Thursday, November 30, 2006

Of parasites and hosts...

I posted an article by Patrick Cockburn the other day in which he spoke of the sheer level of disconnect between what Blair is saying and the reality on the ground in Iraq as experienced by people, like himself, who actually live there:

I returned from Mosul to London just in time to hear Tony Blair speaking at the Lord Mayor's banquet. It was a far more extraordinary performance that his audience appreciated.

As the Prime Minister spoke with his usual Hugh Grant charm, it became clear he had learned nothing and forgotten nothing in three-and-a-half years of war.
Misconception after misconception poured from his lips.

Contrary to views of his own generals and every opinion poll assessing Iraqi opinion,
he discounted the idea that armed resistance in Iraq is fueled by hostility to foreign occupation. Instead he sees dark forces rising in the east, dedicated, like Sauron in Lord of the Rings, to principles of pure evil. The enemy, in this case, is "based on a thoroughly warped misinterpretation of Islam, which is fanatical and deadly." Even by the standard of Middle Eastern conspiracy theories, it was puerile stuff.
Now Blair has given an equally warped vision of life in Afghanistan:
But Mr Blair, who along with George Bush is among the most bullish of the Nato leaders about the prospects for Afghanistan, said: "I think there is a sense that this mission in Afghanistan is not yet won, but it is winnable and, indeed, we are winning."
He says this despite the resurgence of the Taliban and the rising death tolls. He says this despite the fact that Tom Koenigs, the diplomat heading the UN mission in Afghanistan has already stated that Nato "cannot win" the battle against the Taliban alone and that Afghans would have to be trained to help. He says this on a day when he once again sought reinforcements from other Nato country's and was once again rewarded with only the most modest of help that even Blair admitted fell short of his expectations.

Both Blair and Bush are beginning to sound unhinged the longer this conflict continues, both clinging to a map of reality that has long since been discounted as useless by the rest of the planet.

It was this startling level of disconnect that led Barry Yourgrau to pen an article asking, Is Bush Actually Mad?
How else explain his pronouncement yesterday that the chaos and horror in Iraq is the handiwork of Al Queda--and that any notion of "civil war" simply should be dismissed with a snort. A Bush-snort.

This is Bush just being Bush, is it? Stubbornly sticking to "his version of things" in the face of any--make that "all"--facts to the contrary?

Excuse me, but how can the care of this country, and beyond, be left in the hands of a man who behaves effectively like a doctor in an emergency room insisting that germs don't cause infections and blood does not circulate?

The same mindset that Yourgrau recognises in Bush is now also prevalent in Blair. Both men are stubbornly refusing to accept reality as reality is stating the opposite of what they would like it to say.

Indeed, this inability to see what is staring him in the face now extends to Blair's relationship with Bush himself. Many of us in the UK have always wondered why Blair staked so much of his political capital on possibly the dumbest man ever to have occupied the White House. What did he get in return for this? The answer has been given by Kendall Myers, a senior State Department analyst, and - for Blair - it won't make for pleasant reading.

Myers states:
That for all Britain’s attempts to influence US policy in recent years, “we typically ignore them and take no notice — it’s a sad business”.

He added that he felt “a little ashamed” at Mr Bush’s treatment of the Prime Minister, who had invested so much of his political capital in standing shoulder to shoulder with America after 9/11.

Speaking at an academic forum in Washington on Tuesday night, he answered a question from The Times, saying: “It was a done deal from the beginning, it was a one-sided relationship that was entered into with open eyes . . . there was nothing. There was no payback, no sense of reciprocity.”

So there we have it. He got nothing. Or, actually, that's not strictly true. This may be the first time in medical history where the parasite became infected by the host.

Because the parasitical Blair is starting to sound just as unhinged as Bush, the man whose political sphere he has sought to influence. Blair did not succeed in pulling Bush back from the brink of madness; instead, he fell into the abyss with him.

Bush has the excuse of his stunning lack of intellectual curiosity, but Blair is a highly intelligent man. Somewhere along the line he knowingly made this Faustian pact. However, unlike Faust, Blair got bugger all for participating in the deal.

That's simply sad. And, inevitably, it has led to madness.

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Maliki postpones Bush summit after memo leak

It was the meeting with Bush that Moqtada al-Sadr demanded that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki refuse to attend, with the threat that - if Maliki did attend - al-Sadr may walk from the Iraqi coalition and trigger the collapse of the entire administration.

Bush insisted that the meeting go ahead although the very fact that it was scheduled to take place in Jordan rather than in Iraq told it's own story of the true state of play in that "liberated" country. It is now simply too dangerous a place for the President of the USA to even venture there.

Sadr has now suspended the participation of his six members of the Iraqi government:

"The Sadr group suspends its membership in parliament and in the cabinet as a protest against the visit, which is considered as a provocation to the Iraqi people," a statement read. However, Mr Sadr's supporters stressed that the move did not represent a permanent boycott.

In the end Maliki has postponed the meeting, but not because al-Sadr demanded that he do so, rather it's because of a leak from within the Bush administration to the New York Times which highlights the Bush camps lack of faith in Maliki himself and their deep misgivings about his ability to curb the violence currently sweeping Iraq.
The 12-hour delay was officially to allow Mr Bush the chance to have a bilateral meeting with the host, Jordan's King Abdullah, but White House officials were forced to assure Mr Maliki that he still had the US president's confidence.

The memo - leaked to the New York Times and confirmed as accurate by administration officials - exposed a relationship of mutual dependence clouded by distrust and strained by the steadily escalating civil war inside Iraq.

The situation in Iraq is getting more severe by the day and it's a further sign of the desperation within the Bush camp that they are once again considering lining up another Iraqi Prime Minister as fall guy for the failings of their war plans.

The memo, from the US national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, to the president, questions Mr Maliki's readiness to curb the radical Shia militias responsible for a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Sunnis in the Iraqi capital. Writing on November 8, a week after meeting the Iraqi prime minister, Mr Hadley argued the "reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not sufficient to turn his good intentions into action".

Hadley has many other suggestions including providing money to other groups in return for them supporting Maliki, making it theoretically possible for him to break away from his Shia base and form a broader based secular coalition.

The memo said the US should help Mr Maliki to form a new political base drawn from moderate politicians from all Iraq's ethnic communities, as a substitute for "his current narrow reliance on Shia actors". Creating that new base might require "monetary support to moderate groups that have been seeking to break with larger, more sectarian parties".

The memo also asks Saudi Arabia "to cut off any public or private funding to insurgents or death squads from the region and lean on Syria to terminate its support for Ba'athist and insurgent leaders". The reward for doing so would be linked to "other areas in which Saudi Arabia wants to see US action".

A blatant reference to the Israeli/Palestine dispute and a possible explanation for Olmert's sudden embrace of a ceasefire in Gaza the other day. I said at the time that it was possibly linked to Bush's visit to Jordan, and here we have the proof in black and white.

Hadley is fair enough to note that pushing Maliki too far "could force him to failure" and the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, sought to reassure everyone that "the president has confidence in prime minister Maliki".

However, Maliki would do well to remember just how long Rumsfeld lasted after Bush and Co. declared their "confidence" in him.

This is a brutal group of self-preservationists who will go to any lengths to avoid accepting any responsibility for the failures of their own policies. Maliki's position is an impossible one, as Hadley's memo attests. Although Hadley is very unfair when he suggests that perhaps Maliki is "misrepresenting his intentions". In those words lie the Bush administration's get-out-clause.

It's not that they are asking Maliki to perform an impossible task, but rather that he holds some hidden malevolent intention to fail.

This is the problem with the Bush administration and their neo-con belief that things can be willed into existence. Whenever reality fails to shape itself to their impossible demands, certain individuals will be singled out as lacking the necessary will or, worse, intentionally failing.

Bush has always thought that his intention to "stick to the course" was enough to guarantee success in Iraq. He has failed to realise that there is a chasm of difference between a goal - the establishing of a functioning democracy in Iraq - and a plan - how to establish such a democracy.

Without the latter, the former is only a pipe dream. No-one can doubt that Bush had a goal, but I have yet to see anything that looks remotely like a plan.

And the blame for that lies squarely on the shoulders of Bush, not Maliki.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Carter: Iraq is "one of the greatest blunders" ever by an American President and Israel is operating Apartheid in Palestine.

Jimmy Carter has called the invasion of Iraq, "one of the greatest blunders that American presidents have ever made". When he was then asked if Iraq was worse that Vietnam he stated:

I think it's going to be a close call, but perhaps much more vividly known by the rest of the world than Vietnam was.
He then went on to state that America could claim victory in Iraq were it able to withdraw it's troops leaving behind a "viable democracy". I am sure Carter, even as he says these words, knows that this is an impossible dream. Unless all Americans have simply lost their marbles when it comes to this conflict.

Bush continues to rant diatribes that bear no relation to reality:
The war on terror that we fight today is more than a military conflict, it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.

And in this struggle, we can accept nothing less than victory for our children and our grandchildren.

To view the current battle against terrorists in this "struggle of the century"/apocalyptic way, is typical Bush/Blair hyperbole. They love the notion that a couple of hundred Afghanis armed with box cutters and suicide bombs are somehow equivalent to Hitler - a man who formed the largest army the world, at that point, had ever seen. They love to view the terrorist threat in this way because they are then cast in the role of Churchill and the rest of us, who refuse to see the world in this way, are cast in the role of Neville Chamberlain.

It's garbage. And I would have hoped Carter would have defined it as such. However, there is a long tradition of past American President's refusing to criticise present ones, so maybe he was simply following that convention.

He did, however, make one very good point about steps the US could take to reassure Iraq and her neighbours regarding American intentions:
I would immediately convene an international conference and let it be known -- which is not known now -- that America has no desire to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq. Almost every Arab leader with whom I have discussed this issue in the last year or two believe that the current plan is some day, 20 years from now, still to have a military presence of the United States inside Iraq.
As I have previously reported, the US has plans to build six enduring bases in Iraq and to use the country as "an unsinkable aircraft carrier for its troops and bases for years to come."

Carter then went on to discuss his new book,
"Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid", which should be applauded for the title alone. For a former US President to be brave enough to use the word Apartheid when discussing Israeli policy towards the Palestinians is a welcome change from the normal asinine language that US commentators use when discussing this conflict.

Carter was careful to explain that Apartheid was not being carried out in Israel, where a large Arab population live, but he did talk of Apartheid in the Occupied Territories:

However, in the West Bank, in the occupied territories, a horrible example of apartheid is being perpetrated against the Palestinians who live there. Israel has penetrated and occupied, confiscated and colonized major portions of the territory belonging to the Palestinians.

In order to do that, they have now built roads between those isolated settlements -- about -- well, more than 200 of them. And those roads connect those settlements but they are exclusively to be used by Israelis.

So the Palestinians are separated from their own land. And in order to keep the Palestinians from objecting to this, the Israelis have arrested and imprisoned about 9,000 Palestinians, including 300 children, some of them 12 years old, and others women, about 100 women.

And, in the process, the Palestinians are completely treated as inferior citizens. This is not...

BLITZER: What...

CARTER: This is not based on racism, is the last thing I want to say. It's based on a minority of Israelis -- and I say that very carefully -- a minority of Israelis who refuse to swap land for peace.

At This point Blitzer spluttered and started to repeat the mantra about the great offer that we all know Barak never actually made. At this point Carter does a very good job of dismantling that oft repeated lie - that Barak accepted a deal that Arafat later refused - and Carter points out that such a deal was never accepted by the Israelis.

This lie is repeated because of a passage in Clinton's book in which Clinton makes a claim that the facts simply don't back up.

Carter also did well when Blitzer attempted to put the blame for all the recent violence on the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit:
CARTER: Israel withdrew from Gaza and then the Palestinians -- what precipitated this was not the Katusha rockets, it was the seizure of an Israeli soldier, which was probably a mistake on their side.

So the Palestinians do hold one Israeli soldier.

The Israelis hold 9,200 Palestinians, as I said earlier, including 300 children and about 100 women.

And as soon as the Palestinians took this soldier,
immediately they offered to swap this soldier to the Israelis for a limited number of women and children being held by the Israelis in prison.

The Israelis rejected that offer.

I find it so refreshing that a former American President is willing to challenge the status quo regarding how the US view the Israeli/Palestine situation. If more Americans were as fair as Carter is being, the US would not be as hated throughout the globe as she currently finds herself.

And it seems Carter is more than willing to engage in the argument on his own terms:

CARTER: And I hope it will provoke a discussion and a debate in this country, which is always missing, as you know.

BLITZER: Well, you'd better believe it's provoking a lot of debate right now.

It's very seldom that any US politician even attempts to acknowledge that there is such a thing as a Palestinian viewpoint, and Carter is to be applauded for, not only acknowledging it, but setting out to defend it publicly.

The usual sources will now seek to attack him and accuse him of being anti-Semitic. But Carter is opening a debate that Americans, most of all, need to hear. They are blindly backing an Israeli government that many of us can see are engaging in acts that closely resemble those of the now dismantled South African Apartheid regime.

Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu has hinted that he sees Apartheid in Israel's actions:
I've been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.
This is an argument that even US Liberals seem to want to avoid having. I am always amazed that the US Liberals seem to abandon all of their core values when it comes to this subject and to allow the Israelis more rope than they would allow any other nation in similar circumstances.

Carter is very brave to venture on to this territory. Liberals would do well to listen to the argument that he is making.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Slaughter in Iraq soon seems to be part of normal life

I loathe simply cutting and pasting but with Cockburn, as with Fisk, I feel I have nothing to add to their statements from the ground.

Iraq is rending itself apart. The signs of collapse are everywhere. In Baghdad, the police often pick up more than 100 tortured and mutilated bodies in a single day. Government ministries make war on each other.

A new and ominous stage in the disintegration of the Iraqi state came earlier this month when police commandos from the Shia-controlled Interior Ministry kidnapped 150 people from the Sunni-run Higher Education Ministry in the heart of Baghdad.

Iraq may be getting close to what Americans call "the Saigon moment", the time when it becomes evident to all that the government is expiring. "They say that the killings and kidnappings are being carried out by men in police uniforms and with police vehicles," the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said to me with a despairing laugh this summer. "But everybody in Baghdad knows that the killers and kidnappers are real policemen."

It is getting worse. The Iraqi army and police are not loyal to the state. If the US army decides to confront the Shia militias it could well find Shia military units from the Iraqi army cutting the main American supply route between Kuwait and Baghdad. One convoy was recently stopped at a supposedly fake police checkpoint near the Kuwait border and four American security men and an Austrian taken away.

The US and British position in Iraq is far more of a house built on sand than is realised in Washington or London, despite the disasters of the past three-and-a-half years. George Bush and Tony Blair show a unique inability to learn from their mistakes, largely because they do not want to admit having committed any errors in the first place.

Civil war is raging across central Iraq, home to a third of the country's 27 million people. As Shia and Sunni flee each other's neighbourhoods, Iraq is turning into a country of refugees.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says that 1.6 million are displaced within the country and a further 1.8 million have fled abroad. In Baghdad, neighbouring Sunni and Shia districts have started to fire mortars at each other. On the day Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death, I phoned a friend in a Sunni area of the capital to ask what he thought of the verdict. He answered impatiently that "I was woken up this morning by the explosion of a mortar bomb on the roof of my next-door neighbour's house. I am more worried about staying alive myself than what happens to Saddam."

Iraqi friends used to reassure me that there would be no civil war because so many Shia and Sunni were married to each other. These mixed couples are now being compelled to divorce by their families. "I love my husband but my family has forced me to divorce him because we are Shia and he is Sunni," said Hiba Sami, a mother, to a UN official. "My family say they [the husband's family] are insurgents ... and that living with him is an offence to God." Members of mixed marriages had set up an association to protect each other called the Union for Peace in Iraq but they were soon compelled to dissolve it when several founding members were murdered.

Everything in Iraq is dominated by what in Belfast we used to call "the politics of the last atrocity". All three Iraqi communities - Shia, Sunni and Kurds - see themselves as victims and seldom sympathise with the tragedies of others. Every day brings its gruesome discoveries.

Earlier this month, I visited Mosul, the capital of northern Iraq that has a population of 1.7 million people, of whom about two thirds are Sunni Arabs and one third Kurds. It is not the most dangerous city in Iraq but it is still a place drenched in violence.

A local tribal leader called Sayid Tewfiq from the nearby city of Tal Afar told me of a man from there who went to recover the tortured body of his 16-year-old son. The corpse was wired to explosives that blew up, killing the father so their two bodies were buried together.

Khasro Goran, the efficient and highly effective deputy governor of Mosul, said there was no civil war yet in Mosul but it could easily happen.

He added that 70,000 Kurds had already fled the city because of assassinations. It is extraordinary how, in Iraq, slaughter that would be front-page news anywhere else in the world soon seems to be part of normal life.

On the day I arrived in Mosul, the police had found 11 bodies in the city which would have been on the low side in Baghdad. I spoke to Duraid Mohammed Kashmula, the governor of Mosul, whose office is decorated with pictures of smiling fresh-faced young men who turned out to be his son and four nephews, all of them killed by insurgents.

His own house, together with his furniture, was burned to the ground two years ago. He added in passing that Mr Goran and he himself were the prime targets for assassination in Mosul, a point that was dramatically proved true the day after we spoke when insurgents exploded a bomb beside his convoy - fortunately he was not in it at the time - killing one and wounding several of his bodyguards.

For the moment Mosul is more strongly controlled by pro-government forces than most Iraqi cities. That is because the US has powerful local allies in the shape of the Kurds. The two army divisions in the province are primarily Kurdish, but the 17,000 police in Nineveh, the province of which Mosul is the capital, are almost entirely Sunni and their loyalty is dubious.

One was dismissed on the day of Saddam's trial for putting a picture of the former leader in the window of his car. In November 2004, the entire Mosul police force abandoned their police stations to the insurgents who captured £20m worth of arms.

"The terrorists do not control a single district in Mosul," is the proud claim of Major General Wathiq Mohammed Abdul Qadir al-Hamdani, the bullet-headed police chief of Nineveh. "I challenge them to fight me face to face." But the situation is still very fragile. We went to see the police operations room where an officer was bellowing into a microphone: "There is a suicide bomber in a car in the city. Do not let him get near you or any of our buildings." There was a reason to be frightened. On my way into Mosul, I had seen the broken concrete walls of the party headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two big Kurdish political parties. In August, two men in a car packed with explosives shot their way past the outer guard post and then blew themselves up, killing 17 soldiers.

The balance of forces in Nineveh between American, Arab, Kurd, Turkoman, Sunni and Shia is complicated even by Iraqi standards. Power is fragmented.

Sayid Tewfiq, the Shia tribal leader from Tal Afar, resplendent in his flowing robes, admitted: "I would not last 24 hours in Tal Afar without Coalition [US] support." "That's probably about right," confirmed Mr Goran, explaining that Sayid Tewfiq's Shia Turkoman tribe was surrounded by Sunni tribes. Earlier I had heard him confidently invite all of Nineveh provincial council to visit him in Tal Afar. Nobody looked enthusiastic about taking him up on the offer.

"He may have 3,000 fighters from his tribe but he can't visit most of Tal Afar himself," said another member of the council, Mohammed Suleiman, as he declined the invitation. A few hours before somebody tried to assassinate him, Governor Kashmula claimed to me that "security in Mosul is the best in Iraq outside the Kurdish provinces".

It is a measure of the violence in Iraq that it is an arguable point. Khasro Goran said: "The situation is not perfect but it is better than Anbar, Baquba and Diyala." I could vouch for this. In Iraq however bad things are there is always somewhere worse.

It is obviously very difficult for reporters to discover what is happening in Iraq's most violent provinces without being killed themselves. But, at the end of September, I travelled south along the Iraqi side of the border with Iran, sticking to Kurdish villages to try to reach Diyala, a mixed Sunni-Shia province north-east of Baghdad where there had been savage fighting. It is a road on which a wrong turning could be fatal.

We drove from Sulaimaniyah through the mountains, passed through the Derbandikhan tunnel and then took the road that runs beside the Diyala river, its valley a vivid streak of lush green in the dun-coloured semi desert.

The area is a smuggler's paradise. At night, trucks drive through without lights, their drivers using night-vision goggles. It is not clear what cargoes they are carrying - presumably weapons or drugs - and nobody has the temerity to ask.

We had been warned it was essential to turn left after the tumbledown Kurdish town of Kalar before reaching the mixed Arab-Kurdish village of Jalula. We crossed the river by a long and rickety bridge, parts of which had fallen into the swirling waters below, and soon arrived in the Kurdish stronghold of Khanaqin in Diyala province. If I had any thoughts about driving further towards Baghdad they were put to rest by the sight, in one corner of the yard of the local police headquarters, of the wreckage of a blue-and-white police vehicle torn apart by a bomb.

"Five policemen were killed in it when it was blown up at an intersection in As-Sadiyah two months ago," a policeman told me. "Only their commander survived but his legs were amputated."

Officials in Khanaqin had no doubt about what is happening in their province. Lt Col Ahmed Nuri Hassan, the exhausted-looking commander of the federal police, said: "There is a sectarian civil war here and it is getting worse every day." The head of the local council estimated 100 people were being killed a week.

In Baquba, the provincial capital, Sunni Arabs were driving out Shia and Kurds. The army and police were divided along sectarian lines. The one Iraqi army division in Diyala was predominantly Shia and only arrested Sunni. On the day after I left, Sunni and Kurdish police officers fought a gun battle in Jalula, the village I had been warned not to enter. The fighting started when Kurdish police refused to accept a new Sunni Arab police chief and his followers. Here, in miniature, in Diyala it was possible to see Iraq breaking up. The province is ruled by its death squads. The police say at least 9,000 people had been murdered. It is difficult to see how Sunni and Shia in the province can ever live together again.

In much of Iraq, we long ago slipped down the rapids leading from crisis to catastrophe though it is only in the past six months that these dire facts have begun to be accepted abroad. For the first three years of the war, Republicans in the US regularly claimed the liberal media was ignoring signs of peace and progress. Some right-wingers even set up websites devoted to spreading the news of American achievements in this ruined land.

I remember a team from a US network news channel staying in my hotel in Baghdad complaining to me, as they buckled on their body armour and helmets, that they had been once again told by their bosses in New York, themselves under pressure from the White House, to "go and find some good news and report it."

Times have changed in Washington. The extent of the disaster in Iraq is admitted by almost all, aside from President Bush. Even before the Democrats' victory in the Congressional elections on 7 November the magazine Vanity Fair commented acidly that "the only group in the Bush camp at this point are the people who wait patiently for news of the WMD and continue to believe that Saddam and Osama were once lovers."

Previous supporters of the war are showing embarrassing haste in recanting past convictions.

These days, it is in Britain alone, or more specifically in Downing Street, that policies bloodily discredited in Iraq in the years since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein still get a hearing. I returned from Mosul to London just in time to hear Tony Blair speaking at the Lord Mayor's banquet. It was a far more extraordinary performance that his audience appreciated.

As the Prime Minister spoke with his usual Hugh Grant charm, it became clear he had learned nothing and forgotten nothing in three-and-a-half years of war. Misconception after misconception poured from his lips.

Contrary to views of his own generals and every opinion poll assessing Iraqi opinion, he discounted the idea that armed resistance in Iraq is fueled by hostility to foreign occupation. Instead he sees dark forces rising in the east, dedicated, like Sauron in Lord of the Rings, to principles of pure evil. The enemy, in this case, is "based on a thoroughly warped misinterpretation of Islam, which is fanatical and deadly."

Even by the standard of Middle Eastern conspiracy theories, it was puerile stuff. Everywhere Mr Blair saw hidden hands - "forces outside Iraq that are trying to create mayhem" - at work.

An expert on the politics of Iraq and Lebanon recently said to me: "The most dangerous error in the Middle East today is to believe the Shia communities in Iraq and Lebanon are pawns of Iran." But that is exactly what the Prime Minister does believe.

The fact that the largest Shia militia in Iraq - the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr - is anti-Iranian and Iraqi nationalist is conveniently ignored. Those misconceptions are important in terms of practical policy because they give support to the dangerous myth that if the US and Britain could only frighten or square the Iranians and Syrians then all would come right as their Shia cats-paws in Iraq and Lebanon would inevitably fall into line.

In a very British way, opponents of the war in Iraq have focused not on current events but on the past sins of the government in getting us into the war.

No doubt it was all very wrong for Downing Street to pretend that Saddam Hussein had WMD and was a threat to the world when they knew he was not. But this emphasis on the origins of the war in Iraq has diverted attention from the fact that, going by official statements, the British government knows no more about what was going on in Iraq in 2006 than it did in 2003.

The picture Mr Blair paints of Iraq seldom touches reality at any point. For instance, he says Iraqis "voted for an explicitly non-sectarian government," but every Iraqi knows the vote in two parliamentary elections in 2005 went wholly along sectarian and ethnic lines. The polls were the starting pistol for the start of the civil war.

Mr Blair steadfastly refuses to accept the fact that opposition to the American and British occupation of Iraq has been the main cause of the insurgency.

The commander of the British army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, was almost fired for his trouble when he made the obvious point that "we should get ourselves out some time soon because our presence exacerbates the security problem."

A series of opinion polls carried out by the US-based group at the end of September show why Gen. Dannatt is right and Mr Blair is wrong. The poll shows that 92 per cent of the Sunni and 62 per cent of the Shia - up from 41 per cent at the start of the year - approve of attacks on US-led forces. Only the Kurds support the occupation. Some 78 per cent of all Iraqis think the US military presence provokes more conflict than it prevents and 71 per cent want US-led forces out of Iraq within a year. The biggest and most menacing change this year is the growing hostility of Iraq's Shia to the American and British presence.

It used to be said that at least the foreign occupation prevented a civil war but, with 1,000 Iraqis being killed every week, it is now very clearly failing.

It was always true that in post-Saddam Iraq there was going to be friction between the Shia, Sunni and Kurds. But Iraqis were also forced to decide if they were for or against a foreign invader.

The Sunnis were always going to fight the occupation, the Kurds to welcome it and the Shia to co-operate for just so long as it served their interests. Patriotism and communal self-interest combined. Before 2003, a Sunni might see a Shia as the member of a different sect but once the war had started he started to see him as a traitor to his country.

Of course Messrs Bush and Blair argue there is no occupation. In June 2004, sovereignty was supposedly handed back to Iraq. "Let Freedom Reign," wrote Mr Bush. But the reality of power remained firmly with the US and Britain. The Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki said this month that he could not move a company of soldiers without seeking permission of the Coalition (the US and Britain). Officials in Mosul confirmed to me that they could not carry out a military operation without the agreement of US forces. There is a hidden history to the occupation of Iraq which helps explain why has proved such a disaster. In 1991, after the previous Gulf War, a crucial reason why President George HW Bush did not push on to Baghdad was that he feared the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would be followed by elections that would be won by Shia parties sympathetic to Iran. No worse outcome of the war could be imagined in Washington. After the capture of Baghdad in 2003, the US faced the same dilemma. Many of the contortions of US policy in Iraq since then have been a covert attempt to avoid or dilute the domination of Iraq's Shia majority.

For more than a year, the astute US envoy in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, tried to conciliate the Sunni. He failed. Attacks on US forces are on the increase. Dead and wounded US soldiers now total almost 1,000 a month..

An Iraqi government will only have real legitimacy and freedom to operate when US and British troops have withdrawn. Washington and London have to accept that if Iraq is to survive at all it will be as a loose federation run by a Shia-Kurdish alliance because together they are 80 per cent of the population. But, thanks to the miscalculations of Mr Bush and Mr Blair, the future of Iraq will be settled not by negotiations but on the battlefield.

The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq by Patrick Cockburn is published by Verso.

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Israeli prime minister offers prisoner exchange and hope of renewed Middle East peace talks

I could say, "I told you so". I could berate the senseless loss of life that occurred because of Olmert's obstinance during the Israel-Hizbullah conflict that also caused so much damage to Lebanese infrastructure.

We all knew at the time that despite the massive damage Israel was causing to Beirut, there would come a day when Israel would have to offer a prisoner exchange.

As I said at the time:

Israel's ill thought out campaign will end disastrously. They will not have defeated Hizbullah who, by the very fact they are left standing at all, will have their reputation on the street enhanced; but, more importantly, they will not have their soldiers back and will have to engage in the very prisoner swap that they publicly declared that they would never do.
However, now that the day has arrived I feel no sense of schadenfreude. I actually feel only a sense of exhausted relief that Olmert may, finally, have come to his senses. This deal should have been offered at the same time as the Israelis finally agreed to end the fighting with Hizbullah and one feels that the fact that the people of Gaza lacked the firepower of Hizbullah did much to contribute to it's continuance.

However, let us not gripe. What Olmert has offered is as follows:
The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, held out the rare possibility of a return to Middle East peace talks yesterday when he offered for the first time to release Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the return of a captured soldier.

In his most important policy speech since the Lebanon war,
Mr Olmert said if the Palestinians halted violence and recognised Israel, there could be negotiations that culminated in the creation of a Palestinian state and an Israeli withdrawal from some of the occupied West Bank. His comments came on the second day of a ceasefire in Gaza.

This is a welcome change in Olmert's position, possibly influenced by George Bush visiting Amman, Jordan, later on this week; but it is nevertheless a welcome change of tone. I could pick holes in the offer of possible withdrawal from "some of the occupied West Bank" but the possibility of real negotiations between the two sides allow me to leave such squabbles to one side. Such things could be sorted during any negotiations that take place.

The Palestinians have welcomed this move.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator for President Mahmoud Abbas, welcomed Mr Olmert's words. "I believe Mr Olmert knows he has a partner, and that is President Abbas. He knows that to achieve peace and security for all, we need to shoot for the endgame," he said. Others from the Hamas government, however, were much more cautious.

Olmert has conceded much, but he has also laid out stringent conditions before any talks could take place.

The concessions are:

The Israeli prime minister called on Palestinian militants to release Corporal Gilad Shalit, the soldier whose abduction in June triggered five months of violence in Gaza that claimed the lives of at least 375 Palestinians and five Israelis. He offered a prisoner exchange, a major about-face after promising for weeks he would not negotiate over the soldier's fate.

"I hereby declare that with Gilad Shalit's release and his return safe and sound to his family, the government will be willing to release many Palestinian prisoners, even those who have been sentenced to lengthy terms," he said. Despite the offer, negotiations to secure the soldier's release have stalled repeatedly. The Palestinians have pushed for the release of at least 1,000 prisoners, including important figures like Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences and whom the Israelis are reluctant to free.

Although his demands read like this:

Mr Olmert said that if a new Palestinian government was formed that met the criteria of the Quartet - the EU, UN, Russia and the US - he would meet President Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. Israel has stopped its $60m (£31m) monthly tax revenue transfers and the Quartet has frozen direct funding to the Palestinian Authority since Hamas formed a government in March. Both demand that the Palestinian government recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace deals, something Hamas has refused to do. Talks have continued for weeks to form a coalition unity government that might meet the criteria but they have repeatedly foundered.

"If a new Palestinian government is established - a government committed to the principles of the Quartet, implement the roadmap and bring about the release of Gilad Shalit - I will invite Abu Mazen to meet me immediately in order to conduct a real, open, genuine and serious dialogue between us," said Mr Olmert.

"In the framework of this dialogue, and in accordance with the roadmap, you will be able to establish an independent and viable Palestinian state."

Olmert continues to insist that a Palestinian government should look as he would like it to look rather than how the people who democratically elected it chose it to be.

It's rather like agreeing to negotiate only if the other side field a team that will agree to your demands. That's never going to happen. I don't know if this is a ruse to coincide with Bush's visit, but I think it is an offer that should - for the moment - be taken to be made in good faith.

Olmert is not negotiating from a position of strength. He has tried everything in his power to use Israeli military superiority to ensure that he got his way. He has failed.

So now, eventually, he comes to the table. One would hope he comes with a more realistic attitude than the one that he has indulged in up to this point.

As Israeli newspapers reported yesterday, we all know what the final solution will look like:

"Perhaps a change on both sides is occurring at present," said Oz, writing in yesterday's Yedioth Ahronoth, a popular Israeli newspaper. "The feeling of impasse and the fear of a vicious cycle apparently is shared by both sides." If the ceasefire was followed by other key steps it could be, he said, "the threshold of a new process".

Most Israelis and Palestinians understand, he said, what a future agreement would look like: two states on the 1967 borders with "reciprocal changes", two capitals in Jerusalem, no "right of return" but likewise the end of "most of the settlements" on the West Bank.

One would hope that if Olmert has learnt anything from the past five months of pointless violence it is that there is no military solution to this conflict. Even Sharon before him reluctantly conceded that point.

Amos Oz, one of Israel's most prominent novelists, has described the ceasefire as possibly, "the first flicker of light at the edge of the darkness".

Israeli ceasefires are notoriously fragile things. It is in all of our interests that this one is encouraged and used as a basis for serious negotiations which will ensure the final, long overdue, delivery of a state of Palestine.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Blix vs Blair (But this time it is over our weapons of mass destruction)

Dr Hans Blix, the former UN weapons inspector, is to launch an attack on Tony Blair today, arguing that by renewing Britain's Trident nuclear weapons, Blair is making the west's task in challenging Iran's nuclear proliferation much harder.

It is an argument that I have made on here many times. Nuclear non proliferation works both ways. And we can't expect other nations to treat us seriously as we demand that they adhere to agreements that we are blatantly in breach of.

Even from a practical point of view, a British nuclear weapon is simply a vanity; a yearning for the old days when Britain had an empire and was a serious world power. That is no longer the case and any British nuclear weapon would not be allowed to be used without American permission, which sort of renders it useless.

However, Blair has determined that this will be part of his legacy and Blix's observations will be unwelcome in Downing Street as Blix is speaking the language that many old Labour supporters like myself fully agree with.

The respected chairman of the Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction will use a speech in London to renew hostilities with Mr Blair. He will say that modernising Britain's arsenal puts the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) under "strain" and increases the feeling among non-nuclear states, such as Iran, that they are being "cheated" by the nuclear states.

Dr Blix will take Britain and the other permanent members of the UN Security Council - America, China, Russia and France - to task for failing to comply with their obligations under the NPT by failing to do more to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. He will point out "the strong feelings of frustration" at the way nuclear nations "are in the process" of developing new types of weapons rather than examining how they could manage defence needs with non-nuclear weaponry.

Blix's intervention may be enough to sway Labour MP's to mount a challenge against Blair's policy.

Other Labour MPs rallied behind Dr Blix. Neil Gerrard, a Labour MP who tabled a Commons motion signed by more than 20 Labour colleagues warning the Trident replacement would breach the terms of the NPT, said Dr Blix would strengthen opposition.

"Dr Blix was proved right on WMD and a lot of people will agree with what he is saying now," he said. "It is possible that Mr Blair will lose a majority of Labour MPs on this issue."

The ending of the Cold War has changed the argument in the Labour Party. It is no longer a simple divide between those favouring multilateral disarmament and those supporting unilateral disarmament. Dr Blix's speech will increase the doubts among those who question the value of a more powerful nuclear weapon with multiple warheads designed to penetrate "hardened" targets, when the foreseeable threat is from rogue states or terrorists.

That is what I most object to. Even leaving aside the moral argument against keeping a nuclear deterrent, it simply makes no economic sense, nor is it sensible from a security perspective.

The Cold War is over. The new enemy is not one that can be fought with such weapons. And, indeed, even if we retain this weaponry, we do not have the power to unilaterally decide to use it.

It's a ridiculous vanity.

A far better course would be to strike for the high moral ground and declare that we were disarming. This would give us considerable weight when we approached other nations demanding that they, too, disarm.

The days when the west could proclaim who was civilised enough to possess such weaponry and who was not are, thankfully, over.

It is time for Blair to adjust to that new political reality. And that means honouring the same agreements that we demand others should honour.

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Rogue rockets fail to shatter Gaza ceasefire deal

The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza appears to be holding despite some morons sending rockets into Israel in the early hours of the new agreement. At times like this, one realises that many of the Palestinians firing these rockets are no more than street gangs who don't really come under anyone's direct authority.

However, Olmert has done the right thing and ignored this initial breach, going even further by promising that the ceasefire could lead to other developments.

"All of these things ultimately could lead to one thing - the opening of serious, real, open and direct negotiations between us so that we can move forward towards a comprehensive agreement," said Mr Olmert.
There have been no serious negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians since George Bush moved into the White House as Bush has always believed that Clinton's policy was wrong and that the Israelis should be allowed to use their military superiority to change the balance of power between the two protagonists.

To this end Bush always backed Ariel Sharon (who refused to enter any kind of talks with the Palestinians) even going so far as to label the old war criminal "a man of peace".

And, without impetus from Washington, no talks were ever going to take place. Indeed, this led to a breakdown in relations between Bush and his then Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr Powell echoed Arab demands for "the end of the occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel, for "the creation of a state called Palestine" and for "the end of settlement activity".

Mr Powell also stressed the importance of holding an international conference, planned for this summer, to discuss the options for peace and, in contrast with Mr Bush and Mr Sharon, to continue to work with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

"It's up to the Palestinian people to determine who their leader is, to determine who should head their government," Mr Powell said.

It's hard to remember that Arafat used to be the reason Bush and Co. used for their intransigence towards the creation of a state of Palestine. However, even when he died, they swiftly found another reason not to give the Palestinians what is rightfully theirs. The latest reason became the fact that the Palestinians democratically elected Hamas. Israel and the US and EU quickly imposed dreadful sanctions upon the Palestinian people for daring to elect a government that the west did not approve of.

The end result of this action was not the intended collapse of the Hamas government as much as the collapse of western influence, as we became exposed as hypocrites; demanding other nations accept the beneficence of democracy, yet punishing those who made democratic decisions that we found unpalatable.

So it's safe to say Bush has been a dreadful President when it comes to the Middle East conflict, and I would argue - post the Israeli-Hizbullah war - that Bush has actually made Israel less safe because of his attitude.

Certainly the myth that the IDF were a regional superpower unable to be challenged has been disposed of during last summer's conflict.

So, any hint of possible talks by Olmert is to be welcomed.

Militant groups still hold Gilad Shalit and the Israelis are still holding some $60 million in revenues that it should pass to the Palestinian Authority.

The situation in the Occupied Territories has become critical as a result of our appalling sanctions.
The economic effect has been to drive Gaza's 1.3 million people ever deeper into poverty. More than 160,000 civil servants, including doctors and teachers, in both Gaza and the occupied West Bank have not received their salaries since March.
Bush is due in Jordan this week and one has to wonder if Israel suddenly accepting a ceasefire is in any way related to his visit.

But, whatever the reasons for Olmert's change of heart, the ceasefire is to be welcomed and - hopefully - built upon. Bush has surely realised that the use of force, whilst bringing untold misery to the people of Palestine, has ultimately failed to bring Israel the security she seeks.

Olmert was elected to evacuate the settlements in the West Bank. If he can now bring himself to do this, and open talks with the Palestinians, an historic agreement is there for the taking.

Most of the planet have come to realise the importance of this conflict as it relates to the war on terror, and most of the planet - with the notable exception of the US - have come to view Israel's behaviour as unacceptable colonialism.

The world wants a state of Palestine. And the world wants the US/Israeli procrastination's and foot-dragging to end. Bush and his neo-con gang have done everything in their power to tilt the conflict towards the Israelis. They have succeeded only in making her more vulnerable.

It is time to talk. And the only people to talk to are the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people. Hamas.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Iraqi Kid Runs For Water

How the US win the hearts and minds of the local population.

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Rumsfeld okayed abuses says former U.S. general

Former U.S. Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski has told a Spanish newspaper that Donald Rumsfeld personally approved the interrogation techniques used at Abu Ghraib which were viewed throughout the world as torture and blatant violations of the Geneva Conventions.

Rumsfeld, who German courts are currently investigating for war crimes, personally signed a letter allowing the interrogators to use harsh methods when interviewing prisoners.

Karpinski, who ran the prison until early 2004, said she saw a memorandum signed by Rumsfeld detailing the use of harsh interrogation methods.

"The handwritten signature was above his printed name and in the same handwriting in the margin was written: "Make sure this is accomplished"," she told Saturday's El Pais.

"The methods consisted of making prisoners stand for long periods, sleep deprivation ... playing music at full volume, having to sit in uncomfortably ... Rumsfeld authorized these specific techniques."

The Geneva Convention says prisoners of war should suffer "no physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion" to secure information.

"Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind," the document states.
What's scandalous, although hardly surprising considering the almost total lack of morality in the current US administration, is that Rumsfeld knowingly ignored the Geneva Conventions, the very same Convention's that Bush insisted Iraq must obey during the war.

Rumsfeld also authorized the army to break the Geneva Conventions by not registering all prisoners, Karpinski said, explaining how she raised the case of one unregistered inmate with an aide to former U.S. commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.

"We received a message from the Pentagon, from the Defense Secretary, ordering us to hold the prisoner without registering him. I now know this happened on various occasions."

Karpinski said last week she was ready to testify against Rumsfeld, if a suit filed by civil rights groups in Germany over Abu Ghraib led to a full investigation.

It'll never happen, but in any truly just society people like Donald Rumsfeld would be put in jail for his actions. Just as Bush and Blair would be standing right now in the Hague defending their decision to rip up the UN Charter and engage in an illegal war.

The only comfort one can take is that people like Rumsfeld will have to spend the rest of their lives being careful what countries they visit in case the country they wish to visit might have an extradition treaty with Germany.

It's scant comfort, but it's a start. All international law is formed slowly and opinions take years to formulate. But, by beginning to try people like Rumsfeld for their crimes - even if he escapes the court's final findings - we begin the long road to establish that western leaders are not immune to the laws which they insist others must obey.

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Lawrence O'Donnell "They're a Bunch of Cowards"

Here we have Scarborough, and others, defending the rights of people who avoid actually volunteering for war by signing up to serve, nevertheless being that war's loudest proponents and calling anyone who opposes the war "cowards".

They are taken to task by Lawrence O'Donnell who makes some great points. He exposes the essential hypocrisy of the Bush camp's arguments. If the west really is in a historic battle for it's survival, and is facing an enemy as dedicated to it's destruction as the Nazis were, why do Bush and Co. oppose a draft? Why do they oppose paying more taxes to fight this enemy?

I personally believe this is because they know full well how much they are deliberately exaggerating the threat we face (for their own political gain), because - if they truly believed what they say - they would be negligent in their duties not to do everything in their power to face up to this "threat to civilisation".

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Blair: Britain's 'sorrow' for shame of slave trade

Tony Blair is ready to apologise for the British empire's use of slavery.

It's astonishing to think that nearly 200 years after the 1807 legislation that led to slavery's abolition he is the first British Prime Minister to formally acknowledge the fact that slavery was wrong.

There have been fears expressed that apologising for slavery will open the doors to claims for reparations from the descendants of slaves. This is a tricky one for me. I am unsure what right I would have to claim for reparations based on actions that were taken against my great grandfather, although I have no difficulty with the British government being forced to pay some financial price for the profits she made out of the misery of other people.

Leaving that aside, Blair's comments are to be welcomed. He is to say:

'It is hard to believe that what would now be a crime against humanity was legal at the time,' the Prime Minister will say. 'Personally I believe the bicentenary offers us a chance not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was - how we condemn its existence utterly and praise those who fought for its abolition, but also to express our deep sorrow that it ever happened, that it ever could have happened and to rejoice at the different and better times we live in today.'
The British empire did many terrible and dreadful things. It is only right that it expresses some sense of it's shame at what it has done.

It is very rare these days that I find myself approving any of Blair's actions, but on this one he is right to go further than any previous British Prime Minister and agree that what our country engaged in was wrong.

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Gaza ceasefire comes into force

Miracles happen.

The Israelis have finally agreed to a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. I don't know what brought about this change of heart, but it's to be welcomed.

Indeed, maybe now - once the onslaught has stopped - we might begin to see some moves towards the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who's kidnap started this madness.

The ceasefire came into effect at 0600 (0400GMT) on Sunday.

The BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza says it seems Mr Abbas phoned his opposite number on Saturday evening to say he had agreement from all Palestinian factions that they would stop their rocket fire.

There is a signed agreement between Mr Abbas, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and all the Palestinian factions, a spokesman said.

Mr Olmert has struggled to end rocket fire for months.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli prime minister, Miri Eisin, told the BBC that Mr Olmert had agreed that Israeli forces would not initiate any offensive action after that time.
This is a stunning turnaround from Olmert, who appeared ready to continue Israel's assaults on the Gaza Strip, which has resulted in the deaths of over 400 Palestinians, over half of them civilians.

Both sides should now work at the release of Gilad Shalit and, hopefully, the resumption of talks aimed at the formation of a Palestinian state along the lines demanded by UN resolution 242.

It would also be incredibly useful if the US and EU would lift the sanctions they imposed on the Palestinians for having the temerity to elect a government that we don't approve of.

I've been bleating on about this for months, but the election of Hamas is a godsend for anyone who is serious about peace in the Middle East as it gives the Israelis the opportunity to negotiate with the organ grinder rather than the monkey.

This is an opportunity that should be seized. I know the Israelis have this ridiculously pompous stance where they will not deal "with terrorists", but this stance ignores their own history.

Israel was formed by the Haganah, the Irgun and the Stern gang. All of whom were considered terrorists. A state which was formed by terrorism cannot - realistically - profess to be horrified by others seeking to use similar means to ensure the birth of their own state.

Israel should start immediate talks with Hamas or it's representatives. Olmert has been a dreadful Israeli Prime Minister. He could be a great one if he seizes this opportunity and does what he was elected to do. Evacuate the settlements and start serious talks aimed at ending the illegal occupation.

He's surprised me by showing the insight he has by accepting the ceasefire, he could delight the world if he went the whole hog and embraced the next step.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Iraqi coalition on brink of collapse as country descends towards civil war

More than sixty Sunnis died in Iraq yesterday in some of the worst Sectarian violence yet seen, with six men being dragged from a mosque, doused with petrol, and set alight whilst soldiers stood by.

The violence is now so out of control that one begins to wonder if anything can stop it. Even if Bush were to take Baker's advice and involve Syria and Iran, there must be serious doubts that even their intervention can have much effect on a country that is tearing itself apart.

Yesterday, the government itself appeared to be on the brink of collapse as Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to walk out if the Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, went ahead with his proposed meeting with George Bush in Jordan next week. Were al-Sadr to walk, this would potentially cause the collapse of Iraq's government.

This violence has added urgency to the regional summit due to take place today between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Iraqi counterpart, Jalal Talabani.

The US and UK have always accused Ahmadinejad of fuelling the violence, although the words emanating from Iran are placing the blame for the violence solely at the door of the occupation.

In a reflection of the importance Iran attaches to the summit, Mr Talabani is also expected to meet the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the ultimate say on foreign policy.

Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, predicted that Mr Talabani's visit would produce "important agreements". He described the violence and the US-British occupying forces as "two sides of the same coin" adding: "The two issues should be taken into consideration jointly and a comprehensive solution found."
Indeed, it is being stated that Iran are hoping to catch the attention of the US through this summit:
Observers in Tehran said the government there hoped to use its summit as an overture to Washington. "The Iranian leadership are trying to use Mr Talabani, who has a special role inside Iraq and has never criticised Iran, as a mediator between Tehran and Washington," said Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst. "Mr Ahmadinejad is hopeful that he can attract America's attention through Iraq."
The question now is whether or not even the involvement of Iran, and possibly Syria, can bring this cycle of violence to an end.

Thursday was the most deadly day for Iraqi civilians, and morgue statistics showed that the past month has been the bloodiest since the 2003 invasion, according to the UN, with 3,709 civilians killed.

Since taking office, Mr Maliki has been under constant US pressure to disarm the Mahdi army and other Shia militias, while remaining beholden to them to stay in power. The Sadr party demanded yesterday that Mr Maliki "specify the nature of its relations with the occupation forces", demanded a timetable for a US withdrawal, and issued its ultimatum over the scheduled Bush-Maliki meeting in Jordan next Wednesday and Thursday.

"There is no reason to meet the criminal who is behind the terrorism," said Faleh Hassan Shansal, a Sadrist MP.

The White House appear determined that the meeting must go ahead with Bush. Maliki has now been placed in the most horrendous position, being forced to choose between his US protectors and an essential pillar of his coalition.

Time will tell if either Bush or al-Sadr will back down, but one thing remains a constant: Iraq is sliding into chaos and the US are shamefully making the duty of restoring order the responsibility of the new Iraqi army rather than the responsibility of the occupying forces.

This is a stunning abdication of duty. Colin Powell famously told Bush before the invasion that invading brought the US special responsibilities which he summed up as the pottery barn rule:
'You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,' he told the president. 'You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You'll own it all.' Privately, Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it."
Bush has broken Iraq and is now attempting to shift the blame for this on to the new Iraqi government.

If he pushes Maliki and forces him to meet in Jordan he may yet bring about the collapse of the entire Iraq government.

Has there ever been a more stunningly incompetent President than this? Iraq, the policy which will define his entire time as President, is in chaos. It is a chaos from which he is not only seeking to avoid responsibility, but it is one that his hubris - by insisting that Maliki meet with him - may yet lead to the total collapse of Iraq's government.

And, all the while, thousands of innocent people are dying every month. Iraq is Bush's legacy. It is a legacy of death, destruction and chaos.

And there's no light at the end of the tunnel.

People have been jailed for causing less destruction than he has.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Israel rejects ceasefire proposal

As I said earlier today, the Israelis have been saying that they will end their operation in Gaza when the Palestinians stop firing rockets into Gaza.

Earlier today the Palestinians offered to stop firing the Qassams into Israel if Israel would end it's attacks on Palestinians. I said then that I wouldn't hold my breath for Israel's response and that has turned out to be the case. Israel has refused the Palestinian offer of a ceasefire.

An Israeli government spokeswoman, Miri Eisen, said the militants had offered only a partial ceasefire.

She said the offer of an end to firing rockets from Gaza showed a lack of real commitment to peace.
Obviously, the act of offering to stop firing rockets into Israel is less of a commitment to peace than the Israelis continuing to bombard Gaza. By engaging in these acts of violence that have cost the lives of 400 Palestinians since June, over 200 of them civilians, the Israelis are showing their "commitment to peace"; a "commitment to peace" that the Palestinians are somehow lacking.

The world is upside down when an Israeli spokesperson is allowed to spout this nonsense without people simply laughing at her.

The Israelis have been finding ways to avoid peace for ever it seems, whilst still being allowed to pretend that they are the people searching for peace but that they lack a partner who shares their commitment for peace.

And all the while Israeli settlements continue to be built on Palestinian land. Of course, only a true cynic would see any link between this tragic inability for the Israelis to find a partner "genuinely committed to peace" and the obvious advantage to Israel that - as long as peace talks remain elusive - they can continue to take ever more of the Palestinian's land as their own.

But this fantasy is the one we now live in, where George Bush has referred to Ariel Sharon as "a man of peace". In a world where reality can become that distorted, Israel are able to talk of a "commitment to peace" whilst actually meaning that they will continue to bombard Gaza and kill it's civilians.

The Israelis can only get away with this crap because the US continues to view the Middle east through an Israeli inspired perspective. And, when it comes to this subject, the Democrats are as bad - if not worse - than the Republicans.

Any US citizen who wonders why their country is so hated in the Arab world, would do well to start their research at how the Israel-Palestine conflict has been presented to them, as opposed to how it is actually viewed by the rest of the world.

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Former president Bush battles Arab critics of his son

Former U.S. president George H.W. Bush was forced here Tuesday into a defense of his son, current U.S. President George W. Bush, whose Mideast policies were derided by a hostile audience.

"My son is an honest man," Bush told Gulf Arabs attending a leadership conference here. "He is working hard for peace. It takes a lot of guts to get up and tell a father about his son in those terms when I just told you the thing that matters in my heart is my family."

Bush added: "How come everybody wants to come to the United States if the United States is so bad?"

Why would you want to be on the side of the school bully? Surely you'd rather be the little guy in the playground getting kicked around?

Here Bush gives yet another example of the dreadful glibness that constitutes so much right wing "logic".

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Israeli soldiers targeted by 68-year-old suicide bomber

A totally new phenomenon has occurred in the Middle East, the suicide bombing granny. She is said to be 57 years old by the IDF but other sources have placed her age as nearer to 68.

Fatma Omar A-Najar blew herself up leaving behind nine children and over forty grandchildren.

Najar's son Jihad told Haaretz that "a martyr's death is permitted for all, women and men." He said his father, Yusuf, died roughly one year ago but that his mother had been very politically involved prior to his death.

"She couldn't remain indifferent to the occupation: the destruction, the death, the invasions of Gaza, all of these pushed her to carry out an 'act of sacrifice,'" he said.

"She participated in women's marches in Beit Hanun to protect the militants in Nasser mosque, and participated in many Hamas activities," Najar said. "She brought great honor to us and the homeland. She connected all of us to the struggle."
Press reports are saying that the Israelis destroyed her house, although I am unable to ascertain if this took place before or after the bombing. It is commonplace for the Israelis to carry out acts of collective punishment on the homes of suicide bombers by destroying them.

Meanwhile Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas and Fatah, offered to stop firing rockets into Israel in exchange for a cessation of attacks on Gaza and the West Bank. It is the first time that all Palestinian factions and militant groups have agreed a proposal. It will be put to Israel.

The Israelis have always said they would continue their Gaza offensive until the rocket fire stopped. The Palestinians are now offering to stop this very same rocket fire.

Israel have yet to respond. I'm not holding my breath.

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Baghdad bombs kill 160 in war's worst sectarian attack

How long before even Bush and Blair are forced to call this civil war?

Yesterday, we witnessed the worst sectarian violence in Iraq since the US invasion with over 160 people killed and at least 257 injured.

In a day of strife extreme even by the bloody standards of the country, Sunni insurgents carried out a concerted attack with suicide bombings and mortar rounds on Sadr City, a large Shia slum on the outskirts of the capital which is also the stronghold of the radical cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. Scores of people were killed by the blasts as panicked residents fled screaming from the streets.

The response was immediate and lethal, with Shia fighters launching a dozen mortar rounds and rockets into the Sunni district of Adhamiya, targeting in particular the Abu Hanifa mosque, the holiest Sunni shrine in Baghdad.

Further outbreaks of fighting erupted between the two communities in the north west of the city, where Sunni gunmen attacked the Shia-controlled health ministry. American helicopter gunships and Iraqi army units were called in during the three-hour firefight, which left an unspecified number dead and wounded.

With internecine killings increasing across the country, yesterday's deaths were a severe blow not only to any hopes of an accommodation between the two communities, but also to the exit strategy being desperately sought from a state in anarchy by the US and Britain.
Bush and Blair increasingly sound out of touch with what is actually happening on the ground in Iraq, choosing instead to express their insane optimism rather than to acknowledge what is actually taking place here.

Were these incidents taking place anywhere else on Earth, we would not be debating what we are watching.

On the face of it, a statement from the leaders of all Iraq's different sects seems like a good thing:

Further calls for calm and self-restraint came from leaders of the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities.

"We call on people to act responsibly and to stand together to calm the situation. We call for a revision of the government's existing security plans for Baghdad to better protect innocent civilians," Tareq al-Hashemi, the Vice-President and a Sunni, and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the party leader and a Shia, said in the joint statement on national television, accompanied by the Iraqi President, a Kurd, Jalal Talabani.

The problem here is that the longer the coalition troops remain in the country, the less independent the Iraqi government appears and the less likely the fighting factions are to listen to calls for calm.

American and British presence in Iraq is fuelling the insurgency. And yet, if they leave, the country is likely to fall into a period of even greater violence.

There is no way one can overestimate the size of the nightmare that Bush and Blair have created in this country. Those calling for easy solutions are avoiding just how mindboggingly incompetent these two men have been.

The idea of leaving behind a functioning democracy is ash in both of their mouths, but the notion of "staying the course" is only making matters worse. The idea of leaving it to the Iraqis to fight it out whilst we scarper is politically unacceptable.

So what is the solution? I simply cannot see one.

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