Archive for February 28, 2007

Iraq: Troops out now!

Tony Iltis

24 February 2007
The invasion and occupation of Iraq has never been popular. With more than 650,000 Iraqis, mostly civilians, having been killed since the March 2003 US-British-Australian invasion, it is not surprising that three quarters of Iraqis want the US and other foreign troops out, with 61% supporting armed attacks on US troops. The war is also opposed by a majority in the West, including those countries that are involved in the US-led occupation.

On the weekend of February 14-16, 2003, a month before the invasion, millions of people took to the streets around the world. At least 1 million Australians marched.

In the US and Britain, anti-war actions have continued to draw large numbers. Half a million people marched in Washington on January 27.

In Australia, the majority of people continue to oppose the war. However, numbers at Australian rallies have declined, reflecting the small size of the Australian occupation contingent — some 550 troops in Iraq and another 900 in neighbouring countries — and consequent low number of casualties.

While only one soldier serving with the Australian forces in Iraq has died, apparently of self-inflicted injuries, more than 3000 US soldiers have been killed. However, with an ever decreasing number of countries willing to be part of the occupation, the continued Australian presence is important for the US-led occupation force to maintain the facade of being “multinational”.

The tenacious Iraqi resistance to the occupation and the domestic unpopularity of the war in the US and Australia is reflected in leading opposition politicians, such as Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barak Obama and ALP leader Kevin Rudd, projecting an anti-war stance. Both are now calling for a staged withdrawal of their country’s troops from Iraq.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced on February 21 that Britain would be withdrawing 1600 of its 7100 troops, with the possibility of all British troops being out of Iraq sometime in 2008 if they no longer “have a job to do”. Despite projecting themselves as anti-war candidates, both Obama and Rudd have put forward similar timescales and caveats.

While these developments should be welcomed by anti-war activists, it is not acceptable for troops to remain in Iraq for another year, or for their withdrawal to be dependent on their “job” being completed.

For one thing, their “job description” has been continually changed by the politicians directing the war. Initially, it was to destroy dictator Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. The fact that Hussein had no such weapons meant that this job was quickly forgotten once the occupation began. Removing a dictator and installing “democracy” then became the occupiers’ “job”.

Formally, this job has already been done. The occupiers not only overthrew Hussein (who, ironically, came to power in the first place with CIA assistance) and organised the election of a new government.

While Washington’s puppet régime in Baghdad’s “Green Zone” might not be everyone’s idea of a democracy, Bush, Blair and Howard never tire of declaring that it is.

Since the December 2005 parliamentary elections, the most common justification for the continued occupation of Iraq has been that it is necessary to stop the country descending into a civil war between the different Muslim communities.

Superficially, this appears to be a genuine concern, with sectarian-motivated attacks on civilians, bombings of mosques, assassinations and kidnappings having become commonplace. However, this violence is a new feature of Iraqi society, that did not exist before the invasion.

Furthermore, despite the occupation forces predicting sectarian violence from the moment they invaded, it only really took off over the past year — after the February 22, 2006, bombing of the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra.

While this bombing was blamed on “Sunni insurgents”, the fact that the mosque is a place of worship for Sunni and Shiite Muslims makes this extremely unlikely.

US officials alleged that the bombers were wearing Iraqi police commando uniforms as a disguise. There is a more likely explanation for their attire — they were members of the US-created Iraqi police commando force. Residents of the vicinity of the mosque also reported US troops sealing off the area just before the bombing.

Much of the violence that is apparently sectarian in nature has been carried out by death squads attached to the US-run interior ministry’s police commando units. Many of these units’ officers were recruited from Hussein’s security apparatus while others were drawn from the Badr Brigade, the militia of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) in Iraq, a Shiite religious party that has proved to the closest Iraqi political ally of the US.

Regardless of their origin, the police commandos have been trained by US Special Forces “advisers”, many of whom are veterans of Washington’s dirty war in El Salvador in the 1980s, in which death squads attached to the security forces were a key US tactic.

Like their predecessors in El Salvador, these death squads abduct, torture and kill anyone they suspect may be a threat to the US-backed regime. The victims may be actual resistance fighters, but are just as likely to be political activists, trade unionists, journalists or academics.

Furthermore, as in El Salvador in the 1980s, the death squads are also responsible for random killings to instill terror in the population. The puppet security forces are also responsible for apolitical criminal violence, such as kidnapping for ransom.

Terrorist-style bombings in both Sunni and Shiite neighbourhoods and on mosques serves to create a cycle of sectarian violence that divides Iraqis, weakening resistance to the occupiers.

In September 2005, the Basra police detained two undercover British SAS operatives, who were discovered trying to plant a car bomb in the middle of the city during the Karbala Festival, which draws as many as 3 million Shiite pilgrims to the southern Iraqi city. Their apparent intention was to have a car-bomb attack on pilgrims blamed on the Mahdi Army, the militia of anti-occupation Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

While Sunni communities and resistance fighters have born the brunt of the occupying forces’ aggression for the past year, US President George Bush planned “troop surge” offensive appears to be aimed at Sadr’s armed supporters. US officials have blamed Sadr for death-squad activity against Sunnis.

In fact, not only are Sadr’s supporters not connected with the interior ministry’s police commando death squads, Sadr has consistently called for cross-communal unity against the occupation. This has included fighting side by side with Sunni resistance forces in 2004 and organising protests following the Golden Dome mosque bombing calling for Sunni-Shiite unity. Sadr blamed the bombing on the occupiers and their puppet government, not “Sunni insurgents”. Members of both communities were killed when the death squads attacked these protests.

The idea that the occupation is necessary to prevent Iraq from descending into violent anarchy and sectarian civil war is a sick joke. The occupation is deliberately creating such an outcome.

Furthermore, to retain troops in neighbouring countries to train the US-controlled Iraqi security forces, an idea being promoted by Rudd, would mean continuing to train the death squads.

A complete disengagement by Western forces is needed if Iraq is to have any hope of returning to any kind of normalcy.

Another problem with Rudd and Obama’s anti-war credentials is that neither supports bringing Western troops out of Afghanistan. Indeed, the ALP has continually called for an increased Australian military presence in Afghanistan. This is despite the fact that the US-led invaders overthrew the Taliban regime to replace it with a regime dominated by warlords equally contemptuous of human rights.

These warlords have the same religious fundamentalist ideology as the Taliban, the main difference being that their constant in-fighting, along with the high-tech brutality of the occupation forces, makes the level of violence and insecurity worse than it was under the Taliban’s grim rule.

The US-led foreign occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are not the solution to the death and destruction that is wracking these countries, they are the chief cause. The real solution is to end the occupation of these countries, immediately and unconditionally.<|>


February 28, 2007 at 2:38 pm Leave a comment

US threats to Venezuela

Noam Chomsky

21 October 2006
At an October 6 public meeting in Boston, US dissident intellectual Noam Chomsky gave the following remarks on the threat posed to the radical governments of Venezuela and Bolivia by Washington in response to an audience member’s question.

We know that the US did support a military coup, which briefly overthrew [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez [in 2002] and the US had to back down when he was restored quickly, and also had to back down in the face of a very angry reaction in Latin America. In almost all of Latin America, there was a very angry reaction. They take democracy there more seriously then we do here.
Right after trying to overthrow the government by force, the US immediately turned to subversion, supporting anti-Chavez groups. That’s described in the press, the way it’s described is, the US is supporting pro-democracy groups, which are opposed to President Chavez.
Notice it’s true by definition that if you oppose the president, you are pro-democracy. It’s completely irrelevant that according to the best polls (Latin America has very good polling agencies which take regular polls on these issues around the continent) support for democracy has been declining — not for democracy but for the democratic governments — has been declining through Latin America, for a pretty good reason: the governments have been associated with neoliberal programs which undermine democracy — IMF [International Monetary Fund], treasury department programs … There are exceptions, and the major exception by far is Venezuela.
Since 1998, when Chavez was elected, support for the elected government has been rising very fast. It’s now by far the highest in Latin America. He has won several elections that have been recognised to be free and fair, he has won numerous referendums, but he is a “dictator”, a tin-pot dictator, which is proven by the fact that our Dear Leader said so. And, since we are voluntary North Koreans, when the Dear Leader says it, it’s true. So therefore, he’s a dictator, and if you carry out subversion to overthrow him, that’s pro-democracy by definition …
We might ask ourselves how we would react if Iran, say, had just supported a military coup that overthrew the government in the United States and when they have to back off from that, immediately turned to supporting pro-democracy groups in the United States that are opposed to the government. Would we give them ice cream and candy?
Well in dictatorial Venezuela, they let them keep functioning. In fact, [they] even let the newspapers [that supported] the coup keep functioning …
[T]he US has had two major weapons for controlling Latin America for a long time. One of them is economic controls, the other is military force. They have both been used continually. Both of them are weakening and it’s a very serious problem for US planners.
The economic — for the first time in its history since the Spanish colonisation — Latin America is beginning to get its act together. It’s moving towards some degree of independence, even some degree of integration.
The Latin American countries have been very separate from one another through their histories, they have a huge gap between the very rich and the huge massive poor, so when we are talking about the countries, we are talking about the rich elites. The rich elites have been oriented towards Europe and North America, not their own citizens, not each other. So that capital flight goes to Zurich, or London, or New York — the second home is in the Riviera, the children study in Cambridge or something like that. That’s the way it’s been, with very little interaction, and it’s changing.
First of all there are major popular movements, like in Bolivia. They had a democratic election of the kind we can’t even dream of. I mean if there was any honest newspaper coverage in this country, we would be ashamed at the comparison between their election and ours.
I won’t go through it, but with a little thought you can quickly figure it out, because there is mass popular participation, and the people know what they are voting for, and they pick somebody from their own ranks and their major issues and so on. It’s unimaginable here, where elections are about at the level of marketing toothpaste on television, literally.
There are mass popular movements all over and they have begun to integrate to some extent for the first time.
The military weapon has been weakened. The last effort of the US had to back off very quickly, in 2002 in Venezuela. The kinds of governments the US is now supporting [in other Latin American countries] — forced to support — are the kinds it would have been trying to overthrow not very long ago, because of this shift.
The economic weapon is weakening enormously. They are throwing out the IMF. The IMF means the US Treasury Department. Argentina, it was the poster boy of the IMF, you know, following all the rules and so on. It went into a hideous economic crash. They managed to get out of it, but only by radically violating IMF rules, and they are now, as the president put it, “ridding themselves of the IMF” and paying off their debt with the help of Venezuela. Venezuela bought up a lot of their debt. The same is happening in Brazil. The same is going to happen in Bolivia.
In general, the economic measures are weakening, the military measures are no longer what they were. The US is deeply concerned about it, undoubtedly. We shouldn’t think that the US has abandoned the military effort. On the contrary, the number of US personnel — military personnel — in Latin America is probably as high as it’s ever been.
The number of the Latin American officers being trained by the US is going up very sharply. By now, for the first time (it never happened during the Cold War) US military aid is higher than the sum of economic and social aid from key federal agencies — that’s a shift. There are more air bases all over the place.
Keep your eyes on Ecuador, there’s an election coming up in about a week, the likely winner, [Rafael] Correa, is an interesting person. He was recently asked what he would do with the big Manta US airbase in Ecuador and his answer was, well he’d allow it to stay if the United States agreed to have an Ecuadorian airbase in Miami.
But these are the things that are going on. There’s a call for an Indian Nation for the first time. The indigenous — in some states like Bolivia — majority is actually entering the political arena for the first time in 500 years, electing its own candidates. These are major changes, but the US is certainly not giving up on it.
The military training has been shifted. Its official focus now is on what’s called radical populism and street gangs. Well, you know what radical populism means, like the priests organising peasants or anyone who gets out of line. So yeah, it’s serious. What will they do?
Governments have what are called security interests; they have to protect the national security. If any of you have ever spent any time reading declassified documents, you know what that means. I’ve spent a lot of time reading them and it’s true, there is defence of the government against its enemy, that prime enemy.
Its prime enemy is the domestic population. That’s true of every government I know. So if you read the declassified documents, you find that most of them are protecting the government from its own population. Not much has to do with anything you might call security interests … So we don’t know what they are planning because we have to be protected from knowing what the government is planning. So we have to speculate.
If you want my speculation, based on no information except what I would be doing if I was sitting in the Pentagon planning office and told to figure out a way to overthrow the governments of Bolivia, Venezuela, and Iran, in fact. The idea that immediately comes to mind, so I assume they are working on it, is to support secessionist movements, which is conceivable if you look at the geography and the places where the oil is …
In Venezuela, the oil is in Zulia province, which is where the opposition candidate [in the presidential election] is coming from, right on the border of Colombia (one of the only states [in Latin America] where the US has a firm military presence). It’s a rich province, pretty anti-Chavez, and it happens to be where most of the oil is, and in fact there is rumour of a Zulia independence movement, which, if they can carry it off, the US could then intervene to protect against the “dictator”. That’s Venezuela.
In Bolivia, the major gas resources are in the lowlands, the eastern lowlands, which is a mostly European, not indigenous, opposed to the government, rich area, near Paraguay (one of the other countries where the US has military bases), so you can imagine the same project going on …
[Abridged from Transcribed by Michael Fox.]

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #688 25 October 2006.

February 28, 2007 at 2:34 pm Leave a comment


February 2007