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Robert Fisk’s World: Bush rescues Wall Street but leaves his soldiers to die in Iraq

It was a weird week to be in the United States. On Tuesday, secretary of the treasury Henry Paulson told us that “this is all about the American taxpayer – that’s all we care about”. But when I flipped the page on my morning paper, I came across the latest gloomy statistic which Americans should care more about. “As of Wednesday evening, 4,162 US service members and 11 Defence Department civilians had been identified as having died in the Iraq war.” By grotesque mischance, $700bn – the cost of George Bush’s Wall Street rescue cash – is about the same figure as the same President has squandered on his preposterous war in Iraq, the war we have now apparently “won” thanks to the “surge” – for which, read “escalation” – in Baghdad. The fact that the fall in casualties coincides with the near-completion of the Shia ethnic cleansing of Sunni Muslims is not part of the story.

Indeed, a strange narrative is now being built into the daily history of America. First we won the war in Afghanistan by overthrowing the evil, terrorist-protecting misogynist Islamist crazies called the Taliban, setting up a democratic government under the exotically dressed Hamid Karzai. Then we rushed off to Iraq and overthrew the evil, terrorist-protecting, nuclear-weaponised, secular Baathist crazies under Saddam, setting up a democratic government under the pro-Iranian Shia Nouri al-Maliki. Mission accomplished. Then, after 250,000 Iraqi deaths – or half a million or a million, who cares? – we rushed back to Kabul and Kandahar to win the war all over again in Afghanistan. The conflict now embraces our old chums in Pakistan, the Saudi-financed, American-financed Interservices Intelligence Agency whose Taliban friends – now attacked by our brave troops inside Pakistani sovereign territory – again control half of Afghanistan.

We are, in fact, now fighting a war in what I call Irakistan. It’s hopeless; it’s a mess; it’s shameful; it’s unethical and it’s unwinnable and no wonder the Wall Street meltdown was greeted with such relief by Messrs Obama and McCain. They couldn’t suspend their campaigns to discuss the greatest military crisis in America’s history since Vietnam – but for Wall Street, no problem. The American taxpayer – “that’s all we care about”. Mercifully for the presidential candidates, they don’t have to debate the hell-disaster of Iraq any more, nor US-Israeli relations, nor Exxon or Chevron or BP-Mobil or Shell. George Bush’s titanic if mythical battle between good and evil has transmogrified into the conflict between good taxpayers and evil bankers. Phew! No entanglement in the lives and deaths of the people of the Middle East. Until the elections – barring another 9/11 – they are yesterday’s men and women.

But truth lurks in the strangest of airports. I’m chewing my way though a plate of spiced but heavy-boned chicken wings – final proof of why chickens can’t fly – at John Wayne airport in Orange County (take a trip down the escalator and you can actually see a larger-than-life statue of the “Duke”), and up on the screen behind the bar pops Obama himself. The word “Change” flashes on the logo and the guy on my left shakes his head. “I got a brother who’s just come back from Afghanistan,” he says. “He’s been fighting there but says there’s no infrastructure so there can be no victory. There’s nothing to build on. We’re not wanted.” At California’s San Jose University, a guy comes up and asks me to sign my new book for him. “Write ‘To Sergeant ‘D’,” he says with a sigh. “That’s what they call me. Two tours in Iraq, just heading out to Afghanistan.” And he rolls his eyes and I wish him safe home afterwards.

Of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict no longer gets a look into the debate. McCain’s visit to the Middle East and Obama’s visit to the Middle East – in which they outdid each other in fawning to the Israeli lobby (Obama’s own contribution surely earning him membership of the Knesset if not entry to the White House) – are safely in the past. Without any discussion, Israeli and US officials held a three-day security-technology forum in Washington this month which coincided with an equally undebated decision by the dying Bush administration to give a further $330m in three separate arms deals for Israel, including 28,000 M72A7 66mm light anti-armour weapons and 1,000 GBU-9 small diameter bombs from Boeing. Twenty-five Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets are likely to be approved before the election. The Israeli-American talks were described as “the most senior bilateral high-technology dialogue ever between the two allies”. Nothing to write home about, of course.

Almost equally unreported in major US papers – save by the good old Washington Report – was a potential scandal in good old Los Angeles to which Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently returned after a $225,000 junket to Israel with three council members and other city officials (along with families, kids, etc). The purpose? To launch new agreements for security at Los Angeles international airport. Council members waffled away on cellphones and walked out of the chamber when protesters claimed that the council was negotiating with a foreign power before seeking bids from American security services. One of the protesters asked if the idea of handing LAX’s security to the Israelis was such a good idea when Israeli firms were operating security at Boston Logan and Newark on 9/11 when a rather sinister bunch of Arabs passed through en route to their international crimes against humanity.

But who cares? 9/11? Come again? What’s that got to do with the American taxpayer?

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisks-world-bush-rescues-wall-street-but-leaves-his-soldiers-to-die-in-iraq-944071.html

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Jerome Starkey: Footage of civilian ‘massacre’ forces inquiry into US attack

America’s most senior soldier in Afghanistan has called for the Pentagon to investigate claims that more than 90 civilians were killed in an American airstrike, after harrowing video footage emerged showing the broken bodies of at least 11 children among the dead.

The grim, eight-minute clip, filmed on a mobile phone in the aftermath of the bombing, shows rows of shrouded bodies laid side by side in a make-shift morgue. Among them are at least 11 children, many of them toddlers.

General David McKiernan, the commander of Nato’s International Assistance Force (Isaf), ordered a fresh investigation led by a Pentagon general after footage was released on Sunday night. In a statement he said: “In light of emerging evidence pertaining to civilian casualties … I feel it is prudent to request that US Central Command send a general officer to review the US investigation and its findings.”

The top-level review comes just days after he admitted there were “large discrepancies” among accounts of the death toll. American officials claim there were just seven civilians killed. The United Nations, the Afghan government and human rights groups said that the body count was closer to 90. Locals said most of the dead were women and children.

The damning footage was shot by a doctor who visited the morgue, in a building normally used as a mosque, on the morning after the attack on 22 August.

At one point a blanket is pulled back to show the grey, lifeless face of an infant. The dead child’s head is no bigger than a man’s hand. A large section of skull is missing. Women can be heard wailing in the background. One mourner is heard crying for his mother.

The bombs were called in by American Special Forces after their patrol was ambushed in Azizabad, in Herat province, shortly before dawn on that day. Officials said the American soldiers were trying to arrest a suspected Taliban commander.

Days after the attack, American officials remained adamant that just 30 Taliban insurgents had been killed, including their commander, despite detailed claims by Afghan officials that at least 76 people were killed, including 50 children.

Four days after the airstrike, on 26 August, the UN’s senior official in Kabul, Kai Eide, claimed he had “convincing evidence … that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men”.

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s President, said relations with the United States had “worsened” in the wake of the raid, which prompted a grovelling phone call from President George Bush.

There has been growing criticism of international troops for failing to curb civilian killings. A report by Human Rights Watch, published yesterday, said civilian deaths as a result of airstrikes by the US and Nato tripled from 2006 to 2007, which have sparked a public backlash.

Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said: “Mistakes by the US and Nato have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces.”

American officials eventually revised their initial body count, on 2 September, but they were still nowhere close to the numbers reported elsewhere. A spokesman said: “The investigation found that 30 to 35 Taliban militants were killed. In addition five to seven civilians were killed, two civilians were injured and subsequently treated.”

Mr Eide, the UN’s Special Representative, summoned General McKiernon to his office in Kabul on Friday last week to see the evidence for himself. General McKiernon was furious that the UN had released such an uncompromising statement condemning the raid. But a source close to the Isaf commander revealed he was almost moved to tears when he finally saw the images for himself. “He was shocked and humbled. He left like a little boy,” the military aide said.

If the 90 dead are confirmed, it would be the worst incident of collateral damage in Afghanistan since US and UK forces invaded in 2001.

Missiles fired by US drones killed 16 people, in an attack launched across the border into Pakistan yesteday. The strike targetted a religious school founded by an old friend of Osama bin Laden, intelligence officials and Pakistani villagers said. The US has increasingly used drones to make cross broder strikes on suspected Taliban targets in recent weeks. The missile killed 16 people, most of them Pakistani and Afghan Taliban fighters, though four women and two children were also killed, according to a senior intelligence officer.

* The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/footage-of-civilian-massacre-forces-inquiry-into-us-attack-923486.html

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