Sunday, December 31, 2006

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Robert Fisk: He takes his secrets to the grave. Our complicity dies with him

How the West armed Saddam, fed him intelligence on his 'enemies', equipped him for atrocities - and then made sure he wouldn't squeal.

By Robert Fisk:

We've shut him up. The moment Saddam's hooded executioner pulled the lever of the trapdoor in Baghdad yesterday morning, Washington's secrets were safe. The shameless, outrageous, covert military support which the United States - and Britain - gave to Saddam for more than a decade remains the one terrible story which our presidents and prime ministers do not want the world to remember. And now Saddam, who knew the full extent of that Western support - given to him while he was perpetrating some of the worst atrocities since the Second World War - is dead.

Gone is the man who personally received the CIA's help in destroying the Iraqi communist party. After Saddam seized power, US intelligence gave his minions the home addresses of communists in Baghdad and other cities in an effort to destroy the Soviet Union's influence in Iraq. Saddam's mukhabarat visited every home, arrested the occupants and their families, and butchered the lot. Public hanging was for plotters; the communists, their wives and children, were given special treatment - extreme torture before execution at Abu Ghraib.

There is growing evidence across the Arab world that Saddam held a series of meetings with senior American officials prior to his invasion of Iran in 1980 - both he and the US administration believed that the Islamic Republic would collapse if Saddam sent his legions across the border - and the Pentagon was instructed to assist Iraq's military machine by providing intelligence on the Iranian order of battle. One frosty day in 1987, not far from Cologne, I met the German arms dealer who initiated those first direct contacts between Washington and Baghdad - at America's request.

"Mr Fisk... at the very beginning of the war, in September of 1980, I was invited to go to the Pentagon," he said. "There I was handed the very latest US satellite photographs of the Iranian front lines. You could see everything on the pictures. There were the Iranian gun emplacements in Abadan and behind Khorramshahr, the lines of trenches on the eastern side of the Karun river, the tank revetments - thousands of them - all the way up the Iranian side of the border towards Kurdistan. No army could want more than this. And I travelled with these maps from Washington by air to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt on Iraqi Airways straight to Baghdad. The Iraqis were very, very grateful!"

I was with Saddam's forward commandos at the time, under Iranian shellfire, noting how the Iraqi forces aligned their artillery positions far back from the battle front with detailed maps of the Iranian lines. Their shelling against Iran outside Basra allowed the first Iraqi tanks to cross the Karun within a week. The commander of that tank unit cheerfully refused to tell me how he had managed to choose the one river crossing undefended by Iranian armour. Two years ago, we met again, in Amman and his junior officers called him "General" - the rank awarded him by Saddam after that tank attack east of Basra, courtesy of Washington's intelligence information.

Iran's official history of the eight-year war with Iraq states that Saddam first used chemical weapons against it on 13 January 1981. AP's correspondent in Baghdad, Mohamed Salaam, was taken to see the scene of an Iraqi military victory east of Basra. "We started counting - we walked miles and miles in this fucking desert, just counting," he said. "We got to 700 and got muddled and had to start counting again ... The Iraqis had used, for the first time, a combination - the nerve gas would paralyse their bodies ... the mustard gas would drown them in their own lungs. That's why they spat blood."

At the time, the Iranians claimed that this terrible cocktail had been given to Saddam by the US. Washington denied this. But the Iranians were right. The lengthy negotiations which led to America's complicity in this atrocity remain secret - Donald Rumsfeld was one of President Ronald Reagan's point-men at this period - although Saddam undoubtedly knew every detail. But a largely unreported document, "United States Chemical and Biological Warfare-related Dual-use exports to Iraq and their possible impact on the Health Consequences of the Persian Gulf War", stated that prior to 1985 and afterwards, US companies had sent government-approved shipments of biological agents to Iraq. These included Bacillus anthracis, which produces anthrax, andEscherichia coli (E. coli). That Senate report concluded that: "The United States provided the Government of Iraq with 'dual use' licensed materials which assisted in the development of Iraqi chemical, biological and missile-systems programs, including ... chemical warfare agent production facility plant and technical drawings, chemical warfare filling equipment."

Nor was the Pentagon unaware of the extent of Iraqi use of chemical weapons. In 1988, for example, Saddam gave his personal permission for Lt-Col Rick Francona, a US defence intelligence officer - one of 60 American officers who were secretly providing members of the Iraqi general staff with detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning and bomb damage assessments - to visit the Fao peninsula after Iraqi forces had recaptured the town from the Iranians. He reported back to Washington that the Iraqis had used chemical weapons to achieve their victory. The senior defence intelligence officer at the time, Col Walter Lang, later said that the use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis "was not a matter of deep strategic concern".

I saw the results, however. On a long military hospital train back to Tehran from the battle front, I found hundreds of Iranian soldiers coughing blood and mucus from their lungs - the very carriages stank so much of gas that I had to open the windows - and their arms and faces were covered with boils. Later, new bubbles of skin appeared on top of their original boils. Many were fearfully burnt. These same gases were later used on the Kurds of Halabja. No wonder that Saddam was primarily tried in Baghdad for the slaughter of Shia villagers, not for his war crimes against Iran.

We still don't know - and with Saddam's execution we will probably never know - the extent of US credits to Iraq, which began in 1982. The initial tranche, the sum of which was spent on the purchase of American weapons from Jordan and Kuwait, came to $300m. By 1987, Saddam was being promised $1bn in credit. By 1990, just before Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, annual trade between Iraq and the US had grown to $3.5bn a year. Pressed by Saddam's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, to continue US credits, James Baker then Secretary of State, but the same James Baker who has just produced a report intended to drag George Bush from the catastrophe of present- day Iraq - pushed for new guarantees worth $1bn from the US.

In 1989, Britain, which had been giving its own covert military assistance to Saddam guaranteed £250m to Iraq shortly after the arrest of Observer journalist Farzad Bazoft in Baghdad. Bazoft, who had been investigating an explosion at a factory at Hilla which was using the very chemical components sent by the US, was later hanged. Within a month of Bazoft's arrest William Waldegrave, then a Foreign Office minister, said: "I doubt if there is any future market of such a scale anywhere where the UK is potentially so well-placed if we play our diplomatic hand correctly... A few more Bazofts or another bout of internal oppression would make it more difficult."

Even more repulsive were the remarks of the then Deputy Prime Minister, Geoffrey Howe, on relaxing controls on British arms sales to Iraq. He kept this secret, he wrote, because "it would look very cynical if, so soon after expressing outrage about the treatment of the Kurds, we adopt a more flexible approach to arms sales".

Saddam knew, too, the secrets of the attack on the USS Stark when, on 17 May 1987, an Iraqi jet launched a missile attack on the American frigate, killing more than a sixth of the crew and almost sinking the vessel. The US accepted Saddam's excuse that the ship was mistaken for an Iranian vessel and allowed Saddam to refuse their request to interview the Iraqi pilot.

The whole truth died with Saddam Hussein in the Baghdad execution chamber yesterday. Many in Washington and London must have sighed with relief that the old man had been silenced for ever.
Click title for source.

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The Bigger Picture

As the body of Saddam is transported to Tikrit for burial, the right wing blogs can hardly hide their glee at what has transpired, nor their rage at anyone who questions what has just taken place. This example from Gateway Pundit is not unusual:

There is an enemy in America- Powerful -Shrill- Self-Hating - It has never been more obvious, it has never been more open... than it is today- mourning Saddam!

It is not a fringe element.

It is not a minority.
It is the voice of today's American Left.

The evil mass-murdering Saddam Hussein was hung today and the American left mourns... Their America-hating sickness has never been more glaring.
However, what the right wing blogs seem to be missing is the fact that Saddam's death represents a failure of almost thirty years of US foreign policy regarding Iraq and Iran.

The reason that the US supported Saddam during the Iran/Iraq war was to prevent Iraq falling and Iran establishing itself as a superpower in the region. Indeed, the invasion of Iraq was - according to neo-con logic - supposed to send shockwaves throughout the Middle East and set off a domino effect that would bring country's like Iran to the brink of democratic revolution.

As Saddam hangs and Iraq burns so too does over thirty years of US foreign policy.

For the real beneficiary of the US invasion is Ahmadinejad's Iran, which now enjoys a superpower status in the region without ever having had to fire a single shot.

The careful balance between the two nations that Reagan famously hoped would end in "stalemate" has been decided by George W Bush very much for the side that Reagan opposed.

Washington was under no illusions about the brutality of Saddam's regime. But as Tehran gained the upper hand in the fighting, he came to be seen as the lesser of two evils - a vital bulwark against domination by a radical, anti-Western Iran of the strategically vital Gulf region, with its colossal oil reserves.

Quietly, the US delivered the technology, weapons and logistical support to prevent Iraq's defeat. Its policy was symbolised by the cordial meeting in Baghdad in December 1983 between Saddam and a certain Donald Rumsfeld, then President Reagan's special envoy to the Middle East. Two decades later, as Secretary of Defence, he would plan the invasion that toppled Saddam.

American assistance often took the form of dual-use technology that had legitimate civilian uses, but which Washington was well aware could (and would) be used on the battlefield. US intelligence also provided Iraqi commanders with crucial information on Iranian troop movements.

American backing grew ever more explicit. In 1982, the administration ignored objections in Congress and removed Iraq from its list of countries supporting terrorism. By November 1983, the National Security Council had issued a directive that the US should do "whatever was necessary and legal" to prevent an Iranian victory.

This victory has now been handed to Iran by an American president who publicly berates Iran whilst seeming oblivious to the part he has played in Iran's victory.

Of course, it was all supposed to play itself out differently. Iraq was supposed to emerge from the invasion as a democratic beacon that would light up the Middle East and herald the end days for autocratic regimes in the region. That was always a fantastically optimistic - and, I would say, unhinged - outlook almost devoid of any trace of realism. But I'm sure it's proponents were sincere in their beliefs, no matter how misguided they turned out to be.

However, now that their plan has manifestly failed, only a fool would not have a second look at the board and ask themselves where the chips now lie. For every action there is a reaction. For every failed policy, there are consequences.

The consequence of the US's failed policy in Iraq is an emboldened Iran whose main rival - Saddam - has just been hanged by the US, leaving them no regional rival and guaranteeing them regional superiority.

This was not Bush's plan, but it is undeniably the result of his failed policy.

Bush has undone thirty years of US planning. And, from the tone of his rhetoric, he has no plan to replace the one that he has just ripped up.

Those same right wing blogs who are falling over themselves with glee at Saddam's death seem hideously unaware of the bigger picture.

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An Iraqi affair?

Josh Marshall uncovers the myth of the "Iraqi justice" that was meted out to Saddam:

Reuters, December 29th, 2006 18:35 GMT ...

The White House declined to comment on the timing.

"That is a matter for the Iraqi people, we are observers to that process. They are a sovereign government and they will make their own decisions regarding carrying out justice," spokesman Scott Stanzel said in Crawford, Texas.

AP, December 29th, 2006 10:02 PM Eastern

An adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saddam would be executed before 6 a.m. Saturday, or 10 p.m. Friday EST. Saddam and others were convicted of murder in the killings of 148 Shiite Muslims from an Iraqi town where assassins tried to kill Saddam in 1982.

...

The time was agreed upon during a meeting Friday between U.S. and Iraqi officials, said the adviser, who declined to be quoted by name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Just how dumb do these people assume we are?

Click title for source.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Palestinian death toll triples this year

And, on the day that Saddam goes to the gallows, comes news from the conflict that - more than any other - fuels the war on terror.

Three times as many Palestinians died in 2006 than died the previous year and there has been a drop in the number of Israelis who have died as a result of this conflict. Not that you'd know any of this if you listened to the hysteria of Israel's supporters.

Israeli human rights organisation, B'Tselem, said 660 Palestinians had been killed during 2006, including 141 minors. The report claimed that at least 322 of those killed were not fighters.
That is almost half of the people killed who are not combatants. A truly shocking ratio by anyone's standards. The Israelis have immediately questioned the organisations definition of combatant although they have not questioned the overall figures quoted.

Sarit Michaeli of B'Tselem said the figures were based on the organisation's own fieldwork. She said: "More than half the Palestinians killed in Gaza over the past year weren't participating in fighting when they were killed. The Israeli government has a tendency to describe every Palestinian killed as a terrorist."

One has become used over the years to the Israeli government's claims, which often have next to no bearing on reality.

In Gaza alone, since the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid on 25 June, Israel has killed 405 Palestinians, including 88 minors. Of this total, 205 were defined as non-combatants. B'Tselem said the number of civilians killed showed a "deterioration in the human rights situation in the occupied territories". That impression was reinforced by the demolition of 292 homes, housing 1,769 people, 279 of them in the Gaza Strip. Israel also demolished 42 Arab homes in East Jerusalem built without a permit.

The terror that Israel has rained down on Gaza since the kidnap of Gilad Shalit has amounted to nothing less than a war crime. It is certainly a crime of collective punishment as the people of Gaza had nothing at all to do with the abduction of the young Israeli soldier.

Now, finally, we are getting the figures of Israel's carnage in that small, oppressed, community. The world, which expressed outrage at Israel's conduct in Lebanon, has remained mostly silent as the constant assault on Gaza has taken place.

Nor has Israel's relentless violence towards the people of Gaza brought Gilad's release. Indeed, there were times when it appeared as if his release was irrelevant to them as their actions seemed guaranteed to produce his death.

I hope he is safe, and I hope one day soon he will be returned to his parents who have acted with dignity throughout their ordeal.

However, his eventual release will not justify the sheer carnage and horrible death toll that Olmert has inflicted upon the Palestinians in his name.

Israel's supporters will do what they always do. They will begin by questioning the validity of the figures in question and then finally, once the figures are verified, they will attempt to move the blame for the deaths on to the Palestinians themselves.

This game is as old and tired as it is immoral and reprehensible.

Click title for full article.

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Robert Fisk: A dictator created then destroyed by America


Saddam to the gallows. It was an easy equation. Who could be more deserving of that last walk to the scaffold - that crack of the neck at the end of a rope - than the Beast of Baghdad, the Hitler of the Tigris, the man who murdered untold hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis while spraying chemical weapons over his enemies? Our masters will tell us in a few hours that it is a "great day" for Iraqis and will hope that the Muslim world will forget that his death sentence was signed - by the Iraqi "government", but on behalf of the Americans - on the very eve of the Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, the moment of greatest forgiveness in the Arab world.

But history will record that the Arabs and other Muslims and, indeed, many millions in the West, will ask another question this weekend, a question that will not be posed in other Western newspapers because it is not the narrative laid down for us by our presidents and prime ministers - what about the other guilty men?

No, Tony Blair is not Saddam. We don't gas our enemies. George W Bush is not Saddam. He didn't invade Iran or Kuwait. He only invaded Iraq. But hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians are dead - and thousands of Western troops are dead - because Messrs Bush and Blair and the Spanish Prime Minister and the Italian Prime Minister and the Australian Prime Minister went to war in 2003 on a potage of lies and mendacity and, given the weapons we used, with great brutality.

In the aftermath of the international crimes against humanity of 2001 we have tortured, we have murdered, we have brutalised and killed the innocent - we have even added our shame at Abu Ghraib to Saddam's shame at Abu Ghraib - and yet we are supposed to forget these terrible crimes as we applaud the swinging corpse of the dictator we created.

Who encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, which was the greatest war crime he has committed for it led to the deaths of a million and a half souls? And who sold him the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds? We did. No wonder the Americans, who controlled Saddam's weird trial, forbad any mention of this, his most obscene atrocity, in the charges against him. Could he not have been handed over to the Iranians for sentencing for this massive war crime? Of course not. Because that would also expose our culpability.

And the mass killings we perpetrated in 2003 with our depleted uranium shells and our "bunker buster" bombs and our phosphorous, the murderous post-invasion sieges of Fallujah and Najaf, the hell-disaster of anarchy we unleashed on the Iraqi population in the aftermath of our "victory" - our "mission accomplished" - who will be found guilty of this? Such expiation as we might expect will come, no doubt, in the self-serving memoirs of Blair and Bush, written in comfortable and wealthy retirement.

Hours before Saddam's death sentence, his family - his first wife, Sajida, and Saddam's daughter and their other relatives - had given up hope.

"Whatever could be done has been done - we can only wait for time to take its course," one of them said last night. But Saddam knew, and had already announced his own "martyrdom": he was still the president of Iraq and he would die for Iraq. All condemned men face a decision: to die with a last, grovelling plea for mercy or to die with whatever dignity they can wrap around themselves in their last hours on earth. His last trial appearance - that wan smile that spread over the mass-murderer's face - showed us which path Saddam intended to walk to the noose.

I have catalogued his monstrous crimes over the years. I have talked to the Kurdish survivors of Halabja and the Shia who rose up against the dictator at our request in 1991 and who were betrayed by us - and whose comrades, in their tens of thousands, along with their wives, were hanged like thrushes by Saddam's executioners.

I have walked round the execution chamber of Abu Ghraib - only months, it later transpired, after we had been using the same prison for a few tortures and killings of our own - and I have watched Iraqis pull thousands of their dead relatives from the mass graves of Hilla. One of them has a newly-inserted artificial hip and a medical identification number on his arm. He had been taken directly from hospital to his place of execution. Like Donald Rumsfeld, I have even shaken the dictator's soft, damp hand. Yet the old war criminal finished his days in power writing romantic novels.

It was my colleague, Tom Friedman - now a messianic columnist for The New York Times - who perfectly caught Saddam's character just before the 2003 invasion: Saddam was, he wrote, "part Don Corleone, part Donald Duck". And, in this unique definition, Friedman caught the horror of all dictators; their sadistic attraction and the grotesque, unbelievable nature of their barbarity.

But that is not how the Arab world will see him. At first, those who suffered from Saddam's cruelty will welcome his execution. Hundreds wanted to pull the hangman's lever. So will many other Kurds and Shia outside Iraq welcome his end. But they - and millions of other Muslims - will remember how he was informed of his death sentence at the dawn of the Eid al-Adha feast, which recalls the would-be sacrifice by Abraham, of his son, a commemoration which even the ghastly Saddam cynically used to celebrate by releasing prisoners from his jails. "Handed over to the Iraqi authorities," he may have been before his death. But his execution will go down - correctly - as an American affair and time will add its false but lasting gloss to all this - that the West destroyed an Arab leader who no longer obeyed his orders from Washington, that, for all his wrongdoing (and this will be the terrible get-out for Arab historians, this shaving away of his crimes) Saddam died a "martyr" to the will of the new "Crusaders".

When he was captured in November of 2003, the insurgency against American troops increased in ferocity. After his death, it will redouble in intensity again. Freed from the remotest possibility of Saddam's return by his execution, the West's enemies in Iraq have no reason to fear the return of his Baathist regime. Osama bin Laden will certainly rejoice, along with Bush and Blair. And there's a thought. So many crimes avenged.

But we will have got away with it.
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Saddam Hussein executed

There are times when, for all of the US's superiority in terms of military muscle and technological advancement, that I am very happy to be what Donald Rumsfeld called an "old European". Today, with the execution of Saddam Hussein, is one of those days.

It is extraordinary that a nation as advanced as the US still lives with the dichotomy of recognising killing as wrong and yet pardoning such a wrong whenever it is carried out by the state as opposed to an individual. In this regard the US finds itself out of kilter with all of it's usual allies and in bed with some of the world's most repressive regimes.

Victor's justice has never looked as mean and small minded as it does this morning. For in order to greet what has happened as justice, one would have to ignore the fact that Saddam was greatly aided in his crimes by the same nations that now insist on his death.

Even William Safire, the right-wing, war-mongering NYT columnist, on December 7, 1992, felt compelled to write that, “Iraqgate is uniquely horrendous: a scandal about the systematic abuse of power by misguided leaders of three democratic nations [the US, Britain and Italy] to secretly finance the arms buildup of a dictator”.
As I write this the TV is showing shocking footage of Saddam being taken to the gallows. At the moment of his death there is something horrendous about the invasion of privacy taking place here and anyone who hoped for tears and a breakdown of sorts would come away cruelly disappointed. Saddam, certainly from the pictures I am looking at, is uncannily calm.

So yet another Bush propaganda event appears to have blown up in his face.

The trial was a shocking farce, a show trial that was as concerned with silencing Saddam about who armed him as it was with achieving justice. However, the news of who gave him what has been disclosed even if it has not received the widespread attention that it deserves.
  • President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker had committed billions of taxpayer dollars to assist Saddam Hussein.
  • Bush and Baker allowed the export of U.S. technology that would directly help Baghdad build a massive arsenal of chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. The arms were given to help Iraq fight Iran.
So, having been greatly assisted by the father, Saddam is now hanged by the son for those same crimes that had his father's fingerprints all over them. Has hypocrisy ever been carried out on such a scale?

The Bush regime seems anxious to attempt to portray this as "Iraqi justice" although I notice that even Bush is making no attempt to say that this death will have any positive effect.
In a prepared statement, George Bush cautioned that Saddam's execution would not stop the violence in Iraq but said it was "an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror."
The very fact that the death will have no positive effect renders it even more pointless. Indeed, the only effects that one can think of are negative. A ruthless dictator is martyred when he should have been sent to the Hague and rendered impotent and, with time, forgotten.

However, his last words will be remembered by Arabs everywhere.
The former dictator, dressed in black, refused a hood and said he wanted the Koran he carried to the gallows to be given to a friend. "Before the rope was put around his neck, Saddam shouted: 'God is great. The nation will be victorious and Palestine is Arab'," Mr Askari told the Associated Press.
The condemnation of his death sentence has already started:

New York-based Human Rights Watch criticised the execution, calling Saddam's trial "deeply flawed".

"Saddam Hussein was responsible for massive human rights violations, but that can't justify giving him the death penalty, which is a cruel and inhuman punishment," said Richard Dicker, director of the group's International Justice Programme.

Even US troops are greeting the news of his death with extreme cynicism:

Some soldiers expressed doubt that Saddam's death would be a significant turning point for Iraq.

"First it was weapons of mass destruction. Then when there were none, it was that we had to find Saddam. We did that, but then it was that we had to put him on trial," said Thomas Sheck, 25, who is on his second tour in Iraq.

"So now, what will be the next story they tell us to keep us over here?"

So, it's not a major turning point and, by Bush's own admission, it won't do anything to stem the violence. It is simply what it is. A small, tawdry, pointless act of viciousness by a small, tawdry, ineffective leader.

Saddam's execution has Bush's style written all over it. By which I mean, the event has no style at all.

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Related articles:

Saddam trial verdict tarnished by Iraqi court's failings
Despite having US advisers, the judges and lawyers were insufficiently trained and were unprepared for the hostile environment. The level of expertise of the Iraqi trial judges, administrators, prosecutors and defence lawyers was "not sufficient to fairly and effectively try crimes of this magnitude".
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Friday, December 29, 2006

Saddam team 'to take belongings'

It looks likely that Saddam Hussein may be executed as early as this weekend with the news that his lawyers have been asked to collect his personal effects. The imminent hanging is further underlined by the fact that Saddam has been allowed to meet his half brothers Sabawi Ibrahim and Watban Ibrahim who are also held in custody.

All indications are that the execution will come sooner rather than later:

A senior administration official said that the execution would probably not take place in the next 24 hours, but that the timing would be swift. “It may be another day or so,” the official said.

Another senior administration official said later Thursday night that Iraqi officials had told the White House to expect the execution on Saturday, Baghdad time.

The US are expected to hand him over to the Iraqi Authorities on Saturday although the rumours are that he has already been handed over. However, the US are refusing to confirm or deny that any handover has taken place.
The confusion surrounding Saddam Hussein's fate comes a day after his lawyer urged the international community to stop him being handed over to the Iraqi authorities for execution.

Mr Dulaimi said he was a prisoner of war and should not be handed to his enemies.

In a letter written from his prison cell, Saddam Hussein said he was ready to die as a "sacrifice" for Iraq.
As always with Saddam, I am left stunned by his arrogance. The man who stepped out of a hole in the ground "prepared to negotiate" now says he is ready to die "as a sacrifice". Once again, he implies that he somehow has some say in the proceedings. After all, a sacrifice is something that one willingly makes, it is not something that is forced upon you against your will.

Just as when he was arrested he failed to appreciate that some 140,000 foreign troops in control of your own country left a deposed dictator with very little to negotiate with, he now seems to be in some way unaware that he will be hanged whether he decides to agree with this "sacrifice" or not.

However, bizarrely, he is right in as much as some Iraqis will now view him as a martyr. It's a botch up of astonishing proportions that the US should have found themselves elevating such a person to such a status.

According to Iraqi state TV, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said that there will be no delay in carrying out Saddam Hussein's death sentence.

"No-one can oppose the decision to execute the criminal Saddam," Mr Maliki was quoted by AFP as saying. "Those who reject the execution of Saddam are undermining the dignity of Iraq's martyrs."

I wonder if Mr Maliki is even aware that the person undermining the dignity of Iraq's martyrs is himself. He undermines them by allowing Saddam's name to be added to their number.

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200 new trailers placed in West Bank outposts since June

Since the Lebanon war, some 200 mobile homes and trailers have been placed in the West Bank on Palestinian property without any legal permits. At a time when Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz are supposed to be committed to reducing Israel's settler community, all indications are that it is rising. These 200 trailers represent a substantial increase over the few dozen placed there at the start of the year.

Immediately upon taking up his position this May, the defense minister [Peretz] said taking down the illegal outposts would be a central issue during his term. On his first visit to the Central Command, he promised to deal firmly with outpost inhabitants who attacked their Palestinian neighbors. In other declarations that month, he committed himself to re-examining the construction policy in the territories and ordered preparations for the first outpost evacuations. In June, the Nahal Brigade trained to evacuate settlers from Havat Maon. The abduction of Gilad Shalit at the end of June and the outbreak of the Lebanon war two weeks later shelved the plans and took the outposts off the agenda. Ever since the end of the war, there has been a building celebration in the West Bank. Civil Administration reports have been piling up on the minister's desk: The 10 mobile homes placed in June rose to about 50 in October and 90 this past month.

Ostensibly, the Israel Defense Forces are preparing for an evacuation. From time to time Peretz's bureau issues soothing releases to the left, stating the minister is determined to take down outposts. However, even Peretz knows this is no longer expected to happen. The prime minister told the Italian media two weeks ago that the political situation does not currently enable the evacuation of outposts.

The army has yet to present the minister with evacuation plans. When Peretz expresses a desire for progress, the IDF responds that conditions are not yet ripe. The excuses change: the scars of the war in the north, then the olive harvest and finally Hanukkah and Christmas.
Peretz, attempting to avoid forced evacuations, has set up a secret channel with the settlers - only to find that the settlers leaked the existence of the channel to the media.

Peretz has also been trying to ease restrictions on Palestinians through taking down some road blocks although he has met with stiff resistance from the IDF.
The plan calls for the dismantling of 49 dirt barriers, among them a few permanent roadblocks. It was translated into English and won enthusiasm from the American administration. Then, GOC Central Command Yair Naveh convinced Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to block it. As an alternative, Naveh proposed creating a separate road system for Palestinian traffic in the West Bank. The price is in dispute. Naveh is talking about approximately NIS 40 million. Defense Ministry sources are convinced his plan would cost at least NIS 150 million, making it unfeasible.
This is, of course, only taking place because of Abbas' meeting with Olmert and the need to now show some kind of reward for Abbas' obsequience. However, separate road systems make most people think of Apartheid, so the reward for Abbas' sell out can hardly be said to be great. What we are really talking about here is the removal of a few dirt barriers, however the US will now attempt to sell this as a significant concession from the Israelis in "the road to peace".

Nor has even this meagre proposal been universally welcomed or proven easy to carry out.
Peretz's political aide Hagai Alon - who replaces Spiegel as "assistant for matters concerning the Palestinian fabric of life" next week - has been trying to breathe life into the barrier plan. The army refused to cooperate, and even refused to send officers to meetings on the issue. Then, in the wake of the meeting between Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the urgent need for gestures cropped up, and the dust was shaken off the Spiegel plan.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh helped persuade Peretz to adopt the plan. Over the course of several meetings this Monday, Peretz accepted the plan, then accepted Naveh's reservations, and in the end, after a stormy discussion with Sneh, returned to his assistants' position. On Tuesday Olmert agreed with Peretz. The army was given a week to submit reservations. If there is no interference from the weather - or a suicide bomber - the barriers will begin disappearing next week. It is still but a drop in the bucket.
And all the while, more and more trailers are popping up all over the West Bank. This is the reality of what real reward Abbas has gained for all his "reasonableness".

He appears to be enabling the Israelis and the Americans to present themselves as making significant steps towards change when, in reality, as Ha'aretz newspaper says "It is still but a drop in the bucket".

And these small steps forward must be measured against the larger backward steps that the new settlers represent. The numbers speak for themselves.
The 10 mobile homes placed in June rose to about 50 in October and 90 this past month.
Whilst Olmert, Bush, Peretz and Abbas talk of progress, the only really significant progress being made is in the number of Israeli settlers claiming the right to Palestinian land.

And there appears to be a distinct lack of political will to face up to this outrage. Indeed, with the news the other day that Peretz is allowing the building of the first new settlement in the West Bank for a decade, one has to fear whether that political will exists at all.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Egypt transfers arms to Fatah, with Israel's approval

Since Hamas was elected to power in the Palestinian territories the US, EU and Israel have done all in their power to prevent the Palestinian people being represented by their democratically elected representatives.

Harsh sanctions have been imposed on the region and recently Olmert agreed to release $100 million of Palestinian money that Israel is holding directly to Abbas, rather than to the Hamas government. Tony Blair went on to support Abbas' call for a fresh set of elections presumably in the hope that the Palestinians will reverse their original decision and elect a government more to the west's pleasing.

Now comes the news that Israel is allowing the Egyptians to arm Fatah with 2,000 AK-47 rifles, 20,000 magazines and two million rounds of ammunition.

The issue of reinforcing the Fatah forces was the subject of discussions among Israeli, Egyptian and American officials. A decision was made during the meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday.

During the meeting, Abbas also promised to deploy men from his Presidential Guard along the Philadelphi Route to prevent smuggling, and also in the northern Gaza Strip, to prevent the targetting of Israeli towns with Qassam rockets.

Abbas traveled to Egypt Wednesday for a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak. At the end of their meeting, Abbas said that Israel has not rejected the possibility of establishing a "back channel" - closed to the media, but not secret - through which negotiations could be held toward a permanent settlement.

Abbas said that this matter was raised in his meeting with Olmert and that the Israeli leader had promised to evaluate his proposal.

The Palestinian leader added that the Americans have also not rejected this option.
So, apart from attempting to starve the Palestinians into submission, we now have the west practically forming Abbas' private army. And Abbas, whose party was defeated at the latest election, is being deemed the man to hold "back channel" discussions towards a permanent settlement.

The very fact that both the Israelis and the Americans are willing to consider this option is surely enough to make most Palestinians doubt just how "reasonable" Abbas is likely to be in any future negotiations.

He's beginning to look dangerously like "their man" with his private army and his "closed, but not secret" back channels.

It would surely be much wiser for the Israelis to deal with the people who the Palestinians have elected to represent them. These same Israelis, who could not deal with Arafat, now find they cannot deal with Hamas.

The very fact that they can deal with Abbas - although mostly through "closed, but not secret" back channels - will only dangerously undermine Abbas' ability to be seen as independent.

I can understand any politician's wish to overcome his political opponents, but Abbas is now openly siding with the US and the occupying power, which is perhaps one of the reasons why the Palestinians failed to elect him in the first place.

That same occupying power is now allowing him to arm himself in what one can only presume is an attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government.

If this is an example of the beloved democracy that we seek to export across the globe we can hardly be surprised that it is greeted with extreme scepticism. We seem to be embracing democracy only when it delivers results that we agree with.

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Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq

As the Bushites are falling over themselves to heap praise on Gerald Ford as the man who "healed" America by pardoning Rumsfeld and Cheney's boss Richard Nixon from the valid charges against him, I wonder how they will react to the news that Ford was vehemently against their war in Iraq?

In an interview conducted for a new book, Ford - who gave permission for his comments to be released in the event of his death - was scathing about Bush's intervention in Iraq and adamant that he would not have done so had he been president.

Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the current president's justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously.
He also takes Bush to task over his supposed wish to advance democracy across the globe.

"Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people," Ford said, referring to Bush's assertion that the United States has a "duty to free people." But the former president said he was skeptical "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest." He added: "And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."

He is also highly critical of the change he says he has witnessed in Dick Cheney:
"But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true."
Indeed, the death of Ford reminds us of a day when Reagan and the others who attacked his Presidency were regarded as the extreme right wing of the party. This extreme right wing went on to take over the party and now even they have been transplanted by an even more extreme bunch of neo-cons.

When Bush and his neo-con thugs claim to represent the political centre one realises just how skewered political debate has become in the United States and just how badly the US media has failed in it's duty to honestly appraise the American public about what is transpiring.

The media - and this was especially obvious in the build-up to the Iraq war - seem now simply to report verbatim what politicians are saying without asking the crucial questions concerning whether what they are saying is true or not.

Because of this tendency Bush was able to convince a majority of Americans that Saddam possessed WMD, and the fact that Blix and his inspectors were unable to find these weapons at the sites that the US felt sure they existed was taken as a further example of the uselessness of the inspectors rather than an indication of the weakness of Bush's case.

Ford is adamant that such "evidence" would not have swayed him:
Describing his own preferred policy toward Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Ford said he would not have gone to war, based on the publicly available information at the time, and would have worked harder to find an alternative. "I don't think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly," he said, "I don't think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."
It's a gentle reminder that the current glut of Republicans are neither moderate nor conservative; they are extremists pursuing a far right wing agenda.

In any proper democracy there should exist a national press prepared to point this fact out. But we live in a very different world from the one in which Nixon was removed from office for his high crimes and misdemeanours. Woodward and Bernstein represented a press that dared to challenge their government's version of events. We now live in the world of Fox News where dissent is treachery and Republicans frequently call for anyone who challenges the presidential line to be tried as traitors. Indeed, we live in a world where people openly call for the imprisonment of the editor of the New York Times for daring to report stories of government illegality.

They say, though I'm not sure that I fully agree, that Ford healed the nation and steered the US away from troubled times.

If that is true, then the US has never since needed such a figure more than it does now.

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General accuses Britain of failing troops in Iraq

In the latest unprecedented outburst by a serving British General, Major General Richard Shirreff has said that British forces have been underfunded for the last ten years - the precise time that Labour has been in power - and warned that the covenant between the UK and its service personnel was "seriously out of kilter".

This comes hot on the heels of General the Lord Guthrie's comments that Britain's war in Afghanistan was "cuckoo" and General Sir Richard Dannatt's comments that our presence in Iraq was exacerbating the situation and that we should withdraw.

I can think of no other time in recent memory when the armed forces have been so vocal and so public about their differences with the government over policy.

His list of complaints was substantial including the way wounded soldiers are treated when they return home and even talking about the conditions of the barracks they live in whilst serving.

"I think this is a general issue. We need to look after our people properly and that means not only the housing, not only the equipment, not only ensuring our people get what they need in terms of training.

"It also means ensuring that when they go home wounded they are properly looked after as well, so there's a whole range of areas.

"It's not just the sharp end here, it covers the piece and we must recognise that it is now time to understand ... it is the duty of the nation to support us in doing this."

Gen Shirreff admitted that British ambitions in Iraq had been scaled back, adding: "Clearly I would love a 100% solution. When I set up, came up here and initiated the operations we have been conducting, I was looking for a 100% solution. But this is Iraq, this is Arabia and this is reality, so a 60% solution is good enough for me."

He appears to be saying that most Brits pay lip service to supporting the troops and then seem unwilling to spend the cash that a modern efficient army requires.

"The nation needs to understand that the quality work done by these courageous men and women out here only happens and can only continue if these people, our soldiers, are properly supported back home in terms of training, infrastructure, barracks, accommodation.

"Frankly, some of these issues need solving. Many of these issues are the result of a generation of under-funding and relative neglect in political terms."

Of course, he's also taking a swipe at Tony Blair's government who have overstretched an army that they have also underfunded.

I happen to agree with him. If we are going to ask young men and women to risk their lives to defend their country the very least, it seems to me, that we can do is give them the equipment and facilities that they need.

However, what is astonishing about his intervention is that he is publicly speaking this way at all.

The British Army is now refusing to bite it's stiff upper lip and is openly challenging their governmental masters. This would normally be a very worrying state of affairs. However, after our interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the great mess that we have embroiled them in, it is only to be expected that eventually even the armed forces would say, "Enough is enough".

Bush and Blair have both pursued a policy that required that we all view the battlefield through their own rose-tinted spectacles, seeing victory just over the horizon and refusing to acknowledge the carnage and apparent failure of the policy on the ground.

It is hardly surprising that the army have a more realistic opinion regarding following these two lemmings off the cliff that they are charging towards.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

First Settlement in 10 Years Fuels Mideast Tension

One has to seriously wonder how important a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is to either Bush or Olmert when one hears that Israel is planning to build her first new settlement in the West Bank for ten years. Indeed, when it comes so hot on the heels of Israel's supposed attempts to encourage support for Abbas it strikes one as an act of idiocy as well as an act if illegality.

At a time when the Israelis have elected Olmert to evacuate the West Bank of Israeli illegal settlements, the decision to build a new one is simply perverse. And yet, bizarrely, that is exactly what they intend to do.

The planned new settlement will be called Maskiot, and approval was given for the construction of some 30 houses. The Israeli official insisted that all construction would be privately financed.

The housing will be used by the 20 families of the hawkish Gaza settlement Shirat Hayam, which resisted evacuation. To get them to leave Gaza peacefully, the army promised to keep them together.

The decision, the official said, “sort of went through and now it’s done and would be very hard to undo.”

Israel essentially decided to stop the building of settlements in 1992 when Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister, although it has allowed existing settlements to grow, even as it has publicly promised to freeze settlement activity under the so-called road map for peace.

Emily Amrusy, a spokeswoman for the settlers’ council known as Yesha, said that the families would move into trailers on the site while construction began on more permanent housing.

A spokeswoman for the American consulate in Jerusalem, which deals with the West Bank, said a new settlement would be troubling. “We’re looking into it, and if turns out to be a new settlement, we would be very concerned, given Israel’s obligations under the road map,” said Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, the spokeswoman.

The US may very well be "concerned" but that concern should turn itself into some form of action by the administration to stop this. And we all know that, under this US President, no action that is critical of Israel will ever be taken.

Indeed, settlement building has flourished under the Bush regime with some 50 illegal outposts appearing since Bush came to office.

The road map calls for a freeze in settlement building in the first phase and a Palestinian push to dismantle terrorist groups. Israel says that the dismantling should come first and that no such action has taken place. But it has separately promised the Bush administration that it would build only within existing settlement structures to account for natural growth, “thickening” the settlements but not expanding them physically.

Israel also promised that it would dismantle more than 20 illegal outposts set up since March 2001, but it has dismantled only one, under an Israeli court order.

Much of the world considers all Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal under international law; the United States, which used to call them illegal, now calls them “obstacles to peace” that prejudge final-status negotiations. The outposts are illegal under Israeli law because the government has not authorized them.

I love the ambiguity the New York Times attempts to insert here regarding the illegality of the settlements. It's as if it's a legal issue that has yet to be resolved with "much of the world" thinking that they might be illegal.

The truth is that they have already been found to be illegal and that only the US and Israel appear to think that UN resolutions are a starting point for negotiation rather than a final judgement.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions forbids any occupying power from moving parts of it's civilian population into the territory it occupies. The legality of moving parts of your civilian population into such territory is therefore already decided. It is illegal to do so.

The argument that Israelis have since fell back on is that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the Occupied Territories.

This argument has been robustly rejected by the international community:

Israel remains isolated in this legal interpretation and position. The majority of the international legal community has rejected the Israeli arguments since 1967 outlined above, and has repeatedly reiterated that Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and cannot evade the obligations it committed to undertake as a High Contracting Party to the Conventions.

Israel has exercised effective control of the OPT since 1967. As Article 42 of the Hague Regulations stipulates, a “territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army,” and that the occupation extends “to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.” Similarly, in the Hostage Case, the Nuremburg Tribunal held that, “the test for application of the legal regime of occupation is not whether the occupying power fails to exercise effective control over the territory, but whether it has the ability to exercise such power.” This test continues to apply to Israel’s relation vis-à-vis the Wes Bank and Gaza Strip.

Repeated resolutions by the UN General Assembly and Security Council, and statements issued by governments worldwide, have all affirmed the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the OPT, and have called upon Israel to abide by its obligations as an occupying power. Similarly, on 5 December 2001, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention reaffirmed, “the applicability of the Convention to the OPT, including East Jerusalem and reiterate[d] the need for full respect for the provisions of the said Convention in that territory.”

This position was most recently confirmed in July 2004 by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in Occupied Palestinian Territory. The ICJ referenced the agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) which resulted in the transfer of certain powers and responsibilities to the Palestinian National Authority, emphasising that these events, “have done nothing to alter this situation, [and that] all these territories (including East Jerusalem) remain occupied territories [in which] Israel has continued to have the status of occupying power.” In this regard, the Opinion also states that “civilians who find themselves in whatever way in the hands of the occupying power” must remain protected persons “regardless of changes to the status of the occupied territory.”

After affirming the applicability of the Hague Regulations to the OPT, the ICJ also addressed the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to these territories. For this purpose, and in reference to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 June War, it recalled Article 2(1) of the Convention, noting that this convention applies “to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more High Contracting Parties....” Once these conditions have been met, the ICJ states that the Convention is deemed to apply “in any territory occupied in the course of the conflict by one of the contracting parties.”
As Israel took this land whilst fighting Egypt and Syria - who were both High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention at the time of the war - her arguments regarding the application of Geneva to the territories cannot be taken seriously.

Therefore the US and Israel are engaging in blatant acts of illegality, of which this newest settlement is just the latest in a forty year campaign illegal settlement building.

The test now is what Bush will do about this latest outrage. I suspect nothing. That seems to be his way with each illegal act Israel engages in from Lebanon to the occupied territories.

I wonder if Americans can see any connection between this and the isolated position their country holds in the world today, and in the fact that anti-Americanism has taken a shocking rise around the planet since Bush came to power?

I am sure many right wing Americans will console themselves with the lie that most of the planet is anti-Semitic rather than face up to the truth that, as we do not live in the most powerful country in the world, international law matters much more to us than it does to most Americans. It is our only protection, and it is truly dismaying to see the US back a country whilst it treats international law with such disdain.

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Mixed reactions to Saddam verdict

The Bush regime have been anxious to portray the decision to hang Saddam as an Iraqi one whilst applauding the decision as a landmark in Iraq's efforts "to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law". However, it's such a staggeringly dumb decision that it has Bush's fingerprints all over it.

The small hint at how stupid this is comes with the news that the time and place of the hanging will be kept secret till afterwards "to avoid civil unrest". Therein lies the truth of what a divisive decision this really is.

It would have been far better to send the old tyrant to the Hague where he would have rotted in obscurity, rather than turn him into a martyr which is what the Bushites seem intent on doing. Oh, I know I'm being unfair. It was an Iraqi trial and they were in charge of the proceedings. If you believe that, then I have a bridge to sell you.

But a number of groups have complained about the legality of the proceedings, including US-based Human Rights Watch, which said the Iraqi government had undermined the credibility of the trial.

India meanwhile has urged clemency - expressing concern over any delay to the restoration of peace in Iraq, while the EU has called on Iraq not to carry out the death sentence.

Appeals Court judge Arif Shaheen told a news conference in Baghdad the execution date could not "exceed 30 days".

"As from [Wednesday] the sentence could be carried out at any time," he said, adding that there could be no further appeal and the sentence could not be commuted.

Saddam Hussein's defence lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said the court's verdict "was expected".

"We were not at all surprised, as we are convinced that this has been - 100% - a political trial," he said.
The trial was not only political, it was a joke with judges being replaced if they were deemed too supportive of Saddam. It really says something about the way the Bush regime have bungled Iraq since they stormed in that they couldn't find Saddam Hussein guilty in a fair manner. If there's a greater example of incompetence than that, then I've yet to see it.

So Bush The Vengeful will get what he wants, which is Saddam's head on a plate. But, rather than being the unifying act that Bush originally intended it to be, it will only add to the divisions in this already bitterly divided country.

When one looks at the lofty pretensions that preceded this invasion - with it's talk of democracy and a domino effect that would ripple out across the entire Middle East - and one looks at the reality of where we find ourselves three years later, with Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories all flirting with the idea of civil war, one gets a glimpse at how catastrophic Bush's intervention into a region he neither understood nor cared about really was.

As always Bush will pretend that this is a decision made for Iraqis by Iraqis. As always he will ignore the myriad of people asking him to reconsider; the EU, India, the human rights groups.

And he will continue to ignore Blair, Saudi Arabia, Condi Rice, Colin Powell and others who are urging him to use his remaining time in office to see the establishment of a viable state of Palestine.

The hanging of Saddam will come to signify the Bush presidency perfectly. It's an act of stupidity, it's an act of vengeance, and - in terms of the real problems facing the region - it is an act that is ultimately utterly irrelevant.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

When Resolve Turns Reckless

Kerry, at a time when Bush looks set to ignore the Baker Report and embark on a mission of madness rather than admit his defeat, gives us this timely article.

There's something much worse than being accused of "flip-flopping": refusing to flip when it's obvious that your course of action is a flop.

I say this to President Bush as someone who learned the hard way how embracing the world's complexity can be twisted into a crude political shorthand. Barbed words can make for great politics. But with U.S. troops in Iraq in the middle of an escalating civil war, this is no time for politics. Refusing to change course for fear of the political fallout is not only dangerous -- it is immoral.

I'd rather explain a change of position any day than look a parent in the eye and tell them that their son or daughter had to die so that a broken policy could live.

No one should be looking for vindication in what is happening in Iraq today. The lesson here is not that some of us were right about Iraq or that some of us were wrong. The lesson is simply that we need to change course rapidly rather than perversely use mistakes already made and lives already given as an excuse to make more mistakes and lose even more lives.

When young Americans are being killed and maimed, when the Middle East is on the brink of three civil wars, even the most vaunted "steadfastness" morphs pretty quickly into stubbornness, and resolve becomes recklessness. Changing tactics in the face of changing conditions on the ground, developing new strategies because the old ones don't work, is a hell of a lot smarter than the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again with the same tragic results.

Half of the service members listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial died after America's leaders knew that our strategy in that war was not working. Was then-secretary of defense Robert McNamara steadfast as he continued to send American troops to die for a war he knew privately could not be won? History does not remember his resolve -- it remembers his refusal to confront reality.

Clark Clifford, the man who succeeded McNamara in 1968, was handpicked by President Lyndon B. Johnson because he was a renowned hawk. But the new defense secretary reviewed the Vietnam policy and concluded that "we cannot realistically expect to achieve anything more through our military force, and the time has come to begin to disengage." By the time he left office, he had refused to endorse a further military buildup, supported the halt in our bombing, and urged negotiation and gradual disengagement. Was Clifford a flip-flopper of historic proportions, or did he in fact demonstrate the courage of his convictions?

We cannot afford to waste time being told that admitting mistakes, not the mistakes themselves, will provide our enemies with an intolerable propaganda victory. We've already lost years being told that we have no choice but to stay the course of a failed policy.

This isn't a time for stubbornness, nor is it a time for halfway solutions -- or warmed-over "new" solutions that our own experience tells us will only make the problem worse. The Iraq Study Group tells us that "the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating." It joins the chorus of experts in and outside of Baghdad reminding us that there is no military solution to a political crisis. And yet, over the warnings of former secretary of state Colin Powell, Gen. John Abizaid and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington is considering a "troop buildup" option, sending more troops into harm's way to referee a civil war.

We have already tried a trimmed-down version of the McCain plan of indefinitely increasing troop levels. We sent 15,000 more troops to Baghdad last summer, and today the escalating civil war is even worse. You could put 100,000 more troops in tomorrow and you're only going to add to the number of casualties until Iraqis sit down together at a bargaining table and compromise. The barrel of a gun can't answer the question of how you force Iraqi nationalism to trump sectarian loyalty.

The only hope for stability lies in pushing Iraqis to forge a sustainable political agreement on federalism, distributing oil revenues and neutralizing sectarian militias. And that will happen only if we set a deadline to redeploy our troops.

Last May, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the head of U.S. forces in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad gave the new Iraqi government six months to make the necessary political compromises. But a deadline with no teeth is only lip service. How many times do we have to see that Iraqi politicians respond only to firm, specific deadlines -- a deadline to transfer authority, deadlines to hold two elections and a referendum, and a deadline to form a government -- before we understand that it's time to make it clear that we are leaving and that we will not sacrifice American lives for the sake of squabbling Iraqi politicians?

Another case where steadfastness long ago gave way to stubbornness is our approach to Iraq's neighbors. Last week in Damascus, Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and I met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. We were clear about U.S. expectations for change in his regime's policies, but we found potential for cooperation with Syria in averting a disaster in Iraq -- potential that should be put to the test. Washington can't remain on the sidelines, stubbornly clinging to a belief that talking to our enemies rewards hostile regimes.

Conversation is not capitulation. Until recently, it was widely accepted that good foreign policy demands a willingness to seize opportunities and change policy as the facts change. That's neither flip-flopping nor rudderless diplomacy -- it's strength.

How else could we end up with the famous mantra that "only Nixon could go to China"? For decades, Richard Nixon built his reputation as a China hawk. In 1960, he took John Kennedy to task for being soft on China. He called isolating China a "moral position" that "flatly rejected cowardly expediency." Then, when China broke with the Soviet Union during his presidency, he saw an opportunity to weaken our enemies and make Americans safer. His 1972 visit to China was a major U.S. diplomatic victory in the Cold War.

Ronald Reagan was no shape-shifter, either, but after calling the Soviet Union the "evil empire," he met repeatedly with its leaders. When Reagan saw an opportunity for cooperation with Mikhail Gorbachev, he reached out and tested our enemies' intentions. History remembers that he backed tough words with tough decisions -- and, yes, that he changed course even as he remained true to his principles.

President Bush and all of us who grew up in the shadows of World War II remember Winston Churchill -- his grit, his daring, his resolve. I remember listening to his speeches on a vinyl album in the pre-iPod era. Two years ago I spoke about Iraq at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., where Churchill had drawn a line between freedom and fear in his "iron curtain" speech. In preparation, I reread some of the many words from various addresses that made him famous. Something in one passage caught my eye. When Churchill urged, "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty, never give in," he added: "except to convictions of honour and good sense."

This is a time for such convictions.

jk@johnkerry.com
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Kristol on the Baker Report

What's extraordinary about listening to the remaining neo-cons who advocate that the US should increase it's presence in Iraq is the fact that they still talk of a possible victory. Crooks and Liars have wonderful clip here of William Kristol salivating as he talks of a "long surge" in Iraq. He even goes as far as describing Bush in Reaganite terms if only he will ignore the Baker Report, conventional wisdom and the American public.

In the clip below, we see Kristol's reaction to the Baker Report. Please notice how the report is not "serious". Anything that doesn't allow the fantasy of American victory, simply isn't "serious". He says that Baker should be honest if he thinks the war cannot be won, however, this ignores the fact that the document was prepared specifically as a way of allowing Bush to save face and not to have to acknowledge the size of his defeat.

What is undeniable is that the warmongers are now amongst the minority.

They are now, finally, exposing themselves as the isolated lunatics that some of us always knew they were. It's been a long time coming...



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British Soldiers Storm Iraqi Jail, Citing Torture

British troops have stormed a police station in southern Basra where it is said that up to one hundred and seventy prisoners were being tortured and were almost certain to be killed. As they left the scene the British troops blew up the police station.

However, the action which has been described as "one of the most significant undertaken by British troops since the 2003 invasion" has immediately been condemned by the Basra City Council who have withdrawn any co-operation with the British Army.

Mohammed al Abadi, head of the city's council, said the raid was provocative and illegal.

Basra police commander Brigadier General Ali Ibrahim also expressed similar views.

"This storming operation is illegal and violates human rights," he said. "We think that what the operation sought to achieve is very simple and could have been settled by Iraqi troops."

The case highlights the difficulty of handing power over to the Iraqis because of the degree to which the Iraqi forces have been infiltrated by insurgents who seem determined to use the forces as a tool in the civil war.

When the combined British and Iraqi force of 1,400 troops gained control of the station, it found the prisoners being held in conditions that a British military spokesman, Maj. Charlie Burbridge, described as “appalling.” More than 100 men were crowded into a single cell, 30 feet by 40 feet, he said, with two open toilets, two sinks and just a few blankets spread over the concrete floor.

A significant number showed signs of torture. Some had crushed hands and feet, Major Burbridge said, while others had cigarette and electrical burns and a significant number had gunshot wounds to their legs and knees.

The fetid dungeon was another example of abuses by the Iraqi security forces. The discovery highlighted the continuing struggle to combat the infiltration of the police and army by militias and criminal elements — even in a Shiite city like Basra, where there has been no sectarian violence.

And, although the Basra Council have condemned the raid, the New York Times are quoting locals who seem pleased that some kind of action has been taken.

“They are like savage dogs that bite when they are hungry,” said one resident, who spoke anonymously for fear of retribution. “Their evaluation of guilt or innocence is how much money you can pay.”

Residents said that people were afraid to challenge the officers because they were backed by powerful militia groups, including the Mahdi Army, which is led by the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr, though the extent of his control is unclear.

“Everyone wants to avoid the mouth of the lion,” one resident said. “From this, they became stronger and stronger.”

However, I am genuinely puzzled as to why the British troops then had to destroy the police station. NYT are quoting the reason as "an attempt to remove all traces of the serious crimes unit, Major Burbridge said."

Surely facilities like this are valuable resources and could simply be taken over by more trustworthy Iraqis? The symbolism of destroying it may be very powerful but it does strike me as a tad expensive in a country that we are supposedly reconstructing.

Again and again I come back to the failure of Rumsfeld to use enough troops to impose order. The situation that has developed in the vacuum created by the lack of order is a frightening one and one for which I can see no easy solution.

In southern cities like Basra, dominated by Shiites, the fighting is a combination of battles between rival militias vying for power, warring tribes and organized crime, Major Burbridge said.

“In northern Basra, the fighting is mainly between three warring tribes,” he said. “The death squads are typically related to political manoeuvering and tribal gain. Then there are rogue elements of militias aiming attacks on the multinational forces. You throw all those elements into a melting pot and you get a picture of the complexity of what we are facing.”

Complex indeed. This situation should never have been allowed to develop. And now that it has I am left wondering what our undermanned troops can seriously be expected to do about it. If there aren't enough of them to seriously change the situation and impose order, then I am left wondering what the Hell they are doing there anyway?

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