27 June 2004

Where Children Laugh at Bombs 

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by Dahr Jamail

"During all of my five months in Iraq from my two trips here, the only two times I’ve been shot at have both been by US troops"

06/26/04 "New Standard" -- How much worse does it need to get here before the occupiers consider changing their policy? One hundred dead every day? In light of what happened here yesterday, it appears as though we’re heading in that direction. For those of you who think June 30th will signify a decrease in the number and magnitude of attacks against the occupation forces after the “transfer of sovereignty” -- think again.

After having coffee and listening to the Coalition Provisional Authority's "Green Zone" receive its morning mortars, I was out the door to get some things done, as my time here is drawing to a close. After over 11 weeks back in Iraq, I’ve never been as exhausted as I am now.

Baghdad seems ever closer to lockdown today. I took a cab over to the Palestine Hotel -- a small “Green Zone” where so many corporate journalists and mercenaries live behind suicide walls, razor wire, and soft checkpoints. It closely resembles another mini-“green zone” over at the Al-Hamra and Al-Dulaymi hotels, where journalists and mercenaries are hunkered down behind concrete suicide barriers and checkpoints.

En route to the Palestine to run an errand, there were Iraqi Police and Iraq Civil Defense Corps on nearly every street corner. My cabbie pointed to them and laughed while shaking his head. “La, la Amerikia,” he says (No, no America). The absurdity of it all increases daily -- so many of the ICDC wear face masks. Not that I blame them, for if their identities were known by the mujahideen, they and/or their families would be dead. Not a good time to have any affiliation with the occupiers -- consider yesterday's attacks as a case in point.

There certainly weren’t any inside Baquba yesterday, where I was faced with another great irony. During all of my five months in Iraq from my two trips here, the only two times I’ve been shot at have both been by US troops. Yesterday was yet another example of this, when our car was shot at five times by troops in a Bradley which sat in a nearby palm field as we passed.

Warning shots, for sure, or I wouldn’t be typing this right now. But the adrenaline flows about the same when bullets are whizzing near the car. This occurred while we watched two Apaches engaged in strafing part of the city, bobbing above the date palms in dive bomb-like flight patterns, then swooping back out of sight as they trailed smoke behind their blazing guns.

The city was a ghost town. Inside it reminded me of Fallujah when I was there in April. The main roads sealed by the military, and the constant buzzing of unmanned military drones telling the residents that more air strikes were simply a matter of time. Just like Fallujah.

All the shops were closed, bits of plastic bags and garbage were blown about on the streets by a dry, hot wind. Torn Iraqi flags fluttered in the winds, dogs running here and there.

We had lunch in Baquba with a Sheikh I have become friends with. Just before lunch, several loud bombs exploded nearby. My friend Christian Parenti and I looked at each other with wide eyes while the Sheikh, his brother, Abu Talat, and an older man with us who is a Haji began to laugh. “This is normal, even my children laugh at the bombs now,” said the Sheikh.

In the next room the children were laughing excitedly.

The Sheikh remained calm throughout the blasts. He smiled and told me: “God will take us when it is time. People are killed in their homes by warplanes, yes. But people in the middle of fighting remain unharmed. It is up to God. We are a people of faith.”

While these people were in no way connected to the resistance, their anger towards the occupiers seemed to fuel their acceptance of the mujahideen in their city.

“The mujahideen are fighting for their country against the Americans,” said the Haji. “This resistance is acceptable to us.”

His opinion is reflective of those held by more and more Iraqis I talk with nowadays.

When we were exiting the embattled city, we drove slowly past a bullet-riddled car on the median of the main road. It appeared as though the car was trying to turn around. The drivers’ body lay in the middle of the road, feet the only parts uncovered by a black mourning flag draped over his corpse.

Fifty meters further down the road there were patches of pavement mangled by tank tracks. Near these sat a large pile of empty machine gun shells, glistening gold in the hot sun.

The scene had all the classic signs of an Iraqi seeing a checkpoint and attempting to turn around quickly... which appears to have led to yet another indiscriminate killing of a civilian.

A bit shaken by this, we continued on and saw several Humvees and soldiers blocking our exit further down the road. We pulled the car over, and while Abu Talat waited, Christian and I walked the quarter mile towards the soldiers.

“We are unarmed journalists,” we took turns yelling while holding our press credentials in the air. “Please do not shoot! We just want to leave the city!”

The walk felt like it took 4 hours... halfway there I noted three soldiers who knelt down and kept us in the sights of their guns. I looked behind us to see a string of cars in a wedding party approaching. The timing could not have been worse.

I walked towards the side of the road, but Christian wisely suggested we stay in the middle and keep walking. Our pace quickened, our shouts grew louder and thankfully the wedding party turned around.

Needless to say, the soldiers are a little touchy about cars that approach them these days, as Iraq has averaged more than a suicide car bomb per day this month.

The soldiers understood our situation when we approached them and asked to be allowed to leave. Christian went back to get Abu Talat and bring the car up.

I spoke with a Sergeant, and said, “After seeing that bullet riddled car and the corpse back there, we thought it’d be better to approach you guys on foot.” He told me that the car had rammed a tank, so they had to shoot it. “Crazy mother-fucker, that guy was,” he added.

Since I recalled that, aside from being completely riddled with bullets, the car was intact -- particularly the front end of it -- I kept my mouth shut.

Two photographers were there with the soldiers. They were very scared, and one of them asked me, “Did you see any bad guys in there?”

I said, “I did not see any mujahideen inside the city.”

I wondered why they, like so many other journalists here, won’t venture out amongst Iraqis to report on how the occupation is affecting them. Of course it’s dangerous, but then, why else are we here?

Dahr Jamail is Baghdad correspondent for The NewStandard. He is an Alaskan devoted to covering the untold stories from occupied Iraq.

Copyright: The NewStandard.

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We don't need Bush to fix our culture 

Go to original at Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Thursday, June 24, 2004

At a recent news conference President Bush declared it was his job to change our culture -- to replace a "do what feels right" mentality with an "Era of Responsibility." The image is comic; one could almost imagine Bush wearing a trucker hat emblazoned "Jesus is My Homeboy" as he spoke. Well, on behalf of the culture he so desperately wants to reform, thanks, but no thanks, Mr. President.

Don't get me wrong; responsibility is a good thing. It's just that a man who evasively describes his first 40 years of life by saying "I did some irresponsible things when I was young and irresponsible" doesn't really have the credibility to tell anyone how to live their life. Especially when his conception of responsibility has less to do with personal accountability and more to do with a punitive, fundamentalist version of morality. The hypocrisy reeks and our generation has grown up with a knack for sniffing it out.

During his three years in office, Bush continuously has pursued policies that inhibit personal responsibility and has shown that when it comes to himself, his administration and his corporate backers, responsibility is a nuisance to be dodged. Accountability is a concept applied to others.

Bush's conception of responsibility tells him to deny non-violent drug offenders the education and treatment that could make them responsible citizens. It vilifies a woman's right to choose even as it seeks to outlaw practical sex education that could reduce abortion rates. Bush's vision of responsibility preaches cleaner air but excuses corporations from environmental regulations while limiting the rights of citizens to hold corporations accountable. It condones the abuse of prisoners and then shifts the blame onto the backs of our soldiers.

In Bush's "Era of Responsibility," the buck always stops somewhere else.

We don't need Bush to fix our culture; the culture is all right. We don't need him to tell us how to live responsibly. The culture is becoming responsible of its own accord. We don't need an "Era of Responsibility" that preaches one thing while it does another. We need a new Culture of Opportunity that provides us with the resources to live responsibly.

Doing what feels right and living responsibly are not mutually exclusive. It feels right to have a job when you get out of school. It feels right when you know you have health coverage. It feels right when you can trust your government to act responsibly in the world. And when you practice safe sex, it feels pretty good.

A movement is growing in this country. Through such organizations as Music for America, artists and music fans are becoming politically active in greater numbers than we've seen since the '60s. They are working to register, educate and motivate their fans to take responsibility for their lives and participate in the political process.

In his State of the Union speech, Bush said it was the job of government to counteract the "negative influences of the culture." It is not Bush's job to unilaterally change our culture. Nor is it his right.

Culture is powerful because it is fundamentally democratic -- trendsetters can point the way, but everyone has to agree in order for change to occur. A movement is under way -- a movement of artists and fans, activists and average Joes, bachelors and bachelorettes. Our culture is waking up and realizing that it has the power to counter the negative policies of our government. In a few months, we may see the end of the "Era of Responsibility" and the rise of the Culture of Opportunity.
Michael Connery is co-founder of Music for America, a partisan, political non-profit working to get 1 million new progressive voters to participate in the 2004 elections; www.musicforamerica.org.
©1996-2004 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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The multibillion robbery the US calls reconstruction 

The shameless corporate feeding frenzy in Iraq is fuelling the resistance

Good news out of Baghdad: the Program Management Office, which oversees the $18.4bn in US reconstruction funds, has finally set a goal it can meet.

Sure, electricity is below pre-war levels, the streets are rivers of sewage and more Iraqis have been fired than hired. But now the PMO has contracted the British mercenary firm Aegis to protect its employees from "assassination, kidnapping, injury and" - get this - "embarrassment". I don't know if Aegis will succeed in protecting PMO employees from violent attack, but embarrassment? I'd say mission already accomplished. The people in charge of rebuilding Iraq can't be embarrassed, because, clearly, they have no shame.
Cheney Unhinged

Dick Cheney is not having a good week.

From everything from his secret energy task force to his connections with Halliburton, the vice president appears to be getting more and more desperate to defend his credibility on policy areas of serious importance to America. And he has resorted to some highly-questionable tactics, including cursing out senators and granting interviews to discredited right-wing reporters at the Weekly Standard who will promote his dishonest statements as fact. Here's a look at just how desperate Cheney has become.
Most Americans say war a mistake

WASHINGTON-- For the first time, a majority of Americans say they think the United States made a mistake sending troops to Iraq, according to a poll released Thursday.

The CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll found that 54 percent of people say the war was a mistake, up from 41 percent who felt that way in early June.

[ This change in numbers of people who have come to their senses is in some respects due to people like you, readers, who pass on links and text to your friends and families. You can all be very proud of yourselves! Keep up the good work! - The Flea ]
2006 Pentagon Budget as Sacrilege

Bush Invests National Treasure in Death and Destruction

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21. The United States, the most Christian nation on earth, has placed its treasure in destruction and death. As Associated Press’ Dan Morgan reports (June 12 2004, Tallahassee Democrat), the Pentagon “plans to spend well over $1 trillion in the next decade on an arsenal of futuristic planes, ships and weapons with little direct connection to the Iraq war or the global war on terrorism.”

[ All of this while YOUR LOCAL SCHOOL must hold bake sales just to buy books. Isn't it wonderful? - The Flea ]
Stepping out to a cold Irish welcome

Smiling and waving, George Bush glided down the steps of Air Force One at Shannon airport last night, seemingly unfazed by his tag as the most unwelcome American ever to set foot on Irish soil.*

The president and his wife, Laura, were spared the sight of thousands of Irish protesters at the airport entrance and whisked off in an armoured Cadillac to the 16th century Dromoland castle in County Clare. Mr Bush enjoyed a rather military-looking walk around the expansive grounds with the Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern, but was expected to retire early to his £900-a night presidential suite, which the castle promotes as the authentic "landed gentry" experience.

*[ And "the most unwelcome American" ever to occupy the White House. Bush is so unliked that American tourists visiting here where I live who express support for him have been told by locals that they are also unwelcome. Thanks for nothing, George. - The Flea ]
Americans in Kabul hold fundraiser for Kerry’s campaign

KABUL: With armed Afghan guards at the gate, dozens of American expatriates held a fundraiser in Kabul on Friday for US presidential hopeful John Kerry.

About 60 people, mostly nongovernment aid workers, gathered at a restaurant garden across town from the fortress-like American Embassy, and declared “Kabul for Kerry.” “It’s important to show that there are Americans everywhere, even in Afghanistan, who want a change of leadership in the United States,” said organizer Karen Hirschfeld, who is helping Afghans get ready for this year’s national elections. “For the future of Afghanistan, Iraq and America we need someone with a more rational foreign policy who will work with the international community,” said Hirschfeld, from Winchester, Massachusetts. “We think John Kerry will be a good leader.” The gathering, open only to Americans, wasn’t endorsed by the Kerry campaign, but “Kabul for Kerry” organizers were urging participants to contribute funds to his campaign and to cast absentee ballots for the November election against President George W Bush.

More on this story in The Gardian
and in

US army told not to use Israeli bullets in Iraq

WASHINGTON, June 25: Israeli-made bullets bought by the US Army to plug a shortfall should be used for training only, not to fight Muslim guerrillas in Iraq and Afghanistan, US lawmakers told Army generals on Thursday.

Since the Army has other stockpiled ammunition, "by no means, under any circumstances should a round (from Israel) be utilized," said Rep. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, the top Democrat on a House of Representatives Armed Services subcommittee with jurisdiction over land forces.

The Army contracted with Israel Military Industries Ltd. in December for $70 million in small-calibre ammunition.
Bush, Chirac termed Islamophobes

LONDON, June 25: A leading British Muslim rights group named world leaders George W. Bush, Jacques Chirac and Ariel Sharon as the worst "Islamophobes" of 2004 on Saturday.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) selected the three in their annual "Islamophobia Awards" to highlight what they described as growing anti-Muslim prejudice.

"It is with great sadness that we reveal this year's winners," the group said in a statement.

[ NOTE: a semite is defined by Mirriam-Webster as

a : a member of any of a number of peoples of ancient southwestern Asia including the Akkadians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Arabs b : a descendant of these peoples
2 : a member of a modern people speaking a Semitic language
Yet anti-semitism is defined as:
Function: noun
: hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group. - The Flea ]

Did Ashcroft 'behead' an innocent man in an Ohio election-terror scam?

While the major media screams about the latest beheading in the Middle East, John Ashcroft's destruction of a man in the middle west -- likely for political purposes -- has gone unnoticed.

The ghastly court appearance here in Columbus, Ohio, of Nuradin Abdi has underscored the high likelihood that the Bush Administration used variations of torture to break this impoverished Somali immigrant. And his dubious indictment may well have been used to overshadow a campaign visit here by John Kerry. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.
Bush looks to European allies for help in Iraq

NEWMARKET-ON-FERGUS, Ireland (AP) — Five days before the transfer of power in Baghdad, President Bush opened a European trip Friday with growing confidence that NATO would take a bigger role in Iraq despite reservations from France and Germany.
UN demands access to Guantanamo detainees

Thirty-one United Nations human rights experts yesterday urged the US and other governments holding terror suspects to give monitors access to their detention facilities.

Four experts should be allowed to visit jails including those in Iraq, Afghanistan and the US base in Guantanamo Bay, they said. The terms of visits by UN monitors normally include unlimited access without prior notice and confidential interviews with detainees.

Guantanamo trial not fair: Britain

LONDON, June 25: Military tribunals possibly lying in wait for four British nationals at the US-run Guantanamo Bay jail in Cuba do not constitute a fair trial under international law, Britain's top legal adviser said on Friday.

"While we must be flexible and be prepared to countenance some limitation of fundamental rights if properly justified and proportionate, there are certain principles on which there can be no compromise," Lord Peter Goldsmith told the International Criminal Law Association in London.

"Fair trial is one of those - which is the reason we in the UK have been unable to accept that the US military tribunals proposed for those detained at Guantanamo Bay offer sufficient guarantees of a fair trial in accordance with international standards," he said.
Is Bush today's Agamemnon?

Political commentators see many similarities in Troy and today. ‘‘If you read The Illiad , there’s no way you can’t make comparisons,” says Pitt Saffron Burrow, who plays Hector’s wife, compares Agamemnon and Menelaus to Blair and Bush.

‘‘The film is about the futility and weariness of war, the terrible sense of deja vu about what the Trojans faced and what we face today,’’ says Burrow.
The Great Satan: why neighbours are worried

"We have a plan. Iraq will be up and running in a year. One year! One year!" Those were the words of Paul Wolfowitz, the Pentagon's number two man, as he assured Jordanian officials before the US invasion of Iraq more than a year ago.

Jordan and Iraq's other neighbours viewed the American boasts with scepticism. Now, as the Bush Administration prepares to transfer day-to-day administration of Iraq to an interim government, they still do.
Terrorist Tree Huggers

One of environmentalism's biggest foes—Ron Arnold— is back, peddling the idea that environmentalism breeds terrorism.

Arnold is the same man who once bragged to The New York Times that, “No one was aware that environmentalism was a problem until we came along.” He's been so successful, says one environmentalist, that he's now "within striking distance" of checking off every item on his "wise-use" agenda.
Indians carry horror tales from US camps

More Indian workers are returning from Iraq with distressing tales of torture and human rights violations in the military camps of the United States.

"It is slavery there in the American camp. We are being treated worse than animals," Peter Thomas, a native of Mavelikkara in Kerala, who did odd jobs such as cleaning and laundry works in an American army camp, told rediff.com

......when the Indian workers protested against the 'low salary', many of them were bashed up by their employer Dawood and Partner, a Jordanian firm.

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