May 1, 2009
This week we saw a huge milestone reached in the greatest conflict of our day: yet it passed with scarcely more than a murmur in the American press -- and with deathly silence on the part of the primary architects of the occasion.
We speak of course of the final bug-out of British forces from Iraq, where this week, after six years of slavish service to America's war of aggression, Her Majesty's military gave up their last remaining base in the conquered land. But as the Guardian astutely points out, the Brits did not turn the base over to the completey liberated totally sovereign Iraqi goverment, but to the tender care of Pentagon, which is pouring thousands of American troops into Basra to guard the occupation's supply lines out of Kuwait -- and keep a watchful eye over the oil-rich region.
Of course, British troops had pulled in their horns in Iraq long ago, having essentially retreated to a few key bases while letting sectarian militias and criminal gangs battle it out on the streets. And indeed, in some cases, the Brits were literally driven out of their bases by Iraqi resistance, as we reported here way back in 2006:
....The Queen's Royal Hussars, 1,2000 strong, abruptly decamped from the three-year-old base [at Abu Naji] last Thursday after taking constant mortar and missile fire for months from those same friendly Shiites. The move was touted as part of a long-planned, eventual turnover of security in the region to the Coalition-backed Iraqi central government, but there was just one problem: the Brits forgot to tell the Iraqis they were checking out early – and in a hurry.
"British forces evacuated the military headquarters without coordination with the Iraqi forces," Dhaffar Jabbar, spokesman for the Maysan governor, told Reuters on Thursday, as looters began moving into the camp in the wake of the British withdrawal. A unit of Iraqi government troops mutinied when told to keep order at the base – and instead attacked a military post of their own army. By Friday, the locals had torn the place to pieces, carting away more than $500,000 worth of equipment and fixtures that the British had left behind. After that initial, ineffectual show of force, the Iraqi "authorities" stepped aside and watched helplessly as the looters taunted them and cheered the "great victory" over the Western invaders...
Just a few months ago, the UK's Ministry of Defence was churning out "good news" PR stories about life at Abu Naji – such as the whimsical tale of the troop's pet goat, Ben, a loveable rogue always getting into scrapes with the regiment's crusty sergeant major, even though the soldiers "knew he had a soft spot for Ben." The goat, we were told, had enjoyed visits from such distinguished guests as the Iraqi prime minister and the Duke of Kent. Now this supposed oasis of British power has been destroyed, with the Coalition-trained Iraqi troops meant to secure it either fading into the shadows or actively joining in with the rampaging crowds and extremist militias. Meanwhile, the Hussars are reducing to roaming the countryside on vague, pointless, impossible missions, killing time, killing people – and being killed – until the inevitable collapse of the whole shebang.
The shebang's final toppling was a low-key affair. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was a no-show, despite being in the general vicinity this week out on the other Terror War frontier, Afghanistan (where he is upping the Anglo troop level to bolster Barack Obama's "surge"). His predecessor, Tony Blair, was likewise absent, and silent, at the end of an action that will forever stain his legacy with its monstrous, murderous folly.
He was in the news, however, after the UK government was forced to release memos from 2004, detailing Blair's frantic, mendacious attempts to suppress word of the rising death count among civilians in the war that he and George W. Bush engineered on the basis of knowingly false and deliberately manipulated information. In October 2004, the world's leading medical journal, The Lancet, released a careful study showing that an estimated 98,000 people had died from war-related causes in the first 18 months of the aggression and occupation. Blair first tried to stop publication of the figures, and then later told Parliament, "We do not accept these figures at all," the BBC reports. The memos show various ministries trying to pass off responsibility for dealing with study; no one wanted the impossible task of squaring Blair's blatant lies to Parliament with the scientific fact of the study.
This same farce was repeated -- on both sides of the Atlantic -- two years later, when The Lancet reported a further study, using the same methodology, showing that a minimum of 650,000 people had died as a result of the conflict. As we noted here last year:
As we all know, there was a very brief moment of panic amongst the death merchants when a survey by Johns Hopkins experts reported in 2006 that the true count of civilians who had died as a result of the war was at least 650,000. This study, published by The Lancet, one of the world's leading peer-reviewed medical journals, was quickly given the smear treatment, haughtily dismissed by Bush and his British moll, Tony Blair for its "unsound methodology" -- despite the fact that the moll's own officials confessed privately that the Lancet study's methodology was sound. Indeed, it was the same methodology employed by the U.S. and UK governments to estimate the slaughters in Rwanda and Darfur, among other atrocities. But evidently the same science does not apply when those ordering the atrocities have white hands.
Very quickly, the media mandarins took up the smear, and never failed, in their very few mentions of the Lancet study, to note the "controversy" over its methodology -- a controversy ginned up entirely by the warmakers and their apologists, much as revisionists like David Irving concoct "controversies" over the mass slaughter of Jews by the Nazis. Of course, Bush and his supporters are themselves very active revisionists on the Irving model -- "revising," in real time, the history of the holocaust they are carrying out in Iraq.
Last year, a follow-up to the Lancet study gave a credible estimate of more than 1 million Iraqis killed as a result of the invasion. One salient fact about this and the Lancet study should be borne in mind: there were areas of Iraq that are so dangerous that they could not be surveyed. In other words, the most deadly areas of the conquered land had to be left out of the studies. So they too are, in the end, minimum baselines for the total death count.
But of course, as we noted at the time, "it doesn't really matter how you count the dead....when the dead don't count."
Neither did we hear from George W. Bush, now keeping a demure silence in his ritzy Dallas digs. (Ole George don't cut no more brush down on that fake ranch of his in Crawford, now that there ain't no PR value in it.) No word for his "gallant allies," who lost 179 men and women -- while dishing out thousands of more deaths, and atrocities of their own, as Robert Fisk reports in his piece on the pullout:
I remember going to the famous Basra air base to ask how a poor Iraqi boy, a hotel receptionist called Bahr Moussa, had died. He was kicked to death in British military custody. His father was an Iraqi policeman. I talked to him in the company of a young Muslim woman. The British public relations man at the airport was laughing. "I don't believe this," my Muslim companion said. "He doesn't care." She did. So did I. I had reported from Northern Ireland. I had heard this laughter before. Which is why yesterday's departure should have been called the Day of Bahr Moussa. Yesterday, his country was set free from his murderer. At last.
Fisk takes special note of Britain's first long-term intervention in Iraq, beginning in the First World War, and continuing on, in bloodsoaked "counterinsurgency operations" and repression by client governments, for many years thereafter:
There followed a familiar story. The British occupation force was opposed by an Iraqi resistance – "terrorists", of course – and the British destroyed a town called Fallujah and demanded the surrender of a Shiite cleric and British intelligence in Baghdad claimed that "terrorists" were crossing the border from Syria, and Lloyd George – the Blair-Brown of his age – then stood up in the House of Commons and said that there would be "anarchy" in Iraq if British troops left. Oh dear....
So let us turn at last to T E Lawrence. Yes, Lawrence of Arabia. In The Sunday Times on 22 August 1920, he wrote of Iraq that the people of England "had been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information... Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows."
...Iraq, begging around Europe now that its oil wealth has run out, is a pitiful figure. But it is a little bit freer than it was. We have destroyed its master and our friend (a certain Saddam) and now, with our own dead clanking around our heels, we are getting out yet again. Till next time...
What sort of country has Britain's noble endeavor in Iraq helped to make? Well, in just six short years, the Anglo-American crusade has managed to turn one of the region's most secular states in the Arab world into a seething cauldron of extremist, sectarian militias -- including the sectarian militia that Bush, Blair, Brown and Obama have installed and maintained in power: the increasingly authoritarian Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki.
Reuters reports on the plight of women in Iraq, whose women once had enjoyed more cultural and professional freedom than any others in the Arab world:
The vast majority of Iraqi women face domestic violence on a regular basis and many commit suicide because of it, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
Iraq and the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan should take measures to stop violence against women, including honour killings and genital mutilation, the UN mission in Iraq, known as UNAMI, said in a regular report on human rights.....UNAMI said it was concerned about threats against women because of the way they dressed, and it repeated a statement from November that women were threatened by rape, sex trafficking, forced and early marriages, murder and abduction.
How did this pandemic of oppression arise? Reuters again:
The 2003 U.S.-led invasion triggered a ferocious Sunni Islamist insurgency and sectarian bloodletting between once dominant Sunnis and majority Shi'ites. Religious extremists filled a vacuum of lawlessness, imposing conservative policies that were particularly intolerant of women's rights.
We should note that a large portion of the sectarians in the "Sunni Islamist insurgency" were subsequently put on the American payroll and given large swathes of territory to rule as they saw fit. Many of the Shiite militias, of course, were already working directly for the American-installed Iraqi government.
But what about Kurdistan, where American power has allowed two powerful and repressive factions to hold sway independently since the first Gulf War? (Do recall that Saddam's writ did not run in Kurdish Iraq -- which was, curiously enough, the only place in Iraq that had any kind of "al Qaeda" associates before the American invasion of 2003. For more, see "Hubub in HibHib: The Timely Death of al-Zarqawi.") Reuters reports:
The U.N. report, which covered the second half of 2008, said it paid special attention to the plight of women in Kurdistan, an area where ethnic Kurds, who are mostly Muslims, have enjoyed virtual independence since the end of the first Gulf War....The report expressed concern about female genital mutilation in Kurdistan, where many people think it is harmless and required by Islam. Some efforts were being made to address the problem, including the possibility of a law to make it illegal.
Still, a survey in the last quarter of 2008 by a German organisation found 98 percent of women in 54 villages in one area had undergone genital mutilation, the report said.
Oh well. You can't make an omlette without breaking a few eggs, can you? Or as that other breaker and maker of nations, Joe Stalin, used to say: When wood is chopped, chips fly. Surely the mutilation, murder and subjegation of a few million women here and there is an acceptable price to pay for what our wise new president calls "the extraordinary achievement" of the Anglo-American military action in Iraq.
But what next in Iraq, now that the Brits are gone? Surely the Americans will follow them out shortly, right? After all, we know that Barack Obama is committed to "ending the war." One of the most astute observers of the American war machine, Jeremy Scahill, has a few thoughts on that subject:
Remember when Barack Obama made that big announcement at Camp Lejeune about how all US combat troops were going to be withdrawn from Iraqi cities by June 30? Liberals jumped around with joy, praising Obama for ending the war so that they could focus on their "good war" in Afghanistan.
Of course, the celebrations were and remain unwarranted. Obama’s Iraq plan is virtually identical to the one on Bush’s table on January 19, 2009. Obama has just rebranded the occupation, sold it to liberals and dropped the term "Global War on Terror" while, for all practical purposes, continuing the Bush era policy (that’s why leading Republicans praised Obama’s plan). In the real world, US military commanders have said they are preparing for an Iraq presence for another 15-20 years, the US embassy is the size of Vatican City, there is no official plan for the withdrawal of contractors and new corporate mercenary contracts are being awarded. The SoFA Agreement between the US and Iraq gives the US the right to extend the occupation indefinitely and to continue intervening militarily in Iraq ad infinitum. All it takes is for the puppets in Baghdad to ask nicely…
Scahill points to a remarkable story in the New York Times, which has passed almost without notice. In it, we find that thousands of American "combat troops" (a distinction without a difference that is key to the Obama plan) will actually remain in Iraqi cities after the June 30 deadline "mandated" by the soft, fluffy SOFA for the withdrawal of fighting troops to bases outside urban areas. How can this be? Simple: American and Iraqi authorities are simply, arbitrarily declaring U.S. bases inside Baghdad's city limits to be suddenly, magically outside the city limits! The NYT:
In Baghdad, however, there are no plans to close the Camp Victory base complex, consisting of five bases housing more than 20,000 soldiers, many of them combat troops. Although Victory is only a 15 minute drive from the center of Baghdad and sprawls over both sides of the city’s boundary, Iraqi officials say they have agreed to consider it outside the city.
In addition, Forward Operating Base Falcon, which can hold 5,000 combat troops, will also remain after June 30. It is just within Baghdad’s southern city limits. Again, Iraqi officials have classified it as effectively outside Baghdad, so no exception to the agreement needs to be granted, in their view.
As Cahill notes, America just has to ask nicely, and their Iraqi partners are happy to oblige. He goes on:
Camp Victory is of tremendous strategic importance to the US occupation. In addition to the military’s share of Baghdad International Airport, it includes four bases — Victory, Liberty, Striker and Slayer — as well as the US-run prison "Camp Cropper." That’s where the US keeps its "high value" prisoners. While the US officially handed control of Forward Operating Base Freedom to "Iraqi control," the US military is keeping the swimming pool.
[Just as an aside, imagine invading a country, planting two military bases in its capital named "Striker" and "Slayer" -- and then having the gall to pass yourself off as an altruistic, peace-loving liberator. The self-revealing unselfconsciousness of this brutal nomenclature is almost sublime.]
Meanwhile, future plans are being laid for other US bases. Camp Prosperity is going to house US contractors and other personnel, while at Camp Union III housing is being built for several thousand soldiers, trainers and advisers.
What is abundantly clear is that there are enough cosmetic changes going on in Baghdad intended to make it look like the occupation is ending, while continuing it. Again, from the Times:
The Green Zone was handed over to Iraqi control Jan. 1, when the agreement went into effect. In addition to the United States-Iraqi patrols, most of the security for the Green Zone’s many checkpoints and heavily guarded entry points is still done by the same private contractors who did it prior to Jan. 1.
"What you’re seeing is not a change in the numbers, it’s a doctrine change," said First Sgt. David Moore, a New Jersey National Guardsman with the Joint Area Support Group, which runs the Green Zone. "You’re still going to have fighters. Every U.S. soldier is trained to fight."
So: thousands of troops -- combat troops, "trained to fight" -- in sprawling, growing, permanent bases, inside Iraq's cities, augmented by hordes of private mercenaries, "supporting" missions against an unvanquished insurgency with ground forces and airstrikes (which, as a new study shows, kill mostly women and children). Once again, we see the hallmark of the new administration's Terror War policies: continuity -- continuity with a vengeance.