Archive for the Iraq Category

We Have Turned Iraq Into The Most Hellish Place On Earth

Posted in Iraq on October 27, 2006 by blindnation

Simon Jenkins | Guardian Unlimited | Oct 25 2006

Armies claiming to bring prosperity have instead brought a misery worse than under the cruellest of modern dictators.

British ministers landing in Aden in the 1960s were told always to make a reassuring speech. In view of the Arab insurrection, they should give a ringing pledge, “Britain will never, ever leave Aden”. Britain promptly left Aden, in 1967 and a year earlier than planned. The last governor walked backwards up the steps to his plane, his pistol drawn against any last-minute assassin. Locals who had trusted him and worked with the British were massacred in their hundreds by the fedayeen.

Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, was welcomed to London by the BBC on Monday with two documentaries recalling past British humiliations at the hands of Arabs, in Aden and Suez. It was not a message Salih wanted to hear. His government is retreating from its position in May, when it said that foreign forces should withdraw from 16 out of 18 provinces, including the south, by the end of this year. Tony Blair rejected this invitation to go and said he would “stay until the job is done”. Salih would do well to remember what western governments do, not what they say.

Despite Suez and Aden, British foreign policy still lurches into imperial mode by default. An inherited belief in Britain’s duty to order the world is triggered by some upstart ruler who must be suppressed, based on a vague desire to seek “regional stability” or protect a British interest. As Martin Woollacott remarks in his book After Suez, most people at the time resorted to denial. To them, “the worst aspect of the operation was its foolishness” rather than its wrongness. When asked by Montgomery what was his objective in invading the canal zone Eden replied, “to knock Nasser off his perch”. Asked what then, Eden had no answer.

As for Iraq, the swelling chorus of born-again critics are likewise taking refuge not in denouncing the mission but in complaining about the mendacity that underpinned it and its incompetence. As always, turncoats attribute the failure of a once-favoured policy to another’s inept handling of it. The truth is that the English-speaking world still cannot kick the habit of imposing its own values on the rest, and must pay the price for its arrogance.

US and UK policy in Iraq is now entering its retreat phrase. Where there is no hope of victory, the necessity for victory must be asserted ever more strongly. This was the theme of yesterday’s unreal US press conference in Baghdad, identical in substance to one I attended there three years ago. There is talk of staying the course, of sticking by friends and of not cutting and running. Every day some general or diplomat hints at ultimatums, timelines and even failure – as did the British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, on Monday. But officially denial is all. For retreat to be tolerable it must be called victory.

The US and British are covering their retreat. Operation Together Forward II has been an attempt, now failed, to pacify Baghdad during Ramadan. In Basra, Britain is pursuing Operation Sinbad to win hearts and minds that it contrives constantly to lose. This may be an advance on Kissinger’s bombing of Laos to cover defeat in Vietnam and Reagan’s shelling of the Shouf mountains to cover his 1984 Beirut “redeployment” (two days after he had pledged not to cut and run). But retreat is retreat, even if it is called redeployment. Every exit strategy is unhappy in its own way.

Over Iraq the spin doctors are already at work. They are telling the world that the occupation will have failed only through the ingratitude and uselessness of the Iraqis themselves. The rubbishing of the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has begun in Washington, coupled with much talk of lowered ambitions and seeking out that foreign policy paradigm, “a new strongman”. In May, Maliki signalled to Iraq’s governors, commanders and militia leaders the need to sort out local differences and take control of their provincial destinies. This has failed. Maliki is only as strong as the militias he can control, which is precious few. He does not rule Baghdad, let alone Iraq. As for the militias, they are the natural outcome of the lawlessness caused by foreign occupation. They represent Iraqis desperately defending themselves from anarchy. It is now they who will decide Iraq’s fate.

The only sensible post-invasion scenario was, ironically, that once attributed to Donald Rumsfeld, to topple Saddam Hussein, give a decapitated army to the Shias and get out at once. There would have been a brief and bloody settling of accounts and some new regime would have seized power. The outcome would probably have been partial or total Kurdish and Sunni secession, but by now a new Iraq confederacy might have settled down. Instead this same partition seems likely to follow a drawn-out and bloody civil conflict. It is presaged by the fall of Amara to the Mahdist militias this month – and the patent absurdity of the British re-occupying this town.

Washington appears to have given Maliki until next year to do something to bring peace to his country. Or what? America and Britain want to leave. As a settler said in Aden, “from the moment they knew we were leaving their loyalties turned elsewhere”. Keeping foreign troops in Iraq will not “prevent civil war”, as if they were doing that now. They are largely preoccupied with defending their fortress bases, their presence offering target practice for insurgents and undermining any emergent civil authority in Baghdad or the provinces. American and British troops may be in occupation but they are not in power. They have not cut and run, but rather cut and stayed.

The wretched Iraqis must wait as their cities endure civil chaos until one warlord or another comes out on top. In the Sunni region it is conceivable that a neo-Ba’athist secularism might gain the ascendancy. In the bitterly contested Shia areas, a fierce fundamentalism is the likely outcome. As for Baghdad, it faces the awful prospect of being another Beirut.

This country has been turned by two of the most powerful and civilised nations on Earth into the most hellish place on Earth. Armies claiming to bring democracy and prosperity have brought bloodshed and a misery worse than under the most ruthless modern dictator. This must be the stupidest paradox in modern history. Neither America nor Britain has the guts to rule Iraq properly, yet they lack the guts to leave.

Blair speaks of staying until the job is finished. What job? The only job he can mean is his own.

simon.jenkins@guardian.co.uk

Pentagon To Resume Forced Anthrax Vaccine Program

Posted in Government Watch, Iraq on October 17, 2006 by blindnation

Reuters | Kristin Roberts | Oct 16 2006

   WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon on Monday said it will force troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea to be vaccinated against anthrax, restarting a court-halted program after U.S. regulators declared the shots safe and effective.

But William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the Pentagon has no plans to vaccinate troops serving elsewhere, including those in the United States — site of the only major anthrax attack against Americans, which killed five people in 2001.

“There are terrorists operating in and around Iraq and in that part of the world,” Winkenwerder said. “That’s a higher threat area.”

The move to reopen the mandatory vaccination program follows a final order from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2005 that found the anthrax vaccine safe and effective in preventing anthrax disease.

But attorneys whose lawsuit previously shut down the mandatory anthrax vaccination program said they plan to file a new suit to challenge its resumption.

“The forthcoming mandatory program is just as senseless as before and the FDA’s new determination remains legally and scientifically flawed,” said Mark Zaid, one of the attorneys.

Winkenwerder, who has not taken the anthrax vaccine, said the FDA’s final order settles legal questions and the Pentagon is prepared for a court challenge.

Anthrax spores can be used in germ warfare to give victims the deadly bacterial disease. The Pentagon argues the shots are needed to protect troops against bioterrorism.   Continued…

Bush Keeps Revising War Justification

Posted in In The News, Iraq on October 15, 2006 by blindnation

USA Today | Oct 15 2006

 President Bush keeps revising his explanation for why the U.S. is in Iraq, moving from narrow military objectives at first to history-of-civilization stakes now.

Initially, the rationale was specific: to stop Saddam Hussein from using what Bush claimed were the Iraqi leader’s weapons of mass destruction or from selling them to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

But 3 1/2 years later, with no weapons found, still no end in sight and the war a liability for nearly all Republicans on the ballot Nov. 7, the justification has become far broader and now includes the expansive “struggle between good and evil.”

Republicans seized on North Korea’s reported nuclear test last week as further evidence that the need for strong U.S. leadership extends beyond Iraq.

Bush’s changing rhetoric reflects increasing administration efforts to tie the war, increasingly unpopular at home, with the global fight against terrorism, still the president’s strongest suit politically.

“We can’t tolerate a new terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East, with large oil reserves that could be used to fund its radical ambitions, or used to inflict economic damage on the West,” Bush said in a news conference last week in the Rose Garden.

When no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, Bush shifted his war justification to one of liberating Iraqis from a brutal ruler.

After Saddam’s capture in December 2003, the rationale became helping to spread democracy through the Middle East. Then it was confronting terrorists in Iraq “so we do not have to face them here at home,” and “making America safer,” themes Bush pounds today.

“We’re in the ideological struggle of the 21st century,” he told a California audience this month. “It’s a struggle between good and evil.”

Vice President Dick Cheney takes it even further: “The hopes of the civilized world ride with us,” Cheney tells audiences.

Except for the weapons of mass destruction argument, there is some validity in each of Bush’s shifting rationales, said Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy scholar at the Brookings Institution who initially supported the war effort.

“And I don’t have any big problems with any of them, analytically. The problem is they can’t change the realities on the ground in Iraq, which is that we’re in the process of beginning to lose,” O’Hanlon said. “It is taking us a long time to realize that, but the war is not headed the way it should be.”

Andrew Card, Bush’s first chief of staff, said Bush’s evolving rhetoric, including his insistence that Iraq is a crucial part of the fight against terrorism, is part of an attempt to put the war in better perspective for Americans.

The administration recently has been “doing a much better job” in explaining the stakes, Card said in an interview. “We never said it was going to be easy. The president always told us it would be long and tough.”

“I’m trying to do everything I can to remind people that the war on terror has the war in Iraq as a subset. It’s critical we succeed in Iraq as part of the war on terror,” said Card, who left the White House in March.

Bush at first sought to explain increasing insurgent and sectarian violence as a lead-up to Iraqi elections. But elections came and went, and a democratically elected government took over, and the sectarian violence increased.

Bush has insisted U.S. soldiers will stand down as Iraqis stand up. He has likened the war to the 20th century struggles against fascism, Nazism and communism. He has called Iraq the “central front” in a global fight against radical jihadists.

Having jettisoned most of the earlier, upbeat claims of progress, Bush these days emphasizes consequences of setting even a limited withdrawal timetable: abandonment of the Iraqi people, destabilizing the Middle East and emboldening terrorists around the world.

The more ominous and determined his words, the more skeptical the American public appears, polls show, both on the war itself and over whether it is part of the larger fight against terrorism, as the administration insists.

Bush’s approval rating, reflected by AP-Ipsos polls, has slid from the mid 60s at the outset of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 to the high 30s now. There were light jumps upward after the December 2003 capture of Saddam, Bush’s re-election in November 2004 and each of three series of aggressive speeches over the past year. Those gains tended to vanish quickly.

With the war intruding on the fall elections, both parties have stepped up their rhetoric.

Republicans, who are also reeling from the congressional page scandal, are casting Democrats as seeking to “cut and run” and appease terrorists.

Democrats accuse Bush of failed leadership with his “stay the course” strategy. They cite a government intelligence assessment suggesting the Iraq war has helped recruit more terrorists, and a book by journalist Bob Woodward that portrays Bush as intransigent in his defense of the Iraq war and his advisers as bitterly divided.

Democrats say Iraq has become a distraction from the war against terrorism — not a central front. But they are divided among themselves on what strategy to pursue.

Republicans, too, increasingly are growing divided as U.S. casualties rise.

“I struggle with the fact that President Bush said, ‘As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.’ But the fact is, this has not happened,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., a war supporter turned war skeptic.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John Warner of Virginia, said after a recent visit to Iraq that Iraq was “drifting sideways.” He urged consideration of a “change of course” if the Iraq government fails to restore order over the next two or three months.

More than 2,750 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the war, most of them since Bush’s May 2003 “mission accomplished” aircraft carrier speech. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died.

Recent events have been dispiriting.

The United States now has about 141,000 troops in Iraq, up from about 127,000 in July. Some military experts have suggested at least one additional U.S. division, or around 20,000 troops, is needed in western Iraq alone.

Dan Benjamin, a former Middle East specialist with the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, said the administration is overemphasizing the nature of the threat in an effort to bolster support.

“I think the administration has oversold the case that Iraq could become a jihadist state,” said Benjamin, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If the U.S. were to leave Iraq tomorrow, the result would be a bloodbath in which Sunnis and Shiites fight it out. But the jihadists would not be able to seek power.”

Not all of Bush’s rhetorical flourishes have had the intended consequences.

When the history of Iraq is finally written, the recent surge in sectarian violence is “going to be a comma,” Bush said in several recent appearances.

Critics immediately complained that the remark appeared unsympathetic and dismissive of U.S. and Iraqi casualties, an assertion the White House disputed.

For a while last summer, Bush depicted the war as one against “Islamic fascism,” borrowing a phrase from conservative commentators. The strategy backfired, further fanning anti-American sentiment across the Muslim world.

The “fascism” phrase abruptly disappeared from Bush’s speeches, reportedly after he was talked out of it by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes, a longtime Bush confidant now with the State Department.

Hughes said she would not disclose private conversations with the president. But, she told the AP, she did not use the “fascism” phrase herself. “I use ‘violent extremist,'” she said.

Bush Now Says What He Wouldn’t Say Before War: Iraq Had ‘Nothing’ To Do With 9/11

Posted in Iraq on August 25, 2006 by blindnation

 Thinkprogress | August 23, 2006

President Bush was in the midst of explaining how the attacks of 9/11 inspired his “freedom agenda” and the attacks on Iraq until a reporter, Ken Herman of Cox News, interrupted to ask what Iraq had to do with 9/11. “Nothing,” Bush defiantly answered.

To justify the war, Bush informed Congress on March 19, 2003 that acting against Iraq was consistent with “continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”

As ThinkProgress has repeatedly documented, Vice President Cheney cited “evidence” cooked up by Douglas Feith and others to claim it was “pretty well confirmed” that Iraq had contacts with 9/11 hijackers.

More generally, in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, the administration encouraged the false impression that Saddam had a role in 9/11. Bush never stated then, as he does now, that Iraq had “nothing” to do with 9/11. Only after the Iraq war began did Bush candidly acknowledge that Iraq was not operationally linked to 9/11.