Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan hosts a weekly radio and online broadcast, Cindy's Soapbox. This week's guest is independent journalist Dahr Jamail whose latest book is The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. We'll note a section of their discussion today and a section on the book later in the week (hopefully tomorrow).
Cindy Sheehan: So, you know, many people voted for Barack Obama. And I fully, fully believe that the Democratic base in this country is anti-war. They want the war in Iraq over, the war in Afghanistan over, they want the troops to start coming home. That actually, in reality, hasn't happened. And this week has been -- there's a lot of stuff coming out of Iraq. You know the people in the government in Iraq are afraid that [Nouri al-] Maliki is trying to turn into a quasi dictator. He's ousting some people from the Interior Ministry which has been very corrupt. People I know in Iraq tell me the Interior Ministry is awful. There were 25 Iraqis killed in northern Iraq near Mosul the other day. It seems like things are really heating up in the Kurdish areas. And yesterday, 44 Iraqis were killed and 61 wounded in another Kurdish village. And we had four US soldiers killed not yesterday but the day before. And there was a report that came out that said the US is going to be taking troops out but they're going to be replacing them with mercenaries -- more than 2 to 1, in a 2 to 1 ratio, mercenaries coming from Uganda or Kenya. Dahr, what do you -- I know you have a lot of good contacts there and I know that you've been there a lot -- what's your analysis of what's happening in Iraq?
Dahr Jamail: Well for starters, Maliki is not a quasi-dictator, I mean he already is. He's basically the new Shia Saddam. I mean, there's no question about it. This is a guy that the US put into power. They're maintaining him there and largely through the intelligence services and the Mukhabarat and the Ministry of Interior. I mean, that's how this guy is staying in power. Saddam knew that the glue of his power resided in the intelligence services and Mal -- the US has helped Maliki do the same thing. Let's, let's remember that this is a guy, there was no democratic process involved in him becoming prime minister. He was basically inserted to replace Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari because Condaleeza Rice wanted him there, you know at the beckoning of George W. Bush. So there's that. And we look at the overall situation. Violence is not slowing down. Last month was the single bloodiest month for Iraqi civilians in over a year's time. We are starting to see more and more attacks on US forces. We still have over 131,000 US military personnel there. That number is not decreasing but the generals in charge of the situation are saying that that number will actually -- we'll have well over 100,000 troops in Iraq till at least half-way through next year. So it's a dire situation and when I was there earlier this year, there was a car bomb in Baghdad just about every day I was there for the month that I was there. We're looking at a situation where the country overall has become extremely Balkanized, where literally going from one neighborhood to another is almost like going to a different country. You basically had to embed with a militia to get where ever you wanted to go. So it's a dire situation and it's far, far, far from over. And we're looking at a situation where, I think in the coming months, we should expect it to get worse unfortunately.
Cindy Sheehan: And unfortunately, when we say expect it to get worse, most Americans equate that with US deaths. So there's a -- there's one aspect that has been fortunate for US soldiers is those amounts of deaths have been going down so Iraq has practically disappeared off the radar screen of our media and of public consciousness. One of my friends was in Washington D.C. on March 19th for the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and he was passing out fliers and one woman told him, "Why are you doing this? The Iraq War is over. Obama's president."
Dahr Jamail: Right. And it's amazing Cindy -- as you know all too well, probably better than anyone -- that the single most challenging thing to those of us trying to wake people up and inform people about what's actually happening in Iraq and what is US policy, the single greatest obstacle at this point is a guy named Barack Obama, where so many people have drunk the Obama Kool-Aid and they wore their t-shirts in November and he was elected and they feel like, "Hey, that's it. It's all good now, right? He's pulling out of Iraq and it's going to take some time -- I'm sure it's a bit complicated -- but things are getting better there, right?" Or "We won" -- quote unquote, "right?" And it could not be further from the truth. I mean we're still loking at anywhere between a dozen and a hundred Iraqis being killed every day and attacks on US troops there continue, the infrastructure's far worse now than it was even a couple of years ago and that that's even possible seems pretty amazing. And it's extremely unstable politically. And I think it's probably just a matter of time before we have another huge explosion and, you know, unfortunately what it really takes for people to pay attention over there is when more and more US troops are being killed but unfortunately that's probably what's going to happen -- not even talking about Afghanistan.
Cindy Sheehan: Well talk about the surge that began in January of 2007, I believe.
Dahr Jamail: Yes.
Cindy Sheehan: And about how the Republicans and the neoconservatives who are still, of course, in Obama's administration, how they term that a "success." What was really the cost of that so-called "success" and why do they even think it's a success?
Dahr Jamail: Well you know it's amazing, it's been another amazing propaganda campaign and a successful one -- the whole so-called "surge" -- because the reality is that what really caused dramatic decrese in American deaths was the buying off of the resistance -- where basically the US instituted a program back in 2006 before they even started sending in these 30,000 additional troops, where they literally found corrupt tribal sheiks and paid them off to get fighters under their control to stop attacking occupation forces. And it was relatively successful so temporarily the US stood up this 100,000 strong Sunni militia comprised mostly of former resistance fighters, paying them $300 a month in US tax payer money and we saw a dramatic decline in US deaths. But now it's-it's really complicated the situation politically because now we have these armed milita men running around and they're not being encorporated into the government forces as was promised and so we're looking at a tinderbox politically where these guys want political power. What's going to happen in the upcoming January elections, which are not far off now, if these guys don't get the political power? Many of them are already talking about going back into the political resistance and we know what that means.
Cindy Sheehan: Right and also what you talked about earlier is the Balkanization of the country has basically -- and I have not been to Iraq myself but I've talked to Iraqis all over the world, I've been to Jordan meeting with them -- and they basically say that neighborhoods that were very diverse are now just the opposite. They're all, like you said, you have to -- you have to pass through checkpoints to get to each neighborhood which had a result of -- and let's just face it Dahr, over one million people are dead and four million people displaced so the country's been decimated in population.
Dahr Jamail: It has. And in addition to those figures, we can add another eight million in need of emergency assistance and who are also living in abject poverty on less than a dollar a day according to OXFAM International. I mean, the situation is not getting any better for the Iraqi people. It's really amazing how bad it got and how it's continued to worsen and yet, of course, so many people -- even so-called anti-war folks in this country -- think, "Oh well it's better." Or, "It's won." Actually, you can't tell that to people in Iraq just trying to survive on a daily basis.
Cindy Sheehan: And it's heartbreaking. And the tragedy is that many of the large anti-war movements were co-opted by the Democratic Party. And I just get so frustrated because, like you, I haven't stopped my activism, I haven't stopped working, war is wrong no matter who's president. But it's really frustrating because these same people who supported Obama even those his Iraq plan was unsatisfactory and even though he promised to send more troops to Afghanistan, he promised to do this cross-border bombing into the tribal regions of Pakistan, they supported him, they raised money for him, they worked for him and they voted for him, they had their followers vote for him and now they write a petition to him to stop it.
Dahr Jamail: Right and, as we know, it's going to take a lot more than signing your name on a petition or wearing a t-shirt or even at this point walking in a street on a weekend. It's really, you know, the only thing that this administration or any other administration is going to understand is when it becomes politically unviable for them to continue forward with the policies that they are engaged in. And it's up to us to show them, look, not only do we disagree with this but we will, we will be your political death if you continue on with this policy that you literally won't be able to stay in power and have any kind of a base whatsoever if you continue forward with this US empire policy. And so that's what it's going to take. It's going to take real mobilization and real sacrifice and, uh, really people throwing their bodies on the front lines to make this stop. Not just signing a petition, not just trying to ask Nancy Pelosi "please," but, you know, clearly these people will only listen to things when they're personal stake -- i.e. their own political power and their own political future -- is at stake. And, again, if we aren't making -- if we aren't pushing them up against that wall, then to think that anything's just going to change? We might as well go to Disneyland.
Cindy Sheehan: Well, you know, we're on a subject -- we' just have like a minute before we have to take a break -- what do you think about these people who support Obama and they don't make any demands on him or political demands? They say, "Well at least he's better than [John] McCain." What do you think about the -- the foreign policy choices Obama's made compared to what -- would McCain have done anything differently?
Dahr Jamail: Yeah, I think that that's a nice rationalization for political sloth for people to say, "Well you know Obama's -- at least he's better than, you know, insert, you know, name of idiot here" -- whether it be McCain or Sarah Palin or George Bush because the reality when we look at the hard facts which are the National Security Strategy of the United States and the Quadrennial Defense Review report these are the exact same reports running US policy now as we had under George Bush. These policies have literally not changed, they haven't been updated, nor were they supposed to be. And, in fact, of course we've maintained Bush's Secretary of Defense in Robert Gates and, as you noted, most of the leading hawks and advisers from [Bill] Clinton's time as well as some that were hung over from George W. Bush. So we've had literally no policy change whatsoever. Instead all we have is, you know, a charasmatic, articulate, intelligent person as president as opposed to a bumbling buffoon. But that's the only thing that's really changed. When we look at the hard policies on the ground we've seen just nothing more but a continuation of George Bush's administration. We are really in George Bush's third term if we're going to get down to the brass tacks.
US Vice President Joe Biden remained in Iraq today continuing meetings with various leaders. Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports that for the second day of his trip, the Green Zone was agains targeted and Biden and Nouri had "to remain inside the building because of the explosions." The building? Nouri's palace. Today is day two of the rocket or mortar attacks aimed at the area the vice president of the United States is in. Day two. Certainly, in the US, all newscasts Tuesday led with that news. Right?
First up, Vice President Joe Biden makes a surprise visit to Iraq. During the trip, he was scheduled to meet the country's leaders and with U.S. troops. But there was a distraction when the International Zone in Baghdad came under fire. A CNN reporter said the vice president wasn't injured, but it wasn't clear whether he was actually near where the attack took place because reporters aren't allowed to discuss the VP's location. That's for security reasons. Mr. Biden arrived in the Middle Eastern nation on Tuesday. He said he made the trip, in part, to show support for the Iraqi government as it takes full control of its country. All U.S. combat troops are scheduled to leave Iraq by next August.
Is that Katie Couric with The CBS Evening News? Is it Brian Williams with NBC Nightly News? Is it Charlie Gibson with ABC World News Tonight? Maybe it's Jim Lehr with PBS' The NewsHour?
Wrong. It's Carl Azuz, the anchor of CNN Student News. It's Carl Azuz doing the newscast aimed at middle and high school students. What a proud moment for the broadcast networks -- commercial and allegedly non-commerical. What a telling moment. Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) reports that 3 suspects were arrested in yesterday's shelling which used "107-millimeter rockets" and not mortars, that 2 Iraqis died and five were injured and that, "Inside the embassy compound, a piercing 'duck and cover' alarm began moments after the American military commander, Gen. Ray Odierno, told reporters traveling with Mr. Biden that security remained at its lowest levels since the war began". The US military issued a statement praising the "quick reaction" of US and Iraqi forces who "recieved small arms fire from a house near the launch site. As elements from the joint patrol maneuvered against the small arms fire, a second element captured three Iraqi males and three rocket rails belevied to have been used in the attack." Tim Cocks and Jon Hemming (Reuters) report that the three suspects were released within hours of their arrest. But don't expect your evening news to tell you or show you that.
Nobody stopped to hear him
Though he played so sweet and high
They knew he had never
Been on their TV
So they passed his music by
-- "For Free," written by Joni Mitchell, from her Ladies of the Canyon album
And the Queen of Panhandle Media, Simply Red Amy Goodman? Not a damn bit interested. Not a damn bit. But, in varying degrees, they all had time for Crazy Ass Jimmy Carter, didn't they? (The White House has again distanced itself from Crazy Ass Jimmy.) You couldn't get Iraq on your TV but you could get nonsense. You could get crazed musing. Dan Simpson spent over 30 years in the US diplomatic service. He's on the editorial boards of both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Toledo Blade. Today, while adults throw tantrums, he's stuck pretty much alone in the grown up role. In a new column, he argues that the US must leave Iraq regardless of whether violence increases or not and that they shouldn't leave Iraq to be sent to Afghanistan. From his "Leave Iraq to the Iraqis:"
The attitude that the U.S. government should maintain as Iraqis sort out who will rule Iraq after the United States leaves should be clear: The 29 million Iraqis have the right of self-determination, a principle to which Americans attach the utmost importance when it comes to our own country.
The fact that it will be messy in Iraq, reflecting the history of the country and the different peoples who comprise it, is none of our affair and no justification whatsoever for the U.S. delaying withdrawal or for re-intervention. Nor is the fact that the current structure of the new, post-Saddam Hussein Iraq is in no small part our doing since the invasion of 2003. U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will take place for our own reasons, just as our initial attack on the country did.
But it will be messy. The ethnic and religious make-up of Iraq will lie at the basis of the problems, becoming more intense as the time for full U.S. withdrawal ticks down. The population is approximately 60 percent Shiite Muslim, 20 percent Sunni Muslim and 20 percent Kurdish. Each group wants to rule the country, or at least part of it. And one prize that comes with political power is access to the lion's share of the country's oil revenues, big money.
It will be messy and it is messy.
RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"