Posted on 05/09/2013 by Juan Cole
Posted on 04/16/2013 by Juan Cole
The horrific bombings of the Boston Marathon produced inspiring images of a spirited, brave Boston refusing to be cowed. Some spectators surged forward toward the danger to apply tourniquets, offer first aid, share blankets, and later to give blood, for the victims.
President Obama followed the crisis from its first moments and came out promptly to caution against fruitless speculation as to the perpetrators as well as solemnly to vow that they will be held accountable. (He has a certain track record in that regard.)
The idea of three dead, several more critically wounded, and over a 100 injured, merely for running in a marathon (often running for charities or victims of other tragedies) is terrible to contemplate. Our hearts are broken for the victims and their family and friends, for the runners who will not run again.
There is negative energy implicit in such a violent event, and there is potential positive energy to be had from the way that we respond to it. To fight our contemporary pathologies, the tragedy has to be turned to empathy and universal compassion rather than to anger and racial profiling. Whatever sick mind dreamed up this act did not manifest the essence of any large group of people. Terrorists and supremacists represent only themselves, and always harm their own ethnic or religious group along with everyone else.
The negative energies were palpable. Fox News contributor Erik Rush tweeted, “Everybody do the National Security Ankle Grab! Let’s bring more Saudis in without screening them! C’mon!” When asked if he was already scapegoating Muslims, he replied, ““Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all.” Challenged on that, he replied, “Sarcasm, idiot!” What would happen, I wonder, if someone sarcastically asked on Twitter why, whenever there is a bombing in the US, one of the suspects everyone has to consider is white people? I did, mischievously and with Mr. Rush in mind, and was told repeatedly that it wasn’t right to tar all members of a group with the brush of a few. They were so unselfconscious that they didn’t seem to realize that this was what was being done to Muslims!
It was easy for jingoists to find Chinese or Arabs on twitter gloating. But I saw much more of this kind of message:
#إنفجار_بوسطن Our religion doesn’t teach us to be happy on people’s’ miseries.
— Zaynab AlAlawi (@ZaynabDAlAlawi) April 16, 2013
or there was this:
#إنفجار_بوسطنTerrorism has no religion whether it is in Boston or in Syria
— Osama Alharthi (@osamahr) April 16, 2013
But there were positive energies as well. The Egyptian woman activist Asma’ Mahfouz, who was important in calling for the Tahrir demonstrations that kicked off the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, said that she admired the American sense of deep concern for the welfare of citizens, and the way authorities came out promptly to speak to the incident. She contrasted this situation to that in Egypt, where, she alleged, the authorities have less respect for the value of citizens’ lives. For a young Egyptian revolutionary, America is still an exemplary nation in some regards, and many in the world admire it even in the way it deals with adversity.
Similar sentiments were voiced by the journalist Fatima Naout, who said that when dozens of Egyptians died in a train accident, it took President Morsi 12 hours to come on television, and then he made only a brief statement of less than a minute. She also complained of innocents being arrested for sabotage and ultimately released, while what she called Muslim Brotherhood gangs attacked demonstrators with impunity. She said that the US is a nation of laws and upright judicial procedure, and Egypt still is not.
On the other side of the aisle in Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood members of the Senate (Majlis al-Shura) unhesitatingly condemned the bombings. MP Izz al-Din al-Kumi condemned all violence that harmed individuals of any nationality. He discounted a return to the ‘war on terror’ atmosphere of 9/11, saying that al-Qaeda had suffered too many blows any longer to be a viable organization. Dr. Farid al-Bayyad, another parliamentarian said, “Regardless of our differences with American policy, we roundly condemn these attacks.”
Some Syrians and Iraqis pointed out that many more people died from bombings and other violence in their countries on Monday than did Americans, and that they felt slighted because the major news networks in the West (which are actually global media) more or less ignored their carnage but gave wall to wall coverage of Boston.
Aljazeera English reported on the Iraq bombings, which killed some 46 in several cities, and were likely intended to disrupt next week’s provincial election.
Over the weekend, Syrian regime fighter jets bombed Syrian cities, killing two dozen people, including non-combatants:
What happened in Boston is undeniably important and newsworthy. But so is what happened in Iraq and Syria. It is not the American people’s fault that they have a capitalist news model, where news is often carried on television to sell advertising. The corporations have decided that for the most part, Iraq and Syria aren’t what will attract Nielsen viewers and therefore advertising dollars. Given the global dominance by US news corporations, this decision has an impact on coverage in much of the world.
Here is a video by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) on the dilemma of the over one million displaced Syrians, half of them children:
So I’d like to turn the complaint on its head. Having experienced the shock and grief of the Boston bombings, cannot we in the US empathize more with Iraqi victims and Syrian victims? Compassion for all is the only way to turn such tragedies toward positive energy.
Perhaps some Americans, in this moment of distress, will be willing to be also distressed over the dreadful conditions in which Syrian refugees are living, and will be willing to go to the aid of Oxfam’s Syria appeal. Some of those Syrians living in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey were also hit by shrapnel or lost limbs. Perhaps some of us will donate to them in the name of our own Boston Marathon victims of senseless violence.
Terrorism has no nation or religion. But likewise its victims are human beings, precious human beings, who must be the objects of compassion for us all.4 Retweet 514 Share 1056 Google +1 47 StumbleUpon 28 Printer Friendly Send via email
Posted on 03/27/2013 by Juan Cole
Dahr Jamail writes at Tomdispatch.com
Back then, everybody was writing about Iraq, but it’s surprising how few Americans, including reporters, paid much attention to the suffering of Iraqis. Today, Iraq is in the news again. The words, the memorials, the retrospectives are pouring out, and again the suffering of Iraqis isn’t what’s on anyone’s mind. This was why I returned to that country before the recent 10th anniversary of the Bush administration’s invasion and why I feel compelled to write a few grim words about Iraqis today.
But let’s start with then. It’s April 8, 2004, to be exact, and I’m inside a makeshift medical center in the heart of Fallujah while that predominantly Sunni city is under siege by American forces. I’m alternating between scribbling brief observations in my notebook and taking photographs of the wounded and dying women and children being brought into the clinic.
A woman suddenly arrives, slapping her chest and face in grief, wailing hysterically as her husband carries in the limp body of their little boy. Blood is trickling down one of his dangling arms. In a few minutes, he’ll be dead. This sort of thing happens again and again.
Over and over, I watch speeding cars hop the curb in front of this dirty clinic with next to no medical resources and screech to a halt. Grief-stricken family members pour out, carrying bloodied relatives — women and children — gunned down by American snipers.
One of them, an 18-year-old girl has been shot through the neck by what her family swears was an American sniper. All she can manage are gurgling noises as doctors work frantically to save her from bleeding to death. Her younger brother, an undersized child of 10 with a gunshot wound in his head, his eyes glazed and staring into space, continually vomits as doctors race to keep him alive. He later dies while being transported to a hospital in Baghdad.
According to the Bush administration at the time, the siege of Fallujah was carried out in the name of fighting something called “terrorism” and yet, from the point of view of the Iraqis I was observing at such close quarters, the terror was strictly American. In fact, it was the Americans who first began the spiraling cycle of violence in Fallujah when U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne Division killed 17 unarmed demonstrators on April 28th of the previous year outside a school they had occupied and turned into a combat outpost. The protesters had simply wanted the school vacated by the Americans, so their children could use it. But then, as now, those who respond to government-sanctioned violence are regularly written off as “terrorists.” Governments are rarely referred to in the same terms.
10 Years Later
Jump to March 2013 and that looming 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion. For me, that’s meant two books and too many news articles to count since I first traveled to that country as the world’s least “embedded” reporter to blog about a U.S. occupation already spiraling out of control. Today, I work for the Human Rights Department of Al Jazeera English, based out of Doha, Qatar. And once again, so many years later, I’ve returned to the city where I saw all those bloodied and dying women and children. All these years later, I’m back in Fallujah.
Today, not to put too fine a point on it, Iraq is a failed state, teetering on the brink of another sectarian bloodbath, and beset by chronic political deadlock and economic disaster. Its social fabric has been all but shredded by nearly a decade of brutal occupation by the U.S. military and now by the rule of an Iraqi government rife with sectarian infighting.
Every Friday, for 13 weeks now, hundreds of thousands have demonstrated and prayed on the main highway linking Baghdad and Amman, Jordan, which runs just past the outskirts of this city.
Sunnis in Fallujah and the rest of Iraq’s vast Anbar Province are enraged at the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki because his security forces, still heavily staffed by members of various Shia militias, have been killing or detaining their compatriots from this region, as well as across much of Baghdad. Fallujah’s residents now refer to that city as a “big prison,” just as they did when it was surrounded and strictly controlled by the Americans.
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Posted on 03/26/2013 by Juan Cole
Secretary of State John Kerry just made trips to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush administration’s two trophy states, in an attempt to shore up rapidly declining American influence in the two.
In Afghanistan, the mood is turning against a US troop presence after 2014. In the last couple of weeks, President Hamid Karzai successfully insisted that US special forces and their Afghan auxiliaries cease operating in Wardak Province just west of the capital. The US military resisted, on the grounds that Wardak is a Taliban hot spot and, well, close to the capital. But in the end they had to give in to Karzai’s demand. Today the US handed over the Bagram base and prison to Karzai, after years of dragging its feet, fearful that Karzai will do a mass pardon in order to curry favor with the Taliban. Afghanistan increasingly is showing independence on a range of domestic and international issues. Aljazeera English reports:
Kerry also visited Iraq, where he scolded Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for being lax in inspecting Iranian aircraft for weapons intended to be smuggled into Syria.
Al-Maliki is de facto supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, after for years blaming al-Assad for every bombing in Iraq. The change has occured because al-Maliki’s ally Iran is supporting Bashar, and because one of the more effective elements in the resistance is Jabhat al-Nusra, and radical fundamentalist offshoot in some ways of the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ terrorist group. Al-Maliki is afraid that a Jabhat al-Nusra win in Syria will give aid and comfort to those Sunnis in northern Iraq who want to bring him and his Shiite-majority government down.
In 2002 when Dick Cheney was planning the Iraq War and talking about democratization, I pointed out that a democratized Afghanistan and Iraq would be unlikely to do America’s bidding. I.e., democratization (even if phony) as a policy has the stark internal contradiction that Cheney was doing it for the purposes of American dominance, and that is exactly what it could not hope to deliver.
Karzai will bargain for the best deal for his government in Afghanistan. Iraq’s al-Maliki will support the Baath regime because that is what is in its interests.
Bush’s moment in the sun as conqueror of poor weak countries has long since passed. But the damage he did lives on.0 Retweet 29 Share 11 Google +1 1 StumbleUpon 1 Printer Friendly Send via email
Posted on 03/23/2013 by Juan Cole
Banen Al-Sheemary ( @balsheem), a young Iraqi-American woman and activist, writes in a guest column for Informed Comment
Ten years today, I remember sitting in front of the television and watching the sky turn bright yellow because of the massive blasts. Silent, I turned away from the screen to see my parents’ reaction. Absolute silence. That was the first time my parents were without an opinion on something the news was covering. There was a sullen quietness as they watched their beloved country explode into flames. My twelve-year-old self had already been indoctrinated with the simple good guy, bad guy mentality, to which many Americans unfortunately adhere. I struggled to understand the logic behind the invasion of Iraq. Was Iraq a bad country? What had they done wrong? Why is it America’s right to invade and change it? I looked over at my parents again and I could tell their hearts were reeling. “Believe it. Liberation is coming,” said a confident George W. Bush as he spread more war propaganda in his visit to Dearborn. All I knew was that the ruthless Saddam Hussein would soon to be gone. What would become of Iraq? Under the guise of Operation Iraqi “Freedom,” the complete destruction began of what had been known as Iraq.
My family had fled Iraq as refugees in the early 1990s. March 20, 2003, is a bittersweet date for me, since it marked the day I could return to the country. But it is also the day “Shock and Awe” began CNN’s Wolf Blitzer stated that in his thirty years as a journalist, he had never witnessed anything like the attack on Baghdad. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s “shock and awe” warfare was a quick and easy solution, with no concern for civilian life.
The Cradle of Civilization was overtaken by incessant chaos, destruction, and death. In an instant, Iraq was forever changed. It is now home to 4.5 million orphans, two million widows, over four million refugees, while over half the population lives in slums. This was Iraq. As the Bush Administration boasted about its questionable accomplishments, all I could see was the Iraqi body count rise. The post-2003 Iraq is not the country my parents longed for. Barred from returning to Iraq until 2003, I will never know the country in which I was born as it was before sanctions and occupation warped it. I was too young to remember my family fleeing during the first invasion of Iraq. Before we fled, we got rid of all our belongings. My baby pictures were burned to ensure that when Saddam’s thugs checked, there would be no proof of my existence. It was as if my identity was erased, and until March 20th, 2003, I was locked away from this part of my life.
From Desert Storm, through the Clinton Administration, and into the 2003 occupation of Iraq, I still couldn’t trace the U.S. government’s plans for Iraq. But what I was sure of was every administration’s jingoistic attitude that shaped foreign policy and consistently disregarded human life. Iraq saw treacherous times in the nineties because of the imposition of history’s most comprehensive sanctions. Iraq was broken and denied any ability to thrive, even in the most basic of ways.
These brutal sanctions led to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children. My older sister recalls Clinton’s secretary of state Madeleine K Albright’s infamous interview in which she was asked if the price of half a million Iraqi children was worth it. She simply said we think the price is worth it.” It was an easy decision for the Clinton Administration to make on behalf of all Iraqis, because Iraq was forced to pay. As young as I was, I understood that people of different religions and backgrounds weren’t treated as equals. This dangerous underlying notion, that certain people are more worthy of life than others, heavily shapes our foreign policy and is upheld from one administration to the next.
In retrospect, the amount of propaganda that fueled and attempted to legitimize the war was and is staggering. I recall watching the news and being angry at the distorted images of Iraq and its people. I now understand how the media engineered public opinion to justify the invasion. Maintaining the “us” versus “them” binary was crucial in validating the administration’s agenda and furthering the so called war on terror. Soon enough, I heard my classmates echo falsity and absurd CNN headlines. I’ll hold back on the silly names I’ve been called as a result of this. Hearing my parents’ stories about Iraq helped me put the pieces together. The story starts back in their young adult years.
My parents never experienced Iraq under sanctions. During the seventies and eighties, Iraq was a powerhouse of academia, with a thriving economy. In 1979, an Iraqi dinar was equal to $3.20. Nowadays, an Iraqi dinar is practically worthless. Saddam’s effort to lead in the Arab world led to many positive reforms, especially for women. My mother enjoyed free transportation to work as required by the state and a six month fully paid maternity leave. Despite his cruel methods of subjugation and obsession with monopolizing and maintaining power, his push to make Iraq the leader of the Arab world, meant economic and social reform. The build-up of the case against Saddam Hussein’s actions can be attributed to sanctions and paranoia as international pressure mounted on the regime. My family resides in southern Iraq and we are a people, amongst others, that have been brutally persecuted by Saddam’s party for decades.
Many of the conversations I have regarding Iraq revolve around “Well, Iraq is better now because Saddam is gone and America is there.” Sanctions, Saddam’s regime, and the American invasion and occupation left millions of Iraqis with broken homes, empty fridges and bleak prospects for the future. Whether under totalitarian rule or a foreign occupation, millions of Iraqis are still suffering. The choice and trite discussion of who Iraq is better under is irrelevant and ought to be put to rest.Ten years passed and in my privileged University of Michigan classes, discussions around this foolish debate and refuting the claim that oil was a decisive factor for invading, are still major topics. It was time for me to return and experience the Iraq of today.
January 2012 marked my first return to Iraq. Before my flight, I sat in the airport reading as the time passed. Hundreds of American soldiers returning from Iraq were received by family and friends, applause, and even a news crew. I shook my head because of what the soldiers represented to me. For many, they symbolize freedom, nobility, and honor. To Iraqis, they are the physical manifestation of terror, supremacism and occupation. I thought back to the times I was called un-American because of my critiques of America’s policies in Iraq and my nonexistent support for the military. I was “crazy” for not supporting the push to remove Saddam from power. People equated the administration’s bombing campaign with patriotism and justice, completely disregarding the consequences of war and foreign occupation. Iraq has become fragmented and pieced. I think of how long it will take to assemble the pieces back together; to try to bring together those shards of glass that once made a beautiful piece of work.
Nowadays, the occupation dictates every aspect of Iraqi life. The remnants of a brutal and careless invasion show on the faces of the people that live everyday as a struggle. Suicide and car bombings, fighting between armed militias, kidnappings, and snipers result in a feeling of despair and no sense of security. Simple everyday tasks like walking to a local market or sending children off to school become impossible. On my first day back in Iraq, massive explosions rocked Baghdad. I was awakened to the realities of this so called newly democratic country. Both the Iraqi and American governments promised many things for the people, like building a sewage system. The could not even fulfill this basic necessity. Inadequate water resources have caused massive death and disease in several cities. The two-hour electricity limit halts any work that needs to be done for the day. Birth defects will continue for decades because of the depleted uranium weaponry used by American soldiers. This was Iraq.
“The war in Iraq will soon belong to history” stated Barack Obama in an address marking the supposed end of the occupation of Iraq. America will remember it as history, but Iraqis live through it. I shy away from reading articles on the commemoration of the invasion of Iraq, written by journalists who don’t understand. I become frustrated and always stop after reading just the headline. I laugh at every mention of the lessons to be learned and how America can move forward. Iraq is stuck in a phase of despair, but we as Americans must learn from the occupation? I watch as oil companies, “defense contractors,” and corrupt government leaders profiteer off of an occupation that cut Iraq from any lifeline it had. The fortress called the U.S. embassy, staffed by thousands of foreign soldiers stands as a permanent reminder of the occupation.”
America is able to move forward, rebuilding its economy, but Iraq and its people, must endure the harsh and unwelcoming decades to come.A lesson to learn from Iraqis is one of human dignity and perseverance through trying times. Have we learned? In a new documentary covering Dick Cheney’s legacy, he mentions, “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it in a minute.” And today, mainstream media outlets and the government aggressively continue to build a case against Iran, eerily reminiscent of what we saw ten years ago. We will never learn until we stop seeing people and countries as strategic plans, a means to an end, as valueless and unknown.
My first visit to Iraq was in 2012, because the occupation made it too dangerous to travel there. One afternoon, my uncle and I drove through Hilla. I forced him to speak about the occupation. After an hour of hearing horrendous stories of crimes committed by American soldiers, he tiredly says “We are nothing to them. To America, we are simply strategic. Through their eyes, our lives aren’t worth anything.” That was the end of the conversation. I noticed that Iraqis never speak of the occupation. It was as if it was a past memory. I sense that Iraqis have perseverance built within them because of the decades of unrest that they have lived through; they keep on living every day as they can. These are the Iraqis that are reconstructing what is rightfully theirs.
Everyday Iraqis have been partaking in reconstructing Iraq after a destructive occupation in which they were robbed of their agency, future and country. Iraqis create and expand projects as the current government continues to neglect the citizen’s needs. Upper class citizens and Iraqi expatriates living in the US or Britain play a role in funding these projects. Many social service facilities are being rebuilt, with a focus on widows, orphans, the elderly, and disabled. Whether it is building bridges or starting up a water filter company, these projects are opening doorways for job opportunities and steadily decreasing unemployment rates. Despite the lack of security and political and economic turmoil, the hardships that Iraqis face are slowly easing and will be solved by the resilient Iraqis who continue to resist and struggle for a better life. Iraqis are forging a path of their own to recreate their Iraq, one away from the government’s corrupted plans and free of the American occupation’s stifling grasp.
Ten long and painful years have passed.The orphan Mustafa from Baghdad says “I feel like a bird in a cage here. I wish there was someone to listen to us.” Indeed Iraqis are listening. I see the same resilience and perseverance in Iraqis, that I see in my parents. Years will pass before Iraq will prosper, but I see a future for Iraq because of the millions that are working for it. When I visit Iraq I smile and blink the tears away. The anger from my heart dissipates when I see shops open for business, human rights organizations assisting widows and orphans, and college students organizing for an event they’re sponsoring. It will come together. Justice and progress will flourish because the people demand it and they will succeed. This is Iraq.
Banen Al-Sheemary has been active at the University of Michigan with Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, Iraqi Student Association, and Muslim Student Association’s Social Justice and Activism Committee0 Retweet 41 Share 36 Google +1 7 StumbleUpon 1 Printer Friendly Send via email
Posted on 03/20/2013 by Juan Cole
The Israeli leadership, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, will attempt to strong-arm President Barack Obama, during his visit to Israel, into attacking Iran. (In part this noise about Iran is to deflect attention from the vast Israeli land grab in the Palestinian West Bank). It is now often forgotten, and even denied, that the then Israeli leadership was also a huge cheering section for the disastrous Iraq War. Netanyahu in particular wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed in late 2002 entitled “The Case for Toppling Saddam.” The Israeli officials of the time were unanimous that Saddam Hussein was within months of having a nuclear weapon (Iraq’s nuclear enrichment program was mothballed in 1991). President Obama should keep in mind, while in Israel, these passages from John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s Israel Lobby:
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“On August 16, 2002, eleven days before Vice President Cheney kicked off the campaign for war with a hard‐line speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Washington Post reported that “Israel is urging U.S. officials not to delay a military strike against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.140 By this point, according to Sharon, strategic coordination between Israel and the U.S. had reached “unprecedented dimensions,” and Israeli intelligence officials had given Washington a variety of alarming reports about Iraq’s WMD programs.141 As one retired Israeli general later put it, “Israeli intelligence was a full partner to the picture presented by American and British intelligence regarding Iraq’s non‐conventional capabilities.”142
Israeli leaders were deeply distressed when President Bush decided to seek U.N. Security Council authorization for war in September, and even more worried when Saddam agreed to let U.N. inspectors back into Iraq, because these developments seemed to reduce the likelihood of war. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told reporters in September 2002 that “the campaign against Saddam Hussein is a must. Inspections and inspectors are good for decent people, but dishonest people can overcome easily inspections and inspectors.”143
At the same time, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak wrote a New York Times op‐ed warning that “the greatest risk now lies in inaction.”144 His predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, published a similar piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Case for Toppling Saddam.”>145 Netanyahu declared, “Today nothing less than dismantling his regime will do,” adding that “I believe I speak for the overwhelming majority of Israelis in supporting a pre‐emptive strike against Saddam’s regime.” Or as Ha’aretz reported in February 2003: “The [Israeli] military and political leadership yearns for war in Iraq.”146 But as Netanyahu suggests, the desire for war was not confined to Israel’s leaders. Apart from Kuwait, which Saddam conquered in 1990, Israel was the only country in the world where both the politicians and the public enthusiastically favored war.147 As journalist Gideon Levy observed at the time, “Israel is the only country in the West whose leaders support the war unreservedly and where no alternative opinion is voiced.”148 In fact, Israelis were so gung‐ho for war that their allies in America told them to damp down their hawkish rhetoric, lest it look like the war was for Israel.
140 Jason Keyser, “Israel Urges U.S. to Attack,” Washington Post, August 16, 2002. Also see Aluf Benn, “PM Urging U.S. Not to Delay Strike against Iraq,” Ha’aretz, August 16, 2002; Idem, “PM Aide: Delay in U.S. Attack Lets Iraq Speed Up Arms Program,” Ha’aretz, August 16, 2002; Reuven Pedhatzur, “Israel’s Interest in the War on Saddam,” Ha’aretz, August 4, 2002; Ze’ev Schiff, “Into the Rough,” Ha’aretz, August 16, 2002. 141 Gideon Alon, “Sharon to Panel: Iraq is Our Biggest Danger,” Ha’aretz, August 13, 2002. At a White House press conference with President Bush on October 16, 2002, Sharon said: “I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for the friendship and cooperation. And as far as I remember, as we look back towards many years now, I think that we never had such relations with any President of the United States as we have with you, and we never had such cooperation in everything as we have with the current administration.” For a transcript of the press conference, see “President Bush Welcomes Prime Minister Sharon to White House; Question and Answer Session with the Press,” U.S. Department of State, October 16, 2002. Also see Kaiser, “Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.”
142 Shlomo Brom, “An Intelligence Failure,” Strategic Assessment (Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University), Vol. 6, No. 3 (November 2003), p. 9. Also see “Intelligence Assessment: Selections from the Media, 1998‐2003,” in ibid., pp. 17‐19; Gideon Alon, “Report Slams Assessment of Dangers Posed by Libya, Iraq,” Ha’aretz, March 28, 2004; Dan Baron, “Israeli Report Blasts Intelligence for Exaggerating the Iraqi Threat,” JTA, March 28, 2004; Greg Myre, “Israeli Report Faults Intelligence on Iraq,” New York Times, March 28, 2004; James Risen, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), pp. 72‐73.
143 Marc Perelman, “Iraqi Move Puts Israel in Lonely U.S. Corner,” Forward, September 20, 2002. This article begins, “Saddam Hussein’s surprise acceptance of ‘unconditional’ United Nations weapons inspections put Israel on the hot seat this week, forcing it into the open as the only nation actively supporting the Bush administration’s goal of Iraqi regime change.” Peres became so frustrated with the UN process in the following months that in mid‐February 2003 he lashed out at the French by questioning France’s status as a permanent member of the Security Council. “Peres Questions France Permanent Status on Security Council,” Ha’aretz, February 20, 2003. On a visit to Moscow in late September 2002, Sharon made it clear to Russian President Putin, who was leading the charge for new inspections, “that the time when these inspectors could have been effective has passed.” Herb Keinon, “Sharon to Putin: Too Late for Iraq Arms Inspection,” Jerusalem Post, October 1, 2002.
144 Ehud Barak, “Taking Apart Iraq’s Nuclear Threat,” New York Times, September 4, 2002.
145 Benjamin Netanyahu, “The Case for Toppling Saddam,” Wall Street Journal, September 20, 2002. The Jerusalem Post was particularly hawkish on Iraq, frequently running editorials and op‐eds promoting the war, and hardly ever running pieces against it. Representative editorials include “Next Stop Baghdad,” Jerusalem Post, November 15, 2001; “Don’t Wait for Saddam,” Jerusalem Post, August 18, 2002; “Making the Case for War,” Jerusalem Post, September 9, 2002. For some representative op‐eds, see Ron Dermer, “The March to Baghdad,” Jerusalem Post, December 21, 2001; Efraim Inbar, “Ousting Saddam, Instilling Stability,” Jerusalem Post, October 8, 2002; Gerald M. Steinberg, “Imagining the Liberation of Iraq,” Jerusalem Post, November 18, 2001.
146 Aluf Benn, “Background: Enthusiastic IDF Awaits War in Iraq,” Ha’aretz, February 17, 2002. Also see James Bennet, “Israel Says War on Iraq Would Benefit the Region,” New York Times, February 27, 2003; Chemi Shalev, “Jerusalem Frets As U.S. Battles Iraq War Delays,” Forward, March 7, 2003.
147 Indeed, a February 2003 poll reported that 77.5 percent of Israeli Jews wanted the United States to attack Iraq. Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann, “Peace Index: Most Israelis Support the Attack on Iraq,” Ha’aretz, March 6, 2003. Regarding Kuwait, a public opinion poll released in March 2003 found that 89.6 percent of Kuwaitis favored the impending war against Iraq. James Morrison, “Kuwaitis Support War,” Washington Times, March 18, 2003.
148 Gideon Levy, “A Deafening Silence,” Ha’aretz, October 6, 2002. 149 See Dan Izenberg, “Foreign Ministry Warns Israeli War Talk Fuels US Anti‐Semitism,” Jerusalem Post, March 10, 2003, which makes clear that “the Foreign Ministry has received reports from the US” telling Israelis to cool their jets because “the US media” is portraying Israel as “trying to goad the administration into war.” There is also evidence that Israel itself was concerned about being seen as driving American policy toward Iraq. See Benn, “PM Urging U.S. Not to Delay Strike”; Perelman, “Iraq Move Puts Israel in Lonely U.S. Corner.” Finally, in late September 2002, a group of political consultants known as the “Israel Project” told pro‐Israel leaders in the United States “to keep quiet while the Bush administration purses a possible war with Iraq.” Dana Milbank, “Group Urges Pro‐Israel Leaders Silence on Iraq,” Washington Post, November 27, 2002.”
Posted on 03/19/2013 by Juan Cole
Sunni radicals hit Baghdad Tuesday morning on the anniversary of the beginning of the US war on Iraq, killing over 50 people in attacks on soft targets (shopkeepers, pedestrians) in Shiite areas of the capital. They were signaling their continued die-hard opposition to the new Iraq, which is dominated by Shiite political parties, in which Sunnis have been deeply disadvantaged. In recent months, massive crowds in Falluja, Ramadi, Mosul and other largely Sunni cities have staged an Iraqi spring protest, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom they accuse of neglecting their interests and continuing to make large numbers of arbitrary arrests of their sons.
The US public was always carefully protected by its media from full knowledge of what the US government did to Iraq. The networks had a rule, of never showing blood. They almost never showed wounded Iraqis with bloody bandages. Of course, they never showed dismemberment (bodies blown up, unlike in Hollywood movies, don’t just pile up whole). Since Arabic satellite t.v. showed such images every day, the Arab world and the US saw two different wars on their screens. US media almost never interviewed Iraqi politicians (magazine shows like 60 Minutes very occasionally took up that task). Frequently, Pentagon talking points were swallowed whole. Propaganda about ‘al-Qaeda’ and Zarqawi being responsible for “80%” of the violence was used to hide from Americans that there were both Sunni and Shiite resistance movements against American occupation, and that they were Iraqis and widespread.
Many excellent reporters risked their lives to get compelling stories from American-occupied Iraq, but often appear to have faced resistance from editors back in the US. It was to the point that when I wrote one of my all-time most read pieces, “If America were like Iraq, what would it be like?” readers told me that it came as a revelation because it gave them a sense of proportion.
The US created a power vacuum and exercised a pro-Shiite favoritism in Iraq that fostered a Sunni-Shiite civil war. At its height in 2006-2007, as many as 3,000 Iraqis were being killed a month by militias. Many showed signs of acid or drilling or electrical torture. The Baghdad police had to establish a corpse patrol in the morning to collect the cadavers. How many Iraqis died as a result of the US invasion and occupation will never be known with any precision, but I think 200,000 would be the lower minimum. Since three to four times as many people are typically wounded as killed in conflict situations, that would suggest that as many as one million Iraqis were killed or wounded, some 4% of the population.
The US rounded up some 25,000 Iraqis at the height of the conflict, and their Shiite Iraqi government allies held another 25,000. The vast majority were Sunni Arabs. This 50,000 were in a vast gulag at any one time, but tens of thousands circulated through this system. Many were arbitrarily arrested, for simply being young men in the general vicinity of a bombing or other guerrilla activity. Very large numbers were tortured. US troops sometimes committed excesses. One national guard unit was known for laying down suppressive fire whenever a bomb went off in their vicinity. This tactic ensured that they killed Iraqi pedestrians after a market bombing. US troops sometimes shot drivers who did not know English and could not understand commands to slow down at checkpoints. How widespread actual atrocities were is always difficult to gauge in the fog of war. There were atrocities committed by US troops.
At the height of the conflict probably some 2.5 million Iraqis were displaced from their homes, fleeing elsewhere in the country. I’d now revise down the estimates of those displaced abroad, but likely there were at least half a million of them, and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees estimated them as more like 1.5 million. Many of these 3-4 milliion people, some 1/6 of the population, are still displaced and permanently lost their property, suffering a decline into poverty. Proportionally, it would be like 50 million Americans being forced out of their homes to take refuge in tents and slums elsewhere in the country or in Mexico or Canada.
The US destroyed the Iraqi state. It dissolved the army. It is not true as Bush apologists say, that the army was anyway gone. If they had offered soldiers money to show up at their barracks and report to their sergeants, they would have, for the most part. It still is unclear who exactly got rid of the Iraqi army and why. Jay Garner, the first proposed US viceroy in Iraq, suggested that the Bush administration was afraid that a Baathist army devoted to socialism and a strong state would get in the way of their plans for an Eastern European style “shock therapy” in the country. (One of the many motivations for the invasion of Iraq was to further destroy the socialist model for global south economies). Of course, some elite units were heavily Sunni Arab, but they could have been integrated. Instead, they were fired and sent home (it was even threatened that they would not even get pensions). Some of them joined the guerrilla resistance.
The US also destroyed the public sector, dissolving state-owned companies and creating massive unemployment, especially in Sunni provinces such as al-Anbar, which naturally emerged as among the most violent centers of resistance.
Most damaging of all, the US backed the ‘debaathification’ program championed by Shiite politicians like Ahmad Chalabi, which actually involved firing some 100,000 Sunnis from government jobs (even, often, fairly low-level ones) and then giving those jobs to members of the Shiite parties that were coming to power. As late as 2010, the debaathification commission was trying to interfere in the parliamentary elections. This massive piece of social engineering did more than anything to fan the still-burning flames of sectarianism, since it awarded material benefits on the basis of ethnic and sectarian identity. You can’t do much about your ethnic and sectarian identity. If you were punished for belonging to a party, you could change parties. But the Sunnis in particular weren’t allowed to escape their former political history (many Shiites who had been Baath Party members escaped punishment). If you’re punished for being who you are, and it is signaled that that will go on forever, then you might be tempted to turn to violence.
The vaunted ‘sons of Iraq’ or ‘awakening councils’ program that the US adopted from late 2006 involved organizing what were essentially pro-American Sunni militias to fight radical Sunnis. The Shiite government did not want these some 100,000 armed Sunnis left behind as a problem. It declined to give most of them employment as the Americans withdrew. It actually prosecuted some of them for their former guerrilla activities (before they switched teams and joined the awakening councils). Not only were they often left unemployed, but they no longer had the command of military force to protect themselves from reprisals by the radicals.
The political system the US imposed on Iraq is a one-chamber parliamentary system. It has been demonstrated by political scientists in societies with a structural minority, this system virtually guarantees frustration and violence (Sunni Arabs are probably like 18% of the population, Shiites 60%, with the rest Kurds, Turkmen and a dwindling number of Christians). Assuming Shiites can get their act together (not a foregone conclusion), they can always dominate the government. The prime minister in Iraq faces few de facto checks on power, assuming he or she can avoid a vote of no confidence. PM Nouri al-Maliki stands accused by his rivals of making the military and security forces his personal fiefdom and using them for his own purposes.
Iraq’s broken political system has what is more or less a permanent hung parliament, since the Sunnis, Kurds and two major Shiite factions can never for very long unite behind a particular prime minister. There is no relief from this political gridlock on the horizon.
The US actually stole billions from Iraqi petroleum receipts, which is illegal in international law, using it to badly administer the country and possibly just embezzling large amounts of it. More billions of US taxpayer funds also went missing. Most reconstruction efforts were poorly suited to the local conditions and most of that effort and money were wasted. Iraq needs 14 gigawatts of electricity generation but has only 9 gigs (the government keeps promising that new plants will open this year). Much of the country lacks potable water and people are forced to drink sewage. Half of the country’s physicians were forced abroad in the last decade, and many Iraqis still have to seek medical care outside the country.
The war was illegal in international law. Since the US had no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, likely there would have been an Iraqi spring in 2011 and the regime would have been prevented, as in Libya, by US air power from putting it down with military force. The regime would have been gone, but by the Iraqi people acting unitedly, instead of by a foreign imposition that championed one ethnic group over others. The outcome would surely have been more stable. The worst thing was, the whole nightmare was unnecessary.2 Retweet 306 Share 245 Google +1 15 StumbleUpon 1 Printer Friendly Send via email