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- Keep an eye on the Buffalo Peace People calendar.
- April 16, March and Rally to urge UB to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a monitoring body that exists to help colleges and universities assure their apparel is made under safe and fair working conditions (i.e., not in sweatshops). Student Union entrance, UB, 4:00 pm. Contact UB Students Against Sweatshops for more info.
- May 4-13, Faces of Iraq photography exhibit, a traveling exhibit organized by the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, will be on display in Buffalo.
- Women in Black peace vigil: A silent, solemn and nonviolent vigil/witness for peace, Bidwell & Elmwood, every Saturday at noon.
- Impromptu Rally/Speak-out/Flyering, following the Women in Black vigil, Bidwell & Elmwood, every Saturday at 1:30 pm.
- Candlelight vigil in Delaware Park (Parkside and Scajaquada), every Sunday at 7:00 pm.
- Weekly rally for "creative, energetic, and passionate dissent", Lafayette Square, every Tuesday at 5:00 pm. Contact Colin or Dan for more info.
- There will also be acts of non-violent civil disobedience. Contact me for further info.
UB Faculty and Staff for Peace:View and sign open letter in opposition to war
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Tuesday, 15 April 2003
By now, even the mainstream news outlets have reported on the rampant looting and other problems that have rendered the "liberation" of Iraqs major cities something less than had been hoped. But I think the mainstream coverage has tended to portray the pillage as an inexplicable outburst of random destructiveness, occurring without reason and perpetrated by "Iraqis" in general, against themselves.
Two important facts are obscured by that version of events: first, the U.S. military, as an occupying force, has unequivocal legal responsibility for maintaining order, protecting civilians, and safeguarding the property of both Iraqis and international entities. And second, at least in Baghdad, much of the damage has been done by the long-disenfranchised Shia majority, targeting what are perceived as the accumulated spoils of Sunni privilege.
I hope youll take the time to read the accounts that follow, telling whats been happening and whos responsible.
First, a day-by-day chronicle from Robert Fisk: Flames engulf the symbols of power / Who is to blame for the collapse in morality that followed the liberation? / Americans defend two untouchable ministries from the hordes of looters (the two were the ministries of oil and the interior).
One egregious example of what the U.S. Marines have allowed to take place is the utter devastation of the National Museum, the worlds primary storehouse of relics from humanitys earliest civilizations, infuriating scholars globally. Again, although widely reported, most accounts have neglected the issue of responsibility. As The New York Times put it,
The National Museum of Iraq recorded a history of civilizations that began to flourish in the fertile plains of Mesopotamia more than 7,000 years ago. But once American troops entered Baghdad in sufficient force to topple Saddam Husseins government this week, it took only 48 hours for the museum to be destroyed.Please see: Pillagers Strip Iraqi Museum of Its Treasure, with interviews of musuem officials addressing what was lost, and how the Marines explicitly refused to stop the looting; A civilisation torn to pieces (Robert Fisk again), with heartrending details of a visit to the shattered museum, and an accusation that by failing to end the violence between Sunni and Shia, "the Americans are now provoking a civil war in Baghdad"; and US blamed for failure to stop sacking of museum, with comments from archaeologists and historians who call the sacking of the museum "on a par with blowing up Stonehenge," and report that meetings had been held with U.S. military officials before the war, specifically warning about the danger to the museums treasures.
Hospitals have been stripped bare, toomedicines, equipment, beds, even the light fixtures.
The result is apparent even to the headline writers at the Associated Press: Baghdad Seethes With Anger Toward U.S.
At a time when the United States is promising a reconstructed democratic postwar Iraq, many Afghans are remembering hearing similar promises not long ago. Instead, what they see is thieving warlords, murder on the roads, and a resurgence of Taliban vigilantism. "Its like I am seeing the same movie twice and no one is trying to fix the problem," said Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghanistans president and his representative in southern Kandahar. "What was promised to Afghans with the collapse of the Taliban was a new life of hope and change. But what was delivered? Nothing. Everyone is back in business."
Friday, 11 April 2003
First, what was the "Battle for Baghdad" like? AP reporter Chris Tomlinson depicts the chaos of the urban battleground, the capriciousness of death as it randomly selects some bystanders while passing others by.
The indispensable Robert Fisk traveled about town: meeting the U.S. tanks as they arrived and lending his satellite phone to the Marine at the very head of the first column as it ground to a haltand listening in as Cpl. Breeze called his mother; standing beside the first man to take a hatchet to the base of the now-famous Saddam statue; mingling among the looters as they carried off everything from ornamental vases to dental X-ray machines; crossing the lines to interview the outgunned foreign volunteers still shooting at the Americans. What emerges from his chats along the way is a much more complex and jumbled set of reactions than we see on TV, ranging from jubilation to foreboding: "Youll see the celebrations and we will be happy Saddam has gone, one of them said to me. But we will then want to rid ourselves of the Americans and we will want to keep our oil and there will be resistance and then they will call us "terrorists"."
The Washington Post similarly found some who celebrated, cheering the American tanks and soldiers, and others who were incensed: "This is my country and this is an occupation, said Stefan Abu George, 59, standing along the street. I cant imagine what the result of this is going to be. A friend, Wathiq Abzara, answered: Like Palestine."
A day later, Fisk described the second day of the new Iraq, in Baghdad: the day after: the looting and trashing now extended to Qusay Husseins white hunting hounds ("galloping alongside" the truck they were tethered to) and Saddams horses, the German consuls Mozart records, and UNICEFs files on Iraqi childhood diseases, pregnancy death rates and nutrition, as American troopsresponsible, as the occupying force, for maintaining order and protecting embassies and UN officeslooked on impassively.
And in Basra, the Boston Globe reports that "public jubilation gave way to simmering anger in some quarters of Basra yesterday as residents tallied the bloody cost of their liberation, measured in civilian lives, destroyed public buildings, and lost law and order…Dr. Mussalim Mahdi al-Hassan, director of Basra General Hospital…said at least 1,200 civilians had been killed since British troops encircled Basra on March 25."
An Australian reporter visiting similarly overburdened Kindi Hospital in Baghdad wrote about his "Descent into a charnel-house hospital hell".
Dick Cheneys former (and presumably future) employer Halliburton stands to reap some very healthy profits from contracts for reconstruction in Iraq (of all the facilities U.S. forces have just deconstructed). Does anyone see a conflict of interest here?
The hand-picked U.S. candidate to serve as an Iraqi face for the new regime, Ahmad Chalabi, has what can charitably be described as somewhat limited credibility among Iraqis still residing there. A profile in Le Monde calls him "the Pentagons trainee" (original and English translation).
Still photos of the crowd toppling the Saddam statue suggest a rather different scene than did the TV close-ups. One interpretation claims the whole event was staged by the Americans. Im not sure I buy all the elements of this interpretation, but it sure is curious how sparse the crowd is.
One soldiers mother, arrested for protesting the war, says "Im doing what David is doing. Im fighting a war."
This overview of protest activity in several countries includes a fine example of how mainstream (and militant) opposition to the war has become in some places: "In Athens, organisers have barred Britain from participating at a book fair where it was due to be the honoured country, because of its participation in the illegal US invasion of Iraq. Instead, the fair, a popular annual event to be held on May 9-25, would be dedicated to anti-war books, the Athens Publishers and Booksellers Association said."
And finally, lest we forget that our own governments commitment to safeguarding the right to protest is sometimes a little shaky itself, take a look at this chilling photo of what resulted from police action to disperse a non-violent protest in Oakland, and read about what happened.
Saturday, 5 April 2003
A press release about the UB Faculty and Staff for Peace Open Letter was picked up by the regional AP wire, resulting in coverage in at least Boston and NYC. It also led to a couple of local radio interviews. You can listen to the one with WBFO online.
Today we begin with the errant missile update. Youll remember from last time that cruise missiles had been landing in Saudi Arabia, raising the question of just how precise precision-guided munitions actually are. It turns out theyve also been striking in Turkey. The Washington Post says:
Nobody in Turkey or Saudi Arabia has been reported injured or killed by errant missiles. But in eastern Turkey yesterday, scores of Turkish villagers swarmed around four vehicles carrying U.S. soldiers who were trying to recover pieces of a cruise missile, the Anatolian news agency reported. The villagers pelted the soldiers with eggs and stones, shouting antiwar slogans and breaking windows.In Robert Fisks followup on the explosion that killed about 60 Iraqi civilians in the marketplace at Shuale, in addition to interviewing survivors he reports the serial number on a piece of the missile found at the time of the blast by a nearby resident (and never shown to Iraqi officials). Recall that American and British officials suggested Iraqi anti-aircraft missiles may have been responsible. Fisks colleagues back in London at The Independent found that the codes can be looked up online. They traced the serial number to a Raytheon plant in Texas that makes laser-guided bombs and HARM missiles (used to attack radar installations). The database that would identify the exact weapon is not public (and Pentagon officials refused to reveal the information), but The Independents investigation concluded the weapon was probably a HARM missile. British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon insinuated that Fisks report was not reliable; see the responses from Fisk and from The Independents editors.
Even before the missiles origin had been determined, outrage was erupting among ordinary, well-educated citizens in pro-Western Arab nations. From The Washington Post:
"Mr. Bush has lost us. We are gone. Enough. Thats the end," said Diaa Rashwan, head of the comparative politics unit at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "If America starts winning tomorrow, there will be suicide bombing that will start in America the next day"…"Bush is an occupier and terrorist. He thought he was playing a video game," said George Elnaber, 36, a Arab Christian and the owner of a supermarket in Amman. "We hate Americans more than we hate Saddam now"…In Cairo, some residents with long ties to the United States said that the bombing of civilians made them lose all hope that relations could return to normal. "It is as if you are watching a horror movie," said Summer Said, a journalist for the Cairo Times, an English-language newsmagazine. "I thought, at first, okay, maybe it isnt a war for oil. Maybe America does want to help. Now, its genocide to me. Is the American government trying to exterminate Arabs?"… "This war is affecting civilians primarily. I did not expect to see civilians bombed and I feel exceedingly angry," wrote Ezzat El Kamhawy, a respected Egyptian novelist. "This war can only harm the future of democracy in the area"…Some of the people interviewed said that they had hated leaders like Osama bin Laden but that now they were ready to fight and believed that attacks on the United States would be justified. "For every man they kill, there will be four or five people who want revenge for this persons life. They cant just kill people and have it be forgotten," said Ali Sabry, 43, a building attendant in Cairo. "America is our enemy now."And from Reuters:
"This is brutality, the Americans have no right to do this," declared veiled Egyptian businesswoman Rawya Shaker. "This is colonialism, this is an aggression against innocent people. This is something even an infidel wouldnt do"…"This is mayhem, just watching it gave me the creeps," said 25-year-old [Yemeni] university graduate Tamer Ali. "This is shameful, its unlawful. The Americans are killing women and children"…"Everyone now wants to be like Osama bin Laden," said Muhanad Abdullah, an outraged Jordanian computer programmer. "They have made thousands of bin Ladens…"I am not defending Saddam, but we dont have to kill a whole population and destroy a nation to remove him," said Egyptian pharmacist Ehab Abdul Latif. Bahraini businessman Taqi al-Zirah agreed. "The Americans say they are liberating Iraq but you can only make peace through peaceful means, not by terror," he said.Scared yet? And if thats what the middle-class professionals are saying, what do you suppose the poor folk are thinking?
Casualties are also mounting in the towns, villages, and farming areas south of Baghdad. Nightmarish scenes (and corresponding rage) are described in several villages in Mohammedia district, and several near Babylonmostly from cluster bombs (reports one and two).
Youve probably heard about the Iraqi civilian vehicle full of women and children that was destroyed when it failed to stop at a checkpoint near Karbala, killing most of the occupants; U.S. officials said the vehicle ignored warning shots. You probably havent heard the only eyewitness account to be published. William Branigin is a reporter for The Washington Post (hardly a bastion of anti-military sentiment). He was standing within earshot of the company captain in charge of the checkpoint, yelling commands into his radio. Capt. Johnson called for a warning shot, saw no response from his troops, then called more urgently, as the vehicle approached, for shots into the radiator, again saw no shots fired, and finally called for the cannon fire that destroyed the vehicle. Upon viewing the aftermath through his binoculars, "he roared at the platoon leader, You just [expletive] killed a family because you didnt fire a warning shot soon enough!." Not quite the way Central Command tells the story, is it?
You probably also heard about the extended battles for the bridges at the city of Nasiriyah, and perhaps that numerous civilians got caught in the crossfire. Mark Franchetti, a reporter for the Sunday Times of London traveling with the U.S. Marines, wrote a lengthy, terrifying account of what actually happened. The "bright-eyed small-town boys" hed met a few days earlier became, after a series of nerve-wracking ambushes, "jittery aggressors who talked of wanting to nuke the place," with official orders to "shoot anything that moved." The resulting carnage is, although predictable, thoroughly gut-churningthe slaughter both of Iraqis (of all ages) and of the humanity of our own youth. The original article in The Times requires paid registration; its also available in Counterpunch and truthout.org. Building on this same report, James Fox, who reported on the Vietnam War, argues in Hearts, minds and bodybags that we could be headed for the exact same kind of mess.
Mike Allen and Karen DeYoung write in The Washington Post that one major component of fighting the war is the "information strategy", which is directed by the new White House Office of Global Communications. For instance, after military briefers began using the term "Fedayeen," the office stepped in to remind them that the word "has almost heroic implications" in Arabic; it has been replaced in U.S. briefing by "terrorists," "death squads" and "thugs." On the day that news coverage was being dominated by the story of the civilian deaths at the checkpoint near Karbala, the official daily update made no mention of it, stating instead merely that coalition forces "continue to make good progress toward our objectives," and local populations "are becoming increasingly willing to assist coalition forces."
Remember when Rumsfeld said the current coalition was larger than the 1991 one? His list of countries supporting this war included Slovenia. Turns out that was the first Slovenia had heard about it. Upon hearing that the $75 billion war budget included $4.5 million to pay for Slovenias contributions, Prime Minister Anton Rop had to call a hastily arranged press conference to turn down the money: "We are a part of no such coalition. We are a part of a coalition for peace." Kind of makes you wonder about the rest of that list, doesnt it?
No sign yet of Saddams weapons of mass destruction. He may indeed have some, but if so, our government clearly has no idea where they are. Yesterday morning I heard a radio report stating definitively and matter-of-factly that a large cache of chemical weapons had been found at an industrial plant south of Baghdad, thousands of boxes of glass vials containing a nerve agentthe second such find of the day, they said. Wow, I thought, I missed a lot while I was sleeping. Turns out the "suspicious" powder in the vials is an ordinary explosive. Special forces teams have been raiding suspected chemical weapons sites since before the bombs began falling, and they havent found anything yet; also, from the same article, the U.S. is determined to prevent any involvement of the UN or other international bodies in the weapons search, but it does need the expertise of the UN inspection teams. So its been recruiting inspectors to break their contracts with the UN and sign on to work under the U.S. military command.
Meanwhile, this war supposedly launched to rid the world of Iraqs weapons of mass destruction isnt helping much with containing weapons programs elsewhere. North Korea has drawn the obvious lesson from watching what happened to Iraq: wed better hurry up and develop our own nukes, or youll do the same to us. They vowed last week "to resist all international demands…to allow nuclear inspections or agree to disarm, saying Iraq had made this mistake and was now paying the price." One more triumph for the Bush administration along the path to global nuclear disarmament. So remind me again, if were not reducing weapons of mass destruction, were not discouraging Arabs from taking up arms against America, and were not being greeted as liberators in Iraq, why exactly are we fighting this war?
Remember Robin Cook, the Leader of the House of Commons, who resigned from Blairs cabinet? In another speech in Parliament he attacked the "bloody and unjust war" and called for an immediate withdrawal; "there will be a long-term legacy of hatred for the West if the Iraqi people continue to suffer from the effects of the war we started."
The longest-serving member of Parliament (first elected in 1962) has also called for an immediate withdrawal. Tam Dalyell says the British and American governments have "completely misunderstood the nature of Iraqi society" and deceived their own people in order to start a war; he adds that Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Wolfowitz "have hijacked the U.S. government," and Blair has gone along because "he likes the idea of being a great war leader."
The Independent issued a strong editorial: They do not know what they are doing or why they are doing it, complaining about the lies and evasions from both governments, and the ever-shifting rationales for the war.
The group September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, consisting of people who lost family members in the Sept. 11 attacks, have issued a statement calling the war "illegal, immoral, and unjustified."
And finally, while not exactly opposition to the war, theres dissension within the Pentagon over how its being carried out. Seymour Hersh (remember him, the journalist Richard Perle called a terrorist?) reported what hed been told by senior war planners about the anger of the top generals at Rumsfeld and his top advisors, for consistently disregarding their recommendations and putting in place a reckless plan of his own that courts disaster.