Adam Ash

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Iraq: the fuckup continues, as Bush says "we're making progress," and Cheney said the insurgency is in its "last throes," and Rumsfeld says ...

1. The Progress Myth in Iraq -- by Molly Ivins

It as such a relief to me to learn we are making "very, very good progress" in Iraq. As the third anniversary of our invasion approaches, I could not have been more thrilled by the news reported by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on a Sunday chat show. Vice President Dick Cheney's take was equally reassuring: Things are "improving steadily" in Iraq.

I was thrilled -- very, very good progress and steady improvement, isn't that grand? Wake me if anything starts to go wrong. Like someone bombing the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra and touching off a lot of sectarian violence.

I was also relieved to learn -- via Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, so noted for his consistently accurate assessment of this war -- that the whole picture is hunky-dory to tickety-boo. Since the bombing of the mosque, lots of alarmists have reported that Iraq is devolving or might be collapsing into civil war. They're sort of jumping over the civil war line and back again -- yep, it's started; nope, it hasn't -- like a bunch of false starts at the beginning of a football play.

I'm sure glad to get the straight skinny from Ol' Rumsfeld, who has been in Iraq many times himself for the typical in-country experience. Like many foreign correspondents, Rumsfeld roams the streets alone, talking to any chance-met Iraqi in his fluent Arabic, so of course he knows best.

"From what I've seen thus far, much of the reporting in the U.S. and abroad has exaggerated the situation," Rumsfeld said. "We do know, of course, that al-Qaida has media committees. We do know they teach people exactly how to try to manipulate the media. They do this regularly. We see the intelligence that reports on their meetings. Now I can't take a string and tie it to a news report and then trace it back to an al-Qaida media committee meeting. I am not able to do that at all."

No horsepoop? Then can I ask a question: If you're able to monitor these media committee meetings, how come you can't find Osama bin Ladin?

But, Brother Rumsfeld warns us, "We do know that their goal is to try to break the will; that they consider the center of gravity of this -- not to be in Iraq, because they know they can't win a battle out there; they consider it to be in Washington, D.C., and in London and in the capitals of the Western world."

I'm sorry, I know we are not allowed to use the V-word in relation to Iraq, because so many brilliant neo-cons have assured us this war is nothing like Vietnam (Vietnam, lotsa jungle; Iraq lotsa sand -- big differences). But you must admit that press conferences with Donny Rum are wonderfully reminiscent of the Five O'Clock Follies, those wacky but endearing daily press briefings on Southeast Asia by military officers who made Baghdad Bob sound like a pessimist.

Rumsfeld's performance was so reminiscent of all the times the military in Vietnam blamed the media for reporting "bad news" -- when there was nothing else to report. A briefing officer once memorably asked the press, "Who's side are you on?" The answer is what it's always been: We root for America, but our job is to report as accurately as we can what the situation is.

You could rely on other sources. For example, the Pentagon is still investigating itself to find out why it is paying American soldiers to make up good news about the war, which it then passes on to a Republican public relations firm, which in turn pays people in the Iraqi media to print the stuff -- thus fooling the Iraqis or somebody. When last heard from, the general in charge of investigating this federally funded Baghdad Bobism said he hadn't found anything about it to be illegal yet, so it apparently continues.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told the Los Angeles Times Iraq is "really vulnerable" to civil war if there is another attack like the al-Askari bombing. By invading, said Khalilzad, the United States has "opened the Pandora's box" of sectarian strife in Iraq.

Could I suggest something kind of grown-up? Despite Rumsfeld's rationalizing, we are in a deep pile of poop here, and we're best likely to come out of it OK by pulling together. So could we stop this cheap old McCarthyite trick of pretending that correspondents who are in fact risking their lives and doing their best to bring the rest of us accurate information are somehow disloyal or connected to al-Qaida?

Wrong, yes, of course they could be wrong. But there is now a three-year record of who has been right about what is happening in Iraq, Rumsfeld or the media. And the score is: Press -- 1,095, Rumsfeld -- zero.

(Molly Ivins is the former editor of the liberal monthly The Texas Observer . She is the bestselling author of several books including Who Let the Dogs In?)

2. Conquer and Divide
US Intervention Created Civil War in Iraq.
By Geov Parrish

In the last three weeks, I've written about both newly revealed Abu Ghraib torture photos and the bombing of the Askari mosque at Samarra , both of which added fuel to the fires of expanding sectarian civil war in Iraq and the enmity of both Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq for occupying U.S. and U.K. forces.

Now comes still more gasoline: a new report, released Monday by Amnesty International U.K. , which confirms in dreadful detail what many Iraqis already believed: that prison system abuses by occupying forces and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government have continued apace since Abu Ghraib. The 48-page "Beyond Abu-Ghraib: Detention and Torture in Iraq" was virtually ignored by U.S. media, and that's a shame. Its findings, based on extensive interviews with (among others) Iraq's prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, directly implicate Washington in current human rights abuses, and go a long way toward explaining why a continuing U.S. troop presence in Iraq, far from keeping a lid on civil war, is actually making the violence, sectarian and otherwise, far worse.

Amnesty's report has two broad components. The first focuses on the current detention by U.S. and U.K. forces, without charges or trial, of an estimated 14,000 Iraqis. Amnesty compares both the lack of due process and the conditions under which such prisoners live to the infamous U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. An estimated 4,000 Iraqis have been held in such a fashion for over a year, and some for more than two years. While Iraqis have been complaining about such practices consistently since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, this is the first extensive documentation of the widespread scope of the problem.

Most of these prisoners are young Sunni men, caught up in indiscriminate military sweeps of neighborhoods thought to harbor Iraqi insurgents. Most of them, by the reckoning of virtually all observers, are not actually insurgents, nor guilty of any particular crime. But the net effect of these detentions -- both the detentions themselves and the conditions prisoners live under during them -- is to act as a powerful anti-American recruiting device for the Sunni-led insurgency. And just as the Sunni insurgents fighting occupying forces overlap with the Sunni violence directed at Shiite targets, the resentment of abuses by the occupying coalition's prisons overlaps with resentment of the abuses of prisons run by the U.S.-installed Shiite government, particularly its infamous Interior Ministry.

The second focus of the Amnesty report mentions occupying force abuses but singles out the extensive and growing reports of torture and death squad executions being carried out by factions within the Shiite-controlled government. As Kate Allen, Amnesty UK's director, notes, "Allegations of torture continue to pour out of Iraq." The relationship of the Interior Ministry to the highest levels of Iraq's government is unequivocal: the leadership of the Interior Ministry, and the torture, are associated primarily with the Badr Brigade, the private militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI is the largest of the fundamentalist Shiite political parties controlling the government, and is closely aligned with the hardline mullahs of Iran. The Badr Brigade has largely been trained by Iran's infamous Revolutionary Guards.

Such private sectarian militias are increasingly what Iraqis are turning to for protection from Iraq's violent chaos, security that is not being adequately provided by either outnumbered occupying military forces or the Iraqi government. Washington, after initially deciding to disband the secular Iraqi army and national bureaucracy and to redistribute power along sectarian lines, has continued to pursue policies which have hastened Iraqis' embrace of sectarian identities. Before the invasion, Iraq was a largely secular country with extensive ethnic and religious intermingling. Now, the security threat from opposing sectarian groups is so great that in recent months, and especially in the weeks since the Samarra bombing, Sunnis and Shiites living in each other's majority towns and neighborhoods have begun to be forced out. It's an exodus similar in nature (though not yet scale) to the Balkans after Yugoslavia's breakup, pre-civil war Lebanon, or India and Pakistan after their 1948 partition, and it is both a product of and a prescription for more violence.

Few of the ordinary people caught in Iraq's crossfire seem to want civil war; the post-Samarra sectarian violence provoked a backlash display of impressive nationalist unity among clerics, government officials, and in popular demonstrations across the country. But even with that backlash, in the days since the initial wave of violence that killed at least 1,400, the country has settled back into a level of sectarian violence far higher than before Samarra. During these recent days, the director of Baghdad's morgue has fled the country after revealing that death squad executions of Sunnis were far more extensive than previously revealed, numbering in the thousands. Iraq is now on the verge of explosion. Anything could set it off.

After the Samarra bombing, it's hard to find anyone among either Sunnis or Shiites who want the occupying Americans and Brits in their country. Sunnis believe the Americans are conspiring, along with the Shiite-led government it controls, in the death squads, torture, and other abuses of Sunnis. Shiites, in turn, resent U.S. pressure to include Sunnis in some sort of "national unity" government, and some believe the U.S. itself was behind the Samarra bombing. Nobody outside America believes that Washington is either a legitimate mediator or can help prevent an escalation in civil war by keeping its troops in place. Quite the opposite. America's presence is actively inflaming the violence.

The Amnesty report reinforces all of this. It casts a light on just how desperate a situation Iraqis find themselves in, and just how much of the quicksand of violence is directly attributable to Bush administration decisions and policies -- starting, of course, with the invasion itself, but also including decisions carried out ever since.

Bush has, effectively, turned the old strategic chestnut on its head. First, America conquered. Then we divided. Both the still-growing anti-American insurgency and the unfolding civil war are the inevitable results.

(Geov Parrish is a Seattle-based columnist and writes the daily "Straight Shot" for WorkingForChange. He can be reached by email at -- please indicate whether your comments may be used on WorkingForChange in an upcoming "letters" column.)


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