Archive for February, 2005

Solidarity News posted

Monday, February 28th, 2005

Here is a link for the Winter 2005 Issue of Solidarity News (pdf format, 8MB download). This a publication of Food AND Medicine, a non-profit organization assisting laid-off workers in Eastern Maine.

Ramadi: it is happening again

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

All too familiar pattern is seen as refugees flee a US attack


(Photo © IRINnews.org)

IRIN reports that Ramadi, Iraq residents are

Worried that the offensive could proceed as it did in nearby Fallujah, where the majority of the city’s population was forced to flee during a near three-month long campaign, many Ramadi families are taking personal effects and food supplies and heading to relatives’ houses in the capital, or to the same camps where residents from Fallujah fled….citizens, exhausted by ongoing violence, are afraid and are choosing to leave before the situation worsens. “They want to destroy the whole area and build a New York City there, and for that they are tearing down everything. We want to live in peace. We are tired of fighting and bombs. God, please protect us,” Muhammad Farhan, a father of five, who was fleeing the city with his family, told IRIN.

The escalating US offensive apparently “came quickly and without warning.”

If the endgame is the same as that which befell Fallujah, this city, once with a population of 400,000, will be flattened as well.

Limits of the wingnut comfort zone

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

Sometimes they can’t face a real argument


Deep Blade banned! A troll to him, I guess…

Over the years I have often enjoyed a good argument with my conservative, even borderline-wingnut friends, neighbors, colleagues, and online acquaintances. I spent much of the Reagan Administration teaching at a high school that was loaded with knowledgeable conservatives (and some not so knowledgeable). Even in animated discussions, I have always respected and learned from their views, especially the ones who had much more experience and knew much more history than I did.

In online discussions over the last couple years, I’ve had periodic spars with Toby Petzold who runs an anti-Muslim reactionary blog called Neognostikos. Now Toby and I utterly despise many views held by the other. But not all. We even share an interest in football and I like his taste in music. And neither of us has ever ventured into territory where we felt banning was called for.

Now the last couple days I’ve run across (through Neognostikos) a blog called Mike’s America. It’s full of Republican orthodoxy, emotional jingoism, lots of unexamined acceptance of radical statism masquerading as moral conservatism, and a gigantic dose of leftist bashing. In other words, typical semi-intellectual red state politics. Sometimes I’m a glutton for punishment, when I see this, so I like to try to see if I can engage it in a meaningful way.

Now I feel that the rift in American propelling its electoral divisions is not insurmountable. We can in fact learn to talk with each other without totally pussyfooting around our widely varying perceived truths about important concepts, issues, and lessons of history. Why bother, some of the liberal/left bloggers might ask. Those people are incorrigible. Maybe. But I’d like us all to see each other’s humanity and learn to argue in a respectful way, so as to avoid the kind of purging that in a more desperate future could result in a lot of unnecessary pain — a lot more punishment born of jingoism for a lot more people than the mild stuff experienced by the Dixie Chicks in 2003, or Ward Churchill this year.

One of the beauties of America, in my opinion, is the freedom to look at hard truths about ourselves and address them. It’s never easy, as the American civil rights campaigners of the 20th Century know.

So here is a reproduction of the discussion that led Mike to ban Deep Blade:

I’m all for democratic self determination. If you read my postings over the last month or so, I think you’ll see that I too found the election in Iraq very meaningful, the Iraqi voters incredibly courageous. But they voted for self determination, not for continued occupation and American interference with the process that has followed the election. Sadly, there are signs that interference is exactly what they’re getting.

Meanwhile, let’s watch what the US does if Bush starts getting what I think he’s saying he wants — widespread democratic ambitions in the Arab monarchies. Would we witness the sort of unrest some predicted the invasion would bring, in response to Bush’s own call for democracy? What an irony! I’m all for it.
Deep Blade | 02.24.05 – 2:20 am

Deep Blade:

So far, none of the dire predictions from “the sky is falling” crowd have come true in Iraq.

And you likely will not agree with the analysis about the number of lives SAVED by our intervention.

You may also have a different take on the notion that PEACE is not possible absent JUSTICE.

But as someone who has stood on the ground within the barbed wire fences of Dachau and stared into the ovens where the murdered were cremated… I take seriously the declaration: “NEVER AGAIN!”

Will our Iraq keystone strategy succeed? Too soon to tell. But thus far, the benefits being seen in Lebananon and reported in other nations in the Middle East are encouraging.

FREEDOM + JUSTICE = PEACE
Mike | 02.24.05 – 12:28 pm

You’re right, I do not believe that the best way to save a village is to destroy it. On the matter of democracy breaking out in Mideast monarchies, let’s watch how the US reacts if Bush is taken seriously and it really starts happening. Like I say, I’m all for it, as long as it isn’t imposed at gunpoint.
Deep Blade | 02.25.05 – 9:09 am

I would have thought the image of purple stained fingers waving in the air as happy Iraqis danced home from the polls would have caused you to rethink the “destroy a village to save it” stuff…

Oh, but I do realize how difficult your position is… If even HALF Bush’s keystone strategy succeeds, there are going to be a lot of people in a similar spot.
Mike | 02.25.05 – 10:52 am

Yes the purple fingers image is powerful. There is a strong reflection of the will of the Iraqi people there. That is good, I accept it. The election did not turn out to be 100% the occupier’s demonstration, as I did suggest could be the case. I am glad I was wrong. The US lost more than I may have suggested in some of my immediate blog postings.

But what is the will of the people? Certainly not perpetual occupation. In fact, I believe the message is they want to start seeing the US on its way out pretty soon.

Can you even see the destruction wrought by a decade+ of US support for Saddam; destroyed infrastructure in the 1st Gulf War, followed by a costly double-cross of the anti-Saddam resistance; then 12 years of devastating sanctions and bombing featuring slow starvation and death of perhaps a million people (many children) due to lack of clean water, food, sanitation, and proper health care (in a country that by the 1980s had the best health system in the Middle East/Southwest Asia); then a 2-year occupation where the country has been bombed, looted, cities flattened, and estimates showing 20,000 to 200,000 civilian casualties with the best estimate about 100,000? If not, you do not know much about about Iraq, its people, or its history.

I see from your postings you’d like to blame it all on Saddam. Speculative figures based on out-of-context “averages” of the number of alleged deaths Saddam caused then extrapolated to the last two years just don’t cut the cheese. Cause and effect due to US policy is inexorably linked to the entire period.
Deep Blade | 02.26.05 – 9:21 pm

Oh goodness deepblade…. Must be an unusual celestial alignment tonight because you’re launching into outter space…

1,200,000 people dead as a result of the U.S. and sanctions???… Well I suppose if that oil for food money waas spent on FOOD and not bribing the UN and the French we might have saved some.

But after they opened the mass graves and we got the story about the chemical attack on Halabja… I simly can not see how any thinking, feeling, intelligent person can blame the U.S.

I understand that there are still people who believe the revelation of the NAZI holocaust was propaganda … but I SINCERELY hope you would not be among them.

Again, I would direct you to my experience at the first German Concentration Camp, Dachau, and ask if you can point me to FACTS! Over SIXTY MILLION PEOPLE DIED in World War II because Pacifists thought the abscence of war was MORE important than facing down the horror which took their lives.

History revealed that World War II could have been stopped with minimal bloodshed on at least three occasions when early on, Hitler’s ambitions became evident.

If there is blood on any hands for the evil inflicted on the world in the last century… it is on those who stood by and did nothing until it was too late.

The lesson of history is clear… and we promised at Dachau.. .NEVER AGAIN!

I have no more to say on the subject…I’m sorry.. but you are WRONG!
Mike | 02.27.05 – 12:25 am

At this point I’m banned, and that is Mike’s right. But my reply would proceed something like this:

If you care to take a look for even one minute at the CASI website, the book Out of the Ashes: the resurrection of Saddam Hussein (Harper Collins, 1999), or the writings of Joy Gordon (here, here) you’ll find a heartbreaking story of slow death and destruction in Iraq due to sanctions and bombing from 1990 to 2003 — done with tenacious American insistance, a level of UN complicity that was in fact disgusting, and often to the benefit of Saddam. (Oil-for-food scandal mongers have some of these aspects of the story correct, but always leave out the truth about “tenacious American insistance.”) Yes the excess toll from these very American policies was death in the neighborhood of 1 million people and immeasurable ruination of the lives of the Iraqi people. Yes, both the Democratic and Republican administrations in the US were criminally to blame along with Saddam, despite the constant bleating of Clinton and his successor that it was only Saddam.

More recently, the Lancet study gave a central estimate of 100,000 excess dead since March 2003 largely from US aerial bombardment. Here is a good post on the issues raised by the Lancet paper, and the reaction to it. Briefly, 100,000 is the central estimate, the number with the highest probability of being true, given statistics gathered in a well-designed, scientifically sound study of Iraqi households. Politics, unfortunately, intervened in both dissemination and rational discussion about this study.

The upshot is I stand by the figures I quoted.

The majority of Americans who have absorbed the emissions of Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell, and others over the last few years and uncritically taken them to heart seem to think that all of sudden in late 2002 before and onward into mid-2003 after the invasion there was a revelation about how Saddam used chemical weapons against the Iranians and the Kurds — notably in the massacre of thousands of Kurds in Halabja in 1988. Oh, how can “intelligent”, “feeling” human beings not jump to a consensus behind Bush’s war after this?

The obvious contrary moral argument is that additional war upon Iraq has compounded the destruction, not brought “justice” for Saddam’s crimes. However, let’s take a look at whose side America was on at the time of Saddam’s Anfal campaign and when the atrocities in Halabja occurred. Yes, America firmly backed Saddam. We unintelligent, unfeeling leftists knew more about this and opposed more strenuously at the time the so-called “tilt towards Iraq” than any present-day jingos. Today’s warbloggers and Republican shills are clueless about how badly Bush has duped them on this one.

To wit, by September 1988, enough news had come out about Saddam’s atrocities (this news was not a 2002 revelation) that the United States Senate unanimously passed The Prevention of Genocide Act, a set of comprehensive sanctions against Saddam. How did Saddam’s supporters in the Reagan Administration handle that? To the disgust of human rights campaigners (like us) everywhere, they got ag. state Republicans in the House to block the measure. I guess rice sales and weapons sales to Saddam were more important to Shultz, Weinberger and House Republicans than a few thousand gassed Kurds.

To argue that the US war on Iraq is based on “peace” and “justice,” in response to a Hitler/Saddam motif proven by invoking the chemical attack on Halabja, is hypocrisy of Biblical proportions. It’s downright Orwellian. It’s even much, much worse if we look into the history of Iraqgate and the entire period of the Iran-Iraq war. There were oil pipelines on the drawing boards, sales of chemical/biological/nuclear weapons components using illegal financial schemes, secret US cooperation with Saddam on intelligence and battlefield logistics for attacking the Iranians, and on and on. I’ll leave more for another post.

Oh, and finally I do strenuosly object to even an off-handed suggestion that my views are so “into outter[sic] space” that I might be a holocaust denier. Please.

Here we see the danger of not being able to talk to each other about the narrative of world history. Left and right views are utterly divergent. But I believe Mike does have a point, even if he does not know how to apply it, that a rigid pacifist point of view against threats real (not phony) quite possibly would be disastrous. On the other hand, as in the case of the Bush attack on Iraq, taking trigger-happy action has certainly led to a lot of unnecessary death and destruction — for both our own troops and the Iraqis alike. There must be a point-of-view somewhere in between, one centered in robust international cooperation, that both recognizes the undesirability of war, yet addresses the very real competitions and dangers faced by every country in the world. So let’s keep talking.

Environmental Howlings

Saturday, February 26th, 2005

Site review: Keeping track of Bush destruction at…


War on so many fronts is tirelessly logged at this venerable environmental news blog

I received my detailed Howling at a Waning Moon email news this morning, astonished by how destructive policies and practices in the Bush era are rapidly escalating while their effects are showing up worldwide. Do click through to this valuable website run by the wonderfully passionate Bob Whitson. The site has received a design update recently. I like it. It’s attractive (Bob always displays wonderful photography), more user-friendly/less busy/less overwhelming than it used to be, yet it’s still chock-full of the planet’s most important environmental stories. Very importantly, there is a little good news in the various struggles too.

Here are some links to a sampling of what Bob has posted recently.

Documenting the decline of bird life:
Mystery of wintering Spoon-billed Sandpipers remains unsolved

Mystery of the silent woodlands: scientists are baffled as bird numbers plummet

Rivers action, particular attention to (mostly) devastating Bush policies and budget cuts — includes discussion of the Energy Bill, with specific reference to hydroelectric policy; and a truly freightening proposal to carve out broad environmental law overrides for Homeland Security:
American Rivers’ River Policy Update

Lula acts to protect the environment and quell what amounts to environmental war in the Brazillian rain forest:
Brazil’s President Creates Massive Forest Reserves after Killing of American Nun

It is coming true:
Bush Team Readying Backdoor Route to Drill Arctic Refuge

US insists on “voluntary partnerships” so that curbing the worst kind of slow poisoning on the planet today will depend on the good will of the poisoners. In other words, nothing will be done. So much for the new era of Atlantic relations:
Pact to curb mercury is rejected

Exotic, illegally-cut Indonesian lauan plywood is filling home palaces we see going up around us all the time:
NEWS RELEASE: JP Morgan Chase, BlueLinx linked to illegal logging in Indonesia

Thank you Bob Whitson for providing Howling at a Waning Moon, an incredible, sane educational tool for an insane world.

Oil price trajectory

Thursday, February 24th, 2005

Hyperbolic price swings with huge upward bias portend threats to our future security


Graphic credit: WTRG Economics

If you take a look at the oil price tracker I display at left and the image above, you’ll see that oil has broken through the $50 level again. When these price spikes happen (two days ago the move was +6%, with another strong upward move in process today), the business pages fill with momentary explanations.

Bloomberg coverage is always useful for reports not just on the momentary factors, but on some of the underlying factors as well. Today they report,

Crude oil rose to a four-month high, approaching $52 a barrel in New York, as a Siberian cold front gripped western Europe and forecasts called for freezing temperatures in the Northeastern U.S.

The surge in heating-fuel demand may drain inventories of heating oil and diesel. U.S. supplies probably dropped last week by 1.75 million barrels, according to a Bloomberg survey of forecasts before the government releases weekly estimates later today. Surging demand may strain supplies this year, with only OPEC able to pump more oil.

“It’s mainly the cold snap that’s added $4 or $5 to prices, particularly with Europe having a freeze from Siberia,” said Jason Kenney, an analyst at ING Financial Markets in Edinburgh. “The market is concerned that Russian supply growth won’t be outstanding and that China is drawing a lot of oil. For prices to come down, you need for supplies to go ahead of demand.” …

Slowing growth in oil output from countries outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries means OPEC will have to pump almost as much as it can to meet demand. That will use up spare capacity and make it harder for the group to compensate for any disruption to supply.

The strain in supplies and the cold spell are leading speculators to bet prices will keep rising. The strain in supplies and the cold spell are leading speculators to bet prices will keep rising….

There you have it, OPEC is reaching the limit of its swing production role while everyone else is “slowing.”

Okay, so let’s review. Almost one year ago the $27 to $37 trading range for oil was left behind. For good? I don’t know, but all market biases are pointing towards $60 oil, not $30 oil. It looks like the speculators are betting up anyhow. But eleven months ago today, we heard analysts saying, “…oil prices are likely to remain high, and could peak…”

Where? “…around $40 per barrel.”

Then what happened?

Let’s follow the pattern
May 2004. The all-time oil price record was set in the low $40s. In early June OPEC holds a meeting where Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi tells reporters there is no problem, OPEC will raise its production ceiling by 2 million barrels per day. Prices sag into July, but begin a sharp upward march in mid-July.

August 2004. Near panic sets in on August 3 and 4. The price of oil ended up close to $48 as Indonesia’s Purnomo Yusgiantoro, OPEC’s president, said, “The oil price is very high, it’s crazy. There is no additional supply.” and Algerian Oil Minister Chakib Khelil said, “OPEC can do nothing.” At this point the legendary former Saudi oil minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani steps up to try to end this speculation, saying, “There is additional supply available from OPEC — you will definitely see it.” Prices dropped sharply to about $42 by early September.

October 2004. After a month of another steady upward oil-price march punctuated by several Atlantic hurricanes, a several-week-long panic cycle takes hold in late September through late October. The price touches $50 by September 28. Bandar Bush and the Saudis respond with what is billed as new oil supply, but it is sour crude, high in sulfur. Meanwhile, the G8 finance ministers hold a weekend meeting in early October. Deeply rattled, they express concerned about the “transparency” of oil supply data, while issuing a statement that suggests the world needs to start controlling energy demand in the face of the questionable sustainability of supply. Oil broke $55 by October 18 and hit $55.67 before closing at $55.17 on October 22. But as the effects of the September hurricanes wore off a bit and supply firmed up a little, the oil price fell back to $46 into mid-November.

November 2004. With prices easing slightly, the market experienced a wave of doubt about the ability of the Saudis to maintain daily supply volume. A recently retired Aramco official, Sadad Al Husseini, was quoted by British television on October 26 that American government’s forecast for future oil supplies are a “dangerous over-estimate”. Following that, CNN International came out on November 24 with a widely quoted story asking, “How secure is Saudi oil?: New questions on the vulnerability of the country’s vast facilities and how markets would react”. The oil price spiked near $50 again. This was too much for the Saudis, who again stepped up with a PR campaign designed to calm markets. A Bloomberg story on November 29 reported remarks of Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi, who said that Saudi Arabia had plans to expand output capacity by 14 percent to ease concern of potential shortages. “We are producing 9.5 million barrels a day, and we would be ready to produce 11 million if a buyer showed up,” al-Naimi said. “Where is it? There is no shortage of supply in the market.” Within days the oil price slid sharply, as it appeared that some supply headroom had appeared, despite continued concern over heating oil inventories. But in December the lowest bottom could reach only about $41.

December 2004. A surprise occurred on December 10 when OPEC, meeting in Cairo, “agreed to collectively reduce the over-production by 1.0 mb/d from their current actual output, effective 1 January 2005”. Following this announcement, there was a brief spike to about $46. Very confusing — the Saudis said it would raise production, but OPEC then moves for cuts.

2005: So far, the pattern of 2004 is continuing into 2005. Signals in two directions emanate from OPEC and the Saudis — there is enough spare capacity, even to the point where cuts in the ceiling are contemplated, but then it’s reported that “OPEC will have to pump almost as much as it can to meet demand”. Meanwhile, the G-7 ministers have repeated their October statements at meetings in London three weeks ago. In a new statement released February 5, the ministers say,

…the risks of current oil prices. Market transparency and data integrity is key to the smooth operation of markets. We welcomed concrete actions in improving data provision to oil markets and encouraged further work, including on oil reserves data, by relevant international organisations. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative can increase fiscal transparency and help improve the use to which oil revenues are put. We call on international institutions to work with oil producing countries to ensure a climate conducive to investment. We recognised the importance of raising medium-term energy supply, of energy efficiency, and of the importance of technology and innovation in ensuring energy security.

A short but perceptive piece by Jad Mouawad rounding up oil in 2004 and looking to the future in 2005 was published in the New York Times business section on January 3, 2005. In it, Mouawad writes,

It was a year that people in the oil markets are unlikely to forget – a year that prices set records, forecasts lost touch with reality, and almost everything that could go wrong, did. It was also a year that politics returned to the oil market.

And the trend is likely to continue this year. While oil prices have declined since October, many of the issues that have vexed the oil industry in 2004 are expected to recur. Cheap oil increasingly looks like a thing of the past.

Through the 1990’s, prices were stable, supplies were secure and there was plenty of extra capacity to keep energy costs low and world growth buzzing. At an average of $20 a barrel, oil was viewed as just another commodity.

But then came ethnic and labor troubles in Nigeria; chaos and protests in Venezuela before President Hugo Chávez won a referendum allowing him to stay in power; hardball energy politics in Russia; and the continuing insurgency in Iraq.

While supplies of oil to the world markets were rarely interrupted, the uncertainties created by these events raised crude oil prices in New York by two-thirds this year, to a high of more than $55 a barrel in October. And as energy costs surged, many analysts, traders and politicians woke up to the reality that oil was different from cocoa or coffee.

Yes, it is a different, frightening world we are entering. Confusion reigns as secrecy shrouds the truth about oil supplies and mixed signals swing markets to and fro. The signs of a looming, full-blown collision of petrochemical- and technology-based economic growth and the limits imposed by planetary resources should be obvious to anyone who has watched the trajectory of the oil market over the last year. Unfortunately, the risks are enormous. Conflict over strategic resource interests and rapidly accelerating environmental harms are the threats with which we all find ourselves enmeshed.

Worker rights in Iraq

Thursday, February 24th, 2005

A little known policy of the US occupation affirmed Saddam-era prohibitions on trade union organizing


Iraqi oil workers (AP photo, linked from BBC)

I read The Guardian pretty regularly, but I missed last week an incredible piece written by an Iraqi oil worker. “Leave our country now: From the first days of the US-British invasion of Iraq, oil workers have resisted foreign occupation” details the struggle ordinary Iraqis face against the looting of their country and their livelihoods. This struggle is almost completely invisible in US media.

Hassan Juma’a Awad, general secretary of Iraq’s Southern Oil Company Union and president of the Basra Oil Workers’ Union writes,

We lived through dark days under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. When the regime fell, people wanted a new life: a life without shackles and terror; a life where we could rebuild our country and enjoy its natural wealth. Instead, our communities have been attacked with chemicals and cluster bombs, and our people tortured, raped and killed in our homes.

Saddam’s secret police used to creep over the roofs into our homes at night; occupation troops now break down our doors in broad daylight. The media do not show even a fraction of the devastation that has engulfed Iraq. Journalists who dare to report the truth of what is happening have been kidnapped by terrorists. This serves the agenda of the occupation, which aims to eliminate witnesses to its crimes.

Workers in Iraq’s southern oilfields began organising soon after British occupying forces invaded Basra. We founded our union, the Southern Oil Company Union, just 11 days after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. When the occupation troops stood back and allowed Basra’s hospitals, universities and public services to be burned and looted, while they defended only the oil ministry and oilfields, we knew we were dealing with a brutal force prepared to impose its will without regard for human suffering. From the beginning, we were left in no doubt that the US and its allies had come to take control of our oil resources.

The occupation authorities have maintained many of Saddam’s repressive laws, including the 1987 order which robbed us of basic union rights, including the right to strike. Today, we still have no official recognition as a trade union, despite having 23,000 members in 10 oil and gas companies in Basra, Amara, Nassiriya, and up to Anbar province. However, we draw our legitimacy from the workers, not the government. We believe unions should operate regardless of the government’s wishes, until the people are able finally to elect a genuinely accountable and independent Iraqi government, which represents our interests and not those of American imperialism…

Deep Blade Journal has in the past covered the looting of Iraqi resources by the American Coalition Provisional Authority through its onerous regulations and orders, which have mostly persisted, leaving the current provisional government, and future constitutional process partly hamstrung by occupation.

Please see the 2003 Deep Blade Business of Iraq Reference Article for more history on these issues. This piece was prepared for the indefinitely-postponed US-Iraq Business Conference the University of Maine had planned to conduct with a group of looters known as the US-Iraq Business Alliance.

For even more background, see Naomi Klein, “Bagdad Year Zero“, Harper’s Magazine, September 2004 issue; and David Bacon, “Saddam’s Labor Laws Live On“, The Progressive, December 2003 issue.

Blog note:The Diplomatic Times Review is a recommended blog. Thanks to Munir Umrani, the blogger from Chicago who placed a trackback to my last post on Allawi and the Iraq PM game. A quick check of Diplomatic Times Review suggests it is fabulous. The tip for this posting came from DTR’s link to Free Iraq, another blog covering news stories from Iraq with an anti-occupation orientation.

Iraq PM game not over

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2005

Allawi still thinks he could run Iraq for Bush


The Angry Arab regularly refers to Allawi as, “The brilliant Iraqi puppet prime minister/car bomber/embezzler-in-Yemen/former Saddam henchman”

The New York Times reports this afternoon that intense maneuvering is underway as current US-selected prime minister Ayad Allawi “confirmed that he would form a coalition to challenge the victorious Shiite alliance and the doctor it has selected as its candidate [Ibrahim al-Jaafari] to become Iraq’s prime minister.”

Earlier today, the Times reported that Allawi has engaged in

protracted and rancorous negotiations with a coalition of secular leaders intent on sharply curtailing Dr. Jaafari’s powers or blocking him and his clerical-backed coalition.

Ayad Allawi, the current prime minister, and Barham Salih, a Kurdish politician and deputy prime minister, said in separate interviews on Tuesday that without guarantees renouncing sectarianism and embracing Western democratic ideals they were poised to block Dr. Jaafari’s nomination and possibly peel off enough members from the Shiite’s United Iraqi Alliance to form a government of their own.

Meanwhile, Bush is in Europe decalring a “united front” against Iran, using denial of an Iranian nuclear weapon as a rallying cry. Hence it looks like the US is viewing the clear Iraqi electoral result of an Iran-sympathetic majority Shiite government with much more alarm than they are letting on. For now, the game will include an attempt to tie up and co-opt the Shiites, with any anti-democratic measures as may be necessary.

Juan Cole is skeptical of this tack, as “The UIA [the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance] can prevent [Allawi] from succeeding even if only 94 of its 140 deputies stand firm.”

Iraq: Shiite allies the US does not want?

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005

Jaafari to be prime minister candidate for Shiite election winners; Time Magazine says US has had secret meetings with the resistance


Ibrahim al-Jaafari (AP file photo, from CBC)

I guess I was sorta wrong in a posting Sunday before last when I differed “slightly” with Juan Cole. Turns out that after the once Pentagon-employed weapons liar and war-inciter Ahmed Chalabi pulled out of the PM dealings in Iraq today, the popular, conservative, Islamist, Iran-sympathetic candidate Ibrahim al-Jaafari will go forward — not Chalabi nor the puppet finance minister Madhi.

Juan Cole said, “Allawi’s defeat (he will not be prime minister in the new government) is a huge defeat for the Bush administration, though it will not be reported that way in the corporate media.”

Though Allawi is said to still be a candidate for PM, but it would take a massive manipulation to get him in now.

And here is how Cole describes the most recent developments, considering that Jaafari leads Dawa, a conservative party sympathetic with Iran that has allied itself at times with distinctly anti-American offshoot elements:

The Dawa Party was founded in 1958 or so, with the aim of establishing an Islamic state in Iraq (and as an alternative to Communism, with its atheist workers’ paradise). That it is now supplying the prime minister of the country under American auspices is among the more startling developments of our time.

I thought that with a sub-majority vote, the US would interfere in the election/selection process to the point of preventing a popular Shiite prime minister from being selected. As it turned out, however, the Shiites did end up with an absolute majority (140) of the 275-seat parliament. Evidently the US has truly failed to significantly manipulate the outcome.

It is said that the US can “live” with Jaafari. A CBC story today mentions, “He has also said an immediate withdrawal of coalition troops would be a `mistake’ given the lack of security in Iraq.” (I have just learned through research that the winning United Iraqi Alliance indeed very quietly withdrew its platform plank calling for a timetable for the “withdrawal of multinational troops.”)

But deep in the White House, the Iraq Shiite connection with Iran must be terribly troubling, as President Bush believes that, “Iran remains the world’s primary state sponsor of terror — pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve.”

Blockbuster story: US in negotiations with the Iraq resistance
Time Magazine has broken what I think is a major story — secret back-channel meetings have taken place between US and insurgent negotiators:

An account of [a] secret meeting between the senior insurgent negotiator and the U.S. military officials was provided to TIME by the insurgent negotiator. He says two such meetings have taken place. While U.S. officials would not confirm the details of any specific meetings, sources in Washington told TIME that for the first time the U.S. is in direct contact with members of the Sunni insurgency, including former members of Saddam’s Baathist regime. Pentagon officials say the secret contacts with insurgent leaders are being conducted mainly by U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers. A Western observer close to the discussions says that “there is no authorized dialogue with the insurgents” but that the U.S. has joined “back-channel” communications with rebels. Says the observer: “There’s a lot bubbling under the surface today”…“I think you’ve got a pretty flexible [U.S.] government.”


Uncomfortable allies, potential destabilization
What does this mean? Is the US quietly having a case of buyer’s remorse over popular, conservative, Islamist, Iran-sympathetic Shiite allies that now it is not sure it wants, even as President Bush campaigns for democracy and his “forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East”?

Surely these developments too are of concern to Arab royalists throughout the region. As Jordan’s King Abdullah and other monarchs feared over a month before election in remarks reported in the Washington Post:

Abdullah, a prominent Sunni leader, said the creation of a new Shiite crescent would particularly destabilize Gulf countries with Shiite populations. “Even Saudi Arabia is not immune from this. It would be a major problem. And then that would propel the possibility of a Shiite-Sunni conflict even more, as you’re taking it out of the borders of Iraq,” the king said.

Now, Abdullah has moderated since the Iraqi election, but the point remains — there could be some big trouble for Arab royalists if too many people under their thumb decide they want to take Bush seriously in the manner the Iraqi Shiites apparently have.

The computations in Washington about how to control all of this must be in high gear now. They have grabbed a tiger by the tail. It’s the old pattern of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). Washington engaged both sides in order to keep them at each other’s throats. The Shiites believe the US military is acting to crush its Sunni rivals, the clearest evidence being the crushing of Fallujah. But perhaps some crazy US accommodation with the chiefly Sunni-based resistance — the population that boycotted the election — will emerge in order to keep the Shiites in check. Think the “tilt towards Iraq” from the 1980s, where accommodation with Saddam was required to keep Iran from gaining in the war and destabilizing Saudi Arabia.

The former regime elements that now populate the anti-US resistance may one day shift to the US side in order to discipline the Kurds too, in the manner of the historical double-crosses of Saddam’s time — notably in the period following the first Gulf War in 1991. The US is not going to allow the Kurds quasi-independence, including ownership and control of the oil in the Kirkuk region, is it? That’ll have to be discussed in another posting.

Clinton and colleagues peddle Iraq mythologies

Sunday, February 20th, 2005

Earth to Hillary: Iraqi voters did not choose occupation


Clinton says Iraqi women “thank” the United States.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Senator from New York state, while visiting the US “Green Zone” garrison in Baghdad, made the rounds of Sunday talk shows in pre-taped interviews with Republican colleagues John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). As Clinton and Graham were being prodded out (evidently by nervous handlers) at the end of the CBS Face the Nation segment, it was explained by host Bob Schieffer that the pre-taping was required for “security reasons.”

Right there, the audience should recognize that despite all the American self-satisfaction about the elections in Iraq, it is in fact running a colonial occupation that is being contested by terribly dangerous forces — forces that have shown the ability to strike anywhere at any time, even the fortified Green Zone confines from which the senators spoke.

Myths
The biggest myth of all is that the fairly large percentage of Iraqi people who did courageously come out to vote three weeks ago under threat of violence actually voted for continuing US occupation. The winning Shiite coalition has a public platform that in fact called for “a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq; a social security system under which the state guarantees a job for every fit Iraqi … and offers facilities to citizens to build homes;” and a pledge to “write off Iraq’s debts, cancel reparations and use the oil wealth for economic development projects.”

None of these policies agree with administration aims or the circumspection, PR language, and unsaid assumptions Clinton peddles — with approving purrs of how “moderate” she is from interviewers and analysts on the talk shows. Somehow, continued devastating bombings killing dozens of people every day, a security situation so bad that “that none of the senators dared drive through Baghdad’s streets, even in armored cars,” is translated by Clinton into a story where Iraq is “functioning quite well” and that the rash of suicide attacks was a sign that the insurgency was “failing.”

On the matter of continuing US occupation, Clinton may as well be President Bush. She says exactly the same thing as her Republican colleague Graham:

[The US military will not be leaving Iraq anytime soon.] How long I don’t know, but to leave too soon would be devastating to stay too long is unnecessary…I ask the American people to be patient, because what happens here will affect our security back home…We’re years away from leaving with honor.

Clinton added in some extensive remarks to Tim Russert on Meet the Press:

…we have just finished meeting with the current prime minister, the deputy prime minister and the finance minister, and in our meetings, we posed the question to each of them as to whether they believed that we should set a firm deadline for the withdrawal of American troops. To a person, and they are of different political parties in this election, but each of them said that would be a big mistake, that we needed to make clear that there is a transition now going on to the Iraqi government. When it is formed, which we hope will be shortly, it will assume responsibility for much of the security, with the assistance and cooperation of the coalition forces, primarily U.S. forces.

So I think that what the American people need to know is, number one, we are very proud of our young men and women who are here, active duty, Guard and Reserve. We’ve seen many of them today, and we’ll see more of them tomorrow. And so we all can be very grateful for their service and also very admiring of their sacrifice for other people’s freedom. But secondly, we need to make sure that this new government in Iraq can succeed. There are lots of debates about, you know, whether we should have, how we should have, decisions that were made along the way with respect to our involvement here. But where we stand right now, there can be no doubt that it is not in America’s interests for the Iraqi government, the experiment in freedom and democracy, to fail. So I hope that Americans understand that and that we will have as united a front as is possible in our country at this time to keep our troops safe, make sure they have everything they need and try to support this new Iraqi government…We don’t want to send a signal to the insurgents, to the terrorists that we are going to be out of here at some, you know, date certain. I think that would be like a green light to go ahead and just bide your time. We want to send a message of solidarity….

I say these common propaganda notions Clinton airs out quite fully here are bull. An announcement that the US was pulling back from base building, bombing, raiding homes, and rounding up Iraqis for interrogation in its dungeons would actually calm the situation.

And look at who she cites as Iraqi sources for Iraqi support of US occupation! The three chief American puppets, current prime minister (Allawi), the deputy prime minister (Barham Saleh), and the finance minister (Adil Abdul Mahdi) who favors selling off Iraq’s oil industry!

Though I personally believe that the sooner America gets out of Iraq the better, I would not say that it’ll be easy. America has dug a deep trench for itself there by following the criminal Bush policy of invasion, conquest, occupation, and management of a puppet government. The problem of power relationships within Iraq without foreign occupation would be significant. There are reasons to believe elements of Saddam’s former military (including some Baathists now enjoying rehabilitation in Allawi’s puppet government) would attempt to seize power. But solutions are possible though international action, which would become much more likely if the US was not in charge of the whole show. But predictions of “chaos” after America leaves are hardly a fait accompli. There is already chaos, and my opinion is it just gets worse from here. Every day America stays in Iraq makes the withdrawal that much more difficult. The light at the end of the tunnel is now actually to America’s back.

Prime minister mysteries
Selection of the new Iraqi prime minister is cloaked in secrecy. Depending on Naomi Klein in an earlier post, I was suggesting that finance minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, an American puppet in favor of privatization of the oil industry, would be a leading candidate. It looks like this is wrong — Mahdi’s economic neolibralism seems to make him unsuitable, and he has withdrawn his name from consideration. Who knows, though, will the Americans revive him? Isn’t the candidacy of the Pentagon’s former agent and WMD liar, Ahmed Chalabi, even more laughable?

Juan Cole has covered the machinations pretty well here, here, here, and today here. And this is Cole’s key post about Mahdi’s withdrawal and the emergence of the Iran-sympathetic, religious Shiite Al-Dawa party leader Ibrahim Jaafari as leading candidate for prime minister.

FLASH! Cole points out that although “Jaafari is on record opposing the establishment of a specified timetable for a US military withdrawal from Iraq,”

Jaafari fled to Iran in 1980. There he tried to keep the Dawa Party from becoming captive to Iranian political currents, as happened to some other expatriate Iraq parties in Tehran. He also worked with the umbrella group, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, serving on its executive committee. Kadhim al-Haeri and some other clerical leaders of the Dawa Party wanted to dissolve it into Khomeini’s Hizbullah. Jaafari opposed this move.

In the early 1980s, Dawa spun off terrorist “al-Jihad al-Islami” groups in Lebanon and Kuwait, which engaged in terrorism against France and the United States. It is not clear how involved the central Dawa Party leadership was in these shadowy groups, or what Jaafari’s stance was at that time.

Does this last bit disqualify Jaafari in US eyes, with memories of the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon in the back of the mind?

I want to highlight just one more thing Juan Cole says today:

Al-Hayat reports that a decision on the new prime minister will not be announced until at least Wednesday. The decision was postponed in part because of Ashura, and in part because of the difficulty in getting a “green light” from Washington in the wake of Ambassador John Negroponte’s appointment as intelligence czar. (US news sources have not spoken as openly of the need for a green light from Washington, but al-Hayat’s sources are frank about it. This frankness agrees with the comment made by one embassy official that Iraq cannot select a prime minister who is unacceptable to Washington.

This notion of US approval of the Iraqi prime minister totally belies the mythological notion of America officials like Hillary Clinton that the meaning of the brave Iraqi voters surmounting danger to get to the polls had thing one to do with their independent choice of government.

Women in Iraq
The establishment of Islamic sharia law would be a huge step backwards for Iraqi women. It looks like that is on the table with the Shiite religious parties gaining control of the “interpersonal” principles of Iraqi law. So how does Hillary figure that Iraqi women Clinton “thank” the United States for what the war has wrought, as she told Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation this morning. It’s a throw-away line, to be sure. Here’s a fuller exploration of the plight of Iraqi women from an interview on PBS Now, February 4:

DAVID BRANCACCIO (host): Speaking of economic indicators, here’s one. A strong indicator of the health of a country is the status of it’s women. Look at Iraq. We all saw that women voted in big numbers in this week’s elections. But overall, the indicators are not all that good. Zainab Salbi has been working to change that. She’s an Iraqi-American and founder and President of Women for Women International. A group that helps women overcome the horrors of war across the world. Zainab Salbi, welcome to NOW.

ZAINAB SALBI: Thank you.

BRANCACCIO: Iraqis, Americans, the world want to know, now that the elections are done, is the situation in Iraq coming together to form a state that really works? How is watching the status of women in that country a good indicator of this?

ZAINAB SALBI: Well women are like the bell weather in a society. If you look at Iraq right after the war, the first kidnapping incidents that happened right after the war is actually against women. They were trafficked, and they were kidnapped, and raped, and the violence increased immediately.

Now, a lot of groups start paying attention to that. Human Rights Watch, actually, was one of the few who reported that. Women for Women International reported that. And there was no action whatsoever. There was absolutely silence to that phenomenon.

Now, eventually, men started getting kidnapped. Children getting kidnapped. And all foreigners, as we know it, are getting kidnapped. And this kidnapping business in Iraq is one of the most flourishing business and it’s increasing. Now, this is a bad indicator. And in the last few months, particularly since about September of last year, women have been assassinated. And assassination of women became very targeted and very strategic.

Educated women. Working women. Women who are out spoken. Women who kept their old lifestyle. Kept on driving cars. Kept on wearing their western clothing. They were all assassinated one by one. Reporters, professors, pharmacists, doctors, activists. Again, they all have the same profile. The messaging here is for women to go home. ‘Women, we don’t want to see you in the streets.’ And so far, Iraqi women are being very resilient about it. So far, they’re insisting they go out and they have a voice. So their participation in the election was, actually, very courageous. Very courageous.

Yes, thank you America. The meaning of this election will become positive for Iraqis only if Iraqi women, and the whole population in general, manages to wrest control of their own history from the tenacious desires and pillages of the US occupiers. With friends like Hillary Rodham Clinton saying she is on their side, it won’t be easy.

Update 2/21: I added a few words stating that the Hillary Clinton interviews took place in Baghdad, Iraq.

The US murdered Fallujah

Saturday, February 19th, 2005

What do we compare this to? The devastation by US bombing of the Cambodian countryside during the spring of 1970? Or is the crushing of the Jewish resistance in Warsaw by the German SS during World War II a more apt comparison?


The bodies of Jewish resisters lie in front of the ruins of a building where they were shot by the SS during the suppression of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The original German caption reads: “Bandits killed in battle.” Photo credit: Poland National Archives; Source: A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust


Body of young boy in rubble of bombed home, Fallujah, Iraq, November 2004…The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, said Thursday, November 11, 2004 that “hundreds and hundreds of insurgents” have been killed and captured. Photo Credit: Dahr Jamail

The comparisons above I propose for discussion undoutedly will anger many fine Americans, who simply cannot allow in their minds the possibility that Bush’s war is something other than a righteous pursuit of justice and democracy. The thought that the US military has acted in Iraq like the Nazi Stormtroopers of World War II, crushing resistance to occupation without regard for Geneva Conventions or the humanity of the Iraqis, is just not something jingoistic Americans are prepared to accept.

But, if true, this testimony forces us to discuss such comparisons:

On 9 November American marines came to our house. My father and the neighbour went to the door to meet them. We were not fighters. We thought we had nothing to fear. I ran into the kitchen to put on my veil, since men were going to enter our house and it would be wrong for them to see me with my hair uncovered. “This saved my life. As my father and neighbour approached the door, the Americans opened fire on them. They died instantly.

“Me and my 13 year old brother hid in the kitchen behind the fridge. The soldiers came into the house and caught my older sister. They beat her. Then they shot her. But they did not see me. Soon they left, but not before they had destroyed our furniture and stolen the money from my father’s pocket.”

Hudda told me how she comforted her dying sister by reading verses from the Koran. After four hours her sister died. For three days Hudda and her brother stayed with their murdered relatives. But they were thirsty and had only a few dates to eat. They feared the troops would return and decided to try to flee the city. But they were spotted by a US sniper.

Hudda was shot in the leg, her brother ran but was shot in the back and died instantly. “I prepared myself to die,” she told me. “But I was found by an American woman soldier, and she took me to hospital.” She was eventually reunited with the surviving members of her family.

I also found survivors of another family from the Jolan district. They told me that at the end of the second week of the siege the US troops swept through the Jolan. The Iraqi National Guard used loudspeakers to call on people to get out of the houses carrying white flags, bringing all their belongings with them. They were ordered to gather outside near the Jamah al-Furkan mosque in the centre of town.

On 12 November Eyad Naji Latif and eight members of his family-one of them a six month old child-gathered their belongings and walked in single file, as instructed, to the mosque.

When they reached the main road outside the mosque they heard a shout, but they could not understand what was being shouted. Eyad told me it could have been “now” in English. Then the firing began. US soldiers appeared on the roofs of surrounding houses and opened fire. Eyad’s father was shot in the heart and his mother in the chest.

They died instantly. Two of Eyad’s brothers were also hit, one in the chest and one in the neck. Two of the women were hit, one in the hand and one in the leg. Then the snipers killed the wife of one of Eyad’s brothers. When she fell her five year old son ran to her and stood over her body. They shot him dead too. Survivors made desperate appeals to the troops to stop firing.

But Eyad told me that whenever one of them tried to raise a white flag they were shot. After several hours he tried to raise his arm with the flag. But they shot him in the arm. Finally he tried to raise his hand. So they shot him in the hand….

See also this entry at Darh Jamail’s weblog.

The testimony describes blatant war crimes carried out by US forces and gross violation of black-letter international law:

Geneva Convention IV, Article 32:

The High Contracting Parties specifically agree that each of them is prohibited from taking any measure of such a character as to cause the physical suffering or extermination of protected persons in their hands. This prohibition applies not only to murder, torture, corporal punishments, mutilation and medical or scientific experiments not necessitated by the medical treatment of a protected person, but also to any other measures of brutality whether applied by civilian or military agents.

Will this ever end? Will anyone ever be held responsible for these crimes? It seems that those responsible for managing this brutal policy just receive promotions, as the former death squad manager and chief US “diplomat” in Iraq during the siege of Fallujah has now received a nomination to become Director of National Intelligence.

These are sad and freightening times. Thanks to Past Peak: Cause for Alarm for the link to the Information Clearing House story.