"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been. I
can't imagine why you'd even ask the question." Donald Rumsfeld,
questioned by an al-Jazeera correspondent, April 29, 2003.
"No one can now doubt the word of America," George W. Bush, State of
the Union, January 20, 2004.
April 30, 2:30 pm
The pictures of Iraqi prisoners abused and demeaned by their
grinning American captors are making their way around the Arab world.
The results are unsurprising. Check out this freeper
; even some right-wingers are having trouble rationalizing
this one away.
Some parts of this are still not being reported in the U.S. media (or
not very much). Check this out from
Morgenthaler, speaking for central command, told the Guardian: "One
contractor was originally included with six soldiers, accused for his
treatment of the prisoners, but we had no jurisdiction over him. It was
left up to the contractor on how to deal with him."
She did not specify the accusation facing the contractor, but
according to several sources with detailed knowledge of the case, he
raped an Iraqi inmate in his mid-teens.
Col Morgenthaler said the charges against the six soldiers
"indecent acts, for ordering detainees to publicly masturbate;
maltreatment, for non-physical abuse, piling inmates into nude pyramids
and taking pictures of them nude; battery, for shoving and stepping on
detainees; dereliction of duty; and conspiracy to maltreat detainees".
One of the soldiers, Staff Sgt Chip Frederick is accused of
in a photograph sitting on top of a detainee, committing an indecent
act and with assault for striking detainees - and ordering detainees to
strike each other.
George Bush defended
his "Mission Accomplished" speech one year ago during a courageous
appearance on an aircraft carrier by saying,
A year ago, I did give
the speech from the carrier saying we had
achieved an important objective, accomplished a mission, which was the
removal of Saddam Hussein.
And as a result, there are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms or
mass graves in Iraq.
Except in Abu Ghraib and Fallujah.
A Soccer Stadium Turned into a Mass Grave in Fallujah (Source:
I'm not trying to imply that the United States has done this on
anything like the scale Saddam Hussein did. After all, it's only had a
year -- Saddam had 35. And Saddam had the full support of the United
States for his worst atrocities (war on Iran, Anfal campaign against
the Kurds, suppression of the 1991 uprising); the poor United States
has hardly any support at all.
April 29, 12:30
This morning I was on MSNBC News
in a "debate" about the shocking (but not surprising if you had been
talking to Iraqis) degradation
and abuse of Iraqi prisoners
in Abu Ghraib prison committed by U.S.
This included taking numerous pictures of American soldiers posing with
naked Iraqi prisoners placed in degrading postures, an Iraqi prisoner
with a hood over his head and wires attached to him (see above;
thanks to Unfairwitness
much more. If you missed the 60 Minutes II segment last night, when you
click on the link above, you'll see a link to streaming video of part
of the segment, including some pictures. You have to see it for
The official reaction is clear. Here's the reaction from Brigadier
General Mark Kimmitt, the same guy who said "95 percent" of the Iraqi
casualties in Fallujah were fighters without going to a hospital or
looking at a cemetery in the town:
"So what would I tell the people of
Iraq? This is wrong. This is
reprehensible. But this is not representative of the 150,000 soldiers
that are over here," adds Kimmitt. "I'd say the same thing to the
American people... Don't judge your army based on the actions of a few."
Iraqis, who have seen for themselves the conduct of American soldiers,
will never believe this.
One of the abusive soldiers, Chip Frederick, sent home these messages
over the months that he was posted at Abu Ghraib:
intelligence has encouraged and told us 'Great job.' "
"They usually don't allow others to watch them interrogate. But
since they like the way I run the prison, they have made an exception."
"We help getting them to talk with the way we handle them. ...
We've had a very high rate with our style of getting them to break.
They usually end up breaking within hours."
This suggests pretty clearly that torture and degrading punishment are
part of standard policy, because they help to make prisoners break
The debate was framed as one over whether the soldiers should be
punished. This shows something seriously wrong with the political
culture to start with. There's obviously no excuse for these acts, even
if the soldiers were ordered to perform them. The question should
simply be how high up the chain of command the investigation goes and
how broadly in other prison facilities.
I've got to run now, but in a few hours I'll post some examples of
standard operating procedure for American soldiers in Iraq and the
prevailing culture of impunity.
April 28, 11:30 am
John Negroponte, the designated future U.S. ambassador to
before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. He started off
by saying Iraq
would have "a lot more sovereignty than they have right now." When
questioned in detail about what that meant for the U.S. military,
Negroponte said the U.S. military "is going
to have the freedom
in their self-defense, and they're going to be free to operate in Iraq
as they best see fit." What's more, he said, Iraqi military forces will
"come under the unified command" of the U.S.-led multinational force.
Afterward, according to the Post, "Negroponte emphasized that the
interim government will not need law-making authority."
All of this bears out precisely the claims made in an article in the
Times back on March 26, "The
Occupation: U.S. Officials Fashion Legal Basis to Keep Force in Iraq
Let's sum up the transfer of sovereignty. The United States keeps 14
military bases, at least 130,000 troops. It also keeps control of the
new Iraqi military (which is to be under the command of Lt. Gen.
Ricardo Sanchez). It keeps control of the purse-strings. UN Security
Council Resolution 1483
gives the United States (the "coalition") total control over Iraq's oil
revenue -- it goes into a bank account labeled the Iraq Development
Fund administered by the Coalition Provisional Authority.
So, the new sovereign government of Iraq will have a military
controlled by a foreign power, will be occupied by a foreign military,
will have no revenues, and "will not need law-making authority." An
interesting definition of sovereignty.
It should be fairly clear what this sham is all about. Once they claim
hard enough the government is sovereign, then, without needing to make
laws, it can sign binding contracts with foreign corporations. And,
by the way, Bush can claim before the elections that he's created a
sovereign government in Iraq.
April 28, 11:20
I cited earlier also shows that 57% of
Amerians believe that Saddam was giving substantial support to al-Qaeda.
A reader who wrote to me, a self-described conservative who confesses
to being uneasy with America’s new imperial ventures, says that 9/11 is
what makes him support the war on Iraq. He’s read more than many
conservatives and is aware that there’s no evidence linking Saddam and
al-Qaeda, but he’s just sure Saddam was aiding, abetting, and harboring
And even people who scoff at these claimed links, like Thomas Friedman,
talk about the war on Iraq as a necessary part of fighting Islamic
fundamentalist terrorism regionally and globally.
It’s all quite amazing to me. Of course, Saddam and al-Qaeda were
clearly not working together. But actually, it goes far beyond that.
Saddam actively suppressed the formation of such groups and made sure
they could not operate in Iraq.
He was not “militantly secularist,” as even Juan Cole, who should know
better, says. Even in its original form, Ba’athism was hardly
militantly secularist; and Ba’athism in Iraq lost any meaningful
political core in the early 1980;s. Saddam gutted the party’s
independence, privatized huge swaths of industry in 1982, started using
very overtly Islamist rhetoric in the war against Iran (like for
example constant references to Qadissiyah the sight of the great battle
where Muslim armies beat Iranian forces and started the Islamization of
Iran). After the Gulf War, his rhetoric got ore and more religious, he
started building gigantic mosques, and the whole country fell back on
religion as a stabilizing force.
But that’s not the point. Saddam tolerated no threats to his power,
which was based in part on the construction of him as the savior of the
nation. Any ideology, like Islamism, that asserted in a political
way that there was a higher power would be anathema. And, of course,
any political ideology independent of him.
So he suppressed Salafists (Isalmic fundamentalists, including
Wahhabis) brutally. People were imprisoned, tortured, even killed just
Furthermore, wherever the elusive Zarqawi and his ilk were before the
war, it was nearly impossible for them to operate in Iraq (except in
northern Iraq, which was under a separate government). Just the nature
of a repressive totalitarian police state makes it difficult or
impossible for groups like that to get very far or do much. The regime
change, which has ushered in near anarchy in Iraq, freed “Zarqawi” to
commit a phenomenal series of terrorist attacks.
So even if you believe wholeheartedly in a brutal, direct military
logic of a “war on terrorism,” even from a narrow military point of
view attacking the one country where the threat is totally suppressed
and opening it for that threat is absolutely insane. Even the most
hard-core bigots who think that the United States has to fight a war on
Islam should realize this.
April 27, 5:00 pm
I'm in Denver to do a talk, so haven't had a chance to post
on unfolding events today. The violence that has already erupted in
Fallujah -- devastating assaults
using the fearsome AC-130 Spectre gunship
-- does not augur well.
U.S. propaganda activities directed at the Iraqis remain laughable.
Check this out:
Earlier in the day, U.S. aircraft dropped
leaflets in the city of 200,000 people, calling on insurgents to
"Surrender, you are surrounded," the leaflets said. "If you are a
terrorist, beware, because your last day was yesterday. In order to
spare your life end your actions and surrender to coalition forces now.
We are coming to arrest you."
Well, of course, the vast majority are not terrorists but simply people
defending their city from a military assault. But none of them think of
themselves as terrorists, any more than George Bush or Ariel Sharon
thinks of himself as a war criminal. That's not the way human beings
work. It's as if they've kept up their barrage of propaganda so long
they can't understand others might see the world a different way.
April 26, 7:45 am
My jaw dropped when I read a description of the new Iraqi
flag. White with a blue crescent, two blue bars and one yellow bar. My
first reaction, like
that of every Iraqi
, was that, with the exception of the yellow
bar, these are the colors of the Israeli flag. Perfectly nice colors
and from an aesthetic point of view nicer than the red white and blue,
the French tricolor or the hideous Union Jack, but the symbolism is
just too over the top.
A quote from the Post article linked above (which also has a graphic of
"When I saw it in the newspaper, I felt very
50, a supermarket owner in Saadoun, a commercial area in central
Baghdad. "The flags of other Arab countries are red and green and
black. Why did they put in these colors that are the same as Israel?
Why was the public opinion not consulted?"
It's understandable that Kurds, threatened by pan-Arabism, would want a
break from the Arab color scheme. But surely there were other colors?
I also don't understand another part of the symbolism. The crescent is
for Islam, the blue bars for the Tigris and the Euphrates, and the
yellow bar for the Kurds. Either the Arabs have been left out or
least an implication that Kurds are not Muslims.
April 26, 8:00 pm
I'm still in the process of sifting through my notes from
Iraq and will be writing more in the next few weeks. Right now, a
thought about Saddam's palaces.
After the Gulf War, Saddam went on a mad building spree, erecting
palaces and mosques of fantastic proportions. A 1999 State Department
report claimed that he had built 48 palaces (likely meaning 48
within a much smaller number of palace complexes). The largest mosque
in Baghdad, Umm al-Ma'arek (Mother of Battles) was completed in 2002,
and I have seen the barely-started skeleton of the massive Saddam
mosque, that was to be bigger than any outside Mecca and Medina. From
whatever I could see, although huge and opulent, they were not exactly
models of artistic grace or architectural innovation.
This was a common propaganda point used by supporters of the sanctions
-- they claim the sanctions are causing harm, but really the harm is
caused by Saddam building palaces. And, in fact, the building of the
palaces and mosques was absolutely indefensible -- even Iraqis who have
a good word for Saddam (and there are more every day) think he went a
bit nuts with this. To use this to support the sanctions was turning
logic on its head. Opponents of the sanctions didn't do it on the basis
of claiming Saddam was a nice guy. In the 1980's, without external
control, fighting a war with Iran, Saddam drove Iraq deeply into debt
to keep up nearly free provision of health care and other services. In
the 1990's, free from fiscal accountability because he could blame the
external controls imposed under the sanctions, he built palaces and
mosques. Thus, the sanctions made his treatment of the public worse.
But anyway, what has happened to the palaces now? One of them has
become the headquarters of the CPA -- the "Green Zone." Another at Abu
Ghraib is a giant detention camp. And so one. The United States has
moved into all of Saddam's palaces.
Surely, had they wished to show the slightest concern for Iraqi public
opinion, had they wished to make any effort to get people to believe
that this was about democracy for Iraqis and not about control for the
United States, they could have opened up some of these palaces to the
Iraqi people. Under Saddam, they were off limits to ordinary people;
now, they still are. They could have opened some of them and said,
"Look, Saddam made these for himself with the wealth of the Iraqi
people. Now we have come and given them to you who paid for them."
Instead, with their narrow pragmatism and complete disregard for actual
Iraqis, they moved in and took over and helped cement in Iraqis' minds
the idea that they are simply the replacements for Saddam (this is
something almost any Iraqi will say).
April 26, 9:00 am
Austin, Texas -- I'm back. A concept I'm going to have
to grapple with for a while.
Apparently, Marine commanders, in consultation with the White House,
for now not to undertake an all-out offensive
Instead, they will conduct "patrols" along with Iraqi security forces
(read "human shields"). Mark Kimmitt says efforts have shifted to a
At the same time, there is a resurgence of the language of
de-escalation regarding Najaf, Kimmitt saying there are no "timelines"
for the apprehension of Moqtada al-Sadr.
For the most part, over the past five weeks, the administration has
acted as if the use of force is the ultimate political panacea, as long
as you have enough of it. In doing so, it has escalated what would have
been a very containable series of episodes into the first full-blown
crisis for the occupation.
Within that period, there have been stretches of a few days where
slightly more conciliatory language was used. In hindsight, each of
those occasions looks like temporizing while they hope that various
Iraqi intermediaries could resolve the situation. In Fallujah, the
Hizb-il-Islami (Party of Islam), which holds a seat on the Governing
Council but has (or has gained) some legitimacy among the resistance in
al-Anbar province, has been an explicit intermediary. In Najaf, less
explicitly, it's been elements of the Shi'a religious hierarcy, many of
which are not happy about al-Sadr's ascendance.
In each case, the idea for the United States has been the same --
negotiations should get the other side to surrender and the main
concession from the United States will be that, if they do surrender,
they won't be bombarded. Which is another way of saying that the
negotiations are not about coming to a mutually satisfactory solution
but simply to have the United States win without even having to fight.
When a few days of this goes nowhere (as with the mujaheddin in
Fallujah, who were happy to turn in old and unusable weapons, but not
the ones they use for defense of the town), the bellicosity gets ramped
up again. In Najaf, they're being more careful because of the special
significance of the city to Shi'a, but the outline of the story is not
So, the question is, is this just another round of temporizing or does
it represent an understanding by the administration that another bout
of massive force in Fallujah will make it even harder for them to rule
Iraq? Given the fact that they propose to do completely meaningless
"patrols" as a show of force, my money is on the first option. But it's
still too early to say.
April 25, 7:10 am
Amsterdam, the Netherlands -- Things are looking very bad for
Fallujah. The various mujaheddin factions, who may have agreed to a
truce just so that the siege of Fallujah would be partially lifted and
the road to the hospital opened, obviously had no intention of handing
over all their weapons (or even just the "heavy" ones). That demand by
the Americans was basically the demand to win the battle without
Since Fallujah will not capitulate, apparently, Bush
and his advisers decide this weekend
whether to bombard the hell
out of it.
Here's a fascinating quote from the Times article:
"It's clear you
can't leave a few thousand insurgents there to terrorize the city and
shoot at us," one senior official involved in the discussions said in
an interview on Saturday. "The question now is whether there is a way
to go in with the most minimal casualties possible."
It should be clear to anyone with basic knowledge of the situation and
with no ideological axe to grind who the few thousand people
terrorizing the city are. They're the ones that have assaulted it with
tanks, AC-130 gunships, F-16's, and snipers, not the ones who have been
defending it from assault.
Based on everything that's happened so far, the mindless
desire for revenge and for showing military supremacy will triumph and
the attack will be launched. As Bush said, "America will never be run
out of Iraq by a bunch of thugs and killers." This is the kind of
nonsense every colonial army has put out against its opponents -- as
Henry Liu points out in the
, the British general at the battle of Bunker Hill,
Thomas Cage, called the American rebels thugs and tax evaders.
Sheikh Ahmed Abdel Ghafur
Samarra'i, during Friday prayers at a prominent Baghdad mosque, said
, "We will
the shedding of Iraqi blood. If you strike again, the whole of Iraq,
from north to south, from east to west, will become Fallujah," a
sentiment virtually every Iraqi I've spoken with would agree with.
A bad moon is rising. Since Bush is so fond of the Bible (it was
apparently his favorite book as a child), he should read that part
about sowing the wind.
It would be nice if this time there were protests before the assault
instead of after.
April 25, 7:00 am
Amsterdam, the Netherlands -- I just finished reading the
results of the new Program
on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks poll
. I don't
have time to go into all of them at the moment, but on the subject
introduced before of whether the facts make any difference to people's
The pollsters conclude that Americans "grossly underestimate" the
number of civilians killed in the war on Iraq. The ones polled had an
average estimate of 800, whereas attempts by organizations from the
Associated Press (3200) to MedAct (7350) to Iraq Body Count
rather higher (the Iraq Body Count project uses the novel approach of
taking all corroborated news reports of deaths and adding them up).
Actually, this is not so bad comparatively -- Americans generally
estimate about 100,000 Vietnamese killed in the Vietnam War, not the
roughly 3 million that modern historians estimate.
Outside of the antiwar movement, there is no furor about civilian
deaths in Iraq (remember Howard Dean's statement back in the fall that
"There are now almost 400 people dead who wouldn't be dead if that
resolution hadn't been passed and we hadn't gone to war" -- as if
Iraqis aren't even people). There isn't even attention to the fact that
White House/Pentagon claims that these wars are justified in part
because the killing of innocents is outweighed by positive results
cannot be justified when they simultaneously make such a point of not
estimating how many innocents are killed.
The estimated over 600 killed in Fallujah weigh heavily on the minds of
Iraqis and others in the world. It's time for people in the United
States to start paying more attention as well (BTW, the poll concluded
that, controlling for other factors, perceptions of the number of
civilian deaths did not affect support for the war).
April 25, 5:25 am
Amsterdam, the Netherlands -- Thanks to all the people who
wrote in to tell me not to let the right wing get me down. And I guess
I forgot to mention that supportive messages tremendously outnumber the
insulting ones. But I didn't write to complain about the hate mail.
That's what one expects when engaging in public on the most contentious
issues of the day. And I didn't write just to point out the problems of
the right wing. Popular consciousness and how it is formed is an
extremely important topic to reckon with. The problem with the idiotic
propaganda I mentioned is not just that the right wing makes sure it
goes far and wide but that many ordinary non-ideological Americans find
themselves persuaded by it.
April 24,10:20 am
Amman, Jordan -- Lots of things to comment on in the next few
days -- so many, it's hard to know where to start. So let's start with
something frivolous -- only it isn't really.
My reporting from Iraq has brought me to the attention of a fair number
of rightwingers, many of whom write to me. Their comments bring up many
interesting issues -- not about matters of fact, but about the right
wing. A lot of them write asking who I am, what's my agenda. The basic
idea seems to be this: if somebody reports what's actually going on,
criticizes the conduct of the war or the policies of the
administration, then that person is antiwar or anti-Bush, therefore
must be writing just to serve their agenda, therefore has no
credibility. The actual arguments they make are irrelevant. It's a
lovely self-consistent system that has already torpedoed even the
testimony of ultra-hawk Richard Clarke about Bush administration
A lot of them ask about my nationality, of course -- the basic
tribalism that is such a defining feature of Americanness, except on
the liberal fringes. Some of them seem to believe that, with my
non-European name, there is something terribly shady about the fact
that I don't have my nationality at the top of the site in 60-point
Others like to write in to tell me how horrible my "friends" the
Fallujah mujahideen are. Or, of course, about how I am a Saddam
apologist -- tough to do if they just stick to what I've actually said
or written as opposed to what they've imagined.
Then there are those who write to tell me all the things I should know
about Iraq -- although they have no idea what they're talking about.
That's a subject for several posts. I'll get back to it.
But it's interesting that the average American knows so little about
these matters and yet has such firm opinions. Here's an extreme
example, sent to me by one of my right-wing fans. It's a "letter from a
soldier." You can read the whole thing here
But here are some claims putatively made by Ray Reynolds, SFC, of the
Iowa National Guard:
-Over 4.5 million people have clean drinking water for the first time
ever in Iraq.
-Over 400,000 kids have up to date immunizations.
-Over 1500 schools have been renovated and ridded of the weapons that
were stored there so education can occur.
-The port of Umm Qasr was renovated so grain can be off-loaded from
-School attendance is up 80% from levels before the war.
-The country had it's first 2 billion barrel export of oil in August.
-The country now receives 2 times the electrical power it did before
-100% of the hospitals are open and fully staffed compared to 35%
before the war.
-Elections are taking place in every major city and city councils are
-Sewer and water lines are installed in every major city.
-Over 60,000 police are patrolling the streets.
-Over 100,000 Iraqi civil defense police are securing the country.
-Over 80,000 Iraqi soldiers are patrolling the streets side by side
with US soldiers.
-Over 400,000 people have telephones for the first time ever.
-Students are taught field sanitation and hand washing techniques to
prevent the spread of germs.
-An interim constitution has been signed.
-Girls are allowed to attend school for the first time ever in Iraq.
-Text books that don't mention Saddam are in the schools for the first
time in 30 years.
Of course, anyone can have fun with this. Girls could, of course,
attend school in Iraq before the war (the person who sent this to me
knew this one and must have removed the "for the first time" part -- or
someone in the chain that sent it to him did). Every major city in Iraq
had sewer and water lines before the war -- as does every major city.
Iraqis knew how to wash their hands before the Americans came. Some of
them even knew how to do brain surgery, which requires extensive
hand-washing. Telephones were working before the war; now, many aren't.
There's no way a soldier could know of his own knowledge that "100%" of
hospitals in the whole country are fully staffed and open, or that 35%
were before. Either he made it up or someone fed it to him. In any
case, I imagine that thd 35% is not even close to being accurate -- if
anything, it's more likely that hospitals are closed now, because of
security problems or deliberate actions by
. Plenty of kids had up-to-date immunizations under
Saddam. An Iraqi history textbook that doesn't mention Saddam is
leaving out a hell of a lot. RTI, the North Carolina company that is
bringing "democracy" to Iraq, often prefers to appoint councils rather
than having them elected. And so on.
Anyway, it doesn't take much to realize that this is an obvious
fabrication, whether or not Ray Reynolds wrote it, and also that it is
extreme nonsense. It reminds me of the 11 soldiers who "wrote" identical
letters to the editor
about how great things are in Iraq.
But the point is, you can find bulletin boards and discussion lists
where people are eating this pathetic thing up. The extreme ignorance
so many people have feeds their credulity. This in turn helps make so
many completely impervious to new facts and analysis. And am I way off,
or does the number of such seem to be growing every year?
April 23, 12:10 pm
Amman, Jordan -- The Washington
Post has an article
confirming, just by the way, that all the hype
about foreign fighters in Fallujah was just silly nonsense -- "By most
accounts, foreigners fighting in Fallujah number only in the dozens."
And, of course, according to a Fallujah resident, "They entered three
days after these events started."
So, clearly, the vast majority of fighters were Iraqis, and it was the
people of Fallujah who started the resistance -- just as I and others
who observed those events said. And the New
York Times has an article
confirming the near-universality
of anger against the Americans because of Fallujah. The merchants of
Karrada Khwarij interviewed in the article, like Ghazi Saleh of Karrada
I wrote about earlier
, are the last people to express any kind of
April 23, 12:02 pm
Amman, Jordan -- Thinking about the killings in Basra and
az-Zubayr, where the death toll has either risen
(and includes 20 children). Some followers of Moqtada al-Sadr
in Basra demonstrated against them and a representative of his blamed
the attacks on the British
. This, by the way, is not surprising --
the story is that it was a similar claim (except about Americans
instead of British) that prompted the closing of al-Hawza, al-Sadr's
newspaper. And, indeed, it's a very common belief in Iraq that these
large terrorist attacks are done by the American forces. I see no
reason to believe it myself, but it does show the esteem in which the
American forces are held.
The Guardian has a story
claiming that, on the basis of a suspect apprehended while running away
from one of the bombing sites in az-Zubayr, that these attacks were not
the work of foreign terrorists (al-Qaeda, Zarqawi, "Zarqawi," etc. --
it still amazes me that Zarqawi's having a leg amputated in Baghdad was
one of the smoking guns that required a U.S. war on Iraq, but now
they're not sure whether he has one or two legs -- but I digress), but
rather of "local Iraqis
incensed by the deaths of hundreds of fellow Sunnis killed in Falluja
by US troops."
Well, none of us are going to know the truth for some time, but this
really stinks of black propaganda being put out by the "coalition."
First of all, ever since this latest phase started, the theme song for
every Iraqi has been Sunni-Shi'a unity. Even if you took an extremely
cynical view and said it was all rhetorical, why upset it right now
when both groups have the same enemy? Personally, I think it's a little
more than rhetorical -- it hasn't erased the deep problems between
communities, but the fact that the poor of the Shi'a slums gave from
their very meager resources to send aid to Fallujah certainly has an
effect on people and does help to draw them together.
In fact, the only dissenting note in recent weeks was a purported
communication from Zarqawi
on April 6 in which he explicitly
denounced the Shi'i.
Second, starting in the fall, there were many attacks targeting Iraqi
police as "collaborators" with the occupying forces. There were even
attacks on cleaning women and laundry women as "collaborators." It's
almost unimaginable to me, by the way, that the latter were done by any
sort of normal indigenous Iraqi resistance faction -- in the macho
culture of the country, such an attack would be seen as entirely
cowardly and absurdly stupid. But anyway, I talked with Shi'a
sympathizers of Moqtada's Jaish-il-Mehdi (Mehdi Army) in Shuala,
and other places, and also with sympathizers of the Falluja mujaheddin.
None of them had anything particularly bad to say about the Iraqi
police. Some middle class people will tell you the IP are a bunch of
thieves, but in the context of the occupation, none of these militants
I spoke with saw them as a target -- especially right now.
The response was always the same -- "They are Iraqis." They weren't a
problem -- the Americans, who shoot indiscriminately, kill civilians,
put Fallujah under siege, were the problem. Of course, I can't speak
for all the mujaheddin factions in Fallujah or the Sunni in az-Zubayr,
but it seems to me very unlikely that anyone who wanted to take revenge
for Fallujah would see any Iraqi Arabs as the appropriate target. This
is especially the case when, according
to Major General Martin Dempsey
, 10% of Iraqi security forces have
gone over to the "enemy" (also known as the Iraqi people) and 40% have
refused to show up for work.
So, this is all speculation, but if I had to guess I'd say it's
"Zarqawi" (by which I mean the same group that has done so many other
indiscriminate bombing attacks) but that someone in the "coalition"
decided it wouldn't hurt to try to frame someone else and break down
the very fragile feeling of unity that has been emerging.
April 23, 10:15 am
Amman, Jordan -- If I've done this correctly, here's one of
my pictures of the statue in Firdaus Square. See for yourself if it's
the ugliest thing on the planet -- although it's even worse up close.
April 23, 5:30 am
Amman, Jordan -- I'm going to continue writing up my Iraq
observations, but am also catching up on other commentary. So bear with
me if I comment on things that are a few days old. Mordechai Vanunu is
at long last free from prison. Daniel Ellsberg, another person who
leaked state secrets because it was the right thing to do, wrote a nice
piece about it in the Los Angeles Times
. Not only was Vanunu's
treatment extremely brutal and punitive, his apprehension was done in
blatant violation of international law -- he was lured to Rome by
Mossad, where he was beaten, drugged, and kidnapped.
The New York Times covered Vanunu's release, of course, but somehow did
not see fit to mention
his call to have Mohammed el-Baradei, chief
of the IAEA, inspect Israel. Of course, since Israel is not a signatory
to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the call was rhetorical, but
still newsworthy, one might have thought.
BTW, at the request of several readers, I've added permalinks for all
April posts and will gradually go back and add them for previous posts
as well. I was meaning to do it when I got back, ...
April 22, 3:55 pm
Amman, Jordan -- Thanks so much to the thousands of people
who visited Empire Notes, wrote to me with support, information, and
questions, and who gave so generously to help me continue my work.
My three-week trip to Iraq is over. I'm spending a few days in Amman,
partly just to decompress. While in Iraq, I kept it together and stayed
focused on what I was doing, but now a delayed emotional reaction has
I have several anecdotes from my final day in Iraq (a couple of which
are below)-- and also a wealth of impressions and testimony that has
not been fully written up. I will continue dishing those up as well as
writing about the news of the day.
April 22, 3:55 pm
Amman, Jordan -- Leaving Iraq 1. Before we go to the airport,
I tell the driver I'd like to take a picture of the statue in Firdaus
Square. I want to be able to show people back home the ugliest thing in
all of Iraq. He is skeptical about whether I will be able to -- there
is a permanent U.S. military detachment, complete with a big tank,
guarding the Palestine Hotel and the Sheraton.
I approach the statue that has replaced Saddam Hussein's and take
several pictures. There are two old men sitting at the base; I wave to
them and they wave back. Then, not satisfied with the fact that I have
almost no pictures from my trip (on the trip to fallujah, I did the
digital equivalent of keeping the lens cap cover on), I suddenly take
leave of my senses. With my mind already wandering past Iraq, I forget
that my body is still planted very firmly in Iraq. I swivel around to
take a picture of the tank. Suddenly the men at the base of the statue
erupt, jumping up and gesticulating wildly. I suddenly come back to my
senses. the most dangerous thing you can do in Iraq is take a picture
of an American soldier with a big gun pointed at you. If they don't
think you're shooting at them, they're likely to think you're a
journalist, which is even more dangerous. In front of the "Green Zone,"
where the CPA headquarters are, there's a sign that says, "No
photography." But nobody needs the sign; everyone knows.
April 22, 3:55 pm
Amman, Jordan -- Leaving Iraq 2. I'm flying out of Baghdad
International Airport. When I came in, I flew to Amman and took a car
to Baghdad, but even then we were lucky to get through without
incident. Later, it became impossible to get past Fallujah on the
western highway. For months, the airport had no regular passenger
flights, because of intermittent mortar fire. Now, the airport has been
made usable by the simple expedient of blocking off the road about five
kilometers from the airport and allowing only authorized vehicles past
that point. Royal Jordanian has taken advantage of this situation by
charging a king's ransom for a one-way flight to Amman. But better that
than being held hostage.
The road out to the airport is not safe. There are guerrillas in Abu
Ghraib attacking U.S. supply lines and there are also American troops,
even twitchier there than most places. As we set out on the stretch
leading to the final checkpoint, my driver utters the "Bismillah" three
I end up having to wait for half an hour in a parking lot before the
airport shuttle leaves. I strike up a conversation with two Gurkhas
from Nepal who are here working for the oddly-named Custer Battles.
This is a U.S.-based company that provides airport security, although
it seems that its main expertise is in providing counter-terrorism
security for water treatment infrastructure.
The Gurkhas don't make anything like the huge salaries you hear about
Americans and Europeans making. They don't like being here. One tells
me that he has been here since September of last year and in that whole
time has only seen this arid, wasted stretch between the checkpoint and
the airport; he hasn't even been in to Baghdad. I ask them what they
think of the Americans. One says, "They are very rough." The other one
says, "Rough and tough."
In India, Gurkhas are legendary for their remorseless efficiency. They
were the primary contingent in the group of soldiers, commanded by
Brigadier General Harry Dyer, who opened fire on a peaceful crowd in
Amritsar in 1919, killing 379 (the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre, a
pivotal event in the history of the Indian freedom movement). But you
hear the same story from them as you do from the British and from the
Iraqis: the Americans are in a class by themselves when it comes to the
use of unnecessary force.
April 21, 01:20 pm
Baghdad, Iraq -- One of my translators, Harb, has good news.
His cousin was just released from Abu Ghraib prison, after nine months
He had been taken at roughly the same time as Sa'adoun Hammadi, speaker
of the Iraqi parliament under Saddam. Harb's cousin was not part of the
Ba'ath; he had been involved in a roadside argument and the Americans
just took everyone and stuck them in the festering hole that is Abu
For nine months, he was held without charge. The Americans have made no
provision for detainees, most of whom have done no more than this man,
to contact their families or the outside world in general. But human
solidarity finds ways to outsmart the workings of any police state;
prisoners who are freed carry in their heads messages and contact
information for as many families of other prisoners as they can
remember. Under Saddam, political prisoners did the same thing.
Based on his personal observation, Harb's cousin estimates that 15,000
are held in Abu Ghraib alone. Nobody knows the exact number of
detainees in Iraq, but 20,000 is as good an estimate as any.
Most of them had, I have little doubt, never picked up a gun against
the Americans (there's no way to ascertain this directly, but
considering the circumstances of detention stories, it seems very
likely). How many will once they get out?
April 21, 01:15 pm
Baghdad, Iraq -- A few thoughts on the connection between the
assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin of Hamas and the events of the
last few weeks. Juan Cole
claimed several times that this was the trigger for both what's
happening in Fallujah and what's happened with Syed al-Sadr and the
Mehdi Army, citing the fact that both in Fallujah and in al-Sadr's
strongholds people have been seen carrying pictures of Yassin and there
have been communiques from groups naming themselves after Yassin.
From what I've seen and heard here, it doesn't really ring true to me.I
should start by saying that, of course, for all Arabs and increasingly
for Muslims in non-Arab countries, Palestine has an incredible
resonance and there are times that they seem more focused on what's
happening there than what's happening in their own countries. In Iraq,
if anything, this trend is more extreme because of at least 15 years of
intense state propaganda about the subject. Even without any of it, of
course, the feeling against the unjust occupation of Palestine would be
strong here, but Saddam did his best to whip it to a fever pitch. And
it's true that major clerics in Iraq, as elsewhere, condemned the
assassination. In particular, Syed Sistani did. And undoubtedly, it
added somewhat to people's outrage.
But I haven't talked to a single Iraqi who brought up Yassin
unprompted. When I ask, people condemn the killing, but nobody sees fit
to mention it otherwise. As I've written before, in Fallujah it is a
simple cycle of revenge, initiated by the United States in a massacre
last April; the proximate cause of the Blackwater incident was a
rampage by Marines the previous week in which at least seven civilians
were killed. After Blackwater, it was just the decision of the U.S.
military command to exact collective punishment. People under siege,
attacked with 2000-pound bombs from F-16's, attacked by AC-130 Spectre
gunships, and M-1 Abrams tanks, as well as by the ubiquitous snipers,
don't need the assassination of some foreign figure to get themselves
worked up to resist. Similarly, the flareup with al-Sadr was
precipitated by the closing of his newspaper, followed by the killing
of several Sadr supporters in peaceful demonstrations against the
People carry lots of pictures. Among the Shi'a, you see pictures of
various ayatollahs -- Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, Sistani, Muhammad Bakir
al-Hakim -- and of Moqtada. There is also a glorification of what they
call martyrs -- Palestinians killed by Israelis, Iraqis killed by
Americans. Carrying pictures of Yassin or naming some small mujaheddin
faction after him are just expressions of solidarity, expressions that
he is a martyr.
April 21, 01:09 pm
Baghdad, Iraq -- The CPA's propaganda in Iraq is laughable.
I've written several times about al-Iraqiya, the state TV station, and
al-Hurra, the satellite station (the latter actually apparently showed
reruns of old American movies while al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera were
showing 200,000 Gazans assembled for Sheikh Yassin's funeral). There
are also the recruiting posters. There's one of an Iraqi policeman
wearing a beret, holding out his hand -- it looks much more like he's
about to haul you in than that he's inviting you to join the IP. These
posters are generally the subject of derision. In Aadhamiyah, a
stronghold of resistance in Baghdad, the recruiting posters are always
covered with black spray paint. There's one in a central square there
that has now been replaced and painted over four times in the past
couple of months.
Firdaus square is also testament to the CPA's ineptitude. On April 9,
2003, the whole world was saturated with images of Firdaus square, and
the American tank-retriever pulling down Saddam's statue while a small
crowd of Iraqis cheered. Well, you'd think it would be a no-brainer to
put up something grand in its place. Maybe a statue of a proud,
handsome Iraqi couple striding off into a glorious future, with a
plaque saying that Americans are glad to have had the opportunity to
help Iraq realize its glorious destiny. Also with water fountains
perpetually fountaining, verdant greenery, and so on.
But no. On top of the marble column where Saddam's statue stood,
someone put up the most hideous monstrosity I've ever seen. A green
statue, not green because of paint but because it's like brass that's
been out in the air for 1000 years, with a face that is not
recognizable as anything human. It's supposed to be some kind of
"goddess of liberty," but it looks like nothing in any of the worlds.
For the rest, the square is untended. The twin pools in front of and on
either side of the main column have the fetid stink of stagnant water,
and are full of garbage. Posters and graffiti are everywhere, and it
all looks horrible. There is an old man who every morning cleans up the
trash from the bushes, but he's likely doing it on his own and anyway
he's not up to the task.
Of course, this way there's more of a ring of truth. Firdaus square now
is the perfect symbol of the occupation the way it actually is, not the
way George Bush always claims it is.
April 20, 2:01 pm
Baghdad, Iraq -- Listen
to my Democracy Now! interview with Amy Goodman or read the transcript
(For streaming audio help click here
April 20, 10:30 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- Here's a message, reproduced verbatim, from
a recent admirer:
I am writing regarding your coverage of the
Falluja fighting against the iraqi terrorists. First of all, from your
name one can tell you are a Hindu. I hope you are not a fucking paki.
So remember that these same terrorists killed tens of thousands of
people in India to convert them to islam, that filthy religion. You
need to learn about your own history first, before defending these
savage fucking arabs.
Anyway, about Falluja: low-lives like you make me sick. To suggest that
the US forces are committing atrocities against these savage animals is
beyond the pale of reason. Worst is your hypocracy: you enjoy all the
comforts of the West, and even use the social benefit system
shamelessly, then you travel to Iraq and "report" on the "mujahedeen".
Do even know what that word means? These are terrorists who hate the
West because the main values represented by the US and Europe are that
of Reason, and Civilization, and Beauty. Of course, savages oppose
that. And thus, forgo any value that one would allot to their lives.
If you like the "mujahedeen" so much, why don't you live with them,
instead of catching the next flight to London, or New York, and coming
back "home", after you have done your "reporting". The US and British
are evil, but you don't mind that welfare cheque, and free health care,
and a civilized nation do you? Get a life you fucking paki!
In addition to his ignorance about everything else, our friend is
obviously not exactly aware of the functioning of the famed American
welfare state. I couldn't get a welfare check if I tried, and,
as for "free health care," I know of one occasion on which I've been
the recipient. A doctor in Fallujah bandaged my ankle. No waiting, no
request to take off your clothes and lie around freezing, and no
charge. He did look a little bemused; he'd been working four days with
virtually no sleep treating burns, shrapnel, and gunshot wounds.
This message is actually highly instructive. It indicates something of
tremendous importance that is easy to miss if you concern yourself only
with the nuanced rhetoric of official and semi-official communiques. I
saw another example of it just now, speaking as a guest on a typical
commercial radio show in a typical American town. It shows up again in
of the Marines
in the field right now. And it comes out also in a British
officer's recent criticism of the attitudes of American soldiers
So what is it that I'm building up to? Well, the Bush administration
can talk about their "forward strategy for freedom," democratizing the
Middle East, liberating Iraqis from Saddam Hussein, and people like me
can tear it down and refute it. But we should remember that that
rhetoric is all for a small group of people.
For lots of Americans, it's very simple: "they" are the enemy. Arab
savages attacked us on 9/11, so we need to teach the bastards a lesson.
No other analysis is needed; no other information will be allowed into
the picture. When I spoke just now on radio about U.S. war crimes, I
was told by a retired military man that "many" of the Iraqis are just
animals who need to be
beaten down or exterminated (and, of course, that I am "unamerican") --
he also says he is reading the Koran, on the "know your enemy"
principle. Another man, a Vietnam veteran, asked me why I was "wasting
talking about the crimes committed by his and my government.
Some of the British officer's words:
don't see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as
untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in
the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it's
US troops view things in very simplistic terms. It seems hard for them
reconcile subtleties between who supports what and who doesn't in Iraq.
easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far
are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them."
It remains only to be said that, judging by the reactions of so many
civilians back home, the troops come here with that attitude; it gets
hardened by their experiences here, but it exists beforehand.
It's amazing that these are the same people who talk about "liberating"
Iraq. They may believe their own propaganda, they may hold these two
mutually conflicting beliefs -- that anything the United States does is
justified because "they" are the enemy and that the United States is
liberating Iraq -- but how can they possibly believe anyone in the
Middle East will believe it?
April 20, 9:00 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- A few days ago, I met my first Iraqi who is
a gung-ho supporter of the occupation. He is a Kurd, working as a
translator for a reporter with whom I had dinner. He was clearly
sympathetic when I recounted to her my experience of Fallujah, my
evaluation of it as a relatively indiscriminate collective punishment
of a town, and when I told her that the mainstream reporters in Iraq
were not covering the most important stories -- like demanding an
accounting of the spending of Iraq's oil revenues (and the smaller
amount disbursed because of the congressional allocation).
But then he had to say his piece. He told me, "I do not call it
occupation. I call it liberation. Do you know why? Because my country
was occupied for 35 years by Saddam. We were constantly afraid. Nobody
could speak his mind." This was the first time I've hear an Iraqi say
"liberation" without a sneer in it.
I had sympathy for what he was saying; the punishment Saddam meted out
to the Kurds in the late 1980's and again in 1991 was horrifically
brutal (although what he did in the south in 1991 was likely even
Interestingly, he was completely aware of the fact that these killings
were done with the full aid and support of the United States, that
while Kurds were dying of poison gas in Halabja, the State Department
tried to cover up the crime by claiming Iran was behind
the attack, even though it knew better
. Later, the U.S. Army War
College even issued a report blaming Iran for the attack (what the
proponents of the Iranian hypothesis, including some on the left, never
seem to want to address is that Halabja involved the killing of maybe
5000 people out of the 100-200,000 killed in the Anfal campaign and one
chemical attack out of dozens).
When I asked him whether he thought that the wellbeing of Iraqis was a
U.S. goal, he smiled and shook his head, but said, "I don't care what
their intentions are. The enemy of my enemy is my friend."
Back before the war, the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq was
used frequently for propaganda, by people who wanted to claim that the
deaths in Iraq were due to Saddam's government and not due to the
sanctions. Now, it is used again, although not quite as much.
It's very true that in northern Iraq there is very little resentment of
the occupation. That's for a very simple reason. There was no regime
change in northern Iraq and there's very little occupation. Ever since
the Gulf War, the two main parties, the KDP and PUK, have been running
northern Iraq (the governorates of Dohuk, Erbil, and Sulaimaniyeh).
That hasn't changed; they're still running the show. There are U.S.
military bases, but in general U.S. forces don't patrol in the towns.
Local order is kept by the peshmerga. There's a functioning government;
the same one that there was before the war. So, naturally, if there's
hardly a noticeable occupation, there's not a lot of resentment against
April 19, 9:25 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- I've just posted my latest article, Report from Baghdad -- Hospital Closings and
U.S. War Crimes
April 19, 9:55 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- A reader suggests that I link to a map
so that people can locate for themselves the places I'm
April 19, 8:35 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- I see a lot more construction in Iraq than I
did when I was here in January. Then, it was astonishing -- a city full
of bombed-out buildings, but virtually nothing being built. I didn't
see more than two buildings with construction crews on them as I
criss-crossed the city. Things are recovering a bit. I've seen maybe a
dozen being constructed on this trip. It's still not like the level
you'd expect in a typical, non-bombed Third World city like New Delhi
or Manila, but it is at least noticeable now.
Of course, all of this is private-sector construction. Iraqis
rebuilding their homes, the occasional foreign company having offices
built. None of this has anything to do with the CPA and it is not
funded either by the congressional allocation for reconstruction or by
Iraq's oil revenues. Of course, private individuals are not going to
repair somebody else's bombed building or fix the guardrails on the
highways or the broken-down hospitals and schools. And there, the
reconstruction is all for show. There are propaganda pictures of
Marines painting schools and sawing beams and so on (as if Iraqis are
incapable of carpentry) and every now and then you see a stretch of
road where the concrete barriers have gotten a fresh coat of paint --
usually in a hideous lime-green shade. But anything involving the
serious allocation of resources is very limited and on an absolutely
shameful scale -- keep in mind that the majority of the money being
given to foreign contractors for repairing power plants, etc., is
Iraq's money. The part that is a "gift" from the United States is
usually inflated by being reported as $18.4 billion -- not only does
that include at least $2 billion for Iraqi security forces, it's spread
over five years
On the other hand, on the way to Fallujah, at a checkpoint near Abu
Ghraib prison (used first by Saddam, now by the United States), we saw
truckloads and truckloads of lumber and other materials being driven in
vehicles that clearly belonged to the U.S. military. It was all for
building detention facilities. Since 9/11, the United States has
embarked on the building of a global Gulag Archipelago; Guantanamo has
gotten the most attention, but the number detained in Iraq is far
greater. An administration that can build prisons but not schools or
hospitals in the United States can build prisons but not schools or
hospitals in Iraq.
April 19, 8:35 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- I've started seeing the new Iraqi army at
the odd checkpoint around town. The Iraqi police have been a fixture
for some time, but the "army" is new. You just have to look at them to
tell that they're not part of the coalition forces. Their uniforms are
cheap and shabby; they have no protective clothing worth anything. You
can tell just how underfunded they are by this fact: they all carry
Kalashnikovs. Most people in Iraq, whether mujaheddin or not, modify
their Kalashnikovs by removing the butt of the rifle and sometimes
sawing or breaking off the metal skeleton to which the butt is attached
-- makes the gun lighter and more maneuverable. Many of the Iraqi
army's Kalashnikovs have been so treated. They look as ancient as all
The United States hasn't even equipped the army with new guns
(presumably, they would have used M-16's). This is because, as any
Iraqi will tell you, the new army is not supposed to be an army, but
simply a thin layer of human shields for the U.S. forces.
April 19, 8:35 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- Nobody respects the Iraqi police. The
problem is not, as some of the left might think offhand, that they are
a super-repressive element of a police state. Not at all. The military
occupation acts in some ways as a police state would. People who are
even suspected of having the vaguest connnection to the resistance have
no rights at all. The U.S. military has no legal restraints on what it
can do. But in civil and small-scale political affairs, the military
generally plays no role; that is in fact left to the police.
But the police are far too few in number and more lightly-armed than
the average Iraqi. In Saddam's day, you obeyed the traffic laws because
of fear of any entanglement with the police. Now, nobody does. The
police are afraid to arrest actual criminals -- it's too easy for the
criminals to retaliate. There is
essentially no prosecution of crime, from petty theft to kidnapping and
murder, and so criminals act with complete license. Far from a force
able to control a country's internal affairs, the United States has
created a force that cannot even control the average Iraqi motorist.
This is a persistent complaint from Iraqis of all walks of life.
April 18, 1:35 pm
I'm working on a very important story about hospital
closings and ongoing fighting. It's a big, complex story, and I'm
trying to corroborate everything before writing it all up in an
article, but readers of Empire Notes get to see it first.
There are several parts to this. First is that the Minister of Health
(of the U.S. appointed Governing Council) is reporting that in the last
two days 290 Iraqis are have been killed -- that' excluding Fallujah.
That's a huge number. Second, the minister has confirmed that U.S.
forces have been shooting at ambulances. Third, it was recently
reported as a detail in some news stories that the bridge to the
hospital to Fallujah was re-opened -- burying the real story that access
to the hospital was blocked by U.S. forces
in the first place and
thus residents of Fallujah could not get to the hospital during the
worst of the fighting. And last, but not least, we have reports that
last week the Spanish garrison had shut down the main hospital in
Najaf. Let me repeat: we have reports that they had ordered closing
down of the main hospital in a major city.
I'll be working to corroborate as much of this as I can in the next few
days. Now the details.
At a Ministry of Health press conference on Saturday that none of the
Western media was at (al-Iraqiya, the U.S. TV station, was there for
the statement but left during questioning, which was the more
interesting part). Khudair Abbas, Minister of Health, delivered the
statement and took questions. Dahr Jamail, Pratap Chatterjee and my
translator from whom I have gotten this report attended the press
The Minister was concerned to dispute the numbers on Fallujah -- last I
saw, over 700 dead. He said the "official" count based on the
Ministry's own tally (using 3 dedicated phone lines to cover the whole
country) was 155 dead and 350 injured. Nobody believes this is an
accurate tally, including many Marine commanders. But what's
interesting is that at the same time he said, between April 5 and 17,
in the cities of Baghdad, Najaf, Kerbala, Hilla, and Nasiriyah (all the
ones for which they had data), there had been 290 Iraqis killed and
1196 wounded. And this doesn't include known fighting in Basra, Kut,
Amara, Baqubah, and, of course, Fallujah. Of the dead, 11% are children.
During the questions, when asked about shooting at ambulances, Abbas
confirmed that U.S. forces shot at ambulances, not only in Fallujah and
the approaches to Fallujah, but also in Sadr City. He agreed that the
acts were criminal and said he has asked the IGC (Governing Council)
and Bremer for an explanation.
This is a sensational confirmation, but you won't see it reported in
any newspaper back home. Remember, the Iraqi Ministry of Health is part
of the government the United States created and rules through its
handpicked Governing Council.
It's interesting that this came up just by the by in a conference whose
primary intent, according to well-informed Iraqi sources was to slam
the Sunni Islamist Hizb-il-Islami (Party of Islam). Hizb-il-Islami
serves on the Governing Council, but has played an independent role
over Fallujah, arranging negotiations between the mujaheddin and the
Americans, winning permission to get some aid through, and generally
behaving, in the words of this source, "heroically." The word is that
Bremer wanted to cut them down to size.
But the main story goes well beyond this. It's a story about hospital
closings. Again unreported in English-language media is what happened
with the main hospital in Fallujah. Fallujah is almost entirely on the
eastern bank of the Euphrates; the main hospital is on the western
bank. From the beginning of the assault on Fallujah, the American
forces closed down the bridge; sources we interviewed said that
anything that tried to cross the bridge was destroyed. Nobody could
make it to the hospital, so the hospital staff voluntarily left the
hospital, taking whatever supplies they could, and started treating
people at what had previously been a small three-room outpatient clinic
across the river (on the same side as the town). For two weeks, doctors
were doing surgery on the ground because there weren't enough beds,
with only the supplies and equipment they could transport, and the main
hospital stood closed. You can say the Americans didn't close it on
purpose, but no doctor who believes in the Hippocratic oath is going to
sit in a hospital that nobody can reach while across the river people
die in droves. Call it another form of "collateral damage." I
'm told that yesterday the controls on the bridge were eased up (not
eliminated) and perhaps the hospital can resume functioning shortly.
What's been done in Najaf is even worse. I have this at secondhand.
Pratap Chatterjee, an award-winning journalist who works for CorpWatch
and has done a lot of reporting on corporate crimes, interviewed a
doctor who was posted to Najaf. The doctor was working at the al-Sadr
Teaching Hospital in Najaf (formerly the Saddam Hussein Teaching
Hospital). This is a major institution, with 200 doctors; often,
doctors come from Baghdad for training. On April 5 or 6 soldiers from
the Spanish-language garrison that was posted to Najaf came to the
hospital and told doctors they were shutting it down. They gave doctors
two hours to leave, allowing them only to take personal items, not
medical equipment. The hospital is sort of between Najaf and Kufa, and
near the military base where the garrison is posted; the reason given
for the closing was "security." Imagine the havoc caused by closing the
biggest hospital in a major city for a week. The death toll due to this
will never be figured into the total equation of the "liberation."
There's more even than this. It's a commonplace claim that after
there's been fighting American soldiers come around the hospitals
asking about the wounded, for the purpose of taking and interrogating
any that might be resistance. Like everything else described above,
this is a clear violation of the laws of war, and doctors resist as
best they can. We have confirmation from a doctor at Nomaan Hospital in
Aadhamiyah and Yarmouk Hospital in Yarmouk that, a few days after the
offensive on Fallujah started, American soldiers came around to both
places trying to take and interrogate wounded. These were the two
hospitals that took the lion's share of Fallujah casualties. One of the
doctors actually told me that he has many times discharged people
straight from the emergency room, with inadequate time to recuperate,
just to keep them out of the Americans' custody. Of course, one you get
into their custody, whether you have anything to do with resistance or
not, you disappear at least for months, sometimes longer. You get no
access to lawyers, to your family, no right of habeas corpus, nothing.
Being taken can ruin someone's life. What I've reported here is only
things that I feel confident about. There are other claims that I
couldn't substantiate and am not reporting -- and some, like the
closure of Fallujah's main hospital, are just common knowledge), and
I'm working on getting more details.
More to come...
April 18, 12:57 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- You hear a lot about the thieves and bandits
ever since the "liberation" -- and that's certainly true to an extent.
But my experience has been that your average Iraqi has no petty
dishonesty of this kind.
I wrote earlier about my time in Aadhamiyah, when people were so
furious about Fallujah but still took trouble to point out to me that
my money was falling out of my pockets. I often leave small bills lying
around in my hotel room. The dirt-poor middle-aged women who clean the
hotel room -- and look remarkably like their counterparts in the United
States -- never touch anything. And the amount of money is not small to
them -- a $20 bill is one third of what the CPA was paying an Iraqi
policeman every month, even though the job is phenomenally risky (of
course, the salary was so pitiful that every policeman complained about
I remember, the first time I rode a "minibus", a small van with 13
passengers, while in Turkey -- and what a shock I felt when a man
sitting behind me tapped my shoulder, stuck a bundle of bills in my
hand, and indicated that I should pass it up towards the driver. People
pay at different times, needing different amounts of change, some of
which has to wait until somebody else pays with small bills, and they
pass their money to complete strangers with complete faith that the
right amount of change will come back to them -- and it always does.
As an American, I was very edgy about handing my money, not to the
driver himself, but to a fellow passenger. It just doesn't occur to a
Turk that someone else will pocket part of the money, then claim that
it's his -- although it certainly occurred to me. It took me several
minibus rides before I lost my natural wariness.
I confess, I sometimes left bills around deliberately in my hotel just
to see what would happen (not that I'd have done anything about it).
Contrary to common perception, the poor of the world are mostly quite
honest, even though they have far more justification for stealing. So
I'm not saying this is exceptional behavior. I still think it's
April 17, 12:05 pm
Baghdad, Iraq -- My ankle is still healing slowly from the time in Fallujah
when we were running away from
predator drones and what we thought were cluster bombs. I know the best
treatment -- lying around for a couple of days. Unfortunately, that's
just not possible here -- too much to do.
I talked more with my friends who were taken by the mujaheddin and held
for 24 hours. Brave people, but they just, most of them, don't think it
makes sense to stay. They can't do the work they came to do without an
unacceptably high risk of kidnapping. One of them said, "Actually, in a
way, it's worse now, waiting around the apartment, wondering. I mean,
when the mujaheddin had us, we weren't worried about being kidnapped."
Another told me that several of the Iraqis who work with her have been
threatened. So, anyway, very few people are staying.
As for me, I'm still trying to get as much useful reporting done as
possible before leaving. I came in through the Western highway but now
that's probably impossible to get out through -- it's likely that you
won't get past Fallujah.
April 17, 11:40 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- Karrada. Ghazi Saleh is a businessman in
this relatively (and I stress the word "relatively") quiet, mostly
Shi'a commercial area of Baghdad. He is a moderately prosperous man,
owning a furniture shop and a business impossible before the
"liberation" -- a mobile phone and telecommunications store. He had a
good job working as a manager for a Greek company before the war, but
still, it's the occupation that has enabled him to go into business for
himself. You would think his would be the face on CPA posters all over
I met Ghazi when I walked into his shop with a broken phone. He
explained to me in great detail what I needed to do and then invited me
to sit and chat. Like every Iraqi I've met, he was very pleased to hear
that I'm of Indian origin. His face lit up and he started to tell me
about an Indian restaurant they used to have in the area and tried out
a few words on me (at one time, Hindi movies were popular throughout
the Middle East, and so many Iraqis know how to say, "How are you?" and
But this is Iraq, and any conversation quickly turns to politics. Saleh
is a very pragmatic man and, like so many Iraqis I've met, makes it a
matter of pride to disavow any political affiliation. But when I ask,
he tells me what he thinks very candidly. To start, he's no Saddam
supporter. He says, "Saddam was a very stupid man. With all this oil
wealth, why could he not do more for Iraq? He deserved what he got."
But, although he is still hopeful that things will get better, he has
no good word for the occupation. He says, "In the beginning, we thought
great things would happen, that the Americans would keep some of their
promises. Now, they're still here, they have fixed nothing, there are
no jobs, and we're tired." I ask, "Isn't the electricity improving?" He
says, "Look for yourself [the power was out just then]. We get only
eight to ten hours a day of power."
He motions toward a shopkeeper across the street, says, "When the
Americans came, that man used to offer them juice. Now, he spits when
Saleh says, "When they liberated Kuwait, they had electricity back on
in 24 hours -- they brought in big generators on ships. Why can't they
do it here after 1 year?" He talks about the lack of job prospects --
unemployment is generally estimated at 50% -- and the fact that senior
citizens, once guaranteed a pension, now have to demonstrate at the CP
to get anything at all.
I ask him about Fallujah. I haven't found an Iraqi with a good word for
the attack on Fallujah -- and, of course, the Governing Council, U.N.
special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and even British military commanders in
Basra have condemned it. Saleh is no exception. And, although he is not
a follower of anyone, including Moqtada al-Sadr, he says clearly, "If
they try to take Moqtada, they will open the gates of hell." When I
spoke to him later about the standoff in Najaf, he was very
apprehensive, believing that the continuing American military buildup
signalled a likely assault. I asked if at that point al-Sistani would
call for jihad, and he said, "If he doesn't, nobody will listen to him
anymore. He has already said that Najaf is a red line the Americans
must not cross."
April 16, 2:40 pm
Baghdad, Iraq -- I just found out that a friend I made on my
first trip to Iraq, Barzan Ahmed, was
along with his wife. He was Kurdish, director of the Red
Crescent from Erbil. He had kindly driven down from Amman to Baghdad
with us, which we all found very helpful since we couldn't speak Arabic.
He was murdered in Erbil. In general, northern Iraq has much more law
and order than the rest of the country (because the Kurdish peshmerga,
not the Americans, are responsible for keeping order), but massive
instability just to the south can't help causing problems in the north
I spoke at length with Barzan on our trip down. He was an example of a
very common phenomenon -- even those who supported the invasion never
believed in the good intentions of the United States. He was happy
about the war, and used the word "liberation." He characterized
resistance (in January -- the situation is very different now) as
terrorists. But when I asked him about U.S. intentions, he was very
clear. He said, "We remember 1975" -- the first time the United States
betrayed the Kurds. It had, largely through the Shah of Iran, used them
to stir up trouble against the Iraqi government (under Saddam Hussein
and Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr), which had nationalized its oil in 1972 and
signed a friendship pact with the Soviet Union. But with the signing of
the 1975 Algiers accord settling the boundary between Iraq and Iran,
the Shah pulled the plug and the United States abandoned the Kurds as
well. When asked about this in congressional hearings, Henry Kissinger
said, "Covert action shouldn't be confused with missionary work."
When I asked Barzan why the US didn't stop looting of government
buildings, stealing of electrical wiring, destructions of ancient
artifacts, and so much more, he mentioned the fact that they protected
the Oil Ministry and said, "They only care about the oil. The rest is
not their problem." And he was a partisan of the Americans.
I was in a debate on CBC's Counterspin TV program, where one of my
opponents was Faisal Istrabadi, an Iraqi-American lawyer who championed
the war and has been working as an advisor to Adnan Pachachi, most
recently helping to draft the Interim Constitution. Probably the most
interesting moment of the show was when he admitted that he didn't
think the United States had any altruistic intentions toward Iraq, that
he was aware of a past history of betrayal, that great powers intervene
only for their selfish interests. He didn't care about that, and simply
wanted somehow to try to use the United States to get something better
for Iraq. Of course, I meet very few Iraqis in Baghdad who think
something good can come of this, but even they think that it will come
despite American intentions, not because of them.
April 16, 10:00 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- Some thoughts on freedom of speech. One of
the few selling points of the occupation is that they have brought
"freedom of speech" to Iraq. Now, this is not exactly true; in June of
last year, Paul Bremer promulgated a press censorship law that gave
nine different reasons for which a publication could be closed down,
including putting out information that is "patently false and
calculated to promote opposition" and promoting "civil disorder, riot,
or damage to property" (you can see my article from last fall, Gunpoint
Democracy in Iraq
Al-Hawza, al-Sadr's newspaper, is definitely not the first to be closed
under this law, which effectively allows for the CPA to shut down any
paper it want so to shut down. And it's also true that the United
States has created a state monopoly broadcast TV station, al-Iraqiya,
that is almost as carefully controlled and censored as Iraqi state TV
in Saddam's time. This has also been the case with the new U.S.
satellite TV station, al-Hurra.
As bad as all this is, of course, it's nothing like in Saddam's time.
Nobody gets his tongue torn out for speaking ill of Paul Bremer (after
1992, this was the law in Iraq for insulting Saddam). People freely
express their opinions to journalists, on the street, in their homes.
This was not at all the case under Saddam.
This can be presented as a great argument in favor of the American
occupation. And it's certainly true that people are better off when
they can express their opinions. But the reason is clear. Saddam
couldn't afford to allow too much expression of opinion because
political developments might then force him to change his policies or
lose power. The Americans have no such problem. They rule with tanks
and Apache helicopters, blissfully unconcerned with Iraqi public
opinion or internal political questions. Similarly, the Palestinian
Authority kept a much tighter rein on public expression of opinion than
Israel had before the Oslo process started. The opinions of the
Untermenschen (a term recently used by a British officer to describe
how Americans here view the Iraqis) don't matter, so why not allow them
to be expressed?
This reminds me of an interview I did in January with Wamidh Nadhmy, a
Professor of Political Science at Baghdad University. He told me,
“Under Saddam, I couldn’t speak so openly. But at times they would come
to the universities and ask us our opinion and we would not be
penalized for giving it honestly." For example, he said,"They asked me
in the end of the 1980’s and I told them their privatization plans were
bad for the economy. Saddam said 'We are a socialist party.' I said,
'You are worse than Thatcher, because she parceled the public sector
into individual shares and you are selling it in large lots.” Now,
Nadhmy says, "I could give my opinion, but no one would listen."
Nadhmy is no fan of Saddam and initially tried to take a conciliatory
approach to the Americans. Obviously, intellectuals like him who lost
political influence are not happy about that, but more widely it is
true that no Iraqi now has much influence on these kinds of policies,
except for guys like Chalabi on the one hand and Sistani on the other
(and the latter only after he proved his power with mass demonstrations
A meaningful concept of freedom of speech encompasses not just the
important right to say what you want but the equally important right to
help shape public policy. The average American, as far as I can tell,
has about as much ability to shape policy as the average Egyptian or
Syrian and considerably less than the average Argentinian or Bolivian
or Venezuelan. Of course, as I said earlier, Iraqis and Palestinians,
living under foreign occupation, have far less.
April 16, 9:50 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- It's a slow day here in the Karrada district
of Baghdad. Friday is the Muslims' main day of worship, so it's a bit
like Sunday back in the United States. Shops close early, traffic in
the streets is a lot sparser.
There's very much a feeling of the calm before the storm. There are all
kinds of signs that the situation in Najaf is de-escalating, but it's
not over until it's over. What initially seemed like signs that the
United States was finally trying a political rather than a military
solution -- the fact that Iranian
clerics are in Najaf trying to broker a deal regarding al-Sadr -- turns
out to have been an independent initiative. If you believe State
Department spokesman Richard Boucher, the United States is actually
Virtually everybody is making plans to pull out. For the remainder of
my time, I'm going to be covering the less dramatic but equally
important stories about the occupation -- the condition of hospitals,
for one thing.
So Orwellian is the United States right now that General Richard Myers
that the existence of the insurgency is a sign of American success
This is the kind of big lie that stuns you for a minute and makes you
have to shake your head and slap yourself several times before you can
begin to refute it. I suppose the 1991 Iraqi uprising was a sign of the
great success of Saddam Hussein.
April 15, 11:45 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- I wrote about my trip to Fallujah earlier.
Well, some of the people with whom I went decided to go back -- once
again, to try to brave sniper fire and rescue wounded people. We should
keep in mind the potentially huge untold story in Fallujah -- people
shot by sniper fire, lying in the streets or being dragged back into
their homes, but unable to get medical care because ambulances can't
get to them.
They had been a day longer than planned and we were starting to worry.
In fact, we were on the verge of calling their families. They finally
got in this afternoon, Baghdad time. It turns out they had been the
guests of the mujaheddin for 24 hours. I talked to one; she said they
were very well treated and released without incident. Once the
mujaheddin were satisfied about their bona fides, there was no problem.
They had been unable to rescue anybody because the U.S. sniper fire was
April 15, 11:15 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- I'm going to come back to this when I have
time, but briefly: The dominant opinion in the United States, liberal
or conservative, seems to be that we can't "cut and run." Here's a survey
(from April 9, but I doubt it's changed that much), saying that none of
the top 20 newspapers by circulation urged U.S. withdrawal.
And I know that commentators are still using the phrase "civil war," as
if to suggest that that's what's going on. It's as if there are all
these violent people in Iraq causing disruptions and that's why we need
the U.S. forces to "provide security" -- the latter phrase used in
Bush's recent press conference.
The tiny little point that this violence was triggered by the United
States, both in al-Anbar province (where Fallujah is) and with Moqtada
al-Sadr, seems to be forgotten (see one of
my earlier articles
for this). The even more basic point that this
violence is directed against the U.S. military is somehow out there in
limbo as well.
At the same time as their existence in Iraq provokes violence and as
their brutal methods provoke violence, U.S. forces do nothing to
provide security. Kidnappings of Iraqis for ransom are rife -- nobody
ever investigates. Leading academics are being killed -- ditto. People
are afraid to walk the streets after 9 or 10 -- nobody does anything
about this. Women are far more constricted in getting around than they
used to be. The list goes on and on. The U.S. military does nothing,
absolutely nothing, about these security problems.
Anyone who swallows any of this propaganda about "providing security"
should spend one day talking to people in Iraq.
I'm against the occupation for what I consider to be deep-lying
structural reasons that would be valid even if it were conducted more
humanely (I've written on this before, but I do have to collect all my
scattered thoughts here and write about it again). But I have to say,
from all of my experience interviewing Iraqis, one conclusion stands
out clearly: had this occupation been carried out by British, Dutch,
Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Spanish, everyone but the United States, the
level of resentment would be far lower, as would the level of violence.
It is the arrogance and brutality of the Americans here that is the
primary grievance of Iraqis (and second is the negligence and the fact
that nothing works).
I wrote earlier about talking to Mr. Alber at the Abu Hanifa mosque.
When we asked if the Americans apologized after raiding the mosque and
finding nothing, he looked at us quizzically and then said, "No. A year
ago, they would apologize. Now they don't even do that. But
we know the American apology. We know what it means." While saying
this, he mimed a savagely contorted face and a man taking his foot and
grinding someone else into the ground. And, believe me, he is anything
but an extremist. The people at the mosque have done their best to be
conciliatory to the Americans.
So a lot more has to be said about this issue. But the U.S. military is
doing no good to Iraq -- unless you count taking Iraq's oil money and
using a tiny fraction of it to pay corrupt contractors to paint schools
for ten times the cost that Iraqis could do it for. Yes, the vast
majority of the money spent on "reconstruction" (and aside from
repainting I've seen precious little of it) comes from Iraq's own oil
money. And it's causing huge amounts of violence. This is all hidden by
the "cut and run" phraseology.
April 15, 9:45 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- I've just been reading all the controversy
about George Bush's endorsement
of Ariel Sharon's plan and, in particular, of the Israelis retaining
their major West Bank settlements.
This is a spectacularly inflammatory move. Considering the situation in
Iraq right now, the timing also reeks of arrogance. It will
certainly reconfirm Iraqis suspicions that the occupation of Iraq is
about, as one said to me recently, "the building of Greater Israel from
the Nile to the Euphrates."
It is almost as if designed to inflame the Arab world, which has
already been set on fire. It is an extremely provocative move and a
sign that the administration continues in its belief that it can solve
all problems simply by virtue of its preponderance of force.
But it's also worth noting that it's very much in the line of past U.S.
policy -- or, let's say, in a logical line of development. Commentators
have much of this wrong. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo
example, says that this "overturns two generations of bipartisan
Actually, this idea is what Oslo was all about -- the only difference
is that in Oslo the settlements were part of final status negotiations
and in the Sharon plan this is a unilateral settlement. Given the
imbalance in power between the two sides, this is hardly a difference
at all. Indeed, the 1995 Oslo II accords explicitly codify this. Here's
Article XVII, Clause 1a"
issues that will be negotiated
in the permanent status negotiations:
Jerusalem, settlements, specified military locations, Palestinian
borders, foreign relations and Israelis
In other words, the plan was that Israel would retain some of the
settlements. By agreeing to this, the PA was giving the illegal
settlements legal status.
If what concerns you is Bush's repudiation of the right of return, just
remember that for every year from 1948 through 1992, the United States
voted to affirm U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 (guaranteeing
Palestinian refugees the right of return), but in 1993 it stopped, thus
implicitly repudiating it.
The talk about this as a stunning departure is just part of the normal
rhetorical and historical obfuscation that surrounds this issue. Of
course, this is once again explicitly affirming that this
administration sees Israeli and U.S. "strategic interests" as aligning
April 15, 9:15 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- I've just posted my latest article -- "Report from Baghdad: Winning Hearts and Minds
It's material that I blogged about before -- the raid on the Abu Hanifa
April 14, 11:45 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- Some people who have read my eyewitness
U.S. sniping at ambulances in Fallujah have written to accuse me of
"having an agenda" and therefore lying about what I saw. Others have
written to accuse me of being an Iraqi or of having a non-European name
and therefore lying about what I saw. They are a very small minority of
those who have written, but, because a picture apparently is still
worth 1000 words.
here's a closeup:
These are compressed images to make loading for this page quicker. For
the big jpeg file, click
April 13, 11:20 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- A short note. I'm running into lots of
unexpected expenses doing this reporting. I can definitely use a little
help. If you go to this page
, you can find out
how to help. It's not possible to carry out work like this without
support from lots of people -- and all help is much appreciated.
April 13, 10:50 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- Aadhamiyah. After a day cooped up shuttling
between hotel and Internet cafe yesterday, I went out again, this time
to the Sunni neighborhood of Aadhamiyah. I have yet to write up what I
saw in full, but here's the basics.
This is a followup to the Fallujah story. I wrote
about the massive relief collections for Fallujah,
coordinated through the moseques of Baghdad and beyond, with the mosque
of Abu Hanifa in Aadhamiyah as the epicenter. We saw that on April 7,
within hours of the beginning of the operation.
Later on, as we saw when we were in Fallujah, there was a massive
exodus of refugees from Fallujah, many of whom were taken into people's
homes in Aadhamiyah.
The U.S. military has many suspicions that mujaheddin are leaving
Fallujah and that guns and fighters are being smuggled in through the
relief program for Fallujah. So they paid a visit to the mosque on
Built around the tomb of Abu Hanifa, the founder of the moderate Hanafi
school of Islamist jurisprudence and one of the most important figures
in the history of Sunni Islam, the mosque is 1250 years old. Although
Umm al-Marek is bigger, Abu Hanifa is probably the most important Sunni
mosque in Baghdad, and a site of pilgrimage for Muslims around the
We talked with Issam Rashid, the chief of security for the mosque. He
told us the story. At 3:30 am on Sunday morning, 100 American troops
raided the mosque. They were looking for weapons and mujaheddin. They
started the raid the way they virtually always do -- by smashing in the
gates with tanks and then driving Hummers in. The Hummers ran over and
destroyed some of the stored relief goods (the bulk of the goods had
already been sent to Fallujah -- over 200 tons -- but the amount
remaining was considerable). More was destroyed as soldiers ripped
apart sacks looking for rifles. Rashid estimated maybe three tons of
supplies were destroyed. We saw for ourselves some of the remains,
sacks of beans ripped apart and strewn around.
The mosque was full of people, including 90 down from Kirkuk (many with
the Red Crescent). They were all pushed down on the floor, with guns
put to the backs of their heads. Another person associated with the
mosque, Mr. Alber, who speaks very good English, told us that he
repeatedly said, "Please, don't break down doors. Please, don't break
windows. We can help you. We can have custodians unlock the doors."
(Alber, by the way, was imprisoned by Saddam for running a bakery. As
he said, "Under the embargo, you could eat flour, you could eat sugar,
you could eat eggs, all separately. But mix them together and bake them
and you were harming the economy by raising the price of sugar and you
could get 15 years in prison.)
The Americans refused to listen to Alber's pleas. We went all around
the mosque and the adjacent madrassah, the Imam Aadham Islamic College.
We saw dozens of doors broken down, windows broken, ceilings ripped
apart, and bullet holes in walls and ceilings. The way the soldiers
searched for illicit arms in the ceiling was first to spray the ceiling
with gunfire, then break out a panel and go up and search.
They even went and rifled through students' exam papers (in Arabic),
messed up offices. An old man who is a "guard" at the mosque (actually
a poor man with a large family who is slightly lame and is missing
several teeth) was hit in the head with a rifle butt and then kicked
when he was down -- all because he was a little slow in answering the
door. He says he never carries a weapon -- the whole mosque has only
three Kalashnikovs, for security, kept in the imam's room. The
Americans took the ammunition there too. And, of course, they entered
the mosque with their boots on.
The American commanders will say this was a necessary precaution to
make sure no military goods got into Fallujah and that this was legal
under the laws of war. But the Abu Hanifa mosque was not involved in
this -- they found nothing. They didn't bother to ask. They didn't go
to the Imam and see if they could search to mosque. And, after a year
of being stationed in Aadhamiyah, they didn't know the people well
enough to know there would be nothing -- even though they were told
repeatedly that even the resistance in that area never fired from near
the mosque because they were afraid of drawing return fire that would
hit the mosque.
You can guess how many hearts and minds were won by this little
operation -- the third time that the mosque has been raided since the
Abu Hanifa mosque has a tower that is being reconstructed. It was
destroyed by the American attack during the war. It is only now being
finished. Rashid told me why. He said, "After the war, the Americans
came and offered money to rebuild the tower. We told them no. We will
rebuild the tower with our own money. We will take no money from you.
You can't just destroy this and then win our goodwill with money. This
is not a game."
When I asked Rashid if we could use his full name, he said, "Why not?"
It's a response we get more and more these days, from people who would
have been afraid but have lost their fears through anger. Dignity is
one of the few things in Iraq that is not in short supply.
April 12, 1:20 pm
Baghdad, Iraq -- Some people are calling the killing in
That's too strong a term and shouldn't be overused. They are allowing
women and children to leave, for example. They haven't flattened the
Let's just call it what it is. It's an incredibly brutal collective
punishment in defense of a regime, that of the occupation, that is less
brutal than Saddam was but more than makes up for that with its
negligence. Fewer people in the mass graves, more children dying for
lack of medicine, more people being murdered on the streets or
kidnapped. Hard to weigh all of the factors, but I've heard so many
say, including Shi'a, that things are worse now.
And Fallujah is something further as well. The Marines are
corroborating my judgment, expressed previously, that the mujaheddin of
Fallujah (and we're really talking about all of al-Anbar province,
which includes Ramadi), are just the men of Fallujah, not some
extremist faction. They don't allow "military-age males" out of town.
And check out this quote from
In some neighborhoods, the Marines say, anyone
spot in the streets is considered a "bad guy." Says Marine Major Larry
Kaifesh: "It is hard to differentiate between people who are insurgents
or civilians. You just have to go with your gut feeling."
A colleague writes, "International aid agencies are estimating 470
while doctors in local hospitals are claiming at least 600 dead -- in a
town of 200,000. If we take 500 as a reasonable estimate that's 1 in
400 -- would scale to 725,000 for the United States. I'm guessing this
is the biggest concentrated slaughter of a group that's mostly
civilians through direct U.S. military action since Gulf War I." It's
worse than anything in Gulf War I except for the al-Amiriyah bomb
shelter (oddly, al-Amriyiah is also an "anti-American" neighborhood)
and the "Highway of Death" slaughter, actually.
Not genocide, but not something even the U.S. spin machine can put a
good face on, except by outright lies. Which, of course, the
administration would never stoop to.
To repeat what I said earlier in different words: in hindsight, people
may well realize this is potentially as transformative a week for the
world as was the week of 9/11. It's unravelling a bit slower and we are
much more distracted with other issues. But any accommodative solution
to the occupation is virtually impossible -- it wasn't just a few weeks
ago. U.S. intent on staying and, therefore, it is determined to
"pacify" Iraq. It is no longer possible for Iraqi politicians to
preserve even the appearance of semi-legitimacy and accommodate the
It's getting dark now and I am out of here.
April 12, 1:00 pm
Baghdad, Iraq -- Word on the street is that the risks to
foreigners are very
great. I will probably not leave home in the evening any more. I will
only be able to update once a day, if things go smoothly. It's even
possible I'll phone in my blog updates. Going to Fallujah was very
important, because literally nobody was reporting the whole story in
English, but risking kidnapping day by day here is a foolish risk -- or
so my colleagues have persuaded me.
Everything you've seen in the press (if you're reading very widely and
carefully) about how the occupation is collapsing is true. I don't mean
this to predict prematurely what the outcome is, just to say that the
change I sense in public opinion seems close to irreversible.
I'm sorry I can't provide links for all this -- it just takes too much
time -- but here's a little capsule review of what's going on. The
Governing Council is practically in hiding. Adnan Pachachi has
condemned the Fallujah operations on al-Jazeera. About 25% of the Iraqi
police and Iraqi Civil Defense forces are not showing up for work; some
of those have joined the resistance (I wrote earlier
about one IP mujahid that I saw). An entire battalion refused
to go and fight in Fallujah. They have two considerations. One is
just that very few Iraqis can condone the brutality and pointlessness
of the Fallujah attack. The other is that they're terrified, especially
of Sadr's Jaish-il-Mehdi, but also of various Sunni mujaheddin groups.
The British commander in Basra has condemned the American methods. I
read somewhere that in the midst of all this, John Kerry delivered a
major policy speech -- on the budget deficit. Not that that's not
important, but how about you talk about that next week and talk about
Iraq going up in flames this week? Oh, well, it's only 6 billion people
who will be hurt by his political incompetence and lack of principle.
But I digress. The United States doesn't have enough troops to deal
with Iraq in flames -- unfortunately, however, more troops would just
be adding fuel to the fire.
The United States has made the occupation of Iraq into a simple revenge
match. It's hard to say any longer it's about imperial policies,
controlling Iraq's oil, or the rest of it -- I'm sure that's still what
they want, but this is the most brainless way in the world of getting
As for democracy, shutting down newspapers and slaughtering civilians
is not a great way to go for it. Appointing Governing Councils,
imposing press censorship, detaining 10-20,000 people without charges
(the interim constitution of Iraq guarantees habeas corpus -- even
though Bush and Ashcroft have decided habeas corpus doesn't apply in
the United States -- but of course the U.S. military forces are above
the constitution), funnelling Iraq's oil money to corrupt military
contractors, closing al-Hawza (Sadr's newspaper), destroying Fallujah.
There's more to write about this, but the point is obvious.
And revenge is not a way to win "hearts and minds." The Iraqi people --
Fool them once, fool them, fool them, won't get fooled again. Perhaps
they can be conquered now by brute force. Perhaps some leaders can be
bought -- although they'll likely be too scared to stay bought. But the
project of building a nice comfortable facade for the occupation and
control of Iraq is burning down along with Fallujah.
April 12, 8:00 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- I've just posted my report
-- much like the blog entry below. I should be able
to update again in several hours -- Inshallah, as we say here in Iraq.
April 12, 7:05 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- We've heard through various NGO's that the
situation here in Baghdad for foreigners has become very dicey. Bridges
to Baghdad, an Italian group that has done amazing work for years to
help the Iraqi people, is pulling out -- with an Italian military
contingent here, they are natural targets for kidnappers. The Christian
Peacemaker Teams, who also have a very well-organized operation over
here, are thinking of pulling out. Royal Jordanian operates a daily
flight from Baghdad to Amman -- $600 one way -- but flights are often
overbooked. It's also no picnic to get out to the airport from the city
center -- there's fierce fighting in Abu Ghraib, along the way, with
armed men blowing up oil tankers and attacking U.S. convoys. There's
some talk about an emergency evacuation of some kind. I'll try to let
people know if I get a chance.
A few words about this whole kidnapping thing. It's a very unpleasant
tactic. Most Iraqis I've spoken to (no names here), even if they
support the resistance completely (and after Fallujah there are very
few, except Kurds, who will condemn the resistance completely), are not
happy about the kidnappings. Perhaps the worst is the three Japanese.
One of them is an 18-year-old antiwar activist. Another is a woman who
works with street children. Jo Wilding, a British activist who knows
the latter, told me she used to wash their clothes for them -- not
something the average Third World street child gets much of. One Iraqi
woman told me she couldn't sleep after she saw the pictures of them on
TV being menaced by their kidnappers. When we were in Fallujah, our
contacts there were in communication with the kidnappers, and we got
advance notice that they were to be freed -- and got to see a plea, in
Arabic, from the Japanese antiwar movement. Now, it seems, there's no
news one way or the other.
The mujaheddin are perfectly ready to use violently inhumane methods,
make no doubt of it. But it's awfully difficult to explain to an Iraqi
that these kidnappings are illegitimate because they target civilians
(and, of course, killing anyone in your custody is wrong, soldier or
civilian) but that the killing of civilians in the bombing of Fallujah
(including mosques and hospitals) or sniping at ambulances is OK
because it's just "collateral damage." The single most common complaint
you hear is that the Americans shoot indiscriminately, killing women,
children, other noncombatants. People here make a clear distinction
between killing combatants and noncombatants -- they just don't think
that killing noncombatants from the air is more civilized.
I read a quote from a Marine commander calling the Fallujah mujaheddin
"cowards" -- don't have time to look up the link. Because they fight
from civilian areas, etc., i.e. use people as "human shields." This is,
of course, a standard of colonialist discourse for at least 150 years
now. There are two simple reasons for this. One, the "natives" are
always faced with overwhelming firepower; they're not going to come out
and gather together nicely at one intersection and wait to be
annihilated from the sky. Two, you're in their country; that's why they
have all those civilians to "hide" behind.
I've written at length trying to deconstruct this kind of nonsense for
Western audiences (see "The White Man's Burden" in my book, "The New
Crusade: America's War on Terrorism), and show that, rather than being
more humanitarian, the United States (and the West) are just generally,
at least post-Vietnam, more sophisticated in their brutality. But the
bottom line is this: you can posture all you want for the American
people, but no Third World people is going to believe this. They'll
hold on to the naive view that defending themselves in their country
against a foreign occupier is good and that going to other countries to
occupy them is bad, that to fight with inferior weaponry against
overwhelming odds shows courage and that to bomb from the air or to use
heavy armor and to kill civilians with indiscriminate strikes is
They will commit atrocities in doing so -- the "Black Hole" of
Calcutta, the kidnapping of the Japanese -- and I have no interest in
defending those acts. But it was the occupiers that started the
atrocities and only a damn fool would expect that a brutalized people
should fight back with restraint and civilization. It's happened at
times, but it's a miracle when it does.
April 11, 2:00 pm
Fallujah, Iraq -- Fallujah is a bit like southern California.
On the edge of Iraq's western desert, it is extremely arid but has been
rendered into an agricultural area by extensive irrigation. The
villages on the way to Fallujah are dirt-poor; Fallujah is perhaps
marginally better off. Farmers constitute a significant percentage of
the population. The town itself has wide streets and squat,
sand-colored buildings. The way we took in, there didn't seem to be a
great deal of bomb damage.
We were in Fallujah during the "ceasefire." We had heard all kinds of
horrible things about what was going on. I think the current reports
say something like 500-600 people killed in Fallujah, including
estimates of 200 women and over 100 children (there are no women among
the mujahideen, so all of the above are noncombatants. Many of the men
who were wounded also told us they were just going about their business
when they got hit). Here's a little bit of what we saw and heard.
When the assault on Fallujah started, the power plant was bombed.
Electricity is provided by generators and usually reserved for places
with important functions. There are four hospitals currently running in
Fallujah. This includes the one where we were, which was actually just
a minor emergency clinic; another one of them is a car repair garage.
Things were very frantic at the hopsital where we were, so we couldn't
get too much translation. We depended for much of our information on
Makki al-Nazzal, a lifelong Fallujah resident who works for the
humanitarian NGO Intersos, and had been pressed into service as the
manager of the clinic, since all doctors were busy, working around the
clock with minimal sleep.
A gentle, urbane man who spoke fluent English, Al-Nazzal was beside
himself with fury at the Americans' actions (when I asked him if it was
all right to use his full name, he said, "It's ok. It's all ok now. Let
the bastards do what they want.") With the "ceasefire," large-scale
bombing was rare. The primary modes of attack were a little bit of
heavy artillery and a lot of snipers.
Al-Nazzal told us about ambulances being hit by snipers, women and
children being shot. Describing the horror that the siege of Fallujah
had become, he said, "I have been a fool for 47 years. I used to
believe in European and American civilization."
I had heard these claims at third-hand before coming into Fallujah, but
was skeptical. It's very difficult to find the real story here. But
this I saw for myself. An ambulance with two neat, precise bullet-holes
in the windshield on the driver's side, pointing down at an angle that
indicated they would have hit the driver's chest (the snipers were on
rooftops, and are trained to aim for the chest). Another ambulance
again with a single, neat bullet-hole in the windshield. There's no way
this was due to panicked spraying of fire. These were deliberate shots
to kill people in driving the ambulances.
The ambulances go around with red, blue, or green lights flashing and
sirens blaring; in the pitch-dark of a blacked-out city there is no way
they can be missed or mistaken for something else). An ambulance that
some of our compatriots were going around in, trading on their
whiteness to get the snipers to let them throug to pick up the wounded
was also shot at while we were there.
During the course of the roughly four hours we were at that small
clinic, we saw perhaps a dozen wounded brought in. Among them was a
young woman, 18 years old, shot in the head. She was having a seizure
and foaming at the mouth when they brought here in; doctors did not
expect her to survive the night. Another likely terminal case was a
young boy with massive internal bleeding. I also saw a man with
extensive burns on his upper body and wounds in his thighs that might
have been from a cluster bomb; there was no way to verify in the
madhouse scene of wailing relatives, shouts of "Allahu Akbar" (God is
great), and anger at the Americans.
Among the more laughable assertions of the Bush administration is that
the mujaheddin are a small group of isolated "extremists" repudiated by
the majority of Fallujah's population. Nothing could be further from
the truth. Of course, the mujaheddin don't include women or very young
children (we saw an 11-year-old boy with a Kalashnikov), old men, and
are not necessarily even a majority of fighting-age men. But they are
of the community and fully supported by it. Many of the wounded were
brought in by the muj and they stood around openly conversing with
doctors and others. One of the muj was wearing an Iraqi police flak
jacket; on questioning others who knew im, we learned that he was in
fact a member of the Iraqi police.
One of our translators, Rana al-Aiouby told me, "these are simple
people." It is true that they are agricultural tribesmen with very
strong religious beliefs. They are not so far different from the
Pashtun of Afghanistan -- good friends and terrible enemies. They are
insular and don't easily trust strangers. We were safe because of the
friends we had with us and because we came to help them.
The muj are of the people in the same way that the stone-throwing
shabab in the Palestinian intifada were. A young man who is not one
today may the next day wind his aqal around his face and pick up a
Kalashnikov. I spoke to a young man, Ali, who was among the wounded we
transported to Baghdad. He said he was not a muj but, when asked his
opinion of them, he smiled and stuck his thumb up.
Al-Nazzal told me that the people of Fallujah refused to resist the
Americans just because Saddam told them to; indeed, the fighting for
Fallujah last year was not particularly fierce. He said, "If Saddam
said work, we would want to take off three days. But the Americans had
to cast us as Saddam supporters. When he was captured, they said the
resistance would die down, but even as it has increased, they still
call us that."
Nothing could have been easier than gaining the good-will of the people
of Fallujah had the Americans not been so brutal in their dealings.
Now, a tipping-point has been reached. Fallujah cannot be "saved" from
its mujaheddin unless it is destroyed.
April 11, 12:50 pm
Baghdad, Iraq -- Check out this
from the New York Post -- a publication which could, of
course, serve only one useful purpose (and none in the online edition).
It encapsulates perfectly the attitude that Iraqis see and feel from
U.S. forces every day -- especially with the recent developments.
April 11, 12:30 pm
Fallujah, Iraq -- Sorry I didn't update yesterday, but, to
say the least, there were no Internet cafes open in Fallujah. I've just
now caught up on the major newspapers and I can tell you, in the
English language media, they are telling very little of the true story.
But let me begin at the beginning.
Saturday morning I got a call from my friend Dahr Jamail, with whom I
have been traveling around in Iraq (his Iraq Dispatches
are a valuable resource). A British journalist who had been making
trips into Fallujah delivering medical supplies had told him that he
was the only Western journalist in the town (there was also an
al-Jazeera correspondent). He was organizing a bus of foreigners to go
to Fallujah, with three purposes: we would take medicine in, evacuate
wounded and women and children, and we would tell the world what we saw.
The white faces would get us past the initial U.S. checkpoints and
after that we would take little-used back roads into Fallujah. With us
was the nephew of a local sheikh who would smooth the way for us. At
the U.S. checkpoints, we were three Americans, three Brits, and four
Iraqis. Later, we became a Mexican, an Indian, three Bosnians, a
Canadian of Lebanese descent, and four Iraqis.
In a minute, I'll tell you what I saw. Right now, I'll just describe
the most frightening two minutes of my life. We had spent most of our
time at a makeshift hospital but were walking to one of the locals'
houses to sleep. Fallujah is a blacked-out city and it was pitch-dark
(the Americans bombed the power plant in the first day of the
operation). It was a long walk, over half a mile, and the booming of
Iraqi mortars and American heavy artillery was a continual
accompaniment (booms you get used to and learn to ignore -- whines you
don't want to ignore).
Suddenly, as we rounded a corner, we saw several bright flares. We took
cover, sitting against a wall, and then we saw flares coming at us from
the other directions. It turns out they were flares used by the
unmanned Predator drone planes to light the area so they can get good
pictures -- a good sign that the area would be bombed later, but not an
immediate threat. Somebody, however, yelled "Cluster bombs," and we all
freaked out (and indeed we had seen at least one patient in the
hospital/clinic with wounds consistent with cluster bombs). Running
around in the dark is not a good idea, and I tripped over a stone and
twisted my ankle pretty badly. The rest of the walk was a nightmarish
ordeal, limping along as fast as I could to keep up while wondering if
we would be attacked again.
Now that I'm back, I should put the ankle on ice for a few days, but
there's a big story to get out. More to come. You'll see it first on Empire Notes
Baghdad, Iraq --
April 9, 4:25 pm
I'm sitting on the balcony of a room at the al-Mansur
overlooking the Tigris, taking advantage of a fringe benefit of my
unexpected stay -- a little in-room Internet access. In the distance,
there is the crackling of mortar fire. It comes and goes, but it does
keep on coming. At this range, it sounds like
fireworks. Something out there is on fire; I can't tell what it is
except that it must be reasonably tall.
Reminds me of something my translator said to me the other day when I
was moving to a hotel. "If you get a room on the 7th floor, then you
will die last" -- thinking of a car bomb like the one that went off
outside the Mount Lebanon. But then he added, "If it's mortar fire, you
die first." I love the Iraqi's sense of humor.
A really big rumble just now -- like thunder in a cloudless sky. Wonder
what it was. I know they're using 500-pound bombs on Fallujah.
It's a bad idea to occupy a country where every man and woman has had
training in small arms and many in using mortars as well. And where the
country is awash in those arms. Apparently, with the recent fighting,
prices have skyrocketed -- rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) now go for
$17 and rising.
April 9, 3:40 pm
Baghdad, Iraq -- Had a slightly nervewracking evening. I
went to the al-Mansur hotel, on the other side of the Tigris, to do an
interview. The taxi driver had never heard of the hotel and it's a bit
of a miracle that we got there. Especially since the city is really
locked down. The ubiquitous razor-wire barricades have been seriously
extended. Firdaus square, where we all saw the Saddam statue come down,
is completely closed off, even though it's a major intersection. In
fact, on the way back, we kept running into barricades, and the driver
turned back, with the result that I'm an unexpected guest at the
al-Mansur. Baghdad is a ghost town tonight.
I'm asked by a reader to say more about Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, the elusive Jordanian militant connected with Ansar
al-Islam. who may have one leg or
maybe two but was a smoking gun reason we had to invade Iraq, according
to Colin Powell (particularly interesting reasoning since he could do
nothing in Iraq under Saddam, but is now apparently very free to
It's obviously very suspicious that he has just
, at a time of maximal Shia-Sunni unity, to try to
drive a wedge by calling Shi'a idolaters and supporters of the
occupation. So, the question is, is it a fake.
Unfortunately, there's not much I can say. The fact is that there are
Wahhabis who exhibit this degree of hatred against Shi'a. It's not
common for sure, but it's not unheard of. When the Taliban took
Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan in 1997, they broadcast a call
designating the Shi'a as kafir, heathen. Numerous Shi'a were killed by
having their throats slit, which is the way Islamic law prescribes for
animals to be slaughtered.
Even the normal state of affairs in some part isn't pretty. Saudi
Arabia doesn't allow its Shi'a (heavily concentrated in the oil
industry) to celebrate Ashura openly, for example.
All of this is completely foreign to Iraq and making such attitudes
widespread would be difficult to impossible.
Anyway, all I can say is that maybe Zarqawi is trying to foment civil
war between Sunni and Shi'a, even at this very inopportune for him
moment. And maybe not -- the dishonesty of this administration is,
after all, legendary by this point. The timing of this is very fishy,
to say the least.
April 9, 9:22 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- Everybody except for the adventure-seekers
is lying low today. Many Iraqis have been keeping their children home
from school for the past couple days. Traffic on the normally busy
Karrada St. is way down. The sound of Apache helicopters fill the air
-- except in Fallujah, where they are attacking the town with AC-130
I want to follow up on some of my earlier thoughts. In a post about Moqtada al-Sadr's movement
mentioned that his younger followers, who are far more zealous, are
"children of the sanctions" -- products of the 12-year-long breakdown
of a society.
I also posted about the mass relief effort for
h, which we chanced upon at the Abu Hanifa mosque in
Aadhamiyah. The effort was entirely coordinated through the mosques.
In this regard, it's also worth noting the rapid organization of the
Shi'a after the fall of Baghdad to defend mosques (especially
particularly holy shrines, like that of Ali in Najaf and of Hussein in
Kerbala) and to patrol Saddam City/Sadr City/Thawra.
What I'm getting at is this: in the absence of a state that provides
basic order, social stability, a predictable continuity of life, people
look to other modes of organization to fulfill some of that role. In
totalitarian Iraq, the only other mode that could have even the
slightest freedom was the religious. But in general, I think it's fair
to say that religion is the most common default source of organization
and support in times of dislocation and collapse of governing
The sanctions took a functioning state and society -- a very brutal
one, but stability and functionality matters more for these
considerations -- and slowly degraded its capacity. Anti-sanctions
activists and others wrote about this for years and were completely
As Saddam's state lost the power to run society efficiently because of
the external control, as high unemployment became chronic and the
educational system dissolved, two sources of stability and order
One was the tribal leaders. The initial reforms after the 1958
revolution, some of which were continued by the Ba'athists, slowly
sidelined those leaders (and took away much of their wealth through
land reform) but in the 1990's Saddam turned to them with a vengeance.
The other was religion, and increasingly extremist religion. Saddam had
first flirted with casting himself as a holy warrior during the war
against Iran, when he didn't want to be out-Muslimed by Khomeini, but
things got a lot worse after the Gulf War. Although it's true that
Saddam and Osama hated each other and found no basis for working
together (and that Saddam wouldn't even have given his mother WMD if
his mother wasn't under his control), in the last few years Saddam's
pronouncements were hardly distinguishable from Osama's (even as
Wahhabis were still thrown into prison and tortured).
Thus was the stage set. Then the United States completed the final
stage of this process -- not content with slowly degrading the
government, they eliminated it. Nothing has been put in its place.
There are some government offices for show and some projects done here
and there and government employees continue to draw salaries (except
for the soldiers of the Iraqi army and moderate-to-high-level Ba'ath
Party members), but the basics of social control and stabilization are
In a vacuum like this, and with ever-present and constantly growing
opposition to the occupation, Moqtada was a phenomenon ripe for
It's interesting to note in this regard the Bush administration's
all-out assault on the basic functions of the government domestically
-- except for repression and military action, they seem to want no role
for the state. This is combined with an even more explicit devolution
of those other rules to religious organizations -- "compassionate
conservatism," "faith based ..."
Part of the reason is simply the other religion of the Bush
administration -- free market fundamentalism (with a heavy dollop of
military-corporate cronyism). Another part, presuming that there is
some mastermind behind all of this (which I consider this a dubious
assumption), is clearly to drive the poor and those who rely most on a
stable social net into the hands of Christian fundamentalism.
April 9, 7:39 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- This is several days old, but I just have to
mention it. On Good Morning America on Tuesday (April 6), Bremer gave
us these pearls of wisdom:
have problems, there's no hiding that, but basically Iraq is on track
realize the kind of Iraq that Iraqis and Americans want, which is a
Iraq," he told ABC's "Good Morning America" show.
added: "We have got some groups who don't agree with that vision --
are terrorists and former regime guys. ... Instead they think power in
should come out of the barrel of a gun and that is intolerable and we
Amazing stuff. Now, counterpose it with those quote from an important
New York Times article that I discussed in an earlier
Top aides to Mr. Bremer have said in
days that the American troops will act as the most important guarantor
of American influence.
Apparently, Moqtada al-Sadr is in some pretty nasty
April 9, 6:20 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- The mood is very different today. There are
massive security cordons around all the hotels near Firdaus Square
(where the "liberation" was televised). Of course, the hotels in that
area already had concrete barricades, razor wire, and even a tank or
two stationed to protect them. But the new cordons make you walk a long
way around and are difficult to get through, going in or out. One of
the translators we use tells us shelling was heard in the wealthy
suburb of Jadiriyah (where Chalabi's compound is, although it doesn't
mean he was involved). This is commonplace in other areas -- the U.S.
base near Aadhamiyah is shelled with mortar fire every day -- but not
so much in Jadiriyah.
I notice that the forces of Abdul Rashid Dostum have have seized
, a town 260 miles from Kabul. With U.S. forces heavily
overstretched, it's a good time for him to challenge them.
April 8, 2:00 pm
Baghdad, Iraq -- Some thoughts on the question of Sunni-Shi'a
unity. This is a
very difficult question to address.
Let me start with some general comments just to frame things, then I'll
get to my perceptions of what's going on now.
On the one hand, it's a standard, and usually necessary, part of
colonialist discourse to play up the many divisions in the occupied
country, stressing their deep-rooted and ineluctable nature. With the
British, "divide et impera" was a pretty clearly-articulated strategy.
Others used it, of course -- the English settlers in North America, the
Belgians in Rwanda, you name it. But, with the development of liberal
imperialist ideology (the white man's burden and all that), it became a
crucial way to justify imperialism.
So, the British said, especially late in the game, "We have to stay in
India, because otherwise there'll be a bloodbath between Hindus and
Muslims" -- and, sure enough, in the Partition riots, somewhere from
250-500,000 people were killed. Oddly, the Americans said that in
Vietnam too -- although there, instead of racial, ethnic, or sectarian
divisions, they used their own division between slavery-loving
Communists and freedom-loving human beings (in the latter case, they
were proved wrong; the violence by Communists against those who
supported the South Vietnamese government was on a far lesser scale
than violence against British loyalists after the American Revolution
or violence against Nazi collaborators in France).
The relevant point here is that the colonial powers didn't just invoke
the risk of bloodbath. They created, usually deliberately, the
conditions in which the risk of bloodbath would be greatest.
There are some postcolonial revisionists who say that they did this by
just fabricating divisions out of whole cloth. You can point, for
example, to the fact that, before the European colonization, notions of
Hutu or Tutsi identity were fluid, but that later they were fixed as a
matter of law. Or you can point to the fact that, in India, Hindu and
Muslim armies regularly fought side by side against other Hindu and
Muslim armies. Or that, aside from the barbaric acts of conquerors,
there really weren't incidents of large-scale personalized violence
between the two communities.
Personally, I don't quite agree. I think it's difficult or impossible
to exacerbate a division if no division exists. I think that
colonialists in general seized on small differences, froze them,
reified them, magnified them, and exploited them, but I don't believe
that those differences were simply fabrications.
So now, what about Iraq. People write with justifiable annoyance about
the Americans' constant harping on Shi'a, Sunnis, Kurds, instead of
just talking about Iraqis. It is, in fact, one of the major complaints
of Iraqis as well.
An incredibly common refrain one hears is, "There has never been
violence between Sunna and Shi'a." "Sunna and Shi'a are the same
I don't really buy it. I certainly see no reason to believe that there
would be mass violence on an individual level if the Americans left
(mass violence between political groups is harder to predict), but
there are profound differences and it's not an accident that resistance
has been almost exclusively confined to Sunni Arabs.
What's of interest right now is what are the possibilities for a more
meaningful level of unity to emerge, especially in resisting the
There is lots of spontaneous rhetorical support for unity. When we went
to Shuala, Thawra, Kadhimiya, all Shi'a areas, people took pains to say
that Sunna and Shi'a are now united in opposing the Americans. It was
the first thing they said. They said it in the offices of Moqtada
When we went to Aadhamiyah, where people were collecting supplies for
the relief of Fallujah and Ramadi, people were equally quick to say,
"These are for Fallujah, Ramadi, Kufa, Najaf [Kufa and Najaf are Shi'a
towns." I asked, "Would you give to Thawra as well" and they said,
"absolutely" -- Thawra is a slum and one often hears derogatory
comments about the people in it. They're nothing but thieves (we heard
this from several middle class Shi'a as well), ... -- the kind of thing
you don't hear very much in the United States because people have
learned to be very hypocritical about the issue.
But probe a little deeper, and you find differences. Every Sadr
supporter says there is no difference between him and Sistani --
except, they admit, that Sistani doesn't believe in clerical rule and
Sadr does. These are irreconcilable positions.
Go further, and ask how can a Sadr supporter agree with a Sunni on the
form of government when the Sunni don't even believe that independent
interpretation of the canons of Islamic law is possible any more and
that interpretation is exactly what the Just Jurist of the Khomeinist
Imam Syed Hazem al-Arajy of the Kadhimiyah mosque told me that people
who talked about Shi'a-Sunni disunity were mistaken, that there were no
problems between them. I asked him about Saddam and he said, "Saddam
was not a Muslim."
The people in Aadhamiyah, on the other hand, were praising Saddam to
the skies. And when I asked them what percentage of the supplies would
be going to Kufa, they said, "Well, it's Fallujah and Ramadi that are
under siege now."
I'm just saying that there are nontrivial differences. The dynamic of
this resistance, when the United States has vowed to crush Fallujah and
to crush the Mahdi Army, evolves every minute. According
, thousands of Sunni and Shi'a are marching toward Fallujah,
accompanied by cars bearing supplies. In Fallujah, people are putting
up posters of Moqtada al-Sadr.
And I'm told that in Thawra they're also collecting supplies for
Fallujah. I was thinking of going tomorrow, but I'm told that the word
has also been put out to kidnap foreigners. And al-Arajy did admit,
even though he had been forced to flee Iraq because Saddam would kill
him, that he felt "a little bit" of unity even with Saddam supporters.
It's funny to me that so firmly entrenched is this colonialist mindset
that people are actually talking even now about "civil war." Bob Kerrey
the child-killer said
to Condoleezza Rice
today in 9/11 commission hearings that tactics
in Iraq run the risk of civil war. And Hans Blix, who spoke out
forcefully against the Bush administration on WMD only after the war,
when it didn't matter, said Iraq is
on the verge of civil war
In an interesting inversion of the colonialist logic, perhaps we can
say now that the United States presence is needed to prevent
civil war, not by ensuring stability and protecting the supposedly
opposed groups from each other, but by giving them an enemy to unite
April 8, 9:45 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- Thanks to all of you who wrote with kind
wishes after seeing
my last article. I will, of course, be doing my best to stay safe, but
you can't be perfectly safe here even staying in your room all the time.
We're all a bit freaked by the report
that three Japanese reporters have been kidnapped
and will be held hostage, with the Japanese given three days to
withdraw from Iraq. This kind of thing really hasn't happened to this
it's not surprising. It's hard to figure out what's going on, but it
could be one of two things. One, more of the kind of terrorists who did
the Ashura bombings that killed over 180 people. If they could do that,
they could do anything. Or, two, the success in getting the Ukrainians
to pull out of Kut, the decision by Kazakhstan that in May it will pull
out, the way Najaf was abandoned, has got more normal insurgent forces
thinking they can get some results.
If it's the second, paradoxically, American and British journalists may
be safer than others.
I must say, however, that, even in the hairiest situations I've been
in, I've never felt the slightest hint of intent to commit violence
against me. And, when people find out I'm of Indian descent, they're
always very friendly about it.
Tomorrow is going to be a very hard day in Iraq. It's April 9, the
one-year anniversary of the fall of Baghdad and there are stories
running around everywhere about massive plots to kidnap foreigners.
It's also, by some devilish coincidence, Arbaeen, a Shi'a holy day, of
a very special kind. For the Shi'a, when someone dies, there are 40
days of mourning, the 40th being a special day. Ashura, which is the
day commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein at Kerbala fighting
against the forces of Yazid, the sixth caliph, saw horrific attacks
against Shi'a. I'm afraid Arbaeeen may see the same.
It's very striking that in the middle of amazing expressions of
solidarity between Shi'a and Sunni (more on this later), we suddenly
hear of another alleged
letter from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
calling Shi'a "idolaters" and
accusing them of allying with the enemies of Islam.
April 7, 11:20 am
Baghdad, Iraq -- A major atrocity is unfolding in Fallujah
Ramadi. Everyone tells us that the towns are cordoned off, with
electricity and water cut and no supplies allowed in. A mosque in
Fallujah was just destroyed, with 40 dead. The total dead in fighting
for the two towns is 30
American soldiers and over 150 Iraqis
-- probably far over, given
the difficulties of counting. A fitting response to the killing of the
four Blackwater Security mercenaries. Of course, if the condition of
siege continues much longer, the death toll even among noncombatants in
Fallujah and Ramadi will skyrocket.
As we were driving back from Kadhimiyah (a Shi'a district), we passed
through Aadhamiyah. In front of the Abu Hanifa mosque (the same area
where Saddam was shown walking around last April 9 -- Aadhamiyah is
still a Saddamist stronghold), we noticed a major traffic snarl and
hundreds of people milling around.
It was a massive volunteer relief effort for Fallujah and Ramadi.
Coordinated from mosques around the city, which told people to go to
Abu Hanifa if they wanted to give for Falluja and Ramadi, the hours-old
effort had already collected five truckloads of food and supplies, as
well as substantial amounts of money. They were bringing staple foods
-- flour, potatoes, dates, oil -- and also a staggering number of
Even more remarkable, doctors from Baghdad's central blood bank
(located in Aadhamiyah) had come to the mosque and literally thousands
of people lined up to donate blood. The doctors had only 500 blood bags
and it was a mob scene as people fought to be the ones to give blood.
One man told me he had had a heart attack but he was still going to
The anger that came through when people spoke to me as palpable -- I
could literally feel it on my skin as people yelled in my face so fast
that I had no hope of keeping up as I took notes. Women in hijab yelled
at me that they would go and fight in Fallujah. Even so, people were
kind and helpful -- a civil engineer who spoke good English actually
took me around and translated for me, and several people pointed out to
me that money was falling out of my pockets.
Although the relief was going to the Sunni areas of Fallujah and Ramadi
(and Aadhamiyah is overwhelmingly Sunni), many people made a point of
saying that if Kufa or Najaf, Shi'a towns, were under siege they would
give for them too (Kufa is Moqtada's stronghold). One woman who gave
her name only as Umm Saif (mother of Saif), said, "We are all united
against the Americans."
Well, Bush is proving himself as a uniter, not a divider. If the siege
is not lifted soon, however, the people of Fallujah and Ramadi will pay
a heavy price for that.
April 7, 10:08 am
. Baghdad, Iraq -- I'm still getting used to this business of
instead of knowing it. That paradox for foreign journalists covering
any kind of situation is that often they are the people who know the
least about what's going on. Not speaking Arabic, I can't turn on the
TV or radio at all hours of the night, and I'm limited to the few hours
a day I can snatch in an Internet cafe.
Even so, there's a lot I've found to report. It goes on the blog first,
then everywhere else.
Over the past two days, we've visited the al-Sadr people in three
districts of Baghdad -- Sadr City (Thawra), Shuala, and Kadhimiyah. We
talked with a variety of people of different ranks -- al-Sadr's people
are thoroughly jaded when it comes to journalists, and, of course,
unimpressed by mere print media. Anyway, I've put together some
Let me start by saying that the Sadrists are certainly extremists. They
believe in Khomeini's Vilayet al-Faqih -- Islamic theocracy. They shout
"Death to America" and "Death to the Jews." Still, despite extreme
provocation, they all say that they have orders not to fight back, even
as the U.S. forces attack peaceful demonstrations and wreak havoc in
firefights across half of Iraq. They maintain, in fact, that those who
shoot back at the occupying forcess are not from their Mehdi Army but
simply people from the areas -- certainly a plausible claim, although
impossible to verify.
They are definitely organizing -- when we were in Thawra, the
headquarters was alive with planning, mostly done in whispers when we
were near. It's pretty clear, though, that the plans are defensive.
They expect many more rounds of American attacks, and they want to be
prepared. None of them seems to think they have the wherewithal to
Moqtada al-Sadr is a very young man -- often reported as 30, but he may
be as young as his early 20's. He obviously had no time to advance far
in the Shi'a clerical hierarchy, which requires much study and learning
and, for the higher levels, demonstrated skill in interpretation of
Islamic law. By rights, he should not be a player.
He's drawing his support from two starkly different pools. This was
dramatically illustrated when we went to his madrassa in Kadhimiyah. We
spoke there with the head imam at the Musa al-Kadhim mosque (this was
attacked on Ashura, with about 60 dead), Hazem al-Arajy. He was forced
to flee Iraq in 1999, when Moqtada al-Sadr's father, Grand Ayatollah
Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr was killed by Saddam. He lived in Vancouver
until two months ago, when he persuaded by the people of Kadhimiayah to
I asked him why he, a senior cleric, would follow a young man like
Moqtada. He said, "Moqtada and I are both following Mohammed Sadiq
al-Sadr." Questioned further, he went on to say that in every area
there was a different authority speaking for Sadiq al-Sadr; in
Kadhimiyah, it was he.
While we were talking, in the background, young men who had just
finished prayers were chanting forcefully, "Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada,
Yallah, Ya Mohammed, Ya Ali, Ya Mehdi."
Ya is the Arabic vocative construction, used when addressing someone.
Allah is God, Mohammed is the last prophet, Ali was the fourth caliph,
but is regarded by the Shi'a as the legitimate successor of Mohammed
(unlike the first three), and is the founder of Shi'ism. The Mehdi (or
Mahdi) in Shi'a belief is the Twelfth Imam, who went into hiding in 874
AD and will come back to lead them to glory. I don't somehow think that
the people juxtaposing Moqtada with all of the above would agree that
he was just one of many spokespeople for the dead Grand Ayatollah.
Many of the more "respectable" people follow or align with Moqtada
because of their respect for his father -- who was not only one of the
marja'iya ("sources of emulation") but was also a native Iraqi, unlike
At the same time, there is the "sanctions generation" -- kids who grew
up under U.S.-imposed deprivation in a society going into an inexorable
decay. A young man of 18 today would have been 4 when Saddam invaded
Kuwait. He has known only malnutrition in his youth, decay of an
educational and health care system, possibly illiteracy (Iraq was the
only country in the world where the literacy rate decreased during the
1990's). As Denis Halliday, former U.N. humanitarian coordinator for
Iraq, warned years ago, these young men were fodder for any extremist
ideology, most naturally of course for Islamic extremism.
Those young men are the shock troops of Moqtada al-Sadr. Some of them
may even see him as the Mehdi. They are also, as with so many of the
enemies the United States now faces, a creation of the United States.
April 7, 3:30 am EST
Baghdad, Iraq -- I've just posted a new article -- "Report
from Baghdad: Opening the Gates of Hell
." We're off to Kadhimiya
April 6, 1:00 am EST
Baghdad, Iraq -- When you read this post, please refer to this partial timeline
of recent events (I've added to it since yesterday) and to this background
on the Shi'a.
has opened the gates of hell. First, it picked another fight with
grisly incident in which the charred corpses of four U.S.
mercenaries were dragged through town and (some of them) hung from a
a reaction to a raid on March 26, in which the United
States killed at least 7 Iraqi
response of putting a military cordon around the town and planning a
operation will, of course, turn the entire population of Fallujah
if they hadn't already been turned against them by the numerous
civilians already committed in Fallujah.
But antagonizing the Sunni Arabs who have been the heart of the
resistance to the occupation was not enough for the CPA. For some
only to them, they decided to pick a fight with the Shi'a as well, in
particular with Moqtada al-Sadr, a fierce opponent of the occupation
with an armed militia of 10,000 (the Mahdi Army).
Although al-Sadr opposes the occupation, he
had been clearly avoiding violent resistance.
Then, on March 28, came the CPA's closure
of his newspaper
al-Hawza. Why the CPA closed it is unclear; certainly it was a
phenomenally stupid move, in addition to being undemocratic. The
paper's circulation was only 10,000, mostly Sadrists. Sadr supporters
organized numerous demonstrations. The CPA did further raids on Sadr's
offices, arresting some of his aides.
Then on Sunday, things turned very violent, starting with an incident
in Najaf where occupying forces fired (provoked either by gunfire or
stone-throwing) on Sadr supporters, killing at least 14 (four soldiers
were killed as well). Sadr's Mahdi Army (Mahdi is a term that refers to
the Hidden Imam, the 12th Imam, who went into hiding in 874 AD and is
expected to return to save the Shi'a) then was involved in numerous
clashes with U.S. forces. In the past couple of days, well over 60
Iraqis and at least 12 U.S. soldiers have been killed.
Bremer declared Sadr an
outlaw and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Thawra, a slum of 2 million mostly Shi'a in Baghdad, and a stronghold
of Sadr's, was cordoned off while U.S. forces made reprisal raids,
using Apache helicopters in residential areas. As with Falluja,
presumably anyone in Thawra who wasn't a supporter of Sadr will be
Sadr took sanctuary in his mosque in Kufa, his base. He left his
followers with these words:
Make your enemy afraid, for it is impossible
remain quiet about their moral offenses; otherwise we have arrived at
consequences that will not be praiseworthy. I am with you, and shall
not forsake you to face hardships alone. I fear for you, for no benefit
will come from demonstrations. Your enemy loves terrorism, and despises
peoples, and all Arabs, and muzzles opinions. I beg you not to resort
to demonstrations, for they have become nothing but burned paper. It is
necessary to resort to other measures, which you take in your own
provinces. As for me, I am with you, and I hope I will be able to join
you and then we shall ascend into exalted heavens. I will go into an
inviolable retreat in Kufa. Help me by whatever you are pleased to do
in your provinces.
Since the United States doesn't care about the popular will, as evinced
by demonsrations, the Shi'a must resort to "other measures." This is a
not-so-veiled call for violent resistance of some kind. And, of course,
over 60 demonstrators were killed as well.
BTW, when Sadr says he will "go into an inviolable retreat," this seems
pretty clearly to be a reference to one of the central Shi'a beliefs:
the Twelfth Imam, persecuted by the caliphate, went into hiding in 874
AD, and will emerge at the right time to lead the Shi'a to triumph.
Making even a loose parallel between yourself and the Hidden Imam is a
way to assert your standing among the Shi'a.
To use military terminology, right now in Iraq things are probably at
Defcon 3. They don't reach Defcon 1 unless Sistani weighs in with a
call for violent resistance. This is unlikely in the extreme, but the
dynamic that has been unleashed is such that he is forced to lend some
degree of support to Sadr. Sistani's
that Sistani called on demonstrators not to
retaliate against occupying forces even if they face aggression, but
said that Sistani believes "the demonstrators’ demands are legitimate,"
and "condemns acts waged by the occupation forces and pledges his
support to the families of the victims."
This occupation's combination of brutality and fecklessness shows
itself in the boldest relief once again. With Shi'a and Sunni erupting,
the only response it can think of is military measures -- even though
it was the same kind of measures that got it into this mess. Bush's
saying that Sadr and his followers are fighting because they don't want
democracy to flourish
" is simply absurd and inflammatory --
everybody here understands that closing down a newspaper is an
anti-democratic act. Especially since the likely reasons are either
that the paper compared Bremer with Saddam or that it expressed
solidarity with Hamas and Hezbollah.
this upsurge is contained, it's likely that this will be viewed in the
future as a turning point in the occupation.
April 6, 1:00
Baghdad, Iraq -- Some background on the Shi'a and the two
politically prominent leaders, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and
Until recently, Shi'a participation in attacks on the U.S. military had
been minimal. For the most part, they hated Saddam just as much as the
Kurds, after the gruesome massacres with which he put down the 1991
uprising (with the support of the United States). Also, as the
majority, they have expected to get a better political deal,
whatever transpires, than they did under Saddam.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest religious leader of the
Shi'a in Iraq (leader of the four Grand Ayatollahs based in Najaf, a
holy city and center of Shi'a learning), has never preached violence
against the United States. On key issues, like the U.S. plan to
substitute a complicated and undemocratic system of regional caucuses
for the creation of an elected body that would draft the new Iraqi
constitution, he has resisted, sometimes even calling massive
demonstrations (the biggest involving 100,000 in Baghdad). Sistani is
of the "quietist" school of Islamic jurisprudence, which dictates that
clerics not directly involve themselves in politics.
The other major Shi'a figure to be reckoned with is Moqtada al-Sadr.
His father and uncle were both ayatollahs who were murdered by Saddam
Hussein. He himself holds minimal religious rank and commands nowhere
near the authority of Sistani. Al-Sadr has defined himself in
opposition to Sistani in several ways. Most basic, he is Iraqi and
Sistani is of Iranian origin. Second, according
to Juan Cole
, writing in the Middle East Journal, Sadr is a
believer in Khomeini's theocratic "Vilayat i-Faqih" (Rule of the Just
Islamic Jurist) political philosophy. Third, Sadr came out early and
very forcefully against the occupation, instead of simply arguing over
the details as has Sistani. Under intense pressure, he had very
carefully calibrated his view on violent resistance: it's not called
for now, but we will remain prepared for the day when it is.
Baghdad, Iraq -- Having trouble getting my head around everything
recently. Undoubtedly among the most significant happenings yet and a
potential turning point in the occupation.
As a start, below is a
timeline of relevant events. While reading, remember there are two
entirely separate threads: the attacks and reprisals in Falluja and the
attacks and reprisals with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in numerous
locations. In each one, it looks like the U.S. forces precipitated the
clashes (in terms of the proximate cause; above and beyond that is the
background context of the occupation).
battles in Falluja in which
U.S. Marines kill an Iraqi cameraman and at least six other civilians.
15 total dead, including one U.S. Marine.
- March 28
Al-Hawza, newspaper associated with
firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, closed.
Its circulation is estimated at
- March 31 Killing of 4 Blackwater Security
mercenaries (and 5
soldiers) and dragging and hanging of corpses in Falluja. Bremer and
- April 3 Thousands
members of al-Sadr’s Mahdi
Army march in Thawra (Sadr City), a
sprawling slum of 2 million in Baghdad. There have
been protests ever since the closing of
- April 3. U.S. forces arrest Mustafa al-Yacoub,
a key aide of al-Sadr and head of his Najaf office, for possible
involvement in the murder of Shi'a cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei in April
- April 4. Four
Salvadorean soldiers and 14
protesters are killed near the outpost of the Spanish-language
garrison at Najaf. Reports are conflicting. Some say gunmen from the
opened fire; others say the crowd threw rocks and drew fire in
account seems plausible.
- April 4. U.S. forces storm al-Sadr's Baghdad
headquarters, killing two.
- April 4, 5:00 pm-midnight. Clashes
between members of the Mahdi Army and the U.S. military in
Thawra. Seven U.S. soldiers and
a variously estimated 22 or 28
Iraqis killed. Sadrists occupy three police stations in Thawra.
- April 4
al-Sadr’s militants seize
headquarters and other government buildings in Kufa, his stronghold.
- April 5. U.S. forces
block off access to Falluja in preparation for a major military
operation. At least 1200 Marines are involved, as well as Iraqi
- April 5 L. Paul Bremer III calls al-Sadr an
“outlaw” and a
warrant for his arrest is issued.
5. Al-Sadr supporters
occupy the governor’s
office in Basra.
- April 5. U.S. forces attack Shiite slums in
Baghdad (al-Thawra and al-Shuala) with
Apache helicopters and with tanks
with reports of five killed. They also open fire on stone-throwing
mourning the dead of Sunday. Thawra and other hot areas in Baghdad are
- April 5. Moqtada al-Sadr goes into retreat in a
mosque in Kufa.
I'm being run out of the Internet cafe. People
days. More later.
Baghdad, Iraq -- Just arrived into Baghdad a few hours ago.
little hairy. At a couple of points, our driver had to maneuver hard to
keep from being stopped by the thieves that frequent the western
highway in from Amman. On our way, we were forced to detour because the
occupying forces had put a military cordon around Falluja, in
preparation for serious military operations.
A tremendous amount happened while I was flying into Amman and on the
road. All hell is breaking loose in Iraq, as most of you already
know. Paradoxically, when you're in Iraq, you often have to go
and surf the Internet to find out what's happening. I'll post something
serious incident in Najaf
, the center of the Shi'a clergy in Iraq
and primary place of pilgrimage, along with Kerbala. A demonstration by
al-Sadr's followers, during which, apparently, Iraqi gunmen opened fire
on the Spanish garrison, who then returned fire. 14 Iraqis killed, four
This is huge. An incident just like this, except that there it was the
U.S. soldiers who fired first, in Falluja on April 28, set off the
round of violence that has subjected Falluja to so much repression ever
since and made it into a hotbed of resistance. It will be harder for
that to happen in Najaf, because of Sistani's influence, but it is
Sistani will have to react to this very carefully in order to keep
al-Sadr's popularity from growing too much.
Just noticed this. On April 1, BBC reports that the U.N.
was forced to halt food aid to Gaza. Israel suspended shipment of
11,000 tons of food because of concerns that suicide bombers might hide
in the shipping containers. At least 600,000 people in Gaza could be
seriously affected. In fact, according to the Bertini
of August 2002, 1.5 million Palestinians in the occupied
territories were dependent on direct food aid, and things have only
I suppose suicide bombers could hide in shipping containers, although
I'm a bit confused, because this food is supposed to go into
come out of it. In any case, those concerns are, to say the least,
hardly sufficient to imperil 600,000 people. The article notes that the
U.N. Relief and Works Association has cut deliveries from 60% of what
was necessary to 40%, and no longer distributes such staples as rice,
flour, and cooking oil in Gaza. Dependence on aid has skyrocketed in
the last three and a half years because of the "closures," and the
UNRWA suddenly finds itself underfunded.
Peter Hansen, chief of UNRWA, says, "If the new restrictions in Gaza
continue, I fear we could see real hunger emerge for the first time in
two generations," an odd statement, considering that the same Bertini
report said that 22.5% of children under the age of 5 suffered from
either acute or chronic malnourishment. A report
by Jean Ziegler
, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right of Access to
Food, that came out last summer, said that 50% of people in the
occupied territories make do on one meal a day. I wonder what is the
threshold for hunger to be "real" -- must be awfully high.
Thanks to blogger Justin Podur of The Killing Train
pointing this article out.
Re my earlier post
Clarke poll -- 65% of those polled saying Clarke's testimony had not
changed their opinion of Bush -- M.K. from North Carolina says, "The
question on the Newsweek Poll about Clarke's changing one's opinion of
Bush was a bad one. Nothing could make my opinion of Bush worse than it
already is. It's as low as an opinion could be."
A good point. With most presidents, you would think the number of
who would say something like that was small enough that poll results
wouldn't change dramatically. With Bush, it's a different matter.
A post from Schiphol, where for a mere 10 euros you can
get 24 hours of wireless access. Several days ago, Joseph Nye, dean of
Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and coiner of the term, "soft
power," reprised the notion in an op-ed in the Post titled "A
Dollop of Deeper American Values: Why 'Soft Power' Matters in Fighting
As he defines it in the piece, "Soft power is the ability to get what
we want by attracting others rather than by threatening or paying
them." More particularly, it seems to be the ability to get what "we"
want without bombing anyone, threatening very aggressively to bomb them
(mild threats are, of course, soft power), and possibly without
kidnapping them in the wee hours of the morning (I'm not sure about
Certainly, most, if not all, of the horrors of U.S. control through
instruments like the World Bank and the IMF are included under the
rubric of soft power. As, of course, are influence through movies,
prized American brand names, manipulating news reporting, and
broadcasting Voice of America (al-Hurra, the new American
Arabic-language satellite TV network, is more an example of
soft-headedness -- you don't get very far by broadcasting reruns of old
moview when every other network in the Arab world is broadcasting
reports of 200,000 people in Gaza gathered for Ahmed Yassin's funeral).
Anyway, Nye has been one of the prime movers in what has now emerged as
the conventional wisdom of the liberal foreign policy establishment --
and, frankly, of any establishment figure who's not a raving
neoconservative or a raving idiot. Here's how Nye says it:
war on terrorism is not a clash of civilizations -- Islam vs. the
West -- but rather a civil war within Islamic civilization between
extremists who use violence to enforce their vision and a moderate
majority who want such things as jobs, education, health care and
dignity as they practice their faith. We will not win unless the
moderates win. Our soft power will never attract Osama bin Laden and
the extremists. We need hard power to deal with them. But soft power
will play a crucial role in our ability to attract the moderates and
deny the extremists new recruits.
In other words, roughly, we have to take the
creating in the region governments, organizations, and institutions
that serve our
interests, but we won't succeed unless we realize that you can catch
more flies with honey than you can with vinegar (and simultaneously
that you can't just crush all the flies in your mailed fist). He
concludes by lamenting the administration's misplaced priorities:
With the end of the Cold War,
more interested in budget savings than in investing in our soft power.
Even after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a bipartisan advisory group
reported that the United States spent a paltry $150 million on public
diplomacy in Muslim countries in 2002. The combined cost of the State
Department's public diplomacy programs and all our international
broadcasting that year was just over a billion dollars -- about the
same amount spent by Britain or France, countries one-fifth our size.
It is also equal to one-quarter of 1 percent of the military budget. No
one would suggest that we spend as much to launch ideas as to launch
bombs, but it does seem odd that we spend 400 times as much on hard
power as on soft power. If we spent just 1 percent of the military
budget, it would mean quadrupling our spending on soft power.
If the United States is going to win the struggle against terrorism,
our leaders are going to have to learn to better combine soft and hard
power into "smart power," as we did in the Cold War. We have done it
before; we can do it again.
Let's consider this just from the point of view of
dealing with the
threat posed by Islamic terrorism to the West -- i.e., leaving aside
considerations of its far greater threat to people in the Muslim world,
or of dealing with global injustice, or of allowing real
self-determination in the Third World, or anything else.
It's very clear that ramping up the soft power component of U.S.
dealings with the Muslim world (and, to some extent, the rest of the
Third World) would help, would be a definite improvement over the
cretinous hard power of the Bush administration, as exemplified in the
brutally stupid occupation of Iraq.
In the past, this has made a critical difference. After World War 2,
most people (perhaps with the exception of Latin Americans) did not see
the United States as imperialist. In the 1930's, the Saudis were very
clear that they wanted to give their oil concession to American
companies, because they feared and distrusted the British colonialists.
In fact, it's taken an enormous amount of effort by the United States
to make it sink even lower in Arab eyes than Britain, and almost as
low, for many, as Israel.
At this point, I think too much water has passed under the bridge. U.S.
support for Israel in the latest phase of the occupation (which started
in September 2000 and is usually known as the al-Aqsa intifada -- a
misnomer, because it is the Israelis who started the process and drove
it, not the Palestinians, as with the first intifada) started to tip
things over -- aided by the inauguration of al-Jazeera, which
constantly beams these images into the households of the Arab world.
The division of the world by the invasion of Iraq, and even more the
callousness and brutality of the occupation have taken this a step
It's impossible to know for sure, but I think that we may well find
that to deal with this particular threat requires the evolution of a
new concept, entirely foreign to American foreign policy in the postwar
era -- not hard power, not soft power, but engagement without trying to
influence or control. So deeply are imperial hard and soft power
intertwined in every American institution and way of doing business
that it will be hard even to figure out what this concept would mean.
I'm off to the
airport. I'll be in Iraq until April 25. Mostly in Baghdad; I'll have
to figure out when I get there whether visiting other places is worth
the risk. Internet access is difficult except through cafes, but expect
to see daily notes about life in Iraq, as well as other commentary of
the kind you've been seeing. Inshallah.
The next post will probably be from Amsterdam's lovely Schiphol
A thought for the road. A Newsweek
conducted on Thursday and Friday. 65% of those polled said
Clarke's testimony has not affected their views of Bush, 17% that it
made them view him less favorably and, believe it or not, 10% say that
is made them view him more favorably.
Words fail me -- for now.
Globalsecurity.org underestimated it. Turns out there are
U.S. troops in 135 countries (not including the U.S.). Here's a document
spells out active duty personnel numbers by service, region, and
country. Thanks to a reader for the tip.
of protesters marched
in Baghdad to protest the closing
of the Moqtada al-Sadr-affiliated newspaper al-Hawza
. In a speech
at the protest, al-Sadr declared his solidarity with Hezbollah and
Hamas and warned the Kurds not to cooperate with the occupation.
Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army is estimated at 6-10,000 people, and, several
weeks ago, destroyed
the small hamlet of Qawliya
(about 150 homes). Most of the town's
residents were Gypsies and it was also known for its red-light district.
Al-Sadr, unlike Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is a believer in
theocracy, in particular in Khomeini's concept of Vilayat-i-Faqih (Rule
of the Just Jurist). He attracts support away from al-Sistani for two
reasons: he's Iraqi (al-Sistani is originally from Iran) and he's
militantly opposed to the occupation.
This is yet another way in which the occupation leads to more extremism
and internecine violence. Which some people then say shows that the
occupation must continue. What Iraq needs if it is to survive is to
reverse that logic and start moving towards a polity that will decrease
those tensions, not exacerbate them as the United States is doing.
Here's a little
in the Times Sunday Magazine by my favorite scribe of
imperialism and yours, Niall Ferguson. In addition to being a
phenomenal supercilious twit (I had the dubious pleasure of debating
him last year), he is so over the top that he does apologetics not only
for modern-day U.S. imperialism but for British colonialism.
In the piece, called "The Way We Live Now: Eurabia," he laments the
fact that Europe, with its free and tolerant society, is being taken
over by Muslim fanatics. Notwithstanding his supposed inclination
toward free societies, he even resurrects that favorite lament of
blood-and-soil nationalists everywhere -- Europeans have a low birth
rate and, of course, Muslims in countries near Europe have a high one.
Need anything more be said?Letters to firstname.lastname@example.org
that the U.S.-France puppet regime in Haiti plans to
seek extradition of Aristide to face trial for extradition and human
rights violations. Gerard Latortue claims that Aristide may have
misappropriated $1 billion in government funds.
This sounds like nonsense just by virtue of the scale of the claims, if
nothing else. Even as a propaganda ploy, it seems like a bad idea for
them. If you want to try him in camera in the Central African Republic,
fine, but trying him in Haiti would catalyze public resistance to this
illegitimate new regime and possibly lead to a loss of control. A
government that found Aristide's presence in Jamaica to be a threat
should not be so sanguine about the prospect of Aristide in Haiti.
This call doesn't seem to be getting a lot of play in the newspapers
and I wonder if this is Latortue and company striking out on their own.
The Bush administration, in particular, has shown no great eagerness to
bring anyone to trial.
Aristide has also filed
in Paris for kidnap. The defendant named is "X."
Here's a good
for figuring out where our legions are posted around the world
-- in nearly 130 countries.
Check out the New York
Times editorial on Fallujah
. In the best tradition of
What the horrific images from Falluja
convey is that the fundamental problem is in Iraq itself. ...
Led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shiite majority, persecuted
for decades, insists on a version of democracy that enshrines Shiite
domination and fails to offer needed protections for minority groups.
This is clearly unacceptable to the Sunni minority in places like
Falluja, and to the Kurds.
So, the mob yelling "CIA" and "Falluja is the graveyard
were angry because of potential Shi'a domination, not because of the
scores of civilians killed by American military operations there (it's
also worth remembering that one of the big civilian kills of the Gulf
War was when a bomb fell in a marketplace in Falluja).
Don't get me wrong. Of course, Sunni Arabs in Iraq feel particularly
dispossessed and angry at losing their dominant political role. But
that doesn't generally lead to violence against Americans. Killing
civilians, home raids, flagrantly unjust detentions, creating mass
unemployment, disbanding the army -- those are the sources of armed
resistance. In Falluja it's particularly simple; the U.S. military has
angered the whole population with its brutality.
By the way, as this AFP
, Falluja was not a Saddam stronghold. It was, in fact,
a town of Sunni tribes that resisted domination by the central
government and, according to the story, "Under
Saddam, imams across the town refused to abide by his orders to praise
him personally during daily prayers." In addition, there was a
significant Salafist (extreme fundamentalist -- Wahhabism is a subset
of Salfism) presence in Falluja, and
Saddam heavily repressed anyone even vaguely suspected of Salafism.
The Times concludes with some wonderful critical
reflection, calling on Iraqis to shoulder their responsibility of
making their occupation by a foreign
No one - not Americans, Europeans or the U.N.
impose a pluralistic democracy at gunpoint and make it stick. That can
happen only if enough influential Iraqis from all three communities
embrace a workable constitution and defend it against its many armed
The word "occupation" does not appear in the editorial at
all. We just
know by divine revelation that all the armed attacks are attacks
against the constitution, not against the occupation. We're
trying to help some benighted natives build democracy, they have
internecine squabbles, and we're not being sufficiently bold about
making the natives realize that we can't do it for them while they laze
around -- they have to
help themselves. This could have been lifted out of a British editorial
about Iraq in 1920. If anyone has any such lying around, send them my way
Amazingly enough, there's an op-ed
in the LA Times
by two "right-wing media veterans" whose analysis
of Air America's prospects is the same as mine, and focuses on the fact
that it seems to be about getting Kerry elected rather than building a
The right wing knows how to build movements. Liberals are not even sure
they want to. And the left is still marginal.
Thanks to Political Animal
for pointing out the article in his blog.
More on Falluja. The four contractors who were killed and
dragged through the streets were described in initial reports as
civilians. In fact, they were employees of Blackwater Security
as its website says, "has its roots in the Special Operations
Community." According to this
Mother Jones article
from last year, in addition to providing
"security," they do counterterrorism trainings for the U.S. military.
Ex-Special forces guys in Falluja to consult on security and
counterterrorism -- not exactly civilians. And, in fact, later reports
have stopped using the word "civilian."
in the LA Times
, in fact, quotes one bystander as saying, "people
were saying they were CIA," which is not exactly far off the mark. It
quotes another Fallujah resident saying that the attacks were
retaliation for the attacks of last Friday, in which, according
, U.S. Marines killed at least seven Iraqi civilians,
including a cameraman working for ABC (has any other country even come
close to killing as many journalists this year as the United States?)
to at least one eyewitness report
, the Marines started firing
The attitude in Fallujah seems pretty clear -- "if you come in here and
civilians, we'll do our best to kill you."
Bremer has vowed
that the culprits will not escape punishment and Brigadier General Mark
Kimmitt said these chilling words:
We will be back in
Fallouja. It will be at the time and the place of
our choosing. We will hunt down the criminals. We will kill them or we
will capture them. And we will pacify Fallouja.
Since it was a cross-section of the people of Falluja,
and not some
specific organization, that killed these four, this clearly means
collective reprisals against the whole town -- and, of course, this is
going to lead to the same result that all the earlier atrocities and
collective punishments in Falluja have led to -- starting
with the killings
in late April of 2003.
The attitudes I saw on
my previous trip to Iraq (especially in Adhamiyah, the Sunni
neighborhood in Baghdad that is described as the center of resistance
in the capital) were very clear -- total opposition to American troops
and those who
are part of the occupation, but no particular desire to commit violence
others who happen to be foreign.
For example, we talked with a woman whose son had been killed by U.S.
forces. There was a demonstration in Adhamiyah when Saddam was
captured. He wasn't part of it, she had just sent him to tell his
father to close the shop and come home because she was worried, and he
got shot and killed on his way. She couldn't tell the story without
breaking down every few minutes, but she made a point of telling us
that we were welcome, that they had nothing against Americans, but that
the occupying forces were not welcome.
Obviously, there are some groups in
Iraq who are indiscriminately killing foreigners and Iraqi civilians.
To the best of my understanding (which is very limited, because there
don't seem to be resistance groups that make their politics known or
that put out statements condemning attacks like the Ashura attacks or
those on women who clean or do laundry for the CPA), there are also
groups that focus just on resisting the military occupation.
Some readers ask what names was I referring to, a propos of
the liberal talk radio network Air America being named after a CIA
Well, Jim Hightower inaugurated in 2000 a traveling big-tent fun for
the whole family celebrity-filled political Lollapalooza-type event and
called it "Rolling Thunder," named after the bombing campaign Lyndon
Johnson inaugurated a few months after being elected president. And
Bill Clinton called the December 1998 bombing of Iraq (a regime-change
trial balloon) "Desert Fox," which was the nickname of Field Marshal
And, yes, much as I detest all three of these names, Bush's "Infinite
Justice," (which had to be shelved because of opposition) was
Kerry recently used
the opportunity of higher gas prices
to make himself look foolish.
He is calling for the administration to put pressure on OPEC
countries to produce more and bring the price down, while
simultaneously touting his interest in reducing dependence on foreign
oil -- something that higher gas prices would do (and don't forget that
we have far lower gas prices than most of the First World). And has
Kerry the environmentalist forgotten that we contribute about five
times our share of world carbon emissions?
Cheney correctly ridiculed Kerry for his ridiculous flip-flop on this
issue, saying "After voting three times to increase the gas tax and
once proposing to
increase it by 50 cents a gallon, he now says he doesn't support it."
Best of all, Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter says, according to the
Post, that "Kerry will use his new proposal to fault Bush for not
diplomatic pressure on oil-producing nations during his
administration." Inadequate diplomatic pressure? If an attempted coup
in Venezuela and a war on and occupation of Iraq are not adequate, what
stronger measures is Kerry angling for?
Score one more for the rogue state. The International Court
ruled that 51 Mexicans
on death row in the United States were
illegally deprived of their right of consular assistance, guaranteed
under the 1963 Vienna Convention of Consular Relations, and said their
cases should be reviewed and reconsidered.
It's interesting that the U.S. bothered to argue the case in the ICJ,
because ever since 1986 it has denied that it recognizes the court's
The much-touted liberal talk radio network, Air America,
debuted yesterday. I caught a little bit of Al Franken fawning over Bob
Kerrey the war criminal, but the streaming audio feed wasn't working
Howard Kurtz does a hatchet
on it in the Post. The article goes into great detail in
showing the nasty, divisive rhetoric hosts are using. And it is harsh
stuff, although I can't imagine Kurtz seriously expects us to recoil in
horror at depictions of Ann Coulter as a "borderline racist."
Harsh as it is, though, what's amazing is that normal conservative talk
radio, anywhere in the country at any time, is about ten times as
virulent but it basically occasions no comment. As well as being less
Al Franken is the main attraction for Air America right now. And he
clearly has the wrong vision for the network. An article on him in the
Times Sunday Magazine (March 21) said,
Though he says he is interested in
around, Franken has
reportedly signed only a one-year contract. "I'm doing this because I
want to use my energies to get Bush unelected," he told me. "I'd be
happy if the election of a Democrat ended the show."
Beating Bush is a fine and good goal (especially for a
middle-of-the-roader like Franken, who, according to the Times, thinks
the DLC is a "moral force for good"), but if the people who launched
conservative talk radio had had such a blinkered vision 25 years ago,
the country would be in a lot better shape than it is.
This is an important experiment and it is to be hoped that someone
involved has a longer-term strategy. It would also be nice if the
network has the courage to bring on guests who will talk about the
occupation of Iraq and the coup in Haiti, and who might even criticize
And, oh yeah, why oh why did they have to name it after a CIA operation
supporting the Vietnam War (and doing a little drug smuggling on the
side)? Reminds me of my peeve when Jim Hightower named his
neo-Chatauqua tour after Lyndon Johnson's major bombing campaign
targeting North Vietnam. At least they're a step up from Clinton naming
his bombing campaign against Iraq after a Nazi field marshal.