smhwpf: (Way out)
Credit where due, on the other hand, the annoucenment of the withdrawal of US combat troops by 2010, just a few months behing Obama's original schedule, is a positive.

Hopefully this marks the beginning of the end of the Iraq war, a war which to his credit Obama opposed from the word go - thus enabling him to represent the large sections of US and world opinion that were against or had turned against the war. The way he talks about it - about what a wonderful job the US troops have done and how the Iraqis need to take repsonsibility now - ignoring the unspeakable terror and destruction the US has put that country through - is galling to say the least, but fairly inevitable. (Like in Vietnam, Americans act as if they're the real victims here.)

There are some major 'buts' here. Most importantly that (as Obama said all along in his campaign), this is not a complete withdrawal, just of 'combat' troops. There will be a 'residual' force of up to 50,000 (some 'residual') to train the Iraqi army and 'fight terrorism'. What 'fighting terrorism' will involve if not 'combat' is unclear.

During Obama's campaign, it was not even clear how long this 'residual' force was to stay. Possibly indefinitely. However Obama's campaign was overtaken by events - the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed by the Bush administration with Iraq last December provides for the exit of all US troops by the end of 2011. This seems to have been the result of a strong assertion of sovereignty by the Iraqi government, which enforced both a tighter set of conditions on US troops than the Americans wanted, and an earlier exit. Which was almost certainly essential to have any chance of getting the SOFA through the Iraqi Parliament (and the referendum to be held this year.) The Iraqis overwhelmingly want US troops out.

Here is where another major 'but' comes in: the SOFA, and an attendent Strategic Framework Agreement, allows for changes to the SOFA if both parties agree, in particular for the Iraqi government to request US forces to stay beyond the end of 2011. Which raises the question of how well able an Iraqi government would feel to resist a suggestion from the US that they issue just such a 'request'.

A lot of left-wing commentators I've seen, including ones who I regard as having a pretty level-headed analysis of things, have drawn attention to these ambiguities. Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies just earlier today (before Obama's speech), for example, who also lists a number of other concerns.

Obama's statement does not settle all these questions. The 19-month withdrawal of most troops would certainly be consistent with the 2011 withdrawal of all troops, indeed they'd have to be well along the road to withdrawal by then. But one positive sign is that he did reiterate what the SOFA said, that all US forces would be out by the end of 2011. That doesn't rule out changing his mind if he becomes convinced that this would be in US interests, but it does mean that such a move would go directly against what he said in his official big "We're Ending the War" speech. So he's made a reversal slightly more difficult for himself.

The peace movement in the US and elsewhere still has an important role in holding the US to the comittment to withdraw, and not to attempt to persuade the Iraqis to extend the US stay. However I suspect that what will really guarantee full US withdrawal is neither Obama's promise nor (currently rather ineffective) western peace movements, but the Iraqis themselves. Any Iraqi government that attempted to allow the Americans to stay a moment longer than necessary would likely face the wrath of their people, and risk adding fuel to renewed conflict. (Not that conflict in Iraq is over, far from it, though it is clearly at a lower level - I could go into why this is not primarily the result of the 'surge' but it'd take too long. Just read Juan Cole passim).

So it may be, insh'allah, that the war really is on the way to being over. But as Bennis says, there are still far too many 'buts'.
smhwpf: (Winter is coming)
Yet more craziness and slaughter in Iraq, as forces of Nouri al-Maliki's government continue their assault on the Mehdi army militia in Basra. This attack has been loudly praised by George Bush, and US and UK planes have chimed in with air attacks.

Things have been pretty horrendous in Basra, controlled by rival Shia militias (including the Badr brigade, which is the militia of al-Maliki's Dawa party.), and their rule has not been pretty, especially for women. But so this is the way to solve it? Start an all-out civil war (on top of the various other civil wars still raging in Iraq) in an attempt to destroy the official 'bad guys'?

Juan Cole is probably the best available regular commentary in English on what's going on in Iraq. He reckons (amongst others) that this move is linked to forthcoming provincial elections in Iraq in October, in which al-Maliki and the US are distinctly afraid that Muqtada al-Sadr's party, of which the Mehdi is the militia, will win in the Shia provinces. The Sadrists are strongly against the US presence in Iraq, and have at times been engaged in direct armed resistance against US and UK forces, though currently they are on ceasefire. (Not that the other Shiite parties are that thrilled about the occupation, and Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the spiritual leader of many Shia, including Maliki's party, has been a strong critic of the US presence. But US forces are what keep the government in power, so they go along.) So, destroy the militia, destroy the party may be the thinking. Whether it works is another matter, as the Sadrists are rather popular amongst the Shia, and the US - not so much.

So, Maliki, with the hand up his back moving his mouth barely hidden, vows to fight the Sadrists to the death. Attempts at negotiations are stifled. Basra - and now many other areas of southern Iraq - is turned into a warzone, the US and UK drop righteous bombs which only ever kill "militants" (except that Iraqi sources, including police and medical, have an annoying habit of revealing that actually they were civilians), and the humanitarian situation - never good, with the chronic failure of the 'rebuilding' project in Iraq to provide basic services - deteriorates further.

Thing is, it's not just Iraq. It's the same pattern in every conflict at the moment where the US see their interests as at stake. In Afghanistan, the heavy-handed military approach to dealing with the Taliban insurgency, where Coalition forces appear to be killing more civilians than the Taliban. President Hamid Karzai occasionally makes protests for form's sake, but he's not the one calling the shots. Talk to the Hand.

Then there's Somalia. Without a government since 1991, it was largely controlled by various warlords [1], although there was a theoretical Transitional Government that controlled only the town of Baidoa. In 2006, an Islamist group, the Union of Islamic Courts, captured a large chunk of territory, including the capital Mogadishu, temporarily ending the warlords' rule.

Now these were probably not an entirely nice bunch, but maybe that might have been an opportunity for, say, some sort of negotiations between the UIC and the Transitional Government? Maybe there'd have even been a vague chance of uniting the country? But noooo, the US decides (without any actual evidence) that the UIC are linked to Al-Qaida, and instead back an invasion by Ethiopia. The Ethiopians force the UIC out of Mogadishu in short order, but then comes the inevitable insurgency, plus the warlords return to Mogadishu, as always no-one is particularly keen on foreign occupation (and Somalia and Ethiopia have something of a history) and now aid agencies say that a humanitarian catastrophe is impending. Another triumph of US policy!

Then there's Palestine. Leaving aside the US's ongoing unconditional support for Israel, there's their role in the intra-Palestinian conflict between Fatah and Hamas. which has been, of course, to stoke it up as much as possible. Ever since Hamas unexpectedly won the 2006 elections, they have been doing their darndest to overturn that result, leading an international boycott of the PA, plunging the Palestinians into even deeper poverty, and opposing all attempts at dialogue between the parties, continuing to boycott the unity government that was set up early in 2007.

Then of course there was the Hamas coup in Gaza, since when that territory has been kept under siege. As I said at the time, there was a lot to suggest this was pretty much the inevitable outcome of US policy of playing the two sides against each other. But recently there's been evidence that their role was even more direct than this, with Vanity Fair claiming to have leaked documents showing that the US was arming Fatah forces under Mohammed Dahlan, their strongman in Gaza, and was seeking to orchestrate a coup against Hamas - a policy which of course went horribly wrong with Hamas winning the battle instead.

Every time, every situation, the US policy is the same. Pick an ally, decide who the bad guys are, and pursue a military solution to wipe the bad guys out, and never mind how many innocent people suffer in the process. Pretty much every case where the US's baleful influence is felt, the result is humanitarian catastrophe. You think they might have noticed by now that it doesn't work? Except at one level it does work. Doesn't solve the problem, but it does succeed in dividing and ruling, preventing any unity amongst the subject population that might oppose US interests.

One final case where things may be going a little bit differently - Pakistan. There, the US had President Musharraf as their friendly dictator, pursuing the usual strategy against Taliban insurgents in the North-West Frontier Province. Rather horribly ineffectually, and with the usual dire consequences. But in February, parliamentary elections led to the overwhelming defeat of Musharraf's allies, and a governing coalition that has left the President isolated. And now the new government, unbeholden to the US, wants to try a different approach, with more talk and less killing. No, not suddenly becoming pacifist, and yes the insurgents they're dealing with are an extremely unpleasant bunch, but now that the Pakistanis are free(r) to choose their own approach, they've decided that maybe there's a better way than fighting until every last enemy is dead, no matter the cost. Good luck to them.

I hope, hope to God that things might be a little different with a new Administration - not that evil began with Bush and every past US government was pure as the driven, but there does seem to be a strong current in US opinion that is heartily sick of perpetual war, which might just find a voice in a Democrat Whitehouse. McCain, who gets far too easy a ride in the British press, let alone the American, quite clearly represents more, even more of the same - if anything, "no more Mr. Nice Guy", and I shudder to think what the future holds if he wins.

[1]Except for the self-declared republic of Somaliland in the North, which I gather is fairly peaceful, although it is not recognised by the UN, and the region of Puntland which is likewise de-facto self-governing
smhwpf: (Handala)
Award-winning Iraqi blogger Riverbend is leaving Iraq. She and her family are joining 4 million Iraqis who have been displaced since the war started, around half within their country and half abroad - mostly in Jordan and Syria, where they face increasingly desperate conditions, with scant help from the people who created the situation in the first place. Very few Iraqis make it to the US or the UK. And the UK, almost unbelievably, not only fails to take in Iraqi refugees, but is even still deporting some of those who do make it.

Riverbend has been, and hopefully will remain albeit from exile, a powerful voice of truth, compassion and anger from Iraq. The sort of voice Iraq can ill afford to lose.

"So we've been busy. Busy trying to decide what part of our lives to leave behind. Which memories are dispensable? We, like many Iraqis, are not the classic refugees- the ones with only the clothes on their backs and no choice. We are choosing to leave because the other option is simply a continuation of what has been one long nightmare- stay and wait and try to survive.

The problem is that we don't even know if we'll ever see this stuff again. We don't know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends… And to what?

It's difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain."

Four years

Mar. 22nd, 2007 12:49 am
smhwpf: (Despair)
Four years ago today, the United States and Britain invaded Iraq.

655,000 dead, according to the best available estimate from the Lancet. 2 million have fled Iraq for neighbouring countries, and 1.9 million are internally displaced, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. From a population of around 28 million. Many are killed by our own forces; oh, it doesn't get reported much, but the US has been intsensifying its air war in Iraq, a tactic that inevitably leads to indiscriminate killing. But many more are now killed not by the US/UK forces themselves, but by the forces unleashed by the occupation, the sectarian violence that has been the result of the Coalition's manouevres to try to control a hostile population. But all of it follows from that first act, the crime of aggression, which "contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole" as the Nurenberg Tribunals found.

But all, or most of this is commonplace by now, and the arguments as to why it was a bad idea scarcely need repeating.

A day perhaps, rather, simply to mourn, to mourn the dead and the suffering of all involved, and to mourn the failures of our collactive humanity and of our democracies that allowed this to happen - and how it can be stopped from happening again.

Our leaders, pursuing their own malign agendas, lied. Our obedient media broadcast the lies uncritically. Our craven legislators followed their leaders, whether from blind loyalty or the fear of seeming unpatriotic. So many people bought into the lies, swallowed the fear, blew the patriotic trumpet; the small lies about WMD, but also the big lie behind all the others, the lie that is so all-pervasive it hardly needs to be stated - that 'we' are the good guys, that 'our' goals must be by definition virtuous and benevolent, even if there is debate about the means.

And we, who saw through the lies, or at least some of them, who saw something of what a disaster this invasion would be (though I don't think anyone imagined just how much. When Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak prophecied that it would 'open the gates of Hell', I thought he was speaking in hyperbole), we did not do enough to stop it.

Maybe we never could have done. Maybe not. But whatever we did, it was not enough.

Two million marched in the streets of London; (I was not one of them, for I was in Stockholm at the time, and was one of the 35,000 marching there.) Biggest demonstration in British history. When recently one million people signed an internet petition against road pricing, people said "Surely the government can't go ahead now", and indeed the Government looks to be backing off. Signed a fricking petition. Showed just how much they cared. Two million got off their arses and spent a day marching in the cold and the Government ignored them.

I always say that the two million who marched that day made one fatal mistake: they went home. The government can ignore any number of people who march around London for a day with placards and then go home. Especially when it comes to a war, because if (as they will always assume) the war is won, public opinion will usually come onside. The only way Britain's entry into the Iraq war could have been prevented, I believe, is if enough people that day had stayed on the streets, had surrounded Parliament and filled Whitehall, and refused to budge until Blair resigned and the threat of war removed. I'm not talking about overthwrowing the system here; merely forcing the resignation of a leader and new elections. It's been done recently in a number of other countries where the government has flouted the will of the people, and our leaders and media have applauded.

And that, I suspect, is the only thing that would have a chance of stopping our leaders going to war against Iran, if that is what they are set on doing; a war whose consequences could be truly Apocalyptic, putting even Iraq in the shade. I read many articles from a variety of commentators as to whether this is likely, and some say it is, and some say it is not; (more of the first I think). And not just leftists, but a fair few Neo-cons are convinced that this, which is what they want, will indeed happen. At any rate, I do not think we can afford to be complacent, or assume that because Iraq is going so badly they "couldn't be so crazy" as to attack Iran. They could be more than crazy enough. So many people thought "No, they wouldn't actually do it" over Iraq, until it was realised too late that that is exactly what they were going to do.

In the United States, Congress has now flunked what could be the last opportunity to place legislative shackles on the Bush administration, with Democrats (influenced in part by the Israeli lobby) abandoning plans to attach a rider to the Appropriations bill for Iraq that would have required specific Congressional authority for an attack on Iran.

As for Britain, it is hard to believe that the government would support an attack on Iran, but we have been here before; the public is at least (for now) far more sceptical now about justifications for military attacks, according to a BBC poll. But I truly believe that Tony Blair would follow George Bush into Hell, regardless of the opinions of party, Parliament or people. And as for Parliament, there are still enough blind Blair loyalists, and the Tories, for all Cameron's fluffiness, remain a party of war.

If Bush decided to attack Iran, and Blair were intent on following him, it would once again be up to the people to stop them. And like last time, asking nicely or even threatening to withold votes will not cut it. (Bush and Blair in any case have no further interest in re-election.) If the time comes to march against imminent war in Iran, then march we must; but if we value the future of humanity, we must not go home at the end of the day. We must not go home.

Do people care enough? Do people have enough belief anymore that would they do can make a difference? Are people willing to take risks and step beyond the comfortable and predictable to be able to make such a difference?

No, almost certainly not. And perhaps that above all is to be mourned.
smhwpf: (Angel)
Needless to say I am delighted by the release of the CPT hostages in Iraq, Norman Kember, James Loney and Harmeet Sooden. Though we can never forget Tom Fox, who did not return. He is with God now, so my faith holds, and praying for we who continue to struggle here on earth.

There seems to have been quite a lot of negative coverage of the CPT since the release/resuce - the suggestion being that they were foolish to be there in the first place, that they were putting the lives of those who had to rescue them in the end in danger, and that the fact that they had to be resuced by the military proves the folly of their pacifist ideals.

To these charges, I would first and foremost point out what Norman, James, Harmeet, Tom, and the rest of CPT Iraq were doing. They were there in solidarity with the Iraqi people. That's not some airy-fairy waffle. Their main specific work was working for the rights of Iraqi detainees in US and Iraqi custody, documenting human rights abuses, trying to gain family members access to their detained relatives, and raising awareness about the realities of what is going on in Iraq in their home countries, including promoting an "adopt a detainee" programme amongst churches.

Detainees in Iraq are often held for months or years without charge, frequently without their families having any idea where they are, and frequently subject to abuse. (Believe it or not, not every case of prisoner mistreatment gets videod and leaked to the media. The CPT were onto Abu Ghraib months before the scandal broke.) These detainees, and their families, most often have no-one to speak for them. No-one. Certainly no westerners, and it is westerners who have the best chance of being listened to. The CPT in Iraq are in many cases providing the only lifeline these detainees and their families have.

As well as this, CPTers continue to provide an alternative view of what's going on in Iraq, from the ground level, actually able to report what they're hearing and seeing from ordinary Iraqis, rather than relaying official briefings from the safety of the Green Zone. They are also working with Muslim groups to set up a Muslim Peacemaker Team. Most recently, some CPTers have been intervening on behalf of a group of Palestinian Iraqis trapped in the country, trying to escape from increasing violence against their community.

I understand that at one point the CPT were considering leaving Iraq because it was to dangerous, or even had left, but were asked to stay by Iraqis they are working with.

More about the CPT's work in Iraq can be found at this article in the Toronto Star, and at the CPT Iraq website.

Yes, being there was and is dangerous. So is being there as a soldier, or a contractor. So why is it OK for a soldier to put their life, and potentially other people's lives, at risk so that they can be there as an occupying army, or for a contractor to be there making vast profits for Halliburton, but not for someone to put their life at risk supporting human rights? All the CPTers knew the risks. They all underwent rigorous training and screening. And they all signed statements saying they did not want to be rescued by military force, in the event that they were taken hostage. They were willing to put their lives at risk, not out of some naive, starry-eyed idealism, but to provide very real and practical help and solidarity to people who had no-one else to speak for them.

In the end they were released with the aid of military forces. The operation was carried out, thankfully, without a shot being fired, and the hostage-takers were not there when the troops arrived. I suspect there is more to this story than we are currently being told. Apparently, CPT had been in contact with British forces, and the British assured Kember's family and church that they would only mount a rescue attempt if they could be reasonably confident no-one would be killed. It is to their credit that they kept to this.

The BBC has a discussion forum on the CPT hostages, so if anyone feels like adding a comment to counter all the negative views, that would be very welcome. Of course, if you want to add more negative views then that's up to you.
smhwpf: (Way out)
It's been a big news day in Iraq, as most people will probably be aware. The results of the constitutional referendum was announced, showing that Iraqi voters approved the proposed document by 78%, although 'no' voters were not far off achieving the 2/3 majority against in three provinces needed to block it. Meanwhile, the US military death toll in Iraq reached 2000. Oh, and some more bombs, this time in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqbodycount's (fairly conservative) estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths since the start of the war now stands at 26,670-30,051.

One piece of news from Iraq a few days ago that received a lot less coverage was the results of a leaked opinion poll that found that 82% of Iraqis 'strongly opposed' the presence of coalition troops in their country, and 45% thought attacks on the troops were justified. This figure was as high as 65% in one province, Maysan - not a Sunni province, but Shia, run by the British.

I find these figures interesting in a number of ways... )
smhwpf: (Going places)
Well, I'm all packed, and I've made sure I don't have anything on me that could connect me to that scoundrel Sam Perlo-Freeman, so pretty much all ready to go. Just about time for another quick update!

Interesting week. Was at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting in Bristol last night in fact - a Palestinian film-maker was there, Osama Qashoo, showing a short film called My beautiful olive tree, about the importance of said trees to the Palestinians, and footage of protests against the demolition of olive trees to make way for the wall. Also discussion of trying to get a twinning arrangement going between a school in Bristol and one in Tulkaram.

This evening, there was a vigil outside Easton Mosque, about 15 minutes cycle-ride from me - it's been firebombed twice since 7/7, and there have been a lot of attacks on Muslims, so it was a sort of communal solidarity thing, organised by various anti-war and lefty groups in the area. Pretty good turnout.

Couple of actual good news (from my pov) articles I think I'll post. First, the news that lone-wolf Christian peace campaigner Brian Haw has won his case in the High court to continue the anti-war protest he's maintained in Parliament Square since the invasion of Afghanistan. He's there 24/7, with a forest of placards, haranguing our Honorable representatives as they pass. Well, it seems the poor little lambs didn't like the horrible man being nasty to them, so they passed a law to get rid of him. Specifically, banning protests in Parliament Square - even of a single person - that didn't have prior police permission. Then, our beloved Home Secretary Charles Clarke sneakily extended it to any protest within half a mile of Parliament Square, which includes opposite Downing Street.

Only problem was, the idiots forgot to make the law retroactive. So Brian Haw successfully argued that as his protest started before the law was passed, it wasn't covered. So now the government'll be in the extraordinary position of having to pass a second law specifically aimed at a single individual! Or maybe they'll desist for sheer embarrasment.

They interviewed Haw on 5 Live. The presenter was extremely patronising and showed severe ignorance about what's going on in Iraq. Brian Haw strikes me as being like the Old Testament Prophets. Mad as a box of frogs, but knows when something terribly wrong is happening in his country, and is not going to shut up about it.

The second good news story is one that considerably restores my faith in the good sense of the American people. Apparently, the US Army and Marines are experiencing an unprecedented recruitment crisis. Young people are not signing up. Many people who do sign up are leaving after six months. Thousands have gone AWOL. Opinion surveys show young people much less willing to join up, and much fewer parents supporting the idea of their children joining the military. The reason, of course, being Iraq. According to the survey, potential recruits increasingly don't believe in the war, and have seen all the images of Abu Ghraib and so forth, and don't want to be a part of that.

It may be that the American Empire will fail because too many young Americans have too much sense to be willing to kill and die for it.

Ah well, just an hour to go till my coach. Better finish getting ready.
smhwpf: (Tea)
The personal... )

...and the political )

At a more domestic political level )

Well, those are my thoughts. But I will end once again with sympathies and prayers for those affected by the attacks. God be with the injured, bereaved and anxious, and may the dead rest in peace.
smhwpf: (Wesley)
*Deep breath*

OK, I've been meaning to post on this for a few days, but been busy/tired/not feeling well/watching my new DS9 DVDs/some combination of the above. Actually I've been meaning to make a proper post about Iraq since I've been on LJ, but anyway. Somehow it still seems to be in the news, includign right now the UK election news. Funny, that.

No I'm not going to talk about the Attorney General's legal advice )
smhwpf: (Giles party weasel)
The WMD saga is really getting quite farcical. Hilariously so, if it wasn't for the fact that it led to such a tragic loss of life. Correct that, hilariously so even though it did lead to such a tragic loss of life.

So Tony Blair didn't know that the claim in the September 2002 dossier that Iraq could have WMD ready for use in 45 minutes referred only to battlefield weapons and not to longer-range missiles.

This is quite remarkable. I mean, obviously this is ridiculous, a palpably absurd lie, and it's quite sadly funny to see the BBC, chastened by the Hutton whitewash, treating this at face value. But if it's actually true, it is really very, very worrying. It means that the Prime Minister led the country into war under a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the enemy's capabilities. And this is his defence? Apart from being grossly irresponsible in starting the war without understanding his own case properly, it would be perhaps even more grossly irresponsible in going to war without being properly prepared for what the enemy could or could not do.

I mean, let us suppose that Blair actually led us into Iraq believing that Saddam may well have had missiles that could launch WMD at British troops in Cyprus. So, did he ever ask, "What are we going to do if Saddam launches WMD at our troops in Cyprus?" Well, if he had asked this, then he would quite quickly been told, "Er, Prime Minister, Saddam doesn't have anything that can reach Cyprus with WMD. That's just battlefield weapons." So, if we are assuming Blair is being honest, and after all that good bastion of the Protestant ascendancy in Northern Ireland proved beyond all possible doubt that Blair is pure as the driven, then he can't have asked such a question, or he would have known.

Hence, he never asked such a question. In other words, in launching the invasion of Iraq, he took no steps to ensure that British troops would be protected from Saddam's dreadful chemical and biological retaliation against the boys in Cyprus that Blair believed he had the capability for. In other words, Blair has admitted to being a criminally incompetent war leader. We can all be very thankful that he was in fact so totally in error about Iraq's capabilities.

Or, he is merely a run-of-the-mill lying politician who took a carefully selected and spun sample of the available intelligence so as to justify a war that had very little to do with WMD, and everything to do with unconditional support for the US in their strategic land and oil grab. I'm actually beginning to think that this is a less scary prospect. I'd rather have a Prime Minister who makes deceitful and immoral choices but at least is calculating the consequences, than one who is on what he genuinely believes to be a moral crusade, but hasn't the faintest idea of what he's actually doing.


smhwpf: (Default)

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