Wednesday, November 15, 2006

 

Letter to Congress - Iraq Options


[I have been asked by several American friends to write a letter that they could forward to newly elected members of Congress. Encouraged by the recent changes, I did. I am posting that letter with the aim of encouraging discussion of some of the options available to America in Iraq.]

November, 2006



Honorable Member of Congress,

Congratulations on your election to the US Congress.

I am writing this message to you as a leader who has the power to influence political decisions in America that may have enormous consequences on my country, Iraq. Please forgive me for being rather blunt. I don't think we can afford to be otherwise.

Iraqi and American blood is flowing every day. Millions of innocent people are suffering every single hour. My country is literally devastated. It saddens me to see the worst in my country being the dominant visible feature. It is also true that the worst in your country has been the dominant visible feature in the eyes of the world.

There is little doubt now that the major factor responsible for the present state of chaos and turmoil in Iraq was the course of action taken by the Administration. It has also been responsible for the loss of American blood and treasure and the reduced standing of the US in the eyes of the world.

Arguments of good intentions are refuted by facts on the ground and by results. Even if the forces now devastating Iraq were not intentionally created by the US intervention, an environment was created by that intervention that was extremely favorable for those forces to thrive and become more powerful.

America is therefore responsible for the current failed state of Iraq. The realization and admission of this responsibility is an important prerequisite for any progress towards any solution. Only then can steps be taken to rectify the situation.

I realize that the foreign policy of the US is mostly the domain of the Administration and that it is influenced by several major forces from within and from outside the Establishment. I also realize the difficulty any decent American politician faces and the various forces at play that have to be considered: human aspects, economic issues including the security of oil supplies, immediate and long term security concerns as well as the pressures that can be exerted by special-interest groups. I realize all that.

Within Iraq too, the array of forces present is truly astounding: in addition to patriotic or nationalistic forces, the forces of sectarianism, corruption, decay, crime and violence are predominant. Regional countries are pouring funds to allies and cronies.

The solution to all these problems cannot be easy. At present, I can see no painless solution to the 'Iraqi problem'. Whichever direction I turn, I can only see rivers of blood, instability and destruction. This is the present dilemma. There is no easy solution. Yet, a start can be made.

For the longer term:

Many of the forces that are fighting the States in Iraq are fuelled by animosity stemming in part from the way the campaign was conducted, but mostly from a deep sense of mistrust of US policies. That mistrust was confirmed by the post-invasion performance. And that widespread popular sentiment is a fertile breeding ground.

Most ordinary Iraqis now believe that America is determined to subdue Iraq, control its oil and fragment it into warring cantons. You may find this utterly groundless. They don't. This view is shared by hundreds of millions of people around the world. And as long as there are millions of people convinced that America is an invading country and an enemy, America will be resisted and fought fiercely.

The formidable task is to convince ordinary Iraqis that America is not an enemy. Given the long heritage of mistrust, this is not an easy task! It requires a firm, and a clear stand. And it requires drastic measures. It cannot be rectified by spending money on public relations campaigns or through rhetoric.

Practical steps in that direction may include: a clear statement of admission of errors and mistakes; admission that America is occupying Iraq; a clear strategy; a clear statement of the intention to withdraw and clear plans in that direction; a clear statement of having no intentions to have any permanent bases in Iraq; a clear statement of intentions regarding control of Iraqi oil. A tall order indeed!

Only a visible change of direction may be the first step in the right direction.

For the shorter term:

The political process in Iraq was born dead. It was based on sectarianism. No modern country can be built on sectarianism. Although ancient and complex, Iraq was and still is constantly portrayed as Sunni, Shiite and Kurd. The country is far more than that. In the early days after the invasion and while the people were still in disarray and in a state of shock, Iraqis were presented with mainly ethnic and sectarian blocs as their representatives.

A "White" party, a "Black" party, a Catholic party or a Jewish party would be ridiculous propositions in American politics. A party that is supported by a foreign power would be found repulsive by the American public. Why have similar things been allowed in the democracy tailored by the American administration of Iraq?

The other, nominally secular groups packaged and presented to Iraqis were led by a few 'imported' gentlemen including a convicted felon, a CIA asset described by his own controller as a thug and a tired, uncharismatic old man. They had little credit with the people. They were also out of touch with the country for more than three decades during which the country and society were subjected to, and distorted by, enormous stressful forces that included a harsh tyranny, three major wars and years of strenuous sanctions.

The indigenous Iraqi voices were choked. There were other forces of reason, moderation and reconciliation in Iraq. But, in that prevailing climate with the overwhelming strength of those divisive forces and lack of organization, funds and support, those forces of reason and construction did not have a fair fighting chance.

In the early days, my belief was that power should have been quickly given to local people (who, as elsewhere, are moderate, peace-loving and reasonable) and democracy built from the bottom up. However, that approach was not appealing to the Administration or to the Iraqi forces in favor at the time. They knew what was best! In any case, this is no longer immediately possible as the well funded and well organized fanatics of various colors have infiltrated deeply into the grassroots.

Free-flowing funding was allowed to the sectarian and religious parties and war lords from regional and international sponsors. Those parties have now entrenched. They engineered an election process and wrote a constitution to maintain this status quo.

The irony is that some of the most powerful political and armed segments that emerged under the American administration of Iraq are enemies of the United States or close allies of countries that are declared enemies of the United States. I fail to see how any American can see this as anything but total failure.

Suggested Options

"Staying the course" is not a realistic option. It has already led to failure. Applying 'cosmetics' to that course can only make matters worse. In this context, partitioning Iraq is a recipe for certain disaster. Several forces have already been attempting to do just that since the invasion. The results are already visible. Iraq has been a single country for more than 40 centuries. If such a scenario is forced, strife in Iraq would last for many decades and would certainly engulf the region, with unpredictable results.

What is needed is a fundamental change of course.

If America decides on a gradual withdrawal, then the approach has to be a political one. Only a clear recognition of the fact that the present political process is dead and a brave effort to rectify that process may save some democracy in Iraq.

Possible drastic measures: Political parties should be based on politics, not race or creed. All parties have to demonstrate a variety of the Iraqi spectrum in their composition and leadership. All parties that have received support form external sources should be handicapped. All parties that are not truly democratic in their own constitution should be curtailed. Mechanisms should be sought to empower indigenous political forces, even those seen at the moment as adversarial to the US. Politically this may be a most difficult task, perhaps even unthinkable. Yet it is a necessary one if a political route is sought.

Failing that, America should entrust the new political process to a council of international, respected elders to start afresh.

If all fails, then I'm afraid the only route available to America will be to withdraw.

If that happens, then there will be chaos and violence as the various forces fight it out. Countries of the region will continue to pour money and arms and personnel into Iraq. Criminals will go on unchecked, as they are doing now. This means years of strife.

However, I have to conclude with a heavy heart that this route is preferable to the present one as it may bring the end of this ordeal nearer. Knowing the Iraqi people and their long history, I believe that they will ultimately prevail. This option may also be appealing to many segments in the States as it will cut short the American losses of blood and treasure. Consequences to the region, to the US and to the world are also less dangerous than the present course.

America was made great, among other things, by leaders with vision, integrity and wisdom. America was turned into an ugly bully by men and forces ignorant of history and driven by greed, arrogance and short-term outlook. The trajectory towards disaster can only be changed by true statesmen and women of courage and vision who are prepared to prescribe and, if necessary, take bitter medicine.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

 

US Midterms and Rummy and Iraq


I wasn't particularly jubilant earlier today! I didn't even follow the election results as closely as I should have: Bush was adamant to 'stay the course', the Democrats did not have a clear policy on Iraq. Some of them were even advocating the break-up of the country – a recipe for disaster...

But less than an hour ago this evening, and for the first time in more than a year, I listened carefully to what George Bush, the de-facto President of Iraq, had to say! It brought an unfamiliar warmth to my old heart to see that man, who brought so much death and destruction to my country, broken. He couldn't hide that. It was written all over him!

Another of the President's Men going down? Rummy, who had the President's full confidence? Arrogant, murderous, contemptuous Rummy?

I am not a Democrat. But those two items made my day.

Can an Iraqi hope now? Perhaps a little.
Time for accountability? Dare we hope? Perhaps too soon for that.
The beginning o the end of a mad era? Perhaps too soon for that too.

To Americans I say: to see the man who has done so much damage to your country in that position in that press conference… I only have one word: Congratulations!

Your democracy may have many illnesses; you have a long way yet to go… but tonight many of you have shown the rest of the world that It and you are not dead yet.

In parting, I would just like to quote an American friend who wrote to me earlier today: " There’s hope at this juncture, for a sane approach to assisting you Iraqi’s with the hideous mess we created for you. We aren’t all crazy over here … There are huge numbers of intelligent (non-hawk-whack-jobs) who agonize over what we’ve done to you."

No analysis this time! That is good enough for me… for now!


Monday, July 24, 2006

 

The War in Lebanon: Iraqi Perspective


This blog is mostly about Iraq. It is basically an Iraqi perspective. The comments section of the previous post drifted into the question of the recent conflict in Lebanon. Some people wondered how Iraqis saw things and whether they were interested in the first place. This is how I see it from Iraq.


I have a soft spot for Lebanon. There was a time when many Iraqis spent their summer holidays In Lebanon. I was 13 when I first visited the country and immediately fell in love with it. I was struck by the friendliness of the people, their openness towards strangers and the wonderful lifestyle. The picturesque country and its pleasant cultural and geographic variety are also unique in the region: It is one of the few countries I know where you can move from warmth of sunny sandy beaches to the fresh coolness of mountain air in less than half an hour. I went back to Lebanon many times. I have fond memories of the country and its people.

Some people have indicated that most Iraqis are too busy with their own misfortunes to follow what is happening in Palestine and Lebanon. This is not true. Despite their own misery and preoccupations, most Iraqis are following those developments very closely.

Sunnis mostly do not look at Hezbollah as a ‘Shiite’ movement. The sectarian polarization, bad as it is, has not gone that far in Iraq… yet. In this respect, most Iraqis are united. Most ‘Shiite’ and ‘Sunni’ pro- and anti-Occupation political and insurgency groups declared their solidarity with Hezbollah and Lebanon and their outrage at Israel! Even the puppets and the stooges, have expressed their displeasure! Notable exceptions are the Kurdish ‘leadership’ and the Qaeda people.

Furthermore, these people almost unanimously believe that the root cause of all that is taking place is America, not Syria and Iran! Odd? Not really!

America and Israel keep saying that Hezbollah’s weaponry comes from Iran. What most people here see is that Israel’s superior weaponry that was killing innocent civilians comes from the US.

There is a lot of anger at America and the way the administration is implicitly condoning those criminal acts and giving the Israeli war machine political and diplomatic cover until they have finished their business.

No sir, no hearts and minds won here either!!

What is the matter with these ungrateful people?


Similarities

I find the similarities in tactics used by the American and Israeli war machines in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon eerie.

Motives: self-defense, eradicating terrorism. Changing declared reasons: freeing soldiers; eradicating terror; no quarrel with the people, strengthening the government. Means: ‘surgical’ bombing followed by ground invasion. Result: Total devastation of civil life, innocents homeless and suffering, numerous children killed and mutilated, ruined civilian infrastructure; destruction of the tools and elements of government rendering the countries ungovernable; and… hatred, popular resentment, vengefulness and more hatred.

Air and fire superiority coupled with bombing ‘incompetence’ (!) resulting in enormous “collateral damage” (meaning murdered and injured innocent civilians) and a high proportion of children as well as devastation of civilian infrastructure, including power stations, water plants, roads, bridges and almost anything of value.

They are doing it again, I thought! It reminded me of the US ‘surgical’ bombings in 1991 to evict Saddam from Kuwait and later, during and after the invasion of Iraq: they bombed schools, bridges, cement factories, powder milk factories, an assortment of other factories, grain silos, civilian air-raid shelters, water treatment and pumping plants, power plants… and hundreds of other targets, unrelated to the war machine, that were hundreds of miles away from the “theatre of operations” for more than 40 days in order to expel Saddam from Kuwait.

Other similarities of note:

The percentage of the population supporting the military action (around 80%)!
The claim that they were doing the bombarded country a favor and that the people should be grateful.
The claim that they were doing it in self defense
Even the signing of bombs, this time by smiling, small children signing on death gadgets likely to hit similarly young children across the border!


Conclusion: The governing powers in America and Israel are two faces of the same coin. I doubt that anyone can debate that. The debate is whether the coin is good or bad.

Another conclusion: Fanatics always, always go too far. This ultimately leads to their own demise… but they can cause a lot of damage in the process.


Hezbollah

Regardless of what people (including me) think of their doctrine, Hezbollah is a popular movement and not just a group of terrorists. They have representatives freely and democratically elected into Parliament and Office!! They haven’t done anything that the US and Israel haven’t done!

Very few people seem to remember that Hezbollah, as a movement, was born out of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in 1982 – also allegedly done in ‘self defense’. In fact, they managed to expel Israel from Lebanon; hence their clout in the Arab World!

Nobody mentions that Hezbollah did what it did (attacking and capturing those two unfortunate Israeli soldiers) in an attempt to release their own, held by Israel from the time that it occupied Lebanon. It still holds them six years after it left the country. Why didn’t they negotiate to swap prisoners? No negotiations with terrorists? But they did it before!


Labnana or Arqana?

During the early days of the sectarian polarization under the auspices of the American occupation, numerous people started warning about the “Labnana” (Lebanonization) of the internal conflict in Iraq.

During the first and second weeks of the Israeli assault on Lebanon, several times I heard analysts and politicians warning against the “Arqana” (Iraqization) of the situation in Lebanon.

Perhaps “Amraka” (Americanization) of the conflict would be a better description.


Neocons again?

I had some time ago declared the neocon empire defunct. Perhaps I was hasty. Secretary Condoleezza Rice used the term “Pangs of birth” to describe the present carnage. This is so reminiscent of neocon thinking and terminology. She should have used the term “Creative Destruction” the neocons are more fond of. One would have thought that they would not take the next step in the direction of the ‘new Middle East’ until they were successful in Iraq. Perhaps they are, as far as their objectives are concerned!


Media coverage

There was a time when the international media was literally ‘owned’ by Israel. I can’t help remembering the previous wars between Israel and her neighbors. The media bias was astounding. The other point of view was virtually non-existent!

This time, there was live coverage from Arab and other media channels, dozens of channels. The declared claims of avoiding civilian casualties, acting in self defense, helping the Lebanese government etc. etc. simply could not hold!

This time, Prime Minister Olmert complained about the media’s unbalanced reporting.

It seems that Israel did things with a mentality that assumed that they were going to get away with things like previous times. That was a major error.

As the battles unfolded, the declared objectives of the Israeli campaign were ‘reduced’ several times, clearly indicating that things were not going as planned.

A major casualty in this war was Israel's image of invincibility. It was literally shattered! Yes, Israel had air and fire-power superiority. In more than 2,400 sorties and precision bombings, they killed many children but could not make a noticeable dent in Hezbollah’s primitive armor. When ground skirmishes started, those fighters gave the Israelis a good run for their money. Much of it was reported almost immediately. The impressive Israeli war machine looked clumsy and almost pathetic! Also gone is the image of small country fighting against all odds for survival.


Where to next?

Peace treaties? Normalizations? They will not work. Look at Egypt. Normalization with Israel has officially been consolidated for more than 30 years. Can an Israeli safely walk the streets of Cairo? Can their businesses operate openly?

Nothing, nothing will work until the root causes of the injustice and the terror are addressed.

Meanwhile, to millions of people, it seems that only Militant Religion offers the solution to address these injustices. This is why it has become stronger. To many people, it seems to be the only force capable of striking back. There are more than a billion of these people growing more militant by the day and with every new atrocity. What will they do? Eradicate them all to remove that cancer?

This analogy was in fact used by Israel’s ambassador to the UN:
"When you operate on a cancerous growth you do not stop in the middle, sew the patient up and tell him keep living with that growth until it kills you. You make sure it is totally removed."

If it is a cancer, how are they going to eradicate it? By killing children? Possibly… because some of those children will grow up full of hate and revenge! So, do you eradicate a cancer by increasing cancerous cells? By this reasoning, you will have to kill all children. Is Israel also incompetent?

Is it possible that they are addressing the wrong tissue?


Monday, June 05, 2006

 

America in Iraq: Evil or Incompetence?


Have the chaos that followed the American invasion of Iraq, the subsequent breakdown of the country and the spread of senseless violence been largely due to totally unforeseen factors or were they due to incompetence?

If it was incompetence, was it incompetence at the planning / administration level or at the execution level?

Is such a level of incompetence possible?

Or… was it due to evil intentions at the planning level that created conditions leading to incompetence at the execution level?


Monday, May 08, 2006

 

An Open Thread


I was told by friends that the previous post was too heavy with comments and took a long time to load.

This post is to keep in touch.


Monday, December 19, 2005

 

Road to Anti-Americanism


In my early writings on this blog, I was careful to distinguish between the American people and the American administration when I criticized US policies in Iraq. Attack after attack came from American super-patriots. I started calling them American Saddamists because they could not distinguish between country and ‘leader’. However, more recently I started using the word America, just like them… and just like many other millions across the world to refer to the whole of the USA.

I wrote this post with a heavy heart, fully aware of the existence of millions of Americans who do not fit the gloomy picture the post portrays… but sometimes it may be more useful in the long run to face ugly conclusions.

I know that decent people, due to their very nature, will understand.

***


Fifth Americans are vocal again! They kept a relatively low profile during the recent ‘scandal’ episodes of Libby, white phosphorous and torture… These days, with the ‘successful’ elections in Iraq, they are up again - hailing the administration’s wisdom, foresight and steadfastness. They are full of praise, not only for themselves but also for the Iraqi people. They are also on the attack. Super-patriotic Americans are quite fond of labeling their adversaries “anti-American”. They simply cannot understand why anybody could be anti-American.

I have attempted to answer this question, from an Iraqi perspective. In other words: Is it possible for a rational Iraqi to view America as an enemy state?

How dare I do that even before the election results are out? The answer to that can be found in my previous post. I have deliberately chosen to do so in these days where pro-administration Americans are euphoric, in order to remind those Americans who suffer from the short-memory syndrome that seems to be prevalent in America that world history is somewhat longer than that their attention span.

However, the essay is too long for this blog. I have therefore posted it elsewhere. This post is merely a pointer to that essay.

I expressed the view from a relatively mild, secular, generally pro-western point of view in the hope that some Americans may see some of the reasons for the birth of a new wave of “Anti-Americanism” in the making.

The sad conclusion is that America can be justifiably seen as an enemy of Iraq. I say America, meaning the United States of America, because this includes the three American components that can be seen responsible for the devastation of Iraq:

1. The successive American administrations, in charge of the American government. They have a decades-long history of policies and acts of aggression against the people of Iraq.

2. The American army that has been the tool through which the American administrations have implemented their policies in Iraq.

3. The American public who, through ignorance, indifference, acquiescence or active support, was ultimately responsible for it all.

Americans are invited to reflect honestly on the idea that if a mild outlook can lead to such a dim view of America, then what conclusions would a fierce nationalist, a deeply religious Muslim or a person with violent inclinations may reach?


Sunday, December 11, 2005

 

Iraqi Elections II


Bremer’s appointed Iraq Governing Council set the tone, defined the major players in the political arena and defined the rules of the game through the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL).

The previous elections in January of this year took place in that environment and resulted in a highly polarized, ethnic and sectarian assembly. Not surprisingly, two major forces emerged: Shiite religious fundamentalist parties and an ethnic Kurdish bloc dominated by the two larger parties, run by war lords. Both blocs are a far cry from the political parties one desires for a modern state.

The “Shiite” religious alliance parties are the most vocal against sectarianism. Yet, they did more than anybody else to promote sectarianism, except perhaps for Mr. Zarqawi and the US administration. The two Kurdish parties cry out loudly against ‘backward’ Arab Nationalism. Yet, the cornerstone of their existence, drive and policies is Kurdish Nationalism. In any case, they have maintained their grip on Kurdistani politics, apart from the rebellious Kurdistan Islamic Union and a few other small fish. I would have thought democracy is all about choice!

Both blocs have little regard for democracy beyond lip service. Both blocs have now entrenched. However, both are destined to have fewer seats in the coming Parliament. On the other hand much of what they wanted to accomplish was already done.

It is the end of yet another phase in this unfolding ugly drama. It is more serious this time: a new phase of democracy. This is no longer an “interim government” or “interim assembly”. This will be a fully fledged Legislative and Government that are meant to last for 4 years. Cronycracy Phase III?

Differences and Similarities

The major difference is that Iraq is no longer a single electoral district. The new Elections Law divides Iraq into 18 provinces. Provinces are assigned a number of seats each, which is an improvement. The number of assigned seats is not totally fair, but it is nevertheless a major improvement.

Those major players allowed it because they probably feel that they can now hold their own under such a system. The resistance to making the country into the 275 districts needed to elect the 275 members of the parliament was at one time baffling, given that the country is already administratively divided into those districts. It is no longer so. Now we all know. Perhaps this will be done when those parties have entrenched further and feel that they can secure winning at the local level after they have entrenched further.

In these coming elections, some things are the same, namely, the major players and their rather vague agenda; their true agenda being somewhat different from their declared policies.

As before, we are told that the number of candidates is around 7000. Again, it is only with some difficulty that anyone can find out the names of those candidates! Those interested can find some details at the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq website. Also, the number of slates is not much less. In Baghdad for example, the number is 106, as opposed to something like 112 in the last elections. And there are no secret candidates this time. I only detected one such case. Nevertheless, it is still extremely difficult to know more about most of those candidates or what they stand for.

A notable difference this time is that the competition between the various political parties is much fiercer than last time. Venomous accusations of wrongdoing and corruption are rife. There has also been some campaigning violence.

Shifting Players in Shifting Sands

A few interesting features of this election differ from the last one in terms of the team players.

Sistani: There were several ‘semi-official’ reports a few weeks ago that Sistani encouraged people to participate in these elections and to support “strong religious parties”. That could only mean one thing: the Shiite slate… and consequently sectarian polarization. A few days ago however, new reports started to emerge that the old man was taking a completely impartial stand. The position is still ambiguous. Opposing sides are claiming different things. The Shiite slate people are saying the slate was “formed” under the supervision and the blessing of Sistani. He would have to make a clear statement of his position in the next few days if he wants his position to be unambiguous.

Muqtada al Sadr has now officially joined the fundamentalist Shiite parties. That slate is no longer just Shiite, but religious Shiite. He had actually joined the same slate in the previous elections after the intervention of Sistani following the Najaf confrontation and secured and was given 21 seats in the present assembly and a couple of ministries. However, that was done very quietly since that change of stance was too sudden for most of his followers. This time it is out in the open. Personally, this has been a major disappointment. Although his followers come from Shiite slum areas, he managed for more than a year to distant himself from sectarian groups. On the contrary, he stood firm with Fallujah in assault I of April, 2004 and had considerable connections with “Sunni rejectionists”. Much of that change was Sistani’s doing.

It is interesting that Mr. Chalabi, the neocons’ man in Iraq and who played an important role in forming that religious fundamentalist Shiite bloc, has now left them to run on his own. The “official” reason given is that Chalabi wanted more seats than the other parties were willing to give him. Incidentally, he was joined by the monarchists!!

Many of the rejectionist “Sunnis” are now taking part. As I can see, there are two main slates representing these:

The major player for those “Sunnis’ seems to be Islamic Party coalition (who boycotted the last elections after their demand for a postponement was not met) which has a “Sunni” stance and colors. They do seem to have a favorable electorate in mixed areas and in the western provinces. This will lead to further sectarian polarization of Iraqi politics. In fact, with them being part of the process, the ethnic and sectarian polarization of politics will be complete.

Another emerging player is Saleh Mutlag, a man who made a name for himself by fiercely opposing the Constitution draft… to the extent that ‘the other side’ vetoed his participation of the ‘reconciliatory’ conference in Cairo held under the auspices of the Arab League. He seems to have some following.

But the man of the hour so far seems to be Allawi. He has managed to reshape his alliances by inviting minor ‘secular’ players who did not do well in the previous elections, but he is making it perfectly clear who is running the show. TV campaigning is heavily “personalized” portraying him as the needed strong, charismatic leader. His slate is simply known as the Allawi slate.

His list certainly makes interesting reading. The names cover the whole spectrum from Communists to staunch capitalists, but they have two characteristics in common: secularism and a pro-occupation stance.

Allawi, a Shiite himself, has also cast his lot strongly against the “Shiite” parties. He went as far as saying that these people were doing worse things than Saddam. [They made their own opinion of him perfectly clear on his canvassing visit to Najaf recently. Protestors stoned him and threw tomatoes at him. He claimed it was an assassination attempt.]

The two Kurdish parties naturally look favorably at him. He is already a signatory to the issues that they deem most important: Secularism, the Constitution and the particular Federal system of government that they want. In addition, they know that he is the American favorite. They can do business with him.

But the important thing is that many ordinary people, Sunni and Shiite, are looking favorably at him. He is posing as the “secular” politician. I am constantly surprised by the number of people, ordinary Iraqis from all walks of life, in Baghdad, the mixed areas and the western provinces who are supporting him - far more than during the last elections. They see him as the only one capable of standing up to the “Shiite” religious, pro- Islamic Iran fundamentalists, who has a chance of having a say in forming the next Parliament and the next government. Many people have already forgotten, or chosen to forget, that it was he who sanctioned the bombing of Fallujah II and Najaf; that his interim government saw the introduction of corruption to an unprecedented level; and that he is self-confessed CIA man. We have a saying that reflects this mood and that we hear repeatedly these days. It says something like: “He who sees death accepts fever”.

With something like $40 million in US backing, he managed to secure around 40 seats last time. I have no idea of the financial backing he is receiving now (he seems to have no shortage of funds)… however, he is expected to have much better fortunes this time around.

That was the arena, and these are the players.

Conspicuously absent from the arena (again) is one Jwad al Khalisi, a Shiite scholar of some standing, but who is strong in his opposition to sectarianism and the occupation. Although quite active, he is given very little exposure in the media! The other major figure absent is Ayatollah Ahmed al Baghdadi, a senior Shiite cleric who is strongly critical of the occupation. On the Sunni side, the influential Association of Muslim Clerics is also absent. All are against the elections as a matter of principle, maintaining that no elections can be free under occupation.

And the winner is…

Within the internal US rivalry, it should be clear by now that the CIA / State Department coalition has beaten the Neocon / DoD alliance... or so it seems so far. This has been true for some time.

Within that race itself, I don’t know who the “winner” will be, whether Talabani will be President, whether Allawi will form the government, whether Chalabi will keep his Ministry of Oil for the Neocons or whether Solagh will keep his Ministry of the Interior… but I already know two of the losers: Iraq… and America.

This may be a strange thing to say with the strong march of “Democracy” gaining a foothold in the country, but Iraq has been proved to be a strange, perhaps even bizarre, place for many people… particularly those who have difficulty learning.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

 

Saddam Trial


The Theater

This is one trial where everybody knows the verdict! So, the process itself is what becomes of interest to most people.

I never liked theatricals. I followed the fiasco of the first and second hearings. They gave a very poor impression of the court and the judge. They both lacked what one would have liked to see in terms of dignity, class and firm fairness. However, content-wise things began to improve with the third sitting. There was more concrete business to conduct.

The prosecution’s performance was visibly shabby and professionally sub-standard. We had repeatedly heard and read about 12 tons of documents, large teams of investigators collecting evidence and preparing the case over months of hard work. But to see the end result of all that huge effort (and no doubt, huge sums spent) was more than disappointing. To see them take what should be a water-tight case and make a mess of it makes me wonder what will happen when other, more controversial issues are examined.

The defense’s performance also appeared to be clumsy. Perhaps they intentionally gave the floor to the defendants to cross-examine witnesses. They also managed to effectively score a number of legal points concerning the legitimacy of the court itself. The court’s defense of itself and its own legitimacy was rather weak. That brought home the question of legitimacy of political and legal proceedings while the country was still under occupation.

But I began to have more respect for the judge’s tolerance and handling of transactions within the court, though he still lacked the required authority and firmness to control proceedings. The atmosphere nevertheless looked more like a tribal arbitration sitting than a formal court. That judge would make a good tribal sheikh.

Some people didn’t like that. I felt it gave the whole thing an ‘Iraqi’ flavor! And why not? People like theatricals and show business stuff! The fact that what should be a grave and somber occasion, a trial of an episode of history, was turned into a circus must be of secondary importance. People must be entertained.

Then and now

I followed the first prosecution witness closely. He talked a lot, but little of what he said was new to me. I must have heard similar first hand accounts dozens – no, hundreds – of times in the past two decades. That witness’s account was not out of the ordinary.

I also happened to pass close by the town of Dujail on numerous occasions in that critical period. I had purchased a few pieces of farm machinery from a government establishment in that region. Some of them had to be repaired locally before being transported. I can say that I was witness to the bulldozing of those lovely date palm tree orchards. I still clearly remember thinking that that was exactly what Israel was doing in Palestine. We also heard many stories. Later, even the name of the district itself was changed to al Fariss – the Knight (obviously a reference to Saddam)!

But what I kept thinking about throughout the narrative was that those horrible things that witness was recounting (which I do not doubt for a minute) have also been taking place in Iraq since the invasion. Similar, and sometimes worse, atrocities are taking place and up to this minute.

It is better to prevent than to punish later, much later. We can do little now about Saddam’s atrocities. They are indeed history that left behind the suffering of people affected by them. Let Saddam get whatever he deserves. He is certainly getting a better deal than he gave any of his opponents. But isn’t there something that we can do about atrocities being committed now?

Will those atrocities be brought to justice, ever?

Perhaps in another 20 years… when they have become mostly forgotten history to most people except, of course, those who had to endure their trauma.


Public Platform

Right from the start, the judge allowed a few political points to be scored wittingly and unwittingly! For example, during the first hearing, one of the defendants - the judge who passed the death sentence on some 148 people for their attempt on Saddam’s life - was asked for his identity by the judge. The man replied that at that moment he had no identity because his igal (head band) was removed from his head before going into the court. The good, but simple, Kurdish judge ordered his igal to be brought to him. There was a delay of a few moments while that was done.

This little episode may have looked innocent enough. It wasn’t! With that little ploy, that man scored a very important point with millions of viewers in Iraq and elsewhere. The significance of the igal as a sign of pride and dignity to millions of people from a certain cultural background cannot be overestimated! I have already written that knocking someone’s igal, or even insulting it, may carry the penalty equivalent to murder in Iraqi tribal code. This may sound incredible to some people, but it is nevertheless true. Very few people remembered that that man never wore an igal when he was in office!

A few days later, I mentioned that incident to a friend, a man who was raised in Baghdad and who has spent three decades abroad. He failed to see any significance in the event. The judge acted decently and compassionately, he said; the man wanted his igal, the good judge gave him his igal; what was the harm in that? I can’t say I blame him for missing a point he was not even aware of. The thing is that the point was scored with people who knew the significance of the little incident. [Incidentally, that same friend called a fortnight later to express his displeasure with the judge’s performance!]

Saddam was always a man of cameras and TV. He thrives under the lights. He himself also scored a few points. On the face of it, he was talking to the judge; but really he was addressing people outside the courtroom. He was given a platform to address many millions and he made the best of it.


Sectarianism again?

Another significant point brought out in those proceedings is the ever-present sectarian issue. Dujail lies in what has become known as the ‘Sunni Triangle’. But I knew that Dujail was a mixed town. However, in almost all news broadcasts in almost all channels, pro- and anti-war, the city was described as ‘Shiite’. That infuriated me!

During his account, that first witness mentioned name after name of people who were ‘detained’ tortured or executed and they were thoroughly mixed Sunnis and Shiites. He did not utter a single word about the Sunni-Shiite issue. Later on, it was also evident that that witness, although obviously a devout Shiite, was himself mixed. His mother who was imprisoned was a Sunni, originally from Fallujah. When the witness mentioned the help given by decent man from Ramadi during the ordeal, Saddam sarcastically remarked “A Sunni?” The man snapped back something like “Sunnis are my maternal uncles… and that honors me!”

Yet, the media keeps insisting about circulating the sectarian issue. Take this excerpt from Associated Press, written by someone with an Iraqi name:

“The Tuesday hearing began after a dramatic, often chaotic day Monday when for the first time, Shiite victims of a 1982 crackdown confronted the former leader and his lieutenants. They are on trial for the killing of more than 140 Shiites in the town of Dujail north of Baghdad and could be executed by hanging if convicted.

“Despite the sometimes free-for-all atmosphere Monday, the trial's first witnesses offered chilling accounts of killings and torture using electric shocks and a grinder during a 1982 crackdown against Shiites.”

This is not just clumsy reporting. It is factually wrong. Why is this insistence? I cannot help feeling that it is intentional.


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

 

Changes in US policy in Iraq?


The problem with most politicians is that they rarely declare their true objectives, particularly their ultimate objectives. This has unfortunately become a fact of life in today’s world. Smokescreens and curtains of secrecy are frequently used – allegedly to protect the interests of the State. These curtains prevent us from seeing their intentions and evaluating them objectively. We can only evaluate results – usually after it is too late.

My own personal view of this process, practicalities of life notwithstanding, is rather dismal, I’m afraid; Leaders of nations should be people of principle and honest statesmen. But I am realistic enough to know that that cannot be.

***


There have been many signals coming out of America lately. There is definitely a change of mood in political America. But the nagging question was: will there be a change of policy?

The US administration has suffered some setbacks and criticisms recently. Popular approval rates for the war effort in Iraq have been steadily declining since “Mission Accomplished”. The scandals of the white phosphorous and the ‘sudden’ discovery of torture houses run by US-trained Iraqi forces that so far have been the pride and joy of this administration, have raised a few eyebrows. There has been some sharp disapproval cries in Congress; there have even been some calls for immediate withdrawal; one hasty call to this effect was put to the vote in Congress recently.

Yet, there has been no official indication of a major shift in policy towards Iraq.

We have been treated to the same dull, repetitive noises about "Freedom and Democracy" and "War on Terror" again and again, regardless of realities on the ground. We have heard hints here and there from US policy makers that some troops will be withdrawn soon. Those statements were seen by some people to mean one of two things:

• Political ploys designed to appease American public opinion by obliquely addressing the anxiety of Americans concerned about their loved ones in Iraq… particularly that the original declared reasons for their presence in Iraq in the first place have been demonstrated to be less than truthful.

• Another possibility, aired by a few observers, was that the US administration was adopting a new approach of relying on air strikes to support Iraqi ground forces in crushing the insurgency.

But does that signify a change of policy?

The declared objective is to have a sufficient number of US-trained Iraqi forces to do the job. But what forces? The same forces that have been committing atrocities that are worse than those committed by those infamous bad American apples? The same forces infested and infiltrated by sectarian pro-Iran militias, crooks, thugs and criminals that have been causing havoc in the country, abducting people and arresting then killing them for a variety of known and unknown reasons?

What will that achieve? Only more sectarian strife, more lawlessness and more chaos. And in the unlikely event that they will succeed, we will only have an obnoxious police state.

That policy would be as subtle and as ‘thoughtful’ as the bygone policy of winning the hearts and minds of people while humiliating, torturing and killing them and devastating their country. It has about the same chances of success.

It doesn’t make sense… unless, of course, the objective remains to “bomb the living daylight out of them”.

Meanwhile, the administration kept making the familiar threatening noises against Iran and, more viciously, against Syria as if nothing had changed.

Furthermore, following the Cairo agreement reached recently between several factions of Iraqi politicians (who agreed, among other things, to distinguish between terrorists and nationalistic resistance) General Casey quickly responded by saying that the US forces were in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government. So anybody who attacked the US forces must be a terrorist. In effect, there was no resistance – only terrorists.

So, it seemed that, after all, the administration is “staying the course”… but at lower profile.

At Last something tangible!

Today, Ambassador Khalilzad gave three clues:

First:

“[He] is to hold the first high-level talks for decades with officials from Iran… with a narrow mandate to focus only on Iraq”

"There will be meetings, and that's also a departure and an adjustment," he said.

And…

“The US is also seeking to open negotiations with some of the insurgent groups involved in the violence that has plagued Iraq since the invasion in 2003, Mr Khalilzad says”.

[Doesn’t Mr. Khalilzad know what General Casey said only last week?]

And, even more significantly…

"I believe you cannot win the kind of conflict we are facing by military means alone... You need to have an integrated approach that wins populations over."

I find these statements extremely significant, if they turn out not to be more smokescreens.

Is this administration finally realizing that they have been wasting American blood and treasure in an effort that is going to produce results that are exactly the opposite of their declared objectives? Or is it that they have lost hope in achieving their undeclared objectives?

When will these people admit that they were wrong on both counts? And what price will they pay when they do? We all know the price America paid. Some of us even know the price Iraq paid.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

 

The Five Americans


Some of the tides are turning. A steadily increasing number of Americans seem to be aware of some the lies that they have been fed and some of the deceit they have been subjected to. It may be time to assess the new developments on the soil of the American public, and perhaps to venture into the question of what to expect from them as a result.

A Crude Analysis of American Public – An Iraq War Perspective

The crude tagging of America into ‘red’ and ‘blue’ does not do people justice. It is a ‘binary’ approach probably necessitated, among other things, by the two-party political system. But as far as the war in Iraq is concerned, that model is not sufficient to form a picture of the American people.

It is simply not possible to compartment a country the size of a continent into a few (or even a few dozen) slots accurately. But this approach is not unusual. Thanks to the media, most of the world was convinced to reduce my own complex country, which is 30 times as old as America, into three words: Kurd, Shiite and Sunni! I have come myself to form my own rough-and-ready categorization of the American public. It is perhaps not as coarse as the red-blue model, but it is still crude nevertheless. It cannot be seen as a general approach. It is an Iraqi perspective: Looking at Americans looking at the war in Iraq

I have come to put adult Americans into five categories. I call them the Five Americans. Each roughly represents a segment of the American public that is by no means uniform; each category probably has its own ‘normal distribution’; I cannot claim that they all have the same size; there are no sharp cut-off lines between them. The categorization attempted here is with regards to foreign policy and the war on Iraq in particular.

The First American: The group represented by this American covers a wide spectrum that is by no means uniform, but they were all against this war all the time. Many of these people, some 20% of Americans, have been against this war right from the start - many even before the war started. No doubt some of those people were against this particular far-right, religiously oriented Administration as a matter of principle. But many of these people knew that this was a morally wrong adventure and were dead set against it. They include Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

The Second American: This American is generally liberal, is inclined to vote Democrat, also believes in the political process in America and generally has an open mind. The group includes many of the ‘blue’ people of America. This is a mainstream-media following crowd that is significantly influenced by that media.

The Third American: This is the ‘grey’ American, suffering from a chronic case of apathy. For a variety of reasons (lack of interest, lack of time, poverty, disillusionment, cynicism, etc.) people in this group are simply not interested. Most will not vote, they will not debate politics, they will not read newspaper articles. Many do have their own views about things, but they are unlikely to do anything about them.

The Fourth American: This one is quite similar to the second American, but on the other, red, side of the mean line and the grey area occupied by the third American. Many of these people are conservative-leaning, probably with religious inclinations. Many have a firm belief that America is basically ‘good’ and have considerable faith in the present political system and traditional social values. Some of them have an open mind, but they are generally resistant to change and definitely resistant to dramatic changes of opinion. These Americans are also a mainstream-media following crowd.


The Fifth American: Personally, this particular American has been a source of fascination for me over the past two years! These Americans are dead set on supporting this administration no matter what! They will not listen; they will not consider; they will not budge; full stop. No amount of reason, debate or argument, will produce any change of position. Not even facts will incite any prospect of reconsideration. I personally have given up trying to address them. They are mainly an American problem, but they have also indirectly done much damage to the world. This group includes the super-religious, the super-patriots, the super-haters, bigots and the super-dead-set! Even today, with the lies being slowly uncovered, massacres in Iraq being exposed, torture scandals exposed for all the world to see, “war on terror” being demonstrated to have been a disaster… these people refuse to acknowledge any of these things. With ready-made excuses, some of them incredibly flimsy, they will simply attack, attack and then attack any view point that they don’t agree with.

***


Battle for America

More than anything else, President Bush’s legacy will be associated with the war on Iraq. Over the past two years of the conflict in Iraq, support for that unfortunate adventure has been steadily declining among the American public. Poll after poll has been confirming this trend.

I was fascinated by this Washington Post / ABC chart plotting President Bush’s approval and disapproval ratings that I found on the BBC website a few days ago. A picture may indeed paint a thousand words.


Some key points are of special significance to the present categorization:

• Soon after President Bush took office in 2001, nearly 3 Americans out of our five approved of him (two of them are definitely the 4th and 5th Americans); two Americans did not (one of them is definitely the 1st American).

• After the 9/11 tragedy, almost all 5 Americans were supportive. This is of extreme significance. Non-Americans sometimes fail to see the significance of that colossal event on the American public’s attitude. Even the 1st and 3rd Americans largely approved of President Bush. I expect it simply means people rallying around their leadership in a time of calamity.

• For more than a year after that (during which time the invasion of Afghanistan took place), President Bush steadily lost the approval of nearly 2 of those Americans – despite the ‘success’ in Afghanistan.

• The amazing feat of the media and the propaganda campaigns over the weapons of mass destruction paranoia, the link to Al Qaeda and the war frenzy… can be seen in the early months of 2003. Four out of 5 Americans (2, 3, 4 and 5) approved. This is truly impressive. Only the worst-case 1st American opposed the war, sometimes quite vocally and actively.

• Since then, in the period following the invasion, President Bush was steadily losing approval. Where did that come from?

It is noteworthy that during the critical period between April and November of 2004 during which the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, Fallujah I, Najaf and Fallujah II took place, there were cries of outrage from decent quarters; however there was no drastic drop in approval rates!! I find that extremely discouraging and disappointing. But, on the other hand, there was no rise in approval rates after the ‘brilliantly successful’ elections in Iraq either. This too is perplexing. Doesn’t what happens in Iraq in terms of the success or failure of the ‘project’ affect the American public?

It therefore appears that they are partly people who have turned against the war for a number of ‘internal American’ reasons that include: mounting losses in the US army, and grief or fear over their loved ones; the mounting expenditure of billions of dollars; the realization they are no more secure following that war; that world terrorism is still a potent and a threatening force; the realization that America is not winning this war; anger at being lied to and misled to support that war…

Reasons of self interest!

There is nothing wrong with that. It is human nature!

This is why I believe the recent dip in approval ratings is self-explanatory with Katrina and all the scandals breaking out…

At the moment it seems that 3 out of 5 Americans disapprove of President Bush’s management. Nearly 2 Americans still approve of him.

And there is no ‘absenteeism’! While early in 2001 (for a very short period after President Bush took office) nearly 20% of Americans did not have a view, now all Americans do, including the apathetic 3rd American!! It does seem to indicate that the whole American nation is now interested… or polarized.


Conclusion

The main point I want to make is that President Bush’s approval rating is extremely unlikely to fall below 20% no matter how badly he does in Iraq, no matter how many Iraqi and American people die, no matter how much money is squandered and no matter how badly America is viewed by the rest of the world. As far as the war in Iraq is concerned, the 5th American, I believe, is a hopeless cause barring another calamity. The fifth American will keep supporting this administration’s venture in Iraq, pursuing “Freedom and Democracy”, or whatever case the administration presents.

The other point is that the American society does seem to be largely self-centered and inward-looking. The issues that matter in their approval or disapproval, except for part of the 1st American, are largely domestically oriented. I cannot ignore the depressingly small effect all those atrocities have had on American public opinion at large. This is not a handicap in itself; many other societies are inward-looking. But for a country that wants to be heavily involved in other people’s affairs and design the New World, it is disturbing. This is probably why successive administrations have had an almost free hand in foreign policy.

The current battle in America, it seems to me, is to win over as many of these people as possible! Democrats, smelling blood, are already onto the quarry. There is no doubt that many will use the war in Iraq as a vehicle for their domestic agenda. It is sad that all the talk is about whether the present administration misled the Congress and the people or not. I have yet to see a clear vision of what they want to do with this war or with the American involvement in Iraq. In this respect, neither the politicians, nor most of the public seem interested.

Finally, it has to be remembered that this crude model does not cater for the fact that elections are usually won or lost by margins of few percentage points… a small fraction indeed of one of those 5 Americans.


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