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 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.
This article, by Leila Fadel and Jamal Naji, was published by McClatchy's Washington Bureau, February 4, 2009
BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials moved to quell rising tensions between rival Sunni Muslim Arab factions in once-restive Anbar province Wednesday by recounting some of the ballots that were cast in last Saturday's provincial elections, even before the official results are known.
The Independent High Electoral Commission in Baghdad said it had acted after Sunni tribal leaders accused the province's ruling Iraqi Islamic Party of rigging the vote.
"The committee came in today to investigate the allegations of forgery," said Aqeel al Mashhadani, the spokesman for the Independent High Electoral Commission in Anbar province. "They recounted several boxes today."
Many signs of voting fraud were reported. Poll workers at five centers told McClatchy that they saw Iraqi Islamic Party loyalists filling out blank ballots for registered voters who didn't show and stuffing the ballot box. In one case, a poll worker said he was asked to fill out the ballots himself.
In another, a polling center employee said that he was ordered to leave at the end of the day so that party loyalists could fill in the ballots of voters who didn't show up.
The formal accusations of vote rigging came from Ahmed Abu Risha and other tribal leaders. Abu Risha — the Anbar head of a political movement, Iraq's Awakening Council, that grew out of a tribal group formed to battle militants — is widely credited with pacifying the province that was once a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency and al Qaida in Iraq.
At a news conference Wednesday at his compound, Abu Risha brandished polling-result forms that he charged had been altered and demanded that fraudulent counts be disallowed.
"We will not fight with weapons; we will fight with these documents," he said.
The city of Ramadi, at one time a killing field for U.S. soldiers who patrolled the hostile streets and deadly for residents, now is relatively calm. If Saturday's elections aren't considered credible, however, that could ignite a new round of violence.
Nearly all residents of the Sunni Arab province boycotted national elections in 2005, denouncing what they said was an illegitimate vote held under U.S. occupation, and many joined the armed resistance against a foreign army on their soil. Saturday's provincial elections were the first in which they'd participated.
Tribal leaders such as Abu Risha now think that they're entitled to political representation in view of the sacrifices they made to cleanse the province of al Qaida in Iraq and other militants. His brother, the former head of the movement, was killed.
However, the Iraqi Islamic Party, which took power in the province by default because it was the only Sunni Arab group that participated in the 2005 election, also thinks that it took big risks for a democratic outcome. The party, which has ruled the province since then with a governor appointed by the provincial council, has little popular standing with many Sunnis, who consider it unrepresentative, corrupt and linked to violent groups.
Complaints about the election have been gathering force since Monday, when tribal gunmen took to the streets in what security officials said was a protest of fraudulent voting results. Security officials imposed a curfew.
Abu Risha said Wednesday, however, that the gunmen weren't protesting but celebrating what they thought was a win for their movement.
Saleh al Mutlaq, the head of another Sunni party, the Gathering of the Iraqi National Projects, said in an interview after returning from Anbar province that tribal leaders were outraged at the idea that the Iraqi Islamic Party would continue to govern there.
"Unless the electoral commission treats the complaints fairly, conflict is coming to Anbar," he said. "They cheated, and the tribal leaders will not allow them to govern them."
Security officials in Anbar braced for possible violence.
"We will not allow the province to return to square one," said Gen. Tariq Yousef, Anbar's police chief. "We will not be merciful. We will not be merciful with those who violate the law no matter who they are."
The poll workers who told McClatchy that they'd witnessed fraudulent voting all spoke on the condition of anonymity, afraid of retaliation.
One employee said he was forced to enter votes on ballots for the party by the head of the center, a party loyalist.
"The news is bad," he recalled the official telling him, referring to the party's number of voters. The official said he'd watch for observers so the man wouldn't get caught.
The man said he told the official that he was afraid, and the head of the center responded with one remark.
"They need to send complaints, and this can only be sent through me," he said. "Don't be afraid."
A request for a response to the accusations e-mailed to the head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, Tareq al Hashemi, who's also one of Iraq's vice presidents, wasn't answered Wednesday.
This article, by James Warden, was published in Stars and Stripes, January 25, 2009
BAGHDAD — Jabar Abu Abdullah once had a good job — guarding a farm in Sab al Bor — and a trailer to live in.
But like many Iraqis, he fled his home four years ago when sectarian fighting broke out. Now, unlike those countrymen who are returning to their old neighborhoods as the violence subsides, Abdullah remains in the Baghdad slum of Chirkuk, operating a closet-sized general store.
“I don’t own anything, so I can’t go back,” he said.
Most reports on Iraqis who fled sectarian fighting have focused on those who want to reclaim their homes. Yet masses of displaced Iraqis have no homes to return to, and no desire to return to the areas where they once lived.
They’ve settled illegally on government land, built homes out of whatever was handy and refuse to move on. While the Iraqi government has had widespread success resettling those with homes, this group of internally displaced people, or IDP, is proving to be an altogether different problem. Baghdad province itself has an estimated 100,000 squatters.
The displaced homeless are among Iraq’s most destitute, although that group also includes some who simply don’t have a deed for homes they bought. Many weren’t even forced out by sectarian fighting. They left impoverished rural areas for Baghdad in the hope of making a better life. Migrants actually started building Chirkuk in 2003, before militias began terrorizing local neighborhoods en masse.
“We’re not even ‘low income.’ We’re ‘below income,’ ” Abdullah said.
Chirkuk is one of 33 so-called “IDP clusters” in Baghdad’s Kadimiyah district, said Lt. Col. Christopher Beckert, deputy commander for the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. These squatter villages range from a couple of dozen families to 780 families in Chirkuk. The district also has a government-sanctioned IDP camp with services similar to any other neighborhood, including schools.
The camps are blights on the neighborhoods around them. Their concentrated poverty makes them fertile ground for extremist groups who pay the destitute to place roadside bombs or attack coalition forces. Soldiers patrol the area daily to keep tabs on it.
“We know the Americans are here to defend us and fight al-Qaida, but we’re poor people,” Abdullah said. “If they offer money, we’ll do it.”
Residents set up stores in unsanctioned areas that don’t meet local codes and without paying requisite fees. The illegal stores undercut legitimate businesses. The Kadimiyah public works department bulldozed one group of illegal stores after the owners ignored warnings to leave.
But mostly they’re just unsightly. Residents slapped the homes together from cinder blocks, sheet metal, tarps and U.N. food bags. Trash litters the streets. In some districts, raw sewage turns the dirt roads into a fetid morass.|
Kadimiyah residents, justly proud of their rapid return to normalcy, blame the clusters for many of the continuing problems in their communities.
“And they’re right. In many cases, there’s no argument there,” Beckert said.
Yet those displaced people can also be scapegoats for larger problems, he continued. Beckert noted that they wouldn’t be able to place roadside bombs without help from someone living in the community legitimately. They also face significant hurdles their richer counterparts don’t.
In his estimation, property owners make up the largest share of IDPs in his command’s area — about 3,000 people have returned home just in Hurriya, a Kadimiyah neighborhood. But helping those without a home isn’t as easy as helping those who own property in the neighborhoods they fled.
“I think it’s going to take longer to handle fewer people because they’re not the priority right now,” Beckert said. “Their problem is the district councils don’t want them in their neighborhood.”Still, the displaced homeless have received some not-insignificant help. Improved security allowed the U.N. to install water tanks in Chirkuk and distribute humanitarian aid. Altogether, international agencies have provided $1.5 million in relief to Hurriya.
The relief only temporarily alleviates the hardships.
“What is the U.N. going to give you, split peas and rice?” Abdullah asked. “We got all that. We need a different way to help us. Our suffering is property.”
The Iraqi government has directed substantial resources for homeless displaced people. There are migrant return centers that pay returning families 1 million dinars, or about $870, to get back on their feet. It even paid residents of one cluster 3 million dinars to leave so it could turn the land into a parking area for visitors to Kadimiyah’s lucrative shrine. In all, the number of displaced homeless in the district has dropped by half over the past year.
But paying large numbers of people to find a new home can increase costs in Baghdad’s limited rental market, and some of those who were paid to leave probably just moved into other squatter villages. In all likelihood, the half that still remains will be the most difficult to help.
The government could set up more government-sanctioned IDP camps, Beckert said. It could also help them find places to rent or consider low-income housing. But it’s sometimes been slow to help.
“We as Americans want to see these people not living in trash,” Beckert said. “The Iraqi government’s answer is, ‘They shouldn’t be here, but what are we going to do about it?’ They don’t want to be pushed. They want to have an Iraqi solution to it. We may be just a little too impatient.”
Abdullah can complain about many things in Chirkuk, but business isn’t one them. Although he’s not rich by any means, his neighbors ensure that he has enough to provide for his wife and three daughters. The key, he said, is taking care of his customers.
“If you treat them right, you’ll make a good business,” he said.
That’s a lesson Abdullah said he wants the Iraqi government to remember as it figures out what to do with places like Chirkuk.
This article, by Gordon Lubold, was publishedby the Christian Science Monitor, January 26, 2009
Washington - President Obama's plan to bring American troops home from Iraq is beginning to jell, but whether he keeps his campaign promise to do it in 16 months may depend on logistics, security needs in Afghanistan, and the political dynamic he confronts at the Pentagon.
Ultimately, the decision rests with the new commander in chief, who will either lean on a timeline-oriented departure to meet political goals or a conditions-based plan more pleasing to military commanders that could take two years or more.
Mr. Obama is expected to meet this week with the heads of the four services, including the Army and Marine Corps, who are eager to move beyond Iraq. Obama will weigh their views with those of senior commanders, including Gen. David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, both of whom are inclined to take more than 16 months to withdraw from Iraq.
"We have ... been looking at several options, and obviously 16 months is one of them," Mr. Gates told reporters Thursday.
The rate of departure may be first determined by what the president decides should now be the American security posture in Iraq. Many foreign-policy experts say the US has a strategic interest in leaving a sizable force there for years to come, and some believe that could mean as many as 60,000 troops remain in noncombat-related roles. The Bush administration has signed a "status of forces agreement" that requires most troops to be out of Iraq by 2011.
But other factors are at play. One is logistics: the ability to rapidly remove as many as 143,000 uniformed personnel, some 60,000 aircraft and vehicles, 120,000 trailer-sized containers, and 150,000 private contractors from nearly 50 bases and installations.
The military must decide what equipment stays and what goes. Gifting thousands of used Humvees or old generators to the Iraqis, for example, would cut down on what is shipped home. But it could also lead to more decisions about helping the Iraqis maintain the equipment. And then, who would pay for it?
The military has already been quietly moving materiel out of Iraq over the past 18 to 24 months, says a military official who requested anonymity. He adds, "We think right now we're about the right size we need to be."
The Marines have also been shipping as much as possible out of Iraq in anticipation of redeployment orders, Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, told reporters Friday. General Conway, who wants to send new forces to Afghanistan, has pushed for a reasonable but speedy redeployment. Obama is also looking to send more forces from Iraq to retool the mission in Afghanistan.
After the first Gulf War, an additional 6,000 National Guard and Reservists were sent to Kuwait to help get all the equipment out in about nine months, says Gus Pagonis, a so-called "logistical wizard" who, as a three-star Army general, oversaw the withdrawal from that conflict.
But Mr. Pagonis points out that he had "no terrorist threat and no threat of security." Withdrawal from Iraq, on the other hand, is expected to invite insurgent attacks and may require extra time.
Security will be on Obama's mind as he makes his decision. "The commander in chief cannot be political," says Pagonis. "To the average American, he is making the decision as president, but to the armed forces, he is making the decision as commander in chief."
If Obama slides on his 16-month withdrawal plans, he can use logistical and security concerns for political cover.
"Arguably, Iraqi security forces are improving fast enough that, absent a major disruption to the system, we could try to leave on Obama's 16-month schedule," says Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington. But Mr. O'Hanlon says it would be a mistake to rush out of Iraq, ignoring the political realities, unresolved issues, and ethnic dissension that still exists there.
"The drawdown pace should be gradual this year and can then accelerate next year," he says.
More streamlined processes mean that Iraq does not have the "iron mountains" of stockpiled equipment that posed enormous logistical challenges in the first Gulf War, say military officials. Still, whatever decision Obama makes will require planners to move figurative mountains to get it done. "It will be tough, but it will not be insurmountable," says the military official.
At the gates of the Green Zone every day, Marwa Yasin is greeted by a volley of suggestive remarks from the Iraqi guards who this month took over from their American counterparts on checkpoint duty.
"Why is the moon so cross?" the men say, calling Yasin by the colloquial term for an aloof, beautiful woman. "What are you doing after work today? Why didn't you call me yesterday?"
The 19-year-old student is one of a growing group of women who says they run a gauntlet of insults and innuendo when they go to the Green Zone, a fortified complex of government offices, palm orchards and palaces built by Saddam Hussein. For the past six years, it has symbolized the United States presence in Iraq.
Iman al-Khalidi, a 23-year-old journalist, says she returned from a trip to the Green Zone to find a note containing a phone number inside her bag, supposedly left by a "lover who could who could not sleep" since he saw her at a checkpoint.
Khalidi believes the paper had been placed inside her bag during a search.
The responsibility for securing this vast area of central Baghdad passed from American to Iraqi forces on January 1, 2009.
Iraqi officials insist they will investigate all allegations of harassment against the guards now in charge of security.
Marwa Yasin, who attends an exclusive school inside the zone, says women had less to fear when the Iraqi security forces had American overseers.
"The American soldiers would punish any Iraqis who verbally harassed us and take away their badges," she said. "Now we miss their protection."
Most Iraqis and foreigners were barred from the Green Zone unless they lived or worked there. The U.S. military controlled access, protecting government officials and diplomats from the insurgency raging beyond its walls.
Amid a recent improvement in security, Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki was able to hail the handover of the Green Zone as a sign that his country was regaining its sovereignty.
Weeks earlier, his government had finalized a deal on the eventual withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.
The government says it will eventually open up the Green Zone to the public, though it has not set a date for this.
Mahdi Kathem, the 33-year-old owner of a food store in Baghdad's Harethya neighbourhood, said, "Entering the Green Zone has been like a dream for us."
He says the transfer of the zone to Iraqi control is a big step in the "restoration of our sovereignty".
Like Kathem, most Baghdadis are pleased at the promise of regaining access to a once-forbidden part of their city.
However, many who have been working inside the Green Zone are pessimistic about its prospects under Iraqi control.
They fear the gradual withdrawal of American forces will worsen security and take a chunk out of their earnings.
Adil Mahmoud, a 20-year-old taxi driver, says the takeover of the zone by Iraqi security forces has been bad for business.
"My profits have fallen because of traffic jams inside the zone," he said. "The Iraqi forces are closing off streets and setting up checkpoints, creating congestion just like they've done in the rest of Baghdad."
Ali Jasim, a 22-year-old working in the zone's Iraqi-owned Freedom restaurant, says the new security arrangements have prompted foreign companies to relocate to Baghdad airport, which remains largely under the control of foreign guards.
"The number of customers who used to come to the restaurant has fallen by half because of the danger," Jasim said.
A government official insists Iraqi forces are capable of keeping the zone secure for all its occupants.
"I am not aware of any organizations leaving the Green Zone," said Firyad Rawanduzi, a member of the Iraqi council of representatives' security and defense committee.
"Security for all areas inside the zone is handled by Iraqi forces and they have done their job successfully."
Rawanduzi also said his committee had not received any reports from women of misconduct or harassment by the guards. "We will punish anyone guilty of such behavior if we receive complaints in the future," he said.
Over the past year, general improvements in security across Iraq have helped lessen the Green Zone's isolation.
Mohammed, a 17-year-old working with a private security firm inside the zone, says he is now able to visit his family outside more frequently.
At the height of the violence, he was confined to the zone because of the threat from militants to anyone who worked there. The teenager spent long periods without seeing the family he had given up his schooling to support.
Mohammed's mementoes from his last two-and-a-half years inside the zone include a photo of himself with some American soldiers.
"The handover is a good step," said Mohammed, who did not give his real name because of security concerns. "We have to protect our areas by ourselves."
Despite the ceremonial handover on January 1, the U.S. military currently still has a presence in the Green Zone, mentoring and supporting the Iraqi force.
Iraqi officials say the handover will be completed on March 31, at the end of a three-month transition period. The minister for national security, Shirwan al-Waeli, says U.S. forces are training and monitoring the Iraqis' handling of "technical equipment and other such issues."
Waeli says protection of the Green Zone has been assigned to a brigade of 3,000 men from the ministry of defense, who are under the command of the prime minister.
He says the government plans to support the brigade's work with an intelligence unit, supplied by the ministry of national security.
The agreement on the U.S. forces' withdrawal from Iraq, signed late last year, says the Green Zone must be fully handed over to the Iraqi government.
Iraqi forces already guard all five entrances to the zone. They also control vehicle checkpoints inside the zone.
Pedestrian checkpoints inside are jointly manned by Iraqi and American forces. The Iraqis there have the same duties as the Americans, asking for badges and checking them.
On the ground, the Iraqis are getting to grips with the new order.
"Now I, as an Iraqi officer, can give orders to the American soldier, whereas this was not possible in the past," said Mohammed Ameen Abbas, a 24-year-old officer in charge of a checkpoint in the Green Zone.
Ali Hameed, a 19-year-old soldier at another checkpoint, said Iraqi guards are more understanding than the Americans.
"We can still assist our citizens, even if they do not have identification cards with them," he said. "The Americans were strict in their treatment of Iraqis. It is different now that we have taken responsibility."
However, Marwa, who goes to school inside the zone, fears the Iraqi guards will be less reliable.
"The American soldier would never single anyone out for favorable treatment, even if it was his father," she said.
"But the Iraqi soldiers can show courtesy to their friends and let them enter the Green Zone, even though they do not have identification cards. What guarantee is there that a suicide bomber might not enter the zone and head to my school?"
This article, by Robert Reid, was published by the Aslciated Press, January 21, 2009
Iraq is willing to have the U.S. withdraw all its troops and assume security for the country before the end of 2011, the departure date agreed to by former President George W. Bush, the spokesman of the Iraqi prime minister said.
Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh made the comment Tuesday, a day before President Barack Obama and his senior commanders were to meet in Washington to discuss the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama promised during the campaign to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. The new president said in his inaugural address Tuesday that he would "begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people."
The government-owned newspaper Al-Sabah reported Wednesday that Iraqi authorities have drafted contingency plans in case Obama orders a "sudden" withdrawal of all forces and not just combat troops.
Al-Dabbagh told Associated Press Television News that Iraqis had been worried about a quick U.S. departure.
But with the emphasis on a responsible withdrawal, al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi government was willing for the U.S. to leave "even before the end of 2011." The Bush administration agreed in a security agreement signed in November to remove all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.
The chairman of parliament's defense committee, Abbas al-Bayati, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the Iraqis hoped Obama would stick by the timeline laid the agreement.
"Nevertheless, we already have a 'Plan B,' which is that we have the ability to deploy any needed troops to any hot area in Iraq," al-Bayati said. "We are capable of controlling the situation in the country and we believe we have passed the worst" despite a lack of air and artillery power.
The war has left many Iraqis conflicted - anxious to see the Americans leave but fearful of the future if they depart too soon. Distrust of rival sectarian and ethnic groups still runs deep, along with doubts about Iraq's political leadership.
Across this war-shattered country, many Iraqis watched the transfer of power in Washington on Arab satellite television stations. Many of them expressed hope that the departure of the president who launched the Iraq war in 2003 would speed the return of peace.
"I think that the U.S. image and policies will improve because Obama will try to avoid the awful mistakes committed by Bush," said Ripwar Karim, 26, a Kurdish merchant who watched the inauguration in a cafe in Sulaimaniyah.
Several others in the cafe cheered when Obama appeared on the TV screen but gave a "thumbs-down" sign when the camera honed in on Bush.
"Bush was as a nightmare on the chests of the Iraqis for the last eight years," said Ahmed Salih, an engineer in Fallujah. "Today we got rid of a problem that lasted eight years. Bush divided Iraq instead of uniting it. He proclaimed democracy but we haven't seen it."
U.S. officials are carefully watching the Jan. 31 provincial elections in Iraq as a sign of whether the country is moving sectarian and ethnic conflicts from the battlefield to the ballot box.
Violence is down sharply but attacks still continue.
A car bomb exploded Wednesday near the convoy of Sunni politician and educator Ziyad al-Ani, killing three people and wounding five, police said. Al-Ani escaped injury, they said.
A roadside bomb also exploded early Wednesday in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing one civilian and wounding another, police Col. Baldar Shukir said.
A blast late Tuesday killed an Iraqi soldier and wounded another in Baghdad, police in the capital said.
It may finally be 2009, but in some ways, given these last years, it might as well be 800 BCE.
From the ninth to the seventh centuries BCE, the palace walls of the kings who ruledthe Assyrian Empire were decorated with vast stone friezes, filled with enough deadbodies to sate any video-game maker and often depicting –in almost comic strip-style– various bloody royal victories and conquests. At least one of them shows Assyriansoldiers lopping off the heads of defeatedenemies and piling them into pyramids foran early version of what, in theVCE (Vietnam Common Era) of the 1960s,Americans came to know as the "body count."
So I learned recently by wandering through a traveling exhibit of ancient Assyrian art from the British Museum. On the audio tour accompanying the show, one expert pointed out that Assyrian scribes, part of an impressive imperial bureaucracy, carefully counted those heads and recordedthe numbers for the greater glory of the king (as, in earlier centuries, Egyptian scribes had recorded countsof severed hands for victorious pharaohs).
Hand it to art museums. Is there anything stranger than wandering through one and locking eyes with a Vermeer lady, a Van Eyck portrait, or one of Rembrandt's burghers staring out at you across the centuries? What a reminder of the common humanity we share with the distant past. In a darker sense, it's no less a reminder of our kinship across time to spot a little pyramid of heads on a frieze, imagine an Assyrian scribe making his count, and – eerily enough – feel at home. What a measure of just how few miles "the march of civilization" (as my parents' generation once called it) has actually covered.
Prejudiced Toward War
If you need an epitaph for the Bush administration, here's one to test out: They tried. They really tried. But they couldn't help it. They just had to count.
In a sense, George W. Bush did the Assyrians proud. With his secret prisons, his outsourced torture chambers, his officially approved kidnappings, the murders committed by his interrogators, the massacres committed by his troops and mercenaries and the shock-and-awe slaughter he ordered from the air, it's easy enough to imagine what those Assyrian scribes would have counted, had they somehow been teleported into his world. True, his White House didn't have friezes of his victories (one problem being that there were none to glorify); all it had was Saddam Hussein's captured pistol proudly stored in a small study off the Oval Office. Almost 3,000 years later, however, Bush's "scribes," still traveling with the imperial forces, continued to count the bodies as they piled ever higher in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Pakistani
borderlands, and elsewhere.
Many of those body counts were duly made public. This record of American "success" was visible to anyone who visited the Pentagon's website and viewed
its upbeat news articles complete with enumerations of "Taliban fighters" or, in Iraq,
"terrorists," the Air Force's news feed listing the number of bombs dropped on "anti-Afghan forces," or the U.S. Central Command's
stories of killing "Taliban
On the other hand, history, as we know, doesn't repeat itself and – unlike the Assyrians – the Bush administration would have preferred not tocount, or at least not to make its body counts public. One of its small but tellingly unsuccessful struggles, a sign of the depth of its failure on its own terms, was to avoid the release of those counts.
Its aversion to the body count made some sense. After all, since the 1950s,body-counting for the U.S. military has invariably signaled not impending victory, but disaster, and even defeat. In fact, one of the strangest things about the American empire has been this: Between 1945 and George W. Bush's second term,the U.S. economy, American corporations, and the dollar have held remarkablesway over much of the rest of the world. New York City has been the planet's financial capital and Washington its war capital. (Moscow, even at the height of the Cold War, always came in a provincial second.)
In the same period, the U.S. military effectively garrisoned much of the globe from the Horn of Africa to Greenland, from South Korea to Qatar, while its Navy controlled the seven seas, its Air Forcedominated the global skies, its nuclear command stood ready to unleash the powers of planetary death, and its space command watched the heavens. In the wake of the Cold War, its various military commands (including Northcom, set up by the Bush administration in 2002, and Africom, set up in 2007) divided the greater part of the planet into what were essentially military satrapies. And yet, the U.S. military, post-1945, simply could not win the wars that mattered.
Because the neocons of the Bush administration brushed aside this counterintuitive fact, they believed themselves faced in 2000 with an unparalleled opportunity (whose frenetic exploitation would be triggered by the attacks of 9/11, "thePearl Harbor" of the new century). With the highest-tech military on theplanet, funded at levels no other set of nations could cumulatively match, the United States, they were convinced, was uniquely situated to give the phrase "sole superpower" historically unprecedented meaning. Even the Assyrians at their height, the Romans in their Pax Romana centuries, the British in the endless decades when the sun could never set on its empire, would prove pikers by comparison.
In this sense, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the various neocons in the administration were fundamentalist idolaters – and what theyworshipped was the staggering power of the U.S. military. They were believers in a church whose first tenet was the efficacy of force above all else. Though few of them had the slightestmilitary experience, they gave real meaning to the word bellicose. Theywere prejudiced toward war.
With awesome military power at their command, they were also convinced that they could go it alone as the dominating force on the planet. As with true believers everywhere, they had only contempt for those they couldn't convert to their worldview. That contempt made "unilateralism" their strategy of choice, and a global Pax Americana their goal (along with, of course, a Pax Republicana at home).
If All Else Fails, Count the Bodies
It was in this context that they were not about to count the enemy dead. In their wars, as these fervent, inside-the-Beltwayutopians saw it, there would be no need to do so. With the "shock and awe" forces at their command, they would refocus American attention on the real metric of victory, the taking of territory and of enemy capitals. At the same time, they were preparing to disarm the only enemy that truly scared them, the American people, by making none of the mistakes of the Vietnam era, including – as the president later admitted – counting bodies.
Of course, both the Pax Americana and the Pax Republicana would prove will-o'-the-wisps. As it turned out, the Bush administration, blind to the actual world it faced, disastrously miscalculated the nature of American power – especially military power – and what it was capable of doing. And yet,had they taken a clear-eyed look at what American military power had actuallyachieved in action since 1945, they might have been sobered. In the major wars (and even some minor actions) the U.S. military fought in those decades, it had been massively destructive but never victorious, nor even particularlysuccessful. In many ways, in the classic phrase of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong, it had been a "paper tiger."
Yes, it had "won" largely meaningless victories – in Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983; against the toothless Panamanian regime of Manuel Noriega in Operation Just Cause in 1989; in Operation Desert Storm, largely an air campaign against Saddam Hussein's helpless military in 1990 (in a war that settled nothing); in NATO's Operation Deliberate Force, an air war against the essentially defenseless Serbian military in 1995 (while meeting disaster in operations in Iran in 1980 and Somalia in 1993). On the other hand, in Korea in the early 1950s and in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from the 1960s into the early 1970s, it had committed its forces all but atomically, and yet had met nothing but stalemate, disaster, and defeat against enemies who, on paper at least, should not have been able to stand up to American power.
It was in the context of defeat and then frustration in Korea that the counting of enemy bodies began. Once Chinese communist armies had entered that war in massive numbers in late 1950 and inflicted a terrible series of defeats on American forces but could not sweep them off the peninsula, that conflict settled into a "meatgrinder" of a stalemate in which the hope of taking significant territory faded; yet some measure of success was needed as public frustration mounted in the United States: thus began the infamous body count of enemy dead.
The body count reappeared quite early in the Vietnam War, again as a shorthand way of measuring success in a conflict in which the taking of territory was almost meaningless, the countryside a hostile place, the enemy hard to distinguish from the general population, and our own in-country allies weak and largely unable to strengthen themselves. Those tallies of dead bodies, announced daily by military spokesmen to increasingly dubious reporters in Saigon, were the public face of American "success" in the Vietnam era. Each body was to be further evidence of what Gen. William Westmoreland called "the light at the end of the tunnel." When those dead bodies and any sense of success began to part ways, however, when, in the terminology of the times, a "credibility gap" opened between the metrics of victory and reality, the body count morphed into a symbol of barbarism as well as of defeat. It helped stoke an antiwar movement.
This was why, in choosing to take on Saddam Hussein's hapless military in 2003 – the administration was looking for a "cakewalk" campaign that would "shock and awe" enemies throughout the Middle East – they officially chose not to release any counts of enemy dead. Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the administration's Afghan operation in 2001 and the invasion of Iraq thereafter, put the party line succinctly, "We don't do body counts."
As the president finally admitted in some frustration to a group of conservative columnists in October 2006, his administration had "made a conscious effort not to be a body-count team." Not intending to repeat the 1960s experience, he and his advisers had planned out an opposites war on the home front – anything done in Vietnam would not be done this time around – and that meant not offering official counts of the dead which might stoke an antiwar movement… until, as in Korea and Vietnam, frustration truly set in.
When the taking of Baghdad in April 2003 proved no more of a capstone on American victory than the taking of Kabul in November 2001, when everything began to go disastrously wrong and the carefully enumerated count of the American dead in Iraq rose precipitously, when "victory" (a word the president still invoked 15 times in a single speech in November 2005) adamantly refused to make an appearance, the moment for the body count had arrived. Despite all the planning, they just couldn't stop themselves. A frustrated president expressed it this way: "We don't get to say that – a thousand of the enemy killed, or whatever the number was. It's happening. You just don't know it."
Soon enough the Pentagon was regularly releasing such figures in reports on its operations and, in December 2006, the president, too, first slipped such a tally into a press briefing. ("Our commanders report that the enemy has also suffered. Offensive operations by Iraqi and coalition forces against terrorists and insurgents and death squad leaders have yielded positive results. In the months of October, November, and the first week of December, we have killed or captured nearly 5,900 of the enemy.")
It wasn't, of course, that no one had been counting. The president, as we know from Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, had long been keeping "'his own personal scorecard for the [global] war [on terror]' in the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world's most dangerous terrorists – each ready to be crossed out by the president as his forces took hem down." And the military had been counting bodies as well, but as the possibility of victory disappeared into the charnel houses of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon and the president finally gave in. While this did not stoke an antiwar movement, it represented a tacit admission of policy collapse, a kind of surrender. It was as close as an administrationthat never owned up to error could come to admitting that two more disastrous wars had been added to a string of military failures in the truncated American Century.
That implicit admission, however, took years to arrive, and in the meantime, Iraqis and Afghans – civilians, insurgents, terrorists, police, and military men – were dying in prodigious numbers.
The Global War on Terror as a Ponzi Scheme
As it happened, others were also counting. Among the earliest of them, a Web site, Iraq Body Count, carefully toted up Iraqi civilian deaths as documented in reputable media outlets. Their estimate has, by now, almost reached 100,000 – and, circumscribed by those words "documented" and "civilian," doesn't begin to get at the full scope of Iraqi deaths.
Various groups of scholars and pollsters also took up the task, using sophisticated sampling techniques (including door-to-door interviews under exceedingly dangerous conditions) arrive at reasonable approximations of the Iraqi dead. They have come up with figures ranging from the hundreds of thousands to a million or more in a country with a prewar population of perhaps 26 million. United Nations representatives have similarly attempted, under difficult circumstances, to keep a count of Iraqis fleeing into exile – exile being, after a fashion, a form of living death – and have estimated that more than 2 million Iraqis fled their country, while another 2.7 million, having fled their homes, remained "internally displaced."
Similar attempts have been made for Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch has, for instance, done its best to tally civilian deaths from air strikes in that country (while even TomDispatch has attempted to keep a modest count of wedding parties obliterated by U.S. air attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq). But, of course, the real body count in either country will never be known.
One thing is certain, however: it is an obscenity of the present moment that Iraq, still a charnel
house, still in a state of near total disrepair, still on the edge of a whole host of potential conflicts, should increasingly be
portrayed here as a limited Bush administration "surge" success. Only a country – or a punditry or a military – incapable of facing the depths of destruction
that the Bush administration let loose could reach such a conclusion.
If all roads once led to Rome, all acts of the Bush administration have led to destruction, and remarkably regularly to piles of dead or tortured bodies, counted or not. In fact, it's reasonable to say that every Bush administration foreign policy dream, including its first term fantasy about a pacified "Greater Middle East" and its late second term vision of a facilitated "peace process" between the Israelis and Palestinians, has ended in piles of bodies and in failure. Consider this a count all its own.
Looked at another way, the Bush administration's Global War on Terror and its subsidiary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have, in effect, been a giant Ponzi scheme. At a cost of nearly one trillion taxpayer dollars to date (but sure to be in the multi-trillions when all is said and done), Bush's mad "global war" simply sucked needed money out of our world at levels that made Bernie Madoff seem like a small fry.
Madoff, by his own accounting, squandered perhaps $50 billion of other people's money. The Bush administration took a trillion dollars of ours and handed it out to its crony corporate buddies and to the Pentagon as down payments on disaster – and that's without even figuring into the mix the staggering sums still needed to care for American soldiers maimed, impaired, or nearly destroyed by Bush's wars.
With Bush's "commander-in-chief" presidency only days from its end, the price tag on his "war" continues to soar as dollars grow scarce, new investors refuse to pay in, and the scheme crumbles. Unfortunately, the American people, typical suckers in such a con game, will be left with a mile-high stack of IOUs. In any Ponzi scheme comparison with Madoff, however, one difference (other than size) stands out. Sooner or later, Madoff, like Charles Ponzi himself, will end up behind bars, while George, Dick, & Co. will be writing their memoirs and living off the fat of the land.
Eight years of bodies, dead, broken, mutilated, abused; eight years of ruined lives down countless drains; eight years of massive destruction to places from Baghdad to New Orleans where nothing of significance was ever rebuilt: all this was brought to us by a president, now leaving office without apology, who said the following in his first inaugural address: "I will live and lead by these principles: to advance my convictions with civility… to call for responsibility and try to live it as well."
He lived, however, by quite a different code. Destruction without responsibility, that's Bush's legacy, but who's counting now that the destruction mounts and the bodies begin to pile up here in the "homeland," in our own body-count nation? The laid off, the pensionless, the homeless, the suicides – imagine what that trillion dollars might have meant to them.
It's clear enough in these last days of the Bush administration that its model was Iraq, dismantled and devastated. The world, had he succeeded, might have become George W. Bush's Iraq.
Yes, he came up short, but, given the global economic situation, how much short we don't yet know. Perhaps, in the future, historians will call him a
Caesar – of destruction. Veni, vidi, vastavi… [I came, I saw, I devastated…]
[Note: I rely on many wonderful sources and Web sites in putting together TomDispatch.com, but as 2009 starts, I would feel remiss if I didn't credit three in particular: Antiwar.com, Juan Cole's Informed Comment, and Paul Woodward's The War in Context. Each is invaluable in its own way; each made my task of trying to make some sense of George W. Bush's world so much easier. A deep bow of thanks to all three. Finally, I can't help wondering about one missing Iraqi who remains on my mind: a young Sunni woman living in Baghdad in 2003, who adopted the pseudonym Riverbend. She began her "girlblog from Iraq," Baghdad Burning, with this epigraph: "…I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend…" For several years, she provided a vivid citizen's reportage on Bush's disaster that should have put most journalists to shame. As I wrote in 2006, hers was "an unparalleled record of the American war on, and occupation of, Iraq (and Riverbend writes like an angel). [It represents] simply the best contemporary account we are likely to have any time soon of the hell into which we've plunged that country." Her last report from Syria
– she had just arrived as a refugee – was posted on Oct. 22, 2007. Since then, as far as I know, she has not been heard from.]