Saturday, April 10, 2004

Doesn't Sound As Though He Is Too Worried

I recall when these couterattacks first started, a number of commenters around the various blogs opined that this was a last-gasp assault, after which resistance would be broken. But Sadr certainly sounds as though he is speaking from a secure position:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia has been fighting with U.S. troops throughout Iraq, issued demands to the coalition through his deputy on Saturday.

Al-Sadr accuses the coalition of starting the violence, and said the coalition's shutdown of a pro-Sadr newspaper was the catalyst.

Clerical deputy Sheikh Raed al-Kadhim, interviewed by CNN, said the al-Sadr people "have a peaceful position" and al-Sadr is a peaceful man.

Among other points, al-Kadhim said the cleric wants "to get back the voice of Iraq" and to have Saddam Hussein tried in a Supreme Court.

Al-Sadr is also asking for release of all of his followers who have been arrested and for a guaranteed date for withdrawal of occupation forces from Iraq.

And although the American media have done a remarkably consistent job of erasing or obscuring the reality of Iraqi civilian casualties, Sadr is not so very delicate:

Al-Kadhim said coalition forces "have killed innocent people, women, and children ... and still our position remains one that is trying to be peaceful, but they don't let us."


Thursday, April 08, 2004

Attack in Kashmir

This is a very bad sign. The Kashmir region has long been on the short list for global flashpoints of catastrophic violence, contested as it is by two nuclear powers. And now Islamic militants may be trying to ratchet tensions up in Kashmir. Very bad.

A grenade explosion and gunfire at an election rally in Indian-held Kashmir on Thursday killed nine people and wounded at least 56, including the state's tourism and finance ministers, police said.

The rally was being held by the state's governing People's Democratic Party ahead of national parliamentary elections to begin April 20.

Police said they suspected Islamic militants in the attack and a man who said he was with the little-known rebel group Save Kashmir Movement quickly claimed responsibility.


Unity in Iraq

Bush is doing what Saddam never could: uniting the Sunni and the Shi'ites. The sheer will to face down American guns with stones and harsh language is incredible.

BAGHDAD, April 8 ( & News Agencies) – The U.S. soldiers opened fire on aid convoys taking relief supplies to Fallujah, sealed off by occupation forces for the fourth consecutive day, eyewitnesses said.

The convoys, carrying foodstuffs and medicine, were forced to stop in Ramadi to the west of Baghdad, eyewitnesses told

Troops in armored vehicles attempted to stop the convoy of cars and pedestrians from reaching the western town where U.S. marines have met ferocious resistance in a two-day-old offensive.

But the U.S. contingents were overwhelmed as residents of villages west of the capital came to the convoy's assistance, hurling insults and stones at the beleaguered troops, Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Two U.S. Humvees attempted to stop the marchers but were forced to drive off as residents joined the marchers.

U.S. troops armed with machine guns and backed up by armor again blocked the highway further west, but were forced to let the Iraqis past as they came under a hail of stones.

The cross-community demonstration of support for Fallujah had been organized by Baghdad Sunni and Shiite scholars amid reports that the death toll in the town had reached 105 since Tuesday evening.


Our Leader

Things may be bad in Iraq, but we have our leader to help us remain confident:


Bloody Friday?

Shi'ite militia in Iraq are preparing to launch simultaneous attacks on coalition forces on Good Friday that could also target foreign civilians working in Iraq, an Italian newspaper reported, citing Italy's military intelligence service SISMI.

The militia would use rockets and car bombs to launch simultaneous attacks on coalition forces to mark the anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime on April 9, the Corriere della Sera said.

SISMI has also warned that foreign civilians in Iraq, particularly those working for non-governmental organisations, may be the target of attempted hostage taking by the militia groups.


It Ain't Getting Prettier

They keep telling us that we aren't losing control of Iraq, but from the sound of it, we are not doing a very good job of keeping control, either:

The US military admitted today that it had lost control of two cities to Shia militants as fierce fighting continued to rage across Iraq.
Despite attempts by Washington to play down the scale of the uprisings that have swept the country, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez said today that coalition troops in Najaf and Kut had been fought back by militants loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

He said coalition soldiers - Ukrainians in Kut and Spaniards in Najaf - had retreated to their bases on the outskirts of the cities, effectively ceding control to the Shia fighters.

This is no longer just a matter of US troops policing an entire nation; it has become war again, a war in which we will have to retake and retake city after city. How is such a war winnable?


Wednesday, April 07, 2004

They Did a Fine Job Assembling an Effective Coalition

Thank God, especially now that things are beginning to become more difficult:

When the United States assembled forces from 34 countries to help it here last year, most were tucked away in the calmer parts of the country -- especially in the south, where the Shiite Muslims who make up the bulk of the population largely had not opposed the occupation. U.S. troops, meanwhile, took on the tougher task of subduing the Sunni Muslim heartland north and west of Baghdad.

But that essentially political approach was undercut in the last several days by unexpected military challenges from followers of militant Islamic cleric Moqtada Sadr. When heavy fighting between coalition forces and Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, began Sunday, one of the first casualties was a Salvadoran soldier in Najaf. A Ukrainian soldier was killed Tuesday in Kut, Bulgarian troops were battling Shiite militiamen in Karbala, and heavy fighting between Italian forces and Sadr's supporters in Nasiriyah left more than 10 Italian troops wounded.

As a result, diplomatic strains have begun to emerge. On one hand, Britain -- whose 10,000 troops make up the largest foreign contingent in Iraq after the 130,000 U.S. troops here -- and Italy have made clear that they will continue to stand and fight. "It is unthinkable to flee the mission we have started. We would leave the country in chaos," Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said in a television interview Tuesday night.

On the other hand, many countries with smaller forces here have begun to raise questions about their future roles in the occupation. South Korea has ordered its personnel to suspend activities outside military camps. The Ukrainian government said its troops were evacuating Kut. Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov called an emergency meeting of top military officials on Wednesday to review the security of the Bulgarian soldiers in Iraq, the Associated Press reported. And the government of Kazakhstan announced that it would not extend its presence beyond May.

Didn't we bribe them well enough?


What This War Looks Like

We wouldn't know, because we simply hear about "intense combat" and so forth, all the while being reassured by Rumsfeld that we are in control.

But they know what it looks like, because their media aren't shying away showing what we are doing to them.

This is what is going on while Safire smugly assures us that we will get through it. Lovely.

(Image via Counterspin)


Safire: Let's Just Go Ahead and Be Nasty Occupiers

One would think that this prissy grammar maven wouldn't put the term "occupiers" in quotes without good reason, but there it is. Aside from style, the substance of this piece is his usual nonsense: Occupying and trying not to look like occupiers hasn't worked, because the Iraqis know good and well that they are being occupied, so we should just go ahead and drop the charade. And then it will work. Somehow.

All this means that we are now fighting an active two-front insurgency. That calls for a change in our strategy. Up to now we have tried to hunker down and train Iraqis to handle security, lest we appear to be nasty "occupiers." That only emboldened the Sunni terrorists and Shiite Iranists. One anti-American confidently told another Iraqi with cool nonpartisanship about ousting U.S. presidents: "We'll do to Bush what we did to Carter."

But now that the Saddam restorationists and Islamic fundamentalists have made their terrorist move on both fronts, we can counterattack decisively.

And he has the nerve to cap this apologia for imperialism off with this:

These are the times that try men's souls, and — as Tom Paine's enlightened acquaintance, Mary Wollstonecraft, would have added — women's, too. This is the crisis; we'll come though it.

We'll come through it? Of course we will. Well, except for hundreds of soldiers. But I thought that this whole thing was a humanitarian effort to help the Iraqis come through it? Not WMDs or anything, right?

I want to slap him in the face with Common Sense.


The Culture Wars Continue

And I am so glad to see us on staying on the offensive for a change:

Thirteen same-sex couples sued New York State on Wednesday for the right to obtain marriage licenses, opening another front in the politically charged battle over gay marriage during a U.S. presidential election year.

Denying marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples "deprives us of due process and equal protection" under the New York state constitution, said state Assemblyman Daniel J. O'Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat who is the brother of comedian Rosie O'Donnell.

O'Donnell said he and his partner of 23 years, John Banta, "have always maintained that if we were given the opportunity we would get married. What we need is a marriage license."


The Culture Wars Continue

And I am so glad to see us on staying on the offensive for a change:

Thirteen same-sex couples sued New York State on Wednesday for the right to obtain marriage licenses, opening another front in the politically charged battle over gay marriage during a U.S. presidential election year.

Denying marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples "deprives us of due process and equal protection" under the New York state constitution, said state Assemblyman Daniel J. O'Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat who is the brother of comedian Rosie O'Donnell.

O'Donnell said he and his partner of 23 years, John Banta, "have always maintained that if we were given the opportunity we would get married. What we need is a marriage license."


Meanwhile, This Is How Much Bush Cares About the War on Terror

We can invade Iraq, we can shut down their newspapers, we can stir up tremendous resentment against the US, and all that is supposed to make us safer somehow.

But we can't be bothered to help convict someone who may very well have been instrumental in the actual attack on the US on 9-11. And so he is free now.

A German court has released the only person convicted in connection with the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Moroccan-born Mounir el Motassadeq had been sentenced to 15 years in prison in February 2003 after being convicted of providing logistical support to members of a Hamburg-based al-Qaida cell that plotted the terrorist attacks.

He has acknowledged knowing members of the terrorist cell, but says he was unaware of the plot to fly passenger jets into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. He says he did no more than help fellow Muslims living abroad.

A German appeals court last month ordered him to be retried, saying his original trial was not fair because he could not gain access to a key witness in U.S. custody.

The United States has refused to make Ramzi Binalshibh, a suspected top member of the al-Qaida terrorist movement, available to give testimony because of security concerns.

So, this man is free because of "security concerns"? And this makes sense how?


This Is News?

Rumsfeld states that "we have a problem." How on earth did he figure that out? My faith in this administration is renewed.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today that US troops are facing a "serious problem" in Iraq as they seek to quell armed uprisings across the country against the US-led coalition.

And I am sure this is going to improve morale:

He said soldiers due to leave Iraq are remaining in the country to stamp out the uprisings.

But, while all those soldiers are sticking it out in more-dangerous-than-ever Iraq instead of heading home as they expected to, they can take heart from their dear friend Rupert Murdoch, head of the unalterably pro-war Fox News Network, who says things are really just peachy:

In an interview with Alan Jones on 2GB, he said the situation in Iraq had been misrepresented in the media.

"[There has been] tremendous progress in Iraq - all the kids are back at school, 10 per cent more than when Saddam Hussein was there," he said. "There's 100 per cent more fresh water. Most of Iraq is doing extremely well. There's one small part where the Sunnis . . . are giving trouble and more by, I think, giving cover to international terrorists."


Bad and Getting Worse

Our top story this afternoon, there are reports that U-S troops and two journalists have been captured in Iraq.

Meantime, in Washington the debate heats up over whether this summer's deadline for Iraqi sovereignty is realistic. Tracie Potts has the latest from Washington.


As though is going to pacify anybody:

FALLUJAH, Iraq - U.S. Marines in the third day of a battle to pacify this Sunni Muslim city fired a rocket and dropped a 500-pound, laser-guided bomb on a mosque compound Wednesday, and witnesses said as many as 40 people were killed. Shiite-inspired violence spread to key cities in Iraq (news - web sites).
Witnesses said the strike came as worshippers had gathered for afternoon prayers.


Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Already Covering Up, in Advance of Condi's Lies

Now why would they do this?

The White House has refused to provide the panel investigating the September 11 attacks with a speech national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was to deliver on the night of the attacks, which touted missile defence as a priority rather than al-Qaeda, sources said today.


Screw Abstinence

So to speak. I have had enough of ideologue conservatives pushing this notion of "teaching abstinence." It is an empty concept, just like "Just Say No." Education means giving information. Accurate information so that individuals can make informed choices.

And it is bloody well needed:

While 84 percent of those surveyed by the American Social Health Association (ASHA) said they undertake the necessary precautions to protect themselves during sexual activity, the follow-up questions showed otherwise. Forty-five percent admitted they did not use protection during vaginal intercourse; 66 percent reported not using protection during anal intercourse; 91 percent said they used no protection during oral sex.

In addition, 68 percent said they were not concerned about contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). And one out of three had never discussed STDs with their partners.

Do you get that? One-third never even discussed STDs with their sexual partners!? And fewer people are using protection for anal sex than for vaginal!? And fewer than ten percent use it during oral sex!?

And they are tying up actual education in the name of teaching abstinence?

It is plainly and simply an outrage. And it is killing people.


Has George Will Gotten Sensible?

After last week's murder of four American civilian contractors in Fallujah, U.S. leadership in Baghdad promised that the response against that city would be "precise" and "overwhelming." But precisely who is to be overwhelmed, and what will be the metric of success at overwhelming? How many troops will it take to find those involved in the killing of the contractors? And on the basis of what intelligence?

As this is written, headlines speak of 1,200 Marines "encircling" Fallujah, which is as populous as Newark, N.J. It is a sign of things falling apart that common language seems unable to get a purchase on Iraq's new reality -- a civil war defined by the uprising of many Shiites against the U.S. occupation.

Well, to borrow a phrase from a fellow blogger, Sadly, No!

Now Americans must steel themselves for administering the violence necessary to disarm or defeat Iraq's urban militias, which replicate the problem of modern terrorism -- violence that has slipped the leash of states.

For the near term, U.S. policy must flow from Napoleon's axiom: "If you start to take Vienna -- take Vienna." We started to take Iraq 13 months ago. That mission is far from accomplished.

So now the argument is, well, we screwed up big time, so the only thing to do is to continue to screw up? Oh, and by the way, because we attacked a nation state in response to terrorist violence that has slipped the leash of states, we must now continue in our occupation of another nation state, which somehow will re-leash the unrelated terrorist violence that we used as an excuse for our misguided invasion in the first place?



Two-Front War Continues

For whatever reasons--calculated or simply blind--Bremer's actions have sparked the simulataneous aggression of both the Sunni and the Shi'ites. This is not a good place to be. I really hope Naomi Klein is wrong in thinking that Bremer put us in this bind on purpose, for the purely political consideration of being able to ignore the pullout deadline without any trouble.

U.S. and allied forces waged pitched battles on two fronts Tuesday, plunging deep into the restive Sunni Muslim city of Fallujah and coming under fire in cities across southern Iraq, where militiamen loyal to a militant Shiite Muslim cleric have launched an uprising against the U.S.-led occupation. The cleric called on his followers "to defend their rights."


A Grim Hypothesis

From Naomi Klein in The Guardian, is the United States preparing to retain power in Iraq?

On Saturday, Bremer raised the stakes further by sending coalition forces to surround Sadr's house near Najaf and arrest his communications officer.

Predictably, the arrest sparked immediate protests in Baghdad, which the Iraqi army responded to by opening fire and allegedly killing three people. At the end of the day on Sunday, Sadr called on his supporters to stop staging demonstrations and urged them to employ unnamed "other ways" to resist the occupation - a statement many interpreted as a call to arms.

On the surface, this chain of events is mystifying. With the so-called Sunni triangle in flames after the gruesome Falluja attacks, why is Bremer pushing the comparatively calm Shia south into battle?

Here's one possible answer: Washington has given up on its plans to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, and is creating the chaos it needs to declare the handover impossible. A continued occupation will be bad news for George Bush on the campaign trail, but not as bad as if the hand-over happens and the country erupts, an increasingly likely scenario given the widespread rejection of the legitimacy of the interim constitution and the US- appointed governing council.


Big Brother, without the Competence

Of course we need diligent security measures in our airports. But the implementation of this particular effort has rendered it just one more way for the government to harass the wrong people, wasting time and wasting resources that should be used to detect actual terrorists.

A federal government list designed to keep suspected terrorists off commercial airline flights has subjected "hundreds, if not thousands" of innocent passengers to repeated interrogations, detentions and stigmatization, said a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Administered by airlines since November 2001, the "no-fly" list has resulted in routine stops of passengers without terrorist ties who "have no meaningful opportunity to clear their names," said the complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

"They are detained, interrogated, delayed, embarrassed, humiliated in front of other passengers," said plaintiffs' attorney Reggie Shuford, an ACLU senior staff attorney.
"Sometimes I have a completely uneventful experience. Other times I have been led away by police," said plaintiff David Fathi. "I have been threatened by indefinite detention. I've had one officer tell another to put me in handcuffs and take me away."

Fathi, 41, is a Washington ACLU attorney of Iranian heritage.

"If the government is going to put your name on a list and call you a security risk, the government should have to tell you why," Fathi said. "Assuming that it's because of my name, I think that that's wrong."

Other plaintiffs mentioned in the article include a retired Presbyterian minister, an employee of the American Friends Service Committee, a student studying in France, and another employee of the ACLU.


Getting Worse

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Supporters of maverick Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr controlled government, religious and security buildings in the holy city of Najaf early Tuesday evening, according to a coalition source in southern Iraq.

The source said al-Sadr's followers controlled the governor's office, police stations and the Imam Ali mosque, one of Shia Muslim's holiest shrines.

Iraqi police were negotiating to regain their stations, the source said.

The source also said al-Sadr was busing followers into Najaf from Sadr City in Baghdad and that many members of his outlawed militia, Mehdi's Army, were from surrounding provinces.


Monday, April 05, 2004

Safire: We Must Not Learn from the Past

What an utterly bizarre argument:

With our eyes fixed on our rearview mirror, we obsessively review catastrophes past when we should be looking through our windshield at dangers ahead.

Today we are engaged in the wrong debate. The brouhaha about whether the new Bush administration treated the threat of Al Qaeda as "important" versus "urgent" is history almost as ancient as whether F.D.R. did enough to avert Pearl Harbor.

What the hell? The Bush reaction to al Qaeda--which, by the way, remains a threat today--is "almost as ancient" as Pearl Harbor? Does Safire mean to imply that al Qaeda has been wiped out or that we need to keep our eyes on the wily Japanese?

Utter nonsense. Shorter Safire: Shut up and move blindly on.


Class Warfare

Why is this not front page news on a daily basis? This is the sort of thing that actually affects us--all of us. Corporations have taken over in this country to an unprecedented degree, and their loyalty to their own employees, whose labor actually creates this wealth, is nil.

Andrew Sum, the center's director and lead author of the study, said: "This is the first time we've ever had a case where two years into a recovery, corporate profits got a larger share of the growth of national income than labor did. Normally labor gets about 65 percent and corporate profits about 15 to 18 percent. This time profits got 41 percent and labor [meaning all forms of employee compensation, including wages, benefits, salaries and the percentage of payroll taxes paid by employers] got 38 percent."

The study said: "In no other recovery from a post-World War II recession did corporate profits ever account for as much as 20 percent of the growth in national income. And at no time did corporate profits ever increase by a greater amount than labor compensation."


Bad News for Condi

Prepare yourselves now for the unholy barrage of scowls which Rice will unleash when she appears at the commission on Thursday:

In a joint TV interview, the commission chairman, Thomas Kean, and its vice-chairman, Lee Hamilton, indicated that their final report would find that the attacks were preventable.

They also suggested that Dr Rice would be questioned aggressively on Thursday about why the Administration had not taken more action against al-Qaeda before September 11, 2001, and about discrepancies between her public statements and those of Richard Clarke, Mr Bush's former counter-terrorism chief, who has accused the Administration of largely ignoring terrorist threats in 2001.


Now, That Is Leadership

No, I think perhaps you should get up off your knees and try to figure out what you can fix:

DETROIT, Michigan (AP) -- The city held a day of prayer Monday in response to a wave of violence that has killed more than 100 people this year, with the mayor asking "the greatest power we all know" to help end the bloodshed.

The event came a day after three people were killed when someone fired a gun at a car of partygoers. Less than a week earlier, the bodies of a woman and four of her children were found beaten and strangled in their home.

"It's time for us to fix our community -- not by all of us trying to figure out what we can fix -- but by calling on the greatest power we all know to work through all of us to heal our land," Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick told a crowd of officers, residents and religious leaders at a police precinct.

This is just an abdication of responsibility by the mayor. Church and state aside, shouldn't public officials do more than hand-off to God?


A Two-Front War

The Christian Science Monitor phrases the situation ominously. An occupying force fighting a two-front war in generally hostile territory. Is Bush trying to make us rethink Vietnam as "not so bad"?

SADR CITY, IRAQ – As US marines enveloped the restive Sunni Triangle city of Fallujah to respond to the murder and mutilation of four US contractors there last week, a new and potentially more dangerous front was opening in the south - with members of Iraq's Shiite majority.

Sunday, battles broke out in four cities between coalition forces and militias loyal to fiery Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, with the fiercest fighting occuring in Baghdad's Sadr City, home to 2 million Shiites. Seven US soldiers and 30 Iraqis were killed in fighting and more than 100 Iraqis, many civilians, were injured. Fighting also erupted in the southern cities of Najaf, Nasariyah, and Amarah. And Monday, in British-controlled Basra, Sadr supporters seized control of the governor's office.

UPDATE: The situation is now being called the worst since Saddam fell. The seeds of democracy don't seem to be thriving; we're just reaping the same old fruits of imperialism:

Yesterday there were riots in four cities that left more than 50 Iraqis and nine coalition troops dead. Twelve US soldiers and one Salvadoran soldier have been killed in the past 24 hours.

Meanwhile, 32 miles west of the capital, the Sunni Muslim city of Falluja was sealed off as part of an operation against insurgents there. A US marine was killed in the province but officials would not immediately give details about the death.

Residents in Falluja reported heavy firing overnight and a hospital doctor said five Iraqis had been killed and three wounded.


This Is Not Going to Go Over Well

But, then again, perhaps I should be thankful that the US seems at least to have learned from Israel's mistakes and doesn't plan to take him out with missiles fired from helicopters.

U.S. forces intend to arrest cleric Moqtada Sadr, a Shiite leader whose followers battled U.S. forces over the weekend, U.S. occupation spokesmen said Monday.

Dan Senor, a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, said Monday that an Iraqi investigative judge had issued a warrant for Sadr's arrest months ago in connection with the murder of a moderate Shiite cleric last year.

Regardless, the arrest will not go smoothly, and will have deadly repercussions:

The arrest Saturday of one of Sadr's top aides, Mustafa Yaqoubi, helped set off protests this weekend that led to the fiercest battles yet between U.S. troops and Shiite militiamen. Eight soldiers were killed and another 40 were injured in the fighting after members of Sadr's militia, known as the Mahdi Army, seized police stations, according to U.S. officials.

UPDATE: Perhaps I spoke too soon:

U.S. Apache helicopters fired rockets at Sadr's office in the neighborhood of al-Shaala in Sadr City, a Baghdad ghetto that is home to some 2,000,000 Shiites and serves as the radical cleric's powerbase.