Friday, September 30, 2005

Israeli refuseniks act up posted by levi9909

Yediot Ahronot carries news of Israeli teenagers, who are courting jail by refusing to do their military service, putting on a display of how one behaves in the Israeli army.
New IDF recruits on their way to the enlistment center Wednesday were surprised to encounter an anti-occupation display prepared by fellow teenagers.

The display included three handcuffed, blindfolded boys kneeling on all fours, with a youngster wearing an army uniform holding a bat and telling them: "You wish to pray? Pray. Whoever moves is going to get it from me."...

...The protesters handed out a "gift to new recruits," namely a small set of handcuffs with a note reading: "Dear recruit, you were chosen to serve in the State of Israel’s army. To mark your entry into the ‘most moral army in the world’ we are presenting you with those handcuffs. Through emergency orders in place in Israel, you have the authority to detain people without a trial. Please use this gift and humiliate anyone who dares resist the Israeli occupation."
Apparently there were several attempts to assault the demonstrators. The link here contains video film of the demo.

Also posted at Jews sans frontieres

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

The culture of genocide. posted by Richard Seymour

There are only two official narratives about Iraq: one is that it is an idealistic venture, one which will "stabilise the region" and "bring democracy" to a suffering people; the other is that 'we' overshot in our idealism, Iraq is too backward and pathologised to be amenable to the very high ambitions crafted for it - and therefore 'we' must be soberly realistic, accepting our limitations, and not get carried away with hubris. Rome, as they say, was not built in a day.

Here is the liberal commentator Thomas Friedman:

[W]e are faltering in Iraq today in part because of the Bush team's incompetence, but also because of the moral vacuum in the Sunni Arab world. Maybe the cynical Europeans were right. Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation. That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be.

If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won't, then we are wasting our time. We should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind.

We must not throw more good American lives after good American lives for people who hate others more than they love their own children.

This, you will note, is a piece that is highly critical of the Bush administration. Friedman, an unalloyed idealist when it comes to capitalism, and concomitantly (he supposes) a rampant technophile, is suddenly sober and portentous when it comes to Iraq. Yet, what is the recommendation here? If the Sunnis won't fall into line and accept the imperialist medicine, we should subject them to genocide, arming their foes while they "reap the wind". Presumably, Friedman would - if pushed - also urge the Shiites to finish off those within their midst of an Iraqi nationalist bent, like Moqtada al-Sadr. The racist contempt in the piece is obvious and ugly, and one tries not to ponder on it. It is analogous, in fact, to the switch from 'idealism' to 'realism' after the Indian Mutiny in 1857.

Noam Chomsky wrote of the "culture of terrorism" in relation to the US covert wars on liberation movements in Latin America in the 1980s. About the Vietnam War, he wrote of 'the backroom boys' - erudite, urbane intellectuals who were so separated by distance, and suffused in ideological training, that they were oblivious to the consequences of their actions. He was referring to intellectual culture, and often refers to opinion polls that show most Americans referring to the Vietnam war as fundamentally wrong and immoral - while most intellectuals would term it simply a mistake: noble intentions gone awry. The recent documentary film, The Fog of War, was widely hailed in the liberal press as an invaluable antidote to the neoconservative fantasia. Yet it was based on discussions with a war criminal named Robert McNamara who never acknowledged, much less recanted from, his involvement in major escalations of the crimes in Vietnam - a mission which he considers noble, fed by the best of intentions, one which simply went astray due to the hubris of the political class in Washington.

Generally speaking, sophisticated commentators sell their imperialism in humane garbs - internationalism, compassion, liberty, ending tyranny etc. But indoctrination is so successful that the ruling class can take open coverage of war crimes on the front pages, confident that few will bat an eyelid. On November 8th last year, the New York Times led with a copiously illustrated story by Richard J Opel about the occupation of a hospital in Fallujah. The reason given was that the hospital was producing "inflated casualty estimates". Never mind who says they were 'inflated' - that's a war crime regardless. You can't fuck with a hospital just because it produces casualty estimates you don't like. The Geneva Conventions are explicit on the matter:

Medical and religious personnel shall be respected and protected and shall be granted all available help for the performance of their duties. [Article 9:1]

By the way, check out what else is a war crime: collective punishment, hostage-taking, rape, torture - all US crimes in Iraq, widely covered in the press. Under the US War Crimes Act, passed in 1996 by Republicans, all those who participated in these acts - top to bottom - would be executed. I still remember the zeal with which George W. Bush countered an inept Al Gore offensive about two racist murderers in Texas. Bush said "You know what's gonna happen when we catch those guys? They're gonna git the death penalty." War criminals, however... well, if they ever are executed, it will be by Iraqi resistance fighters. Their justification should be that it's the law. The newspapers have at their disposal all manner of sophistical ways around this.

Thankfully, however, most Americans will never read a newspaper. We should consider them virgin islands.

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Taking a number two. posted by Richard Seymour

Call me a wily old trustless cynic if you will and if you really must, but when I first saw the headlines screaming that "Zarqawi's number two" had been shot dead in Iraq by US forces, I thought: "oh yeah?" What's more: "Come off it!" Further: "Pull the other one, it's got herpes on it". I began to write:

Al-Zarqawi's "second-in-command" keeps changing his name and fate.

In July, he was called Abu Abd al-Aziz, and allegedly captured while in Baghdad. He was apparently known as "the emir of Baghdad".

Today, it is reported that the second-in-command is (was) Abu Azzam, known as "the amir" of Anbar. He has been shot.

Previous second-in-commands of repute have included Khalid Suleiman Darwish, Abdel Rahman al-Iraqi, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, Abdullah al-Janabi... look, sort it out will you.

It transpires that I needn't have bothered as two rather smug looking muppets writing for Newsweek have shredded the story already. It seems that everyone they manage to pinch with a bullet is a 'leading Al Qaeda figure', a 'top Zarqawi ally' or something of the kind. Remember, Zarqawi is a monster without being a man, which is rather unfair.

See also this, this, this this, this, this and this.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Coincidence. posted by Richard Seymour

God is over-rated, what with that reputation for 'mysterious ways' and alluringly delphic appearances to the ancient and mad. If He really does go to all the trouble of existence, He's utterly predictable. (That's right - I don't take no shit from the Man).

For instance, here is an extraordinary coincidence. Last week a pair of SAS under-cover operatives were caught shooting at Iraqi policemen in Basra. Their car was packed with a small arsenal including, Iraqi authorities alleged, explosive equipment.

Today, a bomb targeted the home of the anti-occupation activist Moqtada al-Sadr's bodyguard in Najaf, killing six people.

Basra "breadbasket": British soldier pacifies angry local.

Some of the stories reporting this note that al-Sadr has been in conflict with the religious sectarians and occupation collaborators, the Badr Corps, who are trained and supported by Iran (whose government also supported the invasion of Afghanistan). It is true that there have been serious fights between the collaborationist SCIRI movement and its armed militians, and Sadr's Mahdi Army. It is also perfectly believable that the Badr Corps carried out this attack (rather than, say, undercover SAS agents, trying to provoke inter-Shia rivalry). But then it isn't simple to disaggregate pro-occupation Shi'ite forces from the occupation itself, since they have often provided the recruits for the occupiers' death squads, on many occasions working with the CIA-trained Iraqi police forces (and they have the nerve to complain about the Basra police being 'infiltrated'!). At any rate, it's a total coincidence and as soon as the (insert classic imperialist/racist sobriquet) cease asking silly questions about what 'we' were doing in Basra, the issue will die down and 'we' can return to sensible issues, like how partial privatisation will reduce waiting lists on the NHS.

By the way, it is a curious irony that Saddam's former torturers have been recruited by the occupiers, along with new Shiite torturers. Let it never be said that the United States will exclude anyone from the pleasure of torturing a fellow human being on the grounds of race, religion or creed.

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No shit. posted by Richard Seymour

After the recent report from the New Orleans Times-Picayune dispelling the wild rumours about rapes and throat-slashing in New Orleans during the siege, the LA Times speculates that race may have been "a factor" in the senseless lies and rumours.

Say! D'you think?

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Bringing Out the Dead. posted by Richard Seymour

The United States government doesn’t do body counts, but three well-publicised studies have attempted the task of accounting for those who have died, in various ways, as a result of the occupation. There has been the report for Johns Hopkins University, published in the Lancet, which measured excess deaths for the eighteen months from April 2003. There has been the ongoing media reports-based Iraq Body Count, which has recently released a dossier of civilian deaths from April 2003 until April 2005. And there was, recently a study conducted by the UNDP known as the Iraq Living Conditions Survey, which measured war-related deaths over a year from April 2003 until April 2004.

Predictably, a number of impressions have been allowed to congeal around these reports which are either misleading or flatly false. I just want to take some time to illustrate some of the more obvious ones which accrued to the Lancet survey. A week after the findings were published suggesting 98,000 excess deaths had occurred as a result of the war, The Observer got round to discussing them. It claimed that “The report's authors admit it drew heavily on the rebel stronghold of Falluja, which has been plagued by fierce fighting. Strip out Falluja, as the study itself acknowledged, and the mortality rate is reduced dramatically”. Not only was this untrue, the precise opposite was true – Fallujah had precisely been excluded in order to arrive at the figure of 98,000. This was made clear in the précis included at the start for lay readers. It was, the authors said, a conservative estimate. Had the Fallujah sample been included, the survey's estimate would have been of an excess of about 298,000 deaths, with 200,000 concentrated in the 3% of Iraq around Fallujah. Another misconception was that the 8000-194000 confidence interval meant that there was an equal chance of the figure being 8000 or 194000. Fred Kaplan of Slate complained “This isn’t an estimate. It’s a dartboard”. I e-mailed the reports authors and got a reply from Les Roberts, pointing out that the confidence interval meant that the most likely figure was 98,000. Crooked Timber summarised: “the sample contains important information which is not summarised in the confidence interval, but which tells you that the central estimate is not likely to be a massive overestimate”. Another gambit was attempted by John Rentoul, Blair’s hagiographer, who really did try saying, inter an awful lot of alia, that the survey suffered from ‘recall bias’ – a possibility the authors had incorporated into their estimate. But the point of suggesting recall bias was to say that the pre-war estimates of mortality were lower than they might otherwise have been, thus creating a greater excess – unfortunately for him, that notion has been dealt a sharp death blow in ways that I will come to shortly. Rentoul also misconstrues the data in fundamental ways which you can read about by clicking on the link.

It was particularly crucial for many supporters of the war to dismiss these findings in some way, especially as many of them had invested much in the notion that casualties would be quite limited. Immediately after Saddam’s statue fell, apologists revelled in what they supposed was a swift and relatively bloodless war, thumbing their noses and giggling at critics who said the death tolls could be in the tens of thousands. And Lancet, when it appeared, said a curious thing – something that stuck in every warmonger’s throat: there was more risk of dying a violent death post-invasion than there was pre-invasion. The risk of dying a violent death was 58 times higher. What’s more, most violent deaths were a result of occupation violence. For shame! The entire philanthropic ‘humanitarian intervention’ enterprise was at stake. So, the red herrings were sent to water, and turned up in many august journals. As MediaLens illustrates, through conversation with various journalists and one of the report’s authors, the criticisms directed at the Lancet report’s methodology were rarely used against studies using the same method (for example, estimates of deaths in the Congo), were often ignorant, and tended to reflect government propaganda: “I find the methodology a bit doubtful” (Roger Alton, Observer); “while the sample may have been standard for that sort of thing - it seemed small from a lay perspective” (Mary Dejevsky, Independent); “So far as I am aware, the Lancet's report was criticised by the Foreign Office” (Terry Kirby, Independent); “as it turned out, Mr. Roberts used less-than-ideal methods and then overstated his results, possibly by a factor of two or three” (Washington Times); “I have a feeling (and I could be wrong) that the report may be a dud” (David Aaronovitch, highest bidder) etc etc. (Part two of MediaLens’ invaluable discussion is here).


If the Lancet-deniers haven’t exactly been skilled in their handling of data, they have at least been resourceful in martialing a variety of superficially plausible reasons to dismiss the data: sample too small, estimate for pre-war mortalities too low, confidence interval too broad etc. Another immediate response was to big up the findings of Iraq Body Count. Rentoul did this, as did the government and a number of fawning commentators. Jack Straw puffed the IBC’s findings when interviewed on the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme on 29th. IBC’s numbers were so much smaller and more friendly – a ‘mere’ 25,000 (present range 26092 – 29401). Iraq Body Count, for its part, said:

We are not a news organization ourselves and like everyone else can only base our information on what has been reported so far. What we are attempting to provide is a credible compilation of civilian deaths that have been reported by recognized sources. Our maximum therefore refers to reported deaths - which can only be a sample of true deaths unless one assumes that every civilian death has been reported. It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media. That is the sad nature of war. (Quick-FAQ)

The authors of the Lancet report made a similar point. But did the IBC’s findings actually conflict with those of the Lancet study? The Lancet measured ‘excess deaths’ – that is, it measured the approximate number of deaths that occurred post-invasion that would not have occurred had the invasion not taken place – it says: the occupation is this much more brutal than Saddam was in his last years. This happens to be a common method of studying deaths in war and under authoritarian regimes, and it certainly accounts for the bulk of deaths attributed to monsters like Stalin and Pol Pot – quite rightly, since deaths that result from state-ideological structures and its decisions, like starvation, disease, more accidental deaths through increased risk etc, are also avoidable ones. The IBC is more specialised: it counts only civilian deaths, and tries to account for as many of them as possible, while acknowledging the inherent under-reporting involved. When Lancet reports a total of 33,000 violent deaths, this doesn’t sound so far from the IBC total (at that time) of 25,000 exclusively civilian violent deaths. There seems no reason to imagine that the two reports are in fundamental conflict.

Most recently, a number of bloggers and newspaper columnists have extemporised on a report by the UNDP called the Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004. It was reported in The Times as follows:

The 370-page report said that it was 95 per cent confident that the toll during the war and the first year of occupation was 24,000, but could have been between 18,000 and 29,000. About 12 per cent of those were under 18.
The figure is far lower than the 98,000 deaths estimated in The Lancet last October, which said that it had interviewed nearly 1,000 households. But it is far higher than other figures.

The UNDP’s report interviewed many more households and had a much narrower confidence interval, and reported a figure that – while quite large – was nevertheless much more in keeping with the expectations of many than those of the Lancet report. Where, the warbloggers wondered, was the widespread attention to this report? However, the surveys measure different things. And where the findings do overlap, as Tim Lambert notes, the findings of the UNDP, rather than conflicting with it, corroborate those of the Lancet:

The survey also had a question on war-related deaths that provides more support for the Lancet study on excess mortality. Question HM01 (questionnaire available here) was “Has any person(s) who was a regular household member died or gone missing during the past 24 months?” Question HM05 asked for the cause of death: Disease / Traffic Accident / War related death / Pregnancy or childbirth / Other. The resulting estimate for war-related deaths was 24,000 (95% CI 18,000-29,000, see page 54 of report). since the field work was carried in April 2004, this only counts deaths in the invasion and the following year. The corresponding number from the Lancet study is 33,000 (the rest of the excess deaths are from increases in disease, accidents and murders). When you allow for the fact that the Lancet study covered eighteen months rather than one year, the ILCS gives a slightly higher death rate. So an independent study has confirmed that part of the Lancet study.

It goes on to corroborate the Lancet’s findings on pre-war infant mortality, as I hinted at earlier:

Some of the critics of the Lancet study attacked it because the Lancet study found an infant mortality rate in the year before the war of 29 per 1000 births, arguing that was contradicted by a UNICEF estimate of 107 … The ILCS survey estimate for 2002 is 32. (See Figure 26.)

Let’s go back and take another look at the findings in the IBC’s new dossier. It reports that 24,865 civilians died in the first two years, 20% of them women and children, with the number twice as high in year two as in year one. Further, “US-led forces killed 37% of civilian victims”, while “Anti-occupation forces/insurgents killed 9% of civilian victims”. Over half of all civilian deaths resulted from explosive devices, 64% of which were caused by air strikes – and the resistance don’t have an air force. That corroborates another aspect of Lancet, which is not only that most of the excess deaths have been caused by violence, but that the bulk of the violent deaths were caused by the occupiers.

A few other notes, by way of illustrative anecdote. The US openly boasts of having killed 50,000 “insurgents”. If we were to take them at face value, then we would have to guess that the civilian death count was much higher. With replicas of Fallujah having appeared in Haditha, al-Qaim, Tal Afar, and now perhaps Sadr City as well, such would not be an unreasonable guess. If these were factored into a future survey, the number of deaths might prove to be extraordinarily high. Similarly, in an interview with Socialist Worker, one of the Lancet report’s authors refers to this study, which shows that 14% of army troops and 28% of Marines in Iraq believe themselves to have been directly responsible for the death of a non-combatant. That’s a lot of deaths, especially if you consider the near certainty that a large number of those who have killed non-combatants will not be aware of it, or will prefer to disavow it. And it only covers the period until July 2004.

The only story that obtains here is as follows: repeated attempts to discredit a major survey of excess deaths in Iraq have failed; tens of thousands of civilians have died as a direct result of violence; most of those died from occupation violence; tens of thousands more died due to the spread of disease and the collapse of the infrastructure; and every reliable study shows these same facts in some fashion, compelling the extraordinary and damning conclusion that the would-be liberators have made life agonisingly worse for Iraqis. And they wonder why Iraqis don’t like them? They wonder why there is a resistance?

Update: Well, it seems I was wrong. Upon a bit of further examination, it turns out that the US does do body counts, its just that they are suppressed. Oh well. And the Iraqi Ministry of Health was told by what was then the CPA to stop counting the dead as well. Just for the record, they were able to find 3,487 deaths during the invasion in 15 of 18 provinces before they were told to stop.

However, a number of other reports on deaths in Iraq have come to my attention, and I just thought I'd run through them by way of additional material.

There is the report by the People's Kifah, a civilian group against the occupation in Iraq, that estimated 37,000 civilian deaths in Iraq as of October 2003. This appears to have been carried out by a number of academics and activists across Iraq, in various provinces. Unfortunately, one of their workers were kidnapped by a Kurdish militia, and they don't know what happened to him.

There was the report of the Brookings Institute, which estimated between 15,200 and 31,400 violent deaths between May 2003 and September 2004.

And recently two further reports. First the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies estimates reappraised the Lancet statistics to conclude that 39,000 had died as a direct result of combat and armed violence. Second, the Iraqiyun Human Rights Organisation, estimates 128,000 deaths between March 2003 and July 2005. That figure comes from interviews with relatives of the dead and figures from Iraqi hospitals, and does not include abductions or assassinations.

This excellent article on Lancet is also worth a look.

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Basra: the occupiers dissolve the people and elect another. posted by Richard Seymour

The British Army in Basra are, under the orders of Defense Secretary John Reid, to fire the entire Basra police force and start anew. There is indeed a problem with the local state institutions, inasmuch as they seem to be getting funny ideas about running their own country:

Iraqi Judge Raghib al-Mudhafar, the chief of the Basra Anti-Terrorism Court, said on Saturday that he re-issued homicide arrest warrants for two British soldiers on Thursday.

But the British government said they aren't legally binding on the British soldiers.

Yes, yes, 'Status of Forces agreement' and all that - a fancy way of saying, the occupiers rule. This illuminates one of the crucial points about the language of occupation. The client regime in Iraq is usually referred to by warmongers as "the democratically elected government in Baghdad" or some such formulation. But elections do not a state make. The state was built, constructed from the ground up, long before the US was finally pressured into staging elections. A team of administrators, privatisers and embezzlers was first imported from the United States, then slowly replaced with selected frontmen. At the same time, the CIA trained the new army and police forces in how to torture and kill. The occupiers drafted laws and edicts which were to be irreversible, set up crucial institutions and then built an enormous US Embassy, the biggest in the world, to direct what these institutions would get up to. It is this embassy, by the way, which has extensively manipulated the drafting of the constitution in a process that the occupiers determined and controlled from the start.

And now, of course, when one local part of the state apparatus gets uppity and starts objecting to the shooting of its policemen by undercover British agents dressed as Mahdi Army soldiers, the occupiers simply dissolve them.

One other little detail that struck my pretty little peepers was this:

[Brigadier John Lorimer] said that as this team was trying to defuse the situation inside the jail, up to 300 rioters were shooting at troops providing a cordon around the building, and attacking them with rocket grenades and petrol bombs.

Never mind the fact that they were not trying to 'defuse the situation' but free two suspected murderers from jail, and leave aside the fact that their idea of calming the situation was to fire on the demonstrators. What's this business about rocket grenades? I have seen no news report that describes the use of rocket grenades by the 300 demonstrators - petrol bombs, yes. But the only people who are reported to have used rocket-propelled grenades are the British forces when they stormed the jail. A transparent case of projection if you ask me.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Ethnic cleansing in the Negev posted by levi9909

According to today's Ha'aretz, Israel has ordered the demolition of hundreds of Bedouin "illegal" homes to be replaced by farms, presumably for Jews.
Residents say that since Israel's disengagement from Gaza, government orders to demolish illegal houses in the Bedouin sector have swelled. In honor of Monday's demonstration, Bedouin residents also called a strike at 16 Negev schools in the unrecognized villages.
When he first suggested the disengagement plan, Ariel Sharon said that "this should be seen as a punishment and not a reward for the Palestinians". It looks like a punishment for the Bedouin too, and what was their offence? The same as the Palestinians: being natives in a colonial settler state.

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New Orleans: nothing to see here. posted by Richard Seymour

Well, we now have final confirmation that the horror stories about stabbings and rapes in the dome were fictitious:

After five days managing near-riots, medical horrors and unspeakable living conditions inside the Superdome, Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron prepared to hand over the dead to representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Following days of internationally reported killings, rapes and gang violence inside the Dome, the doctor from FEMA - Beron doesn't remember his name - came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.

"I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Beron recalls the doctor saying.

The real total was six, Beron said.

Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the turning over of bodies from a Dome freezer, where they lay atop melting bags of ice.

As the fog of warlike conditions in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath has cleared, the vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know.

"I think 99 percent of it is bulls---," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lachney, who played a key role in security and humanitarian work inside the Dome. "Don't get me wrong, bad things happened, but I didn't see any killing and raping and cutting of throats or anything. ... Ninety-nine percent of the people in the Dome were very well-behaved."

Well, anyway, the rumours served their purpose. The aid was withheld and survivors prevented from leaving, while troops built up around the city to 'retake' it and quell the 'insurgency'. And now that they have 'retaken' the city, what is afoot? Well, much as anticipated:

And we started to hear this very early on after Katrina hit, where, not just from evangelical Christian sides, we started to hear, "maybe this is punishment for Mardi Gras and sodomites and we’ve cleaned the city", but you hear it from the mayor, Ray Nagin, "for the first time New Orleans is free of crime and violence and we're going to keep it that way". There's almost a sense that free of people, the city has become this blank slate. In that context, this fantasy can be built from scratch.

The buzzwords to listen for in terms of the reconstruction of New Orleans are “smaller”, “safer”. And the idea is that in the city, wealth really buys altitude, and so the effect of the flood was not at all democratic. The people who were able to buy land on high ground, their neighborhoods are relatively unscathed, and many of them never left or have been able to return. The people who were hit hardest were the people who we saw on television, you know, in the Superdome. These are the people who lived in the low-lying areas. So, the idea now is, okay, maybe we won't rebuild those areas at all, and when -- on September 15, when the mayor said that certain areas are able to be re-inhabited, this is before Rita presented itself as the threat that it, it was clear that the people re-populating New Orleans didn't look very much like the people who lived there before. It was overwhelmingly white, whereas the people still in shelters were overwhelmingly black. So, I think that the overall vision is massive land grabs, radical gentrification, and as Jeremy's piece makes clear, the gentrification is happening with privatized military force.


So I started researching what the battles were in New Orleans before the hurricane. And, of course, there were very, very fierce, an you know you’ve covered this on your show, very fierce battles going on around housing projects, and gentrification in the city where conflicts between people who were demanding affordable housing and particularly the tourism sector on the French Quarter, and over the course of the research, I saw the staggering feature, which is that the French Quarter, which as you said is 90% white, is also almost half empty. In the most recent census, and the market hasn't changed since then, the French Quarter had a 37% vacancy rate, which means that 37% of the apartments and homes in the French Quarter are sitting empty. They're sitting empty because the people who own the buildings have decided that they would rather board up the apartments than take reduced rent, because they're making enough off the commercial rents, renting to restaurants and bars and so on.

So when I saw this massive dislocation happening, and all of these people saying, “well, there's nowhere for them to return to”, I looked at the census again, and looked at all of these other areas that the mayor has said are dry and inhabitable and found that there were comparably high vacancy rates in other areas, like the Garden District and Central Business District. What we found was that in fact there are 12,000 empty apartments and houses in the dry areas. Which means that those -- those could be affordable houses for people.

God cleans up again.

So, what's the plan? Well:

The plan is to reopen dried-out neighhorhoods inhabited by 250,000 to 300,000 of the city's half-million residents.

And how do you propose to keep out up to half of the population? By purging the poor:

New Orleans is already displaying signs of a demographic shift so dramatic that some evacuees describe it as "ethnic cleansing." Before Mayor Ray Nagin called for a second evacuation, the people streaming back into dry areas were mostly white, while those with no homes to return to are overwhelmingly black. This, we are assured, is not a conspiracy; it's simple geography--a reflection of the fact that wealth in New Orleans buys altitude. That means that the driest areas are the whitest (the French Quarter is 90 percent white; the Garden District, 89 percent; Audubon, 86 percent; neighboring Jefferson Parish, where people were also allowed to return, 65 percent). Some dry areas, like Algiers, did have large low-income African-American populations before the storm, but in all the billions for reconstruction, there is no budget for transportation back from the far-flung shelters where those residents ended up. So even when resettlement is permitted, many may not be able to return.

Yes, New Orleans is to be rebuilt without its "underclass". God has, at long last, cleaned up public housing in New Orleans, with a little help from his loyal lieutenants in the Bush administration, whose confederates continue to reap rewards in abundance.

Unsurprisingly, some of the most morally serious and angry reactions to this have come from hip hop, so here's a bit of listening and reading: Mos Def: Katrina Klap; K.O. remixes Kanye West: George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People; Immortal Technique: Katrina and the Hand of God.

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Guardian: 'voters swing behind withdrawal'. posted by Richard Seymour

Well, polls have tended to show most people supporting either a date for withdrawal or withdrawal by the end of the year. The Guardian today reports that voters are swinging behind withdrawal whatever the circumstances.

I don't see a substantial change here - people simply do not believe that the war was just and don't think we have any right to be in Iraq. That's been so for ages, albeit various events might have been expected to attenuate or alter that view. But hold on a second - I think I understand why this is news to The Guardian. The same paper carried an editorial last Wednesday saying "no one is arguing for an immediate pull-out". This on the same day as its new star columnist, Simon Jenkins, argued that "Iraq is for the Iraqis".

Meanwhile, the Independent has more on the growing Sunni-Shiite unity against the occupation. And the Moonie Times reproduces another intelligence dribble on Con Couglin's leg, alleging that Moqtada al-Sadr's men are being trained by Iran. The all-purpose passive voice, non-sequitur and padding out of a one-paragraph non-story with irrelevant detail are all par for the course with the egregious disseminator of intelligence fabrications.

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Beyond Chutzpah posted by Richard Seymour

It must take balls of steel and a face of iron to be a US government spokesperson of any stripe.

Item: The US military has been involved in intense battles with Sadr supporters in Baghdad. And guess what:

The US military confirmed it had fought "anti-Iraqi forces" in eastern Baghdad.

Anti. Iraqi. Forces. You read that correctly.

Item: The United States is warning Nicaragua against a 'coup'.

Surely not these connoisseurs of revolution? Suffice to say, the 'coup' involved, the virtues and vices of which I make no comment on, is an attempt by some Liberal Party politicians to constitutionally evict the President. Coming from the government that funded, trained and directed death squads to rampage across Nicaragua and attack 'soft targets' (schools, medical clinics etc), eventually killing 30,000, this is a little too much to hear.

What next? US demands apology from Vietnam? France 'warns' Haiti against coup? Tony Blair rebukes opponents for dishonesty?

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After the demos: troop withdrawals? posted by Richard Seymour

Withdrawal symptoms.
The pro-war Observer today suggests that the UK is to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in May 2006:

The document being drawn up by the British government and the US will be presented to the Iraqi parliament in October and will spark fresh controversy over how long British troops will stay in the country. Tony Blair hopes that, despite continuing and widespread violence in Iraq, the move will show that there is progress following the conflict of 2003.


The increasingly rapid pace of planning for British military disengagement has been revealed on the eve of the Labour Party conference, which will see renewed demands for a deadline for withdrawal. It is hoped that a clearer strategy on Iraq will quieten critics who say that the government will not be able to 'move on' until Blair quits. Yesterday, about 10,000 people demonstrated against the army's continued presence in the country.

Predictably, the Prime Minister has immediately pounced on this, saying no 'arbitrary date' has been set. Further:

The prime minister also told Andrew Marr he had not expected the "ferocity" of resistance from Middle East elements following the invasion of Iraq.

That old foreign fighters schtick again.

What's most telling about this is that the Observer links the disavowed report to the Labour Party conference. It doesn't exactly require a ferocious journalistic intellect to figure it out (which is lucky for the Observer, since they don't have one on staff), but it's worth paying attention to. The clear intention is to disarm the trade union delegates who will call for a withdrawal by 'sending out signals'.

What's curious about this is that the story is continually repackaged with slightly different details. In June, they announced that forces would be withdrawn in 2006, but only to be transferred to Afghanistan. In July, they spoke of withdrawing in Spring 2006. Then that was scrapped as 'everyone' agreed that it was out of the question now that the natives were getting uppity. Now, with polls in both the US and UK supporting a swift withdrawal, the story emerges again. I suspect that what is actually happening is that the UK would like to declare success in the South and hop it over to Afghanistan to join the Nato-led forces there, while the US withdraws to its permanent bases.

News on the march.
Nostradamus got it right again. Never mind The Observer's ridiculously low numbers for the demo, which they've got from an early police estimate - it happens quite a bit. I was there, and it was visibly by no manner of means 10,000. They've left out a zero.

Great to see Gate Gourmet workers there with their own placards expressing solidarity. Some good coverage and an excellent picture of the US demos here. In the US a total of 300,000 are estimated to have turned up at various demonstration points, with at least 100,000 in the capital. Demonstrations filled the streets in Rome, London, Washington DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

What is most encouraging is that the US antiwar movement has built up a remarkable head of steam again, after the deflation that followed Kerry's defeat. And they are not going easy on the Democrats, who skipped town to avoid the demonstrations. Cindy Sheehan, who deserves a lot of the credit for pulling the antiwar movement out of its unhappy little rut, is taking on the Democrats, particularly that loathsome ambulance-chaser, Hillary Clinton. Several punch-ups afoot, then. British trade union delegates might - might - just retain their spines this time and try to implement their democratically agreed policies on ending the occupation of Iraq at the Labour conference. More likely, they will block all that and attempt to keep the focus on the government's proposals for pension reforms and on workers' rights - which might be reasonable if there was any chance that the delegates would not back down and accept some miasma of proffered compromise and 'consultation'. The US antiwar movement is to take it to the Democrats as well as the Bush administration, not just in Cindy's big show-down with Hillary, but also with a mock trial of leading Democrat Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, a consistent warmonger. All of which must point toward finding an appropriate electoral vehicle to make a satisfactory incursion of US street politics into the mainstream. Nader may have had enough of the timidity of the US left and decide not to stand. On the other hand, he may well have blotted his copybook by sidling up to the Newmanites and with his intervention on the Schiavo fiasco. But something has to give, and someone has to undertake the dirty task of repoliticisation.

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Sadr to Zarqawi: Out! posted by Richard Seymour

The charismatic chubster Moqtada al-Sadr has issued a statement indicating that if Zarqawi were to cross paths with his militia, he would be "torn apart":

The statement put out by al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq group on Tuesday, saying they would only strike the Shiites who don't condemn attacks on Sunnis or the US occupation of Iraq, has provoked a harsh response from one of the groups named as not being a target. "In Abu Musab al-Zarqawi making an exception in our case, the Jordanian terrorist is trying to force a split within the Shiite world," said Riad Nur, spokesman for the movement of rebel Shiite imam Moqtada al-Sadr, when interviewed by the Arab newspaper al-Hayat.

"With yesterday's statement, in which our movement was excluded from al-Qaeda's total war on the Shiites, he is trying to divide the Shiite school, insinuating that there is a internal conflict between the groups," Nur said.

The Shiite spokesman went on to call on the Jordanian insurgent leader and his followers to immediately leave Iraq and stressed that "for our movement, al-Zarqawi is nothing but an enemy and if he falls into the hands of our militia he will be torn apart."

While we're in that bright spot under the sun, remember those revolting, pornographic videos of captives of Tawhid wal Jihad being beheaded, murdered in the most humiliating fashion? These videos were not shown to BBC news watchers, of course, but there was a lot of giddy excitement and revulsion about them as imaginations filled in the gap. What to make of this, this, this and this? (Warning: You really don't want to see those pictures or the messages that go with them if you think killing people is wrong and stuff.)

Now, that website gives US soldiers free passes to their pornographic department if they post pictures and video tape of the gruesome bodies they are accruing there - and some plucky soldiers have replied in abundance. Not so far removed from the Ramadi Madness videos made by US soldiers of dead Ay-rab bodies with amusing titles like "Those Crafty Little Bastards" and "Another Day, Another Mission, Another Scumbag." Or this charming home video. The difference this time is that they're doing it in public in return for a free erection.

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America: Time to Get Out of Iraq. posted by Richard Seymour

Two polls show dwindling support for the war on Iraq, with 63% supporting a full or partial withdrawal in the immediate term, and most wanting to see cuts in expenditure on Iraq to pay for the Katrina clear-up.

Just today, The Guardian has got round to publishing the findings of the latest CSIS study, showing that the occupiers drastically (and for obvious enough reasons) overstates the number of 'foreign fighters' in Iraq. Well, that's true if we look at their public statements, but lower profile CIA analysts have always said it was close to between 5 and 10% of the total resistance. The CSIS was the organisation that previously found that the vast bulk of resistance attacks in Iraq targeted coalition forces, not civilians. The New York Times published similar figures from the Department of Defense. The CSIS notes in the latest report, however, that the 'foreign fighters' entering from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Syria and all the rest, are likely to be involved in the bloodiest operations, the ones that do target civilians and are intended to provoke civil war. I can only imagine that they are recruited by Tawhid wal Jihad or some such group, and the resistance will have to deal with them - as indeed it has been doing.

The study also corroborates recent evidence from the Saudi government and an Israeli think-tank which suggests that the 'foreign fighters' entering Iraq are not those with a history of involvement in jihadist struggles, but a layer of people recently radicalised by the war.

Parenthetically, I'd like to point out that the great Independent journalist Robert Fisk has been banned from entering the US. He was told his papers weren't in order. It could also just possibly have something to do with dispatches like this.

Tomorrow is only a day away.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Basra: the uses of terror. posted by Richard Seymour

Remember Donald Rumsfeld's plan to provoke terrorist attacks? You know, the Proactive Preemptive Operations Group. The ones charged by Rumsfeld's Defense Department to come up with ways to "stimulate reactions" among terrorist groups. No, of course you don't: that particular pecadillo has slipped gently and unintrusively down the memory hole.

How about the Pentagon's proposals for terrorist attacks on US soil? Operation Northwoods? Oh, do wake up! Very well, the reference may still be a little obscure. Perhaps the involvement of the FSB in the Moscow Bombings and the Algerian government's perpetration of terrorist atrocities both in Algeria and Paris? The use of terrorist death squads in El Salvador and Nicaragua? Or Colombia and Angola? The deployment of terrorist atrocities in Cuba? Counter-insurgency terror campaigns in Vietnam? Operation Gladio?

Okay, I won't press the point. You should be watching more carefully, that's all. Might I apprise you of the fact that the Tomb's archives are a veritable treasure chest of knowledge and enlightenment? I might one day, just you wait.

However, what to make of British Special Reconaissance Unit operatives in Basra replete with weapons and what is alleged to be explosive equipment? Dressed as insurgents, with beards cut in the Shia style, wearing Mahdi army black and cream? Iraqi security officials accused them of planting bombs.

I mean, what is all this shit, guys? You having troubles at home? You should know that some Iraqis suspect you of engaging in terrorist activities with a view to dividing them and discrediting groups you dislike. I'm not the kind of person to throw around such wild charges, but I think you'd probably behead your own grannies on a live web-cam feed if the British state asked you to.

So does Kurt Nimmo.

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Haiti: the torture continues. posted by Richard Seymour

Gary Younge reports on the trade in child sex slavery under the colonial masters in Haiti, as they are sent to the Dominican Republic to seek money:

There is a thriving trade in Haitian children in the Dominican Republic, where they are mostly used for domestic service, agricultural work or prostitution. Eight-year-old Jesus Josef was one of them. Numbed by a mixture of trauma and shyness, this small boy with huge eyes cannot recall how he left his three brothers and mother in Haiti and ended up doing domestic work for a Dominican family in Barahona, 120 miles from the capital, Santo Domingo.

Jesus sits quietly as Father Pedro Ruquoy, who runs a refuge near Barahona, tells how he escaped from the family and ran away to a local hospice. When he arrived his neck was twisted from carrying heavy loads on his shoulder and the marks on his slender torso suggested ill-treatment. The Dominican family found out where he was and came to the hospice demanding either his return or 10,000 pesos for the loss. "They used him as a slave," says Mr Ruquoy. "And they tortured him."


But even as Haitians are reviled, they are also needed for their cheap labour. The manner in which the children arrive varies. Some are kidnapped but most often their parents not only know, but actually pay "busones" or scouts to ensure their safe passage in the hope that they will have a better life.

"Half of all Haitians struggle to eat even once a day," says Helen Spraos, Christian Aid's Haiti representative. "It doesn't take much to push people over the brink. If the rains fail or someone falls ill, they have to sell what little they have - perhaps a pig or a goat - to buy medicines. Eventually they have to sell their land. Once they reach rock bottom, the one way they can provide for their children is by sending them to live in the cities or in the Dominican Republic. There at least they may be fed and have some prospects for making a living."

The administration of sweat-shop owners and genocidaires has been trying former members of the elected government for alleged political killings, while locking up priests - the same people who have been killing with impugnity since the US-directed coup (which the UN hypocritically describes as anti-gang raids, as pure an example of imperialist racism as I have come across. At the same time, they have overturned murder convictions for those involved in the Raboteau massacre. They hae been trying to the demonstration elections which have been set up to retroactively justify the destruction of democracy.

See also: Democracy Now! The New Haiti: Arrest, Murder, Repression; Democracy Now! Haiti Under Siege; Lenin's Tomb: Haiti is Being Murdered; Democracy Now! The Haiti Coup One Year Later; Global Research - Hait's Nightmare: The Cocaine Coup and the CIA Connection; Amnesty International: Raboteau Massacre.

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New Labour: "addressing the full range of concerns" posted by Meaders

Occasionally, you find a Parliamentary candidate from one of the main parties so dirty and rotten and desperate they'll try and stoke up racism to claw their way in to power. In the 1964 general election, Labour frontbencher Patrick Gordon-Walker was defeated at Smethwick in the West Midlands by a Conservative who campaigned under the slogan "If you want a nigger for your neighbour, vote Labour." Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister, rightly described the loathsome Tory creature as a "Parliamentary leper".

Labour's learned a trick or two since then. In a by-election last year, former management consultant and investment banker Liam Byrne scraped a narrow victory over the Liberal Democrats at another West Midlands seat, Birmingham Hodge Hill. Here he is in the Guardian today, freshly-promoted to a ministerial position, and sharing with us the secrets of continued New Labour success: May 13% of Labour identifiers voted for another party and 9% stayed at home. The evidence shows that these were by no means all leftwing protests - where we lost support, we were challenged from left and right. Iraq was the most important issue for Labour defectors. But almost as many cited crime, antisocial behaviour and asylum as the reasons for failing to back us - the same is true of the economy and NHS. Regaining all these supporters means addressing the full range of concerns.

Here's Byrne "addressing the full range of concerns" on crime and antisocial behaviour during his first election campaign:

People of Hodge Hill deserve to know the truth about dangerous Liberal Democrat policies.

I know how concerned people of Hodge Hill, Alum Rock, Bordesley Green, Kitts Green, Stechford, Shard End and Washood Heath are about the anti-social behaviour of teen gangs and drug dealers. I want these gangs busted. I want these drug dealers put behind bars, I want the drug money of these so-called drug barons confiscated and used to make our area better.

I challenge the Liberal Democrat candidate Nicola Davies to defend policies that would make life worse for local people.

Here's Byrne on asylum:

Labour is on your side—the Lib Dems are on the side of failed asylum seekers...

We have taken tough action against those who abuse the system as a cover for economic migration.

While Labour were tough the Lib Dems were wimps—they tried to stop us taking away benefits from failed asylum seekers and they voted against plans to speed up deportations.

If the language is not that of Smethwick in 1964, the intention is the same.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Gays tortured, killed in Iran. posted by Richard Seymour

Doug Ireland has an extraordinary and excruciating story of a gay man from Iran named Amir who has been subjected to the most vile torture and abuse by Iran's police for being a homosexual. This is the latest in a series of articles on what Doug Ireland describes as a 'deadly anti-gay purge', including the execution of two gay teenagers. Quote:

Then, says Amir, the torture began. “There was a metal chair in the middle of the room -- they put a gas flame under the chair, and made me sit on it as the metal seat got hotter and hotter. They threatened to send me to an army barracks where all the soldiers were going to rape me. There was a soft drink bottle sitting on a table -- Ali Panahi told one of the other basiji to take the bottle and shove it up my as, screaming, ‘This will teach you not to want any more cock!’ I was so afraid of sitting in that metal chair as it got hotter and hotter that I confessed. Then they brought out my file, and told me that I was a ‘famous faggot’ in Shiraz. They beat me up so badly that I passed out, and was thrown, unconscious, into a holding cell.

The article contains gruesome photographic evidence of the torture.

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Rumours. posted by Richard Seymour

According to the BBC:

Iraqi interior minister Baqir Solagh Jabr has disputed the British military's account of how it freed the captured soldiers on Monday.

He told BBC News the men never left police custody or the prison building in Basra, were not handed to militants and that the British Army acted on "rumour" when it stormed the prison looking for them.

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Basra: withdrawal symptoms posted by Richard Seymour

Already, the stupid establishment consensus is settling, coagulating around public discourse and choking the life out of it. You can't listen to the television news for five minutes without being informed, yet again, that withdrawal is now a no-no. Ever-present and ready-to-hand are a weird collection of spokespeople called 'security analysts', who will repeat in a twenty-second soundbite that as security is deteriorating it would be delinquent to leave now. If the counsel of the antiwar crowd is listened to, they aver, some awful thing would ensue. Civil war, partition, apocalypse now or in the near future.

And yet, no one can bring themselves to ask what on earth two SAS men were doing shooting at Iraqi policemen. Only Iraqis have anything to explain - how dare they not give our boys back when ordered to do so? Never mind for now that the client regime in Baghdad has not confirmed that any such order was given, and that the claim originates from the MoD. Official 'facts' are being created on air by a mass of pundits. The BBC's Paul Wood, standing outside the Ministry of Defense, tells us that "everyone agrees" that the Iraqi Interior Ministry gave such an order. The same Iraqi Interior Ministry that he went on to report accused the MoD of 'acting unilaterally'. The ease with which inconsistencies can be edited out of the story or glided over without question is a tribute to the power of coercion by 'consensus'. For instance, the BBC reported MoD claims yesterday that the tanks had only rolled in 'insurgents' intervened in a negotiated handover to try to take the men. I linked to the story here. The article no longer reports this, although Google has cached it here. Dear Beeb, you might try raising the odd question or two if the government changes its story so rapidly and frequently, rather than tactfully editing it out.

But back to this withdrawal business. Let me just try an obvious point: since the invasion of Iraq, the human rights situation has deteriorated. And by 'deteriorated', I mean to say that it has plunged into the kind of grotesque barbarity that characterised Saddam at his worst. Simon Jenkins reports in today's Guardian that "more people a month are being killed than at any time since the massacres of the early 1990s". Saddam Hussein did not need death squads, naturally enough: he had ownership of a functioning state, and could simply send out his army or the mukhabarat to do his killing. The occupiers need and have used death squads, just as they have borrowed every vile method of tyranny and reshaped it in their own image. Torture, rape, the destruction of cities, the withholding of water and electricity, the use of weapons that are designed for maximum, indiscriminate killing, like cluster bombs, the fencing off of whole towns and cities, arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial executions. The list goes on. Yet some people, who should properly be furiously blushing with ungovernable shame, will still tell you that, all the same, we cannot abort the mission or surrender to the "men of violence". I'll try another obvious point, then: when Saddam Hussein was doing this, no one was in any doubt about what to make of resistance.

It is as if, to borrow an analogy, having violently raped someone you then insist that you can't withdraw because of the bloody mess you've created. And then you might say to your victim, "don't worry, dear, I shan't abandon you. I won't cut and run like the rest". If you had even more cheek than that, you might add that you were doing it for women's liberation. In for the long haul and out for the loot haul - we are expected to entrust the 'security' of Iraq to imperial pirates, liars and thieves, and we are encouraged to do so by a curious route of triangulation. That is, there is nothing too atrocious that could happen under the rubric of occupation that would not immediately become a justification for continuing it, if it were not simply ignored. And there are a troupe of formerly left-wing, well-versed casuists without whom, as Tariq Ali once remarked while reviewing a Hitchens book in the 1980s, the conservative movement wouldn't have got half as it has. Well, the apologists have shamed themselves too much, have sold their intellects too promiscuously, have contorted and lied and slandered too far, to be taken all that seriously any more. All that remains is what we can do to break this stupid consensus as it forms. This morning the newspapers carry stories of military families demanding the return of the troops. This Saturday, they will march from Parliament Square to Hyde Park to demand the same thing.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

British in Basra: the plot thickens posted by bat020

This week's issue of Socialist Worker includes an interview with Sheikh Hassan al-Zarqani, a spokesperson for rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who explains why exactly Iraqi police arrested two British soldiers in Basra on Monday:

Sheikh Hassan told Socialist Worker that the two undercover soldiers seized by Iraqi police last Monday were armed with explosives and a remote control detonator. The soldiers were disguised as members of Sadr's militia, the Mehdi Army.

The trouble started when a senior Sadr official was arrested on Sunday. "We called a protest outside the mayor’s office on Monday demanding the Sheikh be released," Sheikh Hassan said. "This protest was peaceful."

"But events in our city took a sinister turn when the police tried to stop two men dressed as members of the Mehdi Army driving near the protest. The men opened fire on the police and passers-by. After a car chase they were arrested."

"What our police found in their car was very disturbing — weapons, explosives and a remote control detonator," Sheikh Hassan said. "These are the weapons of terrorists. We believe these soldiers were planning an attack on a market or other civilian targets, and thanks be to God they were stopped and countless lives were saved."

Sheik Hassan also gives a markedly different account of events leading up to the soldiers' release:

"The two men were taken to the police station to answer questions about their activities. That afternoon the British army came in with tanks and armoured cars, demanding the two be released."

"The police refused as they were considered to be planning terrorist attacks, and as they were disguised as members of the Mehdi Army, the police wanted to know who their target was. Thousands of people gathered to defend the police station. British troops opened fire and the crowds responded with stones and firebombs."

"The soldiers drove a tank into the police station and threatened to kill the police officers if they did not hand over the two terrorists. It is only then, to save any further loss of life, that the men were released."

He has some sharp questions for the British Army:

"Why were these men dressed as Mehdi Army? Why were they carrying explosives and where were they planning to detonate their bomb? Were they planning an outrage so that they could create tensions with other communities?"

And he calls on the British people to oppose the occupation:

"We have only the warmest regards for the British people, who have protested in their tens of thousands against the occupation of our country. We fear that the British government plans to send more troops. We appeal to the British people to oppose this as it can only deepen our problems"

Hence, September 24th.

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Apostate German Windbag posted by Meaders

Chubby-cheeked Trotskyite pixie Victor S is back from the sausage factory, at least temporarily. Read this and this on the German elections. (Victor's conclusions are wrong in some significant respects, obviously, but he manages them with some style.)

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The Great Escape. posted by Richard Seymour

The MoD's story changes as rapidly as that collection of great minds can manage. Initially, a Ministry of Defense spokesman asked about the storming of an Iraqi prison by UK tanks (apparently backed up by helicopters), said:

We have not had confirmation of the full details of this. We've heard nothing to suggest we stormed the prison. We understand there were negotiations.

This morning, the BBC reports:

MoD officials said the men were being handed over to the British when local militants intervened and attempted to snatch them.

Soldiers forming a cordon around the police station became involved, and a wall was demolished by a British tank as they struggled to "collect" the men, the MoD said.

What the fuck? Alright, never mind, forget it. You try and figure out how the intervention of 'local militants' made it necessary to smash the walls down.

At any rate, if there were negotiations, the officials in Basra seem to know nothing of it. The governor describes the jail-break as a "barbaric act". The Iraqi Interior Ministry's account also differs slightly from the British one: they say six tanks were used to break down the walls and 'rescue' the two men from the jail.

Pull back a second. The background to this story is, apparently, that a number of members of the Mahdi Army were arrested on Sunday and tossed in the hoosegow. Subsequently, al-Sadr's affiliates made a 'show of force' by blocking some roads, holding demonstrations and demanding the release of their confederates. And when - oh, hang on, BBC Breakfast has a statement from the British Army in Basra, and it appears they have changed their account yet again:

Brigadier John Lorimer says that the Iraqi authorities had failed to hand over the two prisoners despite their best efforts to achieve this and were instead going to hand them over to insurgents.

So, they did storm the bloody prison after all? Ah, the sweet smell of official lies.

Anyway, and when these two undercover servicemen, whom the Mirror are describing as 'SAS' this morning (oh, please), were then approached by Iraqi policemen because they looked suspicious, they shot the policemen and were then captured. Locals then attacked British tanks.

Now, what then happened doesn't sound like negotiation if you believe the Washington Post (and I'm not saying you should):

When British officials apparently sought to secure their release, riots erupted. Iraqi police cars circulated downtown, calling through loudspeakers for the public to help stop British forces from releasing the two. Heavy gunfire broke out and fighting raged for hours, as crowds swarmed British forces and set at least one armored vehicle on fire.

Witnesses said they saw Basra police exchanging fire with British forces. Sadr's Mahdi Army militia joined in the fighting late in the day, witnesses said. A British military spokesman, Darren Moss, denied that British troops were fighting Basra police.


Now, what could 'undercover servicemen' (or 'SAS' if you prefer) have been up to in Basra, and why would their release be so important that the British Army would feel obliged to discipline its client regime there at great cost to its chances of a peaceful life? Partially, the answer given will be that the local government is now effectively owned by Shi'ite militias (the Badr Corps, the armed wing of SCIRI) as has been alleged before. The somewhat convivial relationship between the sectarian SCIRI and the occupiers in Basra is alleged to be breaking down. And the allegations are already emerging that Iran is behind it all. That would be Iran, working through the pro-occupation SCIRI and their Badr Corps, then? No, because the unrest is largely focused on the domestic Mahdi Army, whom the Iranian-trained and -funded Badr Corps have been fighting with.

Hang on - the vivacious Caroline Hawley is saying on the BBC that there is a Status of Forces 'agreement' between the Iraqi authorities and the occupiers that any arrested servicemen should be handed over to the occupiers. The British Army have apparently told her that the Iraqi Interior Ministry had directly ordered the release of the men - the same Iraqi Interior Ministry who won't even corroborate the British story? This can't be right. They also seem to have changed their story again - this time, they're saying that what actually happened was that the two prisoners had been spirited out of the police station by insurgents and were subsequently freed from another house nearby - I wonder if that house is still standing?

Anyway, the question remains as to exactly what the bugger these guys were doing in Iraq shooting at Iraqi policemen? It isn't a question being asked on the news much. They prefer to evoke Northern Ireland and disinter the old classics about how we must never never give in to the "men of violence" (BBC pron. vaaah-lince). They are preferring to demand of Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy that he rescind his preference for withdrawing troops from Iraq. As in "doesn't the failure of the occupation show that we can't leave just yet?" Oh yeah - imagine what would happen if we left. There'd be death squads, extra-judicial executions, sectarian violence, mass murder, torture and rape. That would be awful.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Palast's Palimpsest, II. posted by Richard Seymour

Follow-up to this post.

Incensed by some of the transparent gibberish uttered by US investigative journalist Greg Palast about George Galloway on his website a couple of days ago, a commenter on MediaLens got in contact with a person called Lena in his office. He got some curious responses, among them, an attempt to clear up the "missing million" claim. To recap, Palast claimed that Galloway had not accounted for $1 million and that the Charities Commission - whose full findings he claimed to have read - 'excoriated' Galloway for not accounting for that missing money. Further, he actually went on to say that Galloway had mis-spent the missing money.

The correspondent cited an article in The Times as saying that Galloway had reported £1 million raised by the Mariam Appeal, but "has yet to account publicly for about £625,000". Two problems instantly emerge. Palast claimed his source was the Charities Commission, which is obviously a more reliable source than a British newspaper with a well-known hostility to Galloway. That was not and coult not have been his source. He can't have even read the findings. The second trouble is with the article, in that it is stored away in subscription-only, and you have to do a Lexis-Nexis search to find it. After a bit of hoking around I discovered what Palast was prattling on about.

The article was from April 23rd, the day before the Charities Commission began its investigation into the Mariam Appeal. Palast's source is therefore outdated, to say the least. The Charities Commission subsequently held an investigation and exonerated Galloway and the Appeal. It did not indicate that he had not accounted for any sums of money. It did not "excoriate" Mr Galloway for failing to account for $1 million or £625,000 or any such sum, as Palast claimed. The Commission was satisfied that none of the monies raised had been misused and that there was no bad faith. In other words, Palast is relying on one unsubstantiated claim made in a British newspaper in 2003 before an investigation was carried out that cleared Galloway of wrongdoing, and he further relies on that story to claim that the Charities Commission - whose findings he has read in full - rebukes Galloway for not accounting for that sum in the course of their investigations, which they do not.

Unto all of which, this heap of scorn is thoroughly deserved.

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German election results. posted by Richard Seymour

Just a few quick comments on the apparent outcome of the German elections. The results are described by The Guardian as follows:

With votes counted in 98% of districts, Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrats had won 35.3% of the vote; Mr Schröder's party 34.2%; the Free Democrats 9.8%, the Left party 8.6% and the Greens 8.1%.

The two far right parties, the NDP and the DVU, did not make it past the 5% barrier to get into the Bundestag, although I should be interested to see exactly what they did get and where their votes were strongest. The pre-election polls did not register anything close to 5% for them.

There is much talk on the BBC this morning of Schroeder's amazing comeback, and the results do represent quite a considerable reversal of fortunes for the right-wing CDU, who had previously led the polls by 21%. But, as The Guardian notes:

In the end, though, the party won 35.3% - three percentage points less than in Germany's last election in 2002 and one of its worst results ever.

But talk of Schroeder's comeback is vastly over-stated. For one thing, if the German Tories just registered one of their worst ever results and are still slightly ahead of the SPD, that isn't an outstanding mandate for either Schroeder or Merkel. For another, as most commentators note, it was Merkel's weird ineptitude that resulted in the collapse of support for the CDU. Schroeder's support was drastically weakened by his tax cuts for the rich - taxes fell for top earners this year from 48.5% to 42%. But the Tories did not help themselves by selecting Paul Kirchof as a Shadow Finance Minister - a radical neo-Thatcherite, he proposed large cuts in public expenditure while wanting to reduce taxes for the rich further. His worst moment was the proposition of a 25% flat tax, but Merkel's preferred reduction of top rate tax to 39% has not fared much better. Merkel tried to staunch that particular wound over the weekend by claiming that the SPD also planned swingeing cuts, but to no avail.

The big story in the election is the Left Party (Linke) and how it, with 8.6% of the vote (which looks at the moment like 54 seats), quickly became the unofficial opposition. The Linke made by far the largest gains in the election. The immediate response of both Merkel and Schroeder was that they would work with any party except the Left Party. Schroeder would work with the FDP (free market liberals), while Merkel would work with the Greens. That's all academic, since the Left Party had no intention of forming a coalition with the parties of privatisation, tax cuts for the rich and a drastically curtailed welfare state. It has succeeded in its goal, which has been to make a radical Left incursion into mainstreeam politics, putting the case for opposition to war, a staunch defence of the welfare state and job protection. In winning the support of millions for such policies, it has successfully broken the neoliberal consensus and begun the process of realigning the German left.

See also: Lenin's Tomb: Interview with a Left Party Activist and Direland: Norman Birnbaum on Germany's Political Crisis.

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Iraq and a hard case. posted by Richard Seymour

While the Prime Minister is exposed as a bloodlusty bastard who "relished" first blood in Iraq, and while Iraqi refugees are sent back to that haven of tranquility, it is worth noting that for the first time a clear majority of Americans want the troops withdrawn immediately. The greatest bulk of that anti-occupation feeling is, of course, among Democrat voters who will not fail to be disappointed by the spineless leadership of their preferred party. An even bigger majority doesn't want any more money spent on Iraq (so how exactly are the troops to stay if you won't spend any money on keeping them there?), and the biggest majority - a supermajority of 90% - oppose cutting domestic spending to pay for the war in Iraq. Like FEMA, levee-construction, that sort of thing...

The demand to withdraw troops from Iraq has commanded a majority in Britain for quite some time, but it seems that plans to withdraw some of the troops have been shelved, although as I noted before this was never the beginning of wholesale withdrawal.

What of Iraqis? There has been an anti-occupation majority in Iraq for some time as well. However, this has no started to percolate up into members of the Iraqi puppet reg - ahem! - government. On Thursday, the National Sovereignty Committee, composed of 18 members of the National Assembly, declared that it wanted the occupiers to set a timetable for withdrawal. And it described the occupying forces - for the first time - as occupying forces. Not much chance of that, with the US building huge new prisons and permanent bases across Iraq (as well as elsewhere).

Why on earth would Bush pull out? American capital is raking it in off reconstruction and reparation contracts, while the US is expanding its military reach in the most crucial zones of geopolitical contest. The US economy also gets a boost from a bit of military Keynesianism (although it is interesting that Bush's poll numbers on the economy are worse than those on Katrina). And the example of Iraq was supposed to demonstrate America's extraordinary power to the rest of the world, particularly China - can't very well be seen to be wimping out, can we? One doesn't expect Iraq's new colonial administrators to make things difficult for their paymasters, guarantors and securitors. The US Embassy will 'advise' them of the grotesque error involved in making a big fuss about it, and they will largely comply (or be assassinated). So, the liberation of Iraq resides in the hands of the resistance, both armed and unarmed, and in the international antiwar movement.

Hence, September 24th.

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Palast's palimpsest. posted by Richard Seymour

Greg Palast is, without a doubt, a brilliant investigative journalist. The skill with which he has exposed corporate malfeasance, Florida vote-rigging and New Labour's sucking up to the rich has been a joy to read. Witty and informative, hated by the Right, he's a guy to take seriously. Or so I had thought.

Here, Palast goes off on one about Galloway, citing from the usual catalogue of charges and slanders from the liberal warmongers and miniscule sectarian grouplets. Like I say, Palast is - whatever else he is not - an investigative journalist. So, judge for yourself why he gets it so profoundly wrong on the following three accounts.

1. The title. He invites readers into his screed with the following words: 'GALLOWAY: DEADLY ANTI-ABORTION THREATS FROM REPUBLICAN'S FAVORITE "LEFTIST"'. Note that not a single word of Galloway's is adduced to support the thesis that he has issued "deadly anti-abortion threats" of any kind. This is for the perfectly excellent pragmatic reason that Galloway has issued no such threats. There is also the intriguing suggestion that Galloway is a 'favourite' among Republicans - which would possibly explain why they singled him out in 'investigations' as part of an unsuccessful effort to discredit the antiwar movement.

2. The claim that Galloway endorsed the death threats against Salman Rushdie at the Edinburgh Fringe some weeks back. Here is how The Guardian reported his remarks:

Mr Galloway, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said TV executives had to be "very sensitive about people's religion" and if broadcasters did not show sufficient sensitivity they "had to deal with the consequences".
He said: "You have to be aware if you do [offend people's beliefs] you will get blowback. You should do it very carefully, especially if you are a public service broadcaster."

Palast reassembles those remarks on the basis of what Salman Rushdie apparently said (to whom is unclear) to expostulate that this was an endorsement of the fatwah issued by Ayatollah Khomeini. However, I think you may have noticed, even if Mr Palast has not, that there is a considerable difference between urging sensitivity and advocating killing for God.

3. The charge that Galloway has a 'record' of opposing a woman's right to choose in parliament:

Add this endorsement of killing for God to Galloway's notorious opposition in Parliament to a woman's right to choose abortion, and you get yourself a British Pat Robertson.

The first thing to make clear is that Galloway has not voted in parliament on a woman's right to choose. An investigative journalist might have been able to find this out straightforwardly enough, by checking his voting record. (Incidentally, would a 'British Pat Robertson' vote in favour of extending gay rights or denounce the bigoted Keep the Clause campaign ran by Scottish tycoon and union-buster Brian Souter? Or break with Cardinal Winning, someone he had been friends with, over the latter's bigoted outbursts against gays?) Galloway has, however, explained that "I am not opposed to a woman's right to choose". Again, it might well have occurred to you that saying "I am not opposed to a woman's right to choose" is not quite the same thing as uttering "deadly anti-abortion threats".

Now, elsewhere, Palast makes an astonishing series of charges about the Mariam Appeal, which was investigated by the Charities Commission, who according to Palast "excoriated [Galloway] for failing to record where [an alleged missing million] came from and where it went". Here are the full findings of the Charities Commission, which Palast insists he has read: Mariam Appeal findings. I urge you to find a single reference to an alleged missing million dollars, for I cannot. I am struggling even to find a word of excoriation. Palast is certain that "nearly a million dollars can't be accounted for", and cites the findings of the Charities Commission as his source - yet the source does not say what he claims it does. The director of the Charities Commision did say that:

The commission's thorough inquiry found no evidence to suggest that the large amounts of money given to the Mariam Appeal were not properly used.

So, from one million dollars misused - some paid to Galloway's wife, according to Palast as part of 'emergency payments' - we find with a simple scan of his source, zilch misused. Palast could be relying on the forged documents adduced by the Senate sub-committee. But I can find no mention of a missing $1 million from the Mariam Appeal there. He might be relying on other forged documents, but the sum mentioned there is $10 million - and, as I say, those documents were forged. Or what the Senate subcommittee called the "seemingly forged documents" that landed the Telegraph in such trouble, but the sum mentioned there was $375,000 a year. Or he may have some new ones of his own, who knows? There seems to be a real market for forged documents about George Galloway. The total funds raised by the Mariam Appeal amount to £1 million. Could it be this figure which is confusing Palast? And where Palast claims that Galloway diverted most of $1 million that allegedly cannot be accounted for to 'emergencies' such as a payment for his wife, the Charities Commission was precisely able to account for this payment and indicate that it was a salary payment made to all executives of the Appeal, and further "accepts that none of the Executive Committee acted in bad faith and that the services provided were of value to the Appeal".

Greg Palast is a brilliant investigative journalist. Yet he cannot in this case bring himself to read his own sources, check his own claims, back up his own assertions. It is a remarkable slither into a journalistic swamp. The Beautiful Soul leftism manifest there is largely a result of weakness, not strength. Ideologically, what it represents is capitulation to the Right. As another blogger once explained, these creatures will:

endlessly plead before an imaginary tribunal, packed with neo-cons/ assorted members of the Right. This tribunal tirelessly, and with the immense ideological and economic resources at its disposal, accuses the Left of predictable crimes and complicities. It's principle aim is to exonerate itself before this tribunal by placing before it endless examples of Left-wing venality. Secondly, it seeks to occupy and re-tread a terrain of argument mapped out for it in advance by the Right. It scuttles obediently back and forth before the points of this circumscribed territory, reiterating that this is indeed the correct and proper terrain.

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