Friday, July 29, 2005

Foreign fighters and acts of terrorism

With talk of a US retreat from Iraq now firmly on the agenda, there will be renewed focus on the prospects for security in the absence of the American forces. The majority of such debates are based on the premise that the resistance offers nothing but bloodshed, whilst the US simply brings protection to innocent Iraqis. This premise will, nine times out of ten, lead us to the conclusion that the occupiers should not withdraw until peace is secured. The weakness of the premise is that its second half at least is demonstrably false. In fact, the US occupation is itself the source of most of the death, violence and bloodshed in Iraq, as I've discussed previously. Whilst gallons of ink have been spilt detailing the brutality of the insurgents, next to nothing has been written in the mainstream press on the atrocities committed by the occupying forces; atrocities that are a matter of record.

Whilst US atrocities receive little mainstream coverage and virtually no acknowledgement from commentators, they are documented nevertheless. Tom Engelhardt's "Icarus (Armed with Vipers) Over Iraq" , a brilliant article on the unreported aerial bombardment of that country, which Juan Cole described as "a seminal piece of anti-war journalism", is essential reading. The work of Dahr Jamail, a brave unembedded journalist who has over the last two years brought the west many vivid reports of the war as experienced by ordinary Iraqis, should be compulsory reading for everyone of voting age in Britain and America. In "Stories from Fallujah", he delivers a gruesome account of US atrocities committed against civilians in that blighted city.

Also worth noting, when assessing the competence of the occupying forces to provide security, is the well documented practice of sexually torturing prisoners. One of the most chilling stories to emerge has been that of resistance figures broken during interrogation by being forced to watch their children undergoing torture. Such methods can hardly be described as those of a benign protector. What they can be guaranteed to do however is to inspire feelings of hatred and revulsion amongst the friends and families of the victims and, in some, the resolve to take up arms against the rapist murderer, torturer and oppressor - former ally of Saddam Hussein - and drive them from the homeland for good.

To add to this untold side of the story I offer two pieces, written last year before I started The Democrat's Diary. The first, "Let's not be naïve", was written just before the famous "handover of sovereignty", when power in Iraq was passed from a US proconsul to a group of US-installed Iraqi notables. It described how American atrocities were damaging the reputation of the occupiers, and the efforts being made to maintain control of the country in spite of this. The second piece, "The Costs of War" describes the siege of Falluja as it unfolded; one of the ugliest episodes in our recent history. During the siege Lieutenant Colonel Paul Newell, battalion commander with the US Forces, told the New York Times ''This is the first time since World War II that someone has turned an American armored task force loose in a city with no restrictions". Newell also said that the best chance for an overall US victory would be if the residents of other cities were to conclude, "this is what happens if you shelter terrorists". If that was indeed the hoped-for outcome then this, together with the "no restrictions" approach Newell describes, is as good a definition of terrorism as you'll find in any dictionary.

Bringing the crimes of the occupiers into the spotlight is essential for two reasons. Firstly, unless we are hypocrites, we concern ourselves with our own crimes before those of others. Secondly, as long as we accept the false premise described above - that the current US role is that of protector of innocent Iraqis - then we will continue to be seduced into prolonging an occupation that is a major part of the problem, not the solution, to the disaster that is Iraq.

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Let's not be naïve.

May 2004


As our glorious leaders thoughtfully remind us, the day of "full sovereignty" for Iraq draws ever closer. 30 June 2004 - Mission Accomplished. But with Iraq so tantalisingly close to nirvana it seems there are still those who would seek to vilify the Forces of Liberation.

The US Military reports that on May 19, during an operation near the Syrian Border, its forces "took ground fire and returned fire" at the Iraqi village of Mogr el-Deeb. The source of the "hostile fire" was located and a gang of jihadists at a "suspected foreign fighter safe house" was put to the sword. Thanks to the US military, Iraq was another step closer to peace.

Sadly, as is becoming so depressingly familiar, the victory was being called into question even before the smoke had cleared. Doctors on the scene claimed that there were large numbers of women and children among the dozens of casualties. Video footage obtained by Associated Press appeared to depict a wedding celebration before and after the battle. Several of those seen celebrating in the first half of the film are shown lying dead in the second. One of then was Hussein al-Ali, a popular Iraqi singer. Alleged survivors spoke of how they had been targeted one by one, of how their friends and relatives had been torn to pieces by gunfire. Among these was Haleema Shihab, who described holding her crying seven-month old son in her arms as a laughing soldier kicked her to see if she was still alive. Pictures filmed by al-Arabiya showed a headless child lying next to the corpse of his or her mother.

Responding to these ridiculous allegations Major General James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division was understandably exasperated. "How many people go to the middle of the desert . . . to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilisation? These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naive."

These points are worth underlining. Are we really saying that groups of Arabs are to be found in the deserts of the Middle East? Are we really saying that when more than twenty four men aged late-teens to mid-forties are assembled in one place they aren't quite obviously terrorists? This was such a significant gathering of militants that they'd even hired one of Iraq's most popular singers to help celebrate the occasion. Let's not be naïve.

When asked to comment on footage of a child's corpse being lowered into a grave Mattis said, "bad things happen in wars. I don't have to apologise for the conduct of my men". Quite right too. Why should he? And who, on hearing this, can now question the moral courage of the Forces of Liberation? If the US hadn't thwarted this sinister alliance of women, children, musicians and military-age males who knows what horrors might have been unleashed on the ordinary people of Iraq.

And this has not been the only attempt to smear the liberators. Elsewhere the slander came, shockingly, from a former soldier. Jimmy Massey had served 11 years with the US Marines, received honourable discharge and full severance, and plainly had an axe to grind. Massey spoke of innocents being murdered and of corpses being robbed and desecrated. He said that as Baghdad fell last year Iraqis were told "'Just throw up your hands, lay down your weapons'. That's what they were doing, but we were still lighting them up [killing them]. They weren't in uniform. We never found any weapons. I talked with my commanding officer. I said, 'today is not a good day. We killed a bunch of civilians'. He goes: 'No. Today was a good day.'". Most outrageously, when referring to the murder and mutilation of four US security contractors by Iraqis near Falluja, Massey said "we did the same thing to them".

Massey's superiors rightly described him as a "wimp". Who knows why someone would discard their patriotism and their loyalty to the values they were fighting for. What we do know is that such outbursts are far from helpful.

It is clear to any right-thinking person that the US military will have to stay in Iraq for the time being in order to safeguard the population, and of course to defend America. It is therefore unfortunate that this torrent of slander has given the occupation a bad name. How should the leaders of the free world deal with this problem? Let's return to those end-of-occupation announcements and consider the draft resolution put forward by the US and the UK. The current resolution (UNSCR 1511) states that the military occupation will cease "in any case....upon the completion of the political process", meaning the formation of an elected government. The new draft proposes something rather different. Generously the Iraqis have been granted the right to ask the occupying forces to leave. But sensibly the final decision will rest with the security counsel, where the US holds the power of veto. In addition, occupying forces will be immune from prosecution under Iraqi law and will of course operate under their own command.

So, while the end of occupation and the transfer of full sovereignty has been announced to great fanfare, in fact the occupiers wish their stay to be indefinite and "full sovereignty" to remain a joke. Some may call this duplicitous. But consider, on the one hand, the unreasonable view Iraqis have taken of US military actions and the effect the allegations of traitors like Massey might have on western public opinion. Consider, on the other hand, the ongoing security threat posed by "weddings" on the Iraq-Syria border and the general need to protect Iraqis from themselves. Isn't it the height of responsible governance to try to soothe the bewildered western public and the excitable Arab "street", whilst at the same time standing firm to defend innocent Iraqis from harm? There will of course be those who affect disgust at seeing brutal subjugation being dressed up as a gift of freedom, with shameless mendacity and pseudo-moral rhetoric. Those of us who are less naïve will take the realistic view. Western public opinion has been pacified and the Iraqis, like those in Mogr el-Deeb, remain safe under our protection. We're doing the right thing, and the world will respect us for it.

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The Costs of War

November 2004

"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable"

The above quote is from the BBC News website where Fadril Badrani, an Iraqi journalist and resident of Falluja who reports for Reuters and the BBC, described the effects of the US assault, now a week old.

"There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens."

Associated Press reported the experiences of its photographer, Bilal Hussein, another resident of the beleaguered city.

"Heavy bombing raids and thunderous artillery shelling turned Hussein's northern Jolan neighbourhood into a zone of rubble and death. "I saw people lying dead in the streets, wounded were bleeding and there was no one to come out and help them. There was no medicine, water, no electricity nor food for days. US soldiers began to open fire on the houses...so I decided that it was very dangerous to stay". Hussein planned to escape across the Euphrates river. "I decided to swim...but I changed my mind after seeing US helicopters firing on and killing people who tried to cross the river". He watched horrified as a family of five was shot dead as they tried to cross."

Perhaps two-thirds of Falluja's 300,000 residents were able to evacuate. In all probability that would have left the sick, the poor, the elderly and generally the most vulnerable at the mercy of a massive aerial and artillery barrage, plus the ground assault which began a week ago.

Linsey Hilsum reporting from the ground for Channel Four News said that nearly every building she's seen is seriously damaged and that returning residents will be "horrified" by the sight that awaits them. "Falluja is a ruined town, of that there is no doubt".

Some of the most harrowing testimony can be found on Aljazeera's English language website.

"Asma Khamis al-Muhannadi, an assistant doctor who witnessed the US and Iraqi National Guards raid into Falluja hospital told Aljazeera that the medical staff received threats from the Iraqi health minister who said if anyone disclosed information about the raid, they would be arrested or dismissed from their jobs."

"We were tied up and beaten despite being unarmed", al-Muhannadi said. "The hospital was targeted with bombs and rockets. I was with a woman in labour. The umbilical cord had not yet been cut. At that time, a US soldier shouted at one of the National Guards to arrest me and tie my hands while I was helping the mother to deliver. I will never forget this incidence in my life. The troops dragged patients from their beds and pushed them towards the wall. We exited from the hospital on the second day of the attack, but we could not return as the main junction was controlled by the US troops .We saw around 150 women, children and the elderly attacked by aircraft fire," she said. "All of us were subject to intense inspection; the soldiers even examined children's diapers. Two female doctors were forced to totally undress.""

Summarising the news on his blog "Empire Notes", writer and activist Rahul Mahajan reported that all military aged males (aged 15-55) trying to escape the city are being sent back in by the US Marines. He mentioned one instance where male refugees were tested for any residues left by the handling of high explosives, tested negative, and were sent back anyway.

The Red Crescent arrived with a convoy of desperately needed medical aid. The aid agency described the situation in Falluja as a "humanitarian catastrophe". However, Reuters reported that the Marines would not allow the aid to be brought into the city for "security reasons". Abu Fahd, a member of the relief convoy, told Aljazeera, "the US forces have said they control 80% of the town. [Yet they] have prevented us from entering the town claiming it is not safe. There are no medicines or ambulances...none of the injured residents are being allowed to come to the hospital, while those outside are not allowed to go into the town".

As for the security concerns preventing the Red Crescent from entering the city, it seems that trucks carrying mail for the US troops are having no trouble getting through.

The Guardian quoted Col Mike Shupp of the Marines claiming that he's not heard of any civilians being trapped in the city himself. One can only suggest that he gets himself an internet connection or turns on the TV.

On BBC Newsnight a few days ago, the reporter Mark Urban cited a senior coalition source as saying that the lesson of Iraq was "to make examples, rarely and unforgettably". By flattening the city, slaughtering civilians, denying them medical treatment, starving them, forcing refugees back into the bloodbath or simply shooting them as they try to escape, and then pretending that you haven't heard of any civilians being trapped in this hellhole, what sort of rare and unforgettable example is the US trying to make of Falluja? Is it trying to demonstrate to Iraqis the cost of resisting their new masters? And if so, is the strategy working?

Channel Four News reports insurgent attacks on oil facilities in Kirkuk and Baiji. Insurgents have also mounted fierce attacks in Baquba, Ramadi, Mosul, and Baghdad. Some of these cities have been bombed by the US Air Force in the last 48 hours. The US is having to deny that its lost control of Mosul completely. Dahr Jamail, in Iraq reporting for the US online journal The New Standard, says that "Iraqi rebels are now in control of large areas of Ramadi, Samarra, Haditha, Baquba, Hiyt, Qaim, Latifiyah, Taji and Khaldiyah. Fighting has been reported also in the Shi'ite holy city Kerbala. The [Baghdad] districts al-Dora, al-Amiriyah, Abu Ghraib, al-Adhamiya and Khan Dari are now largely controlled by resistance fighters".

Shia notables are beginning to speak out against the attack on Falluja. Even the US appointed Iraqi President did so last week. There is every indication that the patience of the vast majority of ordinary Iraqis has run out. Iraqi blogger Riverbend summed up the reaction.

"People in Falluja are being murdered. The stories coming back are horrifying. People being shot in cold blood...Iraqis will never forgive this - never. Its outrageous - its genocide and America is responsible. May whoever contributes to this see the sorrow, terror and misery of the people suffering in Falluja."

Its only 10 weeks until the Iraqi elections, and the advent of "western-style" democracy.


Friday, July 22, 2005

Ignoring the Intelligence: How New Labour Helped Bring Terror to London

The primary obligation upon any government is the duty of care towards its citizens, a duty best expressed by the phrase "first, do no harm". The least that citizens can expect of their government is that it will not actively pursue policies that harm them, or place them in harm's way. Any failure to honour this duty of care renders a government unfit to hold office in the most basic and fundamental sense.

The Prime Minister is not unaware of this obligation. During an interview with the BBC, when it was becoming obvious that banned WMD would never be found in Iraq, Blair said that, "You can only imagine what would have happened if I'd ignored the intelligence and then something terrible had happened". That Blair's government had twisted the WMD intelligence deliberately as a pretext for the invasion of Iraq is a matter of record. What should now be focused upon is the intelligence New Labour chose not to distort, but to ignore entirely; the intelligence telling them that the chances of "something terrible" occurring - i.e. a terrorist attack on the UK - would be greatly increased if Britain proceeded to invade Iraq.

Five weeks before the invasion Britain's intelligence chiefs warned Blair's government in strong terms that military action would increase the risk of terrorist attacks against Britain by groups such as al-Qaeda. As the UK Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee noted in 2003: "The JIC assessed that al-Qa'eda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq".

As Britain's involvement in the occupation of Iraq continued, the government's advisers continued to warn of the possible consequences. A joint Home Office and Foreign Office dossier, ordered by Tony Blair following the train bombings in Madrid, identified Iraq as a "recruiting sergeant" for extremism. The analysis was that the Iraq war was acting as a key cause of young Britons turning to terrorism. It said: "It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment among Muslims, including young Muslims, is a perceived 'double standard' in the foreign policy of western governments, in particular Britain and the US. The perception is that passive 'oppression', as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to 'active oppression'. The war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam."

In 2005, the government was warned yet again. Just weeks before the London bombings, the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre - including officials from MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the police - explicitly linked the Iraq war with an increased risk of terrorist activity in Britain. The report, leaked to the New York Times, said that "Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK".

Speaking in Parliament days after the brutal attacks on the UK's capital city, Blair rejected any link between foreign policy and the threat of terrorism. What Britain was facing, he asserted, was "a form of terrorism aimed at our way of life, not at any particular Government or policy". In saying this Blair was contradicting not only what his own intelligence services and government advisers had repeatedly told him, but also the consensus of mainstream expert opinion on the causes of so-called "Islamist" terror.

Michael Scheuer, a 22-year veteran of the CIA who headed its bin Laden unit from 1993 to 1996, is unequivocal in his rejection of Blair's stance. "It's a policy issue. Bin Laden is fighting against us, not because of who we are....that we have elections or women in the workplace.....[or that ] they hate us for our freedoms and our liberties. There's nothing further from the truth than that. Bin Laden has had success because he's focused on a limited number of U.S. foreign policies in the Muslim world, policies that are visible and are experienced by Muslims on a daily basis. Most of bin Laden's attacks since 2001 have been aimed at countries that supported the United States either in Afghanistan or in Iraq."

A recent study of suicide terrorist attacks conducted by Professor Robert Pape and the University of Chicago's Project on Suicide Terrorism came to the same conclusion. According to Pape, "what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland. Religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective."

In an article praising the study, Michael Scheuer said that Pape "demolishes the relentlessly repeated assertion ....... that Islamist suicide attacks against America and other counties are launched by .....apocalyptic fanatics who are eager to kill themselves because [we] vote, have civil liberties, and allow women to drive cars. This assertion always has been transparently false....".

Pape's conclusion is that "The root cause of suicide terrorism is foreign occupation and the threat that foreign military presence poses to the local community's way of life. Hence, any policy that seeks to conquer Muslim societies in order, deliberately, to transform their culture is folly". Scheuer notes that "this reality, [as] Pape recognizes, will require changes in America's relations with the Persian Gulf states, getting our military out of Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula, and the implementation of an energy policy that makes Arab oil production substantially less important to our economy."

To return to the specific threat towards the UK, world renowned Middle East expert Juan Cole pointed out on the day after the London bombings that "The United Kingdom had not been a target for al-Qaida in the late 1990s. But in October 2001, bin Laden threatened the United Kingdom with suicide aircraft attacks if it joined in the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan. In November of 2002, bin Laden said in an audiotape, "What do your governments want from their alliance with America in attacking us in Afghanistan? I mention in particular Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia." In February of 2003, as Bush and Blair marched to war in Iraq, bin Laden warned that the U.K. as well as the U.S. would be made to pay. In October of 2003, bin Laden said of the Iraq war, "Let it be known to you that this war is a new campaign against the Muslim world," and named Britain as a target for reprisals. A month later, an al-Qaida-linked group detonated bombs in Istanbul, targeting British sites and killing the British vice-consul."

Last year the International Institute for Strategic Studies' annual report said that al-Qaeda had been "spurred on" by the Iraq war, which had helped it recruit more members. The report said that the war had focused the energies and resources of al-Qaeda's followers, while diluting those of the global counter-terrorism coalition. It also noted the Bush administration's failure to recognise that the 9/11 attacks were a "violent reaction to America's pre-eminence".

Soon after the London bombings the Royal Institute of International Affairs, known as Chatham House, released a study which concluded that "There is no doubt that the situation over Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK, and for the wider coalition against terrorism.......the UK is at particular risk [of terrorist attack] because it is the closest ally of the United States, [and] has deployed armed forces in the military campaigns ... in Afghanistan and in Iraq". According to the report, the Iraq war "gave a boost to the al-Qa'ida network's propaganda, recruitment and fundraising, caused a major split in the coalition, provided an ideal targeting and training area for al-Qa'ida-linked terrorists, and deflected resources that could have been deployed to…bring Bin Laden to justice."

The blustering response of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to the Chatham House report was that "the time for excuses for terrorism is over". As a lawyer and a former Home Secretary, Straw clearly does not himself believe that to establish a criminal’s motivation is to excuse the crime. But for him to acknowledge the link between a deeply unpopular government policy and the increased threat of terrorist attack would be to admit a connection between his own actions and the deaths of 52 UK citizens on 7 July 2005. Faced with an overwhelming body of expert analysis (including that of his own department) which draws exactly that connection, Straw is left only with the most moronic of arguments with which to defend himself.

Following the government line, Straw went on to say that, “the terrorists have struck across the world, in countries allied with the United States, backing the war in Iraq and in countries which had nothing whatever to do with the war in Iraq”. He and other government ministers have repeatedly cited attacks on countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Indonesia and Turkey as proof that al-Qaeda will attack anywhere; not just western targets. But, as those ministers are well aware (and as their own list of previous al-Qaeda attacks shows), these terrorist strikes were not targeted directly at those countries but at western interests within them. The attacks in Tanzania and Kenya were on US embassies; the attacks in Indonesia were on US and Australian government buildings and tourists; and the attacks in Turkey were on British holidaymakers and institutions.

New Labour’s position is not enhanced by the fact that, along with other craven apologists for terror (such as MI5, MI6, GCHQ, advisers from the Home Office and the Foreign Office, CIA veterans and eminent independent experts) stood the Prime Minister himself, until very recently. In 2003, speaking to the Intelligence and Security Committee, Blair said that, "there was obviously a danger that in attacking Iraq you ended up provoking the very thing you were trying to avoid". But the risk was worth taking, he went on to say, to deal with the threat posed by WMD: a threat that, as we know, was non-existent.

Most people in Britain never accepted the government’s (current) argument, and never wanted to take these risks to begin with. On 15 February 2003, hundreds of thousands demonstrated in London against the coming war on Iraq. At the time, 79% of Londoners felt that British involvement in the invasion "would make a terrorist attack on London more likely". In the wake of the London bombings, two-thirds of Britons expressed the view that the invasion of Iraq and the attack on their capital were linked.
Now, after a second attack on London in as many weeks, Britons may wish to take another look at those to whom they have entrusted their safety and security. They may wish to reflect on the fact that their government is deliberately and repeatedly ignoring the advice of the UK’s intelligence services, departmental advisers and independent experts, and pursuing policies that are increasing the threat of terrorist attacks on Britain. They may wish to reflect that, with 52 innocent people dead, many more injured, and the threat of further atrocities hanging over the country, the government is strenuously avoiding any honest discussion of the problem, preferring to obscure the issues with self-serving mendacity. They may conclude, by uncontroversial reference to the plain facts, that New Labour is clearly failing to discharge its duty of care and is therefore fundamentally unfit to govern.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Africa’s battle with corruption

Whilst the Make Poverty History campaign has enjoyed an enormous amount of public support, there has existed, alongside that support, a widespread sense of pessimism and lack of faith in the prospects for its ultimate success. Much of this has been focused on the ability of Africa itself to rise to the challenge of combating poverty and deprivation. In an editorial commenting on the Live8 concerts, the UK’s Sunday Express articulated the sceptical view taken by many in the British media. It warned that “as long as endemic corruption exists in so many African countries then all the best western will in the world will not solve the problems facing [the continent’s] people”. This sceptical position found a receptive audience. A recent YouGov poll showed that 83% of people in the UK are not confident that increases in western aid would be spent wisely, with 79% believing that corruption and incompetence are mostly to blame for Africa's plight.

If we are truly concerned for the fate of Africa, and identify corruption as one of the root causes of its problems, then it seems only sensible to ask if there is anything we ourselves can do to help tackle that corruption.

In the first instance, if we are to demand that certain standards of behaviour are adhered to then we must establish those standards universally; a basic principle of morality and law. Concerned westerners will therefore begin by asking themselves why
not one G8 government has ratified the October 2003 UN Convention Against Corruption: an agreement so far backed by only 27 countries - 14 of them African.

The British in particular will take interest in a recent survey by
Transparency International which found that UK companies were the eighth biggest payers of bribes in the world last year. They will also wish to consider a recent report by the Royal African Society which noted that "The bribery of overseas public officials was only finally made illegal [by the UK] four years ago [and] no British Citizen has yet been prosecuted......Meanwhile, in some of the British 'overseas territories' not only has [bribery] not been outlawed but payment of bribes is still tax deductible.....". To expand on this last point; the British offshore tax haven of Jersey has still failed to plug a loophole under which bribery payments made in Africa remain legal, despite a promise to the OECD last year that the loophole would be closed. Companies registered on the island are still able to pay bribes with impunity, and the UK government refuses to use its powers of jurisdiction to enforce the change.

The report went on to point out that "The proceeds of corrupt practices in Africa.......are often laundered and made respectable by some of the most well known banks in the City of London [which] is now the laundry of choice for much dirty money. It is estimated that a third of the money stolen by the Nigerian military dictator, Sani Abacha, and found by the Swiss authorities in Swiss banks, had been deposited first in the British banking system until it was clean enough to bank in Switzerland.......The UK was strikingly unhelpful when the new Nigerian government authorities first asked the British for help in retrieving the stolen goods and so far has not repatriated any substantial amount of the money known to be sitting in London's banks."

In addition, according to the Royal African Society report, "British anti-corruption law is patchy and outdated. It has been rubbished by the OECD, Transparency International and British Parliamentarians. Draft legislation brought to Parliament by the government was severely criticised ....for containing obvious loopholes, inconsistencies and a general lack of clarity....the government has yet to commit itself to enacting comprehensive and up to date laws to tackle the problem and providing agencies with resources and power to enforce them". Those 79% of UK voters who blame corruption for Africa's plight will therefore, in the first instance, have plenty of pertinent questions to ask of their own elected representatives .

In fact, no serious discussion of corruption and poor governance in Africa can ignore the role of the global north. During
the Cold War, both sides fought conflicts by proxy and engaged in covert political manipulation throughout the third world. In 1965 for example, the US sent in weapons and CIA personnel to support a pro-western coup where the democratically elected prime minister of Zaire (now DR Congo) Patrice Lumumba was replaced by the dictator Joseph Mobutu, who then embarked on a 32-year reign of greed and corruption. According to Christian Aid, Mobutu "stole almost half of the US$12 billion in aid the IMF gave his country during his 32-year reign, recently earning him the title of the third biggest swindler of development aid in history, behind Mohammed Suharto of Indonesia and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines" (two more western-backed dictators).

The west ignored Mobuto's corruption, furnishing him with enormous sums of money so long as he supported their strategic interests. It was a theme that played out across the continent, in Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Somalia and elsewhere, with western "aid" and loans provided to buy weapons - from western arms manufacturers - to fight proxy wars in order to further western strategic interests. Now the west demands much of this money back; money lent to buy weapons and fight wars which left African countries poorer and in more need of aid than ever before. For westerners to now complain that any future largesse towards Africa will only be embezzled by corrupt leaders or squandered on military expenditure is something many Africans will find particularly difficult to swallow, given their own bitter experience of the relevant history.

So far we have restricted ourselves to working within and around the common definition of corruption used in discussions concerning African poverty. That is to say, the corruption of African officials and, skirting the boundaries of standard debate, the west’s involvement in African corruption. However, if we are to widen our definition in order to capture the true meaning of the word “corruption” - dishonest behaviour or the "
use of a position of trust for dishonest gain" – and examine how this affects Africa whatever the nationality of the culprits, then we find there are a great many new issues to consider.

There can be few ways to describe, other than as fundamentally corrupt, the continued use by our governments of what is ostensibly "aid" money, not to combat poverty, but to further the strategic interests of power politics and economic gain. Such policies are no means peculiar to the Cold War and its perceived expediencies. Even now the American government agency that calls itself
USAID lavishes vast amounts of money on strategic partners like Egypt, Israel and Jordan which dwarf the comparatively meagre sums given to the neediest countries in Africa. The "aid" figures cited by supporters of the west as evidence of its generosity are, more often than not, massively inflated by cash aimed at buying influence and power (for example, by funding the security apparatus of known human rights abusers like Egypt), not ending hunger and disease.

The role of western government's third world policies in furthering their economic interests was best summed up by former UK development minister
Clare Short in speech to business leaders in April 1999. Short told her audience that "we bring access to other governments and influence in the multilateral system – such as the World Bank and IMF. You are well aware of the constraints business faces in the regulatory environment for investment in any country... Your ideas on overcoming these constraints can be invaluable when we develop our country strategies… We can use this understanding to inform our dialogue with governments and the multilateral institutions on the reform agenda".

In effect, Short's Department for International Development was offering to shape third world development policy in the interests of business. This was far from a departure in UK policy. As Mark Curtis, historian and former director of the World Development Movement noted in a recent article, "The Foreign Office was not joking when it stated in a 1958 file that aid was "a weapon in the armoury of foreign policy". The Department for International Development's (DfID) recent document, Partnerships with Business, states that most aid recipients "are commercially important to the business sector, not just as export markets, but also for sourcing inputs and raw materials, for foreign investment and joint ventures ... Business may become involved in the identification of key policy and regulatory constraints to the business environment." DfID's aid is "typically" used to "enable the private sector to invest with more confidence". This explains why tens of millions of pounds go to British companies to force water privatisation on poor countries."

According to Clare Short, "the assumption that our moral duties and business interests are in conflict is now demonstrably false". In fact it is demonstrably true, as aid agencies have told the British government on numerous occasions. In May 2005, Christian Aid released a new report, “
Aid, death and dogma”, detailing once again the very real conflicts between the UK's business interests and its moral duties.

The report said that “Unfettered free trade policies backed by the British government have led to a crisis in Indian agriculture, spiralling rural debt and an epidemic of suicide among poor farmers. ...... more than 4,000 farmers have killed themselves in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh since the ‘reforms’ of a hard-line liberalising regime, in part bankrolled by the …DFID. This support also involved funding the free market fundamentalist Adam Smith Institute to run a privatising scheme that cost some 45,000 Indian public sector workers their jobs.....Earlier this year, both DFID and the Africa Commission, set up by Tony Blair, said that countries should no longer be forced to liberalise and privatise in order to receive aid.....[but] the UK’s development policy, along with that of the World Bank and the IMF, is still strongly based on liberalising principles. Legislation is urgently required to turn rhetoric into reality.”

The response of Britain's minister for international development,
Gareth Thomas, was that "Christian Aid seems to be behind the times, because our aid isn't tied to conditions such as privatisation". But Thomas, it seems, had failed to inform Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, of the change in policy. A few weeks later, at a meeting of G8 finance ministers, Brown brokered a deal on third world debt relief; a deal that was widely portrayed as a personal triumph. Paragraph two of the statement the finance ministers subsequently released said that to qualify for debt relief, developing countries would have to "boost private-sector development" and eliminate "impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign". The conditionality of liberalisation, opening up the markets of economically weak countries to western corporations, was at the very heart of Brown's great victory. Despite this, Thomas was undaunted, repeating in a letter to the Guardian later that month that the UK “does not force developing countries to privatise any service. It is a matter for individual governments to decide how, or indeed whether, to liberalise water or any other sector”. Thomas only neglected to mention that highly indebted countries who continued to pursue that democratic right may well be disqualified from the benefits of Brown’s debt relief deal. Of course the UK would not actually be forcing these countries to liberalise, and one would have to be deeply unkind to accuse the junior minister of engaging in any sort of mendacious, mealy mouthed sophistry.

Lest anyone should believe that adhering to such (voluntary) liberalisation would yield great benefits for the countries concerned - as well as for western businesses - Christian Aid was once again on hand to dispel the myths. A few days after the debt deal was announced the agency released a report setting out
the real costs of "free trade" for Africa. "Trade liberalisation has cost sub-Saharan Africa US$272 billion over the past 20 years. Had they not been forced to liberalise as the price of aid, loans and debt relief, sub-Saharan African countries would have had enough extra income to wipe out their debts and have sufficient left over to pay for every child to be vaccinated and go to school. Two decades of liberalisation has cost sub-Saharan Africa roughly what it has received in aid. Effectively, this aid did no more than compensate African countries for the losses they sustained by meeting the conditions that were attached to the aid they received. And these losses dwarf the US$40 billion worth of debt relief agreed at the recent meeting of G7 finance ministers."

Irrespective of these crippling losses for the continent, New Labour’s philanthropists are keen to give still greater latitude to
the fearless entrepreneurs of the global north in the opening up of Africa; for the good of its people, naturally. On 9 July 2005 the Business Action for Africa summit opened in London, chaired by the head of Anglo American, and with speakers including executives from Shell, British American Tobacco and De Beers. Delegates were also treated to a message from Tony Blair. The summit was tasked with inaugurating the Investment Climate Facility, a $550m fund to be financed by the UK’s foreign aid budget, the World Bank and the other G8 nations, but “driven and controlled by the private sector”. The fund was launched by Niall Fitzgerald, currently head of Reuters and formerly Unilever’s representative in apartheid South Africa. Fitzgerald hopes the facility will create a “healthy investment climate”, offering business “attractive financial returns compared to competing destinations”. One wonders how attractive the financial returns for Africans living on less than $2 a day will be from this venture, although the results of Christian Aid’s research, not to mention Africa’s own bitter experience, gives us some indication.

To return to the conventional focus of discussions concerning corruption, its worth noting how corrupt western “aid” policies contribute to the form of corruption that so vexes the editorial writers at the Sunday Express.
One of the neo-liberal strings attached to western loans is that poor countries cut back on public expenditure. Institutions facing the axe include schools (teaching the literacy that is an essential for holding government to account in a democratic society), the judiciary, the police and civil servants, all of whom are needed to help curtail corruption in any society. Those who keep their jobs often have their wages slashed - making them susceptible to bribery should they wish to splash out on luxury goods like food, or even education, healthcare and water if these essentials are also privatised at the behest of the World Bank and the IMF.

In summary, not only is much of the west’s third world policy intrinsically corrupt, but those policies also contribute a great deal toward corruption in Africa, the spoils of which may in turn find a warm welcome in the western banking system.

There is certainly widespread corruption in Africa, but to blame the continent’s problems principally on the corruption of its officials is, as we have seen, not nearly the whole story. The issue is a complex one, and the west plays a significant role to say the least; both in contributing to African corruption and in imposing its own corrupt policies. In addition, when acknowledging the western role, it is also necessary to acknowledge the massive disparity in financial and political power between Africa and the west, in order to identify who is best placed to solve the problem.

Doubtless there are some, including many well-paid members of the political classes desperate to absolve the west of its share of responsibility for Africa’s plight, who will continue to invoke a corruption that is, for them, all but an intrinsically African cultural deficiency. But there are also, among the 79% in the UK who blame corruption for Africa's problems, those with a genuine desire to help solve the continent’s problems in whatever way they can. The latter group should, in noting the significant, probably decisive role of their own elected governments, at least be encouraged by the fact that much of the corruption damaging Africa can be prevented by political action within their own countries, directed at the governments that they themselves have elected.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Some thoughts on cynicism and the G8

After my post of this afternoon, assessing the outcome of the G8 summit, I got a comment from a reader who said: “I didn't expect anything more as I think the G8 meetings are just a grandstanding event for the leaders involved. Also I believe that for Tony and Gordon it was a way to divert attention away from other Labour problems. Cynical, yes, but I've yet to see anything more from politicians than their own self interest.

I don't think the comment was a cynical one. It struck me as a fairly realistic assessment of the situation, unfortunately. It also raises fundamental questions that go to the heart of the debate about the Make Poverty History campaign and the G8 summit. The below was intended as a quick reply but having written it, I think it ought to have a post of its own. So here it is....

The debate over the G8 deal will, I suspect, be framed in the following terms: most aid agencies and campaigners, myself included, will say that the outcome fell short of what was required because there was a lack of will on the part of world leaders. Those world leaders, and their supporters, will counter by saying that the will was there, but this was the first step on a very difficult journey.

How difficult was that journey? I think a simple mathematical exercise will go someway towards answering the question. The G8 have pledged to boost aid by $50bn over the next 5 years. Try calculating the GDP of these 8 wealthy countries over the course of the next five years. Then work out what percentage of that the much-trumpeted $50bn increase in aid amounts to. Here's a hint at what the answer might be: the UK, just one of those 8 countries and by no means the richest, had a GDP in just one year (2004), not five years, of $1.782 trillion - 35 times the pledged increase. That's in one year, not five. One country, not eight.

That being the case, I find the protestations of the G8 leaders - saying that its all so difficult but maybe, by 2015 or so, we'll struggle our way there - pretty hard to stomach. Particularly when 30,000 people died as a result of poverty today. Just as they did yesterday. Just as they will tomorrow, the next day and the day after that......right through to 2010 when that $50bn is paid in full.....right through to 2015 when we're meant to believe that the G8 will finally reach that fabled 0.7% of their GDP on aid they've been promising since 1970....all through that time tens of thousands of people will continue to die, needlessly, on a daily basis.

Its these raw numbers that we should use to judge the moral standing of our politicians; not the cheap pronouncements they make in interviews and speeches, pronouncements that, as far as I'm aware, have yet to save a single life.

Powerful people have assumed grand moral postures throughout history. If we're rational, we don't judge their actual moral character simply on the basis of the proclamations they make about their good intentions. If we're rational, we judge them by their actions. Today, the figures speak for themselves. To say that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are perhaps not genuinely driven by some personal moral crusade to save Africa, as they say they are, is not cynicism; its a rational observation concerning matters of fact. One hopes that the message of the Make Poverty History campaign, as transmitted to billions across the world by Live8, will, when contrasted with the measly outcome of Gleneagles, cause many people across the world to take a cold and realistic look at these eight men that represent us and the true costs of their actions. One hopes that many people will find cause to stop judging politicians by how they seem on TV and start looking at the real implications of their actual policies.
As I've said previously, activists and campaigners ought to be wary of cynicism. Cynicism, that is, on the part of politicians prepared to exploit the cause of combating poverty for their own political gain. That, it seems to me, is one of the principle lessons for us to take from the Make Poverty History campaign so far.

"This will not make poverty history. It is a vastly disappointing result"

Earlier this afternoon the G8 leaders brought their summit in Gleneagles to a close and announced their achievements. The full texts were published in the last couple of hours - and the comments below are subject to a review of the fine detail there - but we already have a pretty clear picture of what the outcome has been.

Yesterday Tony Blair said: "It is particularly barbaric that [the London bombings] happened on the day when people are meeting to try to help tackle the problems of poverty in Africa and the changes in climate."

President Bush said: "You've got people here [at the G8 summit] who are working to alleviate poverty and to help rid the world of the pandemic of Aids. .......and on the other hand you have people killing innocent people."

So what have these great men, who have spent the week "working to alleviate poverty", finally achieved?

The flagship announcement was for a $50bn "boost" to aid for developing countries. Contrast this with the cost of the war in Iraq: now over $192 billion, and rising by $1 billion a week.

No further movement, it seems, on the EU pledge to spend of 0.56% of GDP on poverty reduction by 2010, and 0.7% by 2015. One wonders at what point the west will begin to experience feelings of embarrassment on this phantom target. The promise to spend 0.7% of GDP was a target for all donor governments established by the UN General Assembly in 1970 - 35 years ago - and the deadline for reaching that target was 1980. By 2015 the target will be 45 years old. The record, frankly, is pathetic

The debts of the 18 poorest countries are to be forgiven. This was announced weeks ago, but on New Labour's past form we can expect the announcement to be recycled today. Rather less noise will be made about the conditions for the majority of developing countries yet to qualify for the relief: to "boost private-sector development" and eliminate "impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign". These liberalisation policies, while profitable for western businesses, have cost sub-Saharan Africa US$272 billion over the last 20 years; enough to wipe out all of its debt and allow all of its children to be vaccinated and go to school. Policies that damage Africa are being presented as acts of philanthropy.

Also announced were a "signal" for a new deal on trade and a "commitment" to find an end date for farm subsidies. This scarcely merits comment.

Contrast the G8 dismal effort with the stark realities of world poverty. Every day 30,000 children die as a result of extreme deprivation; the equivalent of 10 9/11s. Malaria, a preventable and curable disease, kills a million African children each year; one every thirty seconds. Every 3.6 seconds another person dies of starvation; the majority are children under 5. Every year six million children die from malnutrition before their fifth birthday.

The development charities are not impressed. Christian Aid said, "This will not make poverty history. It is a vastly disappointing result. Millions of campaigners all over the world have been led to the top of the mountain, shown the view and now we are being frog-marched down again.....this is a sad day for poor people in Africa and all over the world. Tony Blair says this is a start and it will not please everyone: he is horribly accurate in this because this package will not deliver poor countries from the terrorism of poverty which kills 30,000 a day."

War on Want, said: "On debt it is a 10th of what we were asking for. On aid it is just a fifth. On trade it has gone totally backwards. The G8 has turned its back on the world's poor."

Cafod's George Gelber added: "For the G8 leaders the cost of making poverty history was too high. Sadly it is the poor who will pay the price with their lives and their livelihoods."

What's become clear is that leading figures in the British government have cynically used the Make Poverty History campaign as a political branding exercise; a desperate grab for the moral capital they squandered in their illegal war on Iraq. One need only contrast their posturing of these past few weeks with the miserable deal they finally came up with, together with the other G8 leaders. In their calculations of political profit and loss a new factor ought to be added for their consideration. Several billion people had the facts of global poverty spelled out to them repeatedly during the Live8 concerts last week, and over the course of the Make Poverty History campaign. World poverty is no longer a silent holocaust. Billions are alive to this issue as never before and few of them will forgive New Labour and the G8 leaders for this contemptible show of moral absenteeism. Ultimately, since the G8 nations are all democracies to some extent, the leader's failures are our failures; their crimes are our crimes. If we really have been mobilised to make poverty history this year, then our task now is to ensure that those eight men who supposedly represent us pay the full political cost for their failure, and that future leaders have demonstrated to them, in no uncertain terms, the consequences of letting the disaster of poverty, in Africa and across the third world, continue to claim innocent lives on a biblical scale.

London bombings: initial reaction

As well as an enormous amount of straight news reporting, there's also a good deal of comment and analysis available on the attacks in London yesterday. Here's some of the news and considered reaction I've found so far.

Firstly, the headline: More than 50 people have been killed in a series of bomb blasts in central London. According to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair there were 700 casualties, of whom 350 were taken to hospital and 22 are still in a critical condition.

The incident that perhaps best illustrates the sheer depravity of the attacks was the bombing of the bus in Tavistock Square, apparently designed to hit commuters escaping from the chaos on the tube.

Of all the reaction from leaders, secular and religious, I suspect Mayor Ken Livingstone best summed up the mood of Londoners.

"This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at presidents or prime ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion or whatever.....the city of London is the greatest in the world because everybody lives side-by-side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by the cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I'm proud to be the Mayor of that city."

Here's a BBC summary of press reaction from the UK and Europe.

The Arab world and British Muslim leaders condemned the bombings in the strongest terms. But the fear of violent reprisals (for want of a better word) against the Islamic community in the UK is already growing.

For many westerners keen to gain some insight and understanding of the Islamic and Arab world, the website of Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan, has been our first port of call on the internet every day for the past few years. His news round up of this morning includes a brief look at the differing reactions George Galloway and Jack Straw have given to the bombings, as well as giving details of the ongoing carnage in Iraq. Many Londoners who have followed the daily accounts provided by Cole and Iraqi bloggers like Riverbend of car bombings in Baghdad, Mosul and other Iraqi cities will yesterday have found themselves, briefly, living the nightmares they had hitherto only read about on their computer screens. As Cole says "The bombings in London on Thursday underlined what absolute hell Iraqis are living through, who suffer the equivalent every other day".

Also on Cole's website there's a discussion of how "Bush's incompetent crusade in Iraq has made us all less safe" and an excerpt from an interview with him about the possibility that an al-Qaeda-linked group was behind the bombings (full version here). Further down the page, Cole reproduces the grotesque statement made by the group claiming responsibility; disgusting whether or not they really are guilty of causing the attack itself.

Finally from Informed Comment, Cole's brief initial reaction to the attacks is worth reading. He relays the views of Michael Scheuer, the former CIA Bin Laden analyst, interviewed on US TV.

"Scheuer believes that al-Qaeda is an insurgent ideology focused on destroying the United States and its allies, because its members believe that the US is trying to destroy them. Al-Qaeda members see the Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinians, backed by the US; US support for military regimes like those of Pakistan and Egypt; and US military occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq as evidence of a US onslaught on Islam and Muslims aimed at reducing them to neo-colonial slavery. That is, specific Western policies are the focus of al-Qaeda response, not a generalized "hatred" of "values.""

From Washington, Jim Lobe describes the "growing skepticism...about the effectiveness of US President George W Bush's "war on terror"" and looks at what the political effects of this latest atrocity might be.

At Asia Times Online, B Raman gives the intelligence background to the attacks. Raman is a former Indian government official whose articles on intelligence and terrorism are always worth reading.
Here's a free version of "The reality of this barbaric bombing", by the UK's veteran Middle East journalist Robert Fisk (the official version's in today's issue of The Independent)

Possibly the best of the considered reaction I've read so far has been this from former UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, giving his views on how western leaders ought to respond to yesterday's events. For now, I'll finish with a quote from that article, and will post more over the course of the weekend.

"In the absence of anyone else owning up to yesterday's crimes, we will be subjected to a spate of articles analysing the threat of militant Islam. Ironically they will fall in the same week that we recall the tenth anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica, when the powerful nations of Europe failed to protect 8,000 Muslims from being annihilated in the worst terrorist act in Europe of the past generation.

Osama bin Laden is no more a true representative of Islam than General Mladic, who commanded the Serbian forces, could be held up as an example of Christianity. After all, it is written in the Qur'an that we were made into different peoples not that we might despise each other, but that we might understand each other.

Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally "the database", was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians. Inexplicably, and with disastrous consequences, it never appears to have occurred to Washington that once Russia was out of the way, Bin Laden's organisation would turn its attention to the west.

The danger now is that the west's current response to the terrorist threat compounds that original error. So long as the struggle against terrorism is conceived as a war that can be won by military means, it is doomed to fail. The more the west emphasises confrontation, the more it silences moderate voices in the Muslim world who want to speak up for cooperation. Success will only come from isolating the terrorists and denying them support, funds and recruits, which means focusing more on our common ground with the Muslim world than on what divides us.

President Bush is given to justifying the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that by fighting terrorism abroad, it protects the west from having to fight terrorists at home. Whatever else can be said in defence of the war in Iraq today, it cannot be claimed that it has protected us from terrorism on our soil.
"

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Iraq: problems and solutions

The picture in Iraq seems to get bleaker, darker, with every passing day.

Alan Richards of the University of California has no words of encouragement whatsoever:

"I have been reading the debate . . . on "What next in Iraq?" ("Unilateral withdrawal? UN forces? Staying the course?") with great interest. There is a way, however, in which I am troubled by what I perceive as a tacit assumption--a very American assumption,--underlying most of the discussion. It seems to me that even "pessimists" are actually "optimists": they assume that there exists in Iraq and the Gulf some "solution", some course of action which can actually lead to an outcome other than widespread, prolonged violence, with devastating economic, political, and social consequences. I regret to say that I think this is wrong. There is no "solution" to this mess; it is sometimes not possible to "fix" things which have been broken. I can see no course of action which will prevent widespread violence, regional social upheaval, and economic hammering administered by oil price shocks. This is why so many of us opposed the invasion of Iraq so strenuously in the first place!"

Stirling Newberry draws the parallels between the US war in Iraq and the USSR's war in Afghanistan:

"In short, the United States is fighting its own version of the war that, according to the foreign policy intellectual establishment, either brought down or hastened the fall of the USSR."

George Hunsinger notes that: "Back in September 2002 James Webb, assistant secretary of defense and secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, raised a specter that has come back to haunt us. "The issue before us," he wrote in the Washington Post, "is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years.".......On June 19 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that America's involvement in Iraq is indeed "a generational commitment.""

Hunsinger points out that "It is not surprising that the occupation lacks wide popular support. Civilian casualties - already in the tens, and perhaps hundreds, of thousands - are steadily on the rise. Among children malnutrition has doubled and mortality has tripled. Hospitals still lack basic medicines and equipment, water and electricity are in short supply, half the population is unemployed, and prices for food are inflated. Car bombs, assassinations, kidnappings, deadly roadblocks, stagnant sewage, and strikes from American forces are a daily occurrence. At least one million refugees have fled the country.

Those who insist on "staying the course" overlook the unpleasant fact that the occupation is the main cause of the insurgency, not its cure. Outstripped and illegitimate, it will only bring more death and destruction.
"

Even as far back as May last year (and a great deal has happened since then) Hunsinger was warning that "America may have lost the war in Iraq". Back then he quoted "Gen. William E. Odom, director of the Hudson Institute, a pro-administration think-tank" stating bluntly that "We have failed".

"In an interview which rocked the foreign policy establishment, Odom told the Wall Street Journal he had abandoned all hope for success in Iraq. Predicting a radical Islamist regime hostile to the West, one prepared to fund terrorist organizations, he called for the swift withdrawal of U.S. forces. Otherwise Iraqis will be radicalized even further, he warned, risking the destabilization of the entire region.

"The issue is how high a price we're going to pay," Odom insisted, "less, by getting out sooner, or more, by getting out later." Any "continued U.S. troop presence is a losing proposition. Once you've done a stupid thing, you don't fix it by keeping doing it. Our troops are exposed; we're going to take more casualties without any capacity of destroying the enemy. That's a losing proposition."
"

Meanwhile, in Turkey, the World Tribunal on Iraq has been trying to establish a true account of the build up to and effects of the invasion. According to Arundhati Roy the tribunal's aim was "to examine a vast spectrum of evidence about the motivations and consequences of the US invasion and occupation, evidence that has been deliberately marginalized or suppressed". This body of evidence will surely prove to be a great source of information for concerned activists and writers. But, even as these herculean efforts are made to move public perceptions away from the official line and towards an accurate view of events past, the new and perhaps much darker chapter described above is unfolding; a chapter which, just like its predecessors, will be subject to the distortions of Anglo-American PR.

In this morning's Guardian, Sami Ramadani, a refugee from Saddam Hussein's regime and senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University, describes the notion that US withdrawal will lead to civil war as a fiction as powerful as WMD. Ramadani says that the occupiers must take their share of responsibility for the growing sectarian strife.

"Within two weeks of the fall of Baghdad, millions converged on Karbala chanting "La Amreeka, la Saddam" (No to America, no to Saddam). For months, Baghdad, Basra and Najaf were awash with united anti-occupation marches whose main slogan was "La Sunna, la Shia; hatha al-watan menbi'a" (no Sunni, no Shia, this homeland we shall not sell).

Such responses were predictable given Iraq's history of anti-sectarianism. But the war leaders reacted by destroying the foundations of the state and following the old colonial policy of divide and rule, imposing a sectarian model on every institution they set up, including arrangements for the January election.

When it became clear that the poorest areas of Baghdad and the south were even more hostile to the occupation than the so-called Sunni towns - answering the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's call to arms - Bush and Blair tried to defeat the resistance piecemeal, under the guise of fighting foreign terrorists. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was promoted to replace Saddam as the bogeyman in chief, to encourage sectarian tension and isolate the resistance.
"

Ramadani is certainly right to say that "the occupation is the problem and not part of any democratic solution in Iraq". He says that within "The occupation's sectarian discourse .....Iraqis are portrayed as a people who can't wait to kill each other once left to their own devices. In fact, the occupation is the main architect of institutionalised sectarian and ethnic divisions; its removal would act as a catalyst for Iraqis to resolve some of their differences politically."

As regards the second half of this last sentence I would only say that while this is true, the extent to which peace and reconciliation would follow a US withdrawal depends on the extent to which ownership of what Ramadani describes as the "muqawama al-sharifa (the honourable resistance)" lies with ordinary Iraqis, and not with extremist groups jostling for power and influence. Even if one accepts, as I've argued before, that these extremist groups are in a minority, it must still be ensured that, in a country with a barely-functioning security apparatus, armed groups with their own agendas are not permitted to impose their will through violence, or the threat of violence. Removing the US, the greatest of these groups, can only help. But would this be sufficient? An impartial force, in the shape of a sizable UN peacekeeping contingent (apparently 500,000 troops are needed to do the job properly), would in my view still be required in order to monopolise the option of violence and ensure that the new Iraq was formed through entirely peaceful means. The occupation has severely damaged Iraq as a society and its no slight on Iraqis to say that they’ll require some outside help to start afresh. That help’s owed to them in any case (something that western anti-war protesters who are content to call for nothing beyond troop withdrawal seem willing to forget).

Returning to Alan Richards’ view that there is “no ‘solution’ to this mess”, it seems to me that, whilst we have to take a realistic view of the situation, these assertions achieve little, except encourage us to walk away from our responsibilities. To search for a solution, however slim the chances of success, is less a conceit based on some “very American assumption” that the problem can be fixed, and more an expression of a natural human urge to right a wrong that we in the west are, to a very large extent, responsible for. Therein lies the seductive power of our leaders’ insistence that we cannot “cut and run”; that we should “stay the course” and remain “as long as we are needed (and not a day longer) ... until the fight is won”.

The fact that a US defeat is being openly discussed opens up political space which can be used in order to advance the proposition that such a defeat could, in the right circumstances, lead to a victory for ordinary Iraqis. The occupiers have long exploited the seductive potency of the promise of a new Iraq. The antiwar movement can do the same, and with far greater effectiveness, since its vision of a route to that goal has the decisive advantages of being realistic, honest and standing some chance of success.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Bush's desperation

Now the server gremlins have been exterminated, let's resume with Bush's speech of last week; an attempt to rally public support for the disaster in Iraq, which is currently in freefall (45% of Americans in a new poll say that the US will never succeed in Iraq). Here's some links to various reactions to the speech and the issues surrounding it.

First stop, as always, is Juan Cole, who gives us a detailed dissection of the main points. Then there's Iraqi blogger Riverbend's account of how the speech played in her Baghdad living room. Mark LeVine, professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture, and Islamic studies at the University of California, gives a short reaction here (and here dispels some myths on the consequences of US withdrawal, a subject I’ve discussed previously here). Paul Woodward of the excellent resource War in Context, sees the speech as not so much characteristic of a strong leader as of one suffering from narcissistic personality disorder. Daniel Ellsberg notes some uncanny similarities between Bush's speech and those delivered by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon during the Vietnam era. At the ever-brilliant TomDispatch, Tom Engelhardt and Paul Rogat Loeb give us their view on the speech and the sacrifices Bush continues to demand from others. Finally, drawing back for some wider perspective, Tom Engelhardt describes the lying, manipulative amorality that the Republicans have been deploying with increasing desperation in the face of the disaster.

When one day the Vice-President is saying that the insurgency is in its "last throes", only for the Defence Secretary a few days later to admit that those "last throes" could last 12 years, you know the Bush administration is in deep trouble. When the greatest military power in all history, after two years of the showcase battle in its self-proclaimed new world order, still hasn't conquered a crippled third world country when faced only with rag tag militias equipped with light arms, you know US expansionism is in tailspin. And when the US president is forced to wheel out the comprehensively discredited excuse that Iraq had something to do with 9/11, then you know the neo-imperialists are desperate and panicking.

With the fact of the US/UK's pre-war lying now proven, and the Iraq colonisation all over bar the retreat, we may now leave the pro-war camp to its own "last throes" of resistance and move to a discussion of how the US defeat can be transformed into a victory for the Iraqi people, and kept out of the hands of a minority of local extremists.