JUNE 2006


Iraq's prime minister says he plans to release 2,500 prisoners. Nouri Maliki said the move, starting on Wednesday, is a gesture of "national reconciliation". Most of those to be released are Sunni Arabs, Iraqi officials say.
January: 1068
February: 1110
March: 1294
April: 1155
May: 1398
Mr Maliki hopes that by announcing such a large release in one go it will help win over more members of the Sunni community and undermine support for the insurgency, says our correspondent.

German Ex-Minister Attacks US Policy in Iraq
Tehran's Secret Helper

By Joschka Fischer

In an essay, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer writes about mistakes and shortcomings in Washington's Middle East policies. Gloomy predictions about the Iraq war, he writes, have been surpassed by reality.

What went wrong? This is the simple question that guided the great authority among Anglo-American experts on the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, in his book on Islamic and Arab history after Sept. 11, 2001. The question turned out not only to be good -- it was also necessary. Today, three years after the beginning of the war in Iraq, that question needs to be directed not just at the Arab world, but also at Western policy, and above all at United States policy. After all, since the administration of George W. Bush decided to remove Saddam Hussein from power by war, just about everything went wrong that possibly could have. What is more, the reality in Iraq and the surrounding region far surpassed all negative expectations and fears, and it continues to do so today.

The war in Iraq was supposed to create the conditions for a regional realignment. It was supposed to create a new, an American Middle East, proving America's power and global leadership and thereby guaranteeing America and the West lasting security in the face of the new terrorist threat. Today, we're farther removed from that than ever. If things continue to develop in the way they have since the US entered Baghdad, then there is reason to fear that there will indeed be a realignment of this dangerous region, but one entirely different and even diametrically opposed to the one intended by Washington and the neo-conservative strategists. At the core of the Middle Eastern crisis is the stalled modernization of this region. Given the pressures of globalization, and hence the accentuation of economic, social and cultural contradictions, such modernization will have to take place if the most basic needs of a very young and rapidly growing population are to be met even approximately. The decisive question will be how peacefully or violently this modernization process in the Middle East will take place. The Bush administration's disastrous miscalculation in Iraq seems to have created all the conditions for the latter.

It was perfectly clear from the very beginning that by invading Iraq, bringing about "regime change" and becoming an occupation power, the US would assume responsibility for the reshaping not just of Iraq, but of the entire Middle East. That was the very premise of the neoconservative approach of going to war for purposes of regional realignment. Along with Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, Iraq formed the center of the Near East that replaced the fallen order of the Ottoman Empire -- a Near East created after 1918 by France and, especially, by Britain.

After 1918, the British combined the three Turkish provinces Baghdad, Basra and Mosul to form the new state of Iraq. This, however, meant creating a state that bore within itself, from the very beginning, the most important religious, ethnic and power political contradictions of the Anglo-French Middle East - Sunnis, Shiites and oil. Yet all these contradictions in Iraq were never resolved and thereby overcome; rather, the state was held together by brutal violence from the Sunni- and Arab-dominated government in Baghdad, or by occupation powers.

Given their overwhelming military superiority, it was easy for the US to remove Saddam Hussein from power. If, however, it was not just a matter of toppling Saddam and installing a pro-Western dictator, but rather of setting in motion a process of regional realignment by means of the democratization of Iraq, then the decisive question was and continues to be a different one than that of military superiority. The question is whether the majority of US citizens were ever really prepared to pay the very high military, political, economic, and moral cost for such an imperial enterprise, and to pay for it over a long period of time. We know today that the answer is "No." But such a negative answer was already to be expected in 2002 and 2003, and would have been the starting point if the actual reason for the war had been placed at the center of the domestic debate in the US. That's why other reasons for going to war were invoked - weapons of mass destruction and international terror - reasons that have quite obviously not held up to reality.

From this there resulted a second question: If the US entered Iraq with superior military might but with a lack of political support, then how were they going to leave again within a manageable timeframe without leaving behind a highly explosive vacuum? This question is still unanswered today. Because these questions were foreseeable, warnings against going to war were issued from various sides. The occupation of Iraq and the toppling of the dictator Saddam Hussein had to lead either to a great realignment of the entire Middle East or create a vacuum that would threaten to endanger the cohesion of Iraq, trigger a civil war and draw the most important regional powers into this war.

There is a third question that should not be forgotten. The toppling of Saddam Hussein by the US would shift the power balance among the regional powers in a decisive way, unless that power balance was adjusted and hence neutralized by the lasting presence of the US as the new Middle Eastern hegemonic power. The US approach of attempting to make the war in Iraq the trigger for regional realignment on the basis of democratization and free elections could not but turn the old power relations between Arabs and Kurds, between the Sunni minority -- which is also the traditional power elite -- and the Shiite majority on their heads. For democracy means the rule of the majority determined by free elections, and the Shiites make up the majority in Iraq.

That also made it clear from the start that Tehran's influence on the fate of Iraq would rise disproportionately, and that Iran threatened to become the genuine regional winner of the war in Iraq if the US lost control over events on the ground or if the feared power vacuum were to be created by a US retreat. The current development in Iraq is leading very quickly into this disastrous direction. The urgent question of how to prevent a situation in which the US, with its policy in Iraq, unintentionally makes itself an agent of the implementation of Iranian interests, thereby decisively strengthening Iran, was in fact never answered by Washington.

The power vacuum the US threatens to leave behind in the region in the case of a withdrawal from Iraq will draw all regional powers involved into a struggle over hegemony in Iraq and in the region. The first regional power that needs to be mentioned in this regard is Iran; the second is Israel, and the third Turkey. Without a doubt Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the Gulf states will not sit idly by. They currently find themselves in a weak position, both structurally and in terms of their specific current situations. Moreover, they are threatening to become the next hot spots of the conflict over hegemony in the Near East triggered by the war in Iraq. In order to understand the tremendous strategic danger of the Iranian nuclear program, which is doubtless aimed at making Iran a nuclear power in the military sense, one has to consider this possible hegemonic confrontation between Israel and Iran.

Israel will interpret the Iranian bomb both as a threat to its existence and as a hegemonic challenge, and this constellation contains within it the danger of a highly explosive crisis. But Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and all the other states in the region will not sit idly by either as Iran pursues Near Eastern hegemony by means of its nuclear program, so that there is the risk that there will at least be a nuclear arms race in the Near East. This alone would be nightmare enough.

Nonetheless, realism requires one to assume that this risk of a struggle over regional hegemony, a risk that assumes a nuclear dimension with Iran, will bring about a situation that triggers a military confrontation that none of the powers involved wants, but into which they will nonetheless find themselves sliding - by virtue of the chaotic automatism of the power relations and the high power political stakes. What is more, there is already a danger today that Tehran will overestimate its own strength and underestimates American power, thereby reaching the wrong conclusions -- conclusions with a dangerously escalating effect.

And it is here that we encounter a fourth question, that concerning the role of terrorism in Iraq and in the region. The battle against terrorism was one of the main arguments for the war in Iraq, but this argument has transformed into its opposite. If the al-Qaida terror network was on the defensive after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the war in Afghanistan, this situation has been reversed since the war in Iraq. For international jihad terrorism, Iraq has historically taken on the same mobilizing function that the Islamic and national resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan had in the 1980s. Then, it was Pakistan that became the main beneficiary of the Afghan power vacuum; in today's Iraq, that role falls to Iran.

Sunni jihad terrorism objectively contributes to Tehran's interests, not just because it is making the situation of US troops in Iraq increasingly hopeless, but also because it is highly likely to pursue the destabilization of the Arab peninsula and Jordan by terrorist means following a US retreat from Iraq. A Middle East that falls into chaos would almost certainly bring about Iranian hegemony, especially if Tehran were to succeed in becoming a nuclear power. Of course, all these calculations could turn out to be very short-sighted, since they underestimate both the Israel factor and the possibility of an anti-hegemonic Middle Eastern coalition against Iran, a coalition which could transform a possible Iraqi civil war into a second Arab-Iranian land war in Iraq - hardly an encouraging prospect, to be sure.

Another dangerous result of the American intervention in Iraq can already be discerned on the political horizon. Oil and nuclear weapons are being made the decisive power currency in this hegemonic confrontation in the Middle East. Iran already disposes of oil today and is striving for nuclear weapons. But Sunni jihad terrorism should not be underestimated either. Its true targets are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, two countries whose stability is questionable. Taken together, they also dispose of the two decisive components of the new power currency in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, US policy in Iraq today has stalled entirely. Instead of bringing about regional realignment, the US is using its strength to create a power vacuum, and thus prevent a civil war. Such a civil war is, however, becoming more likely every day. If, in 2003, everything suggested that this US war was a mistake, then today, the arguments against a US retreat in Iraq are at least as strong. But the situation is even worse, since every day that US troops remain in Iraq will only aggravate rather than solve this crisis -- a crisis that is headed for civil war. It's depressing to see that nothing is left of the US strategy of regional realignment. Instead, an unnecessary defeat -- and one with far-reaching consequences -- will have to be responded to by a strategy of containment, deterrence and long-term transformation from within the societies concerned.

These prospects are anything but encouraging, but when one looks back on the years since the US invaded Baghdad, one finds that all gloomy predictions have been surpassed by reality. Foreign policy pessimists usually turn out to be bad-tempered realists. But when pessimists are overtaken by reality itself, as has happened in Iraq, that would seem to be cause for true concern. The only stage of pessimism left would then seem to be the escape into optimism, an escape that would entail the surrender of every form of realism. Recent official statements by the US administration suggest that this next stage has already been reached.

This essay has been taken from the foreword to former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer's new book, "Die R�ckkehr der Geschichte," (The Return of History), published by Knaur Taschen Verlag.

Iraq Is the Republic of Fear

By Nir Rosen
Sunday, May 28, 2006; B01

Every morning the streets of Baghdad are littered with dozens of bodies, bruised, torn, mutilated, executed only because they are Sunni or because they are Shiite. Power drills are an especially popular torture device.

I have spent nearly two of the three years since Baghdad fell in Iraq. On my last trip, a few weeks back, I flew out of the city overcome with fatalism. Over the course of six weeks, I worked with three different drivers; at various times each had to take a day off because a neighbor or relative had been killed. One morning 14 bodies were found, all with ID cards in their front pockets, all called Omar. Omar is a Sunni name. In Baghdad these days, nobody is more insecure than men called Omar. On another day a group of bodies was found with hands folded on their abdomens, right hand over left, the way Sunnis pray. It was a message. These days many Sunnis are obtaining false papers with neutral names. Sunni militias are retaliating, stopping buses and demanding the jinsiya , or ID cards, of all passengers. Individuals belonging to Shiite tribes are executed.

Under the reign of Saddam Hussein, dissidents called Iraq "the republic of fear" and hoped it would end when Hussein was toppled. But the war, it turns out, has spread the fear democratically. Now the terror is not merely from the regime, or from U.S. troops, but from everybody, everywhere.

At first, the dominant presence of the U.S. military -- with its towering vehicles rumbling through Baghdad's streets and its soldiers like giants with their vests and helmets and weapons -- seemed overwhelming. The Occupation could be felt at all times. Now in Baghdad, you can go days without seeing American soldiers. Instead, it feels as if Iraqis are occupying Iraq, their masked militiamen blasting through traffic in anonymous security vehicles, shooting into the air, angrily shouting orders on loudspeakers, pointing their Kalashnikovs at passersby.

Today, the Americans are just one more militia lost in the anarchy. They, too, are killing Iraqis.

Last fall I visited the home of a Sunni man called Sabah in the western Baghdad suburb of Radwaniya, where the Sunni resistance had long had a presence, and where a U.S. soldier had recently been killed. On Friday night a few days before I came, his family told me, American soldiers surrounded the home where Sabah lived with his brothers, Walid and Hussein, and their families and broke down the door. The women and children were herded outside, walking past Sabah, whose nose was broken, and Walid, who had the barrel of a soldier's machine gun in his mouth. The soldiers beat the men with rifle butts, while the Shiite Iraqi translator accompanying the troops exhorted the Americans to execute the Sunnis.

As the terrified family waited outside, they heard three shots from inside. It then sounded to them as though there was a scuffle inside, with the soldiers shouting at each other. Thirty minutes later the translator emerged with a picture of Sabah. "Who is Sabah's wife?" he asked. "Your husband was killed by the Americans, and he deserved to die," he told her. At that he tore the picture before her face.

Walid was then taken away, and inside the house the family found Sabah dead. His bloody shirt showed three bullet holes that went through his chest; two of the bullets had come out of his back and lodged in the wall behind him. Three U.S.-made bullet casings were on the floor. Sofas and beds had been overturned and torn apart; tables, closets, vases of plastic flowers, all were broken and tossed around. Even the cars had been destroyed. Photographs of Sabah had been torn up and his ID card confiscated. One photograph remained on his wife's bureau: Sabah standing proudly in front of his Mercedes.

I later asked Hussein if they wanted revenge. "We are Muslim, praise God," he said, "and we do not want revenge. He was innocent and he was killed, so he is a martyr."

Across town, U.S. troops had also raided the Mustapha Huseiniya, a Shiite place of worship in the Ur neighborhood. The Huseiniya, similar to a mosque, belonged to the nationalistic and anti-occupation Moqtada al-Sadr movement, and in front of its short tower were immense signs with images of the movement's important clerics. The Sadr militia, known as the Army of the Mahdi, had been using the Huseiniya as a base for counterinsurgency operations. Mahdi militiamen kidnapped Sunnis suspected of supporting the insurgency, tortured them until they confessed on video, and then executed them.

When the Americans raided the Huseiniya, they brought Iraqi troops with them. They killed not only Mahdi fighters but also innocent Shiite bystanders, including a young journalist I knew named Kamal Anbar, in what witnesses described to me as summary executions. Although neighbors blamed the U.S. troops, Iraqi troops were so laden with gear, flak jackets and helmets provided by the Americans, they were often indistinguishable.

When I visited the next morning, the Huseiniya's floors, walls and ceilings were stained with blood; pieces of brain lay in caked red puddles. Just as Shiites cheered when the Americans hit Sunni targets, Sunni supporters of the insurgency greeted news of the U.S. raid with satisfaction.

The Mahdi militiamen were already back in force that morning, blocking off the roads and searching all who approached, wielding Iraqi police-issue Glock pistols and carrying Iraqi police-issue handcuffs. In Baghdad and most of Iraq, the police are the Mahdi Army and the Mahdi Army is the police. The same holds for the actual Iraqi army, posted throughout the country.

The sectarian tensions have overtaken far more than Iraq's security forces and its streets. Militias now routinely enter hospitals to hunt down or arrest those who have survived their raids. And many Iraqi government ministries are now filled with the banners and slogans of Shiite religious groups, which now exert total control over these key agencies. If you are not with them, you are gone.

For instance, in the negotiations between parties after the January 2005 elections, Sadr loyalists gained control over the ministries of health and transportation and immediately began cleansing them of Sunnis and Shiites not aligned with Sadr. The process was officially known by the Sadrists as "cleansing the ministry of Saddamists." Indeed, some government offices now do not accept Sunnis as employees at all.

Based on my visits to the ministries, it is clear that an apartheid process began after the Shiites' electoral success. In the Ministry of Health, you see pictures of Moqtada al-Sadr and his father everywhere. Traditional Shiite music reverberates throughout the hallways. Doctors and ministry staffers refer to the minister of health as imami, or "my imam," as though he were a cleric. I also saw walls adorned with Shiite posters -- including ones touting Sadr -- in the Ministry of Transportation. Sunni staffers have been pushed out of both ministries, while the Ministry of Interior is under the control of another Shiite movement, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (its name alone a sufficient statement of its intentions).

Shiites with no apparent qualifications have filled the ranks. In one case in the transportation ministry, a Sunni chief engineer was fired and replaced with an unqualified Shiite who wore a cleric's turban to work. In all cases, this has led to a stark drop in efficiency, with the health and transportation ministries barely functioning, and the interior ministry operating much like an anti-Sunni death squad, with secret prisons uncovered last November, and people disappearing after raids by shadowy government security units operating at night.

Even shared opposition to the Occupation couldn't unite Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites, and perhaps that was inevitable given their bitter history of mutual hostility. Instead, as the fighting against the Americans intensified, tensions between Sunni and Shiite began to grow, eventually setting off the vicious sectarian cleansing that is Iraq today.

During the first battle of Fallujah, in the spring of 2004, Sunni insurgents fought alongside some Shiite forces against the Americans; by that fall, the Sunnis waged their resistance alone in Fallujah, and they resented the Shiites' indifference.

But by that time, Shiite frustration with Sunnis for harboring Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the bloodthirsty head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, led some to feel that the Fallujans were getting what they deserved. The cycle of violence escalated from there. When Sunni refugees from Fallujah settled in west Baghdad's Sunni strongholds such as Ghazaliya, al-Amriya and Khadhra, the first Shiiite families began to get threats to leave. In Amriya, Shiites who ignored the threats had their homes attacked or their men murdered by Sunni militias.

This is when sectarian cleansing truly began. Sunni refugees in Amriya seized homes vacated by Shiites. These operations were conducted by insurgents as well as relatives of the refugees. Soon such cleansing had become widespread and commonplace, both out of vengeance and out of its own cruel logic; both sides took part. There was no space left in Iraq for nonsectarian voices. Sunnis and Shiites alike were pushed into the arms of their respective militias, often joining out of self-defense. Shiites obtained lists of the Baath party cadres that were the foundation of Hussein's regime and began systematically assassinating Sunnis who had belonged. Sunni militias that had fought the American occupier became Sunni militias protecting Sunni territory from Shiite incursions and retaliating in Shiite areas. The insurgency became secondary as resistance moved to self-defense. In the Shiite-dominated south, meanwhile, Shiite militias battled each other and the British forces.

In November I asked a close Shiite friend if -- considering all this violence, crime and radicalism in Iraq -- life had not been better under Hussein.

"No," he said definitively. "They could level all of Baghdad and it would still be better than Saddam. At least we have hope."

A few weeks later, though, he e-mailed me in despair: "A civil war will happen I'm sure of it . . . you can't be comfortable talking with a man until you know if he was Shia or Sunni, . . . Politicians don't trust each other, People don't trust each other. [There is] seeking revenge, weak government, separate regions for the opponents . . . We have a civil war here; it is only a matter of time, and some peppers to provoke it."

The time came on Feb. 22, when the Golden Mosque of the Shiites in Samarra was blown up. More than 1,000 Sunnis were killed in retribution, and then the Shiite-controlled interior ministry prevented an accurate body count from being released. Attacks on mosques, mostly Sunni ones, increased. Officially, Moqtada al-Sadr opposed attacks on Sunnis, but he unleashed his fighters on them after the bombing.

Sectarian and ethnic cleansing has since continued apace, as mixed neighborhoods are "purified." In Amriya, dead bodies are being found on the main street at a rate of three or five or seven a day. People are afraid to approach the bodies, or call for an ambulance or the police, for fear that they, too, will be found dead the following day. In Abu Ghraib, Dora, Amriya and other once-diverse neighborhoods, Shiites are being forced to leave. In Maalif and Shaab, Sunnis are being targeted.

The world wonders if Iraq is on the brink of civil war, while Iraqis fear calling it one, knowing the fate such a description would portend. In truth, the civil war started long before Samarra and long before the first uprisings. It started when U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad. It began when Sunnis discovered what they had lost, and Shiites learned what they had gained. And the worst is yet to come.

Nir Rosen is a fellow at the New America Foundation and author of "In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq" (Free Press).

My Lai on the Euphrates?

Thursday June 1, 2006
The Guardian

The My Lai massacre will always be associated with worldwide outrage and the loss of public support in the US for the Vietnam war. What happened in March 1968, when soldiers of Charlie Company, 11th brigade, Americal Division killed more than 300 villagers, did not become public knowledge until November 1969. The killing of 24 innocent Iraqis at Haditha on the Euphrates took place last November, and though reported in some detail since March, it is only now that the whole grim story, including the full death toll, is emerging. Even allowing for the uncertainties of an incomplete investigation, into the incident itself and a possible cover-up, this is without doubt another massacre that will be long remembered. US forces have killed many Iraqi non-combatants since March 2003, by being trigger-happy, by using overwhelming force in residential areas, and by sheer accident. But Haditha, where the alleged perpetrators were men of Kilo Company, 3rd battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, is the worst known incident involving the unprovoked killing of unarmed civilians.

It is a measure of the suffering of the Iraqi people since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein that it is also just another statistic. Insurgent car-bombings and suicide bombings regularly claim as many or many more lives in multiple attacks on a single day, while the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict has seen mass executions of Shia Muslims by Sunnis and vice versa. Hundreds of civilians were killed in the US assaults on insurgents in Fallujah and Tall Afar. Still, Haditha may now come to supplant the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal as the single most damaging event of the occupation.

Official Washington has been too slow to understand what is at stake. President Bush is reported to have learned of the Haditha story only when media interest began. Publicity was also boosted by John Murtha, the stridently anti-war Democratic congressman. The Marine Corps initially attributed 15 civilian deaths to a car bombing and a subsequent firefight that left eight insurgents dead. But an investigation has shown that a larger number of Iraqis, including women and small children, were killed in cold blood in revenge for the death of one US soldier. There should be no rush to judgment, but the US military must keep its promise of a full, speedy and open investigation, prosecutions and severe punishment. The evasions and buck-passing of the Abu Ghraib affair cannot be tolerated, by Americans or anyone else. Shameful anomaly or part of a wider phenomenon, a war crime is a war crime.

[Peace without justice & equality is an explosion waiting to happen.
Justice without the pursuit of peace & equality is a torturous path to nowhere]