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

Monday, September 17, 2007

News & Views 09/17/07

Photo: Baghdad, Iraq: Iraqis fill a container with filthy water from the Diyala river. According to the WHO the cholera outbreak in northern Iraq has infected some 16,000 people since late August, of whom at least 10 have died. Photograph: Ahmad Al-Rujaye/AFP

To our Muslim readers: Ramadan Kareem

Civilian death toll in Iraq may top 1 million


Victims of the death squads: One family's harrowing story of kidnap and murder

Anyone who believes that the American-led "surge" in Iraq is succeeding should hear the story of Mohammed and Nadia al-Hayali. Both fluent in English – Nadia, who was born in Montpellier, also speaks French – they were the kind of well-educated, modern Iraqis who should have been the driving force behind a new secular democracy. Yet Mohammed is believed dead at the hands of kidnappers who seized the whole family, and Nadia is living the miserable half-life of the exile with their two children in Jordan.

While the US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, spouted statistics in Washington last week to indicate that progress was being made in the Iraqi capital – suicide bombings down, fewer sectarian murders – what happened to the Hayalis dispels this carefully constructed impression of greater normality. Simply to recount my friendship with them demonstrates how far Baghdad has sunk.

….."That last meeting with Mohammed was just so terrible. He was telling me he did not think he would get out alive, he was saying that he would not see us ever again. He was crying, he asked me to look after Dahlia and Abdullah, tell them how much he loved them. I said to him, 'I will refuse to leave, I'll stay with you.' But he said I must go for the sake of the children. That was the last time I saw him."

Iraqi police say security contractors open fire in western Baghdad

Security contractors opened fire in western Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least nine civilians and wounding 18, Iraqi police said. The U.S. Embassy said contractors working for the State Department were involved in an incident but provided no further details. The shootings happened about 12:30 on Nisoor Square in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Mansour, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information. The security contractors were in a convoy of six SUVs and left the scene after the shooting. The policeman said he did not have more details, but a witness said the shooting erupted after an explosion. The U.S. Embassy said State Department contractors were involved in an incident in Baghdad but released no details saying an investigation was under way. [I think the better name for them would be mercenaries. They sure act like mercenaries. – dancewater]

Iraqi Voices

All that they have are pictures of the place where their house once stood. Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, Umm Muhammad’s husband had been a civil servant in the Iraqi government and received a livable salary. They had a home in a relatively affluent neighborhood in central Baghdad, near what is now the Green Zone. Before the war, says Umm Muhammad, their neighborhood was a beautiful place. People from various religious and ethnic backgrounds lived together. She believes that her family’s situation was common among people of her economic and social status before the war. She says that her family—where the mother is a Shiite Muslim, the father is a Sunni Muslim, and some children follow each tradition—is an example of the peace and harmony that existed and exists in Iraqi society, when relations between people are not corrupted by politics. But the harmony of this life was disrupted when the war began in March of 2003. Her husband, who was nearly about to retire and entitled to a pension, was fired and told that because he had worked with the former government he would never be allowed to work again. Since the government of Iraq was the country’s principal employer, hundreds of thousands of people like him were in the same position. Only a few days later, he and his eldest son were arrested by U.S. forces and held for weeks, only to be released with no explanation to date.

Intimate Enemies

When a friend from the old neighborhood rang Abu Ali after sunrise one day this month to tell him that his house had been destroyed, the middle-aged Sunni confessed to himself that he felt happy. He turned to his wife in bed and told her that the Americans had flattened their home in the Washash neighborhood and killed some of the Shiite militia members who had kicked them out last September. They were people he had lived next to for years, people he had said hello to every day. People who had killed his teenage son three months ago, leaving him with a bullet hole in his eye and forehead. "God took our revenge for us," his wife, a Shiite, answered. He thought about the friend who had called him with the news. His name was Sattar, and like the men who killed his son, he was a member of Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. He replayed their conversation in his head. "These are the same men who stole my house and killed my son," Abu Ali, who didn't want his formal name used, had blurted into the receiver. His friend fired back: "What about the women and children who were there?"

"This is God's will," he answered. "They deserved what happened." The two said goodbye. It was normal for them to talk, and Sattar would call back later with more information about the damage. The two men had been friends for 10 years, and they were friends still, despite Sattar's alliance with the locals who had forced Abu Ali from his home. Sattar remained loyal because Abu Ali had stood up for him when Sattar's own brothers tried to cheat their sibling out of money. Still, Abu Ali thought that his old friend was easily frightened and would never help him in times of danger. Their friendship shows the very intimate nature of the war in Iraq -- a war in which your enemies are often people you've known much of your life; in which your neighbors are often behind the crimes committed against you; in which every slight, every misdeed, every injustice is recorded and the desire for vengeance runs deep.

IRAQ: New cholera cases in north, says Health Ministry

The number of suspected cholera cases in northern Iraq continues to rise, but the outbreak has so far been limited to three provinces, a Health Ministry official said on 15 September. "No new cases have been discovered yet in other parts of Iraq but cases are still being discovered in Sulaimaniyah, Arbil and Kirkuk [all in the north]," Adel Muhsin, the Health Ministry's inspector-general, told IRIN in a telephone interview. Since the disease broke out on 23 August, 10 people have died, some 1,100 have been confirmed with cholera, and 15,000 are showing symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting, Muhsin said. He urged the regional health authorities to increase the chlorine content in mains water supplies to help prevent the disease from spreading. Muhsin said medicines and supplies such as chlorine tablets, rapid diagnostic tests, interagency diarrhoeal disease kits and laboratory equipment had been sent to the northern regional authorities to meet their needs.

Empty wards in Baghdad hospital offer hope

A row of beds lies empty in the emergency ward of Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital. The morgue, which once overflowed with corpses, is barely a quarter full. Doctors at the hospital, a barometer of bloodshed in the Iraqi capital, say there has been a sharp fall in victims of violence admitted during a seven-month security campaign. Last month the fall was particularly dramatic, with 70 percent fewer bodies and half the number of wounded brought in compared to July, hospital director Haqi Ismail said. "The major incidents, like explosions and car bombs, sometimes reached six or seven a day. Now it's more like one or two a week," he told Reuters. The relative calm at the Yarmouk hospital lends weight to U.S. and Iraqi government assertions that a security campaign launched around Baghdad in February has achieved results. In one emergency ward at the hospital, in a Sunni Muslim district of west Baghdad which has suffered disproportionately from sectarian conflict, just two patients were being treated. Neither showed signs of serious injury. At the hospital morgue, only two of the eight refrigerated rooms contain bodies, many of them dating to violence weeks ago.

Sectarian Toll Includes Scars to Iraq Psyche

Violence swept over the Muhammad family in December, taking the father, the family's house and all of its belongings in one chilly morning. But after the Muhammads fled, it subsided and life re-emerged — ordinary and quiet — in its wake. Now they no longer have to hide their Shiite last name. The eldest daughter does not have to put on an Islamic head scarf. Grocery shopping is not a death-defying act. Although the painful act of leaving is behind them, their minds keep returning to the past, trying to process a violation that was as brutal as it was personal: young men from the neighborhood shot the children's father as they watched. Later, the men took the house. "I lost everything in one moment," said Rossel, the eldest daughter. "I don't know who I am now. I'm somebody different." They are educated people, and they say they do not want revenge. But typical of those who are left from Iraq's reasonable middle, the Muhammads have been hardened toward others by violence, and they have been forced to feel their sectarian identity, a mental closing that allows war made by militants to spread. The segregation is reshaping the structure of families. On a recent Tuesday, a thin parade of tired-looking couples trudged through the office of a family court judge in Sharchiya, a mostly Shiite neighborhood in central Baghdad. Only about 5 percent of the marriage contracts he registers are for mixed-sect couples, down from about 50 percent before the war, the judge said.

"It used to be more festive," he said, after a mother in a black Islamic robe limply threw a handful of candies in his direction. The court is one of the city's few family courts, but as a testament to how separated the neighborhoods are now, just one in 10 couples he marries is Sunni. The patterns started to form in 2005, when militants began pushing Iraqis out of their houses, a deeply personal violation that often leaves families jobless and impoverished. In a survey of 200 displaced Shiite families living in Karbala, a southern city, researchers from Al Amal, an organization that assists the displaced, found that 60 percent were unable to take their furniture or belongings when they fled.

Basra: After the British

The Islamic Republic's influence is indeed felt throughout Basra, Iraq's second-largest city where Shiite parties, militiamen, and criminal gangs all are locked in a vicious fight for power. The streets in the provincial capital are even abuzz with talk of Iranian-trained sleeper cells at the ready. With the British exit earlier this month, which some analysts say is a prelude to the 5,500-strong contingent's complete withdrawal from Iraq, comes great uncertainty for this city: Will Iran bolster its strategic foothold? Will the Shiite militias control the streets? Is the Iraqi Army strong enough to mediate the fight between rival parties? What happens here may provide a window on the future for the rest of Iraq. This is a city that operates according to a fragile balance of military force, fear, cronyism, and business interests. All of Iraq is perilous. But the violence and fear in Basra takes place mostly outside the sphere of Sunni-Shiite killings. Al Qaeda is not a factor. Basra is a predominately Shiite city, yet it is still imbued with fear of kidnappings, assassinations, and being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. This instability reveals that the violence in Iraq is not only sectarian or the result of insurgent activity, but is also caused by deep-seated political and tribal rivalries and an intense scramble for power. "I came back to Iraq when the American and British tanks rolled in … things looked promising and we thought our dream of a democratic and tolerant state may materialize," says a university professor, who, like dozens of people interviewed by the Monitor during a recent trip to Basra requested anonymity for fear of retribution from militias. "The dream has been shattered. I feel trapped now and I am very pessimistic. I am looking for a way out."

New Baghdad wall divides Shiite from Shiite

A Belfast-style concrete wall erected to stop warring Shiite and Sunni militias attacking each other in two adjacent Baghdad neighbourhoods has also succeeded in separating Shiites from Shiites. The US military this month erected a wall hundreds of metres (yards) long and five metres (16 feet) high between the predominantly Shiite Shuala neighbourhood and the majority Sunni Ghazaliyah district. But the latter district of northwest Baghdad also has a small Shiite community who now find themselves cut off from their co-religionists in Shuala and caught between the wall and their sectarian foes. "We are one people. This is not Israel and Palestine that we need to have such walls," fumed Hashim, a Shiite from Ghazaliyah, as he made the lengthy detour around the wall and across a stagnant canal to reach Shuala, where he works as a primary school teacher. In the more than four years that the US military has been in Iraq, hundreds of similar concrete walls have been erected in neighbourhoods around the capital, some of them cutting across major thoroughfares. Key buildings and institutions have been walled in by large concrete blocks, which also seal the heavily fortified Green Zone in the city centre where the Iraqi government and foreign embassies are located. The Belfast-style walls have been compared to the separation barrier Israel has been building the length of the occupied West Bank which Palestinians refer to as the "apartheid wall".

A Baghdad Book Mart Tries to Turn the Page

Here on Mutanabi Street, the capital’s 1,000-year-old intellectual core, they had come to celebrate and witness the first Friday in more than a year in the city without a curfew from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It was a moment of potential revival. Before the curfew, Friday — the Muslim day of prayer — had been Mutanabi’s rush hour, a time of shoulder-to-shoulder browsing, tea, debate and meetings with friends from all over the region. After the curfew began, the street emptied. A bombing on March 5 seemed to seal its fate, until this week, when Iraqi officials quietly ended the ban as American officials promoted security gains in Congress.

….Books, on the other hand, brought reliable joy. Mr. Ismail picked up a black hardcover history of the Kurds, with an attractive photo on the front. Tapping it twice with his right hand, sending dust flying, he kissed the cover and said, “We are happy to be here again with these beautiful books.” Mr. Shatry, like many Iraqis, also sought solace in words and the remembrance of sufferings overcome. He had begun his day with a group poetry reading on Mutanabi Street, a humble reopening for a market that has survived the Mongol hordes, Saddam Hussein and many other attackers. Around noon, between the deafening thwack of American military helicopter propellers overhead — twice in an hour — he recited the poem he read earlier, written by Ibn al-Utri. Its subject: Baghdad in the ninth century, after rampaging armies destroyed the city in a dispute involving caliphate succession.


Iraq revokes security contractor licence after shootout

Iraq announced on Monday it had withdrawn the licence of a U.S. security firm and would prosecute employees it said were involved in a Baghdad shooting in which 11 people were killed. An Interior Ministry spokesman said guards working for Blackwater, one of the biggest foreign security contractors in Iraq, opened fire after mortar rounds landed near their convoy in west Baghdad's Mansour district on Sunday. "By chance the company was passing by. They opened fire randomly at citizens," Brigadier-General Abdul-Karim Khalaf said. Eleven people were killed, including one policeman, and 13 people were wounded, he said. "We have withdrawn its licence," Khalaf said, adding that the ministry was investigating the incident and would "deliver those who committed this act to the court".


US to give Jordan 78 mln dlrs in extra aid

The package raises total US aid to the kingdom so far this year to more half a billion dollars. "Congress recently authorised an additional 78 million dollars in economic and security-related assistance to Jordan to be disbursed no later than September 30," it said in a statement. Of the 78 million dollars announced on Sunday, 67.7 million dollars will go to "security-related assistance, including 10 million for anti-terrorism training and equipment," it said. The grant, which will bring total US assistance to Jordan for 2007 to 530 million dollars, will help improve basic education and health services "in communities that have experienced a significant influx of Iraqi citizens."

U.S. Expands Anbar Model to Iraq Shiites

American commanders in southern Iraq say Shiite sheiks are showing interest in joining forces with the U.S. military against extremists, in much the same way that Sunni clansmen in the western part of the country have worked with American forces against al-Qaida. Sheik Majid Tahir al-Magsousi, the leader of the Migasees tribe here in Wasit province, acknowledged tribal leaders have discussed creating a brigade of young men trained by the Americans to bolster local security as well as help patrol the border with Iran. He also said last week's assassination of Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, who spearheaded the Sunni uprising against al-Qaida in Anbar province, only made the Shiite tribal leaders more resolute. "The death of Sheik Abu Risha will not thwart us," he said. "What matters to us is Iraq and its safety." The movement by Shiite clan leaders offers the potential to give U.S. and Iraqi forces another tactical advantage in curbing lawlessness in Shiite areas. It also would give the Americans another resource as they beef up their presence on the border with Iran, which the military accuses of arming and training Shiite extremists.

Blackwater Guards Accused of Past Deaths

In the past year, employees of the Blackwater USA security firm have been involved in other incidents in which they were accused of killing civilians and security forces in Iraq. On Dec. 24, 2006, a drunken Blackwater employee shot and killed a bodyguard for Iraq's Shiite vice president, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. The contractor had gotten lost on the way back to his barracks in the Green Zone and fired at least seven times when he was confronted by 30-year-old Raheem Khalaf Saadoun, an official in the vice president's office said on condition of anonymity because the case is still under investigation. The contractor fled after the incident. Eventually, he made his way to the U.S. Embassy, where Blackwater officials arranged to have him flown home to the U.S., said American officials. Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said earlier this year the company was cooperating with investigators from the Justice Department and the FBI. She declined to provide further details.

Move troops to Iran border, Brown told

General David Petraeus will press Gordon Brown to increase the number of British troops patrolling the Iraqi border with Iran when he meets the Prime Minister this week. The US commander in Iraq wants Britain to move a significant proportion of the 5,000 troops garrisoned at Basra airport to cut off the smuggling of Iranian weapons to Shia militias. But British commanders fear that the move carries a serious risk of embroiling the UK in a war with Iran at a time when they want to withdraw from Iraq. A former US under-secretary of defence who is now a Pentagon adviser told The Sunday Telegraph that Gen Petraeus would use the meeting to brief Brown on how Iran is stepping up the supply of weapons and the training of insurgents. "He will argue that action must be taken soon to stop or at least reduce these activities, and that Britain should be a part of this action," the official said. "He will talk about the possibility of increasing security along the Iraqi border with Iran. "While he will not make the request, he will present the argument that some British forces now being withdrawn from Basra should be transferred to the border security mission." Last week, at the Americans' request, 350 British troops from 1 Mechanised Brigade began patrolling the border east of Basra and the Shatt al-Arab waterway. But The Daily Telegraph has revealed that in November about 2,500 of the Basra contingent could be moved out of harm's way across the border into Kuwait, from where they will escort convoys and train Iraqi troops. The move will put Britain further at odds with US commanders.


Video: Tom Friedman: Suck on this, Iraq

From Crooks and Liars website: I am so horrified by this macho over-compensation manifesting itself as foreign policy that I must again ask, when you say something so heinous, so egregious, so over-the-top offensive, why in the HELL are you allowed a continued place on the national platform? I think that Tom “F.U.” Friedman and the NYTimes public editor deserve to have you ask them that question, don’t you? Otherwise, I’m thinking that maybe we should take up a collection to send Tom to Basra (no Kevlar vest in the Green Zone, guarded by 100 troops and Blackhawk helicopters for him) and let him go door to door and see how the Iraqis left would respond.

Archivists chronicle Iraqis' pain

Staring directly at the camera, Zahra Badri begins: "I have not had one good day in my life." Saddam Hussein's regime imprisoned and killed 23 of the Shiite woman's relatives, including her husband, her son and her pregnant daughter. To save two other sons, she kept them hidden inside her home for more than 20 years. As Iraq is swept up in new bloodshed, a small team of archivists and videographers has begun the painstaking work of collecting, classifying and preserving evidence of such atrocities. Some of it is newly recorded, a cataloging of terrible memories, but much of it was documented in obsessive and chilling detail by Hussein's vast bureaucracy. Each one of the more than 11 million yellowing pages and more than 600 hours of footage amassed by the Iraq Memory Foundation is witness to a family's pain, says its founder, Kanan Makiya, a longtime Iraqi exile in the United States and author of "Republic of Fear," the book that brought Hussein's savagery to international attention in 1989.

Many of those interviewed donate photographs and other personal mementos -- Badri gave the foundation her daughter's wedding dress. Inspired by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Makiya had hoped the material would be used to help Iraqis face their past, heal their wounds and make a fresh start after U.S.-led forces toppled Hussein in 2003. Instead, he watched as the country slid into a nightmarish cycle of revenge, and as the memories that were supposed to help reconcile a tortured people became the subject of bitter dispute. "In essence, what we ended up doing was the truth part, but nobody did the reconciliation part," he said by phone from London, where he was visiting a foundation colleague. "That needed Iraqi politicians to lead it, and here . . . the new political class failed Iraq, as it has failed Iraq on so many levels."


Crocker Blasts Refugee Process

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq warned that it may take the U.S. government as long as two years to process and admit nearly 10,000 Iraqi refugees referred by the United Nations for resettlement to the United States, because of bureaucratic bottlenecks. In a bluntly worded State Department cable titled "Iraqi Refugee Processing: Can We Speed It Up?" Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker noted that the Department of Homeland Security had only a handful of officers in Jordan to vet the refugees. Bush administration officials in Washington immediately disputed several of Crocker's claims. Still, the "sensitive" but unclassified memo, sent Sept. 7, laid out a wrenching, ground-level view of the U.S. government's halting response to Iraq's refugee crisis. Human rights groups and independent analysts say thousands of desperate Iraqis who have worked alongside Americans now find themselves the targets of insurgents and sectarian militias, prompting many of them to seek residency in the United States or Europe. Although the subject was little addressed during Crocker's and Gen. David H. Petraeus's public testimony to Congress last week on the state of the war, the envoy has raised the issue in two cables in the past two months. The subject is likely to be discussed when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets this week with congressional leaders to outline the administration's refugee admissions goals for 2008 and when the Senate resumes its Iraq war debate.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project

Write a letter to the editor about Iraqi refugees

Send a Letter to the Editor of your local newspaper asking the Bush administration and Congress to increase humanitarian aid for Iraqi refugees. While newspapers are covering the war in Iraq, help us spread the message that assisting Iraqi refugees is an important step to stabilizing the region. Speak Out. Save Lives. [I can think of NO excuse as to why the corporate media is not covering this – but they are not – so letters to your local paper would likely be the only coverage the Iraqi refugees will ever get. – dancewater]


Tail between legs

The British government promoted its occupation of Basra as an exercise more sophisticated and intelligent than that conducted by its ally the US in Iraq. From the moment the British hunkered down in Basra after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq it seemed the British government and much of the mainstream media never missed a chance to boast of the softly-softly, hearts and minds approach of its occupation. We were assured that this had everything to do with the experience it had gained in previous British military exploits, particularly in Northern Ireland, while the US was still learning lessons from their historic defeat in Vietnam. This projection of the fair-playing Brits was repeated ad naseum until a string of dramatic events were reported in the world media which put an end to this mythmaking. Events such as prisoner and detainee abuse by British soldiers and SAS special forces undercover operations apparently designed to foment civil strife exposed the British army as no different from any other hostile military occupier. Everyone outside the Ministry of Defence and Cabinet agrees that the British "deployment" from Basra Palace to the airport eleven kilometres out of the city is an outright sign of defeat.

…..It was the events of 19 September 2005 which firmly put to rest any notion that the British were playing fair with the Iraqi people. Two SAS men in Arab clothes and head dress were arrested by Iraqi police at a checkpoint after refusing to stop and opening fire from their civilian car which was packed with explosives. They were arrested by Iraqi police and detained which led to British tanks smashing down the prison wall where the SAS men were being held and releasing them, but not before incensed Iraqis attacked the British army with petrol bombs and stones. A British soldier was captured on film fleeing from his tank in flames from a petrol bomb and being pelted by rocks from the crowd, an image which symbolises maybe more than any other the British experience in Basra.


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."

New Blog: Iraq Oil Report

Quote of the day: "Now you see Iraqis' houses, meant to be a family's safest place, have become like graves for their families, because any minute, any second, they're ready to die by explosion, airstrikes or car bombs," he says. "And no man, and no government, American or Iraqi, can fix it because now that will take a miracle." – Sheik Jamal al-Sudani