Thursday, June 30, 2005

Juan Cole Countered

...and hat tips for his posting of these. (Well, that only means he is an honest academic; but I dream of journalists and bloggers with the same standard.)

Item #1: I blogged about an account of the first open rebellion against the Americans in the Northwestern Iraqi town of Teal Afar, last September. (The author also predicted that "Mosul will blow next", which when happening took so many by surprise two months later.) From the eyewitness account it was clear that this was a Sunni town and a local rebellion, but Juan Cole repeatedly described the conflict as one of local Shi'a Turkomen and Sunni Arab insurgents trying to take over. I'm not an expert, so this discrepancy nagged in my head for long. It turns out, Cole was just assuming from the fact that most Trukomen are SHi'a - as he is told here:

the Turkmen in Tel Afar are actually Sunni, not Shia'. They are nearly all Ottoman-era Sunni migrants, rather than Shia' descendants of the Akqoyunlu and Karaqoyunlu tribes who make up a majority of Turkmen in Kirkuk.

Read the rest, it is interesting.

Item #2: Cole drew up the image of total regional disaster after a US pullout from Iraq, and then made his unrealistic proposal: to bring in UN troops and give them US air support[*]. (This wishful thinking, no it's more: congitive dissonance - proposing what he reports to be unworkable - is very apparent in this post: he reports in the middle about a Shi'a province wanting even the Brits out, but harkens back to his illusoric position in the end.) He got a number of negative responses, and the last one stands out - I'll quote longer parts from University of California Santa Cruz professor Alan Richards:

...I am troubled by what I perceive as a tacit assumption--a very American assumption,--underlying most of the discussion. It seems to me that even "pessimists" are actually "optimists": they assume that there exists in Iraq and the Gulf some "solution", some course of action which can actually lead to an outcome other than widespread, prolonged violence, with devastating economic, political, and social consequences.

...I can see no course of action which will prevent widespread violence, regional social upheaval, and economic hammering administered by oil price shocks. This is why so many of us opposed the invasion of Iraq so strenuously in the first place! We thought that it would unleash irreversible adverse consequences for (conventionally defined) US interests in the region. I am very sorry to say that I still think we were right.

...As Patrick Cockburn has pointed out (London Review of Books), the Kurds destabilized Iraq for half a century, and the Sunnis can certainly do the same. No Sunnis, no deal, no way-as you have repeatedly stressed. ...The insurgents, and many Iraqis, want us out, by any means. Our continued presence cannot succeed.

...I can see NO possible way for outsiders to defuse this: not with the U.S. in Iraq, not with the U.N., not with a power vacuum. People from outside the region (U.S., E.U., U.N., India, China, whoever) can do very, very little about this.

...there is a tacit assumption in the discussion so far that low oil prices, including current levels, are viable. I don't think this is true, for at least two reasons. A) The terrifying truth is that how we consume energy now both in the U.S. and elsewhere is entirely unsustainable for environmental reasons. Denial is the national past-time on this; and it is deeply destructive. Global warming is a reality, it will get worse, and the consequences will be extremely serious. I now work surrounded by biologists and environmental scientists, many of whom would cheer (even as they paid a heavy price in lost jobs and income) if the price of oil hit $100 a barrel [as would I the Ed.], because they are in a panic about the consequences of our current profligate behavior. B) The jury is still out on the "Hubbert's Peak" or "Peak Oil" hypothesis, but the viewpoint is hardly silly. If it should prove to be correct, oil prices will rise, steeply-until we get serious about fostering the kind of changes in consumption and technology which are necessary, in any case (see A). To repeat: assuming that low oil prices are viable is very dubious at best, and at worst, constitutes a species of denial. one, from either party, in the political arena is saying anything even remotely commensurate with the threat which most scientists see to the future of the planet. No one with any power is talking sensibly about energy use, global poverty, and their interrelationships. No one at all.

...So let me close where I began: I think it is delusional to imagine that there exists a "solution" to the mess in Iraq. From this perspective, the folly of Bush, Cheney and Company in invading Iraq is even worse than most informed observers of the region already think. Starting an avalanche is certainly criminal. It does not follow, however, that such a phenomenon can be stopped once it has begun.

[*] My short take on this: even if the US government would be willing to completely cede control, (1) most Iraqis are beyond the point of trusting any foreigners, (2) all of the foreign countries that would be needed for a UN army in necessary numbers (i.e. beyond one million in my estimate) can'd do that due to domestic complications or recognise (1).

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Iraqis Want US Out

...even onetime friends. In this Chicago Tribune article mirrored by the Arizona Tribune, we meet restaurant owner Dhiya Nour al-Deen, who had every reason to be US-friendly:

Police officers from a nearby station and workers from an industrial park, flush with disposable income, spent money at his kebab and falafel stand.

His older brother, Alaa, was earning a good salary as a bodyguard for a high-ranking Education Ministry official. At the time of the handover, Deen recalled that he and Alaa thought the Americans had put Iraq on the right path toward forging a lasting democracy.

...and, considering the standard argument for why the US has to say, every reason to hate the armed resistance:

In the past 12 months, his brother was killed in an assassination attempt on the Education Ministry official, his restaurant was badly damaged by three car bombings targeting the neighboring police station...

...but, what he says is:

"Nothing will change until the Americans leave," Deen, 33, said at his home in Baghdad's Saydiyah neighborhood. "The resistance will not stop until the Americans go away. Once they leave, we can then only figure out if there is any hope of the Sunnis and Shiites coming together."

...and for an American paper, to sum up Iraqi public opinion the following way, explicitely, rather than precede a few quotes from people balanced for pro-US and critical views with spin, is something rather bold:

Many Iraqis interviewed said they believe U.S. officials have too much influence in the nation's important decisions and the government is far too dependent on the Americans for Iraqis to place much stock in their sovereignty.

"This is not a democracy," said Sarah Abdul Kareem, 21, a Shiite. "This is chaos."

The "title" is a poster of a British campaign against their government's intent to introduce ID cards. To me it is almost as if a response to my earlier criticism of the campaign. As Bliar & co thunder ahead with the project now, I think it is timely to rephrase my position of support with major quibbles.

As someone who lived with an ID card all his life, this Anglo-Saxon angst of ID cards is a bit perplexing. Let's start from the claim that a single number in all databases allows someone to get all your data. But the government could already get all your data, only instead of searching with your ID number, searching with your name (and address and what else) in the different databases. Even if it couldn't do that, if it gains access to your files in your company/school/bank/job application center/whatever, they got it.

This points to where the real danger lies: it is in a centralisation of databases, and unlimited goverment access to databases.

You can have that without ID cards. Rumsfeld wanted to have just that in the USA: remember Total Information Awareness. In fact, he still wants it, he just stopped issuing shiny new Orwellian code names for it.

And, here is the real issue, Bliar wants this Orwellian control too, proposing the necessary changes hidden behind the ID debate. So the ID card is advocated as a trojan horse. This is why I think NO2ID campaigners fight a very real menance and gave my support to them in the end.

Here is my worst-case scenario: the ID is defeated in circumstances reminding of the poll tax, everyone goes hope believing they saved personal freedoms - but the government implemented the part about database synchronisation and unlimited access anyway.

...which is why I am happy about this "and the database state" subline: it gives hope that the real menance won't be lost sight of.

Some Want Civil War

It can be argued that the number of sectarian-motivated killings in Iraq is overestimated (killings by criminals, rival tribes etc. may be propagandised as such, just remember the bodies fished from the river and how Iraqi puppet President Talabani jumped on it), but some attacks like bombings of mosques make certain there is are elements wanting civil war.

On the Sunni Muslim side, I thought about which branches could be behind this. I close both nationalists and ex-Baathists out. While I wouldn't put such a cynical mass-murdering strategy beyond the ex-Baathists, it just doesn't make sense: without tanks and planes and area weapons, I doubt they won't realise that this would is a conflict they are bound to lose. While the USA can be chased away, the Shi'a will have to stay - and with both well-trained militias like the Badr Corps and militias of high numbers like the Mahdi Army, they'd be crushed.

No, I more see the sectarian religious extremists as culprit. On one hand, Arab groups like Zarqawi's, on the other, the Kurd Sunni fundamentalist group Ansar-e-Islam and its spinoffs. (For the latter, a sectarian Sunni-Shi'a instead of an ethnic Arab-Kurdish conflict would be a boon, in most part to be watched safely from a distance.)

As for the Shi'a side, it's not just the US-dependent powers-that be with irresponsible propaganda. Some in the police, possibly ex-Badr-Brigades, have started abducting, torturing and killing Sunnis, allegedly on suspicion of their membership in the resistance. As this chilling Knight Ridder report suggests, they're not behind the Sunni extremists and the Americans in cruelty - their methods include dragging someone to death behind a car. (That report is close to how I imagine real journalism - for example, after giving the official 'explanations' for the killings - Sunni insurgents dressing as police - they put forth a truckload of evidence that, let's just say, makes the official explanation unlikely.)

So, just like in Yugoslavia, it might happen that while majorities in even the sub-populations don't want war, extremists and irresponsible leaders at home and misguided to irresponsible to malicious foreign powers will make it real.

To close this off, interestingly, ever more Islamic clerics who support armed resistance denounce and call for an end of attacks on civilians - the last was the top cleric in Egypt. He said:

"The individual operations and almost daily bloody acts which kill civilians under the slogan of jihad to liberate Iraq are a kind of mockery and chaos which distort the image of Islam and Muslims," Grand Mufti Ali Gumaa said.

It is strange that an atheist like me would like to see the word of a cleric followed, on the other hand, I am pessimistic about anyone heeding his and others' calls.

A Soldier's Blog

I found an interesting blog-post by a US soldier serving in Iraq.

This post drives me nuts and gives me hope at the same time. It reads to me like someone slowly waking from brainwashing. I mean stuff like this:

I believe more and more each day that things like freedom can't be given.

I mean. Wow. Heh. What an Einstein, I feel compelled to say. Yet, that he could figure that out, in the situation he is, is very commendable. And, hopefully, this happens to ever more of them. He continues:

They must be fought for and earned to have value. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that the Iraqi people don't rise up against the insurgency themselves.

It has apparently never appeared to him that the "insurgency" contains in large part people who - well, rose up for freedom, against - the occupiers. But, maybe he figures that out next time.

The rest of this post doesn't elicit such ambivalence in me. He mentions the Downing Street Minutes - I hope the DSM will have more impact on soldiers than the US population.

His previous blog-post is also of interest, he explains why he doesn't want to be conscientious objector, summing up in the end:

To quit, to walk away is to not see my family. That is a choice I am not willing to make.

In other words, he'll commit murder to be with his family. Well, at least that's a better reason than to avoid humiliation or the end of military career.

On a more general note, the frequent references to 'foreign insurgents' by him and other soldiers in the comments reinforce my impression that the US in Iraq is essentially fighting a war with imaginary enemies. It's not simply that they don't have a clue about the place and situation they are in, but that they have a complete phantasy world ready-made by propaganda in their heads, and fit their vision of reality to it.

Kind of like what Edward Said wrote about Orientalists visiting the areas cobbled together by colonialist minds under the nomer 'Orient', who are only out to find reinforcing evidence for the picture that they already have in their mind, and ignore the real nature, the real diversity and the real relations of peoples there.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Bulgaria (Into The Coalition Of The Unwilling, or Of The Fakers?)

Bulgaria held elections last weekend. The Socialists (post-reformed-communists) won it, but with only 31%, they are forced to pick coalitioners - which could be the losing centre-right government party of the onetime king and present PM (20%), or one of three small right-wing parties, along with the party representing the Turkish and Gipsy minorities (13%). Unfortunately, the far-right also had a strong showing: 8%. Also worth to note, except for this one, all parties support joining the EU.

What makes this election a global issue is that while Bulgaria has been until now one of the staunchest members of the Coalition of Bribed & Blackmailed in Iraq (also with one of the highest casualty rates), the Socialists promised a pullout in the campaign.

Now the question is: will they fulfill their promises like Spain's Zapatero? Or, are they about to be bribed & blackmailed, and use shifty rhetoric towards the own population while in truth remaining in Iraq? That is, will they join the Ukraine's Yushchenko, Italy's Berlusconi and Poland's leaders, who keep on talking of pullout but with ever changing conditions and dates. The US certainly hopes the latter - the US ambassador already visited the Socialists.

Now Even I Sense Change

In comments on several blogs recently, I spread my scepticism towards the US Left's optimism, an optimism regarding a turn of public opinion that argues from recent polls on the Iraq war. I argued, it doesn't matter whether Americans think the war was worth it or whether they approve Dubya's handling of the war: these are general questions, not hard policy questions, nor the questions that might matter in people's minds after being exposed to a lot of spin. What has true weight is whether they still approve the original decision to go to war, and whether they want to keep troops or demand them to return home.

Now, in the June 20-22 AP/Ipsos poll, the original war decision's support fell to 42%. At the same time, those who favor immediate pullout rose to 37% - still far from majority, and less than the 46% favoring pullout in the June 8-12 Pew Research Center poll (a number containing those who buy the necessity of a staged withdrawal), but much more than the 28% in the June 6-8 Gallup poll.

In other news, there is something on the move in the progressive base of the Democratic party. Here is a Dailykos diary of someone convinced of the need of an immediate pullout, after meeding independent trade unionits fron Basra. Steve Gilliard demands an immediate pullout for some time now, and he even attacks a liberal proponent of staged pullout (the war in the comments is maybe more significant than the posts itself), and the Billmon spinoff Moon of Alabama attacks even atrios for not denouncing the government for WMD lies.

The apparent catalysts for these changes were back-stabbing attacks by mainstream Democrat representatives (like Biden, Edwards) against DNC chair Dean, after Dean dared to speak badly of Republicans.