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"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.

A Blog by Rahul Mahajan

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November 21, 2004

Yukos: Is Stealing From a Receiver of Stolen Goods a Crime?

Check out Kim Murphy's article in the LA Times, Russia Plans to Auction Key Unit of Yukos Oil:
Russian tax authorities Friday scheduled the equivalent of a fire sale at what was once the nation's largest oil company, offering the main production facility at Yukos Oil for auction next month at a fraction of its value.

Company officials called the planned auction terms for Yuganskneftegaz ­ the crown jewel of Russian oil facilities, producing almost as much oil as Iraq ­ a "stunning" announcement.

"What we are witnessing is, simply put, a government-organized theft to settle a political score," Yukos Chief Executive Steven Theede said in a statement.

The renationalization of Yukos through the sale of its assets to a state-controlled energy company is now considered one of the most likely outcomes. Analysts said major foreign players would be unlikely to bid on a key component of a company that was facing up to $20 billion in tax bills, thanks to the Kremlin's yearlong battle with Yukos and its former CEO, imprisoned billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

"Many believe at this point that the company is going to be destroyed as a signal to all the other oligarchs to get behind the Kremlin and don't make trouble," said James Fenker, head of research at Troika Dialog, a Moscow-based investment firm. "It's a very medieval signal. You take the criminal and you put his head on a stick outside the Kremlin."

Yuliya Latynina, an analyst with Echo of Moscow radio, said Yukos assets would probably go to a Kremlin-friendly company in a controlled auction ­ an outcome that would support claims the government was more interested in acquiring Yukos' assets than punishing the company for alleged tax evasion.
And, as you might imagine, this dovetails perfectly with the analysis of Putin as moving in a sharply more dictatorial direction, with his "war on terrorism" crackdown, his elimination of elections for regional governors (after twice blatantly staging the elections in Chechnya), and his move to increase his powers over the judiciary.

And it's all true. There's just one little thing being left out. Khodorkovsky acquired Yukos from the Russian people by exactly the same kind of theft that is being practiced now:
What then could be punished with a death sentence today is simply considered normal business, including the way these oligarchs seized former state assets at what could be considered an obscene discount. In a rigged bid, Mikhail Khordorkovky, for example, paid only $300 million for Yukos Oil. Today through no fault of Mr. Khodorkovsky, Yukos is worth upward of $15 billion (a three-fold increase in oil prices sent oil company stock prices soaring). That makes Mr. Khodorkovsky, its CEO, worth an estimated $8 billion.
Whatever company acquires Yukanskneftegaz, the proceeds are going to pay Yukos's back taxes. Putin is a terrible dictator who has done unforgivable things in Chechnya. This move may well help to consolidate his position by reining in Russia's Western-oriented capitalist class. But there does seem to be some chance that this can be redirected from the aggrandizement of Putin to the reappropriation of what should always have remained Russian public assets.

Posted at 1:30 am
November 19, 2004

Utter Contempt for Humanity

As the International Committee of the Red Cross, in an unusually bold statement, slams the "utter contempt for the most basic tenet of humanity: the obligation to protect human life and dignity" shown by U.S. forces and by the various groups murdering hostages, we learn of yet another example of this contempt shown by U.S. troops and the new security forces of U.S.-created strongman Ayad Allawi.

American soldiers and members of the new Iraqi National Guard stormed the Abu Hanifa mosque either directly after or during prayers (reports differ), opening fire on worshippers, killing four and wounding nine.

Built on the resting place of Abu Hanifa, the "Imam Aadham" (great imam), founder of the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, the mosque is probably the most important Sunni mosque in the country. The township that grew up around it, Aadhamiyah, takes its name from Abu Hanifa's appellation. Although mosque authorities have tried hard to be accommodating with American troops stationed in Aadhamiyah, this is not the first episode of harassment. I wrote about an earlier raid in April; that one, at least, while pointless and destructive, was not done during prayer and had no fatalities.

There could hardly be a more pointed insult to the Sunni population of Iraq than to kill people there while at prayer, with "Pieces of brain ... splattered on one of the walls inside the mosque while large blood stains covered carpets in several places" and to arrest the chief imam of the mosque, Sheikh Muayid al-Aadhami.

Dahr Jamail has written an important report on the raid, based on eyewitness testimony; please read it and send it to people you know.

Posted at 5:39 pm
November 18, 2004

Iraqi Election Boycott

47 Iraqi political parties and related bodies, meeting at the headquarters of the Sunni  Association of Muslim Scholars at Baghdad's Umm al-Qura mosque (in Saddam's time, Umm al-Marek, the Mother of Battles), have decided to boycott the alleged elections supposedly scheduled for January (and required under the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546). In their statement, they have said that the election results are a foregone conclusion, with rewards already lined up for the parties collaborating in the occupation.

The parties include not just Sunni Islamist ones, but others like the National Arab Current, the Iraqi-Turkoman Front, the Democratic Christian Party and the communist People’s Union party, as well as Shi'a parties. They met under the auspices of the Iraqi National Founding Conference, a broad, nonsectarian front that includes Sunni, Shi'a, Arab, Kurd, Islamist, and secular parties within it, with points of unity as follows: opposition to the occupation and freedom of any association with either the crimes of the occupation or those of Saddam's regime.

This initiative was started by Sheikh Jawad al-Khalissi, a Shi'a cleric descended from one of the leaders of the 1920 revolt against the British; its initial conference was held last December. I have written about him and his efforts at greater length before.

I'm not sure an election boycott is wise; historically, they almost always backfire (as the anarchists in Spain found out to their regret). But they are clearly making the point that the destruction of Fallujah, which they termed an act of genocide in their statement, had nothing to do with the elections; in fact, it's decreasing participation, not increasing it.

Posted at 2:45 pm
November 17, 2004

Iraqi Voices

My friend and colleague Dahr Jamail, still reporting from Baghdad, just sent me some of the interview material that is going into his next dispatch. It is a vital corrective now that the normally supine media is going into almost active collaboration with the Bush administration "information war" in Fallujah. To go by media reports, there's nobody in Fallujah who is angry that their town was just bombed into rubble, with, according to one Red Cross official interviewed by Dahr, at least 800 civilian deaths (I think the number is likely higher).

Then you can take a look at the now-famous footage of a Marine shooting a wounded person inside a mosque (view it with Explorer). The original segment at that link has been changed, but both versions spent far more time explaining why the act was all right than they did on what actually happened. The original version had the freelance journalist who caught the scene on camera reading from a written statement about how the Marines he had seen had acted with honor, etc. ... Although apparently more than one wounded person may have been finished off by U.S. forces there. And certainly the other horrors of the assault are far greater and more disturbing.

Anyway, here are the voices of some Iraqis victimized by U.S. forces:
She lays dazed in the crowded hospital room, languidly waving her bruised arm at the flies. Her shins, shattered by bullets from US soldiers when they fired through the front door of her house, are both covered by casts. Small plastic drainage backs filled with red fluid sit upon her abdomen, where she took shrapnel from another bullet.

Fatima Harouz, 12 years old, lives in Latifiya, a city just south of Baghdad. Just three days ago soldiers attacked her home. Her mother, standing with us says, “They attacked our home and there weren’t even any resistance fighters in our area.” Her brother was shot and killed, and his wife was wounded as their home was ransacked by soldiers. “Before they left, they killed all of our chickens,” added Fatima’s mother, her eyes a mixture of fear, shock and rage.

A doctor standing with us, after listening to Fatima’s mother tell their story, looks at me and sternly asks, “This is the freedom…in their Disney Land are there kids just like this?”

Another young woman, Rana Obeidy, was walking home with her brother two nights ago. She assumes the soldiers shot her and her brother because he was carrying a bottle of soda. This happened in Baghdad. She has a chest wound where a bullet grazed her, unlike her little brother who is dead.

Laying in a bed near Rana is Hanna, 14 years old. She has a gash on her right leg from the bullet of a US soldier. Her family was in a taxi in Baghdad this morning which was driving near a US patrol when a soldier opened fire on the car.

Her father’s shirt is spotted with blood from his head which was wounded when the taxi crashed.

In another room a small boy from Fallujah lays on his stomach. Shrapnel from a grenade thrown into their home by a US soldier entered his body through his back, and implanted near his kidney.

An operation successfully removed the shrapnel. His father was killed by what his mother called, “the haphazard shooting of the Americans.” The boy, Amin, lies in his bed vacillating between crying with pain and playing with is toy car.

It’s one case after another of people from Baghdad, Fallujah, Latifiya, Balad, Ramadi, Samarra, Baquba…from all over Iraq, who have been injured by the heavy-handed tactics of American soldiers fighting a no-win guerilla war spawned from an illegal invasion based on lies. Their barbaric acts of retaliation have become the daily reality for Iraqis, who continue to take the brunt of the frustration and rage of the soldiers.

Out in front of the hospital three Humvees pull up as soldiers alert the hospital staff that some of the wounded from outside of Fallujah will be brought there. One of the staff begins to yell at the soldier who is doing the talking, while a soldier manning a machine gun atop a Humvee with his face completely covered by an olive balaclava and goggles looks on.

“We don’t need you here! Get the fuck out of here! Bring back Saddam! Even he was better than you animals! We don’t want to die by your hands, so get out of here! We can take care of our own people!”

The translator with the soldiers does not translate this. Instead he watches with a face of stone.

The survivors of those killed and wounded by the US military in Iraq, as well as those who care for them, are left with feelings of bitter anguish, grief, rage and vengeance.

This afternoon at a small, but busy supply center set up in Baghdad to distribute goods to refugees from Fallujah, the stories the haggard survivors are telling are nearly unimaginable.

“They kicked all the journalists out of Fallujah so they could do whatever they want,” says Kassem Mohammed Ahmed, who just escaped from Fallujah three days ago, “The first thing they did is they bombed the hospitals because that is where the wounded have to go. Now we see that wounded people are in the street and the soldiers are rolling over them with tanks. This happened so many times. What you see on the TV is nothing-that is just one camera. What you cannot see is so much.”

While Kassem speaks of the television footage, there are also stories of soldiers not discriminating between civilians and resistance fighters.

Another man, Abdul Razaq Ismail arrived from Fallujah last week.

While distributing supplies to other refugees he says, “There are dead bodies on the ground and nobody can bury them. The Americans are dropping some of the bodies into the Euphrates River near Fallujah. They are pulling the bodies with tanks and leaving them at the soccer stadium.”

Nearby is another man in tears as he listens, nodding his head. He can’t stop crying, but after a little while says he wants to talk to us.

“They bombed my neighborhood and we used car jacks to raise the blocks of concrete to get dead children out from under them.”

Another refugee, Abu Sabah, an older man wearing a torn shirt and dusty pants tells of how he escaped with his family while soldiers shot bullets over their heads, but killed his cousin.

“They used these weird bombs that put up smoke like a mushroom cloud,” he said, having just arrived yesterday, “Then small pieces fell from the air with long tails of smoke behind them. These exploded on the ground with large fires that burnt for half an hour. They used these near the train tracks. You could hear these dropped from a large airplane and the bombs were the size of a tank. When anyone touched those fires, their body burned for hours.”
If you want to help Dahr continue his invaluable work, donate here.
Posted at 12:15 pm
November 16, 2004

Give 'Em Hell Harry

A short break from Fallujah. The Democrats, with their keen attention to the exigencies of the new situation, have struck a powerful blow by picking Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada to replace Tom Daschle as Senate Minority Leader.

Actually, they seem to have found the only person (short of John Kerry himself) in the Senate with less charisma and dynamism than the late unlamented Daschle as his replacement.

Surveying the entire Democratic Party, some of the big liberal bloggers (Atrios, Kevin Drum, Josh Marshall), and the pundits at large, they seem to be as out of touch with reality as Kerry used to claim the Bush administration is.

A typical example, from Drum:
Will George Bush's second term be different from his first? Or just more of the same?

I'm part of the "more of the same" camp, myself. Actually, I guess I'm really part of the "even worse" camp, but given Bush's first term record, that's sort of a thin difference, isn't it?
In other words, the debate is over whether Bush will be more moderate. Pundits are talking about who the Democrats will run in '08 -- should it be Hillary, should it not, do we need a Southern guy who will not only kill geese like Kerry but retarded black men like Clinton, ...?

In a talk I gave recently in California, a woman, referencing certain evidence of apocalyptic attitudes in Bush and, of course, some of his followers, asked me, "Is there even going to be an '08?" I hastened to assure her that the chance that Bush would terminate the physical existence of the human race, the earth, or the universe by that time was vanishingly small.

But this woman is closer to an accurate perception of the situation than any of those I've mentioned above. The fact of the matter is that Bush has claimed his mandate and said he's going to spend his political capital. He's formally suspended the Geneva Convention, declared the entire adult male population of Fallujah to be the enemy and keeping aid from going into the city, directed Porter Goss to purge the CIA of the last elements of the "reality-based community," had Colin Powell retire, removing said elements from the State Department, and moved to appoint Alberto Gonzales, the man who came up with the legal argument for trashing the Geneva Convention, as Attorney General. Not to mention reining in Arlen Specter.

What exactly does he have to do, bite off the head of a small child on national television?

Instead of talking about who should run in '08, the Democrats should be asking themselves if there will be an '08.

The storm gathering on the horizon is already breaking. And it will get a lot worse before it gets better. The agenda on which Bush intends to spend his political capital is not privatization of Social Security or making the tax cut permanent or even reversing Roe v. Wade. Those are mere epiphenomena of the true agenda -- the systematic transformation of American society and culture in a more authoritarian, more fanatical, more overtly imperialist direction, and the consolidation of the right wing in power to the point that it cannot be challenged.

Many on the left have already written about what lies ahead and the purported need for unity with the Democrats in the face of this threat. They are missing the point. In order to have a chance of facing this, the left needs to do its job and to make the Democrats do theirs. Whether it's selecting Harry Reid or rolling over for Alberto Gonzales, the Democrats have made it clear that they won't do their job, even though it's their heads on the block, unless they are dragged kicking and screaming.

Posted at 7:30 pm
November 13, 2004

Fallujah -- the Geneva Convention is Out the Window

The way the attack on Fallujah has been conducted makes one thing crystal clear: the Geneva Convention has been overtly and specifically abandoned, not just in the treatment of prisoners, but also in the conduct of military assaults. Of course, the United States violates it in one way or another frequently and systematically violates the provisions of the more enlightened 1979 Additional Protocols (which it has never ratified), but in this case it is deliberately and systematically violating the basic core conventions themselves.

I've written earlier about the way that a hospital was made into a military target. But it goes far beyond that.

From an article in yesterday's USA Today:
Troops have cut off all roads and bridges leading out of the city and have turned back hundreds of men who have tried to flee the city during the assault. Only women, children and the elderly are being allowed to leave.

The military says keeping men aged 15 to 55 from leaving is key to the mission's success.

"If they're not carrying a weapon, you can't tell who's who," said one officer with the 1st Cavalry Division.
Of course, keeping noncombatants who wish to flee from a battle area from fleeing is a war crime. From the Associated Press,
Human rights experts said Friday that American soldiers might have committed a war crime on Thursday when they sent fleeing Iraqi civilians back into Fallujah.

Citing several articles of the Geneva Conventions, the experts said recognized laws of war require military forces to protect civilians as refugees and forbid returning them to a combat zone.

"This is highly problematical conduct in terms of exposing people to grave danger by returning them to an area where fighting is going on," said Jordan Paust, a law professor at the University of Houston and a former Army prosecutor.

James Ross, senior legal adviser to Human Rights Watch, said, "If that's what happened, it would be a war crime."

A stream of refugees, about 300 men, women and children, were detained by American soldiers as they left southern Fallujah by car and on foot. The women and children were allowed to proceed. The men were tested for any residues left by the handling of explosives. All tested negative, but they were sent back.
This last sentence makes it clear that these men were noncombatants.

It's also, as has been said before, a very good indication: when you assume all men are your enemies, are fighting against you, it's a clear sign that you're in the wrong country and you should get out.

Back to the USA Today article,
An Iraqi journalist in the city reported seeing burned U.S. vehicles and bodies in the street, with more buried under the wreckage. He said two men trying to move a corpse were shot down by a sniper.

Two of the three small clinics in the city have been bombed, and in one case, medical staff and patients were killed, he said. A U.S. tank was positioned beside the third clinic, and residents were afraid to go there, he said.

"People are afraid of even looking out the window because of snipers," he said, asking that he not be named for his own safety. "The Americans are shooting anything that moves."
Even embedded reporters, like Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor, reporting on PBS's News Hour with Jim Lehrer, are saying the same thing:
And in fact, when anyone does poke their head up, they're almost universally considered to be a target. Those who have done this in the last couple of days that I've seen have, in fact, had weapons and been engaged.
But, of course, not all those considered to be targets have been, like for example the abovementioned men trying to move a corpse.

Reporting on the same show, Jackie Spinner of the Washington Post said,
There was some pretty fierce air power launched on the city in the days and the hours leading up to the ground offensive. There are parts of the city that the soldiers are describing are just, you know, piles of rubble. So it could be that many of these insurgents were killed in those air strikes before things even kicked off.
When I was in Fallujah in April, at least along the route we took, I saw individual buildings damaged and destroyed, but I never saw neighborhoods that had been reduced to rubble.

In every way, the rules of engagement in this assault have been dramatically loosened. Any time troops come under fire, it seems, they target the appropriate building with an air or artillery strike from fearsome weapons like the aptly named Paladin (at least they cancelled the Crusader), which fires rocket-assisted shells that are wonderfully accurate, and typically land within 5 yards of their target after travelling 22 miles. Now, it just so happens that they have a kill radius of 55 yards and their use in crowded residential areas inevitably risks massive "collateral damage," but why quibble when such glorious technology is being put to use?

An article from the right-wing British paper, the Daily Telegraph, sheds much more light on these rules of engagement, as explained to troops:
Lt-Col Pete Newell told Task Force 2-2's 500 soldiers at a dusty staging post in the main base outside Fallujah that sparing as much of the city as possible was second only to that of preserving the lives of their comrades and the 40,000 or so civilians still left.

"We don't want to rubble the city. Somebody has got to come in after us. We want Fallujah to understand what democracy's all about.'' But he added: "That doesn't mean you have to tolerate any shit from second-floor windows." The battle would be "personal" because of the losses the unit had already sustained. "That pile of crap has got to be cleaned out," he said as troops responded with cries of "Hoo-ah".

Maximum aggression had to be used. "Keep hammering targets and if you see a guy with an AK-47, I expect you to hose him with a .50-calibre machine-gun.'' If firing was identified from a house, then artillery fire should be called in to "pancake the building". Moving vehicles should be destroyed as potential suicide bombs and stationary ones hit with armour-piercing rounds. "See if it blows up or not. We'll pay everyone for their cars later." Maj John Reynolds, the task force operations officer, said money would also be paid out for any civilians killed.
Note this: any time firing is identified from a house, you call in artillery to flatten the building. Every moving vehicle should be destroyed. Fortunately, unlike last time, no ambulances will be attacked, because U.S. forces grounded all of Fallujah General's ambulances and even destroyed its only car.

And it may seem a minor thing, but this quote is important as well: "if you see a guy with an AK-47, I expect you to hose him with a .50-calibre machine-gun." Using a .50-caliber machine gun on human targets is specifically forbidden by the Geneva Convention; it can be used on equipment. U.S. soldiers are generally instructed either to call in an airstrike instead of using the .50-caliber (see Jarhead by Anthony Swofford) or told to claim that they were aiming at the person's canteen, belt-buckle, or other item of equipment. In saying openly that they should shoot people with the .50, what they are really saying is, "The Geneva Convention is out the window."

As it is, of course, with keeping noncombatants from fleeing, making a hospital a military target, and flattening building that might have one or two fighters and dozens of civilians.

Expect a new memo from soon-to-be Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on why all of this is just fine and dandy.

Posted at 6:25 pm
November 12, 9:20 pm. From Reuters, Iraq Tells Media to Toe the Line:
Iraq's media regulator warned news organizations Thursday to stick to the government line on the U.S.-led offensive in Fallouja or face legal action.

Invoking a 60-day state of emergency declared by Iraq's interim government ahead of the assault that began Monday, Iraq's Media High Commission said media should distinguish between insurgents and ordinary residents of the Sunni Muslim city.

The commission, set up by the former U.S. governor of Iraq, was intended to be independent of the government and to encourage investment in the media and deter state meddling after decades of strict control under President Saddam Hussein.

The commission statement bore the letterhead of the Iraqi prime minister's office.

It said all media organizations operating in Iraq should "differentiate between the innocent Fallouja residents who are not targeted by military operations and terrorist groups that infiltrated the city and held its people hostage under the pretext of resistance and jihad."

It said news organizations should "guide correspondents in Fallouja … not to promote unrealistic positions or project nationalist tags on terrorist gangs of criminals and killers."

It also asked media to "set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear."

"We hope you comply … otherwise we regret we will be forced to take all the legal measures to guarantee higher national interests," the statement said. It did not elaborate.
This comes on the heels of numerous other measures against press freedom taken in August. The liberation is now complete.

Although these measures would do Saddam proud, they of course are largely implemented in U.S. media coverage of military assaults like this one -- especially in broadcast media.

The role of the new Allawi government in backing up this U.S. assault has been profound. One of the most interesting things about the Fallujah assault in April was the mass, nonviolent citizen action in breaking the military blockade around Fallujah and in pressuring members of the Iraqi Governing Council (roughly half of whom threatened to resign if the U.S. military didn't pull out of Fallujah).

This time, that really hasn't happened. There are several factors involved in this, but probably the primary one is Allawi's declaration and enforcement of martial law.

November 11, 9:30 pm. Check out Dahr Jamail's latest dispatch from Iraq (his own website posts them slightly later, but has a wider variety of material collected). Despite attempts to portrary this assault on Fallujah as different from the last one in that Shi'a support the attack (opposition to the last one was near-universal in Iraq), Jamail reports,
Sheikh Ahmed al-Misser, a leader at the office of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the Sadr City area of Baghdad condemned the U.S.-led attack. ”I have publicly announced that if the Americans raid Fallujah and the Fallujah people asked for help of any kind, our followers are to help them in any way they can,” he told IPS. ”I mean help them by any means necessary.”

He said Sadr followers living near Fallujah and in Baghdad have been asked to look after refugees from the city.
Dahr also sent me some private observations to share with readers:
  • Residents of the areas of Al-Dora, Abu Ghraib, and Amiriyah areas of Baghdad are reporting that the resistance have taken over control of parts of those areas.
  • Iraqi Police checkpoints are present in much greater number throughout the city in enforcement of the new curfew.
  • Petrol lines are now, in some places, stretching for 2-3 miles long.
  • Most of Baghdad, which I saw while driving through the city tonight, is without electricity and running on generators.
  • In the Al-Aadhamiyah district, they have been without power today since 9am (It's nearly 10pm now) [NOTE: Aadhamiyah is a center of the resistance in Baghdad and residents frequently assert the power cuts in the area are due to deliberate policy rather than lack of power-generation capacity, a charge that I find plausible but unconfirmable].
  • I'm in central Baghdad, one of the best areas for electricity, and since I've been here this past week, we are averaging 10 hours of electricity per 24 hours [NOTE: the Iraqi Minister of Electricity, Aiham al-Samarra'i, was on PBS's News Hour with Jim Lehrer yesterday and he claimed that the average provision of power was something like 16 hours per day, in a segment that was riddled with claims that are in sharp contrast with all other sources of information I've seen].
  • Many shops are now staying closed, even in Baghdad as the fighting continues to spread.
  • The "Green Zone" continues to be bombed by mortars every day, sometimes for extended periods of time.
  • The US base in the old Saddam Palace in Aadhamiyah has been mortared every single night now for at least a week straight.
November 11, 9:40 am. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad's article for the Washington Post, Seeking Salvation in City of Insurgents, is an absolute must-read. It is a genuinely balanced treatment both of what has happened in Fallujah since April and of the story of one foreign jihadi, who came into Iraq to fight because of the Abu Ghraib atrocities.

The man who Abdul-Ahad interviewed is probably dead by now in the rubble of Fallujah. But shortly before he crossed the border into Iraq, his wife called him to tell him that he had a newborn son, whom she had named Shahid -- which means martyr.

November 11, 7:57 am. Yasir Arafat is dead. I fell asleep late last night watching news coverage of this. There can be few people in recent history who left behind so complex a historical legacy, for good and bad, and I won't try to sum it up right now.

Left critics of Oslo, and I am one, have long attacked Arafat for his agreement to a plan reminiscent of the 1960's-era South African plan for the creation of "autonomous" bantustans; for his serving as an Israeli client, policing the Palestinians so they wouldn't have to; for his childlike faith in the United States as a guarantor of the interests of the Palestinian people; and for much more.

But this is a one-sided characterization of an extraordinary man. In 1969, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said,
"It was not as if there was a Palestinian people in Palestine and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist."
Well, as Eqbal Ahmed once said, "They damn well exist now." Yasir Arafat, more than any other person, is responsible for this existence, against all odds -- at least until the coming of what Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani called the "children of the stones."

Ramzy Baroud, a Palestinian journalist for al-Jazeera, has written a powerful piece on Life Without Arafat. Here's an excerpt:
As a child I often witnessed Israeli soldiers forcing young Palestinians to their knees in my refugee camp in Gaza, threatening to beat them if they did not spit upon a photo of Yasser Arafat. "Say Arafat is a jackass," the soldiers would scream. No one would exchange his safety for insulting an image of Arafat. They would endure pain and injury, but would say nothing.

It was not the character of Arafat that induced such resilience but what the man represented.
He is to be buried in Ramallah, at the Muqata'a, where the Israelis effectively entombed him for the last few years. It is my hope that one day he will be buried in a Jerusalem that is the capital of a unified nation at peace, in which civil and other rights are not defined by racial, religious, or ethnic identification, and in which citizens are judged, as Martin Luther King said, on the content of their character.

November 10, 8:50 pm. The assault on Fallujah has delayed me in writing about what we can expect from Bush's second term. It amazes me to see Democrats talking about who to run for president in '08, as if they don't realize that there is a storm gathering on the horizon like none we've seen in this country for a long time.

More on this next week, but anyway in this context I've heard progressives speculating that Bush will rule more moderately in his second term, and adducing the rumors (now of course confirmed) that Ashcroft would step down as Attorney General as evidence of this.

My response, of course, was that Ashcroft is too moderate for the extremists and that they would come up with someone worse. It turns out I was right.

November 10, 10:15 am. Dahr Jamail has several new dispatches from Baghdad. In one of his dispatches issued yesterday, he quotes one Iraqi on the question of who is still in Fallujah:
“So many people in Falluja are poor and cannot leave. Land and houses in Baghdad are both very expensive, and so many people in Falluja are too poor to leave,” Aziz said with resignation, “The Americans are doing what they did last time-taking control of the main hospital and not letting the hospitals and clinics and ambulances function. They are killing civilians, just like before.”
Also check out a post from Riverbend, an Iraqi woman from Baghdad, called Rule of Iraq Assassins Must End (a phrase recently uttered by Donald Rumsfeld).

November 8, 3:28 pm. The New York Times article I cited earlier, G.I.'s Open Attack to Take Fallujah from Iraq Rebels, has been expanded in today's print edition and on the Web.

Here's the key excerpt:

It was the second time in six months that a battle had raged in Falluja. In April, American troops were closing in on the city center when popular uprisings broke out in cities across Iraq. The outrage, fed by mostly unconfirmed reports of large civilian casualties, forced the Americans to withdraw.

American commanders regarded the reports as inflated, but it was impossible to determine independently how many civilians had been killed. The hospital was selected as an early target because the American military believed that it was the source of rumors about heavy casualties.

"It's a center of propaganda," a senior American officer said Sunday.

This time around, the American military intends to fight its own information war, countering or squelching what has been one of the insurgents' most potent weapons. The military hopes that if it can hold its own in that war, then the armed invasion - involving as many as 25,000 American and Iraqi troops, all told - will smash what has become the largest remaining insurgent stronghold in Iraq.

And with only three months to go until the country's first democratic elections, American and Iraqi officials are grasping for any tool at their command to bring the insurgency under control.

The hospital was one of the primary initial targets of the assault, occupied by U.S. soldiers, with patients and doctors initially handcuffed. Later, doctors were allowed to resume treating patients, but it's for damn sure that few if any of Fallujah's wounded will be brought there -- and, in fact, with both bridges seized, it will be nearly impossible (Fallujah General is across the Euphrates from most of the city), as it was during the last assault.

It was selected as a target because it was the source of "rumors" that were "unconfirmed" about civilian casualties -- i.e., doctors who treated the patients and communicated with other doctors treating patients compiled estimates and gave them to those few journalists who wanted to know.

The U.S. military, of course, which claims never to count civilian dead, and distances itself from the people of Fallujah with a wall of metal, gunfire, artillery fire, and heavy bombs, is in a much better position to estimate civilian dead than the doctors who treat them.

The military "intends to fight its own information war." Of course, information about the truth has been a "potent weapon" for those who oppose the invasion, because Iraqis, Arabs in general, some Western Europeans, and a handful of Americans have learned that truth and tried to act on it.

That must be changed. Since hospitals and information itself are the primary initial targets, the only conclusion can be that the United States wants to cover up in advance the atrocities it will commit, atrocities almost certainly on a greater scale than in the last assault.

When the United States bombed Serbian TV during the war on Yugoslavia, with the same rationale that it spread propaganda and was thus a military target, Amnesty International determined that the attack was a war crime. How much greater a war crime it is to occupy a hospital (oh, and just by the way, the U.S. military is launching attacks on the resistance from positions near the hospital, thus making it in effect a military target for the other side as well) because it is reporting on the victims of this brutal assault.

If you want a symbol of Bush's second term, at home and abroad, there is no more potent one than this action.

November 8, 12:25 pm. All bounds have just been passed. Read this Times article, G.I.'s Open Attack to Take Falluja From Iraq Rebels. Fallujah's hospital has just been taken by American soldiers. This is why:

It was the second time in six months that a battle had raged in Falluja. In April, American troops were closing in on the city center when popular uprisings broke out in cities across Iraq. The outrage, fed by mostly unconfirmed reports of large civilian casualties, forced the Americans to withdraw.

American commanders regarded the reports as inflated, but it was impossible to determine independently how many civilians had been killed. The hospital was selected as an early target because the American military believed that it was the source of rumors about heavy casualties.

"It's a center of propaganda," a senior American officer said Sunday
The hospital was shut down because doctors told people how many innocents were killed by the American assault, thus making it a military target. Any pretence of civilization is now gone.

Also, read this incredibly powerful post from Under the Same Sun.

November 7, 10:15 pm. U.S. bombing of Fallujah has just demolished a newly-built, just-opened hospital, the Nazzal Emergency Hospital.

After waiting for "permission" from Ayad Allawi (i.e., after doing preliminary bombing to soften up their targets), apparently U.S. forces have begun ground movements leading to the final offensive.

Allawi declared martial law for 60 days, across the whole country except for the three northern Kurdish-run governorates, ostensibly to guarantee security before the elections, now scheduled for January 27. In truth, of course, security for the elections could have been imposed a week in advance. There are two reasons for this declaration of martial law.

First, and most important, the political climated created by the first assault on Fallujah, and by the defeat (withdrawal of U.S. forces without gaining their political objective) has meant that resistance forces can counterattack across much of the country while U.S. forces are concentrating on Fallujah. The imposition of martial law across everything but northern Iraq is, and will be necessary, in any such attack in the future.

Second, there is a call for Iraqis, especially in Baghdad, to engage in mass civil resistance to help stave off the assault on Fallujah. Under martial law conditions, this may become impossible.

My friend and colleague Dahr Jamail is, amazingly, back in Baghdad. He's very restricted in what he can do, but he has posted a dispatch from Baghdad, called Carnage and Martial Law. Please go read it. As I understand, Dahr has enough money to stay for about two-thirds as long as he wants to. If you can contribute to help him do this important work, please do. And let's hope he manages to keep himself alive. Unfortunately, as we know, many people in Fallujah will not.

P.S. When I read about the hospital, I was worried about Makki al-Nazzal, the man I spoke with extensively when I was in Fallujah in April. He lives in that area of the town. Fortunately, I found out from the Post that he was part of a delegation to Baghdad trying desperate negotiations to head off the assault.

November 6, 1:15 pm. Another quick post before I run off to spend the whole day speaking. I've been speaking about the elections, about hope and despair, and about the need to start over ab initio (and, of course, how the colonial war in Iraq fits into that context). I'm going to try to get audio and maybe a transcript to put up.

But for now Iraq. A couple of great victories for Iraqi democracy recently.

First and foremost, the assault on Fallujah has begun. If you remember, we've seen weeks of escalation, with news articles every day about "Marines preparing for assault," "G.I.'s Itch to Prove Their Mettle in Falluja," and more. We also saw a pattern of strikes in residential neighborhoods on "Zarqawi safe houses."

Now, the true aerial assault has begun. All roads to Fallujah and Ramadi have been closed, with only "families" allowed to leave (i.e, "military-age males" can't leave by themselves). There is an escalating pattern of strikes on "suspected rebel targets." Dozens of houses and a medical warehouse have been destroyed.

All that is lacking is tightening the noose on the ground. The reporting is low-key, so that people don't notice the war on Fallujah has started until it's well along. But it has started.

In other news of the farcical progress toward "democracy" in Iraq, apparently, according to the Times, the Iraqi government has chosen to allow Iraqi expatriates to vote in the scheduled January elections.

This is done against the advice of the U.N., and is simply something that is virtually unheard of. Even in Afghanistan, expatriates were not allowed to vote. The difficulties with regard to vote fraud are even greater with expatriates, but most important they don't have to live in the country they are shaping with their votes. It's an indefensible move. With a generally estimated four million Iraqis living out of the country, it's also something that could easily sway the elections.

The Times paints it as something done at the behest of Sistani and the Shi'a parties, against the objections of the United States, because Iraqi expatriates are mostly Shi'a. This is, of course, in keeping with the trend of Americans explaining everything in Iraq as having to do with internal ethnic and sectarian differences, rather than having to do with opposition to foreign occupation.

In fact, the U.S. government has shown, the Allawi government has no independence of action. This was made crystal clear in October, when the United States nixed a plan to have Muslim peacekeeping troops sent in to help U.N. observers in setting up elections, even though the Allawi government was in favor of it (also read the original Newsday article here).

So, the unstated factor is clearly that Iraqi expatriates would be much more likely to ratify a U.S. choice for puppet figurehead than Iraqis living in Iraq would, so this new policy helps the United States in its quest to pretend that it has brought democracy to Iraq while fixing the results in advance. It's very hard to believe that the United States opposed this.

November 5, 7:55 pm. Two quick responses to my recent writing on Fallujah that I'd like to share with you, one from a current military person and one apparently from an ex-military person:
how dare you call Americans ruthless................with the animals that occupy that city


However, having killed my own number of ragheads and my strong support of genocide of the Arab race and Muslim religion, stands. These are a people who have no business living. None of them. Women, children, old men and any other filthy pig fucker. We should systematically eliminate them all.
No, I couldn't make these up. Yes, this is America.

November 5, 7:25 pm. Unfortunately, I've had no time to post on the vast number of things that require posting. Now that it seems the assault on Fallujah has started, though, here's a piece about it:
Fallujah and the Reality of War

The assault on Fallujah has started. It is being sold as liberation of the people of Fallujah; it is being sold as a necessary step to implementing “democracy” in Iraq. These are lies.

I was in Fallujah during the siege in April, and I want to paint for you a word picture of what such an assault means.

Fallujah is dry and hot; like Southern California, it has been made an agricultural area only by virtue of extensive irrigation. It has been known for years as a particularly devout city; people call it the City of a Thousand Mosques. In the mid-90’s, when Saddam wanted his name to be added to the call to prayer, the imams of Fallujah refused.

U.S. forces bombed the power plant at the beginning of the assault; for the next several weeks, Fallujah was a blacked-out town, with light provided by generators only in critical places like mosques and clinics. The town was placed under siege; the ban on bringing in food, medicine, and other basic items was broken only when Iraqis en masse challenged the roadblocks. The atmosphere was one of pervasive fear, from bombing and the threat of more bombing. Noncombatants and families with sick people, the elderly, and children were leaving in droves. After initial instances in which people were prevented from leaving, U.S. forces began allowing everyone to leave – except for what they called “military age males,” men usually between 15 and 60. Keeping noncombatants from leaving a place under bombardment is a violation of the laws of war. Of course, if you assume that every military age male is an enemy, there can be no better sign that you are in the wrong country, and that, in fact, your war is on the people, not on their oppressors,, not a war of liberation.

The main hospital in Fallujah is across the Euphrates from the bulk of the town. Right at the beginning, the Americans shut down the main bridge, cutting off the hospital from the town. Doctors who wanted to treat patients had to leave the hospital, with only the equipment they could carry, and set up in makeshift clinics all over the city; the one I stayed at had been a neighborhood clinic with one room that had four beds, and no operating theater; doctors refrigerated blood in a soft-drink vending machine. Another clinic, I’m told, had been an auto repair shop. This hospital closing (not the only such that I documented in Iraq) also violates the Geneva Convention.

In Fallujah, you were rarely free of the sound of artillery booming in the background, punctuated by the smaller, higher-pitched note of the mujaheddin’s hand-held mortars. After even a few minutes of it, you have to stop paying attention to it – and yet, of course, you never quite stop. Even today, when I hear the roar of thunder, I’m often transported instantly to April 10 and the dusty streets of Fallujah.

In addition to the artillery and the warplanes dropping 500, 1000, and 2000-pound bombs, and the murderous AC-130 Spectre gunships that can demolish a whole city block in less than a minute, the Marines had snipers criss-crossing the whole town. For weeks, Fallujah was a series of sometimes mutually inaccessible pockets, divided by the no-man’s-lands of sniper fire paths. Snipers fired indiscriminately, usually at whatever moved. Of 20 people I saw come into the clinic I observed in a few hours, only five were “military-age males.” I saw old women, old men, a child of 10 shot through the head; terminal, the doctors told me, although in Baghdad they might have been able to save him.

One thing that snipers were very discriminating about – every single ambulance I saw had bullet holes in it. Two I inspected bore clear evidence of specific, deliberate sniping. Friends of mine who went out to gather in wounded people were shot at. When we first reported this fact, we came in for near-universal execration. Many just refused to believe it. Some asked me how I knew that it wasn’t the mujaheddin. Interesting question. Had, say, Brownsville, Texas, been encircled by the Vietnamese and bombarded (which, of course, Mr. Bush courageously protected us from during the Vietnam war era) and Brownsville ambulances been shot up, the question of whether the residents were shooting at their own ambulances, I somehow guess, would not have come up. Later, our reports were confirmed by the Iraqi Ministry of Health and even by the U.S. military.

The best estimates are that roughly 900-1000 people were killed directly, blown up, burnt, or shot. Of them, my guess, based on news reports and personal observation, is that 2/3 to ¾ were noncombatants.

But the damage goes far beyond that. You can read whenever you like about the bombing of so-called Zarqawi safe houses in residential areas in Fallujah, but the reports don’t tell you what that means. You read about precision strikes, and it’s true that America’s GPS-guided bombs are very accurate – when they’re not malfunctioning, the 80 or 85% of the time that they work, their targeting radius is 10 meters, i.e., they hit within 10 meters of the target. Even the smallest of them, however, the 500-pound bomb, has a blast radius of 400 meters; every single bomb shakes the whole neighborhood, breaking windows and smashing crockery. A town under bombardment is a town in constant fear.

You read the reports about X killed and Y wounded. And you should remember those numbers; those numbers are important. But equally important is to remember that those numbers lie – in a war zone, everyone is wounded.

The first assault on Fallujah was a military failure. This time, the resistance is stronger, better-armed, and better-organized; to “win,” the U.S. military will have to pull out all the stops. Even within horror and terror, there are degrees, and we – and the people of Fallujah – ain’t seen nothin’ yet. George W. Bush has just claimed a new mandate – the world has been delivered into his hands.

There will be international condemnation, as there was the first time; but our government won’t listen to it; aside from the resistance, all the people of Fallujah will be able to depend on to try to mitigate the horror will be us, the antiwar movement. We have a responsibility, that we didn’t meet in April and we didn’t meet in August when Najaf was similarly attacked; will we meet it this time?
November 4, 4:30 am. I'm about to leave on a tour of Southern California, speaking today, tomorrow, and Saturday. The details of appearances are below:
  • November 4th, 8 pm, 33 ⅓ Books at 1200 North Alvarado Street, Los  Angeles, (213) 483-3500
  • November 5th, 7 pm, 2000+ Books at 309 Pine Avenue in Long Beach, (562) 435-1199
  • November 6th, 1-2 pm, First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego at 4190 Front Street, San Diego, (619) 298-9978
  • November 6th, 7 pm, Casa del Pueblo Cooperative at 1498 Sunset Blvd. #2 in Echo Park, (213) 481-1986 (with KPFK’s Sonali Kolhatkar)
If you know people in the area, please let them know.
November 4, 4:29 am. I'm still here. It's just that this result brings up so many thoughts that I need some time to process them. Very quick thoughts:

This is a huge defeat. Kerry's losing means nothing; Bush's winning means everything. Tariq Ali and others were right about that (to say that therefore the antiwar movement should mobilize for Kerry was a different statement and one that I still disagree with today). This is shattering. It will be interpreted, rightly, by the world and by many in this country as a ratification of Bush's imperialistic, dictatorial, dishonest, and unbelievably destructive policies.

Kerry's concession speech, in which he talked about "healing the wounds" and all of that garbage that losers, especially Democratic losers, always say, was a really stupid thing to do. If Bush "reaches across the aisle," it will be to strangle his opponents. Expect things to get a lot worse. I wrote a month and a half ago about Hindenburg not being exactly the greatest bulwark against Hitler, but electing Hitler? That's a little much to swallow.

All this talk about "did Bush get a mandate" is nonsense. Mandates are not given, they are taken. Bush has the power, therefore he gets to decide if he has a mandate.

This election unfortunately was not a referendum on the occupation or on the "war on terrorism." That would have required some significant, easily graspable divergence of views between the major candidates. The country is evenly split on the occupation of Iraq. This is not for moral reasons; the predominant sentiment against those who oppose the occupation is that "Iraq is not worth it." This makes a difference in terms of political opposition, rather than just opposition expressed in a poll. Still, the country is split.

This election was about the victory, not so much of imperial arrogance and neocolonialism or of crony-capitalist "free market" fundamentalism, but of stupidity. Tom Coburn was elected to the Senate in Oklahoma; while campaigning, at one point he said, "lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go to the bathroom. Now think about it. Think about that issue. How is it that that's happened to us?"

Jim Bunning was re-elected to the Senate in Kentucky. He is senile. He said his opponent looked like one of Saddam's sons, admitted he hadn't read a newspaper in six weeks, and reneged on a promise to debate his opponent in a public forum, instead teleconferencing in from  remote location where he could read from a teleprompter.

Voters who said honesty was their key consideration for a candidate voted for Bush over Kerry 2 to 1.

The crucial margin in this election came because of gay marriage and the fact that banning it was on the ballot in at least 11 states. This enhanced turnout among conservative evangelicals who weren't all that motivated by Bush, who has not really moved their agenda.

When the United States has launched an imperial crusade that imperils the world and is likely to suffer a defeat as stunning as that in the Vietnam War, these people mobilized to vote because letting homosexuals marry each other "threatens" their marriage.

The victory of stupidity.

This is a time to wallow in the defeat. Let's not shrug it off too quickly. Let's acknowledge what it means in a world that is in the process of being torn apart by a new crusade. When we move on to try to find hope, let's start with a rational core, not one built out of wishful thinking, fantasies about how the world works, and self-congratulation.

I'm naturally perverse. In times of hope, I look for sources of despair; now, I'm looking for signs of hope. Will report when I find them.

November 2, 1:50 pm. Apologies. When I posted my intro to Naomi Klein yesterday, I mixed things up and replaced the end of the introduction with duplicated text from higher up. So if you read it you missed the last four paragraphs. That's been fixed and you can read it here.

Today is Election Day. If you haven't voted yet, go vote. If you don't believe in voting, do it as an act of postmodern anarchist culture-jamming or as a sardonic comment on the mundane obsessions of the hoi-polloi. If you need to fool yourself into believing that voting is a revolutionary act in order to vote, watch Eminem's remarkable and disturbing video, then vote.

On the way home yesterday, I passed a homeless man earnestly telling passersby to be sure to vote. The other 1460 days of the quadrennium, I react with annoyance that people can still think that voting is the summum of political engagement; today, however, for an hour or two at any rate it's nice to feel that spirit of solidarity as voters, of agreement that we all share at least one basic obligation. It's a pale echo of the feeling of human solidarity one feels and I felt, for example, in the Seattle demonstrations, where we all had the same job to do and we instinctively looked out for each other; but for many people in this atomized society, it's as close as they get.

But while you're standing in line to vote, be thinking about what you do tomorrow, because that's more important.

November 1, 6:11 am. On Sunday, I introduced Naomi Klein to an audience of about 500 in Austin. Because of the imminent danger of a major assault on Fallujah after the election (the U.S. hatchet man, Ayad Allawi, has just said that "the time is closing down" and "we are approaching the end"), I spoke about Fallujah and what I saw there during the assault and siege in April, before actually doing the introduction.

What I tried to do was paint a picture, not only of what U.S. forces did to the town in April, but of what it's like being in a war zone. I've posted my remarks here.
Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and BeyondBush, Iraq, and Demonstration Elections Notes on Bush RNC Speech"Report from Baghdad -- Hospital Closings and U.S. War Crimes "Report from Baghdad -- Winning Hearts and Minds"Report from Fallujah -- Destroying a Town in Order to "Save" it"Report from Baghdad -- Opening the Gates of Hell"War on Terrorism" Makes Us All Less Safe Bush -- Is the Tide Turning?Perle and FrumIntelligence Failure Kerry vs. Dean SOU 2004: Myth and Reality