U.S. claims that Ramadi is a mere setback are ‘delusional’

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on May 18 called the fall of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, to the Islamic State a temporary setback that Iraqi forces would reverse with U.S. support. Experts dismissed that assessment as ludicrous. “‘Delusional,’ really, is the better word,” Ali Khedery, a former U.S. official who served as an adviser to five U.S. ambassadors to Iraq and three heads of U.S. Central Command, said of the administration’s statement. “It’s unbelievable, frankly.”

Sunni-dominated Anbar, Iraq’s largest province, was occupied by U.S. forces in 2003, the year of the Bush-ordered invasion. Fighting quickly broke out between U.S. troops and the region’s Sunni militants, who are hostile to the U.S. The worst battle came in 2004, when thousands died as U.S. troops and coalition forces struggled to take the town of Fallujah. Intense fighting continued in 2005 and 2006, destroying 75 percent of Fallujah. It was during that time that al-Qaeda in Iraq rose to prominence.

The United States declared victory in 2007, but al-Qaeda remained and resumed attacks in 2011 when U.S. troops withdrew. Islamic State, a more radical offshoot of al-Qaeda, captured Ramadi on May 17 after days of intense fighting and a massive onslaught with suicide bombers. The Iraqi military and police made a chaotic retreat, abandoning more than 100 U.S. military vehicles, including M1A1 tanks and armored personnel carriers, and some artillery pieces.

Ramadi’s fall underscored persistent weaknesses of the Iraqi army, which has long suffered from corruption, poor leadership and nepotism. As a result, analysts said, Baghdad and Washington will have to focus on rebuilding sufficient Iraqi forces to clear Anbar, indefinitely postponing a planned offensive to retake Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, which the Islamic State seized when it launched its land grab from sanctuaries in Syria last June.

Moreover, even with U.S. airstrikes and reinforcements from Iran-backed Shiite militias that are being dispatched to Anbar, it is unlikely that Iraqi security forces will be able to recapture Ramadi, let alone the rest of the province’s key towns and cities, anytime soon, experts said.

– edited from Tribune news Service and BBC News
PeaceMeal, May/June 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


The gall of Dick Cheney about Iraq

Charles_Blow.jpg (2673 bytes)Charles M. Blow

The New York Times, June 18, 2014

The situation in Iraq is truly worrisome, as militants threaten to tear the country asunder and disrupt the fragile, short-lived period absent all-out war there. We have strategic interests in preventing Iraq from unraveling, not least of which is that we don’t need the country to become a haven for terrorists, particularly those who might see America as a target. ...

We have to tread carefully here. There are no saints to be seen in this situation. Everyone’s hands are bloody. And, we don’t want to again get mired in a conflict in a country from which we have only recently extricated ourselves.

As we weigh our response, one of the last people who should say anything on the subject is a man who is partly responsible for the problem. But former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in the administration that deceived us into a nine-year war in Iraq, just can’t seem to keep his peace.

In an op-ed published with his daughter, Liz, in The Wall Street Journal on June 17, the Cheneys write: “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” This from the man who helped lead us into this trumped-up war, searching for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, a war in which some 4,500 members of the American military were killed, many thousands more injured, and that is running a tab of trillions of dollars.

During the lead-up to the war, Mr. Cheney said to Tim Russert: “I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.” Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Even if it were indeed rare to be “so wrong,” as Mr. Cheney puts it, he was vice president in an administration that was much more tragically wrong. His whole legacy is wrapped in wrong.

At one point in the article, the Cheneys state: “Iraq is at risk of falling to a radical Islamic terror group and Mr. Obama is talking climate change. Terrorists take control of more territory and resources than ever before in history, and he goes golfing.”Mr. Cheney must think that we have all forgotten the scene from Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore’s 2004 documentary, in which President George W. Bush, brandishing a club on a golf course, looks into the camera and says, “I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you.” That is quickly followed by, “Now, watch this drive,” and a shot of Bush swinging at the ball.

In fact, on one of the rare occasions that Mr. Cheney was actually right, in 1994, he warned about the problems that would be created by deposing Saddam Hussein: “Once you got to Iraq and took it over, and took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq you can easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it the Syrians would like to have to the west. Part of eastern Iraq, the Iranians would like to claim, fought over for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire.”

That was quite prescient. And yet, the Bush administration pushed us into the Iraq war anyway, and the quagmire we now confront. That’s why it’s so galling to read Mr. Cheney chastising this administration for its handling of the disaster that Mr. Cheney himself foresaw, but ignored.

I know that we as Americans have short attention spans, but most of us don’t suffer from amnesia. The Bush administration created this mess, and the Obama administration now has to clean it up.

The Cheneys wrote: “This president is willfully blind to the impact of his policies” — Mr. Cheney seemingly oblivious to the irony.

George W. Bush may well have been a disaster of a president (in a 2010 Siena College Research Institute survey, 238 presidential scholars ranked Bush among the five “worst ever” presidents in American history), but at least he has the dignity and grace — or shame and humility — to recede from public life with his family and his painting, and not chide and meddle with the current administration as it tries to right his wrong.

Mr. Cheney, meanwhile, is still trying to bend history toward an exoneration of his guilt and an expunging of his record. But history, on this, is stiff, and his record is written in blood.

– PeaceMeal, July/August 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Iraqi military breakdown fueled by corruption and politics

The Iraqi army that disintegrated under an onslaught by Islamist fighters was a hollow force, riven by corruption, poor leadership and sectarian splits — only a shadow of the military Washington had hoped to leave in the war-ravaged country.

The Bush administration dismantled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s military after invading in 2003, and then $20 billion was spent to build up a new 800,000-strong force, banking on its ability to keep the peace when the U.S. military withdrew in 2011. While the 2003 decision to disband Iraq’s army led to a bloody civil war, Iraqi forces were seen as generally competent by 2011 and sectarian fighting had eased, giving President Barack Obama some confidence as he pulled out all American forces.

But corruption sapped funds meant for soldiers’ rations, for maintaining vehicles and for fuel, said an Iraqi officer in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, parts of which have been out of government control for more than six months. Senior military posts are frequently for sale, and soldiers go to local markets to buy spare parts because government stores are empty, he said.

A former U.S. official in Iraq said poor treatment of rank-and-file soldiers by their superiors contributed to mass desertions. “These guys, these units are demoralized. They are underpaid and ripped off constantly by their commanding officers, who steal their allowances and use their commands as a way to build a personal nest egg,” the former official said.

The performance of the Iraqi forces was far from perfect even before the U.S. pullout. Endemic problems of fraud in military contracting, extortion at checkpoints, and the padding of rosters with non-existent soldiers were things the U.S. military was never able to solve. In the face of the well-armed Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who had been advancing for weeks across the dusty flatlands of western Iraq, the entire military structure deployed by the Shiite government in Baghdad to protect the north and west melted away.

The Sunni rebel advance engulfed towns and cities, allowing them to seize weapons and other equipment, much of it supplied by the United States. Two days after the fall of Mosul, ISIS militants staged a parade of American Humvee patrol cars.

The military collapse can be traced back to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s earlier failure to rebuff ISIS in western Anbar province, which has become a militant stronghold as the conflict in Syria intensified.

After ISIS fighters seized Falluja and other areas of Anbar late last year, Iraqi medical sources say some 6,000 soldiers died there. Iraq-based foreign diplomats say 12,000 deserted their posts. Iraqi forces have not been able to retake Falluja or regain all of the largely Sunni province’s capital, Ramadi.

In the battle for Mosul, U.S. government experts estimate that Iraqi army forces outnumbered ISIS fighters by a factor of “double digits.” Still, the militants easily took the city.

Senior Iraqi military officials “are picked because Maliki values their loyalty to him over any kind of war-fighting skills. They don’t understand what it takes to fight a counterinsurgency like this,” one former senior U.S. military officer said. “They failed to put in rigorous training (for their soldiers). They failed to invest in maintenance and logistics,” the former official said. “We warned them this would be their Achilles’ heel.”

– edited from Reuters, June 13, 2014
PeaceMeal, July/August 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

U.S. plans nearly $1 billion arms deal with Iraq

The United States plans to sell nearly $1 billion worth of warplanes, armored vehicles and surveillance aerostats to Iraq. The deal includes 24 AT-6C Texan II light-attack aircraft, a turboprop plane manufactured by Beechcraft that has .50 caliber machine guns, advanced avionics and can carry precision-guided bombs, the Pentagon said. The aircraft and related equipment and services are valued at $790 million. The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency informed Congress on May 13 of the planned sale, which will go ahead unless lawmakers block it.

Iraq has previously agreed to purchase 36 U.S. F-16 fighter jets. The new sale is the latest in a series of U.S. weapons deals with Iraq as Baghdad seeks to bolster its armed forces amid rising violence linked to Al-Qaeda militants and sectarian divisions between the Shiite-led government and disgruntled Sunnis. The deal also included 200 “up-armored” Humvee vehicles with machine gun mounts, worth $101 million.

In addition, Iraq purchased seven aerostats — airships or tethered balloons that rely on a buoyant gas — to provide surveillance for military installations and key infrastructure, it said. The aerostats and deployment towers were worth about $90 million.

“The proposed sale of these aircraft, equipment and support will enhance the ability of the Iraqi forces to sustain themselves in their efforts to bring stability to Iraq and to prevent overflow of unrest into neighboring countries,” the Pentagon agency said in a notice. And the vehicles will help “Iraq’s ability to defend its oil infrastructure against terrorist attacks.”

– edited from Agence France Presse, May 16, 2014
PeaceMeal, May/June 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Iraqi forces, images testify to atrocities in new fighting

BAGHDAD – The video shows a male corpse lying in the dirt, one end of a rope tied around his legs, the other fastened to the back of an armored Humvee. Men in Iraqi military uniforms mingle by the vehicle. Someone warns there might be a bomb on the body. One hands another his smartphone. Then he stands over the body, smiles, and offers a thumbs-up as his comrade takes a photo. The Humvee starts to move, dragging the dead man behind it into the desert.

The short video was shown to Reuters by an Iraqi national police officer. It captures what appear to be Iraqi soldiers desecrating the corpse of a fighter from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), a group reconstituted from an earlier incarnation of al Qaeda in Iraq. “This is very normal,” said the Baghdad-based police officer, who has many friends now fighting around the Sunni city of Ramadi. “Our guys get killed at the hands of al Qaeda. Why don’t we do the same to them? This is self-defense.”

Almost three months after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared war on Sunni militants in Iraq’s western Anbar province, the fighting seems to have descended into a series of brutal atrocities, often caught on video and in photographs by both militants and Iraqi soldiers.

Iraqi soldiers say they are bogged down in a slow, vicious fight with ISIL and other Sunni factions in the city of Ramadi and around Fallujah. They describe a hellish world in which Iraqi forces are running low on tank shells, lack aerial cover, are short of armored vehicles, and have been hit by high casualties and desertion rates. More than 380,000 people have fled their homes to escape the fighting, according to the United Nations.

Sunni militants regularly post videos and photos of executions and torture of government troops. Now, according to the police officer, an army officer, a general and an Iraqi Special Forces member, some Iraqi troops have begun replying in kind, carrying out extra-judicial executions, torture and humiliations of their enemy and posting images of the results online.

The images and disturbing accounts from Anbar are testament to the sectarian fervor sweeping Iraq. The security forces, who are mostly Shiite, and the Sunni militants often see themselves as players in a larger regional and sectarian battle. The brutalities are in turn deepening those divisions and risk turning Iraq’s Sunni region into a permanent battlefield. Already the fighting is bleeding into the civil war in neighboring Syria.

A senior general in Baghdad acknowledged that soldiers working for Iraqi counter-terrorism units, or Special Forces, had carried out extra-judicial killings but called them isolated cases. He blamed the killings on a lack of training for new soldiers rushed out to replace wounded and slain colleagues.

But a spokesman for the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service strongly denied the accounts of executions. “Allegations of executing unarmed terrorists are baseless and false. I think the victory our forces achieved has annoyed those who are issuing such accusations and forging videos in a way that smears our forces’ reputation,” said spokesman Sabah al-Noumani. Told about the alleged executions, a U.S. embassy official said: “Such allegations should be investigated by the (government). If confirmed, those responsible should be held accountable.”

Ramadi and Fallujah first erupted in protest in December 2012. Iraq’s Sunni minority has long accused the security forces of torture and other abuses; Sunnis were also frustrated about joblessness and the jailing of thousands of Sunni men and women on terrorism charges. Shiite Prime Minister Maliki and his deputy Saleh Mutlaq, a Sunni, presented a package to address Sunni grievances last spring, only to have rivals block it in parliament.

The insurgent group ISIL, energized by its successes in Syria, then exploited an incident in which Iraqi security forces, reacting they said to gunfire, shot dead at least 50 unarmed protesters. ISIL launched a blistering campaign of suicide and car bombings that made last year Iraq’s deadliest since 2008.

By late December 2013, the government had begun fighting back, targeting Ramadi and Fallujah, which quickly became war zones. In Ramadi, the Iraqi Special Forces — which fall under the command of the prime minister’s military office — have fought their way to a tentative hold on the city center. Fallujah, meanwhile, is surrounded by Iraqi troops but held by Sunni groups — ISIL, angry tribes and insurgent factions. Al Qaeda- linked groups have terrorized Iraq’s Shiite majority since 2003.

In the absence of territorial gains, the conflict is becoming more vicious by the day. A Special Forces soldier on a break in Baghdad used his smartphone to pull up a Facebook picture of a friend shot dead in Ramadi, dressed in his green Iraqi uniform, and fell silent. He said he saw 62 dead soldiers carried back to Baghdad one week; 40 the next. Then he said matter-of-factly, “Whoever we capture now as a terrorist, we kill him on the spot except for someone we want to investigate. I’ve watched dozens executed.” Commanders don’t want to know, he added. Nobody asks questions.

The militants are just as brutal. In one video posted online by ISIL followers and then circulated by enraged soldiers and pro-government activists, a militant cocks his pistol over a line of soldiers kneeling on the floor. A voice is heard: “I beg, oh God, accept this sacrifice. Accept it from us. Oh God, accept it from us.” The militant pulls the trigger; a soldier slumps and the other soldiers tremble. The militant shoots again. Another gunman joins in and then a final one, shooting each soldier in turn. The screen goes black.

– edited from Reuters, March 20, 2014
PeaceMeal, March/April 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Iraqis fleeing the worst fighting seen in years

Iraq has just been through its worst 12 months of fighting in years, reaching levels not seen since it was emerging from its most turbulent post-invasion period between 2006 and 2008. In recent weeks, al Qaeda-linked groups opposed to the government took control of parts of the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah in the predominantly Sunni Anbar province, and Shiite-led government forces launched an all-out offensive. As a result of the intense combat, Iraqis are fleeing the two cities at rates not seen since that country’s civil war six years ago.

In one recent week alone, some 65,000 people left the two cities in Anbar, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement. “Many of the displaced… are still in desperate need of food, medical care and other aid,” the U.N. said. More than 140,000 have been made homeless since the violence broke out at the end of 2012, which is on top of the 1.1 million already displaced within Iraq, it added.

The violence claimed the lives of 7,818 civilians in Iraq in 2013, according to the U.N., the highest annual death toll in years. The U.N.’s figures for both civilians and security forces over the year totaled 8,868. The escalated violence has sparked fears that the country may be returning to the widespread bloodshed of 2004-2007 that saw tens of thousands killed each year.

The turmoil, and recent deadly attacks in Lebanon, illustrate how the war in Syria, where mostly Sunni rebels are battling President Bashar al Assad, who is backed by Shi’ite power Iran, threatens to tear apart neighboring countries. Al Qaeda is trying to create a state ruled according to strict medieval Sunni Islamic practice across the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Tension had been high in Anbar, which occupies a third of Iraq’s territory, since police broke up a Sunni protest camp on December 31. At least 13 people were killed in clashes. Three days later, Sunni tribesmen, angry at what they perceive as marginalization in politics by the Shiite regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, clashed with Iraqi troops trying to regain control of Ramadi and Fallujah. But late in the day, the Sunni tribesmen made a deal to join forces with the government to fight against the Islamist militants seeking to establish local control.

“Those people are criminals who want to take over the city and kill the community,” said Sheikh Rafe’a Abdulkareem Albu Fahad, who is leading the tribal fight against al Qaeda in Ramadi.

The deal with the tribesmen against al Qaeda echoed a decision by local tribes in 2006 to join forces with U.S. troops and rise up against al Qaeda forces who seized control of most of Iraq’s Sunni areas after the 2003 U.S. invasion. American troops and local tribes finally beat al Qaeda back in heavy fighting after a surge of U.S. forces in 2006-07.

Further complicating the current situation, however, not all tribesmen were prepared to join the fighting against al Qaeda in Anbar. “Some tribes are against this fighting. They cannot do anything but they are just not cooperating,” said one tribal leader on condition of anonymity.

Many Iraqis still fear the country is heading for an explosion of Shi’ite-on-Sunni bloodshed that could fracture it along sectarian lines.

– edited from NBC News, Reuters and The Associated Press
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Photos of Marines burning Iraqi bodies trigger investigation

The United States military is conducting a formal investigation into photographs of American Marines burning the dead bodies of what appear to be Iraqi insurgents. The 41 photos, obtained by TMZ.com and turned over to the Pentagon, were said to have been taken in Fallujah in 2004.

 Two photos show a Marine pouring a flammable liquid on the remains of what officials believe are two insurgents. Subsequent photos show the bodies on fire and the charred remains. Other photos show a Marine crouched down next to a dead body and mugging for the camera and a Marine rifling through the pants pocket on a corpse.

In addition to a Marine Corps investigation, U.S. Central Command — the organization in charge of military operations in the Middle East — also reviewed the photos to determine if they had been brought to their attention previously and determined they had not.

Col. Steve Warren, Director of Press Operations for the Department of Defense, said the pictures appeared to show U.S. Marines in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which makes it a crime to mishandle human remains. There is no statute of limitations on the crime. Even if the Marines are now private citizens, they can still be prosecuted, which could land them behind bars.

– edited from TMZ.com, January 15, 2014
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

New Iraq War death toll estimate: 461,000 dead from violence and infrastructure collapse

Nearly half-a-million people died in Iraq amid the violence and confusion of the U.S.-led war and occupation between 2003 and 2011, researchers estimate in a new study. University of Washington scientists, in collaboration with researchers from Simon Fraser University in Canada, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, published the new death toll estimates on October 15 in the journal PLoS Medicine. With 95 percent certainty, the team estimates that about 461,000 people died from both war-related violence and the collapse of infrastructure — thus creating a lack of access to clean water, reliable electricity and health care.The researchers gathered their numbers by going to 2,000 random households throughout Iraq, located in 100 geographic clusters, in May through July of 2011. Nineteen percent of deaths within surveyed Iraqi families were blamed on war-related violence. U.S.-led coalition troops were held responsible for the plurality (35 percent) of war-related violent deaths, followed closely by sectarian militias (32 percent). Meanwhile, at least 4,474 U.S. servicemembers have died in Iraq, according to the Washington Post.

– edited from International Business Times, October 15, 2013
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2013

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Iraq 10 years later: way worse than a dumb war

It didn’t take long for the world to recognize that the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq constituted a dumb war, as then Senator Barack Obama put it. But “dumb” wasn’t the half of it. The U.S. war against Iraq was illegal. It violated the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions and a whole host of international laws and treaties. It violated U.S. laws and our Constitution with impunity.

And it was all based on lies: about nonexistent links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, about nonexistent ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, and about Baghdad’s supposed nuclear program. There were lies about U.S. troops being welcomed in the streets with sweets and flowers, and lies about thousands of jubilant Iraqis spontaneously tearing down the statue of a hated dictator.

And then there was the lie that the U.S. could send hundreds of thousands of soldiers and billions of dollars worth of weapons across the world to wage war on the cheap. We didn’t have to raise taxes to pay the almost one trillion dollars the Iraq War has cost so far. We could go shopping instead.

But behind these myths the costs were huge—human, economic and more. More than one million U.S. troops were deployed to Iraq, 4,483 were killed, 33,183 were wounded, and more than 200,000 came home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The true number of Iraqi civilians killed is impossible to determine. At least 121,754 are known to have been killed directly during the U.S. war, but hundreds of thousands more died from crippling sanctions, diseases caused by dirty water when the U.S. destroyed the water treatment system, and the inability to get medical help in a war zone.

After almost a decade, the U.S. finally pulled out most of its troops and Pentagon-paid contractors. About 16,000 State Department-paid contractors and civilian employees are still stationed at the giant U.S. embassy compound and two huge consulates, along with unacknowledged CIA and FBI agents, Special Forces and a host of other undercover operatives. But there is little question that the all-encompassing U.S. military occupation of Iraq is over. After more than eight years of war, the Iraqi government finally said no more. Their refusal to grant U.S. troops immunity from prosecution for potential war crimes was the deal-breaker that forced President Obama’s hand and made him pull out the last 30,000 troops that he and his generals were hoping to keep there.

The United States lost the Iraq War and the country hasn’t been “liberated.” And what are our years of war and occupation leaving behind? A devastated country, split along sectarian lines, a shredded social fabric and a dispossessed and impoverished population. Iraq remains one of the most violent countries in the world. Sectarian violence resulting from early U.S. policies after the 2003 invasion continues to escalate. That’s the real legacy of the U.S. war.

Of course, we didn’t bring democracy and freedom to Iraq. That was never on the U.S. agenda. The real assessment of the war must be based on whether it achieved the goals that the Bush administration and its neo-conservative, military and profiteering partners established for it:

* Consolidating permanent U.S. control over Iraq’s oil: Nope. U.S. oil companies are just some of the myriad of foreign oil interests in Iraq’s oil fields.

* Leaving behind a pro-U.S., anti-Iranian government in Baghdad: Hardly. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is barely on speaking terms with anyone in Washington.

* Guaranteeing permanent access to U.S. bases in Iraq: Not even close. All but two of the 500 plus U.S. bases and outposts were either closed down or turned over to the Iraqi military.

* Ensuring that a post-war Iraqi government would allow the U.S. to use Iraq as a jumping off point to attack Iran: No way! Despite the continued infusion of billions of dollars of our tax money, the Iraqi government today is allied more closely with Iran than with the United States.

What the Iraq War did do is show us the power of our organized resistance. It proved the possibility of globalizing opposition even before the war began. The mobilization of February 15, 2003, when the broad United for Peace and Justice coalition joined with allies around the world to say “No to War!”, created what The New York Times called “the second superpower,” ready to challenge the administration’s misbegotten drive toward empire. Our anti-war movement changed history.

While we were not able to prevent the invasion of Iraq a month later, that mobilization demonstrated the isolation of the Bush administration, pulled other governments and the United Nations into the trajectory of resistance, helped prevent war in Iran, and inspired a new generation of activists — not only in the U.S., but also in the Middle East.

The United States left behind a devastated, tortured Iraq. What we didn’t leave behind is a single dollar for reparations or compensation. That battle still lies ahead. We owe an apology to all those who suffered from our war. And that apology must be grounded in recognition of our enormous debt to the people of Iraq, a debt for which compensation and reparations are only a start.

Our real obligation — to the people of Iraq and the region and the rest of the world — is to transform our own government and our country so that these resource-driven wars, shaped by lies and fought for power and for empire, whether in Iran or somewhere else, can never be waged again.

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies and the author of numerous books on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy. The article by her and 12 co-signers appeared in The Nation, March 19, 2013. This edited version appeared in PeaceMeal, July/August 2013.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

A decade after Iraq War began, we should make amends

Raed Jarrar.jpg (13189 bytes)Raed Jarrar
The Progressive Media Project

I was born in Iraq and, in 2003, I was in Baghdad. My family and I spent the first weeks of March preparing for the U.S.-led invasion. I was in charge of storing gas for the generator, placing tape across windows, and hiring a contractor to dig a well in our backyard.

As we feared, President George W. Bush launched his war of choice on March 20 (March 19 in the United States). We survived, but we were among the lucky ones.

Millions of Iraqis have been killed, injured or displaced. One of the most developed countries in the region at the time of the invasion, Iraq now is among the worst in terms of infrastructure and public services. Baghdad ranks lowest in the quality of life of any city in the world, according to a recent global survey from the consultant group Mercer. Moreover, the Iraqi national identity has been replaced by ethnic and sectarian affiliations.

I am half Sunni and half Shiite — or “Sushi,” as Iraqis jokingly call kids of mixed marriages. I was never asked my sect before 2003. I did not know who from my friends was a Sunni or a Shiite until then. But now, these sectarian divisions have become a core component of Iraq’s new identity, and they continue to threaten its territorial integrity and national unity.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq took a heavy toll on the United States, as well. Almost 4,500 young American men and women were killed, some 32,000 were injured, and hundreds of thousands came back home with psychological trauma.

According to Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes, U.S. taxpayers will end up spending $3 trillion on the Iraq invasion, occupation and care for returning soldiers.

The Iraq fiasco also damaged America’s credibility and reputation around the world. Bush and his senior aides, supported by pundits, sold the American people a lemon. Americans were told Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and the U.S. invasion would save the world from imminent danger. Americans were also promised a clean and swift operation that would liberate Iraq and be welcomed by Iraqis.

None of that happened.

Yet, after all this, no apology has been given to Iraqis, no politicians have been prosecuted, no pundits have been held responsible, and no compensation has been given to Iraq.

If you don’t support the idea of compensating Iraq, consider this: Kuwait has been receiving compensation from a country that illegally and immorally invaded it in 1990. That country, believe it or not, is Iraq.

Ten years after Bush waged this senseless war, I am now a U.S. citizen and homeowner in Washington DC. More than ever, I am eager to turn over a new leaf in U.S.-Iraqi relations. But for that to happen, we can’t just sweep the war under the rug.

America must apologize to Iraq, pay for what it broke and hold the individuals behind the war accountable.

Raed Jarrar is an Arab-American architect, blogger, and political advocate based in Washington, DC.

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Iraq War 10th anniversary: A look back

Jim Stoffels

The 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq is an opportunity to review the hyped-up propaganda campaign used by the George W. Bush administration to sell their war to Congress and the American public. An integral part of that campaign was the repeated linking of Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States by al Qaeda. Polls at the time showed that two-thirds of Americans believed the falsehood that Hussein was behind those attacks.

Neoconservatives in the Bush administration — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle — had wanted to invade Iraq even before 9/11, a fact affirmed by Bush’s former White House national security adviser, Richard Clarke.

A full year before the invasion, the head of British foreign intelligence, MI6, came to the United States to confer with his counterpart in the CIA. When he got back home, he wrote a top-secret report to Prime Minister Tony Blair, called the “Downing Street memo,” in which he stated that the Bush administration had made the decision to invade Iraq and the intelligence was being fixed around the policy. In the summer of 2002, intelligence analysts in both the United States and Britain complained that their reports were being distorted for political purposes.

In September 2002, the administration, dissatisfied with the real intelligence from the CIA, set up an Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon under Doug Feith and staffed by neoconservative ideologues to produce “intelligence” about Iraq that was manipulated to link Saddam Hussein with al Qaeda and support an invasion. With the close alliance between Bush and Tony Blair, a dossier of falsified intelligence was also provided by Britain.

Then, in an October 2002 speech, President Bush raised the threat of “a mushroom cloud” from Iraq. But Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was completely dismantled by United Nations inspectors after the Persian Gulf War, and harsh economic sanctions prevented its revival.

To forestall a U.S. attack on Iraq by a Bush administration chafing at the bit to do so, the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to demand renewed inspections in Iraq to find alleged nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. More than 300 U.N. weapons inspectors went into Iraq in November 2002 with a list of more than 1,000 sites to inspect. After two months of covering the country, the inspectors had not found any trace of a nuclear, biological or chemical weapons program.

Nevertheless, on February 5, 2003, at a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell charged that Iraq had large stocks of chemical and biological weapons that were hidden and also had a clandestine nuclear weapons program. The accusations were based on raw “intelligence” he presented that was produced by the Office of Special Plans.

Powell’s presentation was not enough to persuade the Security Council to approve, and thereby legitimize, an invasion of Iraq. When even members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed invading a nation that was not attacking us, which would be a criminal war of aggression under international law, President Bush reportedly regarded any opposition to his war plans to be “no less than an act of treason.”

Unhindered by the lack of approval sought from the Security Council, on March 19 (March 20 in Iraq), 2003, under orders from the commander-in-chief, U.S. armed forces launched a lethal “shock and awe” attack on Baghdad with hundreds of cruise missiles and bombs.

The Bush administration was not oblivious to the significance of its actions in launching a criminal war of aggression against Iraq. In October, President Bush had sent envoys to governments around the world in an attempt to negotiate agreements that would exempt him and members of his administration from prosecution for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. The first deals were reached with mainly poor countries dependent on U.S. aid. Some countries’ constitutions prohibited the making of such an immunity agreement and others simply refused.

On April 9, 2003, Baghdad fell to American ground forces, who stood by as widespread chaos and looting broke out. Saddam Hussein’s forces were no match for the U.S. military machine and, on May 1, President Bush landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which was anchored off the San Diego coast. Under a banner that proclaimed “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED,” President Bush said the United States and its allies had prevailed.

The battle may have been won but the real war hadn’t even started yet. By August, United States troops were stuck in a quagmire of guerrilla warfare in Iraq that worsened as the years went by. Iraqi insurgents fought fiercely to drive our invading and occupying army from their country.

Post-invasion searches in Iraq debunked all the administrations allegations about the existence of weapons of mass destruction or programs to produce them. A popular myth since put forward is that there was an intelligence failure. But the intelligence the administration used was not faulty; it was intentionally fabricated by them.

In September 2003, President Bush himself surprisingly acknowledged that there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein with 9/11.

Colin Powell resigned as Secretary of State in November 2004. In an interview the following year, he said his sales pitch to the U.N. Security Council for the invasion of Iraq would remain a permanent “blot” on his record.

Our invasion and destruction of Iraq will also remain a permanent blot on the record of the United States of America. The victims of our misbegotten war include more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians and almost 4,500 U.S. troops killed and hundreds of thousand of returned veterans scarred for life.

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2013

10 years after Iraq invasion, Sunnis chafe under Shiite rule

RAMADI, Iraq – Shortly before noon every Friday, men and boys with prayer rugs in hand tromp by the thousands through the main highway junction in the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, head down lanes meant for vehicular traffic, and stake out patches of pavement. Soon they’re prostrating themselves as far as the eye can see. It’s a massive show of civil disobedience that is the most visible form of protests by Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority against the Shiite Muslim-led government in Baghdad.

Along both shoulders of the road, the tribal leaders have erected more than 100 canvas tents, where they display posters with their 17 demands, all couched as fitting within current legal order. There’s a threat, however, of other means. A hand-painted banner at a political rally that followed a recent religious service summed up the mood best: “Beware the patient man, if he gets angry.”

Ten years after the U.S.-led invasion, Iraq is still a broken country. Its government is democratically elected, but nearly everyone sees it as dysfunctional, and many observers wonder whether the country can hold together and function as a normal state. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is widely criticized for what critics call his manipulation of the political process, though they concede that at least some of the problems he faces were inherited from the U.S. occupation. Everyone is watching to see how he handles the Sunni protest in Anbar province, which will have consequences for the country as a whole.

So far, Maliki has denounced the protesters as “bubbleheads,” provoking a furor, but he’s also set up several committees to examine their demands, which are widely seen elsewhere in Iraq as legitimate. Among them: releasing all women held without charges on suspicion of aiding terrorists, moving detainees charged with crimes to provincial prisons, releasing male detainees arrested without charges, closing down military commands that Maliki set up without parliamentary approval, withdrawing the army from cities, and limiting any prime minister’s tenure to two five-year terms.

Still, many in Anbar think that Maliki has gone out of his way to humiliate Sunnis, and the reaction is a rejection of the government and even of parliamentary representation. The tension is great. The flags waving over the Ramadi highway are not the banner the new Iraq adopted after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, but those that flew here when Saddam ruled.

A group of college students shot their hands into the air when a visiting reporter asked whether they’d prefer Saddam to the present government. “In Saddam’s day, there was a government and law. Now there is no real government, or law,” one said. “We are not opposing the government,” said Rahim Khalil, 19, another one of the protesters. “We are at war with the government.”

At the heart of the protest is the vast sectarian divide that splits Iraq and the rest of the Middle East between Sunni and Shiite. The Sunnis, who make up some 30 percent of Iraq’s 31 million population, resent that Maliki, a Shiite, has taken direct or indirect charge of all the security portfolios. They charge that he’s used the security forces to intimidate top Sunni politicians and to carry out a wave of arrests on dubious grounds.

Sunnis also resent the influence that Shiite-ruled Iran has over Iraqi policy, and they’re embittered at Maliki’s posture of “neutrality” in the Syrian rebellion, which they interpret as support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, a follower of the Alawite branch of Shiism.

There is even trouble among Shiites themselves, who make up at least 60 percent of the population. Many are fed up with a government that has enormous income on tap from the country’s oil resources but has failed to deliver electricity, clean water and sewage, and is viewed as one of the most corrupt on Earth.

Not all of Iraq’s current problems are of Maliki’s doing, however. Many were identified during the nine years the U.S. controlled the country, something American officials here acknowledge. They blame in part a U.S. focus on trying to win Iraqi support for permanent military bases, or at least a robust security presence, rather than resolving problems.

They note, for example, that Sunni dissatisfaction is still fed by the decision in 2003 by L. Paul Bremer, the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, to ban Saddam’s Baath Party, dismantle the Iraqi military, and fire higher-level Baath officials from government ministries. The move cost many Sunnis not only their employment but also their pensions, and it helped fuel the Sunni insurgency against the U.S. occupation.

Where Maliki gets direct blame is the way he conducted himself after the elections of 2010, when he agreed to head an all-party government with his chief rival, Ayad Allawi, a Shiite who had wide Sunni backing. Instead of governing jointly with Allawi, however, Maliki took charge of the top security posts, then went after his political rivals.

Within days of U.S. forces leaving the country in December 2011, Maliki sent tanks into Baghdad’s Green Zone, the heavily fortified former headquarters of the American occupation, where leading Iraqi politicians now live, and arrested bodyguards of the Sunni vice president, Tareq al Hashemi, whom he later accused of plotting bombings against civilian targets. Hashemi fled, first to Iraq’s Kurdish north, then to Turkey, where he remains. In September, an Iraqi court sentenced him, in absentia, to death.

Maliki also unleashed a wave of arrests of Sunnis for allegedly supporting terrorism. Allawi said that Maliki’s security services had locked up more than 1,000 members of other political parties, detaining them in secret locations with no access to legal council, and used torture to extract confessions.

Allawi is bitter. He said there were probably 100 members of his own party, the Iraqi National Accord, still in government jails, and possibly thousands from his Iraqiya coalition. Moreover, he said members of his alliance increasingly were targeted for assassination. “Every single week, we are losing one or two or three people killed, assassinated,” he said.

– edited from McClatchy Newspapers, March 15, 2013
PeaceMeal, March/April 2013

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