Friday, December 01, 2006

Theft and Betrayal

Dahr Jamail reports on Iraqi business under the Occupation. American companies profit while Iraqi businesses struggle and owners flee.

"I used to employ more than 30 workers in my plastic products factory, and business was good before the occupation," Abbas Ali told IPS in Baghdad. "It is impossible to work now, and I had to go back to my old job as school teacher. I was offered 200,000 dollars for the business, but now it is not worth anything. I blame myself for not selling it to flee, like some of my colleagues who live safely in Syria now." [...]

"There is no Iraqi brand any more," plastic products distributor Johar Aziz told IPS. "Iraqi products flourished during the quarter century before occupation, but now we only sell imported products of the lowest quality, and people have to buy them because there is no alternative." [...]

"We used to open our shops for at least 16 hours a day, but now we only open for a few hours because of the security threats," Duraid Abdullah, an electrical appliances shop owner in Karrada told IPS. "We are facing all kinds of threats starting from being abducted for money or sectarian reasons, as well as being evicted from our shops by gangs supported by government forces." [...]

"The picture of Japan after World War II dominated the minds of businessmen in Iraq after occupation," he said. "Most of us thought the American invasion of Iraq was bad for many things, but it must be good for business in general and industry in particular. We were terribly wrong. The Iraqi economy was meant to be destroyed for political reasons."

American Gulag

Todays's Washington Post:
A record 7 million people -- one in every 32 U.S. adults -- were behind bars, on probation or on parole by the end of last year, a Justice Department report released yesterday shows.

Of those, 2.2 million were in prison or jail, an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous year, according to the report.


From 1995 to 2003, inmates incarcerated in federal prisons for drug offenses have accounted for 49 percent of total prison population growth.

The domestic version of the military-industrail complex.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Hopeful Prospect

My request for hopeful, non-fantasy outcomes for BushCheney's Iraq War hasn't drawn any responses yet but I found something close in a guest post by Mash at Taylor Marsh. The post includes observations on civilwar by Harvard Professor Monica Toft. Among them:

Having gone to Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein, the U.S. has discovered that what the people of Iraq wanted most was to be free of Saddam Hussein; but once free (a negative objective), positive objectives varied. The Shiites wanted representation in the control of Iraq commensurate with their population (and many wanted revenge for the persecution they suffered under Sunni rule). The Sunnis wanted to maintain their preferential status. The Kurds wanted their own state. To the extent that the war in Iraq, under U.S. auspices, has become a civil war, the civil war itself represents the success of a U.S. policy of bringing freedom to the people of Iraq.

Mash goes on to add:

I think there is a strong case to be made that the American presence in Iraq is fueling the civil war by delaying its resolution. That is not to say that the United States has effective control of the situation on the ground - it does not, but the presence of American troops gives the respective parties cover to arm and consolidate control of areas of the country. Without a doubt, the American presence guarantees that the Kurds in the north are able to consolidate their hold on Kirkuk and beef up the peshmerga. The American presence also allows the Shia factions to consolidate power in the various arms of the government, especially the security forces. The American forces also act as a buffer between the Shia and the Sunni by providing some measure of protection to the Sunni community to arm and consolidate their power in the western parts of Iraq. The American presence has also allowed the systematic ethnic cleansing of Iraq by Shia, Sunni and the Kurds. The ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods in Baghdad and other parts of the country has now effectively drawn geographical battle lines in Iraq's civil war. The American presence also holds together a fractious Shia coalition that would otherwise collapse, and probably needs to if Iraq is to survive as a nation.

It seems to me that it is essential that the United States pull out of Iraq. After an American pullout, the Iraqi civil war may start to resolve itself. The Iraqi civil war has regional implications. Those regional forces can, without the constraints of American occupation, begin to pull Iraq toward a resolution.

Read the entire post. It's a thoughtful analysis of the political,military and sectarian maze that must be threaded to reach anything like a stable settlement. No doubt more will die in the process. The post is a more articulate version of what I've been saying all along, that the Iraqis need to make their own settlement. It may be bloody (which is what we have now)but at least I can see a possibility for stability if I follow the logic.

That's probably as good as we can hope for in Iraq. We can also hope that the settlement comes sooner rather than later.

Check Yourself Out

Take the test. Here's my result.

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Literate Good Citizen
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

The copy and paste code for my results doesn't display my quotient for each reader trait like it does for J-Walk, which is where I found the original link. I can honestly report that I do not display any non-reader traits.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mission WTF?

Juan Cole asks some hard questions about America’s mission in Iraq.

...What is the mission of the US military in Ramadi? I hope my readers will press their representatives in Congress and the executive branch to answer this question. What is the mission? When will it be accomplished?

At what point will the people of Ramadi wake up in the morning and say, 'We've changed our minds. We like the new government dominated by Shiite ayatollahs and Kurdish warlords. We're happy to host Western Occupation troops on our soil. We don't care if those troops are allied with the Israeli military, which is daily bombing our brethren in Gaza and killing them and keeping them down. We're changed persons. We're not going to bother to set any IEDs tonight and we've put away our sniping rifles.'

(You could substitute Tikrit, Samarra', Baquba, and other Sunni Arab cities for Ramadi).

[...] What is the military mission? I can't see a practical one. And if there is not a military mission that can reasonably be accomplished in a specified period of time, then keeping US troops in al-Anbar is a sort of murder. Because you know when they go out on patrol, a few of them each week are going to get blown up or shot down. Reliably. Each week. Steadily. It is monstrous to force them to play Russian roulette every day unless there is a clear mission that could thereby be accomplished. There is not.


That is why I think it is important to keep the focus on the question of the US purpose in occupying the Sunni Arab regions of Iraq. Every time you hear someone say that we have to keep the troops in Iraq, press that person to explain what the mission is exactly and how and when it will be accomplished.

If you ask me what the US military mission in Iraq is these days, I would describe it as Holding on to the Dream, the dream of power and dominance of the New American Century. The Iraq War is the spawn of American hubris and exceptionalism, a belief that what is good for America is good for the world. That dream is fast fading in Iraq. But, of course, BushCheney cannot admit the losses he has inflicted on Iraq and the US, so he will insist on “staying the course” even if he won’t use those words. He’s keeps pointing to a rosy future even as the present becomes more and more ghastly.

The Dream also includes power over oil, Iraq’s vast reserves to be specific. Under Saddam Hussein this strategic resource was beyond western corporate control and, therefore, could be used to the west’s disadvantage. The US invasion has kept much of Iraq’s oil from the market at various times since 2003, as does insurgent sabotage and Iraqi government corruption. In that respect, the US has achieved at least part of its mission in Iraq: Iraq’s oil can’t be used against western interests even if it’s not yet fully under corporate control.

Military bases are part of the Dream, too: force projection in a strategic region. We’re building 14 big bases in Iraq along with the worlds largest US embassy, all self-contained and hermetically sealed. From all indications on our side, the US will stay in Iraq; all that concrete and steel sinks us pretty heavily into the country. In BushCheney World, the Iraqis will make nice with each other, we will hole up in our impregnable bases and “project force” where needed in the region. That’s what he means by “ally in the war on terror”: bases. Unless, of course, a sovereign Iraqi government feels it can live without American guns in-country and follows the overwhelming Iraq preference that all foreign troops of leave their country, especially if those troops are pointed at fellow Arabs and Muslims.

Early on, our military mission included disabling and destroying Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. I think that one was pretty well achieved even before we invaded. Democracy and freedom? Pretty iffy without security and political accommodation. Real security, even with American boots on the ground, has so far been unattainable in Iraq. After three and a half years, Iraqis still don’t “stand up so we can stand down”. When they do stand up–for their militias, clerics and insurgent leaders–they are shooting at us as well as other Iraqis. Our forces are caught in the crossfire of the civil war unleashed by our invasion. We can’t take sides; that would destroy any remaining legitimacy for the occupation. And our shifting preferences among Iraqi factions since 2003 leaves America as a not fully trustworthy partner for any Iraqi faction, especially now that they are consolidating power on their own.

Nothing I’ve heard about new policies, tactics or troop levels (I’m talking to you, John McMaverick) tells me that we will do anything different that will change this result. Keeping Iraq from descending into even more civil war is a worthwhile humanitarian goal but events have already demonstrated the limits of our military capability and strategy in this regard. Political accommodation and reconciliation among Iraqis is necessary to stop the civil war. That is beyond any military force to achieve and the policy maker–Iraqi and American–who should exercise the needed leadership have been unwilling and unable to do so.

When I think hard about it, I do not see any realistic mission for American forces in Iraq. Iraqis themselves have already demonstrated their ability to create and protect their own societies. The Mahdi Army earned the respect of many Shi’as in responding to the mass bombings in Sadr City. The Sunni insurgents have effectively organized large swaths of the country and operate freely in the capital. Iraqis are quite capable of defending themselves against fellow countrymen. It’s just that the results Iraqi initiative and accommodation are unlikely at this point to look good for the US or the war’s architects. At this point, US military forces have no realistically achievable mission. That may have been possible early in the occupation (I’m doubtful) but willful ignorance, blind assumptions and incompetence doomed any chance for success. Nothing short of a major intervention and full US occupation of Iraq has even a remote likelihood of changing the situation and I don’t believe the US could maintain the necessary higher level of occupation for long. Continued military occupation is just a cover for a hoped-for result that will not materialize.

Let the Iraqis sort it out. That’s my plan. I know it sounds heartless to leave innocent Iraqis at risk of violence from their countrymen but it’s their nation, their resources and their history. Only Iraqis can create a lasting political arrangement in an environment of contested nationalism, religious conflict, tribal loyalties and many old scores to settle. America opened that box when we took out Saddam Hussein and have shown ourselves to be hopelessly inept in dealing with the consequences of that action. I hope and pray that Iraqis will figure it out rather than fight, which seems to be the preferred mode for all sides these days. But in the end the US is the Foreign Occupier, the Invader Infidel who has little to offer but force and firepower. Three and a half years of keeping the violence at bay has only resulted in increasing violence and no willingness to compromise.

My first step would call for a cease-fire among all factions, including US military units and proceed from there to withdrawing US and other Coalition forces into larger bases to prepare for redeployment. Removing troops does not mean abandoning Iraq, though. The US has owes a massive debt to the Iraqi nation and we are honor bound to help them rebuild. But the building will be their task, it’s their home. Regional security and terrorism will no doubt be issues in post-occupation Iraq but such issues are best addressed cooperatively with other nations in the region. I would also leave military and some logistical support to back up central government forces while Iraqi leaders come to terms with each other. If the central government cannot resolve the political differences peacefully, no amount of additional American military might will enable it to survive.

That’s how I would explain the mission these days. It’s risky. It’s dangerous. More people will die. Anybody got something different? Anything with hope that is more than wishful fantasy?

More on Blame

Also in the Washington Post:

"There is a problem with saying that we need to get the Iraqis to take charge of the situation," said Eliot A. Cohen, a professor of military strategy at Johns Hopkins University. "By virtue of the kind of government we helped create -- particularly one based on proportional representation -- and because the institutions of the Iraqi state are weak, even if we can get him to promise, we cannot reasonably expect him to deliver much."

Of course, this was not BushCheney's original plan. Originally, he was just going to hand Iraq to Ahmad Chalabai and scoot. So easy. Home by July. But then those pesky Iraqis got in the way.

You know the rest.

Who Lost Iraq?

Americans are more and more beginning to blame the Iraqis: they haven't used the opportunity we gave them with our blood and treasure seems to be the dominant meme.

Iraqis' role in their own suffering has been an issue since shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003, when looters ransacked the national museum and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld dismissed it by saying, "Stuff happens." But more than three years later, with schools and hospitals struggling, electrical service faltering, and police and government agencies infiltrated by sectarian death squads, the question of blame is more urgent.

These are the same Iraqis who restored their oil industry, provided electricity and maintained public order after the devastation of the Gulf War. Mahdi Obeidi, the Iraqi nuclear scientist and author of The Bomb in My Garden, takes great pride in his and his colleagues' accomplishments in rebuilding Iraq after 1991.

We should have let them rebuild their own country this time, too.

[Update] Juan Cole's comment on Blame the Iraqis says it all.

I see. The US invaded their country, abolished their army, gutted their civil service, occupied their cities, and now it is the Iraqis' fault.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Daily Life in Baghdad

Zeyad at Healing Iraq posts recent Iraqi message board items:

Mustafa – Ghazaliya:
We have been under mortar fire for two days. It is 10:50 p.m. now and we can hear heavy gunfire and an attack against mosques in the area. May God save us all from the injustice of aggressors.

A Mujahid for Allah – Baghdad of Al-Rashid:
In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful.
They want it a war, so be it. We are up to it, God willing.
My brothers, heed these recommendations:
1- Prepare weapons and ammunition.
2- To avoid their mortar fire, do not gather in large numbers at one place in your areas.
3- Spread out in small groups, and assign a commander to each.
4- Always take cover behind a barrier (anything that can protect you from enemy fire).
5- If there is an attack against your area, try not to waste your fire (make maximum benefit from the ammunition you have available).
6- Assign duties to your brothers.
7- Maintain communication with other groups in your area so you can respond to any breach of the area by the attackers.
8- Have courage and patience when you face them. They are cowards and will be defeated.
Remember that your brothers, the Mujahideen, will be with you in your fight against the murderous criminals. May God save us and save Iraq.

The son of Anbar – Baghdad:
Dear brothers, the Khadhraa and Jami’a districts are in need of ammunition. Please come to our aid.

Ali – Ghazaliya:
Groups from the evil Mahdi Army are preparing to enter Ghazaliya from the direction of the Centre Street and near the Muhajireen mosque, but residents are in control of most of the streets, despite assistance from the National Guard [for the Mahdi Army] and their cover for the mortar attacks from the Security Street. A woman was injured there from their damn mortars.


Ghazaliya – Baghdad:
Urgent. The residents of Ghazaliya are in urgent need for medical supplies. The situation in Ghazaliya is dreadful, and the need for first aid supplies is pressing. The nearest hospital to the district is the Al-Noor Hospital in the Shu’la district, and no Sunni who enters there returns alive. Please contact any organisation that can provide Ghazaliya’s residents with necessary supplies. Residents have opened a makeshift health centre but we are in need for supplies.

...and many more.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Weapon of Choice

The Washington Post has a long article about the AK-47, the practical "weapon of mass destruction" that has altered the combat equation for decades. Originally designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov after World War II to ensure that his native Russia would never by outgunned again, the Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947 (AK-47, Cold War and post-Cold War politics brought effective firepower to the masses as well as armies.

Kalashnikov has mixed feelings about his invention.
"I invented it for protection of the motherland. I have no regrets and bear no responsibility for how politicians have used it." Other times he is haunted by the killing machine he has bestowed upon the world. "I wish I had invented a lawnmower," he told the Guardian in 2002.

The article compares the AK-47's simplicity and easy maintenance to the American M16, which was born out of necessity when US M-14's were no match for AK's in Vietnam. By the time I reached Vietnam, M-16's were pretty reliable if you kept it clean, although the early M-16's had a disturbing reputation for jamming. During my infantry training a drill sergeant compared the two weapons. He described the AK-47 as a durable weapon that functioned well in a harsh environment, put out a heavier slug at a higher muzzle velocity but was heavier and crippled by a noisy safety switch. The years since have demonstrated a clear market preference for the AK-47 over the M-16, even to the newly American-equipped Iraqi Army.

If you're looking for a metaphor about the trajectory of American influence in the world, the M-16 AK-47 competition is a good one.