Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Iraq Descends To Hell

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersch talked about the unwinnable war in Iraq at Berkeley. Together with some other news, his arguments, and his newest as yet unreported story, a picture even more dire than before emerges.

First some other news:

Both Bush and Kerry want to repeat the Vietnam error of building up local police/armed forces to fight in US soldiers' stead. Now the idea of having Iraqis kill Iraqis for American causes is stupid enough, but what makes it even more idiotic in Iraq is the jobs situation - what do you hope for with recruits like this one [via Left I]:

It was the latest in a series of insurgent strikes targeting Iraqi recruits and security personnel that have killed at least 100 in the past month.

But the applicants keep coming.

``They told us to come back next Saturday if we still want the job. And I will come back,'' said Mohammed, 24. ``Either I will die or I will have this job.''

It isn't love of country or hatred for the insurgents that motivates Mohammed. He called interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi a ``terrorist'' and ``worse than Saddam.''

``But I have to live. There are no other job opportunities. I have looked everywhere,'' he said.

The second news is about WMD: I have often argued, last time in the comments to this A Fistful Of Euros post, that to deal with a WMD-wielding rogue state with terrorism in mind, invasion is the worst choice, because post-war chaos is the best condition for WMD to get on the black market. But, what is true for WMD is also true for WMD programme spare parts - and as an update to stories of the looting of Iraqi nuclear sites, the IAEA found that high-precision equipment is still missing, unlike other stuff that surfaced in various scrapyards:

Equipment which could be used in an illicit nuclear bomb programme has disappeared from previously monitored sites in Iraq, and radioactively contaminated items from there have been found abroad, the International Atomic Energy Agency has told the UN.
Installations in Saddam Hussein's former nuclear bomb programme were being systematically dismantled, its director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, has told the security council, warning of the implications for trafficking.

In a letter to Sir Emyr Jones Parry, the British diplomat presiding over the security council, Dr ElBaradei said his inspectors had "been able to identify quantities of industrial items, some radioactively contaminated, that had been transferred out of Iraq from sites [previously] monitored by the IAEA".

These did not not include "high precision equipment" with a dual civilian or military use which would be valuable in a nuclear bomb programme. But he added: "The disappearance of such equipment and materials may be of proliferation significance."

But Jack Straw, admitting the 45 minutes claim was wrong, still thinks the invasion was justified...

Now to Seymour Hersch. As my source, I leave the new stories for last, first some of his arguments:

"How could eight or nine neoconservatives come and take charge of this government?" he asked. "They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military! So you say to yourself, How fragile is this democracy?"

Indeed - it is not enough to blame the neocons, you have to ask what's wrong with the system that allowed them to succeed relatively easily.

"It doesn't matter that Bush scares the hell out of me," Hersh answered. "What matters is that he scares the hell out of a lot of very important people in Washington who can't speak out, in the military, in the intelligence community. They know in ways that none of us know, the incredible gap between what is and what [Bush] thinks."

Here's one of the things what's wrong with the system. People in the bureaucracy cover their ass, their personal ass, despite the fact that what they watch unfolding is a big kick in their collective ass (I won't use stronger expressions).

[Bush], if he's re-elected, has only one thing to do, he's going to bomb the hell out of that place. He's been bombing the hell of that place — and here's what really irritates me again, about the press — since he set up this Potemkin Village government with Allawi on June 28 — the bombing, the daily bombing rates inside Iraq, have gone up exponentially. There's no public accounting of how many missions are flown, how much ordinance is dropped, we have no accounting and no demand to know. The only sense you get is we're basically in a full-scale air war against invisible people that we can't find, that we have no intelligence about, so we bomb what we can see.

It is indeed outrageous how the US media won't pursue, won't analyse and buries the bombing stories (that another wedding party bombing I recently wrote about seems now prehistoric...), or indeed stories of US soldiers and their Iraqi forces shooting into civilian crowds, as in Najaf and Baghdad [I can't even find a link to what I saw on a German TV of Baghdad police shooting at a crowd some time after the 12 September shooting of civilians from a US helicopter].

And with the US military doing the bombing the hell out business at roughly one thousand casualties per city rate (roughly 1000 in Nassiriyah in March/April 2003, 800 [2nd source] to 1200 in Fallujah this April, 950+ in Najaf this August), the unreported total of the casualties of invasion and occupation will soon rise another ten thousand.

"I think it's real simple to say [Bush] is a liar. But that would also suggest there was a reality that he understood," explained Hersh. "I'm serious. It is funny in sort of a sick, black humor sort of way, but the real serious problem is, he believes what he's doing." In effect, Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and the other neocons are "idealists, you can call them utopians."

Yes, what people angry at bad politicians often forget is that they can be A) stupid, B) self-deluded too - or, worse yet, C) tell lies to support their position under new circumstances, and later convince themselves that those lies weren't lies. I think this aptly describes British PM Tony Bliar; his foreign secretary Jack Straw less so. But Bush and the neocons? I think at least part of the lies they tell they know are lies, and don't convince themselves otherwise; based on the vehemence and brazenness with which they lie. And also because I don't buy that their motives equal their rhetoric. (Now this is more true of the neocons than Bush; but in his case, living in a virtual reality might be more due to a lack of intellect than susceptibility to self-delusion.)

"No amount of body bags is going to dissuade [Bush]," said Hersh, despite the fact that Hersh's sources say the war in Iraq is "not winnable. It's over." As for Kerry's war plans, Hersh said he wished he could tell him to stop talking as if the senator's plan for Iraq could somehow still eke out a victory there. "This is a disaster that's been going on. It's a civil war, the insurgency. There is no 'win' anymore in this war," he argued. "As somebody said, 'We're playing chess, they're playing Go.'"

Kerry, Edwards, Randy Beers, Fareed Zakaria, anyone listening?...

Sources were suggesting that the many acts of domestic terrorism in Iraq that U.S. officials have been attributing to suspected Al Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are in fact a smokescreen set up by the insurgents. "They decided to wage war against their own population," he said. "It's a huge step, with enormous consequences.…The insurgency has simply deflected what they're doing onto this man. And we fell for it."

Well, I think his sources are shifting the blame here. It was much more than falling for it - US propaganda built up Zarqawi, a nasty terrorist for sure but certainly not a central leader, as the next comic-strip Enemy after Osama and Saddam, blaming just about every major attack on him/excusing US bombings with him (I wrote about this earlier). On the other hand, it is legit to say that both Zarqawi and various Iraqi groups targeting civilians (say the killers of Grand Ayatollah Al-Hakim last year, where ex-Baathists are implicated) are happy with Zarqawi getting all the blame.

He also repeated a question often posed to him: "Was it immoral to go in … [T]he idea that Saddam was a torturer and a killer, doesn't that lend a patina of morality to going after him?" The answer to that one, he said unsmilingly, "is of course, Saddam tortured and killed his people. And now we're doing it."

That's succint, but doesn't cover half the hypocrisy in the 'Saddam was evil, so wasn't it good to remove him?' question.

What the US & allies did wasn't removing Saddam, it was removing the lifes of tens of thousands (and I see no reason to differentiate between civilian and ordinary soldier casualties of an illegal war) in the process of replacing the brutality of Saddam's regime with the brutality of an occupation army, its puppet regime, 'friendly' militias, opposed militias, unchecked crime gangs, careless resistance fighters, domestic and foreign terrorists. (And that angle doesn't even address the further destruction of public infrastructure, of the economy esp. jobs and domestic producion, the contamination with unexploded ordnance and DU, and the robbery passing off as 'reconstruction'.)


My government has a secret unit that since December of 2001 has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and the Argentineans did. Rumsfeld decided after 9/11 that he could not wait. The president signed a secret document…There's a team of people, they fly in unmarked planes, they fly in Gulfstreams, they have their own choppers, they don't carry American passports, and they just grab people.

Operation Phoenix II.

The original idea behind the sexually humiliating photos taken at Abu Ghraib, Hersh said he had heard, was to use them as blackmail so that the newly released prisoners — many of whom were ordinary Iraqi thieves or even civilian bystanders rounded up in dragnets — would act as informants. "We operate on guilt, [Muslims] operate on shame," Hersh explained.

Makes sense. That's how Israel got informants in Palestine, too. Interestingly, an Israeli who wrote Hersch thinks the Americans went further than theirs:

"We've been killing them for 40 or 50 years, and they've been killing us for 40 or 50 years, but we know that somewhere down the line we're going to have to live with those SOBs…If we had treated our Arabs the way you treated them in Abu Ghraib, the sexual stuff, the photographs, we couldn't live with them. You guys do not begin to understand what you've done, where you have put yourself in the Arab world."

And here's the final whopper: altough as yet single-sourced, Hersch has the story of My Lai-style rural mass murder:

Hersh talked about a call he had gotten from a first lieutenant in charge of a unit stationed halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border. His group was bivouacking outside of town in an agricultural area, and had hired 30 or so Iraqis to guard a local granary. A few weeks passed. They got to know the men they hired, and to like them. Then orders came down from Baghdad that the village would be "cleared." Another platoon from the soldier's company came and executed the Iraqi granary guards. All of them.

"He said they just shot them one by one. And his people, and he, and the villagers of course, went nuts," Hersh said quietly. "He was hysterical, totally hysterical. He went to the company captain, who said, 'No, you don't understand, that's a kill. We got 36 insurgents. Don't you read those stories when the Americans say we had a combat maneuver and 15 insurgents were killed?'

As a closing note, it is a useful reminder that according even to the US-installed government's Health Ministry, US & allied forces killed more than twice as many Iraqi civilians as the insurgents:

...The ministry began separating attacks by multinational and police forces and insurgents June 10.

From that date until Sept. 10, 1,295 Iraqis were killed in clashes with multinational forces and police versus 516 killed in terrorist operations, the ministry said. The ministry defined terrorist operations as explosive devices in residential areas, car bombs or assassinations.

...At the Baghdad morgue, Dr. Quasis Hassan Salem said he saw a family of eight brought in: three women, three men and two children. They were sleeping on their roof last month because it was hot inside. A military helicopter shot at them and killed them: "I don't know why."


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