Bring the Civilians Home Now!
Published by Online Journal at: http://onlinejournal.com/artman/publish/article_1505.shtmlThe United States is now locked in a debate over when and how to bring its troops home from Iraq. However, these military forces are only the tip of the spear that the U.S. government has plunged into the heart of the Arab world. The political debate has failed to address the disposition of the principal instrument for the lasting imposition of American interests on the government of Iraq: the largest “embassy” in the diplomatic history of the world, now rising over the banks of the Tigris.
In sharp contrast with the Orwellian “reconstruction” of Iraq, which is still destroying what is left of the infrastructure of the country, work on the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is on a 24-hour schedule, racing towards completion in mid-2007. The cost has been reported at anywhere from $592 million to over a billion dollars, and this does not include the value of the 104-acre piece of prime Baghdad real estate that it occupies. That was a generous gift from the not-so-sovereign government of Iraq!
To put this in perspective, this complex is 10 times the size of the second largest U.S. Embassy in the world in Beijing. It is about the same size as the Vatican and six times that of the United Nations Headquarters in New York. It incorporates 21 structures, including two main office buildings, six apartment buildings and its own water supply, power plant and sewage treatment facility.
This is not to mention the recreation center, gym, swimming pool, beauty parlor and American Club that are needed to induce State Department employees and other Americans to go and work in a hostile country. And, in case you’re worried about the danger to a relative who might be lured to go and work there, it is heavily guarded and surrounded by 15-foot thick blast walls. Should security conditions continue to deteriorate, as seems likely, the U.S. Air Force can deal with any problems outside the walls of the fortress with only minimal risk to embassy personnel on the inside.
The reason you haven’t seen any pictures of this eighth wonder of the world is that you’re not allowed to. Requests for access by journalists or permission to take photographs have been uniformly refused, and detailed questions to the State Department about the embassy have gone unanswered. American construction supervisors for the Kuwaiti main contractor have reported that the 2,500 construction workers from India, Pakistan and the Philippines are treated very badly, including atrocious working and living conditions, beatings for poor performance and persistent complaints that they are “treated like animals.”
The Associated Press reported in April 2006 that this headquarters for the American enterprise in Iraq will have a staff of about 5,500, compared with about 3,000 State Department employees currently working at the Republican Palace. Exactly who these people are and what they do, and why it takes so many of them, is not clear. In November 2003, Congress appears to have funneled an additional $1 billion per year to the C.I.A. (hidden in an Air Force classified program) for a massive expansion of secret operations in Iraq, and it is a reasonable guess that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad now includes the largest C.I.A. station in the world.
Steven Casteel, senior advisor to the Interior Ministry, and James Steele, counselor for Iraqi Security Forces to former Ambassador John Negroponte, have been linked to the establishment and training of Special Police Commando/Badr Brigade death squads and the orgy of “sectarian violence” tearing apart Sunni and Shiite communities in Baghdad. (See my article, “What is the U.S. Role in Iraq’s Dirty War?”)
The more central role of the embassy is obviously the influence that its army of U.S. advisors and counselors brings to bear on the Iraqi puppet government. If Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his colleagues are the puppets and U.S. policymakers are the masters, the embassy personnel are the strings by which day-to-day control is exercised. Many of the recent political crises in Iraq have been triggered by resentment of the dominant U.S. role in the affairs of the nominally sovereign government, including the current suspension of participation in the government by eight Sadrist and Sunni cabinet ministers and the withdrawal of the Fadhila (Justice) Party from the United Iraqi Alliance in May 2006.
Responding to the AP’s questions about the embassy, a State Department spokesman would only say, “It’s somewhat self-evident that there’s going to be a fairly sizable commitment to Iraq by the U.S. government in all forms for several years.” A statement from the International Crisis Group was more direct: “The presence of a massive U.S. Embassy -- by far the largest in the world -- co-located in the Green Zone with the Iraqi government is seen by Iraqis as an indication of who actually exercises power in their country.”
The question whether this headquarters of the American enterprise in Iraq should be supported by 70,000, 150,000 or 200,000 troops around the country, or none, is not nearly as significant as the question of its own existence and massive scale. It is not a reduction in the number of troops that will end the American neo-colonial project in Iraq, but only the reduction of the size and staff of the U.S. Embassy to what is required to maintain normal diplomatic relations with an important, independent Middle Eastern country.So, for Americans taking part in protests against the war, perhaps the most important message we can send to the U.S. government is not just “Bring the troops home!,” but also, “Bring the civilians home . . . now!”
Hope at last for Iraq: not the Iraq Study Group but signs of unity against the occupation
Published by Online Journal at:http://onlinejournal.com/artman/publish/article_1490.shtmlFor three and a half years, the only hope for the people of Iraq has been that they would eventually unite politically across sectarian lines to end the U.S. occupation. And the most consistent goal of the tortured and demented U.S. policy in Iraq has been to prevent such unity at all costs. Now, in the midst of unprecedented levels of violence between Iraqis in Baghdad, there are new signs of hope that could lead to freedom from occupation and the formation of an independent government.
“They are telling the ordinary people that if the American forces withdraw from Iraq, this will provoke more violence. We say, since the minute they stepped on this ground, chaos and instability have spread throughout the country. We reiterate that the departure of the occupying forces will restore stability, security and the brotherhood of the Iraqi people” -- Saleh Hassan al-Agili
Mr. al-Agili is not a member of the Sunni-led resistance to the U.S. occupation, but one of 30 members of the political party of Muqtada al-Sadr in the Iraqi parliament. This group of legislators includes six cabinet members, and holds critical power in the government of Prime Minister al-Maliki. They asserted their power this week by demanding that he cancel a planned meeting with U.S. President George Bush in Jordan. When al-Maliki attended an abbreviated meeting with Bush, all the Sadrists and two Sunni cabinet members suspended their participation in the government, demanding a firm timetable for the withdrawal of occupation forces.
At the same time, Muqtada al-Sadr is reaching out to the Sunni population, in particular to Hareth al-Dhari, the chairman of the Association of Muslim Scholars, for whom the Interior Ministry has issued an arrest warrant. Sadr has proposed some steps that Iraqis can take to repair the bad blood the occupation has fostered between Sunnis and Shiites, with a reduction in violence between Iraqis as the short-term goal and the end of U.S. occupation as their common interest.
To al-Dhari he proclaimed, “Why has the devil made his way between us? This will serve only the colonizers and will harm the hawza (clerical authority). Here is my hand -- I put it forward in reconciliation. Will there be a hand reaching out for mine?”
This appeal draws on the roots of the Dawa movement, founded by al-Sadr’s uncle 50 years ago to oppose atheism and secularism in Iraq, and conceived as a movement of both Sunnis and Shiites, although it was Shiite led and has gradually become an exclusively Shiite party.
He also asked al-Dhari to issue a fatwa against the killing of Shiites, and for Sunni assistance in repairing the Golden Dome of Samarra, a Shiite shrine in a mainly Sunni city, that was destroyed by bombs in February. Sunnis were blamed for the attack, but many Iraqis suspected American black ops designed to inflame Shiite anger toward Sunnis.
The last time that Sunnis and Shiites were united in widespread opposition to the U.S. occupation was in 2004, when U.S. forces fought both the Mehdi Army in Najaf and Sunni-led resistance forces in Fallujah and elsewhere. As the Iraqi Resistance spread from Fallujah to the rest of the country, wherever Sunni Arabs live, eventually even back to the ruins of Fallujah itself, the Mehdi Army regrouped from Najaf to the safety of its Sadr City stronghold, where the Americans did not dare to challenge it.
The formation of a majority Shiite occupation government in January 2005 altered the political dynamics by giving the SCIRI Party a dominant role in the puppet government. This was a crucial step in the American “divide and conquer” strategy, but the U.S. effort to maintain the occupation through this pro-Iranian party included unleashing incredible violence against the Sunni population.
Steven Casteel, a veteran of the drug wars in Colombia who was the senior U.S. advisor to the occupation Interior Ministry, set up Iraqi Special Police Commando units to wage a dirty war against the Sunnis. These units were trained under the supervision of retired Colonel James Steele, a senior veteran of El Salvador and Iran-Contra, who served in Iraq as Counselor for Iraqi Security Forces to Ambassador Negroponte.
After the election of January 2005, these units were effectively merged with the SCIRI Party’s Badr Brigade militia to form C.I.A.-Mukhabarat-Badr paramilitary forces whose hybrid command structure has blurred responsibility for horrific atrocities. While U.S. forces fought the Iraqi Resistance in Anbar province and other regions, these death squads were deployed to Baghdad in April 2005 to launch a dirty war in Sunni neighborhoods and drive a wedge between the Shiite and Sunni populations. The horrific results of this campaign are self-evident, but it has failed to terrorize the Sunni population into submission, and has purchased a continued American presence in Iraq at an incomprehensible cost in pain, death and misery for Iraqis.
While the Sunni-led Iraqi Resistance has gained de facto control of Anbar province and other areas by open war against the occupation, Muqtada al-Sadr and his supporters have accomplished the same in Shiite areas without confronting foreign occupation forces unless directly challenged. They have worked within the structure of the occupation government, and maintained Sadr City, Amarah and a growing number of cities in the south as autonomous and secure bases. As other Shiite politicians and parties have discredited themselves by collaboration with and submission to American and Iranian interests, Sadr has grown in stature and attracted increasing popular support for his opposition to the occupation, while using his position within the government to prevent the Americans from marginalizing or killing him. His Mehdi Army militia has likewise won support by defending Shiite neighborhoods and providing local government and social services.
Al-Sadr has worked intelligently as power has shifted away from the Americans and their shrinking clientele in the Green Zone, and it is a very hopeful sign that he now feels sufficiently empowered to reach out to al-Dhari and the Sunnis. Both al-Sadr and the Sunni Resistance have slowly gained power, legitimacy and de facto control of territory, in spite of the debilitating effect of attacks against civilians by all sides. Although these barbarous actions get most of the press, the Resistance has increased its attacks against U.S. and auxiliary forces to an incredible level of 110-120 attacks per day in recent months, compared with about 20 daily attacks reported against civilians.
The balance of power in Iraq has now evolved to the point that a successful combination between al-Sadr’s supporters and the Sunni population would represent an insurmountable challenge to the U.S. occupation. If al-Sadr succeeds in his overtures to the Sunnis while continuing to expand his influence over Prime Minister al-Maliki or a successor, the outcome could be as simple as a request from the Iraqi government for a withdrawal of U.S. forces, followed by a graceful exit. It is more likely that al-Sadr will have to defend his position against some sort of American coup (Regime Change V or VI), and the U.S. would presumably want to move against him before his challenge is fully formed. Once he has demonstrated an ability to bring Shiites and Sunnis together in opposition to the occupation, it will be over and he will have won.We are not there yet, but these are the first truly hopeful signs to emerge from Iraq since the U.S. invasion. If al-Sadr succeeds, and Iraq is able to free itself from occupation, it will have undergone one of the most rapid colonial experiences of any country in history, progressing from Western colonization to independence, with all the diverse elements of colonialism compressed into just four or five years: Western looting, investment and privatization; division and forced migration on ethnic and sectarian lines; a succession of four or five puppet governments; construction of foreign military bases; widespread and successful armed resistance; emigration of the professional class; corruption, capital flight and Swiss bank accounts; internment, arbitrary justice, torture and humiliation; and tragic, violent, horrific loss of life.