Tag Archives: Iraq

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?


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THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN: Dear Iraqi Friends

To: President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashadani

Dear Sirs, I am writing you on a matter of grave importance. It’s hard for me to express to you how deep the economic crisis in America is today. We are discussing a $1 trillion bailout for our troubled banking system. This is a financial 9/11. As Americans lose their homes and sink into debt, they no longer understand why we are spending $1 billion a day to make Iraqis feel more secure in their homes.

For the past two years, there has been a debate in this country over whether to set a deadline for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. It seemed as if the resolution of that debate depended on who won the coming election. That is no longer the case. A deadline is coming. American taxpayers who would not let their money be used to subsidize their own companies — Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch — will not have their tax dollars used to subsidize your endless dithering over which Iraqi community dominates Kirkuk.

Don’t misunderstand me. Many Americans and me are relieved by the way you, the Iraqi people and Army have pulled back from your own brink of self-destruction. I originally launched this war in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. I was wrong. But it quickly became apparent that Al Qaeda and its allies in Iraq were determined to make America fail in any attempt to build a decent Iraq and tilt the Middle East toward a more democratic track, no matter how many Iraqis had to be killed in the process. This was not the war we came for, but it was the one we found.

Al Qaeda understood that if it could defeat America in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, that it would resonate throughout the region and put Al Qaeda and its allies in the ascendant. Conversely, we understood that if we could defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, in collaboration with other Arabs and Muslims, that it would resonate throughout the region and pay dividends. Something very big was at stake here. We have gone a long way toward winning that war.

At the same time, I also came to realize that in helping Iraqis organize elections, we were facilitating the first ever attempt by the people of a modern Arab state to write their own social contract — rather than have one imposed on them by kings, dictators or colonial powers. If Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds can forge your own social contract, then some form of a consensual government is possible in the Arab world. If you can’t, it is kings and dictators forever — with all the pathologies that come with that. Something very big is at stake there, too.

It’s not the stakes that have changed. It is the fact that you are now going to have to step up and finish this job. You have presumed an endless American safety net to permit you to endlessly bargain and dicker over who gets what. I’ve been way, way too patient with you. That is over. We bought you time with the surge to reach a formal political settlement and you better use it fast, because it is a rapidly diminishing asset.

You Shiites have got to bring the Sunni tribes and Awakening groups, who fought the war against Al Qaeda of Iraq, into the government and Army. You Kurds have got to find a solution for Kirkuk and accept greater integration into the Iraqi state system, while maintaining your autonomy. You Sunnis in government have got to agree to elections so the newly emergent Sunni tribal and Awakening groups are able to run for office and become “institutionalized” into the Iraqi system.

So pass your election and oil laws, spend some of your oil profits to get Iraqi refugees resettled and institutionalize the recent security gains while you still have a substantial U.S. presence. Read my lips: It will not be there indefinitely — even if McCain wins.

Our ambassador, Ryan Crocker, has told me your problem: Iraqi Shiites are still afraid of the past, Iraqi Sunnis are still afraid of the future and Iraqi Kurds are still afraid of both.

Well, you want to see fear. Look in the eyes of Americans who are seeing their savings wiped out, their companies disappear, their homes foreclosed. We are a different country today. After a decade of the world being afraid of too much American power, it is now going to be treated to a world of too little American power, as we turn inward to get our house back in order.

I still believe a decent outcome in Iraq, if you achieve it, will have long-lasting, positive implications for you and the entire Arab world, although the price has been way too high. I will wait for history for my redemption, but the American people will not. They want nation-building in America now. They will not walk away from Iraq overnight, but they will not stay there in numbers over time. I repeat: Do not misread this moment. God be with you.

George W. Bush

* NY Times

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Stephen Farrell: The Troop Debate: Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Marko Georgiev for The New York Times)

U.S. soldiers from 18th Military Police Brigade provide security near a checkpoint in Baghdad in August. (Photo: Marko Georgiev for The New York Times)

BAGHDAD — As Iraqi and American diplomats negotiate a deal for American troops to stay in Iraq, or not, Iraqis are also debating the issue.

For Iraqis, just as for Americans, it is far more complex than a simple “stay” or “go.” For both it is about blood, treasure, pride, dignity and a nation’s sense of itself and its place in the world.

But a lot more Iraqi blood than American has already been spilled, and stands to be spilled again, if the politicians get it wrong.

On the streets of Iraq the questions being asked about the continuing American presence are about sovereignty, stability and America’s intentions in Iraq past, present and future: How many American troops will stay? How quickly will they go? If they stay, where will they be based? To do what? With what powers? And under what restrictions?

For the most part, Iraqis’ views generally fall into three categories.

One group, which includes many followers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr — and some intensely nationalist Sunni Arabs in parts of the country that have suffered the worst since the invasion – simply want the Americans to leave, period. They say no amount of American effort now can make up for the horrors of the occupation, including the destruction of society and the killing of innocent civilians.

A second group takes a similarly dim view of the occupation, but worries that the brief period of improving security which Iraq has witnessed this year will be vulnerable if the Americans abruptly withdrew. They say the United States has a moral obligation to remain, and that continued presence of the occupiers is preferable to a return to rule by gangs and militias.

A third group shares a common worry, that without a referee, Iraq’s dominant powers – Kurds in the far north and Shias in the center and south – will brutally dominate other groups.

The Americans are not the first to be facing such dilemmas in Iraq.

In August 1920, only two years after his declining colonial power had emerged from the devastation of the First World War, the then British Secretary of War Winston Churchill wrote (but did not send) a letter to his prime minister which contained this assessment of Mesopotamia:

“It seems to me so gratuitous that after all the struggles of war, just when we want to get together our slender military resources and re-establish our finances and have a little in hand in case of danger here or there, we should be compelled to go on pouring armies and treasure into these thankless deserts.”

A millennium and a half earlier in 694 AD, the Ummayad provincial governor Hajjaj also faced a fractious Baghdad. His response to one angry crowd was a speech learned by all Iraqi schoolchildren: “I see heads before me that are ripe and ready for the plucking, and I am the one to pluck them, and I see blood glistening between the turbans and the beards.” The turbans melted away.

Five years later Hajjaj faced a rebellion in a troublesome region to his east, which forced him to move troops from Iraq/Mesopotamia.

That rebellion was in Kabulistan, now part of Afghanistan. An historical parallel which drew a wry smile from General David H. Petraeus, the commander of American forces in Iraq, when The New York Times pointed it out to him last month. General Petraeus will soon move up the chain of command to take over the Central Command region, making him responsible for a region that covers both Iraq and modern Kabulistan.

Names and regimes change, but there is nothing new under the Mesopotamian sun.

The debate goes on.

* NY Times


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Roger Cohen: Real Wars and the U.S. Culture

The culture-war surge in the U.S election campaign has come at the expense of meaningful debate about the real wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s dangerous because they stand at critical junctures.

We’ve had Sarah Palin at the Republican National Convention setting a new low for foreign policy with her attempt to mock Barack Obama’s approach to international terrorists: “He’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.”

I’m sorry, Ms. Palin, but out there in Alaska, between moose shoots, did you hear about Bagram, Abu Ghraib, renditions, waterboarding, Guantánamo and the rest?

John McCain knows what happens when those rights disappear. He described his Vietnamese nightmare the next night: “They worked me over harder than they ever had before. For a long time. And they broke me.”

A man remembers getting broken: that’s why McCain fought the use of torture by the Bush administration. His condoning of those words from his vice-presidential candidate is appalling. Foreign policy be damned if you can score a God-fearing-macho-versus-liberal-constitutionalist point.

But the bloody wars, seven years after 9/11, have not paused for this sterile U.S. cultural battle. With some 180,000 troops in the two theaters, U.S. reserve capacity is stretched to the limit — something Iran knows when it keeps the centrifuges turning and Russia knows when it grabs Georgia.

In Afghanistan, a Taliban-led insurgency is growing in reach and effectiveness. There’s talk of a mini-surge in U.S. troops there — now about 34,000 — to counter the threat, but little serious reflection on what precise end perhaps 12,000 additional forces would serve. Until that’s clarified, I’m against the mini-surge.

France, which just mini-surged in Afghanistan, is now embroiled in an agonizing debate over the slaying of 10 soldiers, mostly paratroopers, east of Kabul on Aug. 18. At least one had his throat slit. Photos in Paris Match of Taliban forces with uniforms of the Frenchmen have enflamed the national mood.

Hervé Morin, the Defense Minister, has called for “national unity” in fighting a threat “from the Middle Ages.” But polls suggest a majority of the French favor withdrawal. A furor is building over suggestions the paratroopers were abandoned.

These French rumblings are a reminder that the NATO coalition in Afghanistan is fragile and that sending more forces is no remedy in itself.

Obama has been right to say Iraq exacted a price on the Afghan campaign — something McCain airily denies. But his calls to send “at least two additional combat brigades” to Afghanistan and his promise in Denver to “finish the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan” are rash.

After 30 years of war, the Afghan struggle won’t be finished for another 30. It’s a weak country, sandwiched between Iran and Pakistan, two far stronger ones that do not wish it well. The Afghan-Pakistani border cannot be sealed, although it can be better policed; the jihadi traffic across it will continue.

None of this means the United States is condemned to having tens of thousands of troops there for decades — although I’d say that’s more likely than victory in four years.

On the day the French were attacked, a large American military base — Camp Salerno in eastern Khost province — came under sustained Taliban assault. I spoke to a U.S. official who’s just ended an 18-month assignment in Khost.

He sees the exclusive focus on more troops as wrong-headed. The priority must be “an Afghan surge.” Get the Afghan national army to 120,000 troops as a priority, from about half that level today. If more U.S. troops do go, training Afghans should be their first task. Only Afghans can win this.

Pour money into Afghan army salaries (now about $100 a month). Keep buying loyalty with US cash in the provinces, where it counts. Make a big push on human capital — “engineering minds is becoming far more important these days than engineering more roads.” If the best brains leave, the country’s lost.

Rethink policy toward schools. Getting madrassahs registered with the government — and so gaining some control over curricula — is smarter than stigmatizing them and pushing students over the border into Waziri zealotry. Get serious about the national reconciliation program, designed to bring ex-Taliban moderates into politics. Focus on Pakistan.

Absent such cornerstones of a strategy — and absent realistic expectations — surging in Afghanistan is a mistake.

As for Iraq, gains are real but fragile. I don’t see how Obama’s “responsible” withdrawal squares with his 16-month time frame for it. If we don’t want Sunni Iraq to remarry Al Qaeda — and that’s a paramount strategic aim — we’re going to have to play buffer against the dominant Shia for several years. That won’t require the current 146,000 troops, but will require many tens of thousands through the next presidency.

Two intractable wars should preclude the culture war McCain has just so shamelessly embraced. He loves the word “fight.” So fight on the issues — and let the people decide.

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Robert Fisk: It’s never good to swap people for bodies

Al-Jazeera – much praised by the now-dying US administration until it started reporting the truth about the American occupation of Iraq (at which point, you may recall, George Bush wanted to bomb it) – is back in hot water. And not, I fear, without reason. For on 19 July, its Beirut bureau staged a birthday party for Samir Kantar, newly released from Israel’s prisons in return for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. “Brother Samir, we would like to celebrate your birthday with you,” allegedly gushed al-Jazeera’s man in Beirut. “You deserve even more than this… Happy Birthday, Brother Samir.”

The problem, of course, was that “Brother Samir” – whose moustache looks as if it has been modelled on that of a former German corporal – had been convicted in Israel for the 1979 killing of an Israeli father and his daughter. The Israelis claim he smashed in the head of the four-year-old with a rifle. Kantar denies this – though he does not deny that another child, this time two years old, was accidentally asphyxiated by its mother when she was trying to avoid giving away their hiding place. Kantar received a conviction of 542 years – long, even by Israel’s standards – and had been locked up for 28 years when he was swapped (along with other prisoners) for the bodies of the dead soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whose capture started the 2006 Lebanon war.

Kantar received a hero’s welcome home from Hizbollah – even though Hizbollah did not exist when he was convicted – and was received by virtually the entire Lebanese government. I reported this whole miserable affair and referred to the cabinet in Beirut “grovelling to this man”. I was right. Al-Jazeera has now done a little grovelling of its own – but this has been accompanied by an extraordinary article in the American and Canadian press by Judea Pearl, attacking Kantar’s reception in Lebanon and al-Jazeer’s treatment of the man, announcing that Kantar’s royal procession in Lebanon had brought “barbarism back to the public square”.

Professor Pearl – who teaches at UCLA – is the father of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal correspondent butchered by Islamists in Karachi. They cut off his head. And only someone with a heart of stone could read Judea Pearl’s words without being moved. Here, after all, is another father grieving for a cruelly murdered child. Not long before he died, Daniel Pearl had shown great kindness to me after I was badly beaten on the Afghan border. He shared all the numbers in his contacts book with me while he and his wife made me tea and cookies in Peshawar. After his abduction, I wrote an open letter to Osama bin Laden (whom I knew), pleading for his release. I was too late. Daniel had already been murdered.

Judea Pearl currently runs a foundation named after his son and dedicated to dialogue and understanding. I will not go on at any length about a vindictive letter he wrote about me before his son was abducted – in which he claimed that I “drooled venom” and was “a professional hate pedlar”, adding that the 2001 international crimes against humanity in the United States were caused by “hate itself, of precisely the obsessive and dehumanising kind that Fisk and bin Laden has been spreading”.

This, of course, is the kind of incendiary stuff that produces a deluge of crude hate mail (which, indeed, is exactly what it did). But whatever his feelings about me now, Judea Pearl has a point.

Yet he wants al-Jazeera to apologise formally for that infamous party which has, he writes, robbed journalism of its “nobleness” and “relegitimized barbarism”, and something in me says – whoa there! The narrative is being cut off and rewritten. For if Kantar represents barbarism, why on earth did Israel release him in the first place?

Indeed, Israel released Kantar and other prisoners and 200 corpses of dead Hizbollah and Palestinian fighters at the demand of the Hizbollah militia. And when you get into the bodies game – swapping long-held prisoners for corpses – then the prisoners are going to be greeted when they are freed, whether we like it or not. Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, suggested there was indeed something noble about the prisoner exchange because it showed that Israel always cared for the return of its missing soldiers, alive or dead.

And I am reminded now of how Benjamin Netanyahu released Sheikh Ahmed Yassin from prison after two of Israel’s Mossad would-be killers tried to murder Khaled Meshal of Hamas in Amman. King Hussein had angrily demanded the antidote to the poison they gave Meshal – which is how Yassin obtained his release. Then, after Yassin had been greeted by his Palestinian followers and gone ranting on about the need to avoid recognition of Israel, praising suicide bombers into the bargain, an Israeli pilot fired a missile into his wheelchair – not exactly a noble act since the old man was a cripple – and once again we heard about the barbarity of the now dead Yassin. But if he was so barbarous, why did Netanyahu, that famous enemy of “terrorism”, release him? Because the two Mossad agents had been caught by the Jordanians? Of course.

So here we go again. The truth is that Israel uses these men as hostages – the American press employ the weasel words “bargaining chips” – and if you’re going to get into the grisly game of body swapping, then the result is Samir Kantar parading himself around Lebanon and celebrating his birthday on al-Jazeera. That doesn’t justify the pathetic performance of the Lebanese government. It certainly does show the power of Hizbollah. But it shows even more clearly that, despite all Israel’s huffing and puffing about “never dealing with terrorists”, this is exactly what it does. It’s very easy to kick al-Jazeera – and not without reason. But the story didn’t start there. And it hasn’t ended yet.

* The Independent


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DAVID ALANDETE: El Partido Republicano enseña su rostro más radical

En las primarias fueron contrincantes. Pero los tres principales competidores contra John McCain por la nominación del Partido Republicano se unieron el miércoles en un duro ataque contra lo que bautizaron como “la prensa liberal”, contra la izquierda, contra Washington y contra el candidato demócrata a la presidencia de EE UU, Barack Obama.

Olvidados los tiempos del conservadurismo compasivo, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Huckabee y Mitt Romney imprimieron un tono radical a la Convención de Saint Paul y acusaron al senador por Illinois de falta de firmeza ante el terrorismo islamista y de atesorar menos experiencia ejecutiva que cualquiera de los dos miembros de la candidatura republicana.

“Los demócratas han renunciado a ganar la guerra de Irak y han renunciado a América”, dijo el ex alcalde de Nueva York Rudolph Giuliani. En una severa crítica al Partido Demócrata, dijo que en su Convención, en Denver, “raramente mencionaron los ataques del 11 de septiembre de 2001. Viven un estado de negación respecto a la mayor amenaza que vive nuestro país”.

El ex gobernador de Arkansas Mike Huckabee acusó a Obama de ser el candidato que pondrá a Estados Unidos “en riesgo en un mundo peligroso”. Mitt Romney, por su parte, aportó puntos del ideario neoconservador al asegurar que los republicanos son los únicos que creen “en la distinción entre el bien y el mal”, mientras Obama “duda y se doblega” ante el terrorismo.

Giuliani defendió a McCain como “un soldado de a pie en la revolución conservadora de Reagan”. De hecho, los tres ex candidatos le atribuyeron a McCain el rol de defensor del legado del célebre presidente republicano de los años ochenta. “El camino adecuado es el que lideró Ronald Reagan hace 30 años y que ahora recorrerán John McCain y Sarah Palin”, dijo Romney, que fue gobernador de Massachusetts entre 2003 y 2007.

En su intervención, este político mormón unió directamente la presidencia de George W. Bush a la candidatura de McCain. “Bush definió a los Estados que patrocinan el terrorismo como lo que son: un eje del mal”, afirmó, en una defensa de la tradición neoconservadora de los años más recientes del Partido Republicano. “El islamismo radical y violento es el demonio, y debemos vencerlo”.

“Queremos pasar de un Washington liberal a un Washington conservador”, dijo Romney, en tono desafiante. “Los liberales cambiarían la sociedad de las oportunidades por la dependencia de la caridad del Gobierno”, dijo, detallando a continuación un ideario económico netamente republicano: “El camino adecuado consiste en reducir el gasto del Gobierno, en bajar los impuestos, en exterminar las grandes regulaciones y los mandatos, detener las tasas a las empresas y enfrentarse al apetito de tiranosaurio de los sindicatos”.

Tanto Romney como Giuliani acusaron a los demócratas de la crisis energética que vive EE UU. Ambos defendieron la propuesta de McCain de abrir las costas estadounidenses a más perforaciones petrolíferas. “Es el Congreso liberal el que nos hace más dependientes de los tiranos de Oriente Próximo”, dijo el ex gobernador de Massachusetts.

Los discursos de los tres ex candidatos fueron, también, una defensa de la experiencia política de Sarah Palin y un encendido ataque personal contra Obama y su compañero de candidatura, Joe Biden. ” tiene ya más experiencia en un puesto ejecutivo que toda la candidatura demócrata”, dijo el ex alcalde de Nueva York. “Ha sido alcaldesa, y sabéis cómo me gusta este trabajo. Lo siento, Barack, si [el puesto de alcaldesa] no es lo suficientemente glamuroso”, dijo.

Los tres antiguos adversarios se sometieron obedientemente a la disciplina de partido en sus comparecencias. Sólo uno, el ex gobernador de Arkansas y ministro baptista Mike Huckabee, reconoció entre risas que, al principio, hubiera querido ser él quien leyera el discurso de aceptación de la candidatura el jueves por la noche. Pero el Huckabee del miércoles fue un ariete más en la táctica de acoso y derribo diseñada por el estratega electoral Steve Schmidt, amigo personal de Karl Rove y arquitecto de la campaña de McCain. “Sarah Palin obtuvo más votos como alcaldesa de Wasilla, Alaska, que Joe Biden en su candidatura a la presidencia”, dijo.

Fue Huckabee quien más se cebó con “los medios elitistas” por subrayar diversas polémicas en las que Palin se ha visto envuelta recientemente. La prensa, dijo, “ha hecho algo que parecía imposible de conseguir: unir al Partido Republicano y a todos los estadounidenses en apoyo del senador McCain y la gobernadora Palin”.


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Robert Fisk: Snapshots of life in Baghdad

Three bodies lie beside a Baghdad street on a blindingly hot day. The one on the right is dressed in a white shirt and bright green trousers, his hands tied behind his back. Two others on the left lie shoeless, both dressed in check shirts, dumped – how easily we use that word of Baghdad’s corpses – on a yard of dirt and bags of garbage. They, too, of course, are now garbage. The wall behind them, a grim barrier of dun-coloured brick, seals off this horror from two two-storey villas and a clutch of palm trees, the normal life of Baghdad just a wall away from the other “normal” life of Baghdad’s sectarian killings. No one knows whose bodies they are and the picture – taken from a car window – was snapped in fear by an unknown Iraqi.

It is a cell-phone picture, for now only the cell phones of the Iraqi people can record their tragedy. Another shows a young man’s body, taken from beside a car wing mirror, hands tied behind his back with his own shirt. Bombs explode across the Baghdad skyline, columns of smoke move into the air like sinister ghosts. Palm trees block off streets of fearful Iraqis. A car bomb blazes, the faint image of a US Humvee outlined against the trees. There are broken bridges, wounded friends, blood-soaked cloth.

But there are also families; even a Muslim family celebrating Christmas, all dressed in Santa Claus hats, and a graduation party where the girls wear Bedouin black dresses with gold-fringed scarves and the boys wear Arab headdress and white abayas – something quite foreign to the middle classes of what was once one of the most literate and educated cities of the Middle East.

But it is the cell phone that has captured this terrible, fearful, brave face of Baghdad. Western photographers can no longer roam the streets of the Iraqi capital – and few other cities in Iraq – and in south-west Afghanistan, the same phenomenon has occurred.

We Westerners need the locals to photograph their tragedy and their ragged, often fuzzy, poorly framed pictures contain their own finely calibrated and terrible beauty. The fear of the cell-phone snapper is contained in almost every frame. Most of the Iraqis are refugees-to-be, for the Dutch photographer Geert van Kesteren, who collected 388 pages of photographs for his book Baghdad Calling, wanted to catalogue the tragedy of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who are the largely ignored victims of our demented 2003 invasion and occupation.

Van Kesteren, an unassuming but imaginative journalist whom I met recently in Holland, noticed that refugees used their cell phones as family albums and decided, in the words of Brigitte Lardinois, formerly director of Magnum Photos in London, “to let the pictures of ordinary, non-professional photographers tell the story this time”. Iraqi refugees in Jordan asked friends to send more pictures from Baghdad.

Some were rejected because of their suspect provenance – alas, we therefore do not see the picture of an American soldier, apparently firing a rifle from atop a donkey, but which might have been digitally edited – but others cannot be anything but the truth. The smiling families, hiding in their homes as the killers roam the darkness outside, the young men relaxing in the safety of Kurdistan, swimming in the lakes, revelling in the nightlife, the plump nephew of one of the anonymous cell-phone photographers sitting on a bright red sports car, have to be real.

It must have been hard for Van Kesteren, a news photographer in his own right, to have submerged his own work for this brilliant amateur collection. A few of Van Kesteren’s own professional pictures appear in Baghdad Calling but they are taken in the safety of Syria, Jordan or Turkey and – save for a group photograph of courageous Iraqis captured after illegally crossing the Turkish border but still determined to escape from their country again – they lack the power and immediacy of the Iraqi snapshots.

The refugee statistics are so appalling that they have become almost mundane. Four million of Iraq’s 23 million people have fled their homes – until recently, at the rate of 60,000 a month – allegedly more than 1.2 million to Syria (a figure now challenged by at least one prominent NGO), 500,000 to Jordan, 200,000 to the Gulf, 70,000 to Egypt, 57,000 to Iran, up to 40,000 to Lebanon, 10,000 to Turkey. Sweden has accepted 9,000, Germany fewer – where an outrageous political debate has suggested that Christian refugees should have preference over Muslim Iraqis. With its usual magnanimity – especially for a country that set off this hell-disaster by its illegal invasion – George Bush’s America has, of course, accepted slightly more than 500.

This collection of pictures is therefore an indictment of us, as well as of the courage of Iraqis. The madness is summed up in an email message sent to Van Kesteren by a Baghdad Iraqi. “This summer,” he wrote, “a workman wanted to quench his thirst by putting ice in his tea. A car pulled up, the driver stepped out and began to beat and kick the man, cursing him as an unbeliever. ‘What do you think you’re doing? Did the Prophet Mohamed put ice in his water?’

The man being attacked was furious and asked his assailant: ‘Do you think the Prophet Mohamed drove a car?'”

* The Independent


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Colin Brown: Bush threatens Iran with military action

George Bush has warned Iran that military action is still “on the table” if it fails to respond to tightening diplomatic pressure to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

The EU is planning to announce the freezing of all overseas assets of the main bank in Iran. Sanctions are also to be tightened on gas and oil exports by Iran.

But the US President’s remarks on the last leg of his “farewell tour” of Europe raised fears at Westminster that Mr Bush is determined to take action against Iran before he leaves office in January if the sanctions fail to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

Standing alongside the President after more than an hour of talks in Downing Street, Gordon Brown surprised EU council officials by announcing that the EU intends to intensify its sanctions on Iran, including freezing the billions of euros in overseas assets of the Melli Bank of Iran.

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Amy Goodman: Former Marine Returns to Iraq as Embedded Photographer Only to be Ordered Home

James Lee is a former Marine from California who served two tours of duty in Iraq in 2001 to 2004. He’s been back in Iraq more recently, this time as an embedded photographer. Lee is now a journalism student at San Francisco State University and filed reports from Iraq for the college newspaper, the Golden Gate XPress. But earlier this month, Lee was abruptly de-embedded. On April 2nd, just before General Petraeus was due to brief Congress on progress in Iraq, Lee was ordered to leave Basra. [includes rush transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: Just a few days ago, we were in Santa Barbara, celebrating KCSB, the community radio station of the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was there that I met James Lee, a former Marine from California who served two tours of duty in Iraq in 2001 and 2004. In 2004, he was in Fallujah where he got his finger shot off in friendly fire. He has been back in Iraq more recently, this time as an embedded photographer. Lee is now a journalism student at San Francisco State University, filed reports from Iraq for the Golden Gate XPress. But earlier this month, Lee was abruptly de-embedded. On April 2, just before General Petraeus was due to brief Congress on progress in Iraq, Lee was ordered to leave Basra, just a few hours after he had gotten there. I spoke to Lee while on the road in Santa Barbara.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell me your experience.

JAMES LEE: My name is James Lee. I am a photojournalist. I’m also a Marine veteran, served two combat deployments in Iraq. And after my last deployment, I was—in Fallujah back in 2004, I was shot by another Marine unit during a combat operation and ended up being evacuated after being injured during a friendly fire incident. After leaving the Marine Corps, I decided to return to Iraq as a photojournalist.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened?

JAMES LEE: I was with the military for about five months total. My last assignment was in the city of Basra. I had become aware of a declining security situation in some neighborhoods around Baghdad and in Basra and decided that I wanted to go down and photograph to document the Iraqi army’s ability or inability to conduct independent combat operations in Iraq.

I arrived in Basra after a three-day convoy with Iraqi soldiers from Baghdad down to Basra. I was only in Basra about four hours, when I was notified by the public affairs office assigned to Basra that they didn’t want any Western media in Basra covering the fighting and that an aircraft was been dispatched down to Basra to pick me up to fly me back to Baghdad.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the reason they gave?

JAMES LEE: Originally I was told that an order came directly from the office of General Petraeus, that they didn’t want any Western media covering the events and—


JAMES LEE: Because Petraeus was in Washington at the time, and they were concerned about images coming out from Basra that didn’t support their mission at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: Is that what you speculate, or that’s what they said?

JAMES LEE: That’s what I was told by the public affairs officer; that’s what he thought the reason was. I thought that it contradicted some guidelines that General Petraeus had published to his subordinate command directly relating to the media. And I obtained Petraeus’s personal phone number a few weeks earlier from a French reporter who had interviewed him. So I called that number, and he had already left for Washington, but one of his adjutants that answered the phone said that that order didn’t come from Petraeus and that I had every right to remain in Basra.

I notified the unit that I was with about that fact, and they changed their story and said, “Well, you’re now able to stay.” But about two hours later, they reversed their position and said now a new authority was ordering me out of Basra and that it wasn’t Petraeus. I was told that it was a two-star Marine general; they would not identify who he was. And later, once I arrived back in Baghdad after being forced to leave Basra, I was told that the order now came from the Iraqi army themselves. So, they had quite a few reasons why I couldn’t be there doing my job.

AMY GOODMAN: Why didn’t they want you to see what—or what was the reality on the ground?

JAMES LEE: The reality on the ground was, more than a thousand Iraqi soldiers refused to fight the Mahdi Army, whether they were afraid that they didn’t have the ability to do it or they didn’t believe that they should be fighting the Mahdi Army. For whatever reason, many of them put down their weapons and refused to go into Basra and fight the Mahdi Army. And I think those images would have been very powerful, and I think it would have created a lot of doubt on the part of the American public about the Iraqis army’s commitment to coalition missions in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: What was Fallujah like when you were there as a soldier?

JAMES LEE: Extremely chaotic. We had surrounded the city of Fallujah—

AMY GOODMAN: What month was this in 2004?


AMY GOODMAN: The first siege.

JAMES LEE: The first siege. The city had basically been evacuated by most people, but there were still pockets of some civilians who decided to remain behind and safeguard their homes and shops.

AMY GOODMAN: And how long were you there then before you were shot?

JAMES LEE: I was only in Fallujah for about a week when I was shot by another Marine unit that was operating in the same area that I was in.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did they shoot you?

JAMES LEE: They misidentified my position as an enemy position, and I was targeted by my own troops. And I ended up—I was shot through the left hand.

AMY GOODMAN: Where you seriously injured? You lost the top of your finger?

JAMES LEE: I’ve lost some use of two fingers. They reattached the middle finger, and it remained attached for about a year. And then they decided that it would be best to remove it, so they amputated it after about a year.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the difference between being a soldier and an embedded journalist?

JAMES LEE: The ability to ask questions and to interact, I think, on a more intimate level with Iraqi civilians. I mean, I had no interaction, really, with Iraqis while I was wearing a uniform. It wasn’t until I returned as a civilian journalist that I had the chance to sit down and speak with Iraqi interpreters and those Iraqis that did speak English.

AMY GOODMAN: Did your view of Iraq change?


AMY GOODMAN: Speaking to Iraqis?

JAMES LEE: I think it did. It was my first opportunity, I think, to meet Iraqis. I mean, I’d been to Iraq twice before, once for the invasion and once for the battle of Fallujah during my second deployment, and never had the chance to interact with an Iraqi. And it wasn’t until the end of 2006, when I returned to Iraq, that I had the chance to sit down and speak with Iraqis for the first time.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did the soldiers treat you as a journalist?

JAMES LEE: You know, I had thought returning back to Iraq as a former Marine veteran and now as a civilian photographer, that I’d have greater access. And I realized that once you take the uniform off and you pick up a camera, they no longer view you as a Marine veteran. You’re now a journalist. And I wasn’t always welcome. I had some problems trying to tell the stories that I wanted to tell.

AMY GOODMAN: Like what?

JAMES LEE: One of my embeds when I was in Afghanistan, I was embedded with an Army unit, and I was forced to remain on a forward operating base for ten days and was never allowed to leave the base with a patrol or to go out into the community where the real stories were. So, my only access to any of the locals was an Iraqi army unit that was housed in the same forward operating base.


JAMES LEE: In Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: An Afghan army unit?

JAMES LEE: An Afghan army unit. So I had the opportunity to speak with them about their feelings about us being in Afghanistan and about the changes in their country, but if it wasn’t for those soldiers being on the same base, I would have basically been locked out of any access with the Afghanis.

AMY GOODMAN: And why were they trying to stop you from meeting them?

JAMES LEE: I was told that earlier in the year they had had some problems with German reporters, and they weren’t happy with the story that was told, and they were no longer going to support media missions. And they were just going to wait me out.

AMY GOODMAN: What did the Afghan soldiers tell you?

JAMES LEE: That there’s really limited opportunities for them in Afghanistan, and by joining the Afghan military, at least it’s an option for some credibility, some income, some stability. But most of them, I thought, would rather be doing other things with their time. They were really separated from their families and from their communities. And they’re pretty isolated when they’re out serving in these forward operating bases.

AMY GOODMAN: Ultimately in Basra, they got a plane to get you?

JAMES LEE: They did. They originally wanted me out that day when I was first notified, but the weather wouldn’t permit them to land. So I had to remain over for about another ten hours before they were able to get a flight the following morning. During that period of time, I was able to go out and take some photographs and interview some of the Iraqi soldiers that were getting ready to move into Basra.

AMY GOODMAN: A thousand refused to fight?

JAMES LEE: Over—I think it was 1,300 was the last report that I heard.

AMY GOODMAN: That is the embedded reporter James Lee, actually a former Marine, before he was injured in Fallujah in 2004. After he was injured, he went back to Camp Pendleton. Then Hurricane Katrina hit, and he and a fellow Marine wanted to go to Katrina, to New Orleans. They were told they couldn’t go, so they took vacation, and they went down to New Orleans anyway. This is what James Lee described happened when he went to New Orleans.

AMY GOODMAN: You were shipped back to the United States. Can you talk about that time period and what you did?

JAMES LEE: Sure. After being injured, I was pulled out of my role as a rifleman, and I was assigned as an instructor running a facility at Camp Pendleton that taught Marines water survival. During that timeframe, Hurricane Katrina had hit New Orleans, and I contacted my command about letting a group of Marines travel to New Orleans to assist with the rescue operations, and I was told by my command that that’s not possible, that unless we’re requested, we can’t go.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what did you do?

JAMES LEE: Myself and one other Marine had put in a request for vacation time, and we both took two weeks off, and without our command knowing, we grabbed some equipment and drove all the way to New Orleans to help out.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did they say you couldn’t go?

JAMES LEE: Because the Marines hadn’t been formally tasked to go down there and assist with recovery operations or rescue operations, we weren’t able to go as small unit. The Marine Corps also identified New Orleans as a no-travel zone, which meant no one in the military was allowed to go there for any reason.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what happened when you got there?

JAMES LEE: As myself and the other Marine drove to New Orleans, we contacted FEMA on our cell phone and coordinated getting a duty assignment with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. And once we arrived in downtown New Orleans, we were paired up with other rescuers, and we began to conduct search and rescue operations in the city.

AMY GOODMAN: And how long did you do that for?

JAMES LEE: We were there for about ten days. And I think on day six or seven, an Associated Press photographer happened to take our photographs, and those photographs ran across the nation.

AMY GOODMAN: What do they show you doing?

JAMES LEE: The photograph showed me talking to a displaced resident from the Lower Ninth Ward. He was trying to argue that he wanted to remain in his neighborhood, and I was explaining to him that we were evacuating everybody out of the area. So it was basically us having some dialogue inside of a boat.

AMY GOODMAN: And were you dressed as a Marine?

JAMES LEE: I was not. We attempted to conceal our identities by just wearing green flight suits. And I think the caption identified me and the other Marine as police officers.

AMY GOODMAN: Which you’re not.

JAMES LEE: Which we’re not.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happened when those pictures ran?

JAMES LEE: Those pictures ran nationwide. They were in the New York Times, LA Times. And our command ended up seeing the photograph, and they placed a phone call and ordered us to return back to Camp Pendleton.

AMY GOODMAN: How fast?

JAMES LEE: They wanted us there immediately. I think we drove nonstop, and we got back in about two days.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you punished?

JAMES LEE: We weren’t. We were told as long as we didn’t let people know what we were down there doing, that we would be reimbursed for the days that we took off and that there wouldn’t be any punitive action taken against us.


JAMES LEE: I was told that at that point so many people in the United States were questioning why the military wasn’t there that they thought that it would be inappropriate to punish us for what we should have been doing in the first place.

AMY GOODMAN: That is former Marine, James Lee. I met him in Santa Barbara, as we continue to be on the road. James Lee then went on to be an embedded reporter and was pulled out of Basra. He’s at San Francisco State University in California.

* Amy Goodman
* Democracy Now!
* http://www.democracynow.org/2008/4/28/former_marine_returns_to_iraq_as

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Amy Goodman: Body of War

We just passed the grim milestone of 4,000 U.S. military members killed in Iraq since the invasion five years ago. Still, the death toll climbs.

Typically unmentioned alongside the count of U.S. war dead are the tens of thousands of wounded (not to mention the Iraqi dead). The Pentagon doesn’t tout the number of U.S. injured, but the Web site icasualties.org reports an official number of more than 40,000 soldiers requiring medical airlifts out of Iraq, a good indicator of the scale of major injuries. That doesn’t include many others. Dr. Arthur Blank, an expert on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), estimates that 30 percent of Iraq veterans will suffer from PTSD.

Tomas Young was one of those injured, on April 4, 2004, in Sadr City. Young is the subject of a new feature documentary by legendary TV talk-show host Phil Donahue and filmmaker Ellen Spiro, called “Body of War.” In it, Young describes the incident that has left him paralyzed from the chest down:

“I only managed to spend maybe five days in Iraq until I got picked to go on my first mission. There were 25 of us crammed into the back of a two-and-a-half-ton truck with no covering on top or armor on the sides. For the Iraqis on the top of the roof, it just looked like, you know, ducks in a barrel. They didn’t even have to aim.”

The film documents his struggle, coping with severe paralysis and life in a wheelchair, its impact on his psyche, his wrecked marriage, his family and his political development from military enlistee into a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Donahue has his own personal link to the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. It was just weeks before the invasion that his nightly program, MSNBC’s top-rated show, was canceled. As revealed shortly thereafter in a leaked memo, Donahue presented a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war. He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration’s motives … at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.”

Tomas Young enlisted in the military soon after Sept. 11, 2001. Earlier this week, Vice President Dick Cheney said: “The president carries the biggest burden, obviously. He’s the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans, but we are fortunate to have a group of men and women, an all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm’s way for the rest of us.”

Young, speaking to me from Kansas City, Mo., where he lives, responded to Cheney: “From one of those soldiers who volunteered to go to Afghanistan after Sept. 11, which was where the evidence said we needed to go, to [Cheney], the master of the college deferment in Vietnam: Many of us volunteered with patriotic feelings in our heart, only to see them subverted and bastardized by the administration and sent into the wrong country.”

“Body of War” depicts the personal cost of war. In one of the most moving scenes in the film, Young meets Sen. Robert Byrd, the longest-serving senator, with the most votes cast in Senate history (more than 18,000). Byrd said his “no” vote on the Iraq war resolution was the most important of his life. Young helps him read the names of the 23 senators who voted against the war resolution. Byrd reflects: “The immortal 23. Our founders would be so proud.” Turning to Young, he says: “Thank you for your service. Man, you’ve made a great sacrifice. You served your country well.” Young replies, “As have you, sir.”

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 650 stations in North America. Her new book, “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times” (co-written with her brother, David Goodman), is out in April.

© 2008 Amy Goodman
* Democracy Now!
* http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20080326_body_of_war/

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