Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Time flies when you're having FUBAR

My gosh, did this weekend really mark two years? Have we really been at this madness for two whole years?

Has it really been two years of dripping blood?
From a fact sheet developed by the Institute for Policy Studies:

U.S. military killed in Iraq: 1,469
U.S. troops wounded in combat since the war began: 10,938
Iraqi soldiers and insurgents killed since May 1, 2003: approximately 24,000
Iraqi civilians killed: Estimates range from 15,000 - 100,000
Number of civilian contractors killed: 207

(Figures are as of February 17; the US death toll was 1,513 as of March 21.)
Has it really been two years of demolished cities?
From a summary of a UN report by the American Friends Service Committee, January 20:

Approximately 85,000 residents have passed through Fallujah's checkpoints as of January 9. However, only 3,000 to 8,000 people remain in the city overnight, due to the harsh conditions that include a lack of adequate shelter, electricity, water, and health care, as well as curfews and restrictions on movement. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that only 40 percent of the population in the city is receiving assistance.

Returning residents find a city that has been ravaged. Massive destruction to infrastructure and housing has been reported. It is estimated that 40 percent of the buildings were completely destroyed, 20 percent had major damage, and 40 percent had significant damage. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported on December 23 that three of the city’s water purification plants had been destroyed and the fourth was badly damaged. The water distribution network was destroyed. It will take a long time to restore basic services.
Has it really been two years of torture?
From an ACLU press release, December 12, 2004:

U.S. Navy documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union reveal that abuse and even torture of detainees by U.S. Marines in Iraq was widespread. One Navy criminal investigator sent an e-mail in June 2004 describing his Iraq caseload "exploding" with "high visibility cases."

From the ACLU webpage containing links to the documents:

Careful review of these documents demonstrates that many other critical records have not been released.

From the New York Times, March 16:

At least 26 prisoners have died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002 in what Army and Navy investigators have concluded or suspect were acts of criminal homicide, according to military officials.

The number of confirmed or suspected cases is much higher than any accounting the military has previously reported. ...

Only one of the deaths occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, officials said, showing how broadly the most violent abuses extended beyond those prison walls and contradicting early impressions that the wrongdoing was confined to a handful of members of the military police on the prison's night shift.

From the Washington Post, March 17:

The CIA and the White House yesterday defended the practice of secretly transferring suspected terrorists to other countries, including some with poor human rights records, and reiterated that proper safeguards exist to ensure detainees are not tortured.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan would not answer repeated questions about whether President Bush was aware of - or believed or discounted - assertions made recently by freed detainees that they were tortured by other governments after they were transferred abroad by the CIA.
Has it really been two years of corruption?
From the Christian Science Monitor, March 17:

In Iraq, allegations range from petty bribery to large-scale embezzlement, expropriation, profiteering and nepotism [according to a major report released Wednesday by Transparency International, an international organization that focuses on issues of corruption]. The TI report says it could become "the biggest corruption scandal in history."

"I can see all sorts of levels of corruption in Iraq," says report contributor Reinoud Leenders, "starting from petty officials asking for bribes to process a passport, way up to contractors delivering shoddy work and the kind of high-level corruption involving ministers and high officials handing out contracts to their friends and clients." ...

US audits of its own spending have found repeated shortcomings, including a lack of competitive bidding for contracts worth billions of dollars, payment of contracts without adequate certification that work had been done, and in some cases, outright theft. ...

A January report by special inspector Stuart Bowen found that $8.8 billion dollars had been disbursed from Iraqi oil revenue by US administrators to Iraqi ministries without proper accounting.

And earlier this week, it emerged that the Pentagon's auditing agency found that Halliburton, the Houston oil services giant formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney, overcharged by more than $108 million on a contract.
Has it really been two years of assaults on our civil liberties without even the sop of a supposed gain in "security?"
From an ACLU press release, March 22:

In a stern rebuke to U. S. immigration detention policies, a panel of experts at the United Nations ruled that the government is violating universal human rights standards by continuing to detain an Algerian immigrant, Benamar Benatta, who was taken into custody on September 12, 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union said today. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights is expected to adopt the opinion during its 61st session, which opens this month.

From an ACLU press release, March 23:

The American Civil Liberties Union said today that it has joined forces with the several conservative organizations to fix the most extreme provisions of the Patriot Act.... Former Congressman Bob Barr, a Republican from Georgia, will chair the new group, "Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances," which includes Americans for Tax Reform, the American Conservative Union and others. ...

The new organization is urging Congress to thoroughly review the most intrusive and constitutionally suspect provisions of the Patriot Act. Specifically, the act allows federal agents to gather highly personal information - including library, medical and gun purchase records - without criminal suspicion, permits secret searches of homes and businesses with indefinite notification, and expands the definition of domestic terrorism to potentially include political protest.

From Mother Jones magazine's Daily Mojo, March 14:

In fact, looked at with a cold eye, the administration's record of convictions in terrorism cases is remarkably inconsequential. Although it is extremely difficult to obtain reliable information on such cases, the facts, as best we know them, are these: Of the 120 terrorism cases recorded on Findlaw, the major information source for legal cases of note, the initial major charges leveled have resulted in only two actual terrorism convictions - both in a single case, that of Richard Reid, the notorious shoe bomber. Of 18 actual charges of "terrorism" brought between September 2001 and October 2004, 15 are still pending and one was dismissed.
Has it really been two years? And what have we gained? What's been achieved?
From the IPS fact sheet cited above:

Number of insurgents in Iraq, November 2003 estimate: 5,000 fighters
Number of insurgents in Iraq, December 2004 estimate: 40,000 fighters and 200,000 Iraqi sympathizers
What the Iraq war has created, according to the U.S. National Intelligence Council: "a training and recruitment ground (for terrorists), and an opportunity for terrorists to enhance their technical skills."
Effect on al Qaeda of the Iraq War, according to International Institute for Strategic Studies: "Accelerated recruitment"

From a Human Rights Watch press release, January 26:

Iraqi security forces are committing systematic torture and other abuses against people in detention, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. ...

[U]nlawful arrest, long-term incommunicado detention, torture and other ill-treatment of detainees (including children) by Iraqi authorities have become routine and commonplace. ...

Methods of torture cited by detainees include routine beatings to the body using cables, hosepipes and other implements. Detainees report kicking, slapping and punching; prolonged suspension from the wrists with the hands tied behind the back; electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, including the earlobes and genitals; and being kept blindfolded and/or handcuffed continuously for several days. In several cases, the detainees suffered what may be permanent physical disability.

Detainees also reported being deprived by Iraqi security forces of food and water, and being crammed into small cells with standing room only. Numerous detainees described how Iraqi police sought bribes in return for release, access to family members or food and water.

From the New York Times, March 21:

The confidence of the Iraqi people in their future, given a boost after the strong turnout in the Jan. 30 elections despite insurgent threats, has steadily faded as negotiations to form the government have dragged on. The leading Shiite and Kurdish parties, which together have more than two-thirds of the 275 seats in the new constitutional assembly, have been in protracted talks, with the Kurds trying to extract from the Shiites promises that will ultimately result in the Kurds retaining strong autonomous powers and getting territory, particularly the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
And what was it all for? What was it all about? Security? Weapons of Mass Destruction? "Freedom" for Iraq? Oil?
From BBC's "Newsnight," March 17:

The Bush administration made plans for war and for Iraq's oil before the 9/11 attacks, sparking a policy battle between neo-cons and Big Oil, BBC's Newsnight has revealed.

Two years ago today - when President George Bush announced US, British and Allied forces would begin to bomb Baghdad - protesters claimed the US had a secret plan for Iraq's oil once Saddam had been conquered.

In fact there were two conflicting plans, setting off a hidden policy war between neo-conservatives at the Pentagon, on one side, versus a combination of "Big Oil" executives and US State Department "pragmatists".

"Big Oil" appears to have won. The latest plan, obtained by Newsnight from the US State Department was, we learned, drafted with the help of American oil industry consultants.

Insiders told Newsnight that planning began "within weeks" of Bush's first taking office in 2001, long before the September 11th attack on the US. ...

The industry-favoured plan was pushed aside by a secret plan, drafted just before the invasion in 2003, which called for the sell-off of all of Iraq's oil fields. The new plan was crafted by neo-conservatives intent on using Iraq's oil to destroy the Opec cartel through massive increases in production above Opec quotas.

The sell-off was given the green light in a secret meeting in London headed by Ahmed Chalabi shortly after the US entered Baghdad, according to Robert Ebel. ...

Philip Carroll, the former CEO of Shell Oil USA who took control of Iraq's oil production for the US Government a month after the invasion, stalled the sell-off scheme.

Mr Carroll told us he made it clear to Paul Bremer, the US occupation chief who arrived in Iraq in May 2003, that: "There was to be no privatisation of Iraqi oil resources or facilities while I was involved." ...

New plans, obtained from the State Department by Newsnight and Harper's Magazine under the US Freedom of Information Act, called for creation of a state-owned oil company favoured by the US oil industry. It was completed in January 2004 under the guidance of Amy Jaffe of the James Baker Institute in Texas. ...

Questioned by Newsnight, Ms Jaffe said the oil industry prefers state control of Iraq's oil over a sell-off....

Ms Jaffe says US oil companies are not warm to any plan that would undermine Opec and the current high oil price: "I'm not sure that if I'm the chair of an American company, and you put me on a lie detector test, I would say high oil prices are bad for me or my company."

The former Shell oil boss agrees. In Houston, he told Newsnight: "Many neo conservatives are people who have certain ideological beliefs about markets, about democracy, about this, that and the other. International oil companies, without exception, are very pragmatic commercial organizations. They don't have a theology."
Yes, it has been two years. Two years of dripping blood, demolished cities, torture, corruption, and assaults on civil liberties. Two years of lies. Two years of wasted lives. Two years for, yes, for oil. Or, to be more precise, as I said exactly two years ago today,
there is one way in which the slogan ["No War for Oil"] has it not wrong but not complete: The issue isn't oil profits (most oil companies have shied away from the war, fearing the repercussions) but oil control. Control of oil means control over major portions of the world economy. Taking over (excuse me, reconstructing) Iraq means icing the French and the Russians, heavily involved in Iraqi oil, out. It means American power, American dominance, American preeminence, exactly those things the people around (and including) Bush are after. So is the war about oil? Not directly. It's about what war is always about: power and control.
And it's not going to end anytime soon. Remember the pre-war claim that US forces would start to be withdrawn by the fall of 2003? The schedule has slipped a bit:
Washington (AP, March 18) - Any permanent reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq isn't likely until sometime between 2006 and 2008, a top Army general said Thursday.

For there to be any drawdown, Iraq security forces must continue to improve their ability to fight the insurgency themselves, said Gen. Richard A. Cody, Army vice chief of staff.

The military is planning a staggered rotation of soldiers and large units that will be in Iraq between 2006 and early 2008, Cody said. That planning is expected to include the possibility of a significant reduction in U.S. forces.
A reduction - but even then not a withdrawal, meaning they are anticipating US forces being in Iraq beyond 2008.

Perhaps well beyond: The Pentagon has established 12-14 "enduring bases" in Iraq, intended to serve the needs of US forces for up to three years and in January acknowledged it is building a permanent military communications system there - and as at least some of those bases come complete with Burger Kings, Pizza Huts, gymnasiums, and DVD stores, one can easily be forgiven for thinking of them as having somewhat greater permanence, especially since one such site, Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia, has been in place for nearly 10 years.

How to staff those bases? Well, there's always the draft. And then there are the old folks, as noted by the March 23 issue of The Hilltop, the campus paper of Howard University, Washington, DC:
The Army announced this week that it will increase the enlistment age for Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers to 39, a five-year increase meant to add 22 million additional reserves over three years. ...

Officials said the new initiative would apply only to new recruits enlisting between now and 2008. Army spokesmen told reporters that it is possible the age limit for Reserve and National Guard soldiers will be raised again after the current three-year test ends. However, the age limit for the regular Army will remain at 34.

News of the age increase comes weeks after the Army disclosed that it was having trouble reaching recruiting goals as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue. Some defense analysts said the war in Iraq is the primary reason for the age increase.
Two years of blood, destruction, torture, corruption, lies, waste. And more in store.

But not, it must be said, without opposition. There is still opposition. Perhaps not as loud, perhaps not as insistent, and frankly in some quarters not as confident in the effort as before, but still there. Protests across Europe this past weekend demanded an end to the war. A quick scan of news reports included these:

- Somewhere between 45,000 (police estimate) and 100,000 (organizer's estimate) in London.
- About 3,000 in Athens.
- About 500 in Warsaw.
- 15,000 in Istanbul.
- Some 400 in Oslo and 300 in Stockholm.
- Protests were held in nine Spanish cities, including Madrid, Barcelona, and San Sebastian; I haven't seen numbers.
- Over 4,500 in Tokyo.

In the US, a large number of decentralized actions marked the anniversary. United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) had a list of 765 towns and cities covering all 50 states where actions were planned. The largest one seems to have been in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of Ft. Bragg, in which some 4000 people participated, while protests in San Diego and New York were attended by "thousands."

Those numbers are certainly down from a year ago and even more from the millions who poured into the streets the year before that in a last-ditch attempt to dissuade the Bush gang from starting the war in the first place. Some reasons have been offered for that drop-off. One is weariness, a sort of sluggish defeatism driven by a sense that the WHS* are not going to listen no matter how many voices are raised how often or how loudly. There is certainly some truth to that; these people make ordinary pig-headedness seem as flexible as a willow reed. But it may also be a pose: It wasn't until after the fact that we learned that Richard Nixon, who made a point of showing how unmoved he was by demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, was actually driven to distraction by them - and how both he and Lyndon Johnson before him had been dissuaded from escalations of the war by protests.

Another, I suppose in some ways more favorable possibility, is that fewer people feel driven to oppose the war because their nations are becoming less involved. Eleven countries - Nicaragua, Spain, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, Tonga, Hungary, Portugal, and Moldova - which had troops in, or maintained support operations for, Iraq have pulled out. And five more - Poland, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Italy - have announced their intention to do so. In that light, it may be meaningful that the largest protest, at least of the ones I heard about in my quick scan, was in the European nation whose government is most grimly determined to stick with Shrub: the UK.

There is one more possibility that deserves comment, one that a couple of media reports mentioned: a division among war opponents as to the best course, with some calling for immediate (or at least prompt) withdrawal and others saying that while the invasion should not have taken place, now that it has we're stuck there because pulling out will make things even worse. You could consider it a variation of the "flypaper strategy," except that instead of insurgents being tied down in Iraq, it's the peace movement.

I think that's a terrible mistake politically, practically, and ethically. First and probably most obviously, it enables the militarists to manipulate us into being passive if not active supporters of their schemes: All they have to do is ignore us long enough to get the troops in so they can say "well, we can't leave now!" But more importantly in the case of Iraq, it doesn't make sense. Are we controlling an insurgency - or creating one? Are we providing security - or targets?

Here's a question I haven't seen asked: The argument for staying - which is very likely just a cover story to justify a long-term intent for a long-term stay, but never mind that now - is, again, that it would be "worse" if we left.

How do we know that?

I mean it. How do we know? The assumption seems to be that the insurgency would get much larger, much more violent, if we left. But what is that based on? What is the evidence that our presence is suppressing an insurgency that has both the intent and the ability to be much more active than it already is, especially since US withdrawal would remove a major raison d'ĂȘtre of that same insurgency? If there is any, tell me about it. I'd genuinely like to know.

My concern about Iraq descending into the chaos of a three-sided civil war is as great as ever. But as I've said before, we are not ending the dying, we are contributing to it. We are not eliminating ethnic and religious conflicts, we are at most temporarily suppressing the forces which our invasion unleashed. And the more identified we become with the Shiite-dominated government, the more divisive a presence we well be. John, Lord Morley, famously said "You have not converted a man because you have silenced him." Neither will we have achieved peace even if we were to succeed in achieving silence, which we clearly have not.

I've said it before: Pulling out will not stop the bloodshed. But the bloodshed will not stop until we pull out.


*WHS = White House Sociopaths

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