Monthly Archives: March 2008

Alejandra Pizarnik: Hija del Viento

Han venido.
Invaden la sangre.
Huelen a plumas,
a carencia,
a llanto.
Pero tú alimentas al miedo
y a la soledad
como a dos animales pequeños
perdidos en el desierto.

Han venido
a incendiar la edad del sueño.
Un adiós de tu vida.
Pero tú te abrazas
como la serpiente loca de movimiento
que sólo se halla a sí misma
porque no hay nadie.

Tú lloras debajo de tu llanto,
tú abres el cofre de tus deseos
y eres más rica que la noche.
Pero hace tanta soledad
que las palabras se suicidan.

* De Las Aventuras Perdidas, 1958)
* Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972)
* Pizarnik, Alejandra, en 50 Poemas del Milenio, PJ 2001, pp. 96

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Marta Tawil: Peligrosa discordia árabe

Este mes la cumbre de los países de la Liga Árabe que se realiza cada año tendrá lugar en Damasco, capital de Siria, país que desde 2005 se ha vuelto centro de acusaciones y amenazas de Estados Unidos, Francia y algunos países árabes. Lejos quedaron las cumbres en las que tres países, Egipto, Siria y Arabia Saudita, presentaban iniciativas y propuestas de manera negociada. Considerado como guardián de un cierto equilibrio regional, este “eje” tripartita se fragmentó en 2001 y recibió el tiro de gracia en 2003. El tema del terrorismo tal como lo define Estados Unidos y la cuestión iraquí activaron sus referentes geopolíticos de manera irreconciliable. La “amenaza” iraní construida por Estados Unidos y sus aliados árabes “moderados” (sauditas, jordanos, egipcios) más Israel sigue haciendo de Damasco parte del problema, no de la solución, regional.

La política saudita no siempre converge con la estadunidense, como demostraron los acuerdos de la Meca de febrero de 2007 para la formación de un gobierno palestino de unión nacional, algunos de sus posicionamientos respecto a Irak durante la cumbre árabe de Riad de marzo de 2007, el acercamiento al líder político del Hamas, Jaled Meshal (exiliado en Siria), y las conversaciones a regañadientes con funcionarios iraníes sobre soluciones alternativas a los problemas regionales. Pero la política estadunidense en el conflicto palestino-israelí y arabe-israelí limita estructuralmente su papel como mediador y el alcance de sus iniciativas es de corto plazo. En el conflicto palestino-israelí, Riad, Amán y El Cairo intentan adaptar sus posiciones, divididos entre su alianza con Washington y su opinión pública indignada con las imágenes de represión israelí en territorios palestinos.

Por lo que a Irak se refiere, Riad no ha establecido relaciones diplomáticas con ese país, a diferencia de Siria. El primer ministro iraquí, Nuri al-Maliki, ha acusado a los sauditas de atizar la división iraquí; debilitado, Maliki ha tocado a las puertas de Siria y de Irán. El presidente Jalal Talabani visita Siria en el mismo momento que la secretaria de Estado estadunidense efectúa un tour por Medio Oriente con el fin de crear una alianza árabe contra Irán y Siria.

La política reactiva saudita refleja los intereses de un régimen sumamente religioso y conservador, que naturalmente entra en conflicto con el “populismo diplomático” del régimen de Damasco, populismo que incomoda ya que confirma a Siria como el actor estatal con la posibilidad, por vez primera, de posicionarse, con el Hezbollah libanés, en campeón del mundo árabe (en el pasado, esa posición había sido ocupada por el presidente egipcio Gamal Abdel Nasser en los años 50-60, la revolución palestina y el presidente libio Muamar Kadafi en los 70, y el iraquí Saddam Hussein en los 80). Para los sauditas, egipcios y jordanos, no es Irán en sí, ni el poder militar del Hezbollah, lo que más preocupa, sino el apoyo que esos movimientos encuentran entre sus propias poblaciones y que atiza los problemas de legitimidad política de sus regímenes.

Es en Líbano donde se concreta clara y peligrosamente el enfrentamiento de la política siria, por un lado, y de Estados Unidos-Arabia Saudita, por el otro, tanto en el plano de acciones como en el del discurso. Las relaciones sirio-sauditas habían vuelto a la “cordialidad” luego de atravesar un periodo de fuerte tensión durante y después de la guerra en Líbano del verano de 2006. Esta vez la política de Riad de alejar a Siria de los brazos de Irán parece basarse en presiones exclusivamente. Riad ha amenazado con boicotear la cumbre árabe próxima, para enfatizar su objetivo de regresar a Siria al aislamiento, llegando incluso a retirar a su embajador en Damasco. Esta presión se une a los esfuerzos de Washington, quien ha aplicado nuevas sanciones financieras contra Damasco y enviado barcos de guerra a la costa libanesa. En el verano pasado París intentó resolver la crisis libanesa de manera espectacular, pero la prisa de Nicolas Sarkozy no hizo más que inquietar al régimen sirio. Europa sigue siendo la caja de resonancia de la política franco-estadunidense, mientras que países como España e Italia y, hasta hace unas semanas, Alemania, han intentado mantener una posición “centrista”, basada en sus intercambios bilaterales políticos y comerciales.

Mientras Riad apoya con millones de dólares al gobierno libanés y sus aliados sunitas, Siria busca neutralizar esos esfuerzos tratando de obtener, con ayuda de sus aliados en la oposición en Líbano, que el próximo gobierno obtenga un tercio de los asientos. El objetivo es evitar que Estados Unidos utilice a Líbano para concretar las amenazas contra Siria, mediante el tribunal internacional para enjuiciar a los asesinos de Rafiq Hariri, mediante más resoluciones del Consejo de Seguridad, mediante el desarme del Hezbollah. Mientras tanto, Líbano sigue sin presidente desde noviembre 2007, y su estabilidad económica y social sigue padeciendo las nefastas consecuencias del conflicto regional.

* La Jornada
* http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2008/03/27/index.php?section=politica&article=023a2pol

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Miguel Marín Bosch: Cinco años miserables

La semana pasada se cumplieron cinco años de la invasión y ocupación de Irak por Estados Unidos. Washington improvisó una coalición de una veintena de países, cuya participación, con excepción del Reino Unido, ha sido discreta, por no decir simbólica.

La fase inicial del intenso ataque militar duró poco menos de ocho semanas. Con la toma de Bagdad, el presidente George W. Bush pudo declarar en mayo de 2003: misión cumplida. ¿Recuerdan esa imagen de Bush a bordo de un portaviones, con los brazos alzados? Era todo sonrisas.

La invasión fue fácil, pero la ocupación ha resultado ser una pesadilla. ¿Cuál es el saldo actual de esta aventura de Washington?

El pasado domingo murieron cuatro soldados estadunidenses, elevando así a 4 mil el número de efectivos muertos. Reino Unido ha perdido 175, y el resto de la coalición, 173. El 97 por ciento de las pérdidas estadunidenses han ocurrido después de que Bush proclamó la victoria.

Las autoridades estadunidenses calculan que cerca de 100 mil civiles iraquíes han muerto. El total debe ser mucho más alto, ya que no hay fuentes de información fidedigna.

Además de los desaparecidos, hay millones de desplazados. En 2003 Irak tenía una población de alrededor de 26 millones. Una quinta parte de sus habitantes se ha desplazado internamente o ha buscado refugiarse en los países vecinos, sobre todo Siria y Jordania. Se trata de uno de los mayores movimientos de personas en décadas recientes.

¿Cuánto está costando la guerra en Irak? Algunos calculan que se gastan unos 100 mil millones de dólares por año. Empero, la suma final será mucho mayor. Antes de la guerra, el entonces secretario de defensa, Donald Rumsfeld, había dicho que costaría entre 50 y 60 mil millones de dólares. Cinco años después Washington dice haber gastado 10 veces esa cantidad. Pero también se queda corto.

Una cosa son los gastos en los presupuestos que periódicamente somete la Casa Blanca para la aprobación del Congreso; otra muy distinta son los gastos escondidos o invisibles, es decir, los que no aparecen en las cuentas oficiales. La contabilidad de estos últimos es precisamente lo que analizan Joseph E. Stiglitz y Linda J. Bilmes en su libro que acaba de ser publicado: The three trillion dollar war: the true cost of the Iraq conflict.

Se trata de aquellas erogaciones que no aparecen en la contabilidad gubernamental. Por ejemplo, no se habla de los incentivos monetarios que se ofrecen para reclutar a más soldados. Tampoco se toma en cuenta el costo de rehabilitar a los efectivos heridos.

El tema de Irak ha incidido, aunque poco, en la campaña presidencial en Estados Unidos. Es obvio que la crisis económica y financiera de ese país preocupa más al electorado. Pero los candidatos se han apresurado a definir lo que sería su política hacia Irak. Desde luego que no es lo mismo hablar en campaña que actuar una vez en la Casa Blanca.

El senador John McCain, quien acaba de hacer un viaje al Medio Oriente, está satisfecho de la posición que asumió hace un año, cuando todos daban por muerta su candidatura. En 2007 McCain apoyó (él diría que fue su idea) un importante incremento en el número de efectivos estadunidenses (el llamado surge) para mejor controlar ciertas regiones y barrios de Bagdad y convencer a la población de la bondad de la presencia militar estadunidense. Según Bush y el artífice del plan, el general David Petraeus, la situación en Irak ha mejorado notablemente en el último año. Los bombazos son menos y las muertes también han disminuido. Pero aún hay lugares donde no se notan los efectos del llamado surge.

Los candidatos por el Partido Demócrata, en cambio, abogan por un pronto retiro de las tropas de Irak. El senador Barack Obama, que se opuso a la guerra desde un principio, ha dicho que, de llegar a la Casa Blanca, ordenará el retiro inmediato de las tropas. Dicha posición tiene el apoyo de la mayoría de los demócratas.

Cuando la senadora Hillary Clinton se percató de lo anterior, cambió su posición. En un principio propuso un retiro escalonado, que se llevaría a cabo en varias etapas, empezando varios meses después de asumir la presidencia. Ahora ha adoptado una posición casi idéntica a la del senador por Illinois.

En este último año de la administración de Bush se debaten dos cuestiones: el retiro de Irak de las fuerzas de la coalición, y un posible ataque aéreo a Irán para destruir sus instalaciones nucleares. La insistencia de algunos en Washington de atacar Irán llevó al almirante William J. Fallon, el comandante de las fuerzas estadunidenses en el Oriente Medio, a renunciar a su cargo el pasado 11 de marzo. Simplemente no estaba de acuerdo con aquellos políticos que insisten en bombardear Irán.

Uno de esos políticos es el vicepresidente Dick Cheney. En su recorrido por el Medio Oriente, el domingo pasado, Cheney se entrevistó con varios dirigentes israelíes. Desayunó con el líder de la oposición, Benjamin Netanyahu, pero no hablaron de la deplorable situación de los palestinos en los territorios ocupados. El tema que dominó su conversación fue Irán, cuestión predilecta de estos dos políticos halcones.

En este año de campañas presidenciales el electorado estadunidense está más interesado y preocupado por cuestiones internas. Está buscando a un candidato que mejore la economía y resuelva la cuestión del desempleo. También quiere que se reduzcan los gastos médicos, que se proteja el medio ambiente, que baje el costo de la energía y que se reforme el sistema educativo. Estas son algunas de las cuestiones en que la administración de Bush ha sido un rotundo fracaso.

Entre la crisis económica y la situación en Irak, el nuevo presidente de Estados Unidos tendrá un difícil, por no decir imposible, inicio de gestión.

* La Jornada
* http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2008/03/27/index.php?section=opinion&article=023a1pol

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Sarah Churchwell: The big issue in America is not race, it’s class

They’re calling it bold, audacious and risky, a political milestone and the most important speech on American race relations since Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that his children might be judged by the contents of their character, rather than the colour of their skin. But according to the pundits, the power of Barack Obama’s epochal “race address” will be gauged by “white males, especially working-class males”.

“Will it win over the blue-collar white males who have been trending toward his opponent, or drive them away?” wondered Newsweek. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd quoted “a top pol” who felt that the controversy over Reverend Wright’s sermon had transformed Obama “in the minds of some working-class and crossover white voters from ‘a Harvard law graduate into a South Side Black Panther'”. It sounds like the set-up to a joke, but it’s all too serious. Question: what is the difference between a Harvard Law grad and a South Side militant? Answer: class.

Everywhere Obama is praised for “telling the truth about race” – but the success of his “race speech” is incessantly measured along class lines, because Obama actually charted a course through the crisscrossing lines of race and class, a complex social web that he described with great delicacy, but never came out and named.

What was most remarkable about this speech to my mind was not that Obama confronted race “head-on” (although that has certainly become uncommon in recent years) but that he repeatedly, and correctly, called race “a distraction,” on both sides of the colour line, from class issues: “Just as black anger often proved counter-productive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle-class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favour the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognising they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide.”

In one sense, Obama’s point couldn’t be clearer: race is a distraction from class-based inequities. And if we dismiss working-class resentment as camouflaged racism, we will continue to be distracted by the spectre of race. So why has no one noticed that the much-vaunted “race speech” is also a class speech? The answer to that is very complicated, but its roots may be traced in large part to what Obama referred to as the nation’s “original sin” of slavery. In order to tell the truth about race in America, we need to tell the truth about slavery: which is that slavery was not racially motivated – it was economically motivated, and justified by means of race.

Race was invented in order to rationalise slavery: if black people are inferior, they deserve enslavement (or so went the logic). Racism is an effect of slavery, not the other way around. Once slavery was abolished, not only did racism not disappear, neither did the economic system it upheld. Slavery was simply replaced by a new feudal system known as sharecropping, which Jim Crow helped sustain. The legacy of slavery comes from the sustained political, legal and economic effort to link permanently an entire group of people to poverty – and to mystify that systematic disenfranchisement by making up something called race, which could serve as a distraction.

Black people in America remain, to a large extent, an underclass. But they are not co-extensive with the underclass. There are rich, powerful black people (take a bow, Condoleezza). And we have a significant white underclass, too, one which has been given different names, in different colours – white trash, rednecks, blue-collar. What they all share is the experience of economic deprivation, which is why 10 years ago Toni Morrison could call Bill Clinton “the first black president,” because, she said, he showed all the signs: “single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas”. The only sign he doesn’t show is colour: because race in America is overwhelmingly defined by economic conditions.

To be absolutely clear: I am not saying that race per se doesn’t exist, or isn’t a problem in America. On the contrary. But we will never solve the problem of race in America until we do exactly what Obama suggests: see it for the distraction it is. It was invented to deflect attention away from economic, legal and political inequalities. And the longer that the Democrats ponder the complexities of identity politics, the more distracted they will become from the issues that are actually driving voters – including their utter disillusionment with the current administration and its catastrophic policies.

Democrats need to keep their eyes on the prize – beating McCain in November. The irony is that Obama’s speech urging us not to be distracted by race has so far had quite the opposite effect. Obama now needs to confront with equal candour the lesson we were taught by that “first black president”: it’s the economy, stupid.

* The Independent
* http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/sarah-churchwell-the-big-issue-in-america-is-not-race-its-class-800223.html
* Sarah Churchwell is a senior lecturer in American literature and culture at the University of East Anglia

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Robert Fisk: Silenced by the men in white socks

Shut them up. Accuse them. Imprison them. Stop them talking. Why is it that this seems to have become a symbol of the Arab – or Muslim – world? Yes I know about our Western reputation for free speech; from the Roman Empire to the Spanish inquisition, from Henry VIII to Robespierre, from Mussolini and Stalin to Hitler, even – on a pitiable scale – to Mr Anthony Blair. But it’s getting hard to avoid the Middle East.

When Egyptian women cry “Enough!”, they are sexually abused by Mubarak’s cops. When Algerians demand to know which policemen killed their relatives, they are arrested for ignoring the regime’s amnesty. When Benazir Bhutto is murdered in Rawalpindi, a cloak of silence falls over the world’s imams. Pontificating about the assassination in Pakistan, Shaikh es-Sayed, who runs one of Canada’s biggest mosques, expressed his condolences to “families of beloved brothers and sisters who died in the incident [sic]”. Asked why he didn’t mention Bhutto’s name, he replied: “Why? This is not a political arena. This is about religion. That’s politics.” Well, it certainly is in Syria. George Bush – along with M. Sarkozy – has been berating Damascus for its lack of democracy and its human rights abuses and its supposed desire to gobble up Lebanon and “Palestine” and even Cyprus. But I always feel that Syria had a raw deal these past 90 years.

First came the one-armed General Henri Gouraud, who tore Lebanon off from Syria in 1920 and gave it to the pro-French Christians. Then Paris handed the Syrian coastal city of Alexandretta to the Turks in 1939 – sending survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide into exile for a second time – in the hope that Turkey would join the Allies against Hitler. (The Turks obliged – in 1945!) Then in the Six Day War, Syria lost the Golan Heights – subsequently annexed by Israel. Far from being expansionist, Syria seems to get robbed of land every two decades.

On the death of Hafez al-Assad in 2000 – it’s extraordinary how, like Sharon now that he is comatose, we come to like these old rogues once they’ve departed – we were told there was to be a “Damascus Spring”. I always thought this a bit dodgy. I’d experienced the Lebanon Spring and read about the Ukraine Spring and I’m old enough to remember the Prague Spring, which ended in tears and tanks. And sure enough, the Damascus Spring presaged no golden summer for Syria.

Instead, we’ve gone back to the midnight knock and the clanging of the cell door. Why – oh why – must this be so? Why did the Syrian secret police have to arrest Dr Ahmed Thoma, Dr Yasser el-Aiti, Jabr al-Shufi, Fayez Sara, Ali al-Abdulla and Rashed Sattouf in December, only days after they – along with 163 other brave Syrians – had attended a meeting of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change? The delegates had elected Dr Fida al-Hurani head of their organisation. She, too, was arrested, and her husband, Dr Gazi Alayan, a Palestinian who had lived in Syria for 18 years, deported to Jordan.

The net spread wider, as they say in police reports. The renowned Syrian artist Talal Abu Dana was arrested up in Aleppo, his studio trashed and his paintings destroyed. Then on 18 February, Kamel al-Moyel from the lovely hill town of Zabadani, on the steam train route from Damascus, was picked up by the boys in white socks. A point of explanation here. Almost all Middle East Moukhabarat men – perhaps because a clothing emporium has won a concession for the region’s secret policemen – wear white socks. The only ones who don’t are the Israeli variety, who wear old baseball hats.

Needless to say, the Syrian prisoners were not ignored by their regime. A certain Dr Shuabi, who runs a certain Data and Strategic Studies Centre in Damascus, appeared on al-Jazeera to denounce the detainees for “dealing with foreign powers”. Dr al-Hurani suffered from angina and was briefly sent to hospital before being returned to the Duma jail. But when the prisoners were at last brought to the Palace of Justice, Ali al-Abdulla appeared to have bruises on his body. Judge Mohamed al-Saa’our – the third investigative judge in Damascus, appointed by the ministry of interior – presided over the case at which the detainees were accused of “spreading false information”, forming a secret organisation to overthrow the regime, and for inciting “sectarian and racist tendencies”. The hearing, as they say, continues.

But why? Well, back on 4 December, George Bush met at the White House – the rendezvous was initially kept secret – the former Syrian MP Mamoun al-Homsi (who currently lives, dangerously perhaps, in Beirut) with Amar Abdulhamid, a member of a think thank run by a former Israeli lobbyist, and Djengizkhan Hasso, a Kurdish opposition activist. Nine days later, an official “source” leaked the meeting to the press. Which is about the time the Syrian Moukhabarat decided to pounce. So whose idea was the meeting? Was it, perhaps, supposed – once it became public – to provoke the Syrian cops into action?

The Damascus newspaper Tichrine – the Syrian equivalent of Private Eye’s Rev Blair newsletter – demanded to know why Washington was showing such concern for human rights in Syria. Was not the American-supported blockade of one and a half million Gaza Palestinians a violation of the rights of man? Had not the Arabs seen all too clearly Washington’s concern for the rights of man in Abu Ghraib and Guanatanamo? All true. But why on earth feed America’s propaganda machine (Syria as the centre of Hamas/ Hiz-bollah/Islamic Jihad terror, etc) with weekly arrests of middle-aged academics and even, it transpires, the vice-dean of the Islamic studies faculty at Damascus University?

Of course, you won’t find Israel or the United States engaged in this kind of thing. Absolutely not. Why, just two months ago, the Canadian foreign minister, Maxime Bernier, discovered that a confidential document sent to Canadian diplomats included a list of countries in which prisoners risked being tortured – and the names of America and Israel were on the list! Merde! Fortunately for us all, M. Bernier knew how to deal with such pernicious lies. The document, he announced, “wrongly includes some of our closest allies. It doesn’t represent the opinion or the policy of the (Canadian) government”. Even though, of course, the list is correct.

But M. Bernier managed to avoid and close down the truth, just as Mr Mubarak does in Cairo and President Bouteflika does in Algiers and just as the good Shaikh es-Sayed did in Toronto. Syria, according to Haitham al-Maleh, a former Syrian judge, claims there are now almost 3,000 political prisoners in Syria. But how many, I wonder, are there in Algeria? Or in Egypt? Or in the hands – secret or otherwise – of the United States? Shut them up. Lock them up. Silence.

* La Jornada
* http://www.independent.co.uk/news/fisk/robert-fisk-silenced-by-the-men-in-white-socks-796359.html

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Bilhá Calderón: Una Puerta

Se cierra la puerta
lenta, despacio
con las últimas voces.
Una pérdida irreparable
de palabras no dichas.
Entre líneas
se descubren las despedidas
tiradas y mudas
reveladas, confesadas.
Se cierra sin memoria
el gesto y el momento
de puerta que se desliza
por la mano, se aleja
del llanto. Inequívoco sueño
que la traspasa y se atraviesa.

© Bilhá Calderón
Bilhá Calderón. Cuetzalan 2007

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Patrick Cockburn: This is the war that started with lies, and continues with lie after lie after lie

It has been a war of lies from the start. All governments lie in wartime but American and British propaganda in Iraq over the past five years has been more untruthful than in any conflict since the First World War.

The outcome has been an official picture of Iraq akin to fantasy and an inability to learn from mistakes because of a refusal to admit that any occurred. Yet the war began with just such a mistake. Five years ago, on the evening of 19 March 2003, President George Bush appeared on American television to say that military action had started against Iraq.

This was a veiled reference to an attempt to kill Saddam Hussein by dropping four 2,000lb bombs and firing 40 cruise missiles at a place called al-Dura farm in south Baghdad, where the Iraqi leader was supposedly hiding in a bunker. There was no bunker. The only casualties were one civilian killed and 14 wounded, including nine women and a child.

On 7 April, the US Ai r Force dropped four more massive bombs on a house where Saddam was said to have been sighted in Baghdad. “I think we did get Saddam Hussein,” said the US Vice President, Dick Cheney. “He was seen being dug out of the rubble and wasn’t able to breathe.”

Saddam was unharmed, probably because he had never been there, but 18 Iraqi civilians were dead. One US military leader defended the attacks, claiming they showed “US resolve and capabilities”.

Mr Cheney was back in Baghdad this week, five years later almost to the day, to announce that there has been “phenomenal” improvements in Iraqi security. Within hours, a woman suicide bomber blew herself up in the Shia holy city of Kerbala, killing at least 40 and wounding 50 people. Often it is difficult to know where the self-deception ends and the deliberate mendacity begins.

The most notorious lie of all was that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. But critics of the war may have focused too much on WMD and not enough on later distortions.

The event which has done most to shape the present Iraqi political landscape was the savage civil war between Sunni and Shia in Baghdad and central Iraq in 2006-07 when 3,000 civilians a month were being butchered and which was won by the Shia.

The White House and Downing Street blithely denied a civil war was happening – and forced Iraq politicians who said so to recant – to pretend the crisis was less serious than it was.

More often, the lies have been small, designed to make a propaganda point for a day even if they are exposed as untrue a few weeks later. One example of this to shows in detail how propaganda distorts day-to-day reporting in Iraq, but, if the propagandist knows his job, is very difficult to disprove.

On 1 February this year, two suicide bombers, said to be female, blew themselves up in two pet markets in predominantly Shia areas of Baghdad, al Ghazil and al-Jadida, and killed 99 people. Iraqi government officials immediately said the bombers had the chromosonal disorder Down’s syndrome, which they could tell this from looking at the severed heads of the bombers. Sadly, horrific bombings in Iraq are so common that they no longer generate much media interest abroad. It was the Down’s syndrome angle which made the story front-page news. It showed al-Qa’ida in Iraq was even more inhumanly evil than one had supposed (if that were possible) and it meant, so Iraqi officials said, that al-Qa’ida was running out of volunteers.

The Times splashed on it under the headline, “Down’s syndrome bombers kill 91”. The story stated firmly that “explosives strapped to two women with Down’s syndrome were detonated by remote control in crowded pet markets”. Other papers, including The Independent, felt the story had a highly suspicious smell to it. How much could really be told about the mental condition of a woman from a human head shattered by a powerful bomb? Reliable eyewitnesses in suicide bombings are difficult to find because anybody standing close to the bomber is likely to be dead or in hospital.

The US military later supported the Iraqi claim that the bombers had Down’s syndrome. On 10 February, they arrested Dr Sahi Aboub, the acting director of the al Rashad mental hospital in east Baghdad, alleging that he had provided mental patients for use by al-Qa’ida. The Iraqi Interior Ministry started rounding up beggars and mentally disturbed people on the grounds that they might be potential bombers.

But on 21 February, an American military spokes-man said there was no evidence the bombers had Down’s. Adel Mohsin, a senior official at the Health Ministry in Baghdad, poured scorn on the idea that Dr Aboub could have done business with the Sunni fanatics of al-Qa’ida because he was a Shia and had only been in the job a few weeks.

A second doctor, who did not want to give his name, pointed out that al Rashad hospital is run by the fundamentalist Shia Mehdi Army and asked: “How would it be possible for al-Qa’ida to get in there?”

Few people in Baghdad now care about the exact circumstances of the bird market bombings apart from Dr Aboub, who is still in jail, and the mentally disturbed beggars who were incarcerated. Unfortunately, it is all too clear that al-Qa’ida is not running out of suicide bombers. But it is pieces of propaganda such as this small example, often swallowed whole by the media and a thousand times repeated, which cumulatively mask the terrible reality of Iraq.

* The Independent
* http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/patrick-cockburn-this-is-the-war-that-started-with-lies-and-continues-with-lie-after-lie-after-lie-797788.html

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