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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Baghdad attacks on Shiite pilgrims kill 68 in three days

Baghdad (AFP) July 8, 2010

A string of attacks against Shiite pilgrims in the past three days killed 68 people in Baghdad, security officials said on Thursday, exposing the continued ability of insurgents to inflict bloodshed.

The death toll was another blow to the leaders of a country which remains dogged by sectarian strife and has only a caretaker government more than four months after a general election in which no clear winner emerged.

Almost half of those killed -- 28 -- died on Wednesday night when a suicide bomber wearing an explosives-filled belt struck pilgrims in Adhamiyah, a Sunni district across the Tigris river from Kadhimiyah, in the north of the capital.

Kadhimiyah is named after Musa Kadhim, the seventh of 12 revered imams in Shiite Islam, who was poisoned in 799 AD, and whose death the pilgrims have honoured in recent days.

Many of the faithful cross a bridge between the two neighbouring districts to reach the shrine. The suicide bomber also wounded 136 people, while 11 more were killed in other bomb attacks across the capital on Wednesday.

The new death toll issued on Thursday came as tens of thousands of Shiite faithful started to disperse from the shrine and make their way home amid chaotic scenes as many of them looked for a lift from passing cars and buses.

Four bombings in the capital on Thursday killed nine people and brought the number of wounded to more than 400 people since Tuesday, the officials said.

A roadside bomb in the central Bab al-Muazam neighbourhood killed four people and wounded 46, while a second bomb in the southeastern Mashtal district killed three and wounded 31, a security official said.

The Shiite majority in Iraq have been a main target of Sunni Arab armed groups since the US-led invasion of 2003 toppled now executed dictator Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime.

Pilgrimages to the Shiite holy places have been repeatedly hit.

Tens of thousands of Shiite worshippers streamed into Baghdad in recent days amid heavy security for the pilgrimage.

Traffic was banned on Tuesday on several bridges spanning the Tigris River, increasing already bad congestion in the capital, where control on vehicles is already complicated by hundreds of security checkpoints.

Motorcycles and carts were also prohibited, but even heightened measures failed to protect them as they travelled to the mausoleum, which had previously been targeted.

In April 2009, two female suicide bombers detonated their payloads near the shrine, killing 65 people, including 20 Iranian pilgrims, and wounding 120 others.

But the threat of violence did not dent the enthusiasm of worshippers, some of whom were planning to pray for a breakthrough in the political deadlock that has blocked a new government taking office after March 7 parliamentary polls.

Iyad Allawi, a Shiite former premier, insists that as the election's narrow victor he should become prime minister, especially as his broadly secular Iraqiya coalition had strong backing in Sunni-dominated provinces.

He has warned that a failure to see Sunni Arab voters properly represented in power could reignite the sectarian violence that saw tens of thousands killed in the years following the ouster of Saddam.

Allawi narrowly pushed serving Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite-led State of Law alliance into second place in the election, but the incumbent is doggedly fighting to stay on and serve a second term.

US Vice President Joe Biden, on a three-day visit to Baghdad at the weekend, appealed to Allawi, Maliki and other political leaders to compromise and end a political vacuum which comes as American combat troops leave the country.

There are currently 77,500 US soldiers in Iraq but this number will fall to 50,000 by August 31 as the combat troops withdraw, leaving a 50,000-strong training and advisory force which is due to pull out by December 2011.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Truth about the War with Iraq

Here is a simple but fundamental question, which was at the heart of the Iraq war controversy: how is the global village to run and be governed? It’s the hidden basis of the political conflicts in the UN over Iraq and similar issues.

The inescapable fact is that we are moving further every day to a one–world economy without a one–world government or legal structure.

Last-century thinking describes a world of nation states, where national sovereignty is absolute and cannot be violated under international law except to resist aggression and in self-defence. That was the French and German position on the war with Iraq and it has very powerful historical precedent.

But life has moved on. We will need a new model altogether if we are to live in prosperity and peace during the third millennium. That’s because at least 4 billion people are already living in towns, cities or rural areas which are profoundly affected by globalisation and the techno-communication revolution. They are already citizens of the global village, or the global nation of all nations.

The start of a new world order began with war in Iraq

Since the collapse of Communism we have seen the beginnings of a new world order: all nations working together in a semi-democratic global body to seek the common good, for the whole of humanity. It may be primitive and rather innefective, but is becoming more significant.

In the last decade the UN has grown in stature from a feeble committee weakened by bickering, paralysed by a tiny minority of countries who had the right of veto. The UN has become a stronger unifying force in world affairs. That’s why sharp debates over how to discipline Iraq’s government have been all the more shocking.

But don’t be misled by aggressive speeches: when you think back to the days of the Cold War, the consensus amongst developed nations in early 2003 for some kind of significant UN intervention in Iraq’s affairs was overwhelming by historical standards, although you would have been forgiven for thinking the opposite from the media coverage of UN voting intentions.

Lesson from the Cold War

During the Cold War, any threat of military invasion of a country by Russia or America would have produced in most cases immediate counter-threats by the other. As a result most wars were waged by proxy in far away places, between small nations funded and armed by both superpowers.

But in March 2003, despite all the hot air, not one nation in the world offered to fight for Sadam and protect Iraq from American invasion, least of all Russia or China. Not one other national army offered soldiers or weapons to protect Iraq national sovereignty, to liberate the people of Bagdad from foreign US-dominated forces, to underpin survival of the Sadam regime.

Sure, some nations held back, abstaining, remaining neutral. Some national leaders were making strong statements of protest - but these turned out to be only words, not backed by bullets. Where were the countries lining up to sell hundreds of high-tech missiles or tanks or planes to Iraq?

So the strange reality is that while it appears at first sight that the new fragile world order is crumbling into the dust, the opposite may be the case. Of course much depend on how Iraq instabily settles or flares, the early and "successful" withdrawal of US and other foreign troops, life for the Iraqi people post-withdrawal, and the impact on the region as a whole.

The current tensions and conflicts may well fuel further waves of terrorism, especially if the US fails to take a powerful lead, together with international support, to help establish a “just” Middle East peace settlement for both Palestinians and Israelis. It may also lead to destabilising regime changes in other Arab nations, replacing family dynasties with anti-American Islamic fundamentalism in countries like Saudi Arabia. But the current spats are unlikely to lead to destruction of the UN, nor the break up of the EU, nor the rapid neutering of American power - quite the opposite.

The world is far more united than words suggest

The truth is that most nations of the world united in condemnation of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and again in imposing sanctions of many kinds over more than a decade since. They united again post-9/11 in a coalition against terror and more recently in insisting that UN-monitored disarmament took place.

When it came to discussions about weapons inspections and the threat of armed intervention, disagreement was almost entirely over process rather than substance: how disarmament should be achieved, measured, monitored and if necessary imposed, and over what timescale? At what point should the international community conclude that all alternatives to armed intervention have been exhausted? What form should military intervention take under such circumstances? How should it be led and financed? How should the peace be kept, reconstruction proceed and national autonomy be re-established?

Our memories are short. The level of multinational consensus about the need if necessary to intervene in the affairs of rogue states is extraordinary and unusual in world history.

That is why there is such a consensus about Iran now amongst France, Germany, Russia, UK, US, China, India and many other less powerful nations about the need for the international community to act by force if necessary, if Iran continues despite many warnings with an active programme to rapidly develop nuclear warheads.

And so we return to the global village – or rather the global nation of all humanity.

Economically, the world is already operating as a single closely inter-related organism. The problem is that mechanisms for governance, law and order are still primitive – feudal or medieval in nature. We have yet to grow up.

So we have “cities” in the global nation behaving like little kingdoms, taking the law into their own hands whenever it suits them (Russia and America), while at other times appealing to the “government” to impose common will on others.

What of the future? Life after the Iraq war will never be the same

Expect the world-wide love-hate relationship with America to become even more polarised, on the one hand hungrily devouring American media culture, on the other hand increasingly bitter and resentful at American power and lack of sensitivity to how the rest of the world works.

Expect new generations of terrorists to take courage and exact “revenge”, with the aim of “wounding American pride and arrogance”. Every one of them will tell you they are fighting for a higher moral cause.

Expect America to continue to feel deeply hurt, increasingly isolated and angry, the target of frequent terror attacks and general animosity in many places, acting forcefully around the world wherever it feels national interests dictate, and withdrawing to lick its wounds when it does not.

Expect America to be increasingly hostile to the idea of submitting in any respect whatsoever to the will of the global majority, whether on the environment, trade agreements or any other matter, and to be in even less mood to compromise than pre-Iraq War. Expect the US at the same time to make intensive diplomatic efforts to try to win back lost friends, but with ever-deepening suspicion of UN controls, inefficiency, corruption and influence.

In contrast, expect almost the entire rest of the world to invest intensively in the UN as the sole vehicle for solving complex international issues, in a quest to create a more sustainable and peaceful future.

Expect the EU to forge ahead with renewed energy to create structures to balance US power economically and militarily. But the EU will be severely restrained by ongoing internal conflicts, which will be made worse by every new country joining, as well as by unfolding events. Expect the UK to be frozen out of significant decisions by France and Germany who will seize every chance to dominate the future of the EU together, and to humiliate the US. Expect UK doubts to grow about whether it will ever sit comfortably within a Franco-German led federation of EU states. Expect France and Germany to be increasingly worried about rapid enlargement, and dilution of their power by pro-US nations with shaky economies, arguing passionately that the world will be a better place if there is a significant European counter-balance to the US.

Expect several non-European nations to embark on dangerous military adventures, arguing that the US has set a new model for them to copy: “legally” invading other countries when they could possibly be a future threat. India and Pakistan, North and South Korea and so on. These local wars could produce huge problems for the future stability of the world. Expect concerns about this to lead to calls for stronger structures and processes within the UN.

Reforming the UN as a more democratic global authority

A key challenge will be to reform the UN so that it can become more effective and fair as a federation of nations. The current powers of veto are anti-democratic and smack of nineteenth tyranny, held as they are by very few supremely powerful, wealthy nations.

The UN will only carry true global moral authority when each nation is able to cast votes in proportion to it’s contribution to global population, so that each citizen is represented equally without fear or favour. But this is an unthinkable prospect.

Even an idea of such a global assembly will provoke huge reactions in wealthy nations, because it strikes to the root of the most important unsolved problem on the planet today: the fact that most people are extremely poor, with no voice and no vote in world affairs, living off less than $2 a day.

Why global democracy is so unpopular

And so we find an interesting fact: those who live in democratic nations, who uphold democracy as the only honourable form of government, are not really true democrats after all. They have little or no interest in global democracy, in a nation of nations, in seeking the common good of the whole of humanity.

And it is this single fact, more than any other, this inequality of wealth and privilege in our shrinking global village, that will make it more likely that our future is dominate by terror groups, freedom fighters, justice-seekers, hell-raisers, protestors and violent agitators.

The lesson of history is that tyrannies and dictatorships get overthrown, that the will of the majority eventually finds a voice and freedom.

And that is exactly what will eventually happen in our non-democratic, dysfunctional, unjust, global village.

We cannot wind back the clock

We cannot wind the clock back fifty years to a cosy world where these country by country contrasts no longer matter. CNN and Hollywood have seen to that.

On TV screens in the poorest slums on earth, millions of people see their wealthy neighbours go about their daily lives while they scrabble in the dust to find money for basic food and shelter. They have seen the truth.

The digital society created the global village and globalisation the basic rules for trading within it, but neither has taught us how to live together in such a small cultural space. This is the greatest moral challenge of our time.

In a future world where small numbers of activists will wield unimagineable power with dirty bombs, nuclear devices, chemical weapons and strange viruses, our very survival will depend on finding a way to live together in harmony, with freedom and justice for all.

And that will require further extrensions of global governance.

History may record that it took us many decades, possibly, to agree to it – but what will be the pain along the way?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Reality and the Iraq war


Is the progress today the first glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe, maybe not. But the Democrats shouldn’t act as though it’s an oncoming train.

Most Democrats — in fact, most Americans — believe that the Iraq war has been a huge mistake for this country. Accordingly, it's no real surprise that Democrats will nominate a presidential candidate who sees Iraq as they see it: anguished by the loss of life, deeply upset by the damage done to America's reputation, and angered by the unilateralism and poor war planning of the Bush administration.

These viewpoints are sincere, legitimate and defensible. But they sometimes fail to fold in the reality of how far Iraq has come in the past 12 months under the new surge-based strategy of Gen. David Petraeus. Most Democrats seem to belittle or even deny the progress, despite a 75% reduction in violence and the beginnings of Iraqi political compromise.

To be sure, it is understandably hard for Democrats and other administration critics to believe that a war fought so badly at first could take a turn for the better. We are not used to such things in the modern era. Arguably, one has to go back to the American Civil War to find a parallel, and even that is a poor analogy because President Lincoln's performance in that war was clearly far better than President Bush's has been in this one, to put it mildly. That said, if Democrats cannot get beyond their viewpoint, they could suffer badly in the fall as a result. Even more important, the nation could suffer as we waste an election campaign refighting the debates of 2002 and 2003 rather than looking to the future.

Run for the exits

The Democratic position — embraced particularly by Sen. Barack Obama but also by Sen. Hillary Clinton — is that we need to make haste for the exits. Obama rigidly calls for pulling nearly all combat forces out of Iraq within about a year of Inauguration Day. Clinton's position leaves room for some flexibility, though her words on the campaign trail are generally similar to Obama's. But neither candidate's approach would be supported by most leaders — American or Iraqi — on the ground in Iraq. Only those who have concluded that the war is already lost tend to back such a position. And that latter viewpoint is far less common today than it was a year ago, or even months ago.

Those who say Iraq will be better off once we leave underestimate the typical duration of most nation-building efforts (a decade or more) as well as the fragility of Iraq's new institutions and the freshness of sectarian wounds that have only begun to heal. The odds are that if we leave soon, we will lose, and Iraq will descend into all-out civil war far worse than what occurred in 2006. This will in turn risk regional turmoil and the likelihood of some al-Qaeda strongholds being re-established in key Iraqi cities.

Democrats and other critics of the Bush administration can still play a crucial role in the Iraq debate. A "loyal opposition" is needed — and tremendously valuable. For all the progress of the past year, Iraq is far from a stable place, and we cannot just put policy on autopilot.

Even so, Democrats and other war critics should not be arguing for an unconditional and rushed departure, as the congressional leadership and Obama are generally doing. Nor should supporters of the war be arguing for a largely open-ended commitment regardless of Iraqi performance, as the Bush administration and to some extent Sen. John McCain seem to favor. McCain, the GOP nominee, has been vindicated in his support of the surge, and his resolute commitment to success in Iraq is admirable. Yet it is better that Iraqis also hear a U.S. message of tough love, not only what has essentially become an unconditional promise of assistance.

Democrats can provide such a melded approach. If Iraqis do their part, we help; if not, we leave. Neither the Democratic leadership, nor the Bush administration nor McCain have advocated these conditions. The Democratic presidential candidate could ideally take such a stance. Though the approach wouldn't sit well with the party's base, it's a pragmatic way to embrace the progress occurring in Iraq while also planning for an endgame.

And now, political progress

Thankfully, there has been some movement of late in Iraq's politics. Its leaders have passed a pensions law, a de-Baathification law to incorporate former Saddam loyalists into the army, a new budget for 2008, an amnesty law for many detained during the conflict, and a provincial powers act that should help clarify the roles of Iraq's 18 provinces and pave the way for elections this fall. These steps come on top of de facto oil revenue sharing last year, when the central government gave the provinces far more money to spend than ever before.

Yet myriad problems still exist. For example, the de-Baathification law, if badly implemented, could do more harm than good by purging Sunnis from the very security forces that we have worked so hard to include them within. And even the landmark provincial powers act has since been vetoed by Iraq's presidency council, leaving it in limbo.

As such, Iraqi leaders need to feel pressure to deliver. That is where a more conditional Democratic approach comes in. The United States stays only if Iraqis accelerate their own political efforts at reconciliation. This is admittedly a complex matter to evaluate accurately, but that is OK — Iraqis will get the message even if it is somewhat inexact and imprecise.

Democrats in Congress — including the two seeking the presidency and the leadership on Capitol Hill — should work for success in Iraq while reminding Iraqis that absent continued progress, the U.S. commitment could end, and soon. It is a message consistent with Democrats' past views on the conflict, yet cognizant of the considerable gains there in the past year.

This would be a noble, worthy approach for an opposition party in a time of war. And my guess is that beyond being the right thing to do, such a change in strategy would be politically appealing to American voters come November.

Real Clear Numbers: 101,000 US Casualties a Year

A friend of mine who's a librarian was recently reviewing job applicants. Asked his qualifications in library skills, one man put "machine-gunner." He was a vet who'd served in Falluja. The library is in a state school that, last fall, had 650 such vets enrolled. The young man got the job but soon became irked by what he saw as the trivial preoccupations of his colleagues. He applied for a job at a nearby police department. All over the country police departments are advertising for Iraq vets. Three-quarters of the way through the hiring process, the PD signaled to him that things looked good. Then, in rapid succession, three Iraq vets in the area were involved in lethal episodes: two murders and one suicide. The PD immediately called the young man in for a second psychological evaluation, then nixed him for the job. He's 24. He can't find anything satisfying to do and is thinking of re-enlisting. He's against the war.

Those violent episodes are just part of bringing the war home. It'll be active on the home front for years to come. Just under one in three--31 percent--of those who've been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from a brain injury or stress disorder or a mix of both these conditions.

On April 17 the RAND Corporation released a study of service members and veterans back home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The 500-page study was titled Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery. It was sponsored by a grant from the California Community Foundation and done by twenty-five researchers from RAND Health and the RAND National Security Research Division. From last August to January, the team conducted a phone survey with 1,965 service members, reservists and veterans in twenty-four areas across the country with high concentrations of those people. Some had done more than one tour.

By Alexander Cockburn

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Why Staying In Iraq Is Wrong


Is Iraq worth what we are paying? No.

Does leaving cheapen the sacrifices of those who have served and those who gave the final full measure? Maybe...

But it's a vulgar gambler's fallacy of irrational escalation used by Chickenhawk Warmongers to tap into the raw emotions of those who have lost loved ones or those who have served and want to, need to believe their government didn't send them into a war for profit.

I think that is in fact what is my greatest issue with the way a lot of people argue in favor of the war. "We have to stay there, because people have died there, and we have to honor their service." Well, if we stay because people have died there, then we're going to be staying forever, because more people will continue to die to ensure that those who have died will in some way not be mistreated.

We've all seen the smaller version of this. The guy who keeps buying lottery ticket after lottery ticket, because he's already thrown so much money away that it would be wasteful if he didn't keep it up until he won. Or the guy who goes to Vegas or Atlantic City and winds up losing everything, because he didn't want to quit the table while he was behind. He had to have a win to save face, and now when he comes home, he'll be sleeping on the couch for months.

That's essentially where we're at. In a manner reminiscent of "I won't be the first president to lose a war", nobody wants to be the guy who rains on the parade, admits that primary sources show we were lied and misled into war, and says it's time to cut our losses and move out. That our 'goals' are unrealistic, and there is in fact no winning condition for Iraq.

I challenge everyone reading this-and yes, I even include the radical right-wingers who drop by. Can you provide me a criteria for winning that includes specifics in two sentences or less? A criteria, after which it is met, US troops will be able to leave because the job is done? "Don't quit until the job is done" only applies if there is a valid and reachable job to do. It does not apply if your only motivating factor is "not to look weak".

Because it's not just money being thrown away by some guy in a casino that's happening now. Oh, money is certainly being thrown away-thrown away on contractors, thrown away on mistaken goals, thrown away on projects that fail, pointless new uniforms even the Army acknowledges have issues, buying more bad weapons that produce cringe-worthy dust tests.

Now it's soldier's lives being tossed away on this never-ending bad wager, in the hope that somehow, someday, a big win will come out of it. It is a sobering reflection of how much death has been occurring that the Army has authorized Gold Star lapel pins on the uniform. We don't even know the real cost of the Iraq War in people, because the figures that would be most important aren't being released. What about the figures of the wounded? What about the figures of the people who come back psychologically damaged and no longer able to function effectively as a normal person, upping our already awful divorce statistics? What about the suicide rate?

Soldiers aren't chips on a gambling table, and they shouldn't be treated that way by uncaring politicians who have no personal investment in ending the war.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Bush rejects Iraq strategy change


Bush said the "surge" of US troops into
Iraq had only just been completed [AFP]

George Bush has ruled out any quick shift in US strategy in Iraq, brushing aside criticism from within his own party and saying congress must allow the so-called troop "surge" more time to work.











Speaking at a meeting of business leaders in Ohio the US president said the 28,000 additional troops he ordered into Iraq have not been in place long enough to gauge results. "We just started," Bush said, rejecting calls from some prominent Republicans for an immediate change of course.














In recent days several senior Republicans, such as Indiana senator Richard Lugar, have broken ranks with the president over Iraq. An interim report on the progress of the troop surge is due out later this week and is expected to show only mixed results triggering further debate over Bush's strategy. Speaking in Ohio however, Bush said the troops would stay and called on critics to wait for a report due in September from General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq.


Call to wait


Bush is facing growing pressure for a rethink
from members of his own party [EPA]

"I believe Congress ought to wait for General Petraeus to come back and give his assessment of the strategy that he's putting in place before they make any decisions," he said. "That's what the American people expect… And that's the way I'm going to play it as commander in chief." Al Jazeera's Washington correspondent Rob Reynolds says Bush spoke as though his faith in a desirable outcome in Iraq would make victory happen. "I strongly believe democracy will trump totalitarianism every time," the US president said. "That's what I believe, and those are the belief systems on which I am making decisions." He said the US troop presence in Iraq was necessary "for the security of the United States and the peace of the world". "I strongly believe it, and I strongly believe we'll prevail," he said. But the president's faith does not appear to be reflected among American voters. 'Tide has turned' According to a USA Today/Gallup poll released on Tuesday more than seven in 10 Americans favour withdrawing nearly all US troops from Iraq by April. The same poll showed 62 per cent thought sending US troops to Iraq was a mistake - the first time that number has topped 60 per cent in that poll. Acknowledging the public mood, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe said impatience for a shift in policy was continuing to grow and that by September there could be enough support among Democrats and disaffected Republicans to pass a withdrawal timetable. "The tide has turned," Snowe said. Adding to pressure on Bush from within his own party, John Warner, a Republican senator from Virginia, told reporters he was working with other disaffected Republicans on a proposal about Iraq that is in the "formative stages."


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Iraq Is a Civil War: Media Dominoes Falling

For months, the media have been torn over use of the term "civil war" to describe the descent into outright murder and torture in Iraq. Apparently the utter chaos and carnage of the past week has finally convinced some to use "civil war" without apology -- with NBC News and MSNBC joining in today in a major way -- but many still hold back, an E&P survey today shows.

The Los Angeles Times was one of the first newspapers to flatly describe the conflict as a "civil war" -- without the usual qualifiers of "approaching" or "near" -- and did again in the first paragraph of a news report on Saturday. The Christian Science Monitor today refers to a "deepening civil war."

But the main Washington Post story today continued to use "sectarian strife." A widely published Reuters dispatch today adopted "sectarian conflict," and McClatchy, in a report from Baghdad, relied on "sectarian violence." Other papers declared that Iraq is on the verge of civil war, but has not gotten there yet, with an Associated Press story calling Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's visit to Iran an effort to prevent "Iraq's sectarian violence from sliding into an all-out civil war."

In a bombshell, however, Matt Lauer on the Today show this morning revealed that NBC had studied and perhaps debated the issue anew, and then decided that it will now use "civil war" freely. "For months the White House rejected claims that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated into civil war," he said. "For the most part news organizations like NBC hesitated to characterize it as such. After careful consideration, NBC News has decided the change in terminology is warranted, and what is going on in Iraq can now be characterized as civil war."

He explained: "We should mention we didn't just wake up on a Monday morning and say let's call this a civil war. This took careful deliberation. We consulted with a lot of people." One of them was retired Gen. Barry McCaffery, a longtime NBC consultant, who told Lauer he had been using the expression "civil war" for quite some time, with the qualifier "low grade."

Lauer added: "The White House objects to the terminology that NBC News is now using, and here is part of the statement that they've released: 'While the situation on the ground is very serious, neither Prime Minister Maliki nor we believe that Iraq is in a civil war.' It goes on to say that 'the violence is largely centered around Baghdad, and Baghdad security and the increased training of Iraqi security forces is at the top of the agenda when President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki meet later this week in Jordan.'"

Asked about the civil war tag, CNN's Michael Ware said on Friday from Baghdad: "Well, firstly, let me say, perhaps it's easier to deny that this is a civil war, when essentially you live in the most heavily fortified place in the country within the Green Zone, which is true of both the prime minister, the national security adviser for Iraq and, of course, the top U.S. military commanders. However, for the people living on the streets, for Iraqis in their homes, if this is not civil war, or a form of it, then they do not want to see what one really looks like."

In his column in this week's Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria pulls no punches: "We're in the middle of a civil war and are being shot at by both sides. There can be no more doubt that Iraq is in a civil war, in which leaders of both its main communities, Sunnis and Shiites, are fomenting violence."

The Los Angeles Times story by Solomon Moore had opened: "Iraq's civil war worsened Friday as Shiite and Sunni Arabs engaged in retaliatory attacks after coordinated car bombings that killed more than 200 people in a Shiite neighborhood the day before. A main Shiite political faction threatened to quit the government, a move that probably would cause its collapse and plunge the nation deeper into disarray."

The Los Angeles Times since October has been calling it a civil war, Marjorie Miller, the newspaper's foreign editor, told the Associated Press today. "It's a very simple calculation," she said. "It's a country that's tearing itself apart, one group against another group or several groups against several groups. What country even admits that it is in the midst of a civil war?"

Editors at the Associated Press have discussed the issue and haven't reached a definitive stance, said John Daniszewski, international editor. Most often, the conflict is called "the war in Iraq" or identified with descriptive terms such as sectarian fighting, anti-government attacks or ethnic clashes, he said.

He pointed to the different definitions experts have for civil wars. "From a historical point of view, not every civil war is called by that name, and wars by their very nature are not always neatly categorized," he said, in an AP report. "For instance, the American Revolutionary War, the Vietnam War and the more recent wars in Bosnia and Kosovo were all civil wars according to the broader definition, yet we do not normally think or speak of them that way."

Officials at both ABC News and CBS News said that they discuss the situation all the time, but that there's no network policy to use the term civil war, AP added. "We are not there yet," said Paul Slavin, ABC News senior vice president, noting differing definitions.

But MSNBC's Contessa Brewer said this morning on the air: "Now, the battle between Shiites and Sunnis has created a civil war in Iraq. Beginning this morning, MSNBC will refer to the fighting in Iraq as a civil war -- a phrase the White House continues to resist. But after careful thought, MSNBC and NBC News decided over the weekend, the terminology is appropriate, as armed militarized factions fight for their own political agendas. We'll have a lots more on the situation in Iraq and the decision to use the phrase 'civil war.'"

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that some scholars are calling the Iraq conflict a "civil war. " A civil war, it explained, is commonly defined by two criteria: two warring groups fighting for control over political power, and at least 1,000 deaths with at least 100 from each side. Criteria that Iraq meets, easily.

About the Violence in Iraq

The distortions about the violence in Iraq persist even as the mayhem increases. Here are ten of the worst myths being spread in the media.
The escalating violence in Iraq's civil war is now earning considerable attention as we pass yet another milestone -- U.S. occupation there, in two weeks, will exceed the length of the Second World War for America. While the news media have finally started to grapple with the colossal amount of killing, a number of misunderstandings persist. Some are willful deceptions. Let's look at a few of them:

1. The U.S. is a buffer against more violence. This is perhaps the most resilient conjecture that has no basis in fact.

Iraqis themselves do not believe it. In a State Department poll published in September, huge majorities say the U.S. is directly responsible for the violence. The upsurge of bloodshed in Baghdad seems to confirm the Iraqis' view, at least by inference. The much-publicized U.S. effort to bring troops to Baghdad to quell sectarian killing has accompanied a period of increased mortality in the city.

2. The killers do it to influence U.S. politics. This was the mantra of right-wing bloggers and cable blowhards like Bill O'Reilly, who asserted time and again before November 7 that the violence was a "Tet offensive" designed to tarnish Bush and convince Americans to vote for Democrats. This is American solipsism, at which the right wing excels. If anything, the violence has grown since November 7.

English-language sources have more than 1,000 dead since the Bush rejection at the polls. Bill, are the Iraqi fighters now aiming at the Iowa caucuses in '08?

3. The "Lancet" numbers are bogus. Since the only scientific survey of deaths in Iraq was published in The Lancet in early October, the discourse on Iraqi casualties has changed. But many in media and policy circles are still in denial about the scale of mayhem.

Anthony Cordesman, Fred Kaplan, and Michael O'Hanlon, among many others, fail to understand the method of the survey -- widely used and praised by leading epidemiologists -- which concluded that between 400,000 and 700,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict. One knowledegable commentator describes the Lancet survey as "flypaper for innumerates," and the deniers indeed look foolishly innumerate when they state that there was "no way" there could be more than 65,000 or 100,000 deaths. As soon as that bit of ignorance rolled off their lips, the Iraq Health Ministry admitted to 150,000 civilians killed by Sunni insurgents alone, which would be in the Lancet ballpark. Much other evidence suggests the Lancet numbers are about right. (See "The Human cost of the War in Iraq" here; fyi, I commissioned the study. More on this another time.)

4. Syria and Iran are behind the violence. There is no compelling reason why the two neighbors would foment large-scale violence that could spill over to threaten their regimes. Iran is in the driver's seat -- as everyone not blinded by neo-con fantasies knew in advance -- with its Shia cousins in power; Syria has its own regime stability problems and does not need the large influx of refugees or potential jihadis. That both are happy to make life hard for the U.S. is not a secret (call it their Monroe Doctrine). But are they organizing the extreme and destabilizing violence we've seen this year? Doubtful. And, there's very little evidence to support this piece of blame-someone-else.

5. The "Go Big" strategy of the Pentagon could work. The Pentagon apparently is about to forward three options to Bush for a retreat: "Go Big," meaning more troops for a short time, "Go Long," a gradual withdrawal while training Iraqis, and "Go Home," acknowledging defeat and getting out. Go Big is what McCain and Zinni and others are proposing, as if adding 20,000 or 30,000 troops will do the trick. The argument about more troops, which speaks also to the "incompetence dodge" (i.e., that the war wasn't wrong, just badly managed), has one problem: no one can convincing prove that modest increments in troop strength will change the security situation in Iraq (see #1 above). One would need 300,000 or more troops to have a chance of pacifying Iraq, and that is neither politically feasible or logistically possible, and is therefore a nonstarter. So is "Go Big."

6. Foreign fighters, especially jihadis, are fueling the violence. This was largely discredited but is making a comeback as Washington's search for scapegoats intensifies. By most estimates, including the Pentagon's, foreign fighters make up a small fraction of violent actors in Iraq -- perhaps 10 percent overall. (This is based on identifying people arrested as fighters.) Some of the more spectacular attacks have been carried out by al Qaeda or its imitators, but overall the violence is due to three forces: U.S. military, Iraqi Sunni Arab insurgents, and Shia militia, with minor parts played by Kurdish peshmerga in Kirkuk and the foreign bad boys.

7. If we do not defeat the violent actors there, they will follow us here. This is now the sole remaining justification for U.S. involvement in the war. If the numbers about foreign fighters are correct, then it is plainly wrong. The main anatgonists are Iraqis, and they will remain there to fight it out for many years. That does not mean we have not created many "terrorists" who would do us harm, as U.S. intelligence agencies assert, but killing them in Iraq is not a plausible option. It's too difficult; aggressive counterinsurgency creates more fighters the longer we stay and harder we try; and they might not be there.

8. The violence is about Sunni-Shia mutual loathing; a pox on both their houses. This is the emerging "moral clarity" of the right wing, that we gave it our best, we handed the tools of freedom to Iraqis, and they'd rather kill each other. That there was longstanding antagonism, stemming from decades of Sunni Arab domination and repression, is well known. But the truly horrifying scale of violence we see now took many months to brew, and is built on the violence begun by the U.S. military and the lack of economic stability, political participation, etc., that the occupation wrought. Equally as important, sectarian killing found its political justification in the constitution fashioned by U.S. advisers that essentially split the country into three factions, giving them a very solid set of incentives to go to war with each other.

9. The war is an Iraqi affair, and the best we can do now is train them to enforce security. This is the more upbeat version of #8, the "Go Long" strategy that sees training as a panacea. Despite three years of serious attempts, the U.S. training programs are bogged down by the sectarian violence itself, or by incompetence all round. No one who has looked at this carefully believes that training Iraqis is a near-term solution. It's a useful ruse as an exit strategy, blaming the victims for violence and failure.

10. Trust the same people who caused or endorsed the war to tell us what to do next. We know who they are: Bush, Cheney, McCain, and other cronies; the neo-cons now increasingly on the periphery of power but still bleating (Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle, Adelman, Lieberman), the liberal hawks, and the right-wing media (Krauthamer, Fox News, Glenn Beck, phalangist bloggers, et al). They say, "just finish the job." Just finish the job... at a human cost of how many more dead? How many lives ruined? How much more damage to U.S.-Arab relations? How much anti-Muslim racism fomented to justify the killing?

The distortions about the violence in Iraq persist even as the mayhem increases. Yesterday there was a report about 100 widows a day being created in Iraq. A Times of London report from last summer notes that gravediggers in one Baghdad cemetery are handling 200 bodies daily, compared with 60 before the war. The situation of the displaced is becoming a humanitarian crisis that will soon rival the worst African cases; the middle and upper classes have fled, leaving the poor to cope. So the poor from the U.S. go to beat up the poor in Iraq, or stand by helplessly as the Iraqi poor ravage each other.

That is the harsh reality of violence in Iraq. A half million dead. More than two million displaced. No end in sight.

Beware the delusions.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

About the Violence in Iraq

The distortions about the violence in Iraq persist even as the mayhem increases. Here are ten of the worst myths being spread in the media.
The escalating violence in Iraq's civil war is now earning considerable attention as we pass yet another milestone -- U.S. occupation there, in two weeks, will exceed the length of the Second World War for America. While the news media have finally started to grapple with the colossal amount of killing, a number of misunderstandings persist. Some are willful deceptions. Let's look at a few of them:

1. The U.S. is a buffer against more violence. This is perhaps the most resilient conjecture that has no basis in fact.

Iraqis themselves do not believe it. In a State Department poll published in September, huge majorities say the U.S. is directly responsible for the violence. The upsurge of bloodshed in Baghdad seems to confirm the Iraqis' view, at least by inference. The much-publicized U.S. effort to bring troops to Baghdad to quell sectarian killing has accompanied a period of increased mortality in the city.

2. The killers do it to influence U.S. politics. This was the mantra of right-wing bloggers and cable blowhards like Bill O'Reilly, who asserted time and again before November 7 that the violence was a "Tet offensive" designed to tarnish Bush and convince Americans to vote for Democrats. This is American solipsism, at which the right wing excels. If anything, the violence has grown since November 7.

English-language sources have more than 1,000 dead since the Bush rejection at the polls. Bill, are the Iraqi fighters now aiming at the Iowa caucuses in '08?

3. The "Lancet" numbers are bogus. Since the only scientific survey of deaths in Iraq was published in The Lancet in early October, the discourse on Iraqi casualties has changed. But many in media and policy circles are still in denial about the scale of mayhem.

Anthony Cordesman, Fred Kaplan, and Michael O'Hanlon, among many others, fail to understand the method of the survey -- widely used and praised by leading epidemiologists -- which concluded that between 400,000 and 700,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict. One knowledegable commentator describes the Lancet survey as "flypaper for innumerates," and the deniers indeed look foolishly innumerate when they state that there was "no way" there could be more than 65,000 or 100,000 deaths. As soon as that bit of ignorance rolled off their lips, the Iraq Health Ministry admitted to 150,000 civilians killed by Sunni insurgents alone, which would be in the Lancet ballpark. Much other evidence suggests the Lancet numbers are about right. (See "The Human cost of the War in Iraq" here; fyi, I commissioned the study. More on this another time.)

4. Syria and Iran are behind the violence. There is no compelling reason why the two neighbors would foment large-scale violence that could spill over to threaten their regimes. Iran is in the driver's seat -- as everyone not blinded by neo-con fantasies knew in advance -- with its Shia cousins in power; Syria has its own regime stability problems and does not need the large influx of refugees or potential jihadis. That both are happy to make life hard for the U.S. is not a secret (call it their Monroe Doctrine). But are they organizing the extreme and destabilizing violence we've seen this year? Doubtful. And, there's very little evidence to support this piece of blame-someone-else.

5. The "Go Big" strategy of the Pentagon could work. The Pentagon apparently is about to forward three options to Bush for a retreat: "Go Big," meaning more troops for a short time, "Go Long," a gradual withdrawal while training Iraqis, and "Go Home," acknowledging defeat and getting out. Go Big is what McCain and Zinni and others are proposing, as if adding 20,000 or 30,000 troops will do the trick. The argument about more troops, which speaks also to the "incompetence dodge" (i.e., that the war wasn't wrong, just badly managed), has one problem: no one can convincing prove that modest increments in troop strength will change the security situation in Iraq (see #1 above). One would need 300,000 or more troops to have a chance of pacifying Iraq, and that is neither politically feasible or logistically possible, and is therefore a nonstarter. So is "Go Big."

6. Foreign fighters, especially jihadis, are fueling the violence. This was largely discredited but is making a comeback as Washington's search for scapegoats intensifies. By most estimates, including the Pentagon's, foreign fighters make up a small fraction of violent actors in Iraq -- perhaps 10 percent overall. (This is based on identifying people arrested as fighters.) Some of the more spectacular attacks have been carried out by al Qaeda or its imitators, but overall the violence is due to three forces: U.S. military, Iraqi Sunni Arab insurgents, and Shia militia, with minor parts played by Kurdish peshmerga in Kirkuk and the foreign bad boys.

7. If we do not defeat the violent actors there, they will follow us here. This is now the sole remaining justification for U.S. involvement in the war. If the numbers about foreign fighters are correct, then it is plainly wrong. The main anatgonists are Iraqis, and they will remain there to fight it out for many years. That does not mean we have not created many "terrorists" who would do us harm, as U.S. intelligence agencies assert, but killing them in Iraq is not a plausible option. It's too difficult; aggressive counterinsurgency creates more fighters the longer we stay and harder we try; and they might not be there.

8. The violence is about Sunni-Shia mutual loathing; a pox on both their houses. This is the emerging "moral clarity" of the right wing, that we gave it our best, we handed the tools of freedom to Iraqis, and they'd rather kill each other. That there was longstanding antagonism, stemming from decades of Sunni Arab domination and repression, is well known. But the truly horrifying scale of violence we see now took many months to brew, and is built on the violence begun by the U.S. military and the lack of economic stability, political participation, etc., that the occupation wrought. Equally as important, sectarian killing found its political justification in the constitution fashioned by U.S. advisers that essentially split the country into three factions, giving them a very solid set of incentives to go to war with each other.

9. The war is an Iraqi affair, and the best we can do now is train them to enforce security. This is the more upbeat version of #8, the "Go Long" strategy that sees training as a panacea. Despite three years of serious attempts, the U.S. training programs are bogged down by the sectarian violence itself, or by incompetence all round. No one who has looked at this carefully believes that training Iraqis is a near-term solution. It's a useful ruse as an exit strategy, blaming the victims for violence and failure.

10. Trust the same people who caused or endorsed the war to tell us what to do next. We know who they are: Bush, Cheney, McCain, and other cronies; the neo-cons now increasingly on the periphery of power but still bleating (Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle, Adelman, Lieberman), the liberal hawks, and the right-wing media (Krauthamer, Fox News, Glenn Beck, phalangist bloggers, et al). They say, "just finish the job." Just finish the job... at a human cost of how many more dead? How many lives ruined? How much more damage to U.S.-Arab relations? How much anti-Muslim racism fomented to justify the killing?

The distortions about the violence in Iraq persist even as the mayhem increases. Yesterday there was a report about 100 widows a day being created in Iraq. A Times of London report from last summer notes that gravediggers in one Baghdad cemetery are handling 200 bodies daily, compared with 60 before the war. The situation of the displaced is becoming a humanitarian crisis that will soon rival the worst African cases; the middle and upper classes have fled, leaving the poor to cope. So the poor from the U.S. go to beat up the poor in Iraq, or stand by helplessly as the Iraqi poor ravage each other.

That is the harsh reality of violence in Iraq. A half million dead. More than two million displaced. No end in sight.

Beware the delusions.