The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Revolution city
Peter Beaumont, The Observer, April 20, 2003

On Friday there was an invisible line of demarcation between greater Baghdad and the residents of Sadr City - a place where US patrols are absent, as are the Iraqi capital's awkward new police. Its boundary marks the greatest failure of the US intervention in Iraq thus far: the failure to tackle what may be the most potent challenge to US plans for a Western-style democracy in Saddam's collapsed demesne.

Because, for all its poverty and danger, Sadr City may be the very model of the new Iraq that America is making. It has a population that is turning to its clerics, not to the political exiles who are flooding back and demanding that they be handed the reins of power.

And on Friday Sadr City belonged emphatically to the hundreds of armed men of the Sadr Movement's militia and to a second group loyal to the rival Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, both bearing arms in open defiance of the US troops who have flooded into the city. [ complete article ]

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US army was told to protect looted museum
Paul Martin, Ed Vulliamy and Gaby Hinsliff, The Observer, April 20, 2003

The Observer has seen documents submitted to senior US generals by the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance on 26 March, listing 16 institutions that 'merit securing as soon as possible to prevent further damage, destruction and or pilferage of records and assets'. First was the national bank, next came the museum. The Oil Ministry, which has been carefully guarded, came sixteenth on a list of 16. [ complete article ]

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Pilgrimage of sorrow: Shiite faithful bury dead
Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, April 19, 2003

From Baghdad and cities across southern Iraq, people began arriving this morning. In a procession of sorrow, they came in minibuses and pickups, in taxis and vans, with simple wood coffins lashed to the roofs. Some bodies were hardly recognizable, exhumed after days, even weeks, from hastily dug graves. Others were only recently discovered at hospitals and mosques where they had been stashed with other corpses in the chaos of war.

For those in Najaf, it was a day of piety, visiting the city that is the burial site of Ali, son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad and one of Shiite Islam's most revered figures. They reflected, on a war that remains more than a memory. And they expressed anger, at carnage that, to some, remained incomprehensible.

"Everything we have in Iraq is rich, our oil, our resources, our land," said Shamil Abdel-Sahib, a 33-year-old who performed ritual washing of the bodies as they were brought to the cemetery. "The only thing that is cheap in Iraq is its people." [ complete article ]

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Outside the United States, not many people will be familiar with a bumper sticker on which the declaration, "Power of Pride", is blazened across the Stars and Stripes. It is one of the many emblems of patriotism that spread like wildfire across America after September 11. The power of pride is now emerging in Iraq. Can we empathize or must we see this as a threat? Warmongers like Fox News' Bill O'Reilly call it ingratitude, but for Iraqis it is patriotism, pure and simple.

A dangerous groundswell of resentment is building up on the streets of Baghdad
Fergal Keane, The Independent, April 19, 2003

Someone in the van had the idea that we should go and attend the Friday prayers at one of the big Shia mosques. Maybe the imam would be talking about the Americans or the fall of Saddam.

We never got to the Shia district. Even from the small window at the back of the vehicle, I could see the crowds gathering outside Abu Hanif mosque. This is a place of worship for the city's Sunni population, and our attention was drawn to the men standing on the wall carrying Islamic banners. Looking closer I saw they bore slogans: "Occupiers Go Home", "No US and UK in Iraq". So, a small demo at a mosque. The initial reaction is, no big deal. I've been attending such protests for the past six weeks in the Arab world.

And then you remember that you are standing in Baghdad, where nobody has held a free demonstration in more than 25 years. Then you hear a loud noise. It grows as you walk closer to the mosque. By the time you reach the main gate it is a deafening roar. They are shouting slogans forbidden under the secular rule of Saddam, slogans which, if George Bush could hear them, would surely cause him to revolve with anxiety: "With our blood and our souls we will defend Islam."

The same slogans rattled the walls of the Shah's palaces in Iran a quarter of a century ago. I had not expected to hear them in Iraq. At the end of prayers, the crowd poured into the streets. It was a big crowd. Thousands. I couldn't tell how many but at least as many as 10,000. An imam came and asked to be interviewed. "The Americans are here in our country for one thing. They want the oil. They want to defend Israel. If they don't leave soon there will queues of mujahedin lining up to drive them out." Again it was rhetoric familiar from the streets of Cairo and Beirut. But this was Baghdad, and there were American troops just up the road. The American "enemy" wasn't a distant entity – it was carrying M16 rifles a few blocks away.

Then came one of those moments that you live through with every nerve of your body vibrating. I saw young men breaking away from the main crowd and running toward a street corner. There was some shouting. Then I spotted American helmets bobbing above the crowd. "Look, buddy, I've got the gun – now back off," a voice shouted. An Iraqi man was confronting an American soldier. "Go ahead and shoot me. Go ahead," the man said. A woman shouted into my face: "It's about our pride. Its just about our pride." [ complete article ]

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Prove Iraqi guilt, MPs tell Blair
Nicholas Watt, Michael White, James Meek and Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, April 19, 2003

Tony Blair is facing the threat of a fresh rebellion from Labour backbenchers [non-ministerial Members of Parliament] who are growing increasingly alarmed that the failure to uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq will confirm that the war was illegal.

As a 1,000-strong Anglo-American task force of inspectors prepares to search hundreds of suspicious sites, Labour MPs are demanding an inquiry to establish whether MI6 misled ministers about Iraq's weapons programme.

Backbench Labour MPs who feel they were duped into backing the war on the basis of questionable intelligence want the cross-party Commons intelligence and security committee to carry out an investigation. One well-placed former minister said: "The intelligence committee is raring to challenge the veracity of what the security services told them about Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons. They were told what he had and where it was. There may be a perfectly innocent explanation for all this, but they don't seem to be able to find the stuff." [ complete article ]

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Our last occupation
Jonathan Glancey, The Guardian, April 19, 2003

No one, least of all the British, should be surprised at the state of anarchy in Iraq. We have been here before. We know the territory, its long and miasmic history, the all-but-impossible diplomatic balance to be struck between the cultures and ambitions of Arabs, Kurds, Shia and Sunni, of Assyrians, Turks, Americans, French, Russians and of our own desire to keep an economic and strategic presence there.

Laid waste, a chaotic post-invasion Iraq may now well be policed by old and new imperial masters promising liberty, democracy and unwanted exiled leaders, in return for oil, trade and submission. Only the last of these promises is certain. The peoples of Iraq, even those who have cheered passing troops, have every reason to mistrust foreign invaders. They have been lied to far too often, bombed and slaughtered promiscuously.

Iraq is the product of a lying empire. The British carved it duplicitously from ancient history, thwarted Arab hopes, Ottoman loss, the dunes of Mesopotamia and the mountains of Kurdistan at the end of the first world war. Unsurprisingly, anarchy and insurrection were there from the start. [ complete article ]

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Thousands of Iraqis protest against U.S.
Hassan Hafidh, Reuters, April 18, 2003

Unfurling banners that declared "Leave our country," tens of thousands of Baghdad protesters have demanded that the United States get out of Iraq while leaders of the oil-rich nation's neighbours meeting in Saudi Arabia also call for a speedy U.S. departure.

Muslims poured out of mosques and into the streets of Baghdad, calling for an Islamic state to be established in the biggest protest since U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein's iron-fisted, 24-year-long rule nine days ago.

Carrying Korans, prayer mats and banners, tens of thousands of people marched in a protest that organisers said represented both Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslims and powerful Sunnis.

"Leave our country, we want peace," read one banner. "No Bush, No Saddam, Yes Yes to Islam," read another.

Meanwhile, while the United States pressed ahead with its plans for a post-war Iraq, foreign ministers of the country's neighbours meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, called on the United Nations to take a central role in rebuilding the country. [ complete article ]

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Shiite demonstration heralds challenge to US authority
Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, April 18, 2003

Protected by hundreds of militiamen toting assault rifles, tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims poured into Baghdad Friday to celebrate their new religious liberty. The massive but orderly display of independence also heralds a challenge to US authority in Iraq.
Laying prayer mats along three blocks of an avenue cleared of trash for the occasion, the 30,000 Shiite men who knelt at noon prayers constituted the largest such gathering in Iraq since 1999, when Saddam Hussein's security forces brutally put down a Shiite revolt.

"The last time this number of people were here we were killed in this street. This is freedom", said Hussein Ali, a mosque security official, as he surveyed the crowd filling the dusty thoroughfare outside the Hekmar mosque in Saddam City. Some locals have started renaming teeming slum Sadr City, after a prominent Shiite cleric, Mohammed Sadeq Sadr. His assassination – allegedly by Saddam Hussein's security police – in February 1999 sparked major unrest among Shiites and scores of demonstrators were reported killed in Saddam City.

But this is not necessarily the kind of freedom that US officials who promised to liberate Iraq had in mind. The imam who preached to the massed ranks of worshippers said the time had now come to ban singing and dancing in Iraq and to oblige women to cover their heads. [ complete article ]

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Experts: Looters had keys to Iraqi vaults
Jocelyn Gecker, Associated Press, April 17, 2003

Some of the looters who ravaged Iraqi antiquities appeared highly organized and even had keys to museum vaults and were able to take pieces from safes, experts said Thursday at an international meeting.

One expert said he suspected the looting was organized outside the country.

The U.N. cultural agency gathered some 30 art experts and cultural historians in Paris on Thursday to assess the damage to Iraqi museums and libraries looted in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion.

Although much of the looting was haphazard, experts said some of the thieves clearly knew what they were looking for and where to find it, suggesting they were prepared professionals. [ complete article ]

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America on probation
Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, April 17, 2003

America is on probation. That, in four words, is my verdict on Gulf war II. America can still prove, by what it does over the next few years in the Middle East, that it was right in what it did during this last month of war. On what I see at the moment, I fear that the United States will show itself to have been wrong. Not grotesquely, criminally wrong, but prudentially, politically wrong. Then "the judgment of history", invoked by Tony Blair in the House of Commons on Tuesday, may come in the famous words of Talleyrand: "It was worse than a crime; it was a mistake." [ complete article ]

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Expert thieves took artifacts, UNESCO says
Robert J. McCartney, Washington Post, April 18, 2003

Well-organized professional thieves stole most of the priceless artifacts looted from Baghdad's National Museum of Antiquities last week, and they may have had inside help from low-level museum employees, the head of UNESCO said today.

Thousands of objects were lost at the museum, both to the sophisticated burglars and to mob looting, Koichiro Matsuura, director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said in an interview.

"Most of it was well-planned looting by professionals," he said. "They stole these cultural goods to make profits."

Museum officials in Baghdad told UNESCO that one group of thieves had keys to an underground vault where the most valuable artifacts were stored. The thefts were probably the work of international gangs who hired Iraqis for the job, and who have been active in recent years doing illegal excavations at Iraqi archaeological digs, according to archaeological experts working with UNESCO. [ complete article ]

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Since most Americans never set foot on foreign soil, to be told that we are now citizens of a pariah state is a claim that will just as likely provoke disbelief or indifference rather than being a cause for alarm. But those Americans who now out of desire or necessity travel overseas are repeatedly being confronted with stark choices on how to represent themselves in the face of widespread hostility. Do they venture forth as proud Americans ready to rebut false accusations and defend a noble but widely misunderstood nation? Do they try and pass themselves off as Canadians, or do they simply plead, "I'm not responsible for my government?"

Islamic world less welcoming to American scholars
Sam Dillon, New York Times, April 18, 2003

Elizabeth C. Stone, a professor of anthropology, had planned to spend the summer excavating a 2,600-year-old city surrounding an ancient citadel in eastern Turkey. But like scores of other American professors, she was forced to cancel her trip as American tanks rumbled toward Baghdad.

The war in Iraq, and the angry reactions it has aroused across the Islamic world, have disrupted work by American scholars from Tunisia to Pakistan.

In some cases, academic institutions or researchers themselves have canceled trips in response to State Department warnings of danger. In other cases, host countries have denied them study permits.

Experts say the war has caused the greatest interruption of overseas study since World War II, forcing the cancellation or postponement of hundreds of expeditions researching everything from Islamic law to the bone knives used by ancient butchers.

"I can't remember when research has been disrupted across such a wide region," said Dr. Stone, who teaches at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. "The war has left a very wide footprint."

Many professors with long experience in the region fear it could be years before hostilities subside enough to allow researchers from the United States to operate overseas as they have in the past. [ complete article ]

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Iraqi National Congress in Mosul emerges with own army
David Rohde, New York Times, April 18, 2003

Across this battered city, Iraqi political parties have slowly begun opening up new offices this week. But only one group shares a base with American Special Forces soldiers, has a private army trained by the Americans and is guarding a local hospital alongside American troops.

"I believe the I.N.C. will succeed," predicted Nabeel Musawi, the 41-year-old deputy director of the Iraqi National Congress. "I believe the I.N.C. is the future of Iraq."

The group, headed by the wealthy Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, has long been the focus of a split in the American government. Dismissed by officials at the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency as having too little support inside Iraq, the I.N.C. is strongly backed by the Department of Defense, in particular by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.

But in Mosul and other cities, local leaders have already expressed vehement opposition to a government headed by exiles. [ complete article ]

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In broken Baghdad, photo negatives
Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, April 15, 2003

Hold two pictures in the balance: a 12-year-old boy whose arms have been blown off, and a museum official walking through the looted National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad. Both are images of foreseeable but unintended destruction. Both capture scenes that might have been worse: Broken pottery isn't so bad as dead people, and the boy with no arms is (for the time being) still alive. Yet these two images have flown around the world, stirring some of the strongest anger about the U.S.-led war in Iraq. [...]

The memory of these pictures may mark a fault line between the United States, where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has chastised journalists who focus on looting for being "Henny-Pennys," and the world, where opposition to the war has, quite naturally, led to more concern with the pity of war. As weekend newspapers in America took up the story of looting at the National Museum and the vast destruction of objects there (at least 170,000, by one estimate), news came of the rescue of American POWs. Images of seven pajama-clad soldiers hustled to freedom quickly replaced images of the litter of 7,000 years of civilization. [ complete article ]

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Saddam's fall will reignite the revolutionary debate
Martin Woollacott, The Guardian, April 18, 2003

When Ayatollah Khomeini was arrested in the Iranian Shi'ite centre of Qom and packed off by the Shah to Ankara on a cargo aircraft, it was a transfer of a revolutionary personality arguably as important as that of Lenin on the famous sealed train. A year later, in 1965, Khomeini arrived in Iraq, at which point one cleric remarked to another: "This sayyid has caused havoc in Qom. We must be careful not to let him do the same in Najaf."

Nearly 40 years on, the divisions which Ruhollah Khomeini and his ideas provoked not only remain but, with the fall of Saddam Hussein, constitute a potentially volcanic fault in the world of Shi'ite Islam. [ complete article ]

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Exiled Shiite chief: Iraqis should rebel
Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press, April 17, 2003

The exiled leader of the biggest Iraqi opposition group called Thursday on Iraqis to converge in the Shiite holy city of Karbala to oppose a U.S.-led interim administration and defend Iraq's independence.

Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, chose the southern Iraqi city and the date -- next Tuesday -- because of their connections to Hussein, the grandson of Islam's Prophet Muhammad and one of Shiite Islam's most revered heroes.

"I call on Iraqis to converge in Karbala to oppose any sort of foreign domination and support establishment of an Iraqi government that protects freedom, independence and justice for all Iraqis," al-Hakim was quoted by state-run Tehran television as saying. [ complete article ]

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U.S. awards Bechtel contract to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure
Associated Press, April 17, 2003

The government on Thursday awarded Bechtel Corp. a contract that could reach $680 million for helping rebuild Iraq's power, water and sewage systems and repairing airports and a seaport.

The U.S. Agency for International Development said the San Francisco engineering and construction company initially will receive $34.6 million. Bechtel could earn the larger figure over 18 months if Congress approves the funds.

Several Democratic lawmakers have complained the Bush administration did not allow open competitive bidding, inviting a few companies to submit proposals.

One critic, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, said the contract showed that "a troubling pattern is beginning to emerge, as some of the most powerful business interests in the country continue to receive these huge contracts without ... open, transparent bidding.''

Wyden and others are sponsoring a bill that would require a public explanation of contracts awarded under a limited bidding process. [ complete article ]

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Deadly clash raises tensions in north
David Filipov, Boston Globe, April 17, 2003

Iraq's largest northern city teetered on the brink of violent anarchy yesterday after a second straight day of deadly clashes between American troops and Iraqi civilians in Mosul killed three people and wounded 11.

American helicopters prowled the skies over Mosul, swooping low over neighborhoods and roadways in an attempt to show that US forces controlled the city. But on the ground American patrols were rare, and much of Mosul was a dangerous no-man's land. [ complete article ]

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A crusade after all?
Jane Lampman, Christian Science Monitor, April 17, 2003

When President Bush called his war on terrorism a "crusade," he backtracked quickly in the face of intense reaction at home and abroad. Now many people are worried that, in the case of Iraq, that inopportune choice of words may turn out to hold more than a modicum of truth.

As Christian relief agencies prepare to enter Iraq, some have announced their intent to combine aid with evangelization. They include groups whose leaders have proclaimed harshly negative views of Islam. They are also friends of the president. The White House has shrugged its shoulders, saying it can't tell private groups what to do, though legal experts disagree. [ complete article ]

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Bush cultural advisers quit over Iraq Museum theft
Reuters, April 17, 2003

The head of a U.S. presidential panel on cultural property has resigned in protest at the failure of U.S. forces to prevent the wholesale looting of priceless treasures from Baghdad's antiquities museum.

"It didn't have to happen," Martin Sullivan said of the objects that were destroyed or stolen from the Iraqi National Museum in a wave of looting that erupted as U.S.-led forces ended President Saddam Hussein's rule last week.

Sullivan, who chaired the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property for eight years, said he wrote a letter of resignation to the White House this week in part to make a statement but also because "you can't speak freely" as a special government-appointed employee.

The president appoints the 11-member advisory committee. Another panel member, Gary Vikan, also plans to resign because of the looting of the museum.

"Our priorities had a big gap," Sullivan told Reuters on Thursday. "In a pre-emptive war that's the kind of thing you should have planned for." [ complete article ]

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The day of the jackals
Rod Little, The Spectator, April 19, 2003

Stealing a country's physical history, its archaeological remains, has become the world's third biggest organised racket, after drugs and guns.

There are those who argue that it shouldn't need to be illegal at all. There are those who say, look, the free market should operate here. Why shouldn't a private collector be allowed to buy an antiquity and keep it in his bathroom, maybe next to the bidet, or as a tasteful holder for the Toilet Duck, if he wishes to do so, and if both he and the seller are happy with the price?

You will not be surprised to hear that many of those who argue this way are American. You may not be surprised, either, that shortly before the invasion of Iraq, and with the spoils of war on their mind, some of these people formed themselves into a lobbying organisation called the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP). This group want a 'relaxation' of Iraq's tight restrictions on the ownership and export of antiquities. They object to what they call Iraq's 'retentionist' policy towards its archaeological treasures. (I love the pejorative use of the word 'retentionist' in this context; 'Goddam sand-niggers want to retain all their history!')

The treasurer of the group, one William Pearlstein, has said that he would support a postwar government in Iraq that would make it easier to have things 'dispersed' to, er, for the sake of argument, the United States. And, on 24 January this year, the ACCP met with the US defense department to impress this point upon the politicians and the military. I tracked down one of the people who attended this meeting, and asked what the archaeologists had to say for themselves.

'Hang on,' said Maguire Gibson, from the Oriental Institute at Chicago University, interrupting my first question, 'there was only one archaeologist there -- me. The rest were artefact collectors and lawyers, the people from the ACCP. I only went along to put my own point of view across, which was to plead for a minimising of the bombing of known archaeological sites. But I wouldn't have stood a chance of getting a meeting with the defense department without the ACCP. But I was there independently, OK?'

Sure. So, who are they, then, the ACCP, and what do they want?

'These are very, very well-connected people. They are able to get a meeting with whoever they like, when they like. You know, I believe they met with the President last week. They are very affluent people, too. One of the leading lights is a former state department man, Arthur Houghton.'

They sound terrific, I said. And Maguire replied, well, that's not all.

'You have to understand that some of the members of their organisation are among the biggest collectors and dealers of illegal artefacts in the world....'

So, here's what seems to be the deal. A very short while ago an organisation was formed in the USA representing people who enjoy a lucrative or aesthetically rewarding trade in stolen historical artefacts, as well as artefacts traded legally and above board on the open market. The organisation was formed in some haste precisely because of the forthcoming war in Iraq. That's before we, over here in Britain, knew for sure that we were even going to war.

And this organisation had the power to demand a meeting at defense department and even presidential level. [ complete article ]

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Lessons from the past:
The American record in nation-building

Minxin Pei and Sara Kasper, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 11, 2003

The record shows that democratic nation-building is among the most ambitious and difficult of foreign policy undertakings for the United States. Of the 16 over the past century, democracy was sustained in only 4 countries ten years after the departure of American forces. Two of these followed total defeat and surrender (in World War II) and two were in tiny countries (Grenada and Panama). The record also reveals that unilateral nation-building by the United States has an even lower success rate perhaps because unilateralism has led to the creation of surrogate regimes and direct American administration during the interim post-conflict period. The use of interim surrogate regimes has produced a record of complete failure. No American-supported surrogate regime made the transition to democracy and only one case of direct American administration (in Japan) succeeded in ushering in democracy. To heed the lessons of experience, the Bush administration should support a multilateral reconstruction strategy centered on bolstering political legitimacy and economic burden-sharing under the auspices of the United Nations. [ complete article ]

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Why Syria is America's new target
Andrew Green, The Guardian, April 17, 2003

Syria is accused of harbouring Iraqi fugitives. Possibly so. The Syrians opposed the invasion of Iraq. The Syrian authorities cannot prevent Iraqis getting across a 400-mile desert border. It would not be surprising if, rather than accept the humiliation of handing them over to the Americans, they ushered unexpected guests towards an aeroplane.

Second, the Americans allege that the Syrians have tested chemical weapons. Not a surprise. Several countries in the Middle East are believed to possess such a capability, including Algeria, Egypt, Iran and, notably, Israel. The case for invading Iraq turned on Saddam being a crazy dictator who might pass chemical or biological weapons to terrorists. It would be hard to describe Bashar al-Assad in such terms. If Syria has chemical weapons, it is for a good reason - as a second-strike capability against Israel. It is inconceivable that the Syrians would strike first, knowing the Israelis would immediately go for nuclear retaliation.

The third American allegation is an old chestnut - that Syria is a rogue state supporting terrorism. The Syrians have long given hospitality to the political wing of Palestinian rejectionist movements. They permit the Iranians to channel through Damascus airport the arms required by Hizbullah in south Lebanon. These are regarded as potential levers in negotiations with Israel for return of the occupied Golan Heights. They also give Syria some measure of influence over the Palestinian and Hizbullah resistance. This is tough diplomacy, Middle East style; it hardly amounts to being a rogue state.

Sir Andrew Green was UK ambassador to Syria from 1991-94 and to Saudi Arabia from 1996-2000 [ complete article ]

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Korea, South and North, at risk
Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch, April 17, 2003

The good news is that China has now actively rejoined Korean diplomacy to prevent a new war there. The bad news is that the American envoy assigned to conduct the talks is James A. Kelly, the assistant secretary of state for Asia and the Pacific. The New York Times describes him as "a longtime Asia hand." This is not a characterization that any single leader in East Asia would recognize. He is an unknown Republican Party hack who has repeatedly insulted South Korean leaders by his lack of understanding of the meaning of diplomacy. Unfortunately, the United States is not using any of its experienced Korean hands like Selig Harrison of the Carnegie Foundation, former ambassador to the Republic of Korea Donald Gregg, or Professor Bruce Cumings of the University of Chicago, who could solve this problem fairly easily if unencumbered by the Bush administration's ideological baggage. Given that this delicate situation is still in amateur hands on the American side, another pointless war, this time in Korea, a much more formidable country than Iraq, is still a possibility. [ complete article ]

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Basra bombing 'destroyed my family'
Ryan Dilley, BBC News, April 16, 2003

The war in Iraq has cost 72-year-old Abid Hassan Hamoodi dear. The large family he once proudly headed was all but wiped out when aircraft from the US-led forces mistakenly bombed his Basra home.

"I lost 10 of my family. I once lived in that house with six other relatives, now I am alone.

"Just before the invasion started much of my family came to stay in my home, it being made of reinforced concrete and very strong.

"There was my doctor son, my daughter - a microbiologist and her three sons. My other daughter is a medical consultant and she came with her infants.

"We all slept in a very safe place at the back of the house, my bed was just a few metres away from the rest." [...]

"On 5 April at 5.30am, a plane dropped a rocket on the main road. We all woke up.

"Just five minutes after we had returned to bed, the plane returned and dived very sharply, firing its rockets. They fell just at the back of the house where we were.

"The three walls of the room fell on many of my family killing them instantly. I went to the room and saw them all covered with the bricks and concrete that had fallen." [ complete article ]

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For the people on the streets, this is not liberation but a new colonial oppression
Robert Fisk, The Independent, April 17, 2003

It's going wrong, faster than anyone could have imagined. The army of "liberation" has already turned into the army of occupation. The Shias are threatening to fight the Americans, to create their own war of "liberation". [ complete article ]

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Fear reigns, as one detested militia replaces another
Phil Reeves, The Independent, April 17, 2003

Many people in Iraq complain that George Bush has so far utterly failed to live up to his promises of real "liberation", but the people of Baqubah have better reason than most.

The hated Baathist bureaucrats and generals no sooner disappeared from this large, soul-destroyingly bleak town, 35 miles from the Iranian border, than another armed force sought control on the streets, inspiring unease and even outright fear. And it was not the American Marines.

Standing guard over a former Baath party administration headquarters at lunchtime yesterday, Kalashnikovs at the ready, was a band of bearded fighters from the Badr Brigade, a pro-Iranian heavily armed militia whose overall numbers are in excess of 10,000. [ complete article ]

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Key Shia leader returns to Iraq
BBC News, April 16, 2003

A top Iraqi Shia opposition leader has returned to the country from Iran after 23 years in exile. Abdelaziz Hakim, the deputy head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), arrived in the southern Iraqi city of Kut on Wednesday morning.

Also on Wednesday, the leader of Sciri, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, who is still in Iran, called on Iraqis to gather in the town of Karbala next week for an Islamic anniversary.

The ayatollah said the Iraqis there "should demand a government that will bring liberty, independence and justice for all Iraqis under an Islamic regime". [ complete article ]

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The Shia of Najaf seethe ominously, fearing the yoke of US occupation
Phil Reeves, The Independent, April 16, 2003

The message could not have been clearer if the Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani himself had broadcast it from the battery of loudspeakers that hang above the breathtaking blue mosaics lining the walls of his mosque.

The powerful cleric's multitude of followers in Najaf, one of the holiest Shia cities, will not accept an Iraqi government run by anyone they see as a stooge of the occupying Americans.

They are not interested in retired Lieutenant-General Jay Garner, the rumbustious former missile contractor leading the effort to rebuild Iraq, who – 150 miles further down the Euphrates – was chairing the first meeting of selected Iraqi opposition groups. Objecting to the American general's role, the largest Shia party, the Iranian-based Supreme Council for the Revolution in Iraq, refused to go.

And they have nothing good to say about Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi businessman, convicted fraudster and favourite of the Pentagon hawks. After decades in exile, he was spirited into Nasiriyah last week by US forces and has since formed his own militia. [ complete article ]

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Familiar hawks take aim
Jim Lobe, Asia Times, April 17, 2003

Many of the same people who led the campaign for war against Iraq signed a report released three years ago that called for using military force to disarm Syria of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and to end its military presence in Lebanon. [...]

The study, "Ending Syria's Occupation of Lebanon: The US Role", was co-authored by Daniel Pipes, who has just been nominated by Bush to a post at the US Institute of Peace, and Ziad Abdelnour, who heads a group founded by him called the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon (USCFL). The study was released by Pipes' group, the Middle East Forum.
[ complete article ]

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U.S. neglect casts dark shadow over a city without light or much love for the invaders
James Meek, The Guardian, April 16, 2003

In the darkness of unelectrified Baghdad at night, one of the brightest spots is the Palestine Hotel, where, from generator-powered floodlit marquees on the roof, the American TV networks report around the clock on their military forces' operations in the Iraqi capital.

Conveniently, the US officers trying to restore essential services in the city are based in the same hotel. It is a short walk upstairs for US military spokesmen to explain live to American audiences how they are getting the Iraqi police back on the streets, working to repair the power stations, and fixing the water pipes.

Yet a week after the US occupation of Baghdad began, if you count from the contrived symbolism of the destruction of one of the many statues of Saddam Hussein in the city - the one which happens to be closest to the Palestine Hotel - there is a bitterness and tension between citizens and occupiers.

It is not just that Baghdad has been ravaged by looting, which local people feel US forces did little or nothing to prevent. There is a growing feeling that the occupiers are obsessed with protecting themselves, to the exclusion of taking risks in protecting civilians.

Most troublingly, there is a sense that US efforts to restore essential services are more about self-boosting short-term fixes, and not about helping skilled Iraqis put the city back on its feet. [ complete article ]

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Germany is no model for Iraq
Atina Grossmann and Mary Nolan, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2003

As the United States plans its postwar occupation of Iraq, it ransacks history for successful precedents. The occupation of Germany is often cited for promoting demilitarization, denazification, democratization and capitalist development while garnering widespread support within Germany and outside. But the lessons of that earlier occupation are complex and ambiguous. Facile historical comparisons distort the postwar situation and blind Americans to the challenges ahead in Iraq. [ complete article ]

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Ian Fisher, writing for the New York Times, notes the paradox that the United States, having provided Iraqis with the freedom to protest, should now be the target against which many Iraqis are voicing their complaints. How ungrateful of them, many Americans may now be thinking. George Bush, however, should not be among them, for it was he who proclaimed that freedom "is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity." If, as he said in the State of the Union, "freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation," the paradox that glares in the eyes of most Iraqis is that their self-declared liberators are placing the administration of "free Iraq" under the direction of a retired American general. Freedom may not be America's gift to the world, but the spigot that releases freedom is surely in America's grip. Thus far, it has shown no willingness to swiftly loosen or share its hold.

Free to protest, Iraqis complain about the U.S.
Ian Fisher, New York Times, April 16, 2003

Protests against the American forces here are rising by the day as Iraqis exercise their new right to complain -- something that often landed them in prison or worse during President Saddam Hussein's rule.

But no one here is in the mood to note that paradox, as Iraqis confront with greater clarity their complicated reactions to the week-old American military presence here: anger at the looting; frustration at the ongoing lack of everything from electricity to a firm sense of order; fear of long-term United States military occupation.

"Down, down U.S.A. -- don't stay, go away!" chanted Ahmed Osman, 30, a teacher among the several hundred Iraqis protesting today in front of the Palestine Hotel downtown, which the marines are both guarding and using as their headquarters to recruit civil servants to reconstruct Iraq's central authority. "Bush is the same as Saddam," he said. [ complete article ]

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The nightmare scenario: freedom to choose rule by the ayatollahs
Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, April 16, 2003

At a bleak and barren airbase in southern Iraq yesterday, the US and British governments began the process of forging a post-Saddam government in their own image: a liberal democracy, preferably headed by a western-educated elite.

But only 10 miles from the Talil air base, where US and British representatives met selected Iraqis, thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to enjoy their new-found freedom and to demonstrate that the US-British image of government is not necessarily theirs.

About 5,000 Shia Muslims - 20,000, according to one Arab television station - marched through Nassiriya, one of the bigger towns on the banks of the Euphrates, shouting: "No to America, No to Saddam".

Like many Iraqis, they are ecstatic that Saddam Hussein has gone but they do not want the US either. They do not refer to "liberation" but to "aggression".

One Nassiriya resident said the demonstrators wanted not western-style freedom but government by their ayatollahs.

That demonstration is the clearest manifestation yet of Shia opinion, and comes after outbursts elsewhere in southern Iraq. It will alarm Washington, which faces its nightmare scenario in the Middle East: an alliance between a Shia-dominated Iraq and its co-religionists in Iran. [ complete article ]

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Don't hold your breath
Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian, April 16, 2003

The Israeli prime minister's interview this week with the liberal Ha'aretz newspaper seemed to show a new Ariel Sharon, one ready to contemplate painful concessions. He even named the West Bank towns that Israel might have to "part with" and said he recognised the "ethical problems" inherent in Israel continuing to "rule over another people and run their lives."

No wonder the Downing Street optimists are excited. Doesn't this sound like an aged warrior who has finally seen one pivotal enemy, Iraq, removed and at last feels able to make the peace that will be his lasting legacy?

It'd be nice to think so. But - and this might be good advice for our prime minister - it's best, when gazing at the Middle East, to put aside the rose-coloured spectacles. For there is every reason to be sceptical, rather than hopeful, about the intentions of both the Israeli and US administrations. [ complete article ]

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Blair's doctrine peters out in the wreckage of Baghdad
Polly Toynbee, The Guardian, April 16, 2003

Gloaters jab fingers at we who opposed the war, saying we have been proved wrong. But we might ask them, if it did so much good, why stop here when all over the world people suffer under monstrous leaders? The ease with which the most militarised dictator was toppled in Iraq shows that these regimes are all paper tigers once faced with US mega-might. Is it not a moral duty to free them all? A sweep up Africa, via Zimbabwe and Congo, would yield more freedom for the buck than anywhere. Tony Blair himself has said he would knock over Burma if he could.

That was the Blair doctrine. But can its rhetoric survive the Iraq war? For its moral authority was premised heavily on the collective authority of the UN. First declared in his great Chicago speech, stirring Clinton to save the Kosovans in 1999, it emerged again at the 2001 Labour party conference a few weeks after the burning horror of the Twin Towers. Those were emotional days and his words moved even hostile observers to hyperbolic praise. He offered an electrifying vision that out of tragedy would arise a wiser world where good was possible, with social justice and liberty for all.

"This is the moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order the world around us ... only the moral power of a world acting as a community can. By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more together than we can alone." [...]

There was only one problem with the Blair doctrine. It was not a speech made from the Oval Office, but from a small offshore island, a mouse roaring. Alas, the shock and awe of 9/11 had not shaken George Bush's kaleidoscope into a new wisdom, so these fine words were no more than wistful political poetry. [ complete article ]

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Chaos mars talks on Iraqi self-rule
Rory McCarthy and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, April 16, 2003

The US and British governments yesterday formally began the tortuous process of steering Iraq towards a democratic future, but the first day of talks was undermined by technical delays, schisms and fierce political and religious unrest sweeping across the country. [ complete article ]

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Library books, letters and priceless documents are set ablaze in final chapter of the sacking of Baghdad
Robert Fisk, The Independent, April 15, 2003

So yesterday was the burning of books. First came the looters, then the arsonists. It was the final chapter in the sacking of Baghdad. The National Library and Archives ­ a priceless treasure of Ottoman historical documents, including the old royal archives of Iraq ­ were turned to ashes in 3,000 degrees of heat. Then the library of Korans at the Ministry of Religious Endowment was set ablaze.

I saw the looters. One of them cursed me when I tried to reclaim a book of Islamic law from a boy of no more than 10. Amid the ashes of Iraqi history, I found a file blowing in the wind outside: pages of handwritten letters between the court of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, who started the Arab revolt against the Turks for Lawrence of Arabia, and the Ottoman rulers of Baghdad.

And the Americans did nothing. All over the filthy yard they blew, letters of recommendation to the courts of Arabia, demands for ammunition for troops, reports on the theft of camels and attacks on pilgrims, all in delicate hand-written Arabic script. I was holding in my hands the last Baghdad vestiges of Iraq's written history. But for Iraq, this is Year Zero; with the destruction of the antiquities in the Museum of Archaeology on Saturday and the burning of the National Archives and then the Koranic library, the cultural identity of Iraq is being erased. Why? Who set these fires? For what insane purpose is this heritage being destroyed?

When I caught sight of the Koranic library burning ­ flames 100 feet high were bursting from the windows ­ I raced to the offices of the occupying power, the US Marines' Civil Affairs Bureau. An officer shouted to a colleague that "this guy says some biblical [sic] library is on fire". I gave the map location, the precise name ­ in Arabic and English. I said the smoke could be seen from three miles away and it would take only five minutes to drive there. Half an hour later, there wasn't an American at the scene ­ and the flames were shooting 200 feet into the air. [ complete article ]

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Armed Shia on streets in first sign of power tussle
James Meek, The Guardian, April 15, 2003

Armed groups of Shia citizens, acting on instructions from clerics in the holy city of Najaf, were attempting to bring order to districts of Baghdad yesterday.

Shia clerics in Baghdad said they were cooperating with the US authorities and had no objection to their presence in the city, provided it was temporary.

But the mobilisation of Shia by the Najaf hierarchy sends a signal to Washington that an organised alternative power structure already exists in Iraq, whatever coalition of exiles and local politicians emerges from meetings this week.

Some local Shia clerics made it clear yesterday that they wanted to see Iraq become an Islamic republic. [ complete article ]

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War without end
David Remnick, The New Yorker, April 14, 2003

Saddam Hussein, who came to power in 1979 declaring his intention to combine the glory of Nebuchadnezzar with the methods of Josef Stalin, no longer rules Iraq, and not to feel relief at the prospect of a world without him is to be possessed of a grudging heart. In a region well stocked with tyrants and autocrats, Saddam was singular in his ambitions, though not in the way proposed by his cult of personality. His record of murder, torture, aggression, intimidation, and subjugation is inscribed in the documentary reports of Human Rights Watch and in the souls of the traumatized ex-subjects who have survived to hammer at his fallen monuments. And yet it would also require a constricted conscience to declare the Anglo-American invasion finished business while so much of the world remains alarmed or enraged at the level of its presumption—and while so many dead go uncounted. It is hard to put a name to what has happened (to what is happening still), not least because the Bush Administration’s intentions, both within Iraq and beyond it, are still a question of deepest concern. [ complete article ]

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It's U.S. policy that's 'untidy'
Robert Scheer, Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2003

How telling that U.S. forces so carefully protected Iraq's oil fields while ignoring the looting of Baghdad's internationally renowned museum. The complete, and by all accounts preventable, destruction of one of the world's most significant collections of antiquities is a fit metaphor for current U.S. foreign policy, which causes more serious damage through carelessness than calculation.

The notion that Iraq even has history -- let alone that 7,000 years ago this land was the cradle of civilization -- is not likely to occur to the neocolonialists running a brawny young nation barely more than 200 years old. The United States' earnest innocence is the charm that our entertainment industry markets so successfully around the world, but it is also the perennial seed of disaster as we blithely rearrange corners of the planet we only pretend to understand. [ complete article ]

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Bush vetoes Syria war plan
Julian Borger, Michael White, Ewen MacAskill and Nicholas Watt, The Guardian, April 15, 2003

The White House has privately ruled out suggestions that the US should go to war against Syria following its military success in Iraq, and has blocked preliminary planning for such a campaign in the Pentagon, the Guardian learned yesterday.

In the past few weeks, the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, ordered contingency plans for a war on Syria to be reviewed following the fall of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, his undersecretary for policy, Doug Feith, and William Luti, the head of the Pentagon's office of special plans, were asked to put together a briefing paper on the case for war against Syria, outlining its role in supplying weapons to Saddam Hussein, its links with Middle East terrorist groups and its allegedly advanced chemical weapons programme. Mr Feith and Mr Luti were both instrumental in persuading the White House to go to war in Iraq.

Mr Feith and other conservatives now playing important roles in the Bush administration, advised the Israeli government in 1996 that it could "shape its strategic environment... by weakening, containing and even rolling back Syria".

However, President George Bush, who faces re-election next year with two perilous nation-building projects, in Afghanistan and Iraq, on his hands, is said to have cut off discussion among his advisers about the possibility of taking the "war on terror" to Syria. [ complete article ]

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Shiite clerics move to assume control in Baghdad
Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, April 14, 2003

Ali Shawki, a Shiite Muslim cleric with the swagger that a gun on each hip brings, strode through the no man's land that Baghdad has become and, in words and action, left little doubt that there's a new authority in town.

At the Prophet Muhammad Mosque, where he resides, the 47-year-old Shawki led prayers in a room stuffed with booty confiscated from looters rampaging through the city. His guns stayed on. With an armed retinue -- one guard carried a heavy machine gun with rounds slung around him, bandolier-style -- he pressed the flesh at a health clinic that he had ordered open after it was closed for days by war.

He described his plans for the sprawling slum once known as Saddam City: armed patrols at night that he would lead, a curfew by 8 p.m. on the turf he controls, and orders that no gunfire was allowed, which he would broadcast by mosque loudspeaker.

"We order people to obey us. When we say stand up, they stand up. When we say sit down, they sit down," Shawki said, his black turban framing the long beard of religious study. "With the collapse of Saddam, the people have turned to the clergy." [ complete article ]

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Groups of Kurds are driving Arabs from northern villages
C.J.Chivers, New York Times, April 14, 2003

Two Arab mothers and their children sat forlornly in a semicircle in the dirt, one household among scattered families living in the open on the outskirts of this agricultural village south of Kirkuk.

Before them on dirty cushions were a pair of tiny, wheezing infants; one was 24 days old, the other 35 days. Both looked ill. Shiya Juma Muhammad, the mother of the younger baby, pleaded for help. "We need food," she said. "We need medical service. We need security. We need to go home."

Ms. Muhammad and her trembling infant are victims of a new wave of intimidation and crime in northern Iraq. They are among thousands of Arabs expelled from their homes by armed Kurds — among the United States' most exuberant allies in this war — and ordered to move away within three days.

Forced expulsion had long been a tool of the Iraqi government. Since the late 1960's, Saddam Hussein's Baath Party relocated huge segments of Iraq's population from place to place, either to suppress uprisings or to skew demographics near oil fields in favor of the ruling Arab class.

Now, days after seizing control of Kirkuk, an ethnically diverse city located astride Iraq's northern oil field, Kurds are forcing Arabs in outlying villages to move from their homes, leaving entire hamlets nearly abandoned and crowding some families into wheat fields that have become hastily erected camps. [ complete article ]

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Ultimate insiders
Bob Herbert, New York Times, April 14, 2003

Let's go back some 20 years. Ronald Reagan was president. George Shultz was secretary of state. Lebanon was in turmoil. And Iraq and Iran were locked in a vicious war that had sharply curtailed the flow of oil out of Iraq.

In December 1983 Donald Rumsfeld was sent to the Middle East as a special envoy in an effort to jump-start the peace process in Lebanon and advance a presidential initiative for peace between Arabs and Israelis.

One of his stops was Baghdad, where he met with Saddam Hussein. That was unusual. Mr. Rumsfeld was the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Iraq since 1967, when Iraq and other Arab nations severed relations with the U.S., which they blamed for Israel's victory in the Six-Day War.

The primary goal of Mr. Rumsfeld's visit to Baghdad was to improve relations with Iraq. But another matter was also quietly discussed. The powerful Bechtel Group in San Francisco, of which Secretary Shultz had been president before joining the Reagan administration, wanted to build an oil pipeline from Iraq to the Jordanian port of Aqaba, near the Red Sea. It was a billion-dollar project and the U.S. government wanted Saddam to sign off on it. [ complete article ]

See also The Institute for Policy Studies' report, Crude vision: How oil interests obscured U.S. government focus on chemical weapons use by Saddam Hussein and an interview with the report's author.

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Pentagon was told of risk to museums
Guy Gugliotta, Washington Post, April 14, 2003

In the months leading up to the Iraq war, U.S. scholars repeatedly urged the Defense Department to protect Iraq's priceless archaeological heritage from looters, and warned specifically that the National Museum of Antiquities was the single most important site in the country.

Late in January, a mix of scholars, museum directors, art collectors and antiquities dealers asked for and were granted a meeting at the Pentagon to discuss their misgivings. McGuire Gibson, an Iraq specialist at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, said yesterday that he went back twice more, and he and colleagues peppered Defense Department officials with e-mail reminders in the weeks before the war began.

"I thought I was given assurances that sites and museums would be protected," Gibson said. Instead, even with U.S. forces firmly in control of Baghdad last week, looters breached the museum, trashed its galleries, burned its records, invaded its vaults and smashed or carried off thousands of artifacts dating from the founding of ancient Sumer around 3,500 B.C. to the end of Islam's Abbasid Caliphate in 1258 A.D. [ complete article ]

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Military restrictions and lawlessness shut aid agencies out of Iraq
Sandra Laville, David Blair and John Steele, The Telegraph, April 14, 2003

The plight of Ali Ismail Abbas, the 12-year-old being treated in a barely functioning hospital after losing both arms in an American air strike, has highlighted the desperate post-war need for humanitarian aid in Iraq.

But military restrictions, combined with the dangerous and lawless atmosphere in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, have severely limited the ability of aid agencies to provide relief. In Kuwait and Jordan, hundreds of frustrated aid workers have been waiting for three weeks to cross the border into Iraq. [ complete article ]

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Bush turns a blind eye to the wars he doesn't want to fight
John Humphrys, The Times, April 13, 2003

It has been a truly dreadful war and it is a long way from over. The number of dead is estimated so far at 4.7m. That is more than have died in any conflict since the second world war. The vast majority of them are innocent civilians -- overwhelmingly women and children. About half a million died violently -- tens of thousands literally hacked to pieces -- and the rest from disease and starvation. This is the sort of human tragedy that, in the phrase a senior Washington official used last week in another context, "should not stand". [ complete article ]

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Where are the weapons of mass destruction?
Andrew Gumbel, The Independent, April 13, 2003

It could still be that, as American forces advance on Tikrit, Saddam's home town, chemical or biological weapons may be discovered, or even deployed by diehard Iraqi troops. But if the casus belli pleaded by George Bush and Tony Blair turns out to be entirely hollow – and it should be stressed that we can't yet know that – what does it say about their motivations for going to war in the first place? How much deception was involved in talking up the Iraqi threat, and how much self-deception?

As Susan Wright, a disarmament expert at the University of Michigan, said last week: "This could be the first war in history that was justified largely by an illusion." Even The Wall Street Journal, one of the administration's biggest cheerleaders, has warned of the "widespread scepticism" the White House can expect if it does not make significant, and undisputed, discoveries of forbidden weapons. [ complete article ]

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A roadmap for Israel, with a detour via Damascus
Jim Lobe, Asia Times, April 12, 2003

Will it be the roadmap to Israeli-Palestinian peace or the road to Damascus that will next grab the attention of US President George W Bush's administration in the wake of its convincing conquest of Iraq?

While senior officials, including Bush himself as recently as Monday after meeting in Belfast with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have insisted that getting an Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track will be the top regional priority after the Iraq war, speculation that administration hawks have their eyes set on Syria suggests a possible detour. [ complete article ]

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Jordan, Egypt leaders to meet amid concerns over civil war risk in Iraq
Agence France-Presse, April 13, 2003

Jordan's King Abdullah II is expected for talks here [Cairo] on Monday, amid concerns that the current unrest in post-Saddam Iraq could deteriorate into a full-fledged civil war and spread to other countries in the Arab world.

According to official Egyptian sources, the Hashemite monarch and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are due to discuss "the need to restore order and security" in Iraq.

Scenes of pillaging in areas where Saddam's repressive machine has disappeared have sparked fears that the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Iraqi regime may generate unrest between Iraq's patchwork of communities.

Saddam and the elite of his Baath party which ruled the country with an iron fist for three decades are from the Sunni minority, which now fears retribution from the majority Shiite Muslims. [ complete article ]

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Armed men tell Shi'ite leader to leave Iraq
Mehrdad Balali and Esmat Salaheddin, Reuters, April 13, 2003

Armed men have surrounded the house of a top Shi'ite Muslim cleric in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf, giving him 48 hours to leave the country or face attack, aides to the cleric told Reuters on Sunday.

The siege of the home of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a sign of religious strife at the heart of Iraq's majority community, boded ill for national unity after the U.S.-led war to topple Saddam Hussein and set alarm bells ringing across the region. [ complete article ]

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Invasion is easy. Occupation is hard
Susan Chira, New York Times, April 13, 2003

A little history is a dangerous thing. And history is being brandished like a weapon right now in Iraq to shape the terms of the peace.

Scenes of jubilant Iraqis, handing flowers to American soldiers in the streets of Baghdad, may evoke images of liberating troops in World War II, but for most of history, occupation has rarely been welcome or benign. Rather, it meant imperial conquest or retribution for defeat. Occupying armies were rapacious looters of the land and symbols of humiliation.

The question now is what it will mean for Iraqis, once the reality of a continuing foreign presence has sunk in. "We will help you build a peaceful and representative government that protects the rights of all citizens," President Bush told the Iraqis. "And then our military forces will leave."

If only it were that easy. In reality, even the best intended of occupations often come to grief. [ complete article ]

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Mosul seethes with anger and danger
Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2003

Unsure who, if anyone, was in charge of their city Saturday, Mosul residents armed themselves with assault rifles and wooden clubs to guard against looters and Kurdish fighters whom many here see as invaders.

A day after Iraqi forces surrendered Mosul, few U.S. soldiers had ventured into the city to try to stop a struggle between competing factions that has forced ordinary Iraqis to form vigilante groups to defend their neighborhoods.

Fighters from two Kurdish factions are patrolling different parts of this city of 1.7 million and coming under attack by gunmen who are apparently supporters of Saddam Hussein. [ complete article ]

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A civilisation torn to pieces
Robert Fisk, The Independent, April 13, 2003

They lie across the floor in tens of thousands of pieces, the priceless antiquities of Iraq's history. The looters had gone from shelf to shelf, systematically pulling the statues and pots and amphorae of the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the Sumerians, the Medes, the Persians and the Greeks and hurling them down on to the concrete.

Our feet crunched on the wreckage of 5,000-year-old marble plinths and stone statuary and pots that had endured every siege of Baghdad, every invasion of Iraq throughout history – only to be destroyed when America came to "liberate" the city. The Iraqis did it. They did it to their own history, physically destroying the evidence of their own nation's thousands of years of civilisation.

Not since the Taliban embarked on their orgy of destruction against the Buddhas of Bamiyan and the statues in the museum of Kabul – perhaps not since the Second World War or earlier – have so many archaeological treasures been wantonly and systematically smashed to pieces. [ complete article ]

See also Tom Engelhardt's weblog for more articles on the devastation of our heritage.

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Syria could be next, warns Washington
Ed Vulliamy, The Observer, April 13, 2003

The United States has pledged to tackle the Syrian-backed Hizbollah group in the next phase of its 'war on terror' in a move which could threaten military action against President Bashar Assad's regime in Damascus.

The move is part of Washington's efforts to persuade Israel to support a new peace settlement with the Palestinians. Washington has promised Israel that it will take 'all effective action' to cut off Syria's support for Hizbollah - implying a military strike if necessary, sources in the Bush administration have told The Observer.

Hizbollah is a Shia Muslim organisation based in Lebanon, whose fighters have attacked northern Israeli settlements and harassed occupying Israeli troops to the point of forcing an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon three years ago.

The new US undertaking to Israel to deal with Hizbollah via its Syrian sponsors has been made over recent days during meetings between administration officials and Israeli diplomats in Washington, and Americans talking to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. It would be part of a deal designed to entice Israel into the so-called road map to peace package that would involve the Jewish state pulling out of the Palestinian West Bank, occupied since 1967. [ complete article ]

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Not all freedom is made in America
Eric Foner, New York Times, April 13, 2003

Freedom lies at the heart of our sense of ourselves as individuals and as a nation. The Declaration of Independence lists liberty among mankind's inalienable rights. The Civil War, which began as a struggle to save the Union, became a crusade to extend freedom to four million slaves. The United States fought World War II for the Four Freedoms, the cold war to defend the free world. After a false start in which he gave the war in Afghanistan the theological title Infinite Justice, President Bush rechristened it Enduring Freedom. And we are now engaged in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Freedom quickly emerged as the official explanation for the war against terrorism. "Freedom itself is under attack," President Bush announced in his speech to Congress of Sept. 21, 2001. The National Security Strategy issued last fall begins not with a discussion of global politics or the doctrine of preemptive war, but with an invocation of freedom, defined as political democracy, freedom of expression, religious toleration and free enterprise. These, the document proclaims, "are right and true for every person, in every society."

The Bush administration did not originate the conviction that American freedom is universally applicable. Deeply embedded in our culture is the idea that the United States has a mission to demonstrate the superiority of free institutions and to spread freedom throughout the world. Colonial Puritans thought they were establishing a "city upon a hill," a model to be adopted by the rest of mankind. Thomas Jefferson described the United States as an "empire of liberty," whose territorial expansion should not be compared with Europe's imperial aggrandizement. During World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt promised a global New Deal based on the Four Freedoms.

Foreign observers have often been bemused, to put it politely, by Americans' refusal to consider that other people may have thought about freedom and arrived at conclusions that might be worthy of consideration. When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830's, he was struck by Americans' conviction that "they are the only religious, enlightened, and free people," and "form a species apart from the rest of the human race." [ complete article ]

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British mother asks Israelis: Was my son shot deliberately?
Daniel Foggo and Inigo Gilmore, The Telegraph, April 13, 2003

The family of a British peace protester, shot by an Israeli sniper as he shielded three young children, claimed yesterday that he appeared to have been deliberately targeted for assassination.

Tom Hurndall was hit in the head with a bullet from a rifle as he ushered two girls to safety in the Gaza Strip on Friday. His condition last night was still serious.

His mother Jocelyn told The Telegraph that she could see no other reason for the attack: "Tom was wearing a bright orange fluorescent jacket. Apparently the watchtower housing the soldier who shot him wasn't too far away from him either. We are worried that he may have been deliberately targeted, otherwise it seems inexplicable."

Witnesses said Mr Hurndall, 21, had helped one young boy to safety and had gone back to shepherd two young girls out of the way of advancing Israeli forces when he was shot. Doctors at the Saroka Hospital, in Beer Sheva, say he has severe damage to the left side of his brain but is off the critical list.

The mother of the boy called him a hero. Fada Barhom said that Salame, seven, was playing football with his friends when suddenly there was the sound of gunfire.

"This young British man saved my son," she said. "He is a hero, he is a martyr and we want to thank the people like him who are coming to Palestine to try to protect us. My heart aches for his mother." [ complete article ]

See also the statement issued by the International Solidarity Movement.

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Now for nation change
R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, April 13, 2003

There are many reasons to expect that policing Iraq and creating the rule of law will be the coalition's biggest challenge there this year. The chief surprise in the fighting so far was how quickly some of Saddam's special security services -- numbering between 20,000 and 30,000 people in at least five separate organizations considered highly loyal to the regime -- simply faded from sight. The fear among U.S. officials is that they have burrowed into urban landscapes or desert redoubts, where they will organize campaigns of social chaos and terrorism.

If the West's experience in the Balkans and Haiti is any guide, Iraq's torturers of yesterday will be the organized criminals of tomorrow. And while U.S. forces have proven they fight superbly against armed Iraqi combatants, they haven't been trained or equipped to battle armed civilians fueled by nationalism and egged on behind the scenes by those who seek to profit from chaos or even to reclaim their power. [ complete article ]

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