exit now, Iraq will be destroyed. Whereas if the occupiers leave, all the Iraqi officials will move with full force to solve the people's problems," Ayatollah Khamenei added. The leader said that "occupation forces are responsible for the problems in all aspects of life'' in Iraq, predicting that the "US policy toward Iraq will definitely fail''.

……. The Iraqi prime minister emphasized the growing strength of bilateral ties during his two-day visit to Iran, describing his talks in Iran as "successful". Maliki received a warm welcome from Iran's top officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Maliki praised Iran's "positive and constructive'' role in helping improve security in Iraq and that violence will not undermine the ties between Tehran and Baghdad. Such statements, confirming the increasingly warm relations between Iran and Iraq, irked President Bush who warned Prime Minister Maliki over close relations with Tehran.
Bush warned that there would be "a price to pay" if the US caught the Iraqi prime minister playing what he called as a "non-constructive role" with Iran. [What will the bush/cheney evil shits going to do if peace breaks out in the Middle East? – dancewater]

US Labor Dept: 1,001 Civilian Workers Have Died in Iraq

More than 1,000 civilian contractors have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion more than four years ago, according to Labor Department records made available tonight. In response to a request from Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., the Labor Department revealed that 1,001 civilian contractors had died in Iraq as of June 30, including 84 during the second quarter of the year. So far in 2007, at least 231 contractors working for U.S. firms have died in Iraq. Those contractor fatalities are in addition to the 3,668 military personnel the Defense Department had confirmed dead in Iraq from the start of the war in March 2003 until today. Besides those killed, 4,837 workers in Iraq and 879 in Afghanistan suffered injuries severe enough to miss at least four days of work, the Labor Department said. The report did not identify which companies employed the workers.

As Iraq Costs Soar, Contractors Earn Record Profits

In a report to lawmakers earlier this week, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that the war in Iraq could cost U.S. taxpayers over a trillion dollars when the long-term costs of caring for soldiers wounded in action, military and economic aid for the Iraqi government, and ongoing costs associated with the 190,000 troops stationed in Iraq are totaled up.

From Juan Cole’s blog:

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the Iranians hit back at US charges at the security meeting in Damascus, saying that the US and Iraq were not in a position to lecture others on terrorism as long as they gave refuge in Iraq to the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO or MEK), which is responsible for numerous bombings and other terrorism in Iran. The US State Department acknowledges that the MEK is a terrorist organization, but the Pentagon is using it against Iran anyway. Turkey likewise chimed in on US/Iraqi hypocrisy, complaining that terrorists of the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) are being coddled inside the Iraqi border.

Anbar "Turnaround" Undercuts War Rationale

In hailing what he has called an "almost breathtaking" turnaround in Anbar Province that has weakened al Qaeda as a triumph for his new military strategy in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus has put a favourable spin on a development which actually challenges the central rationale for continued U.S. military occupation of Iraq. But the new situation in Anbar cannot be attributed to U.S. military operations or presence in the province. After five years of unsuccessful U.S. military operations in Anbar, the U.S. military's agreements with Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar represents an acknowledgment that it was dependent on the very Sunni insurgents it once considered the enemy in Iraq to reduce al Qaeda influence in the province. In an interview with ABC News May 30, Petraeus admitted that the Sunnis "can figure out who al Qaeda is a heck of a lot better then we can." The apparent success of Petraeus's shift from relying on U.S. military force to relying on Sunni troops to take care of al Qaeda could be used as an argument against continuation of the U.S. military presence in Anbar.

Abu Ghraib Whistleblower’s Ordeal

The US soldier who exposed the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison found himself a marked man after his anonymity was blown in the most astonishing way by Donald Rumsfeld. When Joe Darby saw the horrific photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison he was stunned. So stunned that he walked out into the hot Baghdad night and smoked half a dozen cigarettes and agonised over what he should do. Joe Darby was a reserve soldier with US forces at Abu Ghraib prison when he stumbled across those images which would eventually shock the world in 2004. They were photographs of his colleagues, some of them men and women he had known since high school - torturing and abusing Iraqi prisoners. His decision to hand them over rather than keep quiet changed his life forever. The military policeman has only been allowed to talk about that struggle very recently, and in his first UK interview, for BBC Radio 4's The Choice, he told Michael Buerk how he made that decision and how he fears for the safety of his family.

Chevron joins French firm to pursue oil field in Iraq

The San Ramon oil giant and France's Total SA have agreed to jointly develop one of the war-torn nation's largest oil fields, if the Iraqi government allows them, according to a report published Wednesday. The two companies have signed an agreement to collaborate on the Majnoon field, which lies north of Basra along the Iranian border, the Dow Jones news service reported. So far, neither company has the Iraqi government's permission to work on the field. Despite intense pressure from Washington, Iraqi leaders have not been able to agree on a framework for sharing the country's vast oil wealth. Development of Majnoon can't begin until Iraq passes a law governing foreign investment in its oil industry.

Juveniles inside Camp Cropper

The Shia and Sunni kids never sit next to each other or talk to each other in class. The teacher, a young Iraqi woman named Huda, says she even tried to force interactions, like a game of chess, but the kids refuse. Fights are common. When a tape of the recent Asia Cup soccer-match final was aired for the class, the Shia kids were jumping up and down and singing. Some of the Sunni kids refused to even look at the TV. The Iraqi national team, which won the cup, is mostly Shia. "They hate. They hate. They hate," says Huda, clearly frustrated. "I ask them what changed? The Sunnis say these are rafidha [a derogatory term for Shiites] and we will kill them. The Shia also say bad things. They are so afraid of each other. It makes me sad." Even General Stone admits that the jury is out on how well the religious classes may work on juveniles. Still, more imams are on the way. Standing on the side of the classroom, Sheik Jabbar looks at Abdullah with a worried expression. He says he has noticed a positive change in the way some of the juvenile detainees interact with the American guards but he's not sure it's going to last. "This is not only a problem for Iraq, it can be a problem for Europe or the U.S.," Jabbar says. "We have to succeed to show them what is the real Islam."

COMMENTARY

OPINION: Iraq: time for a reckoning

There are no short-term solutions to Tony Blair's catastrophic dalliance with liberal intervention, but we can hold the war lobbyists to account. In his excellent Guardian Comment piece last week, John Gray lauded the end of liberal interventionism. But while liberal interventionism - and its close ideological ally, neoconservatism - are both highly discredited creeds, one problem remains. Despite the death and destruction their ideology has caused, and the lack of public support for their agenda, neoconservatives and liberal interventionists are still disproportionately represented in the corridors of power and in the media. Both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition supported the Iraq war. So too did their front benches. Tony Blair may have gone, but warmongers still abound in the Palace of Westminster, with Iran next in their line of fire. And in the media, pro-war commentators such as Nick Cohen, Niall Ferguson and Melanie Phillips continue to impart their "wisdom" on international affairs as if the humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq had never happened. The failure to hold the war lobby properly to account is a sad reflection on the state of democracy in modern Britain.

OPINION: Iraq's hall of mirrors

Britain and the US are maintaining positive illusions about the situation in Iraq, but the unvarnished truth is less comfortable. Iraq's politics, as opposed to Iraq's grim daily ground-floor reality, increasingly resembles a game of illusions which those involved conspire to maintain or prolong. It is an Alice in Wonderland world - except there are no white rabbits disappearing down holes, let alone being pulled from hats. In Washington, or at least in the White House, the official illusion, stoutly maintained, is that things are moving (if not surging) forward, that a process of achieving stability and benchmarks is in place, and that a military progress report - nothing more dramatic or cathartic - will be delivered to Congress next month. A similar hall-of-mirrors stance has been adopted by Britain's Gordon Brown government, not so different after all from its Blairite predecessors. Britain is, in fact, slowly edging towards the exit, come what may. But officially, the talk is of a calm, orderly and complete handover of southern provinces, including Basra, to Iraqi control some time this autumn.

OPINION: Analyzing Iraq Optimists

About a third of Americans say the war in Iraq is going well. Maybe in the end, their steadfast support and optimism will be rewarded, but for now, they’re a decided minority, leaving those on the other side to ask, who are these people and why do they think that way? Who they are is the easy part. Why they think what they do is considerably more complicated. Since the war began, New York Times/CBS News polls have shown that people who say the United States’s efforts in Iraq are going well, even in the face of news to the contrary, are solidly supportive of President Bush and overwhelmingly Republican. Their upbeat view displays itself on other ways, as well. They say things in the United States are generally going well right now, putting them at odds with the views of seven in ten Americans, who say the country has veered off on the wrong track.

But as the war has progressed, the number of Republicans who support the war has declined along with popular support more generally, though to a lesser degree. To a large extent, Mr. Bush’s public relations offensive in recent months has been aimed at stopping the erosion and holding onto those who have been loyal to him all along. Some say Mr. Bush’s best bet for holding onto his supporters is to continue to link the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism. “Large numbers of people connect the Iraq war to terrorism,” said John Mueller, author of “War, Presidents and Public Opinion.” “From Bush’s standpoint, he’s right to keep pushing it. There is the terror war and the Iraq war and in so far as he is able to tie them in together, it is good for him.”

OPINION: The myth of mistrust

The Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front's (IAF) withdrawal of its six ministers from the cabinet on August 2, following the failure of Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to meet their demands, has shaken the governments in Baghdad and Washington. The IAF's list included such patently unrealistic demands as disbanding all (Shia) militias. "Clearly the withdrawal of the Sunnis from the government is discouraging at the national level," said US defence secretary Robert Gates. "We probably underestimated the depth of mistrust [between Sunnis and Shias]." This is disingenuous. While bemoaning the "depth of mistrust" between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, the Bush administration has been playing it up in the rest of the Arab Middle East. Two days earlier, Gates and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice announced a massive $63bn arms sale to the Sunni monarchical regimes in the Persian Gulf and Egypt - ostensibly to counter the influence of Iran, a predominantly Shia state.

Their criticism of the Sunni Arab regimes for failing to implement the commitments - specifically setting up embassies in Baghdad - they had made about backing the Shia-led Maliki government two months earlier, highlighted the contradictions in America's policy in the region. It has been crystal clear that the government of Maliki - who spent several years in Iran as a fugitive during the Iraq-Iran war from 1980 to 1988 - is on the friendliest of terms with the regime in Tehran. This was also the case with the preceding Iraqi government led by Ibrahim Jaafari, a Shia leader who had also taken refuge in Iran in the 1980s. So, here is the Bush White House trying, on one hand, to secure support for the pro-Tehran, Shia-led Iraqi government from other Arab regimes, all of them Sunni; and, on the other hand, encouraging the Sunni Arab leaders to be robust in their public rejection of Iran.

From Juan Cole’s blog:

OPINION ON "U.S. Says Bomb Supplied by Iran Kills Troops in Iraq" by Michael R. Gordon, August 8, 2007

It is increasingly suspicious that every time the United States has begun a diplomatic initiative with Iran--the latest on August 6, some United States military official in Iraq comes forward to accuse Iran of supplying weapons to attack U.S. troops. Perhaps it is coincidence, but the reporter rendering these accusations for the public seems always to be Michael R. Gordon. These military reports and the Times reportage seem timed to undermine these diplomatic talks. Following the historic May 28 talks between Iran and the United States in Baghdad, the Iranian government called for a second round of talks. As negotiations for this second round were underway General Kevin Bergner provided a briefing on precisely the issue of the IED's covered in the August 8 article by Mr. Gordon. Mr. Gordon's last reportage of General Kevin J. Bergner's account of these Iranian attacks ("U.S. Ties Iran to Deadly Iraq Attack" July 2, 2007) was a textbook case in hype. Mr. Gordon significantly enhanced General Bergner's already specious and exaggerated statements to make the Iranian government appear even more culpable than the evidence in the press conference would warrant. Although Mr. Gordon's August 8 reporting on Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno's account of essentially the same phenomenon does acknowledge that critics of the Bush administration assert that there is no proof of Iranian state involvement in supplying the IED devices, the article is riddled with innuendo accusatory of Iran, such as identifying "Iranian-backed cells" as if they existed as verified definable entities, and they had been proved to have ties to Iran. Mr. Gordon's piece appears on page 1 of the Times above the fold (as did his July 2 piece) thus increasing the hype factor. The Times should save its partisanship for the editorial pages, and not conscience it in its reporting.

Sincerely, William O. Beeman Professor and Chair Department of Anthropology University of Minnesota

OPINION: You’re So Pretty When You’re Unfaithful to Me

Recall, SIIC is described as "moderate" by the Bush administration, SIIC's leaders get to visit the White House and shake hands with the President, and its militias get to don the official uniforms of the Iraqi government. On the other hand, Moqtada al-Sadr is labeled a "radical firebrand," his cadres are targeted by airstrikes, random arrests and other military operations, and his militia members are not as readily accepted into Iraqi security forces. The real difference, and reason for the disparate treatment from the Bush administration, is that SIIC is comfortable working with (exploiting, actually) the occupation, whereas Sadr maintains a staunch anti-occupation stance. The quality of their actual actions (ethnic cleansing and the like) is remarkably similar when judged on the moderate-to-extremist spectrum. Ironically, while Sadr is often painted as an Iranian pawn by the Bush administration and its supporters, it is SIIC that has the closest ties to Iran of any of Iraq's political factions (with Prime Minister Maliki's Dawa Party a close second). ……The mischaracterization of Iranian ties in this guilt-by-association fashion stems, in part, from the Bush administration's decision to target and demonize Sadr. But sometimes, by all outward appearances, the Bush team begins to believe their own propaganda. Along these lines, there seems to be a pervasive blanket of myopia in the Bush administration when it comes to the obvious ties between Dawa, SIIC and Iran.

One of the Bush team's sharpest tacks (only?), Zal Khalilzad, had this to say in January: "We know what the relationship between SCIRI, Badr and the Iranian institutions were in those days. Now it's a different situation," Khalilzad said. The Iraqi government is no longer "an opposition movement in need of support from the security agencies of a neighboring state, so there is a need for adaptation in terms of what's appropriate in terms of a relationship." The notion that SIIC no longer needs foreign patrons is laughable considering the swirling internecine conflicts and unsettled political/military landscape in Iraq. That SIIC would cut off its most dedicated (and reliable) patron against such a chaotic backdrop is naive beyond repair.

Rarely willing to be outdone when it comes to galling displays of naivete, President Bush got into the act today, reacting to the most recent (of several) trips to Iran made by Maliki - a meeting that was reportedly quite warm and friendly, marked by mutual compliments and assurances: Asked today what message the meeting and photographs sent by showing an apparently “warm” visit between the Iraqi and Iranian officials, Mr. Bush said that he would first like to get a “readout” from the American embassy in Baghdad, which would be in touch with Mr. Maliki. Now, if the signal is that Iran is constructive, I will have to have a heart to heart with my friend, the prime minister,” Mr. Bush said of Mr. Maliki. “Because I don’t believe they are constructive. I don’t think he, in his heart of hearts, thinks they’re constructive either.”

...Asked if he was confident Mr. Maliki shares his view, Mr. Bush said yes. He knows that weaponry being smuggled in to Iraq from Iran and placed into the hands of extremists — over which the government has no control, all aimed at killing innocent life — is a destabilizing factor,” Mr. Bush said. “So the first thing I looked for was commitment against the extremists,” Mr. Bush said. “Second thing is: Does he understand with some extremist groups there’s connections with Iran? And he does. And I’m confident.” [emphasis added] It really is astounding that our President is either: (a) this clueless; or (b) feels the need to pretend to be...in public.


The opinion piece above is in response to this article (put on the blog earlier in the week):

Sectarianism Splits Security in Diyala

Militia from the Shia organisation Badr have taken over the police force in Diyala province north of Baghdad, residents say. The government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is believed to have backed such infiltration, and this has reportedly led to clashes with U.S. military leaders. The Daily Telegraph in London has reported that Maliki and General David Petraeus, U.S. commander of the multi-national force in Iraq, have clashed over moves by the U.S. general to arm some Sunni groups. Sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims has grown amidst Iraqi government policies seen as supportive of Shias. Maliki is from the Dawa Party backed by Shia Iran.

HISTORY

Was America Complicit in Saddam’s Crimes?

So what was Washington trying to hide? Donald Rumsfeld, as special envoy to President Reagan, visited Baghdad twice, in 1983 and in 1984, and met with Saddam Hussein ostensibly to reaffirm American support for Iraq against the Iranians during their eight-year war. According to a March 2005 article by Ari Berman in The Nation, Washington supplied Baghdad with landmines while "American companies, with the government's approval, sold the chemical agents used against Iranian troops and Iraq's own Kurdish population." Or as Hiltermann puts it, "Rumsfeld reassured the Iraqi leadership that it had broad latitude in prosecuting the war against Iran, including by using poison gas. Along with the Reagan administration, he thereby helped build up a state that terrorized its own citizens and turned a tinpot dictator into a tyrant threatening the region."

…..The tragedy of Iraq, of course, does not begin in 2003 but stretches back several decades. To bring any sort of closure to this sordid chapter in history, some form of truth and reconciliation commission, not unlike post-apartheid South Africa, should have been established (outside of the Iraqi High Tribunal) to determine what happened under Saddam and which Baath Party members were implicated in his atrocities. Perhaps that might have paved the way to easier, or at least more manageable, national reconciliation among Iraq's warring factions today. Instead, the Iraqi court that tried Saddam and his henchmen devolved into a farce. There was little public outreach, as Michael Scharf of the Case School of Law notes, so Iraqis were kept in the dark. And powerful forces, not just in Baghdad but also in Washington, prevented a complete airing of Saddam's crimes for reasons unknown but which Rumsfeld might know.

Why is war-torn Iraq giving $190,000 to Toys R Us? [From 2003 article]

Next week, something will happen that will unmask the upside-down morality of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. On October 21, Iraq will pay $200m in war reparations to some of the richest countries and corporations in the world. If that seems backwards, it's because it is. Iraqis have never been awarded reparations for any of the crimes they suffered under Saddam, or the brutal sanctions regime that claimed the lives of at least half a million people, or the US-led invasion, which the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, recently called "illegal". Instead, Iraqis are still being forced to pay reparations for crimes committed by their former dictator. Quite apart from its crushing $125bn sovereign debt, Iraq has paid $18.8bn in reparations stemming from Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait. This is not in itself surprising: as a condition of the ceasefire that ended the 1991 Gulf war, Saddam agreed to pay damages stemming from the invasion. More than 50 countries have made claims, with most of the money awarded to Kuwait. What is surprising is that even after Saddam was overthrown, the payments from Iraq have continued.

….But the UNCC's corporate handouts only accelerated. Here is a small sample of who has been getting "reparation" awards from Iraq: Halliburton ($18m), Bechtel ($7m), Mobil ($2.3m), Shell ($1.6m), NestlĂ© ($2.6m), Pepsi ($3.8m), Philip Morris ($1.3m), Sheraton ($11m), Kentucky Fried Chicken ($321,000) and Toys R Us ($189,449). In the vast majority of cases, these corporations did not claim that Saddam's forces damaged their property in Kuwait - only that they "lost profits" or, in the case of American Express, experienced a "decline in business" because of the invasion and occupation of Kuwait.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Iraq's displacement crisis: the search for solutions

One in six Iraqis is displaced. After a conflict which has now lasted as long as the First World War over two million Iraqis are in exile and a further two million are internally displaced. Most refugees are in Syria and Jordan - which hosts the largest number of refugees per capita of any country on earth. The vast majority survive with little or no assistance from the international community. Eight million Iraqis are in need of humanitarian assistance. Insecurity prevents a robust response to humanitarian needs. The UN’s dependence on Coalition military forces means it is no longer perceived by the Iraqi people as neutral. The Government of Iraq lacks capacity to respond to the crisis and inflexible funding mechanisms deny adequate support for agencies which are better able to assist vulnerable communities. A special issue of FMR – published in English and in Arabic - assesses the scale of the displacement and highlights the inadequacy of current responses. Twenty-six articles – from the UN, the governments of Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Sweden, the Red Cross, the Iraqi Red Crescent, Human Rights Watch and non-governmental agencies – offer suggestions to prevent a further escalation of the humanitarian crisis and to establish an eventual framework for the durable return of displaced Iraqis.

Jordan to allow children of Iraqi refugees to register in schools

Jordan will allow the children of Iraqi refugees to register in public schools this month, responding to a U.N. appeal on behalf of an estimated half-million young Iraqis who fled violence in their homeland and have little or no access to education. Jordan estimates that 50,000 Iraqi children will enroll, but exact figures will come after children sign up for the school year starting Aug. 19, said Ahmed Shaheen, spokesman for the Education Ministry. U.N. agencies responsible for children's and refugee issues warned last month that a "generation of Iraqis could grow up uneducated and alienated" and said that they would provide $129 million to help Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and other countries buy prefabricated classrooms and hire teachers.

Iraq's middle class escapes, only to find poverty in Jordan

After her husband was killed, Amira sold a generation of her family's belongings, packed up her children, and left their large house with its gardener and maid. Now, a year later, she is making meat fritters to earn money in this sand-colored capital, unable to afford glasses for her son, and in the quiet moments, choking on the bitterness of loss. The war has scattered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis throughout the Middle East, but those who came to this capital of highways and fast food restaurants tended to be the most affluent. Most lacked residency status and were not allowed to work, but as former bank managers, social club directors and business owners, they thought their money would last. It has not. Rents are high, schools cost money, and under-the-table jobs pay little. A survey of 100 Iraqi families this spring found that 64 percent were surviving by selling off their assets. Now, as a new school year begins, many Iraqis here say they can no longer afford some of life's most basic requirements - education for their children and hospital visits for their families. Teeth are pulled instead of filled. Shampoo is no longer on the grocery list.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

RESISTANCE

War Protestors Arrested at Rep. Sanchez’s office

Sanchez, Orange County's only Democratic member of Congress, voted in 2002 against giving President Bush authorization to invade Iraq. More recently she voted to begin pulling troops out within 90 days. Tuesday night Sanchez said she could not support the protesters because the $145 billion in Iraq war funding was in the same bill that would provide money to build the C-17 aircraft in California. "I never voted for this war," she said. But "I'm not going to vote against $2.1 billion for C-17 production, which is in California. That is just not going to happen."

Iraq Moratorium Day – September 21 and every third Friday thereafter ~ "I hereby make a commitment that on Friday, September 21, 2007, and the third Friday of every subsequent month I will break my daily routine and take some action, by myself or with others, to end the War in Iraq."

Quote of the day: "Iniquity, committed in this world, produces not fruit immediately, but, like the earth, in due season, and advancing by little and little, it eradicates the man who committed it. ...justice, being destroyed, will destroy; being preserved, will preserve; it must never therefore be violated." Manu 1200 BC

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