Saturday :: Apr 16, 2005

If This Is Control, I'd Hate To See Chaos!

by pessimist

Ever since the recent (s)election of the Iraqi government, the drumbeat from the Right on the 'success' of 'freedom' and 'democracy' has been unflinching in the face of mounds of evidence to the contrary. Those who dissent from the party line are casually dismissed:

Slow But Steady Progress in Iraq

Pessimists have been repeatedly wrong about the prospects for postwar political progress in Iraq. They doubted that the Iraqis would finish writing an interim constitution on time in 2003; they doubted that sovereignty could be transferred to an interim Iraqi government by that constitution's deadline in 2004; and they doubted that elections could be conducted on the constitution 's ambitious timetable, in January 2005. They were wrong on all counts. And now they bemoan Iraqís relatively slow progress in forming a transitional government after the January 30th elections.

At least they gave me top billing!

But for all their blather about how we doubted everything they promised, I suggest that they are the ones who are 'repeatedly wrong'. There are numerous examples that point out that Iraqi sovereignty is a myth, among which are comments made by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tx) on the floor of the House recently. Things are getting worse there, not better.

You don't have to take my word about this. Listen instead to some reporters who were there:

War Reporters at ASNE Say Iraq Remains Frightening

Despite the elections in Iraq and recent decline in American deaths there, violence and danger to reporters remains at very high levels, a panel of war reporters said on Friday.
They also countered claims that the press has been too negative in its reporting from Iraq, pointing out that there is still quite a bit to be negative about.

It's enough to make one want to join all those countries seeking to flee Iraq as fast as they can, screaming "Anyone know where the exit is?"

But I digress.

For Hannah Allam, Baghdad bureau chief for Knight Ridder Newspapers, reporting in Iraq has remained uncommonly dangerous and difficult. The widespread violence has meant that reporters have trouble leaving their bureaus for more than 20 minutes at a time, she said at the panel on the final day of the annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Allam said that until two weeks ago she used to hang out at a salon in a relatively upscale, safe neighborhood of Baghdad. It was a respite from the violence of the country, and she could converse in Arabic with locals. "It was a watering hole where you gather story ideas," she said. "Kinda my refuge."

But on a recent trip her cell phone rang and she answered with a very American "hello," which blew her cover.

"It was like in a movie where the forks drop and everyone stops," Allam said.
An English speaker could only attract trouble and the woman who runs the salon quietly and apologetically informed her that she'd have to stop coming.

Allam's story echoed the concerns of the three other journalists on the panel, who all said that the situation for reporters remains precarious. She shared the stage with Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who reported from Bahgdad between April 2003 until last October; Cheryl Diaz Meyer, a photographer at the Dallas Morning News; and Richard Oppel Jr., of the New York Times. The panel was moderated by Marjorie Miller, foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times.

Chandrasekaran, who's on book leave from the Post, said it came to a point where security was all-consuming. His bureau moved into a fortress, a compound surrounded by 17-foot high blast walls, Kalashnikov-toting guards and a sniper on the roof. Like many other papers, the Post hired a security consultant, a retired SAS officer for $2,000 a day. The reporters only left the compound in two-car convoys, with an armored car in the lead and a second vehicle full of heavily armed guards behind.

"It's like a military operation every time we go to a press conference in the Green Zone, even just a regular press conference," Chandrasekaran said.
Meyer, the Morning News photographer, agreed with Allam that spending more than 20 minutes at a news scene can be deadly. She said photographers are "hung out to dry," though, because they're forced to carry around bulky gear and stand out as targets, whereas reporters can more easily blend with the population. "To take pictures you have to be out there with people, meeting with them, engaging with them, spending time with them," Meyer said. "Nowadays the stories are [more often] feature stories and in order to have feature stories you need intimacy, and that doesn't develop in 20 minutes."

Oppel recounted his experience as an embedded reporter during the beginning of the November battle over Fallujah. He explained that the biggest danger to troops then and now are Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), which "infest" many of the countries roads. "It's basically like having a couple of Howitzer shells explode all at once," he said. "It will really do great damage."

The reporters said American papers have done an accurate job portraying the grimness of the violence in Iraq. Allam portrayed a country so unwieldy that she said she doubted Americans could withdraw entirely anytime soon. "I think that there could be a significant decrease in troops there," Allam said.

"But when you see these bases, these are not makeshift tent cities. They poured in millions and millions of dollars into these facilities. It's clear that they're there to stay."

US Forces aren't leaving Afghanistan any time soon either, but again I digress.

Still don't believe these reporters? What would you think if I told you we can get reports from a real Iraqi?

Native Iraqi blogger 'Riverbend' notes this about the travails of the media in Iraq under the Occupation:

[All Riverbend quotes from "Embedded" in the Real Baghdad, Telling It Like It Is]

"Riverbend: I think this wasn't about the welfare of Iraqi people and ridding them of a dictator. I think this has been about the US strategically placing itself in a Middle Eastern 'hot spot' -- in the middle of Turkey, Iran, Syria and the Gulf countries -- to wreak havoc and promote instability in the area, and have direct access to the oil, of course."

"Many cities are assaulted by the military without proper press coverage. The latest is Qaim, for example. There has been a siege and assault that has lasted several days already. Last week it was Haditha and Mash'had. We know things are not going well in these areas when we get refugees in Baghdad -- often women and children of men who have been detained for no reason or killed. Very few media sources are actually covering it, and the only casualties discussed are the deaths of 'insurgents' and 'terrorists.' Very few media outlets report about the deaths of women and children -- only when they are caused by roadside bombs or terrorists. Even Arab news networks aren't reporting casualties like before."

Case in point:

Shiites flee Iraqi town after gunmen seize hostages

KUT, Iraq - Iraqi Shiites were fleeing the town of Al-Madain south of Baghdad on Saturday after gunmen rounded up more than 80 residents and threatened to kill them.

"Gunmen are going around with loudspeakers demanding that all Shiites leave the town," said Captain Haitham Mohammed of the Iraqi army who fled Madain with several people on Friday evening to the city of Kut further south. Mohammed said many Iraqi soldiers and police officers have changed into civilian clothing and have fled the mixed Sunni-Shiite town on the Tigris river 30 kilometres (18 miles) south of the capital.

"Gunmen have ringed the town," said Khodeir Abbas, 72, who fled with 10 members of his family.

A distraught Abbas Mahmoud, 47, a labourer in Madainís market said: "I fled the town fearing they would kill me if I stayed."

Dozens of families from Madain, which is built on the site of the ancient city of Ctesiphon, were arriving on Saturday in Kut, 200 kilometres (120 miles) south of Baghdad, an AFP correspondent said. The road linking Baghdad with Kut is among the most dangerous in the country where several beheaded bodies have surfaced in recent months.

Note the 'terrorist' casualty account at the end?

Then there is this report:

Rebels seize 60 hostages in Iraq
16 April, 2005

Insurgents with heavy weapons appeared to have taken control of the mixed Sunni and Shia town of Madaen, just south of Baghdad, and no police or government forces were in sight, said the official.

Didn't King Goerge recently brag that Bush says Iraqi security forces outnumber US troops in Iraq? Certainly he has decreed that he sees greater role for Iraqi security forces! Even the Kurds will be supporting this effort, as the Peshmerga is to Join Iraqi Security Forces ! Things are going so well, 'THE' Donald Rumsfeld doesn't want ex-Ba'athists purged from these forces [subscription required]

But I digress again.

The hostage-taking and three successive days of bombings which killed at least 34 people suggested insurgents had regrouped after a lull in violence since January 30 elections. Guerrillas have taken control of cities such as Fallujah before but seizing many hostages in a town so close to the capital will pile pressure on Iraq's new leaders to deliver the improved security Iraqis have expected since the elections.

They seem to be too busy to deliver on this civilian expectation, however:

Iraq has yet to form a full government 11 weeks after the polls with politicians trying to manoeuvre round sectarian minefields amid huge political changes after decades of dictatorship under Saddam Hussain. The majority Shias, long-sidelined under Saddam, have gained power along with Kurds while the Sunni minority has watched vast privileges from past years vanish.

Says 'Riverbend':

"I think many Iraqis don't care so much about how the nation was formed as they do about it remaining a united country. Iraq has a long and rich history and historically, people of different religions and ethnicities have been very able to live together in peace. The important thing to us right now is that we remain united as one country. We've been able to live together, Sunnis, Shia and Kurds, in the past -- it shouldn't be any different now. Though the language may differ in some places, we share similar cultures and beliefs -- there is nothing that should stand in the way of internal peace and unity. I know for a fact that the majority of Iraqis don't like being labeled as Sunni, Shia or Kurd. These labels are being promoted by the current new government and the Bush administration and many Iraqis believe they are being used to divide and conquer."

Let's look at some of the 'successes' of this 'Iraqi government'. For instance, let's look at how forming that new 'Iraqi' government is coming:

Iraqi Sunni meeting ends in curses
5 April 2005

Parliament was set to meet again on Wednesday to try to elect a presidency council, made up of a vice president and two deputies. Sunni Arabs failed to pick a vice presidential candidate for Iraq's next coalition government after their meeting in Baghdad dissolved into curses and shouting within a divided community now out of power.

The Sunnis, who largely boycotted the elections, are being offered the speakership, one of the vice presidential posts and four to six cabinet posts in the prospective coalition government. Shiites and Kurds, who dominated the January elections but are still trying to form a government, are trying to reach out to the embittered community, which is accused of leading the relentless insurgency.

"We must be tough, Kurds and Shiites want everything!" shouted one of those in attendance as they took turns to speak.
"What's happening will have grave consequences," warned Shiekh Rifaa al-Ani, deputy secretary general of the top Sunni council responsible for issuing fatwas, or religious edicts.


"I think that two years after the war, we're also seeing more inter-factional friction between Sunnis and Shia and Arabs and Turkomen and Kurds. There are certain politicians and parties that are cultivating this friction because it helps promote them amongst their own people.

"Democracy has to come from within and it has to be a request of the people -- not of expatriates who have alliances with the CIA and British intelligence. People have to want something enough to rise up and change it. They have to be ready for democracy and willing to accept its responsibility. The US could have promoted democracy in Iraq peacefully, but then they wouldn't have permanent bases in the country, would they?"

Here it is eleven days after the report above on the discussions concerning the formation of the government. Check out the 'progress' being made:

Rebels threaten to kill 60 Shi'ite hostages

Two bomb attacks in Baghdad killed one and wounded nine as inmates rioted in Iraq's largest US-run prison and an official warned that a new government was at least a week away from formation.

Just how much time is this going to take???

Baghdad woke up to bombs for the second day when a suicide car bomber blew himself up as a US military convoy drove through a usually-busy commercial road in the western Mansur neighbourhood wounding five civilians and a US soldier. Just 10 minutes later, a roadside bomb went off in eastern Baghdad, targeting an Iraqi army convoy, killing one civilian and wounding three.

The attacks came the day after twin suicide car bombs hit a highway police patrol in Baghdad, killing 11 people and wounding dozens.

'Riverbend' has this to say about law and order in Iraq under the Occupation:

"The security situation isn't very much better -- crime has become organized and we're seeing more and more assassinations, etc. It's utter disappointment at this point that security issues haven't been sorted out and Iraq is still a very dangerous place. People wonder now how long this situation will last and just what is being done to improve things."

I think it is safe to suggest that the correct answers are: TooLong! Not much! They don't care, because the only ones with authority in the Iraqi 'government' aren't really Iraqis in the strictest sense:

BuzzFlash: One thing about your blog that has struck us is your frequent references to the Governing Council as American puppets. That, because the majority of the Governing Council members have not lived in Iraq for a long time, they are not viewed by most Iraqis as representatives of Iraq. Is this viewpoint aired in the Arab press? How and how often? This perspective is rarely, if ever, seen in the mainstream media in the United States.

Riverbend: It's not so much that these people have been living abroad for such long periods of time, it's because these people did so many things over the years to prove they never really wanted the welfare of the Iraqi people. It's difficult to view someone like Chalabi as Iraqi when he was living in luxury abroad all his life and simultaneously encouraging the blockade on Iraq, helping plan a war, riding in on occupation tanks and cheering on foreign troops while the country is pillaged and burned. People who have lived in Iraq their entire lives are also seen as puppets when they cooperate with occupation people. The Arab media doesn't often portray them as puppets because, let's face it, many Arab leaders themselves are American puppets -- the Jordanian and Saudi royals, for example, and we really do have very few truly free media networks or newspapers in the Arab world.

A truly free media would be all over this story:

Prisoners and guards injured as Iraqi detainees riot
Apr 06, 2005

CONFIRMING DETAILS: The US military had denied a riot at Camp Bucca in which 16 people were injured until it was reported by Moqtada al-Sadr's movement

Twelve Iraqi prisoners and four US prison guards were wounded when inmates rioted at Camp Bucca, torching tents and hurling rocks at Iraq's largest US-run detention center, the US military said yesterday after initially denying any knowledge of the incident. The riot at the desert camp in southern Iraq where more than 6,000 prisoners are held was first reported by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's movement and confirmed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The US military had said initially it was unaware of the violence and only came forward with details after the ICRC revelations.
When first asked about the incident, Lieutenant Colonel Guy Rudisill, spokesman for the US-run detention centers in Iraq, said: "There have been no reports of mistreatment of detainees. Nothing like that happened down there. Nobody is denied medical attention down there."

Christophe Beney, the head of the ICRC's Baghdad delegation, said a team from the organization had been at Camp Bucca near the southern port of Umm Qasr when the riot erupted. It was a rare confirmation from the ICRC, which is normally sworn to silence about events transpiring during its visits to prisons around the world.

Al-Sadr follower Saheb al-Ameri, secretary-general of the Shahidallah (God) charitable organization, said the unrest was provoked by the refusal of prison authorities to give medical treatment to a detainee who had fallen sick and who was a member of the al-Sadr movement. Other inmates became violent and US soldiers then fired rubber bullets and beat some prisoners up, wounding 70 to 100 of them, he said, adding that since the riot, inmates have had no water or electricity.

Al-Ameri said the riot was uncovered during a visit to Camp Bucca by members of the al-Sadr movement, adding: "We condemn these acts and we ask that human right organizations intervene quickly." The latest violence comes almost one year after details emerged of the torture of detainees by US troops at Abu Ghraib prison, which dealt a crippling blow to US efforts to win sympathy in Iraq.

Camp Bucca is the largest prison in Iraq located in a barren desert plot where temperatures can soar to 60 degrees C. (140 degrees F.) It is home to 6,054 detainees and was the site of a huge riot on Jan. 31 that spread through four compounds, housing more than 2,000 detainees, and ended with US soldiers firing bullets into a crowd and killing four detainees.

The US military wants to expand and transform Bucca, named after a firefighter who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York's World Trade Center, into a long-term detention facility for the most serious offenders that would include those held in Abu Ghraib. The army had planned to tear down the facility after the official end of hostilities in May 2003, but scrapped this idea due to the scale and intensity of an insurgency that flared up afterward.

The latest numbers of detainees in US custody in Iraq is 10,708, Rudisill said.

But this number isn't taking every detainee into account:

Record number of prisoners

UNITED States and Iraqi forces are holding a record 17,000 men and women - most without being formally charged - and with those in Iraqi-controlled jails living often in deplorable conditions, said US and Iraqi officials.

About two-thirds are locked up as 'security detainees' without any formal charges in US-run facilities. The rest are incarcerated in Iraqi-run jails in conditions that fall well below any international standard and are in dire need of reform, said Bakhtiar Amin, Iraq's outgoing human rights minister. "None of the Iraqi detention centres meet international standards for cleanliness, food and the treatment of prisoners. Neither are the buildings up to standard. We have asked for international help."

Amin acknowledged problems in Iraqi security forces' treatment of detainees following a pair of denunciatory reports by New York based Human Rights Watch and the US State Department since January. "We are aware of Iraqi security forces' tremendous sacrifices in their struggle against criminality and terrorism. We cannot ignore the fact that some lose their life in combat, but this does not stop us from criticising the abuses." Amin said his ministry would soon deliver a 20-page report on ways to fix the woeful prison system.

There are currently 6,504 inmates in Iraq's 18 prisons, 2,573 of whom have already been sentenced, Amin said, adding that they include both 'common-law criminals and terrorists'. At least 131 of the detainees are women, he said. "In certain places, the situation is deplorable. In others, it is bad, and in others, it is better."

Not even the International Committee of the Red Cross has visited the Iraqi facilities because they are considered such a high security risk.
US-run jails and detention centres hold a total of 10,708 people, Rudisill said. Of those, 6,054 are in Camp Bucca in southern Iraq - scene of a riot this month in which about 16 people were injured - and another 3,493 are held in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, where US troops abused and humiliated naked Iraqi prisoners, provoking international outrage.

About 114 high-level detainees, including ousted dictator Saddam Hussein and several former top aides, are held at Camp Cropper at Baghdad international airport and another 1,047 are locked up at other US military jails.

British troops are detaining 27 individuals, Amin added. "It might not be the most desirable number, but it's a manageable number for us," said Lieutenant Adam Rondeau. "We're always checking the detention facilities ... to make the conditions better."

The increase in prisoner numbers resulted from what Rondeau called US military 'ongoing operations' before Iraq's January 30 election and growing strength of Iraq military and police forces.

Events I report above don't support this contention, but, again, I digress.

'Riverbend' on the accuracy of reports on these 'ongoing operations':

"The messages the former regime wanted us to believe or to reiterate were very directly introduced on state television with few frills or introductions. American media differs in that there is more money and time spent to feed people ideas and news. A lot of the news is obviously exaggerated and sometimes even untrue but it's so carefully put together and staged that you sometimes *want* to believe it. I can see how many Americans can be misled by American corporate media. We sometimes find ourselves watching, fascinated, with news we know to be false, and yet American media makes it look so convincing!

"The White House makes it very simple when talking about the insurgency -- foreign, Islamic terrorists. It's hardly that simple. I guess most Iraqis believe there is resistance and there is terror. Resistance is coming from various sources -- former Iraqi army people, Islamists, Ba'athists, nationalists and ordinary people who hate this new way of life Iraqis are being relegated to. Terror is also coming from various sources and in many cases it is a complete mystery. Many people believe the attacks against the police force and security forces are the work of outsiders or people who want Iraqis to hate the resistance. It's difficult to tell at this point just what is going on. Some attacks are meant to cause sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shia, but those are quite easy to see through (for example the bombing of Sunni mosques or Shia Husseiniyas) and Iraqis have proven over the last two years that they are far too tolerant to fall for such underhanded techniques."

Underhanded techniques ... like those used at Abu Ghraib? Prison problems are becoming frequent:

Inmate killed at notorious Iraqi prison

The murder of a prisoner at a United States-run Iraqi prison triggered a fight between detainees that left 12 injured, the second riot at the jail in two weeks the US military said on Friday.

The incident comes just two weeks after 12 prisoners and four US guards were wounded in a riot in which detainees burned tents and hurled rocks at Camp Bucca, which is the country's largest US-run detention facility with more than 6 000 inmates.

Camp Bucca was the scene of another riot at the end of January that left four dead and six injured.

Nothing was done to fix this problem!

Iraqi prisoners riot over transfers

Prisoners at Iraq's largest detention facility protested the transfer of several detainees deemed 'unruly' by authorities, throwing rocks and setting tents on fire in a disturbance that injured four guards and 12 detainees, the military said. The protest at Camp Bucca - which holds about 6,000 prisoners, nearly two-thirds of all those in Iraq - caused only minor injuries, authorities said. It was the third major incident at an Iraqi prison in three days.

News of the Camp Bucca clash came the same day a suicide bomber driving a tractor blew himself up close to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, wounding four civilians in the second insurgent attack around the prison in two days. Al-Qaida in Iraq said 10 of its fighters died in an assault on the same prison Saturday, while the U.S. military put the insurgents' casualties at one dead and about 50 wounded. Forty-four American soldiers and 13 prisoners were injured in the fighting - the latest in a series of large-scale attacks by insurgents in Iraq.

Last month, the U.S. military said guards discovered a 600-foot tunnel - dug with makeshift tools - leading out of Camp Bucca. The tunnel reached beyond the compound fence, with an opening hidden beneath a floorboard, but no one had escaped, authorities said.

Now why would anyone want to leave such a fine resort like Camp Bucca? 'Riverbend' has a few ideas:

"I believe the Bush administration is very aware of their actions. An example of this is the torture and humiliation that went on in Abu Ghraib. I think the people who helped engineer this war and occupation were extremely aware that, above and beyond all, Iraqis fear sexual humiliation of the sort depicted in the pictures and videos from Abu Ghraib. I also think that in many situations, women were intentionally brought in for detention and interrogation with the full knowledge that this would outrage the public. Some of these issues backfired, of course."

So in sum, Iraq is an incredible mess no matter how much the Irrational Wrong-wing Media tries to spin it. A remark made to me by a former coworker, once a citizen of Hitler's Third Reich, comes to mind. He said that they knew the war was lost when the daily reports from the front made outrageous claims of great victories - closer to Berlin than the day before. A similar method of testing can be applied to the Bu$hCo New$ - just follow the stories coming out of Iraq and note the numbers and severities of the attacks by 'insurgents' - they are getting larger and more numerous.

We aren't bringing peace and prosperity to Iraq, and Iraqis know this. I'll let 'Riverbend' have the last word:

"Peace and normalcy seem like a distant thing. One begins to forget what 'normal' was in the first place. We've come to realize that peace and normalcy are also relative. What we consider peace is obviously very different from the American concept of peace. Normality also changes with time. Three years ago, normal was being able to walk down the street with a sense of security. Today, normal is hearing at least three explosions a day and the hum of helicopters above.
"At the end of the day, why dream of such mundane things as peace and normalcy? A stable, secure, prosperous, united and above all independent Iraq -- that's a dream."

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pessimist :: 6:36 PM :: Comments (4) :: Digg It!