Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Saad Shalash and Waleed Ibrahim, was distributred by Reuters, October 25, 2009
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two suicide bombs tore through Baghdad on Sunday, killing 132 people, wounding more than 500 and leaving mangled bodies and cars on the streets in one of Iraq's deadliest days this year.
The two blasts shredded buildings and smoke billowed from the area near the Tigris River. The first bomb targeted the Justice Ministry and the second, minutes later, was aimed at the nearby provincial government building, police said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office said that the bombs were meant to sow chaos in Iraq similar to attacks on August 19 against the finance and foreign ministries, and were aimed at stopping an election in January.
"It is the same black hands who are covered in the blood of the Iraqi people," a statement from Maliki's office said. "They want to cause chaos in the nation, hinder the political process and prevent the parliamentary election."
U.S. President Barack Obama said the bombings were outrageous and the White House said he had called Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to pledge to "stand with the Iraqis."
"These bombings serve no purpose other than the murder of innocent men, women and children, and they only reveal the hateful and destructive agenda of those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that they deserve," Obama said in a statement.
Violence has fallen since U.S.-backed tribal sheikhs helped wrest control from al Qaeda and Washington sent extra troops.
But attacks are still common in a nation trying to rebuild from years of conflict and prepare for the election at the same time as U.S. forces start to withdraw.
Officials have blamed unnamed neighbours for not stopping the attacks -- a reference to Iraqi complaints that Syria provides a safe haven for former Baathists while citizens of other Sunni Muslim states help fund the insurgency in Iraq. Iran, meanwhile, has been accused of funding and arming Shi'ite militia.
"The neighboring and distant countries should immediately refrain, forever, from harboring, financing and facilitating forces that openly proclaim their hostility to the Iraqi state," Talabani said in a statement.
Attacks could rise in the run-up to the election -- the second national vote since U.S. troops invaded in 2003 -- as forces in and around Iraq jockey for influence over the world's third largest oil reserves.
Some lawmakers criticized the security forces for failing to stop the attack. Government officials blamed the bombings on al Qaeda or remnants of former leader Saddam Hussein's Baath party. "Big Failure"
The area near the provincial building was flooded and fire fighters pulled charred and torn corpses off the streets. Burned cars piled up nearby. Workers on cranes combed the broken facade of the Justice Ministry, pulling out bodies wrapped in blankets.
"I don't know how I'm still alive. The explosion destroyed everything. Nothing is still in its place," shop owner Hamid Saadi told Reuters by telephone from near the Justice Ministry.
U.S. forces provided forensics teams and bomb experts.
Police sources said the bombs were carried in vans driven by suicide bombers while others said a truck and car were used.
The al-Mansour hotel, which houses the Chinese embassy and several foreign media groups, was also damaged.
U.S. officials say the attacks are aimed at reigniting the sectarian conflict that gripped Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion that deposed Saddam, or at undermining confidence in Maliki before the parliamentary poll.
Maliki is widely expected to campaign on improved security. The attacks were launched as his government tries to sign multi-billion dollar crude deals, expected to turn Iraq into the world's third largest oil producer.
The bombings raise doubts about the Iraqi forces' ability to take over overall security from U.S. soldiers who pulled out of Iraqi city centers in June ahead of the complete withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011.
"This breach is a big failure of the security forces who are responsible, along with the security officials, for what happened," said Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, who heads the parliamentary bloc of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of Maliki's main Shi'ite rivals in the coming election.
This article, by Heath Druzin, was published in Stars and Stripes, September 19, 2009
BAGHDAD — With more than two years left in the slow, regimented ending to a chaotic war, new rules placing tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops under virtual house arrest on their bases mean the American military increasingly finds itself a symbolic force in Iraq.
Whether it’s symbolic of a problem or a solution depends on whom you ask.
Many inside and outside the U.S. military are now calling for the United States to hasten its withdrawal from this still-fragile country. They point to a newly assertive Iraqi national government that has significantly curtailed the U.S. forces’ mission, an Iraqi public largely hostile to U.S. troops and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan urgently seeking more soldiers to wage the increasingly intractable war there.
About 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq — twice the size of the force in Afghanistan — but many have been moved from the combat outposts that were so key to Gen. David Petraeus’ "surge" strategy. Instead, under the terms of a security agreement worked out between the U.S. and the Iraqi government that pulled back American troops from Iraqi cities, the U.S. forces remain largely confined to sprawling bases resembling fortified towns, such as Baghdad’s Victory Base Complex.
Generally forbidden to patrol, the troops fill their days with training, maintaining equipment and packing up unneeded material for shipment out of Iraq.
Iraqi security forces still have the option to conduct joint patrols with Americans or to request their help, but it almost never happens. American troops are almost invisible in Iraqi cities, moving in the dead of night, and then only with Iraqi permission.
The U.S. is providing behind-the-scenes help with intelligence, training and air support, but day-to-day security is almost entirely an Iraqi enterprise.
"The thing is that we don’t really need the Americans to help us in the cities," said Lt. Gen. Ali Qaidan Majeed, commander of Iraqi ground forces.
U.S. Army Col. Timothy Reese, chief of the Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, argued in a recent memo titled "It’s Time for the U.S. to Declare Victory and Go Home" that the United States has done all it can for Iraq and should accelerate its scheduled withdrawal from the country to August 2010 — 16 months earlier than now planned.
"As the old saying goes, ‘guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,’ " Reese wrote. "Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose."
Reese continued: "Our combat operations are currently the victim of circular logic. We conduct operations to kill or capture violent extremists of all types to protect the Iraqi people and support the [Iraqi government]. The violent extremists attack us because we are still here conducting military operations."
In Baghdad, many troops echo Reese’s concerns, privately questioning how much more the U.S. can offer the Iraqi security forces. But they say that expressing such views publicly would threaten their military careers.
"I agree with [Reese] 100 percent, but you can’t say that out loud," said one officer who has worked closely with Iraqi security forces and who asked to remain anonymous. ‘Rethink the mission’
Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst and author of the Brookings Institution’s authoritative Iraq Index, agrees that the U.S. is overmanned for its new, limited missions.
But O’Hanlon does not endorse accelerating the withdrawal as quickly as Reese, citing the U.S. role in bolstering intelligence and training and mediating ethnic tensions in northern Iraq.
"It is true, at the moment we have too many troops for the missions we’re being allowed to perform," O’Hanlon said. "However, the right solution might be to rethink the mission set and consider at least temporarily expanding it somewhat."
U.S. commanders are increasingly walking a political tightrope, praising the competence of Iraqi forces and downplaying their own security role while simultaneously endorsing the decision to keep a mid-sized city’s worth of troops on standby. Some speculate that the troops are being kept as backup for an expected increase in violence during Iraq’s national elections, scheduled for January.
Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, commander of Multi-National Corps–Iraq, said at a recent news conference that there are no plans to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal.
"We’re happy with our current schedule; we think our strategy is sound," Jacoby said. "We’re enabling and assisting [the Iraqis] as they ask. They don’t need our combat forces in the city."
Yet, a recent spike in violence, punctuated by devastating truck bombs last month outside two Iraqi ministries in Baghdad that killed about 100 people, has renewed doubts about the ability of Iraqi security forces to deal with an insurgency that appears bent on rekindling sectarian violence.
August was one of the deadliest months for Iraqi civilians in the past year, according to an Associated Press tally.
There is also concern about continuing violence in northern areas claimed by both Kurds and Arabs, where insurgents have staged bombings in Kurdish towns in hopes of triggering ethnic reprisals.
Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has proposed a more active role for U.S. troops there, including trilateral patrols grouping Kurdish, Arab and American soldiers. But that idea is still in the planning stage and Iraq is not much nearer to solving the territorial dispute than it was at the beginning of the war.
Many U.S. troops who have worked closely with their Iraqi counterparts scoff at the idea that the Iraqis are capable of standing up to the insurgency, citing infiltration, corruption and a general lack of discipline. One lieutenant in Baghdad said his Iraqi counterpart openly skims between 20 and 30 percent of his soldiers’ salaries off the top, a practice difficult to track in Iraq’s cash economy. Slower pullout?
Despite his confidence that his troops can stand on their own, Majeed, the Iraqi ground forces commander, says he still needs U.S. backup, even leaving the door open to a longer-than-planned U.S. commitment if Iraqi forces prove unready by the time remaining U.S. combat forces pull out.
The agreement between Washington and Baghdad calls for the withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of August 2010 and of all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.
"If it doesn’t happen by 2011, we would have to find a new mechanism to work with the Americans," he said.
In the end, the U.S. may not have much say in the matter.
Iraqi voters are scheduled to vote in January whether to rescind the status of forces agreement that allows the U.S. military to operate in the country. The Iraqi parliament would then need to ratify the results of the referendum and order the complete U.S. withdrawal to be sped up by a year.
The outcome of that popular vote is not in much doubt. With the exception of the Kurdish north, anti-American sentiments are widespread in Iraq. Iraqis may be unsure of their country’s fledgling security forces, but they have grown increasingly weary of the U.S. presence, which many remember for heavy-handedness and the daily frustrations of passing through checkpoints and enduring long traffic jams behind slow-moving military convoys.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for the same time as the January referendum, and candidates are finding anti-occupation platforms popular with Iraqis.
Elected officials and military commanders frequently challenge the Americans. For example, U.S. convoys are now regularly stopped at Iraqi checkpoints, a source of irritation for many American troops.
If Iraqis do decide to boot out the U.S. a year ahead of schedule, it would require a complete focus on the logistics of leaving at the expense of other tasks, such as sharing intelligence and training, said Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown, who is overseeing the exodus of U.S. equipment and troops.
"Is [a rapid redeployment] doable? Yes, but you pay the price," she said.
During a visit to Baghdad on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. would follow the lead of Iraqi officials regarding the timetable for the pullout.
"Whatever the Iraqi people decide," Biden told reporters, "we will abide by it."
This article, by Afif Sarhan and Jason Burke was published in The Observer, September 13, 2009
Sitting on the floor, wearing traditional Islamic clothes and holding an old notebook, Abu Hamizi, 22, spends at least six hours a day searching internet chatrooms linked to gay websites. He is not looking for new friends, but for victims.
"It is the easiest way to find those people who are destroying Islam and who want to dirty the reputation we took centuries to build up," he said. When he finds them, Hamizi arranges for them to be attacked and sometimes killed.
Hamizi, a computer science graduate, is at the cutting edge of a new wave of violence against gay men in Iraq. Made up of hardline extremists, Hamizi's group and others like it are believed to be responsible for the deaths of more than 130 gay Iraqi men since the beginning of the year alone.
The deputy leader of the group, which is based in Baghdad, explained its campaign using a stream of homophobic invective. "Animals deserve more pity than the dirty people who practise such sexual depraved acts," he told the Observer. "We make sure they know why they are being held and give them the chance to ask God's forgiveness before they are killed."
The violence against Iraqi gays is a key test of the government's ability to protect vulnerable minority groups after the Americans have gone.
Dr Toby Dodge, of London University's Queen Mary College, believes that the violence may be a consequence of the success of the government of Nouri al-Maliki. "Militia groups whose raison d'être was security in their communities are seeing that function now fulfilled by the police. So their focus has shifted to the moral and cultural sphere, reverting to classic Islamist tactics of policing moral boundaries," Dodge said.
Homosexuality was not criminalised under Saddam Hussein – indeed Iraq in the 1960s and 1970s was known for its relatively liberated gay scene. Violence against gays started in the aftermath of the invasion in 2003. Since 2004, according to Ali Hali, chairman of the Iraqi LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) group, a London-based human-rights group, a total of 680 have died in Iraq, with at least 70 of those in the past five months. The group believes the figures may be higher, as most cases involving married men are not reported. Seven victims were women. According to Hali, Iraq has become "the worst place for homosexuals on Earth".
The killings are brutal, with victims ritually tortured. Azhar al-Saeed's son was one. "He didn't follow what Islamic doctrine tells but he was a good son," she said. "Three days after his kidnapping, I found a note on my door with blood spread over it and a message saying it was my son's purified blood and telling me where to find his body."
She went with police to find her son's remains. "We found his body with signs of torture, his anus filled with glue and without his genitals," she said. "I will carry this image with me until my dying day."
Police officers interviewed by the Observer said the killings were not aimed at gays but were isolated remnants of the sectarian violence that racked the country between 2005 and 2006. Hamizi's group, however, boasts that two people a day are chosen to be "investigated" in Baghdad. The group claims that local tribes are involved in homophobic attacks, choosing members to hunt down the victims. In some areas, a list of names is posted at restaurants and food shops.
The roommate of Haydar, 26, was kidnapped and killed three months ago in Baghdad. After Haydar contacted the last person his friend had been chatting with on the net, he found a letter on his front door alerting him "about the dangers of behaving against Islamic rules". Haydar plans to flee to Amman, the Jordanian capital. "I have… to run away before I suffer the same fate," he said.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Shia militia known as the Mahdi army may be among the militants implicated in the violence, particularly in the northern part of Baghdad known as Sadr City. There are reports that Mahdi army militias are harassing young men simply for wearing "western fashions".
A Ministry of Interior spokesperson, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, denied allegations of police collaboration. "The Iraqi police exists to protect all Iraqis, whatever their sexual persuasion," he said.
Hashim, another victim of violence by extremists, was attacked on Abu Nawas Street. Famous for its restaurants and bars, the street has become a symbol of the relative progress made in Baghdad. But it was where Hashim was set on by four men, had a finger cut off and was badly beaten. His assailants left a note warning that he had one month to marry and have "a traditional life" or die.
"Since that day I have not left my home. I'm too scared and don't have money to run away," Hashim said.
This article by James Petras, was posted to Information Clearing House, August 21, 2009
The US seven-year war and occupation of Iraq is driven by several major political forces and informed by a variety of imperial interests. However these interests do not in themselves explain the depth and scope of the sustained, massive and continuing destruction of an entire society and its reduction to a permanent state of war. The range of political forces contributing to the making of the war and the subsequent US occupation include the following (in order of importance):
The most important political force was also the least openly discussed. The Zionist Power Configuration (ZPC), which includes the prominent role of long-time, hard-line unconditional Jewish supporters of the State of Israel appointed to top positions in the Bush Pentagon (Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz ), key operative in the Office of the Vice President (Irving (Scooter) Libby), the Treasury Department (Stuart Levey), the National Security Council (Elliot Abrams) and a phalanx of consultants, Presidential speechwriters (David Frum), secondary officials and policy advisers to the State Department. These committed Zionists ‘insiders’ were buttressed by thousands of full-time Israel-First functionaries in the 51 major American Jewish organizations, which form the President of the Major American Jewish Organizations (PMAJO). They openly stated that their top priority was to advance Israel’s agenda, which, in this case, was a US war against Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, occupy the country, physically divide Iraq, destroy its military and industrial capability and impose a pro-Israel/pro-US puppet regime. If Iraq were ethnically cleansed and divided, as advocated by the ultra-right, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and the ‘Liberal’ President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and militarist-Zionist, Leslie Gelb, there would be more than several ‘client regimes’.
Top Zionist policymakers who promoted the war did not initially directly pursue the policy of systematically destroying what, in effect, was the entire Iraqi civilization. But their support and design of an occupation policy included the total dismemberment of the Iraqi state apparatus and recruitment of Israeli advisers to provide their ‘expertise’ in interrogation techniques, repression of civilian resistance and counter-insurgency. Israeli expertise certainly played a role in fomenting the intra-Iraqi religious and ethnic strife, which Israel had mastered in Palestine. The Israeli ‘model’ of colonial war and occupation – the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 – and the practice of ‘total destruction’ using sectarian, ethno-religious division was evident in the notorious massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, which took place under Israeli military supervision.
The second powerful political force behind the Iraq War were civilian militarists (like Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney) who sought to extend US imperial reach in the Persian Gulf and strengthen its geo-political position by eliminating a strong, secular, nationalist backer of Arab anti-imperialist insurgency in the Middle East. The civilian militarists sought to extend the American military base encirclement of Russia and secure control over Iraqi oil reserves as a pressure point against China. The civilian militarists were less moved by Vice President Cheney’s past ties with the oil industry and more interested in his role as CEO of Halliburton’s giant military base contractor subsidiary Kellogg-Brown and Root, which was consolidating the US Empire through worldwide military base expansion. Major US oil companies, who feared losing out to European and Asian competitors, were already eager to deal with Saddam Hussein, and some of the Bush’s supporters in the oil industry had already engaged in illegal trading with the embargoed Iraqi regime. The oil industry was not inclined to promote regional instability with a war.
The militarist strategy of conquest and occupation was designed to establish a long-term colonial military presence in the form of strategic military bases with a significant and sustained contingent of colonial military advisors and combat units. The brutal colonial occupation of an independent secular state with a strong nationalist history and an advanced infrastructure with a sophisticated military and police apparatus, extensive public services and wide-spread literacy naturally led to the growth of a wide array of militant and armed anti-occupation movements. In response, US colonial officials, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agencies devised a ‘divide and rule’ strategy (the so-called ‘El Salvador solution’ associated with the former ‘hot-spot’ Ambassador and US Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte) fomenting armed sectarian-based conflicts and promoting inter-religious assassinations to debilitate any effort at a united nationalist anti-imperialist movement. The dismantling of the secular civilian bureaucracy and military was designed by the Zionists in the Bush Administration to enhance Israel’s power in the region and to encourage the rise of militant Islamic groups, which had been repressed by the deposed Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. Israel had mastered this strategy earlier: It originally sponsored and financed sectarian Islamic militant groups, like Hamas, as an alternative to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization and set the stage for sectarian fighting among the Palestinians.
The result of US colonial policies were to fund and multiply a wide range of internal conflicts as mullahs, tribal leaders, political gangsters, warlords, expatriates and death squads proliferated. The ‘war of all against all’ served the interests of the US occupation forces. Iraq became a pool of armed, unemployed young men, from which to recruit a new mercenary army. The ‘civil war’ and ‘ethnic conflict’ provided a pretext for the US and its Iraqi puppets to discharge hundreds of thousands of soldiers, police and functionaries from the previous regime (especially if they were from Sunni, mixed or secular families) and to undermine the basis for civilian employment. Under the cover of generalized ‘war against terror’, US Special Forces and CIA-directed death squads spread terror within Iraqi civil society, targeting anyone suspected of criticizing the puppet government – especially among the educated and professional classes, precisely the Iraqis most capable of re-constructing an independent secular republic.
The Iraq war was driven by an influential group of neo-conservative and neo-liberal ideologues with strong ties to Israel. They viewed the success of the Iraq war (by success they meant the total dismemberment of the country) as the first ‘domino’ in a series of war to ‘re-colonize’ the Middle East (in their words: “to re-draw the map”). They disguised their imperial ideology with a thin veneer of rhetoric about ‘promoting democracies’ in the Middle East (excluding, of course, the un-democratic policies of their ‘homeland’ Israel over its subjugated Palestinians). Conflating Israeli regional hegemonic ambitions with the US imperial interests, the neo-conservatives and their neo-liberal fellow travelers in the Democratic Party first backed President Bush and later President Obama in their escalation of the wars against Afghanistan and Pakistan. They unanimously supported Israel’s savage bombing campaign against Lebanon, the land and air assault and massacre of thousands of civilians trapped in Gaza, the bombing of Syrian facilities and the big push (from Israel) for a pre-emptive, full-scale military attack against Iran.
The US advocates of sequential and multiple simultaneous wars in the Middle East and South Asia believed that they could only unleash the full strength of their mass destructive power after they had secured total control of their first victim, Iraq. They were confident that Iraqi resistance would collapse rapidly after 13 years of brutal starvation sanctions imposed on the republic by the US and United Nations. In order to consolidate imperial control, American policy-makers decided to permanently silence all independent Iraqi civilian dissidents. They turned to the financing of Shia clerics and Sunni tribal assassins, and contracting scores of thousands of private mercenaries among the Kurdish Peshmerga warlords to carry out selective assassinations of leaders of civil society movements.
The US created and trained a 200,000 member Iraqi colonial puppet army composed almost entirely of Shia gunmen, and excluded experienced Iraqi military men from secular, Sunni or Christian backgrounds. A little known result of this build up of American trained and financed death squads and its puppet ‘Iraqi’ army, was the virtual destruction of the ancient Iraqi Christian population, which was displaced, its churches bombed and its leaders, bishops and intellectuals, academics and scientists assassinated or driven into exile. The US and its Israeli advisers were well aware that Iraqi Christians had played a key role the historic development of the secular, nationalist, anti-British/anti-monarchist movements and their elimination as an influential force during the first years of US occupation was no accident. The result of the US policies were to eliminate most secular democratic anti-imperialist leaders and movements and to present their murderous net-work of ‘ethno-religious’ collaborators as their uncontested ‘partners’ in sustaining the long-term US colonial presence in Iraq. With their puppets in power, Iraq would serve as a launching platform for its strategic pursuit of the other ‘dominoes’ (Syria, Iran, Central Asian Republics…).
The sustained bloody purge of Iraq under US occupation resulted in the killing 1.3 million Iraqi civilians during the first 7 years after Bush invaded in March 2003. Up to mid-2009, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has officially cost the American treasury over $666 billion. This enormous expenditure attests to its centrality in the larger US imperial strategy for the entire Middle East/South and Central Asia region. Washington’s policy of politicizing and militarizing ethno-religious differences, arming and encouraging rival tribal, religious and ethnic leaders to engage in mutual bloodletting served to destroy national unity and resistance. The ‘divide and rule’ tactics and reliance on retrograde social and religious organizations is the commonest and best-known practice in pursuing the conquest and subjugation of a unified, advanced nationalist state. Breaking up the national state, destroying nationalist consciousness and encouraging primitive ethno-religious, feudal and regional loyalties required the systematic destruction of the principal purveyors of nationalist consciousness, historical memory and secular, scientific thought. Provoking ethno-religious hatreds destroyed intermarriages, mixed communities and institutions with their long-standing personal friendships and professional ties among diverse backgrounds. The physical elimination of academics, writers, teachers, intellectuals, scientists and professionals, especially physicians, engineers, lawyers, jurists and journalists was decisive in imposing ethno-religious rule under a colonial occupation. To establish long-term dominance and sustain ethno-religious client rulers, the entire pre-existing cultural edifice, which had sustained an independent secular nationalist state, was physically destroyed by the US and its Iraqi puppets. This included destroying the libraries, census bureaus, and repositories of all property and court records, health departments, laboratories, schools, cultural centers, medical facilities and above all the entire scientific-literary-humanistic social scientific class of professionals. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi professionals and family members were driven by terror into internal and external exile. All funding for national, secular, scientific and educational institutions were cut off. Death squads engaged in the systematic murder of thousands of academics and professionals suspected of the least dissent, the least nationalist sentiment; anyone with the least capacity to re-construct the republic was marked. The Destruction of a Modern Arab Civilization
Independent, secular Iraq had the most advanced scientific-cultural order in the Arab world, despite the repressive nature of Saddam Hussein’s police state. There was a system of national health care, universal public education and generous welfare services, combined with unprecedented levels of gender equality. This marked the advanced nature of Iraqi civilization in the late 20th century. Separation of church and state and strict protection of religious minorities (Christians, Assyrians and others) contrasts sharply with what has resulted from the US occupation and its destruction of the Iraqi civil and governmental structures. The harsh dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein thus presided over a highly developed modern civilization in which advanced scientific work went hand in hand with a strong nationalist and anti-imperialist identity. This resulted especially in the Iraqi people and regime’s expressions of solidarity for the plight of the Palestinian people under Israeli rule and occupation.
A mere ‘regime change’ could not extirpate this deeply embedded and advanced secular republican culture in Iraq. The US war planners and their Israeli advisers were well aware that colonial occupation would increase Iraqi nationalist consciousness unless the secular nation was destroyed and hence, the imperial imperative to uproot and destroy the carriers of nationalist consciousness by physically eliminating the educated, the talented, the scientific, indeed the most secular elements of Iraqi society. Retrogression became the principal instrument for the US to impose its colonial puppets, with their primitive, ‘pre-national’ loyalties, in power in a culturally purged Baghdad stripped of its most sophisticated and nationalistic social strata.
According to the Al-Ahram Studies Center in Cairo, more that 310 Iraqi scientists were eliminated during the first 18 months of the US occupation – a figure that the Iraqi education ministry did not dispute.
Another report listed the killings of more than 340 intellectuals and scientists between 2005 and 2007. Bombings of institutes of higher education had pushed enrollment down to 30% of the pre-invasion figures. In one bombing in January 2007, at Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University 70 students were killed with hundreds wounded. These figures compelled the UNESCO to warn that Iraq’s university system was on the brink of collapse. The numbers of prominent Iraqi scientists and professionals who have fled the country have approached 20,000. Of the 6,700 Iraqi university professors who fled since 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported than only 150 had returned by October 2008. Despite the US claims of improved security, the situation in 2008 saw numerous assassinations, including the only practicing neurosurgeon in Iraq’s second largest city of Basra, whose body was dumped on the city streets.
The raw data on the Iraqi academics, scientists and professionals assassinated by the US and allied occupation forces and the militias and shadowy forces they control is drawn from a list published by the Pakistan Daily News (www.daily.pk) on November 26, 2008. This list makes for very uncomfortable reading into the reality of systematic elimination of intellectuals in Iraq under the meat-grinder of US occupation. Assassinations
The physical elimination of an individual by assassination is an extreme form of terrorism, which has far-reaching effects rippling throughout the community from which the individual comes – in this case the world of Iraqi intellectuals, academics, professionals and creative leaders in the arts and sciences. For each Iraqi intellectual murdered, thousands of educated Iraqis fled the country or abandoned their work for safer, less vulnerable activity.
Baghdad was considered the ‘Paris’ of the Arab world, in terms of culture and art, science and education. In the 1970’s and 80’s, its universities were the envy of the Arab world. The US ‘shock and awe’ campaign that rained down on Baghdad evoked emotions akin to an aerial bombardment of the Louvre, the Sorbonne and the greatest libraries of Europe. Baghdad University was one of the most prestigious and productive universities in the Arab world. Many of its academics possessed doctoral degrees and engaged in post-doctoral studies abroad at prestigious institutions. It taught and graduated many of the top professionals and scientists in the Middle East. Even under the deadly grip of the US/UN-imposed economic sanctions that starved Iraq during the 13 years before the March 2003 invasion, thousands of graduate students and young professionals came to Iraq for post-graduate training. Young physicians from throughout the Arab world received advanced medical training in its institutions. Many of its academics presented scientific papers at major international conferences and published in prestigious journals. Most important, Baghdad University trained and maintained a highly respected scientific secular culture free of sectarian discrimination – with academics from all ethnic and religious backgrounds.
This world has been forever shattered: Under US occupation, up to November 2008, eighty-three academics and researchers teaching at Baghdad University had been murdered and several thousand of their colleagues, students and family members were forced to flee. The Selection of Assassinated Academics by Discipline
The November 2008 article published by the Pakistan Daily News lists the names of a total of 154 top Baghdad-based academics, renowned in their fields, who were murdered. Altogether, a total of 281 well-known intellectuals teaching at the top universities in Iraq fell victim to the ‘death squads’ under US occupation.
Prior to the US occupation, Baghdad University possessed the premier research and teaching medical faculty in the entire Middle East attracting hundreds of young doctors for advanced training. That program has been devastated during the rise of the US-death squad regime, with few prospects of recovery. Of those murdered, 25% (21) were the most senior professors and lecturers in the medical faculty of Baghdad University, the highest percentage of any faculty. The second highest percentage of butchered faculty were the professors and researchers from Baghdad University’s renowned engineering faculty (12), followed by the top academics in the humanities (10), physical and social sciences (8 senior academics each), education (5). The remaining top academics murdered at Baghdad University spread out among the agronomy, business, physical education, communications and religious studies faculties.
At three other Baghdad universities, 53 senior academics were slaughtered, including 10 in the social sciences, 7 in the faculty of law, 6 each in medicine and the humanities, 9 in the physical sciences and 5 in engineering. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s August 20, 2002 pre-invasion joke, “…one has to assume they (scientists) have not been playing ‘tiddlywinks’(a child’s game)”( justifying the bloody purge of Iraq’s scientists in physics and chemistry. An ominous signal of the academic bloodletting that followed the invasion.
Similar bloody purges of academics occurred in all the provincial universities: 127 senior academics and scientists were assassinated at the various well-regarded universities in Mosul, Kirkuk, Basra and elsewhere. The provincial universities with the highest number of murdered senior faculty members were in cities where the US and British military and their Kurdish mercenary allies were most active: Basra (35), Mosul (35), Diyala (15) and Al-Anbar (11).
The Iraqi military and allied death squads carried out most of the killing of academics in the cities under US or ‘allied’ control. The systematic murder of academics was a nation-wide, cross-disciplinary drive to destroy the cultural and educational foundations of a modern Arab civilization. The death squads carrying out most of these assassinations were primitive, pre-modern, ethno-religious groups ‘set loose’ or instrumentalized by US military strategists to wipe out any politically conscious intellectuals and nationalist scientists who might pursue an agenda for re-building a modern, secular society and independent, unified republic.
In its panic to prevent the US invasion, the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate provided a list, which identified over 500 key Iraqi scientists to the UN on December 7, 2002. There is little doubt that this list became a core element in the US military’s hit list for eliminating Iraq’s scientific elite. In his notorious pre-invasion speech to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell cited a list of over 3,500 Iraqi scientists and technicians who would have to be ‘contained’ to prevent their expertise from being used by other countries. The US had even created a ‘budget’ of hundreds of millions of dollars, drawn from the Iraqi ‘Oil for Food’ money held by the United Nations to set up ‘civilian re-education’ programs to re-train Iraqi scientists and engineers. These highly touted programs were never seriously implemented. Cheaper ways of containing what one American policy expert termed Iraq’s ‘excess scientists, engineers and technicians’ in a Carnegie Endowment Paper (RANSAC Policy Update April 2004) became clear. The US had decided to adopt and expand the Israeli Mossad’s covert operation of assassinating selected key Iraqi scientists on an industrial scale. The US ‘Surge’ and ‘Peak Assassination’ Campaigns: 2006-2007
The high tide of terror against academics coincides with the renewal of the US military offensive in Baghdad and in the provinces. Of the total number of assassinations of Baghdad-based academics for which a date is recorded (110 known intellectuals slaughtered), almost 80% (87) occurred in 2006 and 2007. A similar pattern is found in the provinces with 77% of a total of 84 scholars murdered outside of capital during the same period. The pattern is clear: the murder rate of academics grows as the occupying US forces organize a mercenary Iraqi military and police force and provide money for the training and recruitment of rival Shia and Sunni tribesmen and militia as a means of decreasing American casualties and of purging potential dissident critics of the occupation.
The terror campaign against academics intensified in mid-2005 and reached its peak in 2006-2007, leading to the mass flight of tens of thousands of Iraqi scholars, scientists, professionals and their families overseas. Entire university medical school faculties have become refugees in Syria and elsewhere. Those who could not afford to abandon elderly parents or relatives and remained in Iraq have taken extraordinary measures to hide their identities. Some have chosen to collaborate with the US occupation forces or the puppet regime in the hope of being protected or allowed to immigrate with their families to the US or Europe, although the Europeans, especially the British are disinclined to accept Iraqi scholars. After 2008, there has been a sharp decline in the murder of academics – with only 4 assassinated that year. This reflects the massive flight of Iraqi intellectuals living abroad or in hiding rather than any change of policy on the part of the US and its mercenary puppets. As a result, Iraq’s research facilities have been decimated. The lives of those remaining support staff, including technicians, librarians and students have been devastated with few prospects for future employment.
The US war and occupation of Iraq, as Presidents Bush and Obama have declared, is a ‘success’ – an independent nation of 23 million citizens has been occupied by force, a puppet regime is ensconced, colonial mercenary troops obey American officers and the oil fields have been put up for sale. All of Iraq’s nationalist laws protecting its patrimony, its cultural treasures and national resources, have been annulled. The occupiers have imposed a ‘constitution’ favoring the US Empire. Israel and its Zionist flunkies in the Administrations of both Bush and Obama celebrate the demise of a modern adversary…and the conversion of Iraq into a cultural-political desert. In line with an alleged agreement made by the US State Department and Pentagon officials to influential collectors from the American Council for Cultural Policy in January 2003, the looted treasures of ancient Mesopotamia have ‘found’ their way into the collections of the elite in London, New York and elsewhere. The collectors can now anticipate the pillage of Iran.
Warning to Iran
The US invasion, occupation and destruction of a modern, scientific-cultural civilization, such as existed in Iraq, is a prelude of what the people of Iran can expect if and when a US-Israeli military attack occurs. The imperial threat to the cultural-scientific foundations of the Iranian nation has been totally absent from the narrative among the affluent Iranian student protesters and their US-funded NGO’s during their post-election ‘Lipstick Revolution’ protests. They should bear in mind that in 2004 educated, sophisticated Iraqis in Baghdad consoled themselves with a fatally misplaced optimism that ‘at least we are not like Afghanistan’. The same elite are now in squalid refugee camps in Syria and Jordan and their country more closely resembles Afghanistan than anywhere else in the Middle East. The chilling promise of President Bush in April 2003 to transform Iraq in the image of ‘our newly liberated Afghanistan’ has been fulfilled. And reports that the US Administration advisers had reviewed the Israeli Mossad policy of selective assassination of Iranian scientists should cause the pro-Western liberal intellectuals of Teheran to seriously ponder the lesson of the murderous campaign that has virtually eliminated Iraqi scientists and academics during 2006-2007. Conclusion
What does the United States (and Britain and Israel) gain from establishing a retrograde client regime, based on medieval ethno-clerical socio-political structures in Iraq? First and foremost, Iraq has become an outpost for empire. Secondly, it is a weak and backward regime incapable of challenging Israeli economic and military dominance in the region and unwilling to question the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian Arabs from Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Thirdly, the destruction of the scientific, academic, cultural and legal foundations of an independent state means increasing reliance on the Western (and Chinese) multinational corporations and their technical infrastructure – facilitating imperial economic penetration and exploitation.
In the mid 19th Century, after the revolutions of 1848, the conservative French sociologist Emil Durkheim recognized that the European bourgeoisie was confronted with rising class conflict and an increasing anti-capitalist working class. Durkheim noted that, whatever its philosophical misgivings about religion and clericalism, the bourgeoisie would have to use the myths of traditional religion to ‘create’ social cohesion and undercut class polarization. He called on the educated and sophisticated Parisian capitalist class to forego its rejection of obscurantist religious dogma in favor of instrumentalizing religion as a tool to maintain its political dominance. In the same way, US strategists, including the Pentagon-Zionists, have instrumentalized the tribal-mullah, ethno-religious forces to destroy the secular national political leadership and advanced culture of Iraq in order to consolidate imperial rule – even if this strategy called for the killing off of the scientific and professional classes. Contemporary US imperial rule is based on supporting the socially and politically most backward sectors of society and applying the most advanced technology of warfare.
Israeli advisers have played a major role in instructing US occupation forces in Iraq on the practices of urban counter-insurgency and repression of civilians, drawing on their 60 years of experience. The infamous massacre of hundreds of Palestinian families at Deir Yasin in 1948 was emblematic of Zionist elimination of hundreds of productive farming villages, which had been settled for centuries by a native people with their endogenous civilization and cultural ties to the soil, in order to impose a new colonial order. The policy of the total deracination of the Palestinians is central to Israel’s advise to the US policymakers in Iraq. Their message has been carried out by their Zionist acolytes in the Bush and Obama Administrations, ordering the dismemberment of the entire modern Iraqi civil and state bureaucracy and using pre-modern tribal death squads made up of Kurds and Shia extremists to purge the modern universities and research institutions of that shattered nation.
The US imperial conquest of Iraq is built on the destruction of a modern secular republic. The cultural desert that remains (a Biblical ‘howling wilderness’ soaked in the blood of Iraq’s precious scholars) is controlled by mega-swindlers, mercenary thugs posing as ‘Iraqi officers’, tribal and ethnic cultural illiterates and medieval religious figures. They operate under the guidance and direction of West Point graduates holding ‘blue-prints for empire’, formulated by graduates of Princeton, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Yale and Chicago, eager to serve the interests of American and European multi-national corporations.
This is called ‘combined and uneven development’: The marriage of fundamentalist mullahs with Ivy League Zionists at the service of the US.
This article was posted to the IVAW website, August 2009
Washington, DC – On Thursday, August 6 IVAW held a demonstration at the U.S. State Department concerning negotiations between the Iraqi government and international oil companies and related labor rights issues.
Several days prior, IVAW Board Member T.J. Buonomo spoke with an official representing the Iraq Office of the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs regarding the U.S. government's position on foreign investment in Iraq's energy industry. Mr. Buonomo introduced himself as a former U.S. Army Intelligence Officer, upon which the official stated that the issue could not be discussed over an unsecured phone line. After Mr. Buonomo reiterated his civilian status, the official stated that the U.S. government has no involvement in the negotiations but continues to advise caution on investment in the Kurdistan region due to current legal ambiguities, citing a State Department Inspector General Report released last March.
Numerous attempts to contact the State Department's Office of International Labor and Corporate Social Responsibility by phone and email have not been responded to.
IVAW calls on U.S. diplomatic officials to discourage foreign investment in Iraq's energy industry without the establishment of a legal framework and accompanying oversight mechanisms, which are critical to long term political stability in the country. IVAW also presses U.S. officials to publicly champion labor rights in Iraq, which the State Department reported this year as contrasting sharply with International Labour Organization standards.
After the fall of Baghdad in 2003, U.S. officials transformed Iraq's legal system in order to open the country to virtually unregulated foreign investment- an act in contravention of international law. One of the Iraqi laws kept in place by the Coalition Provisional Authority, however, was a Saddam Hussein-era prohibition on free association and collective bargaining in the public sector. This legal measure has been used to suppress popular dissent against ongoing negotiations over the role of foreign companies in Iraq’s energy industry. These highly controversial negotiations have in turn contributed to political instability throughout the country, undermining the transition to full Iraqi sovereignty.
IVAW recognizes that Iraq's control over its natural resource development is a prerequisite to long term political stability there and will continue to press the State Department to formulate and implement U.S. policy accordingly.
This article, distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, was posted to Military.com, July 15, 2009
BAGHDAD -- Two weeks after U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraq's major cities, amid sporadic outbreaks of violence countrywide, Iraqi authorities aren't asking American forces for help. Although U.S. troops are "just a radio call away," in Baghdad and five other major urban areas, it appears the Iraqis haven't asked even once.
In Baghdad, the Iraqis also won't allow U.S. forces on the street, except for supply convoys.
The failure to trigger the "Onstar option" suggests that the government of Iraq and its military think they can deal with the car bombings, homemade bombs and attacks with silencer-equipped handguns that have plagued parts of the country in recent days.
As the June 30 deadline approached for withdrawing troops from major cities, U.S. military officials told their Iraqi army and national police allies that they were "just a radio call away" in case they needed American military muscle.
So far, however, it isn't clear whether there's been a call. McClatchy Newspapers special correspondents in Najaf, Basra, Anbar, Diyala and Mosul report that Iraqi forces have made no requests for U.S. combat help.
American officers have been surprised to learn that "out of the cities" meant just that. "The Iraqis have been hell-bent on taking control of all security operations in the city and completely excluding the Americans, to the point of completely refusing to permit U.S. patrols of any kind into the city except logistics convoys," one U.S. officer in Baghdad said. The officer spoke on the condition of anonymity because he isn't authorized to talk to journalists.
Added another American soldier who works closely with the Iraqi National Police, who requested anonymity for similar reasons: "Business is pretty much as usual. Our guys don't ask for help on the ground very often, and not at all since the 30th. We give them the usual help, and they mention several times how pleased they are that we are still here with them."
The "usual help" includes more in-depth intelligence sharing, coordinating communications among Iraqi units and pervasive surveillance from the air.
The go-it-alone stance of Iraqi security forces comes at a time of scattered but lethal outbreaks of violence over the last week or so. Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, has been hardest hit by car bombs, suicide bombers and assassinations of police officers with silencer-equipped handguns. Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds wounded.
Over several days, insurgents have targeted Christians in Baghdad and Mosul. They've blown up churches, killing several people and wounding scores. On Sunday, a convoy in southern Iraq that was carrying U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill had just passed by a homemade roadside bomb when it blew up; no one was hurt.
Even so, at a four-hour seminar Tuesday on how the new security agreement will affect contracting, a standing-room-only audience of contractors and U.S. foreign investors heard upbeat views. "The level of violence is at its lowest point since coalition forces came into Iraq in March 2003," said Lawrence Peter, the director of the Private Security Company Association of Iraq. "I'm confident the worst days are behind us."
It's clear that Iraqi authorities continue to lean on certain American capabilities they lack. While the Iraqi government has taken a hard line on no U.S. patrols in Baghdad except supply convoys, for example, many Iraqi officers privately have told their U.S. counterparts that they hope for more American involvement because of U.S. intelligence capability.
One caveat, according to the American officer in Baghdad: "as long as that involvement is only for select targeted raids with accurate intelligence, and the U.S. forces quickly exit the area after the raid is complete."
Army Brig. Gen. William Phillips, the commander of the Joint Contracting Command-Iraq/Afghanistan, told McClatchy that "companies that want to come and do business in Iraq understand what the security situation is, but it won't be a deterrent. The (security) agreement is a great step forward for Iraqi sovereignty."
One of the Western representatives at the seminar, who asked not to be identified for proprietary business reasons, echoed that view: "We have certainly seen a number of companies that have enough confidence to proceed with investments in Iraq, although security is obviously a major concern and a huge influence in their costings. There is certainly the interest there going forward."
The Iraqi National Police have reported a few minor violations of the June 30 agreement. On July 1, a U.S. patrol set up a checkpoint in a village west of Baqouba in Diyala province, searched civilian cars for two hours and drove off. On July 5, an American patrol set up a checkpoint, searched vehicles and conducted house-to-house searches in Abu Ghraib, a western suburb of Baghdad.
A Multi-National Force/Iraq spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment.
For now, it seems that the 130,000-plus American troops in Iraq will serve mainly by waiting for that radio call from Iraqi security forces.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The troubled Blackwater era ends in Iraq on Thursday as another firm takes over the once-dominant company's security services contract in Baghdad.
Triple Canopy, a Herndon, Virginia-based company, picks up the expiring contract of the security firm formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide, which changed its name to XE a few months ago. The U.S. State Department decided not to renew XE's contract in January.
"When the U.S. government initially asked for our help to assist with an immediate need to protect Americans in Iraq, we answered that call and performed well," XE spokeswoman Anne Tyrell said in a statement Wednesday. "But we always knew that, at some point, that work would come to a close."
The end of the contract followed the Iraqi government's refusal to renew the firm's operating license because of a September 2007 shooting in which Baghdad says security guards -- then employed by Blackwater -- killed 17 Iraqi civilians.
As part of a contract to protect American diplomats and other employees around the world, the State Department hired Blackwater for a multiyear assignment in Iraq, renewable annually.
XE, one of three security firms working for the United States in Iraq, had one of the biggest contracts there, providing security for the sprawling U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
"We are honored to have provided this service for five years and are proud of our success. No one under our protection has been killed or even seriously injured," Tyrell said.
Many XE employees are expected to go to work for Triple Canopy, which already had a State Department contract in Iraq. Its new contract increases its share of the security work. DynCorp International also has a State Department contract for work in Iraq.
Losing the contract is considered a huge blow to XE. While the company is privately held, the Iraq contract has been estimated to make up a third to a half of its business. XE has about two dozen aircraft in Iraq as well as 1,000 personnel.
XE's statement acknowledged that the company's Baghdad "task order" ends Thursday but was mum on any other roles it still might have in Iraq.
"Any specific questions on the contract and how it will now be fulfilled should be directed to the State Department," Tyrell said.
Despite the loss of the embassy security detail, XE continues to hold other contracts with the State Department to protect American diplomats elsewhere in the world. The company's founder, Erik Prince, resigned as head of the business in March.
In January, five former Blackwater security guards pleaded not guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and other serious crimes stemming from their involvement in the September 16, 2007, incident in a Baghdad square. A sixth former security guard has pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.
Blackwater said its employees were returning fire after armed insurgents attacked them, but an Iraqi investigation concluded that the guards randomly fired at civilians without provocation. The Iraqi government said 17 civilians were killed, although the indictment alleges 14 died.
The company does not face any charges. But the Baghdad incident exacerbated the feelings of many Iraqis that private American security contractors have operated since 2003 with little regard for Iraqi law or life.
The indictment of the five men represents the first prosecution of non-Defense Department contractors under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act.
The act was amended in 2004 to allow the Justice Department to prosecute such personnel providing services "in support of the mission of the Department of Defense overseas."
Last year, the State Department renewed Blackwater's contract over strong objections from the Iraqi government. Starting January 1, the Iraqi government has mandated that all contractors obtain Iraqi licenses to operate.
An update on the mass arrest of members of the Sunni Awakening Council who launched an uprising in Baghdad’s Fadhil neighborhood reveals that as many as 25-30% of those who took part in the clashes have gone missing, apparently having escaped with their weapons.
The Awakening forces had been protesting against the Maliki government for a week ahead of the uprising, complaining that the Shi’ite majority government had failed to live up to its promise to provide jobs for the nearly 100,000 members of the US-backed Sunni militia.
After the protests, the government arrested one of the top Awakening leaders, sparking a violent gunbattle between the two US-allied factions. The US praised the arrest, and Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin says he believes the Iraqi government is committed to supporting the forces, in spite of the arrests.
This analysis, by Mohammed A. Salih, was originally distributed by IPS, March 3, 2009
COLUMBIA, Missouri, U.S., Mar 3 (IPS) - When U.S. President Barack Obama announced his plan last week to pull out all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by September 2010, the news did not generate much enthusiasm among Iraqi Kurds.
A simple math operation reveals the reasons behind the Kurds' anxiety - add the withdrawal plan to the recent staggering victory of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's supporters in the country's recent provincial elections.
Kurds are now counting on Obama's oft-repeated pledge for a "responsible" withdrawal, hoping their interests will be preserved. But a review of statements by Kurdish and U.S. officials reveals the two sides are mostly talking at cross purposes when they speak of "responsibility."
Recently, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani gave his interpretation of the term "responsible."
"I restate that the role of the United States should be to help resolve the problems in Iraq such as Article 140, the oil law, and the law on the distribution of its oil wealth," Barzani told reporters in the northern city of Irbil, tallying the list of contentious issues between Kurds and Iraqi government.
Article 140 refers to a constitutional provision to settle the critical issue of disputed territories between Kurds and Iraqi Arabs, including the gold-prize contested city of Kirkuk which is afloat on some of the world’s largest oil reserves.
But for the U.S., "responsibility" appears to mean making sure Iraqi security forces can take over the task of protecting the country against rebellious forces once it leaves. To achieve that end, the U.S. is equipping and training Iraqi security forces. But this is hardly reassuring to Kurds, many of whom see a conflict with Baghdad forthcoming in some form in the future.
When asked whether the U.S. will act to resolve the problems between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds before leaving the country, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood replied: "It's not really up to the United States to reassure anyone" and that Iraqis had to work out their differences through their "democracy."
But the balance of power in Baghdad is quickly tilting toward forces which Kurds do not perceive as amenable. Just shortly before Obama officially declared the U.S. withdrawal plan, the Kurds’ number one opponent in Baghdad, PM Maliki, found himself in a boosted position as his coalition of the State of Law scored a quite unexpected victory in nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces including Baghdad, the country’s most populous city of around six million. With Kurds and Baghdad at odds over several crucial issues, Obama’s withdrawal plan would only further strengthen Maliki’s position.
Disputes between the country’s Kurds and central government go back to the early days of the foundation of modern Iraq by British colonialism in 1920s. At the heart of contention are large chunks of territory marking the separation line between Kurdish and Arab Iraq.
Iraqi governments, most notably under Saddam Hussein, expelled tens of thousands of Kurds and Turkomans from those areas and replaced them with Arab settlers. While Kurds want to annex these areas to their autonomous region known as Kurdistan, the vast majority of the country’s Arab political parties vehemently oppose such plans. Kurdish attempts to expand their federal region have sparked fierce reactions in Baghdad.
Spearheading a growing trend in Iraqi politics to abort Kurdish efforts and stalling the establishment of new autonomous regions is Shia Prime Minister Maliki. He has called for further centralisation of power in Baghdad, accusing Kurds of going overboard with their demands.
Besides strengthening Maliki’s position, the provincial elections delivered a major blow to the Kurds’ only powerful ally in Arab Iraq that advocates federalism: the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, previously known to be the most powerful Shia Arab party in the country.
With their power in Baghdad thought to be in decline, Kurdish leaders are these days loudly beating their anti-Maliki drum to draw international attention to their problems with the rest of Iraq. PM Barzani told the Associated Press last month that he thinks Maliki is seeking a "confrontation" with the Kurds.
Kurdish officials have even reportedly called on Obama to appoint a special envoy to resolve their long-standing problems with Iraqi Arabs.
One Kurdish official took it even further, telling the Associated Press that al-Maliki was a "second Saddam." The alleged statement by Kamal Kirkuki, Kurdish parliament deputy speaker, was so ill-calculated that he had to issue a statement denying that he ever gave an interview to the AP.
As tensions appear to escalate, a consensus is taking shape among many analysts that things are moving toward a possible flare-up point.
"The threat (of conflict) is real," Kirmanj Gundi, head of the Kurdish National Congress (KNC) in North America, told IPS in a phone interview from Nashville, Tennessee, where the largest Kurdish community in North America resides.
"It’s unfortunate that the Kurdish leadership became more vocal about this only recently," Gundi said. KNC is a non-profit organisation lobbying for Kurdish interests in the U.S. and Canada.
But concerns about a possible outbreak of conflict between Kurds and the Iraqi government have gone far beyond Kurdish circles.
"It is critical for the U.S. to start thinking about this now because as we proceed with the disengagement, our influence will wane in Iraq," said Henry Barkey from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, of the need for the U.S. to address existing problems between Kurds and the Iraqi government before it leaves the war-torn country.
Barkey authored a report for the Washington-based think-tank on how to prevent conflict over Kurdistan. "Therefore, we need to hit the iron when it is hot. And so, it is very important to help and we haven't done this in the past, to help look at some of these issues," Barkey said on the sidelines of an event at Carnegie to discuss his report last month.
While Washington appears indifferent, at least in its official discourse, to calls for helping forge a common understanding between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs, tensions are continuing to build.
In an attempt to flex its muscles, the Iraqi government recently announced it will not recognise the visas stamped by Kurdish government on the passports of foreign visitors. It also tried to send an army division to take over security tasks in Kirkuk but had to halt the plan for the time being as it met stiff Kurdish opposition.
The coming two years - from now until the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq - will be decisive in determining how the Kurds’ relations with the central government and the country’s Arabs will turn out. But all signs are that Iraq is far from a long-term stability.
This article, by Dahr Jasmail, was published by IPS, February 20, 2009
BAGHDAD, Feb 19 (IPS) - "We only want a normal life," says Um Qasim, sitting in a bombed out building in Baghdad. She and others around have been saying that for years.
Um Qasim lives with 13 family members in a brick shanty on the edge of a former military intelligence building in the Mansoor district of Baghdad.
Five of her children are girls. Homelessness is not easy for anyone, but it is particularly challenging for women and girls.
"Me and my girls have to be extra careful living this way," Um Qasim told IPS. "We are tired of always being afraid, because any day, any time, strange men walk through our area, and there is no protection for us. Each day brings a new threat to us, and all the women here."
She rarely leaves her area, she says. Nor do her girls, for fear of being kidnapped or raped.
"I don't like being afraid all the time," says one of Um Qasim's daughters. "But my mother tells us to always be careful, and I can see her fear, so it scares me."
The compound, which was the headquarters of former dictator Saddam Hussein's son Qusay Hussein, was heavily damaged by U.S. air strikes during the invasion in March 2003. Buildings like this became shelters for thousands displaced then and later.
In all 135 families, about 750 people, live in this compound.
"It is living in misery," says Um Qasim. Home is a bare concrete room shared by eight of her family members. "The government gives us 50 litres of heating and cooking oil each month, but we run out of it very soon, and then we have to try to find money to buy more so we can cook and try to stay warm."
The bombed building is in a state of total disrepair. Concrete blocks hang precariously from metal bars, many ceilings are partially collapsed, and all of the outer walls are gone.
There is no water, no electricity, no sewage, and no garbage disposal. Piles of garbage, diapers, decaying food scraps and human excrement are scattered around the area.
"We have no water, no money, and no work," says Ahmed Hussein, 15. "How can a human live in this misery? We are so tired."
Opportunities to find a way out are few. Unemployment across Iraq is high, between 40-65 percent. And the price of oil, the source of 90 percent of government revenue, has fallen. The government has not much to give out.
Last month the government decided to evict all people who have been squatting in government buildings or on government land since the invasion. Local NGOs estimate that more than 250,000 squatters live on the streets or in such shelters all over Baghdad.
"The Iraqi Cabinet has decided to evict all squatters in or on government property - land, houses, residential buildings or offices. They will be given financial help to find alternative places to live," said a government statement Jan. 4.
The government gave squatters 60 days from Jan. 1 to leave or face legal action, but later decided to give them more time. No one knows when the next order might come.
"We want help from the Iraqi government," says Nasir Fadlawi, 48, unofficial manager of Qasim's compound. "I am asking the government to care for us, as we are the sons and daughters of Iraq. We would not be here if they would help us."
Fadlawi says most people in the area are either economic refugees, or those displaced from their homes during the sectarian violence that racked Baghdad in 2006. "The Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army often come here and threaten us," he said. "But we have a right to live."
Fadlawi says it is difficult to find work or alternative places to live in also because of the corruption. The last time he applied for a job he was asked for 700 dollars. "Where am I going to get that money when I don't have a job to begin with."
The government may have to delay plans to build new housing. The Ministry of Displacement and Migration is reported to have postponed some new housing projects until 2010.
"We asked for 40 billion Iraqi dinars (34.2 million dollars) for the ministry's investment budget but we were told that only 8 billion (6.85 million dollars) could be allocated," said Ali Shaalan, head of the Ministry's planning directorate in a statement Jan. 4. "This could prevent us from achieving our goals for this year."
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) released a report Jan. 1 that estimated there are 1.6 million internally displaced persons in Iraq. The report said that almost two-thirds, just over a million, live in Baghdad, more than half of them women or girls. The report pointed out that displaced women are more prone to rape and other forms of sexual violence.