Wednesday, July 30, 2008

BushCo. Demands Iraq Accept Bases And The Forever Occupation

How can there ever be peace in Iraq when the US occupation will never end, at least as far as BushCo., the NeoCons and no doubt plenty of Democrats, are concerned? They spent more than half a trillion invading, occupying and slaughtering the opposition, so they will stay until they see a return on the investment. Welcome to the free market, Iraq :

For five years the Bush administration has played wack-a-mole with the American people as to why we are in Iraq, with a new justification quickly spawning after the hollow core of the prior position was exposed. WMD's was followed by fighting Al Qaeda and ultimately bringing democracy to the Middle East. Last week the proverbial mole may have met his maker and exposed the true reason over a million Americans have been put in harm's way.

In May 2004, President Bush explained that our mission in Iraq was "to see the Iraqi people in charge of Iraq for the first time in generations." A week into his second term, Bush said he would "absolutely" honor any request for withdrawal of U.S. troops by a sovereign Iraqi government, only to then ignore multiple request over the next three years and polls showing near unanimous support among Iraqi's for a timeline for withdrawal.

All this was laid bare this month as the Iraqi government went on the offensive in its call for U.S. withdrawal by 2010. Far from embracing the desires of a sovereign Iraq, the White House instead feebly attempted to claim Prime Minister Maliki's statement was mistranslated, while the McCain camp argued that Iraqi's really want the U.S. to stay until 2020. Apparently their view of a "free Iraq" is an Iraq that is free to do what we tell them to do.

The Iraqi demand for a deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops comes in the context of ongoing negotiations with the U.S. over a Status of Forces (SoF) Agreement in which the White House is seeking to define its legacy through (i) an indefinite occupation; (ii) more than 50 permanent bases (including five mega-bases); (iii) the unlimited ability to pursue the "war on terror" in Iraq (including ability to arrest Iraqis without consulting government); (iv) control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000 feet; (v) supervision of Iraq's defense, interior and national security ministries for ten years; and (vi) immunity for U.S. forces and contractors. In addition, the U.S. wants the right to unilaterally determine whether an act by another country (i.e., Iran) constitutes a "threat" to Iraq and respond as it deems fit in order to "protect" Iraq.

The Iraqi's have rejected this invitation to be an American colony as "arrogant" and an affront to their sovereignty, but the White House is playing hardball and recently cost the Iraqi's $5 billion by blocking the transfer of certain Iraqi currency reserves out of the declining dollar.

From the start of the occupation, the Bush administration has shown little regard for Iraqi sovereignty and international legal prohibitions against making significant changes to the legal and political institutions of an occupied country. Instead, the administration pursued what, former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz characterized as "an even more radical form of shock therapy than pursued in the former Soviet world," as it completely reshaped Iraq's legal and economic regime to turn it into a Club Med for corporate interests.

The shock therapy was administered by Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority, through 100 separate Orders which suspended all tariffs and import fees (Order 12); immunized foreign contractors (Order 17); calls for the sale of 200 state owned enterprises through 40-year ownership licenses (Order 39); allowed foreign corporations to fully own Iraqi businesses and remove profits tax free (Order 39); cut corporate income taxes by two-thirds through a 15 percent flat tax (Order 49) and even restricts Iraqi farmers from using certain seeds without paying a license fee to seed suppliers such as Monsanto (Order 81).

The Bush administration also has ignored Congressional restrictions on the use of government funds "to exercise United States control over the oil infrastructure or oil resources of Iraq," as the State Department recently assisted the Big 5 oil companies in winning rights to develop some of Iraq's largest oilfields. Soon they will join Halliburton and others who have made billions off the war while protected by our troops.

The current spat over the SoF Agreement once again raises the question of why we fought this war to begin with. After five years of war at a cost of approximately $539 billion, 90,000 Iraqi lives, over 35,000 American soldiers wounded or killed, we now know what we suspected all along -- that Operation Iraqi Freedom was never about liberating the people of Iraq but instead about liberating its assets for foreign exploitation. Naomi Klein was right four years ago when she described the Bush mission as "pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia."

That is why with or without the SoF Agreement, Bush's legacy is secure. The hollow echo of Operation Iraqi Freedom reminds us that while other presidents may have failed the American people in one way or another, no president has failed, deceived or betrayed the American people like George W. Bush.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Al Qaeda's New Strategies In Its 'War On Infidels'

Pepe Escobar, Asia Times :
Al-Qaeda is back - with a vengeance of sorts. Listen to Mustafa Abu al-Yazeed - a senior al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan, in a very rare interview with Pakistan's Geo TV, shot in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan.

"At this stage this is our understanding - that there is no difference between the American people and the American government itself. If we see this through sharia [Islamic] law, American people and the government itself are infidels and are fighting against Islam. We have to rely on suicide attacks which are absolutely correct according to Islamic law. We have adopted this way of war because there is a huge difference between our material resources and our enemy's, and this is the only option to attack our enemy."

The interview is not only about defensive jihad. Yazeed delves into classic al-Qaeda strategy - inciting a cross-border Taliban jihad against the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces and blasting a state, in this case the government of Pakistan. According to him, "Sadly, it is the government of Pakistan which has most damaged our cause. President [Pervez] Musharraf violated the trust of Muslims and contributed to the destruction of the Islamic government of Afghanistan ... Musharraf and his government have made big mistakes, there is no such example in other Islamic states."

Yazeed also said al-Qaeda was responsible for the suicide car bombing on the Danish Embassy in Islamabad in early June, when six people were killed.

So why is al-Qaeda feeling so emboldened to have one of its top commanders on camera - and on a foreign TV network to boot, not as-Sahab, al-Qaeda's media arm?

Jihadis now assess that the new Afghan jihad - against the "infidel" US and NATO troops combined - is more important at the moment than Iraq. So in this sense, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama has got it right - Afghanistan, and not Iraq, is "the central front in the war on terror".

But it's much more complicated than that. The central front is actually in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda basically wants a pan-Islamic caliphate. The neo-Taliban, based in Pakistan, are not that ambitious. They already have their Islamic Emirate - it is in the Waziristan tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan. What they want most of all is to expand it. They also know they would never stand a chance of taking over the whole of Pakistan. A Pakistani expert on the tribal areas, currently in Washington, describes it as "a class struggle - almost like an evolving peasant revolution. Baitullah Mehsud [the neo-Pakistani Taliban leader] is but a peasant from a poor family."

What is startling is that the neo-Taliban are now practically in control of North-West Frontier Province on the border with Afghanistan - whose capital is fabled Peshawar. They already control several Peshawar suburbs.

The Pakistani state has virtually no power in these areas. The Taliban enforce strict sharia law. If local security people refuse to obey, they are simply killed. No wonder the neo-Taliban now have subdued scores of middle- and low-ranking Pakistani officials. They even issued a deadline to the new secular and relatively progressive regional government to release all Taliban prisoners - or else. As for the government, the only thing it can do is to organize some sort of neighborhood watch to prevent total Taliban supremacy. This state of affairs also reveals how the Pakistani army seems to be powerless - or unwilling - to fight the Taliban.

Across the border, in Kunar and Nuristan provinces in Afghanistan, the Taliban now control almost all security checkpoints. No wonder Yazeed - speaking for al-Qaeda, envisions a war without borders. He said, in his Geo TV interview, "Yes, we cannot separate the tribal area people from Afghanistan which are part of Pakistan and the Pakistani people. Yes, we are getting support from tribal people in Pakistan, and in fact it is obligatory for them to render this help and it is a responsibility that is imposed by religion. It is not only obligatory for residents of the tribal regions but all of Pakistan."

In a recent high-profile al-Qaeda meeting in Miramshah in North Waziristan, the al-Qaeda leadership made it clear it not only expects - it wants the new Afghan war/jihad to spill over to the tribal areas in Pakistan.

And this is what al-Qaeda will get - according to what Obama told CBS News' Lara Logan, "... what I've said is that if we had actionable intelligence against high-value al-Qaeda targets and the Pakistani government was unwilling to go after those targets, then we should."

The Pentagon for its part is preparing the battlefield - it has already sent Predator drones, repeatedly, over the tribal areas. An air war is in the works - not to mention scores of Pentagon covert special ops.

Al-Qaeda's strategy is to suck in the US military - this is classic Osama bin Laden ideology, according to which the US should be dragged to fight in Muslim lands. Al-Qaeda is reasoning that an attack on the tribal areas, in fact a real third front in the "war on terror" (so dreaded by chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen) will have Pakistani public opinion so outraged that the Pakistani army would be powerless to follow the US track. And al-Qaeda, in the end, would be left with an even freer hand.
Read The Full Story Here
Is The Iraq War Really Coming To An End?

It's not the first time signs of a real end to the War On Iraq have hit the headlines this year, only to fade quickly as new clashes between the various ranks of Iraqi and western forces, and Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents have broken out.

For the people of Iraq, and the families of all Western forces who are fighting in Iraq, you can only hope the following story from Associated Press is true, and the start of more good news to come :
The United States is now winning the war that two years ago seemed lost. Limited, sometimes sharp fighting and periodic terrorist bombings in Iraq are likely to continue, possibly for years. But the Iraqi government and the U.S. now are able to shift focus from mainly combat to mainly building the fragile beginnings of peace - a transition that many found almost unthinkable as recently as one year ago.

Despite the occasional bursts of violence, Iraq has reached the point where the insurgents, who once controlled whole cities, no longer have the clout to threaten the viability of the central government.

That does not mean the war has ended or that U.S. troops have no role in Iraq. It means the combat phase finally is ending, years past the time when President Bush optimistically declared it had. The new phase focuses on training the Iraqi army and police, restraining the flow of illicit weaponry from Iran, supporting closer links between Baghdad and local governments, pushing the integration of former insurgents into legitimate government jobs and assisting in rebuilding the economy.

Scattered battles go on, especially against al-Qaida holdouts north of Baghdad. But organized resistance, with the steady drumbeat of bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and ambushes that once rocked the capital daily, has all but ceased.

This amounts to more than a lull in the violence. It reflects a fundamental shift in the outlook for the Sunni minority, which held power under Saddam Hussein. They launched the insurgency five years ago. They now are either sidelined or have switched sides to cooperate with the Americans in return for money and political support.

Shiite militias, notably the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, have lost their power bases in Baghdad, Basra and other major cities. An important step was the routing of Shiite extremists in the Sadr City slums of eastern Baghdad this spring - now a quiet though not fully secure district.

Al-Sadr and top lieutenants are now in Iran. Still talking of a comeback, they are facing major obstacles, including a loss of support among a Shiite population weary of war and no longer as terrified of Sunni extremists as they were two years ago.

The premature declaration by the Bush administration of "Mission Accomplished" in May 2003 convinced commanders that the best public relations strategy is to promise little, and couple all good news with the warning that "security is fragile" and that the improvements, while encouraging, are "not irreversible."

Iraq still faces a mountain of problems: sectarian rivalries, power struggles within the Sunni and Shiite communities, Kurdish-Arab tensions, corruption. Any one of those could rekindle widespread fighting.

But the underlying dynamics in Iraqi society that blew up the U.S. military's hopes for an early exit, shortly after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, have changed in important ways in recent months.

Systematic sectarian killings have all but ended in the capital, in large part because of tight security and a strategy of walling off neighborhoods purged of minorities in 2006.

Statistics show violence at a four-year low. The monthly American death toll appears to be at its lowest of the war - four killed in action so far this month as of Friday, compared with 66 in July a year ago. From a daily average of 160 insurgent attacks in July 2007, the average has plummeted to about two dozen a day this month. On Wednesday the nationwide total was 13.

The questions facing both Americans and Iraqis are: What kinds of help will the country need from the U.S. military, and for how long? The questions will take on greater importance as the U.S. presidential election nears, with one candidate pledging a troop withdrawal and the other insisting on staying.

Although Sunni and Shiite extremists are still around, they have surrendered the initiative and have lost the support of many ordinary Iraqis. That can be traced to an altered U.S. approach to countering the insurgency - a Petraeus-driven move to take more U.S. troops off their big bases and put them in Baghdad neighborhoods where they mixed with ordinary Iraqis and built a new level of trust.

It's not the end of fighting. It looks like the beginning of a perilous peace.

Of course, all this good news will be rendered all but obsolete should the US and Israel go to War On Iran.

Iraqi Suicide Bombers Kill 50, Wound 250

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hizbullah's Historic And Repeated Victories Over Israel

The western corporate media has repeatedly failed to tell the truth about the decades long war between Hizbullah and Israel, and pretty well covered up the fact that Hizbullah comprehensively won the most recent outbreak of war with Israel. Which is why it is so shocking to read an opinion piece like this one from the UK Guardian :

Lebanon celebrated with lavish festivities the return of the last prisoners held in Israeli jails, and clamoured to be the only Arab country to have done so, and to have done so by imposing its demand on a reluctant Israel.

Hizbullah fulfilled yet another pledge, and successfully ended another chapter in its longstanding battle with Israel.

Lebanese dignitaries from across the political and religious spectrum, Muslims and Christians alike, were lined up to welcome the freed prisoners, in a display of unity not seen since the earlier prisoner exchange of 2004.

Hizbullah's success can be added to its already long list of achievements, and reminds Arab and Muslim audiences worldwide of the effectiveness of a steadfast resistance.

In an Arab world used to humiliations and defeats, the list of achievements claimed by Hizbullah in the past decade is indeed noteworthy.

The resistance movement was able to liberate most of Lebanon's territory from a two decade-long Israeli occupation, conducted a successful prisoner exchange in 2004, broke the invulnerability myth of the Israeli Defence Forces in the 2006 war, and managed to return all Lebanese prisoners held in Israel this past week. Hizbullah's charismatic leader has argued that his movement has never capitulated to Israeli demands, and thus never been defeated in its 25-year history – "the era of [Arab] defeats is over".

This is in stark contrast to what "Arab moderates" could show for in the same decade they spent negotiating with the Israeli state. The much-publicised and now barren "peace process" keeps edging "forward" through road maps, countless summits, visits, and vague "visions" of a Palestinian state that fails to materialise, and which remains as elusive as it did 60 years ago.

Expanding Israeli settlements keep shrinking the space of a Palestinian state, and Israeli checkpoints still pepper the West Bank. Half the population are refugees scattered around the globe, and the other half live in confinement behind a segregation wall. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas's repeated pleas for the release of some (if any) of the 11,500 Palestinians held prisoner keep falling on Israeli deaf ears.

Only armed resistance seemed able to edge Israeli settlements and checkpoints out of the Gaza strip, and only Hamas seems able to force Israel into negotiating a prisoner release.

Israel seems more likely to yield to the demands of resistance movements (Hamas, Hizbullah) than to friendly pleas and peace offers. This is a strong message that further undermines the US's Arab allies. The difference between the two approaches cannot be stronger and echoes dramatically in Arab public opinion polls.

It is no surprise that the Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah comes on top of the popularity contest in all surveyed Arab countries (including Saudi Arabia and Egypt), and by a large margin.

The battle for hearts and minds was indisputably won by those who offered to resist the "US-Israeli axis of evil".

The festivities in Lebanon brought the flags of resistance movements from across the political divide: the "party of God" and the Communist party joined within the same crowd, highlighting the common denominator that binds all.

This was also made clear by the diversity of nationalities and creeds associated with the 199 bodies Israel returned to Lebanon this day. Current western support for Arab dictators and the associated labelling of resistance movements as terrorist organisations may not be to its best interest.

Striking mutually beneficial deals with those that more closely represent Arab populations rather than with the corrupt dictators that rule them may have better long-term pay-offs. Perhaps the election of a new US president will usher a more peaceful era for the war-weary Middle East.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Afghanistan : 'Sons Of The Soil' Rise Up As Western Casualties Reach Peaks Not Seen Since 2001

For now at least, the War On Iraq appears to be slowing, as American troop and Iraqi civilian casualties fall. As Iraqi militias and insurgents are routed from key cities, or at least have gone underground for the time being, as they've done before, Afghanistan grows only more violent.

Syed Saleem Shahzad explains what the Taliban may have in store for Western forces in the months ahead, in the Asia Times :
KARACHI - The resilient Taliban have proved unshakeable across Afghanistan over the past few months, making the chances of a coalition military victory against the popular tide of the insurgency in the majority Pashtun belt increasingly slim.

The alternative, though, of negotiating with radical Taliban leaders is not acceptable to the Western political leadership.

This stalemate suits Pakistan perfectly as it gives Islamabad the opportunity to once again step in to take a leading role in shaping the course of events in its neighboring country.

Pakistan's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi are thrilled the Taliban's sweeping military successes which have reduced President Hamid Karzai's American-backed government to a figurehead decorating the presidential palace of Kabul; he and his functionaries dare not even cross the street to take evening tea at the Serena Hotel.

June (28 US combat deaths) was the deadliest month for coalition troops since they invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 and fatalities have increased steadily since 2004, when 58 soldiers were killed that year. The total more than doubled to 130 killed in 2005, 191 in 2006 and 232 in 2007. One hundred and twenty-seven have died so far this year.

Pakistan's planners now see their objective as isolating radicals within the Taliban and cultivating tribal, rustic, even simplistic, "Taliban boys" - just as they did in the mid-1990s in the leadup to the Taliban taking control of the country in 1996. It is envisaged that this new "acceptable" tribal-inspired Taliban leadership will displace Taliban and al-Qaeda radicalism.

This process has already begun in Pakistan's tribal areas.

A leading Pakistani Taliban leader, Haji Nazeer from South Waziristan, who runs the largest Pakistani Taliban network against coalition troops in Afghanistan, recently convened a large meeting at which it was resolved to once again drive out radical Uzbeks from South Waziristan. This happened once before, early last year.

In particular, Nazeer will take action against the Uzbeks' main backer, Pakistani Taliban hardliner Baitullah Mehsud, if he tries to intervene. Nazeer openly shows his loyalty towards the Pakistani security forces and has reached out to other powerful Pakistani Taliban leaders, including Moulvi Faqir from Bajaur Agency, Shah Khalid from Mohmand Agency and Haji Namdar in Khyber Agency. Nazeer also announced the appointment of the powerful commander of North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, as the head of the Pakistani Taliban for all Pakistan.

The bulk of the Pakistani Taliban has always been pro-Pakistan and opposed to radical forces like Baitullah Mehsud and his foreign allies, but this is the first time they have set up a formal organization and appointed an amir (chief) as a direct challenge to the radicals.

At the core of their beliefs is a stress on traditional tribal values and following the tribal agenda of supporting the Afghan resistance against Western troops, rather than any global agenda such as attacks on Europe or the United States.

Soon after the announcement of the amir, two prominent Afghan Taliban commanders from eastern Afghanistan gave their support to the new Pakistani Taliban network. They are Moulvi Abdul Kabeer, a former Taliban governor in the province of Nangarhar before the US invasion in 2001, and commander Sadr-uddin. To date, the most important Afghan commander in the eastern region, Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani, has remained neutral, perhaps because of his close ties with Pakistan and also with the radical camp.

Earlier, the Hezb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another pro-Pakistan commander in Afghanistan, claimed several successful operations in the northeastern Kapisa and Wardak provinces - just a few score kilometers from Kabul. This is another significant development as it gives a boost to that segment of the insurgency which is more local than global.

This is the new picture emerging in eastern Afghanistan. If these groups, with Pakistan's support, can join hands with the Kandahari clans of the Taliban from the southwest, which already form a non-radical tribal resistance, it would give Islamabad the opportunity to make a proposal to Washington.

That is, the process of jirgas (tribal councils) should be restarted, this time only with the sons-of the-soil Taliban, to get them to lay down their arms and negotiate a new political role before the Afghan presidential elections next year.