Adam Ash

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Some tales from The Big Mess-opotamia

1. An Iraq Interrogator's Nightmare
By Eric Fair/Washington Post

A man with no face stares at me from the corner of a room. He pleads for help, but I'm afraid to move. He begins to cry. It is a pitiful sound, and it sickens me. He screams, but as I awaken, I realize the screams are mine.

That dream, along with a host of other nightmares, has plagued me since my return from Iraq in the summer of 2004. Though the man in this particular nightmare has no face, I know who he is. I assisted in his interrogation at a detention facility in Fallujah. I was one of two civilian interrogators assigned to the division interrogation facility (DIF) of the 82nd Airborne Division. The man, whose name I've long since forgotten, was a suspected associate of Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, the Baath Party leader in Anbar province who had been captured two months earlier.

The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the interrogation facility in Fallujah. I failed to disobey a meritless order, I failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never forgive myself.

American authorities continue to insist that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident in an otherwise well-run detention system. That insistence, however, stands in sharp contrast to my own experiences as an interrogator in Iraq. I watched as detainees were forced to stand naked all night, shivering in their cold cells and pleading with their captors for help. Others were subjected to long periods of isolation in pitch-black rooms. Food and sleep deprivation were common, along with a variety of physical abuse, including punching and kicking. Aggressive, and in many ways abusive, techniques were used daily in Iraq, all in the name of acquiring the intelligence necessary to bring an end to the insurgency. The violence raging there today is evidence that those tactics never worked. My memories are evidence that those tactics were terribly wrong.

While I was appalled by the conduct of my friends and colleagues, I lacked the courage to challenge the status quo. That was a failure of character and in many ways made me complicit in what went on. I'm ashamed of that failure, but as time passes, and as the memories of what I saw in Iraq continue to infect my every thought, I'm becoming more ashamed of my silence.

Some may suggest there is no reason to revive the story of abuse in Iraq. Rehashing such mistakes will only harm our country, they will say. But history suggests we should examine such missteps carefully. Oppressive prison environments have created some of the most determined opponents. The British learned that lesson from Napoleon, the French from Ho Chi Minh, Europe from Hitler. The world is learning that lesson again from Ayman al-Zawahiri. What will be the legacy of abusive prisons in Iraq?

We have failed to properly address the abuse of Iraqi detainees. Men like me have refused to tell our stories, and our leaders have refused to own up to the myriad mistakes that have been made. But if we fail to address this problem, there can be no hope of success in Iraq. Regardless of how many young Americans we send to war, or how many militia members we kill, or how many Iraqis we train, or how much money we spend on reconstruction, we will not escape the damage we have done to the people of Iraq in our prisons.

I am desperate to get on with my life and erase my memories of my experiences in Iraq. But those memories and experiences do not belong to me. They belong to history. If we're doomed to repeat the history we forget, what will be the consequences of the history we never knew? The citizens and the leadership of this country have an obligation to revisit what took place in the interrogation booths of Iraq, unpleasant as it may be. The story of Abu Ghraib isn't over. In many ways, we have yet to open the book.

(The writer served in the Army from 1995 to 2000 as an Arabic linguist and worked in Iraq as a contract interrogator in early 2004. His e-mail address is .)

2. A gift for power
Iraq's Kurdish president is impossible to pin down. He's friends with the Americans - but also with Iran. He calls himself a Maoist - yet enjoys immense wealth. Who is Jalal Talabani?
By Jon Lee Anderson in Baghdad/Guardian

On November 5, the day Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death, Jalal Talabani, the longtime Kurdish guerrilla leader, who is currently Iraq's president, was in Paris, on a state visit. He was installed in the sumptuous presidential suite at Le Meurice, a gold-and-marble Louis XVI hotel on the Rue de Rivoli, overlooking the Jardin des Tuileries. I watched the verdict with Talabani in his suite, on a large plasma-screen television tuned to the satellite channel Al Arabiya. He sat in a gilded chair, and his expression betrayed nothing. Soon, after a few curt words, Talabani got up and wandered off to his bedroom. One of his aides tiptoed behind him. The aide reappeared a moment later to say that Talabani was sitting in an armchair, deep in thought.

Saddam's death sentence put Talabani in an awkward position. Saddam had been convicted for the mass killing of 146 people in the Shia village of Dujail in 1982. If he was executed, he would not face a second trial, for the 1988 Anfal campaign, in which as many as 186,000 Kurds were killed. Talabani was on the record as being opposed to capital punishment, but, according to the Iraqi constitution, one of his duties was to approve death warrants. In public statements, he had finessed this problem by saying that he would respect any decisions made by Iraq's judiciary. Still, he was in a predicament.

After a while, Talabani returned, in a better mood. He sat down next to me, but we were interrupted by the arrival of two superbly dressed Frenchmen carrying large shopping bags from Façonnable and Ermenegildo Zegna. They approached Talabani, bowed deferentially, and took a pair of dark suits from the bags. One man brandished a measuring tape, and explained that they needed His Excellency to remove some of his clothes for a fitting. Talabani stood up and began struggling to take off his jacket. A valet rushed over to help.

Talabani, who is 73 and has the fat cheeks, brush moustache and large belly of a storybook pastry chef, is renowned for his political cunning, his prodigious love of food and cigars, his sense of humour, his unflagging optimism, and his inability to keep a secret. He is known as Mam Jalal, which means Uncle Jalal in Kurdish. It is a term of both endearment and cautious deference; Talabani has a mercurial personality, with extreme mood swings. He has survived in Iraqi politics largely owing to an ability to outfox his opponents and, sometimes, his allies. Over the years, he has made deals with everyone from Saddam Hussein to Ayatollah Khomeini and both Bush presidents. He is probably one of the very few people in the world who can claim, truthfully and unapologetically, to have kissed the cheeks of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. Talabani refers to George W Bush as his "good friend" but regards Mao Zedong as his political role model.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Shia politician who is Iraq's national security adviser, told me, "He's very difficult to define. If you are an Islamist, he brings you Koranic verses; if you're a Marxist, he'll talk to you about Marxist-Leninist theory, dialectics and Descartes. He has a very interesting ability to speak several languages, sometimes" - he laughed - "with a very limited vocabulary. He has a lot of anecdotes and knows a lot of jokes. He is an extraordinarily generous person, and he spends like there is no tomorrow."

Rubaie mentioned a period in the 60s when Talabani was allied with Saddam. "One day he was a good friend of Saddam, and then he became a staunch enemy," he said. (In fact, Talabani flirted with Saddam twice more.) Rubaie saw nothing contradictory in this; Talabani, he said, was the ultimate pragmatist.

No other Iraqi politician has Talabani's experience, contacts, and savvy. As a result, he has made the presidency, which was meant to be more ceremonial than the prime minister's job, a powerful post. Yet this role, too, carries contradictions. After spending decades fighting for "self-determination" for Iraq's Kurds, Talabani finds himself defending Iraq's unity. He now has a choice to make: either he can be a founding father of the "new Iraq" - the elder statesman who will help rescue it from civil war - or, if Iraq falls apart, he can be a founding father of an independent Kurdish state. As always, Talabani has hedged his bets. "I am a Kurd from Iraqi Kurdistan, but now I am responsible for Iraq," he told me. "And I feel my responsibility." In another conversation, he said, "It's true that I am an Iraqi, but in the final analysis I am a Kurd."

Under Saddam, the Kurds "were facing a dictatorship in Baghdad that was launching a war of annihilation against the Kurdish people," he said. "We were in need of all kinds of support from anybody in the world. When war starts, and you participate in it, you will need support from anyone. There is no supermarket where you can go and choose your friends in a war."

In the current war, some of his unreconciled friendships have been troublesome. Iran was once one of the Kurds' greatest allies, and Talabani had planned to fly from Paris to Tehran. But he abruptly postponed the trip at the request of the Bush administration: he would have arrived in Tehran on November 6, and the prospect of pictures of America's Iraqi ally visiting Iran the day before the midterm elections made the White House uncomfortable.

In Baghdad, Talabani lives in a yellow- brick mansion on the eastern shore of the Tigris river, outside the Green Zone. Until April 2003, when Talabani seized it, the mansion belonged to Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half brother and the former chief of the secret police, who, like Saddam, was sentenced to die for his role in the Dujail massacre. (Barzan was executed on January 15, but his hanging was bungled when the rope ripped off his head.) The presidential offices are next door, in a palace that once belonged to Saddam's wife, Sajida.

Talabani's complex sits on the north side of the ramparts of the Jadiriya Bridge; on the south side is the home of his political ally Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shia leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Hakim's house is where Tariq Aziz, Saddam's deputy prime minister, once lived. The approaches on Talabani's side are heavily guarded by Kurdish peshmerga ("those who face death") fighters - Talabani commands some 50,000 peshmerga in the militia of his party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK - and on Hakim's by militiamen of the Badr Organization, his party's armed wing.

The two leaders and their militias work closely on political and security matters, though in other ways the Kurds, who are largely secular, and the Shias, who are very devout, present a sharp contrast in styles. During weeks spent in Talabani's company, I never saw him or any of his aides pray. Talabani is not averse to alcohol, either, and he enjoys playing cards with a small group of his cronies.

Talabani's wife, Hero, does not live in Baghdad with her husband. She stays in their home city of Sulaimaniya, where she runs a foundation and a television station, and publishes a newspaper. She and Talabani have two sons: one, Bafel, runs the counterinsurgency wing of his father's party; the other, Qubad, represents the autonomous Kurdish government in the US.

At home in Baghdad one morning, Talabani invited me up to his private quarters. It was early, and he was still dressed in loose-fitting pyjama bottoms and an immense yellow-and-blue striped rugby shirt. A valet brought us Nescafé stirred with sugar into a creamy mixture. (I later learned that this was "Mam Jalal style".) Talabani lit a cigar. (He favours the long ones known as Churchills.) The day before, two suicide bombers had blown themselves up at a police recruitment centre just outside the Green Zone, killing 38 potential recruits. It was the latest incident in what almost everyone but Talabani acknowledged was an accelerating sectarian war. "I don't think Iraq is on the eve of a civil war," he said stubbornly. "Day by day - and this is not an exaggeration - Sunni and Shia leaders are coming close to each other."

Iraq's main problem was not sectarianism, he said, but a terrorist war waged by Ba'athists and foreign forces such as al-Qaida. Without losing his habitual equanimity, he added that the situation had been made worse by American ineptitude, arrogance and naivety, saying: "I think the main one responsible for this was Rumsfeld" - Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who had resigned days earlier. (Talabani has since welcomed President Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 American soldiers to Baghdad in a so-called "surge". He said in a statement that it showed "a new effort to improve security in Iraq" and that it "concurs and corresponds with Iraq's plans and ideas" - although some members of the government had been openly sceptical.)

After breakfast, Talabani went downstairs to deal with the affairs of the day. Half a dozen senior personnel were waiting, as they do each morning. When Talabani has an appointment elsewhere, he is driven in a BMW 7 Series armoured black saloon, preceded and followed by a sizable fleet of white Nissan Patrols carrying peshmerga guards. But, more often than not, people come to Talabani. It is a measure of his ascendancy that Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister, usually comes to Talabani, rather than vice versa. Maliki is the third prime minister since 2004, while Talabani has been a constant fixture. Maliki does not have Talabani's access to American and other foreign leaders, and must often work through him. In public, Talabani tries to defer to Maliki, and he appears to wish him to succeed.

One source of Talabani's power is his wealth. Together with his old rival Massoud Barzani, who is the president of the autonomous Kurdish region, Talabani is believed to have amassed many millions of dollars in "taxes" on oil smuggled out of Iraq through Kurdistan between 1991 and 2003, when the country was under UN sanctions. And Talabani obsessively dispenses gifts, trades favours, and buys allegiances, on the assumption that, in Iraq, the richest suitor has the best chance of winning the bride.

In many ways, Talabani's behaviour and his lifestyle are those of a clandestine party boss. His private quarters are cramped, poorly lit, and undecorated, with counters cluttered with satellite phones. His indulgences are food and a large personal staff. He and the US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad have regular meetings over kallapacha, an Iraqi dish consisting of the head and stuffed intestines of a sheep. Twice a month, Talabani sends consignments of Kurdish yogurt, cheeses, honey and handmade sweets to foreign ambassadors and leading politicians.

Several of Talabani's aides told me privately about men in his entourage who, they suspected, profited from government contracts that they steered toward their friends. In this, Talabani's circle is not unusual. Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish MP, is close to Talabani but is scathing about the entire government's profligacy, corruption and moral cowardice. "How does the government expect to have respect when it is closed off?" he said. "The leaders live in Saddam's palaces, and in the Green Zone, and they never go out. The prime minister and the president have discretionary funds to spend as they like of a million or more dollars a month. I think the corruption is widespread and systemic and comes from the very top . . . All of this is against a reality in which the families of killed soldiers or police are given pensions of only $100 a month."

In Maliki's government, cobbled together after four months of tortuous negotiations following the December 2005 parliamentary elections, Talabani helped make sure that many of the high-level jobs that didn't go to Shias went to Kurds. (A number of them are Talabani's friends and relatives.) One of the two deputy prime ministers is a Kurd, and Kurds head several ministries, including the foreign ministry; the minister of water resources is Talabani's brother-in-law. From the American perspective, there is simply an abundance of qualified Kurds - or, at least, many with whom the US feels comfortable.

Talabani, like many senior Iraqi politicians, views Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia militia leader whose militia is known as the Mahdi army, with a mixture of condescension and contempt. The key to weakening Sadr, Talabani said, was Iran. "If the Iranians will calm down the Mahdi army, if there will be no assassination, if these - what do you call them? - 'death squads' will be no more, then only the terrorists will remain. And if Syria will be silent, only al-Qaida will remain, and we can defeat al-Qaida very easily."

Talabani went on, "One of the main mistakes the Americans have made in fighting terrorism is tying our hands and the hands of the Shias, while at the same time the terrorists are free to do what they want. If they let us, within one week we will clean all Kirkuk and adjacent areas." (Talabani's implication was clear: "to clean" is a euphemism for wiping out your opposition, for killing or capturing your enemies.) Talabani then adopted a high-pitched, whining voice, to mimic the Americans: "'No-o, Kurds must not move to the Arab areas, this is sensitive.' If they let the Shias clean the road from Najaf to Baghdad, they can do it within days. If they permit the people of Anbar to liberate their area, they will do it, but they say, 'Ah, no, this is another kind of militia.' They don't understand the realities of Iraq. From the beginning, we have had this problem with them." He added, "Wrong plan, wrong tactic, and wrong policy."

Talabani has been involved in politics since 1946, when, at the age of 13, with Iraq still ruled by the British-installed Hashemite monarchy, he joined an underground Kurdish student organisation. It was part of a Kurdish independence movement that had taken shape during the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, after the first world war, when the victorious European powers failed to give the Kurds their own state. The division of the empire left the Kurds spread among Iraq (with an estimated four million Kurds today, or between 15% and 20% of Iraq's population), Turkey, Syria, and Iran; the greater Kurdistan envisaged by some separatists would encompass parts of each of those countries.

Talabani was born in the village of Kelkan, in south-eastern Iraqi Kurdistan; his father was a local sheikh. By 18, Talabani was the youngest member of the central committee of the Soviet-backed Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Mullah Mustafa Barzani. He studied law in Baghdad (interrupted by a period spent in hiding) and completed his obligatory service in the Iraqi army. Then, in 1961, Talabani joined an armed uprising launched by Barzani.

Three years later, Talabani split with Barzani to join a splinter group founded by Ibrahim Ahmed, the father of his future wife, Hero. Ahmed did not like the terms of Barzani's negotiations with the central government. This was a period of violent political instability in Iraq, with four presidents in the space of 10 years. After a Ba'athist coup in 1968, Talabani made a deal with Saddam, who was then the deputy president, to obtain more rights for the Kurds and to get his help in fighting Barzani - only to reconcile with Barzani when Saddam switched sides. It was the beginning of a dizzying sequence of schisms within the Kurdish rebellion, for which Talabani bears significant responsibility, and which, for a time, strengthened Saddam.

Talabani was a Marxist, and then a Maoist, attracted by "Mao's idea of popular war, of fighting in the mountains against dictatorship". He was also drawn to the anti-colonial Arab nationalist causes of the day. On trips during the 60s, he made important contacts - with Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan, Muammar Gadafy, Yasser Arafat, and President Hafez al-Assad of Syria. (In Talabani's office, there is a single photograph on the wall, of him with Assad. "He was very, very kind to me," Talabani said.)

In the mid-70s, Talabani spent time in Beirut, working with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist Palestinian guerrilla organisation. It is a murky period about which Talabani says little, but Kurds close to him suggest that he was then at his most radical, and at one point became involved in a Palestinian plot to hijack an American plane in Europe. He is said to have abandoned the scheme when a contact warned him that Mossad planned to assassinate him.

"We considered the US the enemy of the Iraqi Kurdish people," Talabani told me. Through the 80s, the US, for its part, saw the Kurds primarily as troublemakers and as pawns of Syria and Iran. In Turkey, America's Nato ally, Kurdish separatists had been waging a remorseless guerrilla war, to which the Turkish military responded with a vicious counterinsurgency campaign; thousands of Kurdish civilians were killed.

At the height of the Iran-Iraq War, Talabani once again allied himself with Saddam, then opposed him and helped Iran. Saddam's next move was the genocidal Anfal campaign. Saddam razed thousands of Kurdish villages, primarily in Talabani's territory. In the town of Halabja, between March 16 and March 17 1988, 5,000 Kurdish civilians were killed when planes dropped a lethal chemical cocktail that reportedly included mustard gas and nerve agents such as sarin, tabun and VX. Although these attacks later became part of the current Bush administration's case for overthrowing Saddam, the Reagan administration, which was supporting Saddam in his war with Iran, paid little attention; when the news of Halabja broke, the White House blamed Iran.

After Saddam's defeat in the first Gulf war, in early 1991, Shias in the south and Kurds in the north carried out uprisings. Talabani led his forces into Sulaimaniya and Kirkuk. With the US looking on, Saddam dispatched his army against them. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled, in the midst of a harsh winter, provoking a humanitarian crisis. The US and its allies declared a safe haven in the north; Talabani and Barzani (who had temporarily reconciled) began negotiating terms of settlement with Saddam.

There is an unfortunate photograph from this period that shows Talabani kissing Saddam on the cheek. "But, you know, at that time the Kurdish people were in danger of being annihilated," Talabani told me, by way of explanation. "Fighting is not playing ping-pong," Talabani said. "Fighting is killing each other. When we were fighting Saddam, we killed them, they killed us. It's something ordinary. It's war. And when we stop the war both killers sit down to receive each other. And this happens all over the world. Mao, he sat down with Chiang Kai-shek! Chiang Kai-shek killed his wife. His son! . . . But when the time comes to talk peace, they must sit down with each other. This is the process of life."

As the Kurdish "safe haven" developed into a "no fly zone" policed by US and British warplanes - a de facto Kurdish autonomous zone, beyond the authority of Saddam Hussein - Barzani and Talabani fought for pre-eminence. One dispute was over revenues from oil smuggling.

"Jalal is at his best when he is down, and is prone to making mistakes when he is up," a longtime friend of Talabani's told me. "In 1991, he was emerging as a statesman of the Kurds, internationally renowned. Instead of moving to become the nation builder that he was supposed to be, he moved into battle, playing with fire, undermining all that he built. "

In 1994, a civil war broke between the armies of Talabani and Barzani. In the midst of the fighting, Talabani provided a base for a CIA task force, and for Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile leader, who were involved in various failed coup plots. Hundreds of people died in these efforts. Talabani continued fighting Barzani, who at one point, astoundingly, invited Saddam's army into the north.

When President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, in 1998, promising American support for Iraqi opposition groups, Talabani and Barzani went to Washington and settled their differences. By then, several thousand Kurds from both sides had been killed.

Talabani called the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's report "unfair" and "unjust"; he compared it to terms imposed on a "colony". But one recommendation that he had no problem with was that President Bush begin direct talks with Syria and Iran. "It is in our interest that relations between the US and Iran about Iraq be at least normal, and if they have other differences let them take them to other parts of the world," he had told me a couple of weeks earlier. He was about to leave for his delayed trip to Iran. He was also keeping the Americans informed. "We never hide our relation with Iran from America."

Tehran was cold and grey on November 27 last year, when Talabani and his entourage arrived. Several ministers and a clutch of Iraqi journalists and photographers were on board. During our descent into Tehran, one of Talabani's junior aides came down the aisles, handing each person a form to sign. It was printed in Arabic, and, assuming it was an official landing document of some sort, I signed it, whereupon he handed me a thick envelope and moved on. Inside were 20 $100 bills. After we landed, I asked the aide why he had given me money, and he said it was "a gift from the president". I thanked him, but said that I could not accept it, and handed the envelope back. He looked very confused. A senior aide translated my explanation about "journalistic ethics", which left the man looking only more mystified. The senior aide then opened his own envelope and, whistling, counted out 50 $100 bills. "I think he's given me the same amount as the ministers," he exclaimed. "He does this from his own pocket, you know." He said that, on each trip, Talabani gives money to all those on board, including the bodyguards, the flight attendants and the pilot. We calculated that during the one-hour flight Talabani had given away about $100,000.

The contrast with Baghdad was striking. There were no armed soldiers or blast walls and security barricades to negotiate. Instead, we drove through street after street of brightly lit stores with neon signs; the sidewalks were full of people. But what most caught the attention of the Iraqis was the large number of women and girls out on the street; the sight of women in public has become a rarity in Baghdad.

The next morning, Talabani awoke early and visited the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini. Then he met Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Sources close to Talabani told me that in their talks he requested a reversal in Iran's policy - specifically, that Iran's leadership "control" Sadr's militia and ally itself instead with his government, and that it persuade its allies, including Syria, Hamas and Hizbullah, to do the same. Talabani then asked that Iran open up communications with the multinational forces in Iraq, and cooperate with the Iraqi and US governments in their security plan for Baghdad. And, perhaps most controversial from the Americans' point of view - assuming that they knew about it - Talabani proposed that Tehran and Baghdad exchange intelligence, and that Iran help train and equip Iraq's security forces.

One of the Iraqis who attended the meeting said that Talabani told Khamenei that Iraq was "at a make-or-break point and needed Iran's help". He went on: "The Supreme Leader said that he understood and would do everything he could. In return, he wanted the Iraqis to take more control over their own security from the Americans."

At a press conference, Ahmadinejad said, "Iraq is like a wounded hero." Talabani, standing next to him, said, smiling, "We can only hope that he recovers." The crowd laughed; it was a classic Mam Jalal moment. Ahmadinejad added, "The best way to support Iraq is to support its democratically elected government." However disingenuous this may have sounded under the circumstances, Talabani's officials took it as a further sign that the Iranians were prepared to help. They told me it was the first time that the Iranians had explicitly endorsed the current Iraqi government.

An Iraqi minister came up to me afterward, looking enthusiastic, and said, "You see? I told you it was more than symbolic!" After a short pause, the official leaned over and whispered excitedly, "These guys even offered us weapons!"

That evening, a senior Iraqi official said that he was worried about the "mixed messages" coming from the US. "I emphasised with the Iranians that they should not just assume that because the Americans were bogged down in Iraq they were incapable of taking action against Iran; I said that they were entirely capable of it."

Saddam's execution, which came at dawn on December 30, was a clumsy and brutish affair. As he stood on a scaffold with the noose around his neck, he was taunted by some of his hooded executioners and by spectators. Talabani was in Sulaimaniya. Hours before the execution, he had found the perfect solution to his dilemma concerning the death warrant. "It couldn't have been any better," Hiwa Osman, his media adviser, explained. "He found that in cases of international war crimes the constitution did not give him the authority to alter the court's ruling. In a way, it was a blessing from the sky, and it solved his ethical dilemma."

As for Talabani's reaction to the execution, Osman said: "Remember what he did in Paris when the death sentence was announced, and he went into his bedroom for an hour or so? This time, it lasted three or four days. No one saw him".

(Jon Lee Anderson is the author of The Fall of Baghdad, The Lion's Grave: Dispatches from Afghanistan and Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life)

3. Militarism and the Corporate Welfare State -- by Charles Sullivan/

Right wing politicos and their conservative constituents are always bemoaning big government. Yet wealthy people of all political stripes constantly use big government to their own benefit. The rich widely assume, falsely, I think, that what is good for them is good for the country. By extension they also assume that what is good for the corporations is good for the people. But that has never been the case. No one should be allowed to make a living on the misery of others.

The latter seems odd, given that business people are always harping about getting the government out of our (their) lives; all the while they are using government to obtain no bid contracts, to write legislation in the corporate interest, stocking the judiciary with pro-corporate judges, redrawing political districts and using the military to invade and occupy sovereign nations in order to privatize them. Iraq provides a compelling case study.

Of course, what businessmen really mean by getting government off our backs is preventing government from regulating commerce, as if there were some connection between capital and democracy, democracy and freedom. In corporate speak democracy and free trade has nothing to do with human beings and their freedoms. What Bush and his kind are really talking about is absolute corporate rule and continued Plutocracy.

According to author Antonia Juhasz, “Prior to the first Gulf War in 1991 and even after eight years of war with Iran, Iraq was ranked 15 out of 130 countries on the 1990 United Nations Human Development Index. Before the first Bush invasion, Iraq had the highest percentage of college-educated citizens in the Middle East and above average overall literacy rates. According to the World Health Organization, prior to 1991 health care reached approximately 97 percent of the urban population and 78 percent of rural residents, while the infant mortality rate was well below average for developing countries.”

Constitutional government was established in Iraq in 1922. Prior to the 1991 U.S. invasion, Iraq was in essence a socialist government, since most of its political and economic infrastructure, including its burgeoning oil industry was nationalized. Despite Saddam Husseinís abuse of the constitution (the U.S. is suffering similar abuses under Bush), the Iraqi people enjoyed a high standard of living and many freedoms. This allowed them benefits such as socialized health care and access to free higher education that Americans have never known.

All of those freedoms and the high standard of living were demolished with the U.S. invasion and permanent occupation of Iraq. A huge corporate fire sale was under way.

Under the imposed dictatorship of Paul Bremer, granted under the Coalition Provisional Authority during the first months of the occupation, all of Iraqís 192 state-owned enterprises were privatized and divided among 150 U.S. corporations that have so far realized more than $50 billion in profits. Every aspect of the Iraqi economy was dismantled, privatized, and divided up among corporate America with no benefit to the Iraqi people.

With the U.S. occupation, the Iraqi Constitution was torn asunder and replaced with a new charter that places Iraq under virtual corporate rule. Under the U.S. imposed Corporate Constitution, the Iraqis no longer have access to clean water, reliable electricity, medicine, health care, or higher education. Ownership of Iraqís once prosperous economy, including her extensive oil fields, was transferred from the Iraqi people to U.S. corporations.

This is the democracy we have brought to Iraq, punctuated by suffering, misery, and death. When innocent blood flows so too does the money. See how the stocks of Halliburton and Bechtel rose with the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The blueprint for the economic plunder of Iraq was orchestrated by Bearing Point, Inc. of Mclean, Virginia. The Bearing Point plan turns Iraq from a socialist state to a full bore capitalist entity over three years. For their services Bearing Point made the tidy sum of $250 million.

Not surprisingly, Bremer has strong ties with corporate America and such luminaries of dementia as Donald Rumsfeld, Henry Kissinger and George Schultz that extend more than a quarter of a century. All of these men have economic ties with the same businesses that stole Iraqís wealth. Each of them has realized great personal fortune by profiteering on the spoils of war and occupation: policies they helped to forge.

The government is studded with men like Paul Bremer and Henry Kissinger, who migrate back and forth from corporate America into the halls of government, create policy that is favorable to their own business interests, then return to business to realize the wealth they have created for themselves and their shareholders. It is men like them who are responsible for Americaís aggressive war posture, among them the quagmire in Iraq.

Consider the ties regarding officials in the Bush regime and the Halliburton-military-war profiteering connection, as documented by Antonia Juhasz in The Bush Agenda:

1. Joe Lopez, a retired four-star general and former aide to Cheney joined Halliburton in 1999.

2. Dave Gribbon, Cheneyís former assistant in Congress was Halliburtonís Vice President and returned to the Whitehouse with Cheney when Bush stole the 2000 election.

3. Ray Hunt, who provided money to both of the Bush presidencies joined Halliburton in 1998 and serves to this day.

4. Lawrence Eagleberger, former president of Kissinger Associates and Bush, seniorís Secretary of State also served on Halliburtonís board of directors

5. Charles Dominy, a retired three star general and former Halliburton executive currently serves as Halliburtonís chief lobbyist.

Halliburton is only one of many corporations profiting from the invasion and the permanent occupation of Iraq. Other corporations have people as favorably placed in the Bush regime as Halliburton. Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Electric -- all the usual suspects -- are well represented in the government; and all of them lobbied extensively for war and occupation. They have no intentions of stopping in Iraq either. The world is their oyster and the military can procure it for them.

It is worth noting that crony appointments are not peculiar to the Bush regime or to the Republican Party. They have a long and sordid history. That is how business is conducted and fortunes are made -- through outright theft and conquest. None of this would be possible without the military. Our soldiers are the pawns of the rich but they think they are making the world safe for democracy. All they are doing in fact is opening the world up to capitalism and private ownership.

Since the occupation began in 2003 the Iraqi people have been forced to exist under conditions of extreme brutality and abject poverty. After the deliberate bombing of water sanitation facilities, hospitals, and electric generating sites there have been outbreaks of disease such as tuberculosis and dysentery, causing suffering and death. There has been no peace and no security for the innocent victims of unbridled greed.

There is also the matter of depleted uranium munitions used by U.S. forces that litters the country in aerosolized form that is easily taken up by the wind and remains radioactive forever. Depleted uranium is an indiscriminate killer whose effects linger for generations in the bodies of the occupiers and the occupied. Can you say Agent Orange? That is the great free market democracy that we have brought to the Middle East.

The war machine keeps turning like a sausage grinder, spewing its product into the coffers of the rich. Into the hopper go our sons and daughters and dark-skinned nations -- out comes sausage and huge bank rolls for Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld and corporate America. Corporations, government, and militarism comprise the unholy trinity of capitalism. Together they form a corporate welfare state that boggles the mind.

The American military is not abroad defending freedom and sowing the seeds of democracy, as they seem to believe. One need only examine the history of this nation to recognize the familiar patterns of conquest and oppression. The occupation of Iraq is the continuation of the policies that created the institution of slavery, following the genocide of the Indians. The military, far from being a defender of peace and freedom, has evolved into an extension of the corporate welfare state.

The world will know no peace until enough citizens are sufficiently aroused to dismantle the military apparatus. Furthermore, we must recognize the link between militarism, war, and capital and build a better system -- a form of government that serves the people rather than capital. Code Pink and other groups that maintain a constant presence in Washington are on the right track. They deserve our full support.

(Charles Sullivan is a photographer, freelance writer and social activist residing somewhere in the hinterland of West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at:

4. Defiant Dixie Chicks Are Big Winners at the Grammys – by JEFF LEEDS and LORNE MANLY/NY Times

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 11 — After death threats, boycotts and a cold shoulder from the country music establishment, the Dixie Chicks gained sweet vindication Sunday night at the 49th annual Grammy Awards, capturing honors in all five of the categories in which they were nominated.

The Dixie Chicks took home Grammys for the top three awards: record, song and album of the year. Their “Taking the Long Way” (Open Wide/Columbia) won best country album and “Not Ready to Make Nice” also captured best country performance by a duo or group with vocal. That song is an unapologetic response to the furor set off in 2003 when the band’s lead singer, Natalie Maines, made an off-the-cuff antiwar remark to London concertgoers: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”

But Sunday’s awards were the Recording Academy’s rejoinder to the country music radio establishment, which ignored the album. Accepting the award for song of the year, Ms. Maines joked, “For the first time in my life, I’m speechless.” But she found her voice on later trips to the stage. “I’m very humbled and I think people were using their voice the same way this loudmouth did,” she said, self-referentially, after “Taking the Long Way” was named album of the year. The Dixie Chicks’ sweep of the major Grammy categories served as a sharp counterpoint to their shut-out at the Country Music Association awards in November. The Recording Academy consists of members across the nation who work in all genres of music. The Country Music Association’s membership is concentrated among artists, engineers and executives tied to the Nashville establishment.

Great quote from lead singer Natalie Maines: "The entire country may disagree with me, but I don't understand the necessity for patriotism. Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country ... I don't see why people care about patriotism."

BY THE WAY, about the big Dixie Chicks song, "Not Ready To Make Nice":
1) It's quite clever, because it has two meanings -- it's about the Dixie Chicks not backing down in their political controversy, and it's about a lover's refusal to forgive.
2) It's a most excellent power ballad -- not really country at all. The Dixie Chicks, aware that they've lost their country audience, are going pop big time.
3) It has an unusual structure: instead of the standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus, it goes verse-chorus-verse-bridge-instrumental break-chorus chorus-verse.
Their Grammy-winning album is great -- 14 songs, no filler. They're probably going to end up being the greatest girl group of all time. I mean, bigger than the Shirelles or any other Phil Spector creation. They should get him to produce their next album.


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