The present-day U.S. military qualifies by any measure as highly professional, much more so than its Cold War predecessor. Yet the purpose of today’s professionals is not to preserve peace but to fight unending wars in distant places. Intoxicated by a post-Cold War belief in its own omnipotence, the United States allowed itself to be drawn into a long series of armed conflicts, almost all of them yielding unintended consequences and imposing greater than anticipated costs. Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. forces have destroyed many targets and killed many people. Only rarely, however, have they succeeded in accomplishing their assigned political purposes. . . . [F]rom our present vantage point, it becomes apparent that the “Revolution of ‘89” did not initiate a new era of history. At most, the events of that year fostered various unhelpful illusions that impeded our capacity to recognize and respond to the forces of change that actually matter.

Andrew Bacevich

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

News & Views 05/29/07

Photo: A boy lights candles on a street, for the victims of recent shelling in the Shiite neighborhood of Karradah, Baghdad, late Monday, May 28, 2007. Many occupants of Karradah have been killed in , the last week by mortal shells attacks. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)


New Mass Grave in Iraq

Of the 120 reported killed or found dead nationwide on Tuesday, 35 were bodies dumped or buried in a newly dug mass grave in Diyala province. A morgue official in Baqouba, the provincial capital, and a spokesman at the provincial police operations center in the province both reported the same figure, but refused to be named fearing reprisal from al-Qaida militants and Shiite militias battling for control of the region.

In Iraq, Every Day Is Memorial Day

The Shi'ite militias that forced Azhour Ali Mohammed from her home in Baghdad's al-Dolai district last month shot her husband Amer dead before her eyes and torched all her worldly possessions. And the fear that the killers may come back for her and her two little children prevented her from mourning her husband. "I could not hold a proper wake for him," says the young widow. "He deserved at least that." A society with as much experience of violence as Iraq — up to half a million soldiers and civilians were killed in the war with Iran in the 1980s, hundreds of thousands were massacred on Saddam Hussein's orders in the 1990s, and tens of thousands have died in the Shi'ite-Sunni sectarian carnage in the past two years — learns to adapt its mourning traditions to its circumstances. During the war with Iran, Saddam barred newspapers from publishing wake notices; he worried that the sheer numbers of such notices would advertise just how badly his ill-judged war was going and demoralize his subjects. (Ironically, the current Iraqi government has taken a page out of the Saddam's rulebook, suppressing monthly death tolls and barring journalists and photographers from the scene of bomb blasts.) Undeterred by the dictator's orders, Iraqis developed a new custom: families in mourning painted notices on black banners — the name of the deceased, the manner of their death and the date and location of the wake — and posted them on street corners. The practice continued after Saddam's fall. Many of Baghdad's major intersections became festooned with black banners. The mounting death toll from suicide bombings and roadside explosions led to a boom in the funerary industry — coffin makers, grave diggers, caterers. Wakes were often held in mosques, and before sectarian hatreds flared up it was not uncommon for Sunnis to use Shi'ite mosques, or the other way around.

VIDEO: Baghdad Refugees Flee to Kurdistan

Arab Iraqis fleeing to Kurdistan have become an increasingly strong indication of the deteriorating situation in Baghdad. More than 30,000 Iraqis are believed to have fled their homes to Arbil in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region. This week Isam Rasheed takes us to Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish region and one of many cities in Kurdistan now brimming with refugees fleeing violence in the south. The hardships expressed by two families in this episode are just a small indication of the difficulties Iraqis are finding in their new home. According to Ron Redmond, a spokesman for UNHCR, “Those who have fled are becoming increasingly desperate as they and their host communities run out of resources.”


Kurds and Shia Fight for Power in Baghdad

An eyewitness to the 14 Sunni men being detained by the Mehdi army spoke with IPS, requesting his name withheld. He believes the U.S. military has taken sides between the militias and are pitting them against one another. "This area was peaceful and the mixture of Shia and Sunni had no dispute whatsoever," he said. "It's the militias who started all the killing in order to divide people and rule them." The situation at southwest Baghdad is so tense that daily gun battles are heard and people cannot leave their houses for work or shopping for food. As of Sunday, U.S. forces in the area are applying a curfew in order to control the situation. During his speech on Friday, al-Sadr announced, "I say to our Sunni brothers in Iraq that we are brothers and the occupier shall not divide us. They are welcome and we are ready to cooperate with them in all fields. This is my hand I stretch out to them." This followed a move a few days prior where Shia leaders from Sadr City in eastern Baghdad met with Sunni tribal heads from western Iraq. Both sides promised to work together for national reconciliation and against extremism. However, most Sunnis do not believe reconciliation is part of al-Sadr's agenda. "The Americans will arrest the Sunni young men only and clear the way for the Mehdi army to work their electric drills on people's bodies," 35-year-old Khalid Aziz told IPS. Aziz claimed he is a member of the Iraqi resistance. "It is all planned by the Americans who now want the Kurds to be involved in the sectarian fighting they engineered," he added. Many analysts in Baghdad believe the U.S. military is attempting to involve the Kurds in the escalating conflict by sending armed groups and death squads of other sects or ethnicities to engage the Kurdish forces in Baghdad in order to drag them into the conflict. However, the Kurds are reportedly attempting to not take sides and to remain neutral in the sectarian conflict, although most of them are Sunnis.


“Security Contractors” in Iraq

At least half a dozen British security companies work in Iraq for the coalition forces, the Iraqi government and private security companies. The figures fluctuate but there may be more than 2,000 contractors, often drawn from special forces or from the armed forces of countries such as Fiji and South Africa. The lead UK company is Aegis Defence Services (ADS), run by the controversial former mercenary Lt Col Tim Spicer, the central figure in the arms-to-Africa scandal of the late 1970s. Three years ago Lt Col Spicer controversially won the $293m contract from the US Army's corps of engineers to coordinate the work of all security companies involved in reconstruction projects. ADS's turnover of £554,000 in 2003 rose to £62m in 2005, three-quarters of which came from Iraq. The Iraqi contract is up for renewal with ArmorGroup, chaired by the former Conservative foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind, as a chief contender. ArmorGroup earned 50% of its £129m revenues from Iraq last year. It is one of the largest security firms in Iraq, with more than 1,200 employees. It says it is the largest convoy escort contractor in Iraq and was involved in about 1,200 missions last year - about 30% of the total number of convoys. ArmorGroup also provides security for the foreign office and the department of international development, and helps with the Iraqi police mentoring programme in Basra.

……. The UK companies are dwarfed by the big American outfits such as Blackwater and DynCorp. DynCorp has been training the Iraq police. The number of US contractors has recently been put at more than 120,000. Since the overthrow of Saddam more than 900 have been killed. The number of UK civilian casualties is unknown.

Check out the new pool in Baghdad


Military leaders doubtful about success in Iraq

US MILITARY leaders in Iraq are increasingly convinced that most of the broad political goals President George Bush laid out early this year when he announced his troop build-up will not be met this year and are seeking ways to redefine success.

Worse than the worst

Iraq: it's worse than you can possibly imagine, and worse than we can possibly know. That was the message when the brilliant Middle East reporter, Patrick Cockburn, spoke on stage today at Hay, publicising his book about the British and American occupation of Iraq. Iraq, he said, is a country that's been "hollowed out". Two million people have left. At least 3,000 civilians are murdered every month. The rest live in terror. He told of details that give a real sense of what's going on. Because there are no more open-air markets, since so many have been bombed, people have set up stalls in side streets or their back gardens instead. Before the war, there were 32,000 doctors in Iraq; now 2,000 are dead, 12,000 have left, and the remainder, who are seen as having money and are thus targets for kidnappers, must work from armed-guarded clinics.


Desperate Iraqi Refugees Turn to Sex Trade in Syria

Back home in Iraq, Umm Hiba's daughter was a devout schoolgirl, modest in her dress and serious about her studies. Hiba, who is now 16, wore the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, and rose early each day to say the dawn prayer before classes. But that was before militias began threatening their Baghdad neighborhood and Umm Hiba and her daughter fled to Syria last spring. There were no jobs, and Umm Hiba’s elderly father developed complications related to his diabetes. Desperate, Umm Hiba followed the advice of an Iraqi acquaintance and took her daughter to work at a nightclub along a highway known for prostitution. “We Iraqis used to be a proud people,” she said over the frantic blare of the club’s speakers. She pointed out her daughter, dancing among about two dozen other girls on the stage, wearing a pink silk dress with spaghetti straps, her frail shoulders bathed in colored light.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

Quote of the day: "You who make harmony in the ultimate reaches of the universe, teach us to make harmony within ourselves, among ourselves and peace for all the children of Abraham and all who dwell upon this planet." ~ Rabbi Arthur Waskow of Philadelphia's Shalom Center.