Saturday, August 05, 2006

A Terrible And Daunting Thought Occurs To Me, Day By Day

Robert Fisk: A terrible thought occurs to me - that there will be another 9/11
Published: 05 August 2006

The room shook. Not since the 1983 earthquake has my apartment rocked from side to side. That was the force of the Israeli explosions in the southern suburbs of Beirut - three miles from my home - and the air pressure changed in the house yesterday morning and outside in the street the palm trees moved.

Is it to be like this every day? How many civilians can you make homeless before you start a revolution? And what is next? Are the Israelis to bomb the centre of Beirut? The Corniche? Is this why all the foreign warships came and took their citizens away, to make Beirut safe to destroy?

Yesterday, needless to say, was another day of massacres, great and small. The largest appeared to be 40 farm workers in northern Lebanon, some of them Kurds - a people who do not even have a country. An Israeli missile was reported to have exploded among them as they loaded vegetables on to a refrigerated truck near Al-Qaa, a small village east of Hermel in the far north. The wounded were taken to hospital in Syria because the roads of Lebanon have now all been cratered by Israeli bomb-bursts. Later we learnt that an air strike on a house in the village of Taibeh in the south had killed seven civilians and wounded 10 seeking shelter from attack.

In Israel two civilians were killed by Hizbollah missiles but, as usual, Lebanon bore the brunt of the day's attacks which centred - incredibly - on the Christian heartland that has traditionally shown great sympathy towards Israel. It was the Christian Maronite community whose Phalangist militiamen were Israel's closest allies in its 1982 invasion of Lebanon yet Israel's air force yesterday attacked three highway bridges north of Beirut and - again as usual - it was the little people who died.

One of them was Joseph Bassil, 65, a Christian man who had gone out on his daily jogging exercise with four friends north of Jounieh. "His friends packed up after four rounds of the bridge because it was hot," a member of his family told us later. "Joseph decided to do one more jog on the bridge. That was what killed him." The Israelis gave no reason for the attacks - no Hizbollah fighters would ever enter this Christian Maronite stronghold and the only hindrance was caused to humanitarian convoys - and there were growing fears in Lebanon that the latest air raids were a sign of Israel's frustration rather any serious military planning.

Indeed, as the Lebanon war continues to destroy innocent lives - most of them Lebanese - the conflict seems to be increasingly aimless. The Israeli air force has succeeded in killing perhaps 50 Hizbollah members and 600 civilians and has destroyed bridges, milk factories, gas stations, fuel storage depots, airport runways and thousands of homes. But to what purpose?

Does the United States any longer believe Israel's claims that it will destroy Hizbollah when its army clearly cannot do anything of the kind? Does Washington not realise that when Israel grows tired of this war, it will plead for a ceasefire - which only Washington can deliver by doing what it most loathes to do: by taking the road to Damascus and asking for help from President Bashar al-Assad of Syria?

What in the meanwhile is happening to Lebanon? Bridges and buildings can be reconstructed - with European Union loans, no doubt - but many Lebanese are now questioning the institutions of the democracy for which the US was itself so full of praise last year. What is the point of a democratically elected Lebanese government which cannot protect its people? What is the point of a 75,000-member Lebanese army which cannot protect its nation, which cannot be sent to the border, which does not fire on Lebanon's enemies and which cannot disarm Hizbollah? Indeed, for many Lebanese Shias, Hizbollah is now the Lebanese army.

So fierce has been Hizbollah's resistance - and so determined its attacks on Israeli ground troops in Lebanon - that many people here no longer recall that it was Hizbollah which provoked this latest war by crossing the border on 12 July, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two others. Israel's threats of enlarging the conflict even further are now met with amusement rather than horror by a Lebanese population which has been listening to Israel's warnings for 30 years with ever greater weariness. And yet they fear for their lives. If Tel Aviv is hit, will Beirut be spared. Or if central Beirut is hit, will Tel Aviv be spared? Hizbollah now uses Israel's language of an eye for an eye. Every Israeli taunt is met by a Hizbollah taunt.

And do the Israelis realise that they are legitimising Hizbollah, that a rag-tag army of guerrillas is winning its spurs against an Israeli army and air force whose targets - if intended - prove them to be war criminals and if unintended suggest that they are a rif-raff little better than the Arab armies they have been fighting, on and off, for more than half a century? Extraordinary precedents are being set in this Lebanon war.

In fact, one of the most profound changes in the region these past three decades has been the growing unwillingness of Arabs to be afraid. Their leaders - our "moderate" pro-Western Arab leaders such as King Abdullah of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt - may be afraid. But their peoples are not. And once a people have lost their terror, they cannot be re-injected with fear. Thus Israel's consistent policy of smashing Arabs into submission no longer works. It is a policy whose bankruptcy the Americans are now discovering in Iraq.

And all across the Muslim world, "we" - the West, America, Israel - are fighting not nationalists but Islamists. And watching the martyrdom of Lebanon this week - its slaughtered children in Qana packed into plastic bags until the bags ran out and their corpses had to be wrapped in carpets - a terrible and daunting thought occurs to me, day by day. That there will be another 9/11.

Please Sign "Dubai Life's" Statement

The Dubai Life magazine have published a statement here [English language] asking regional governments to support Lebanon by inter alia applying economic sanctions against Israel and providing long-term economic aid to Lebanon. Here's the concluding paragraphs [emphasis mine]:

"Long-term economic aid packages should be pledged and immediately effected to help the suffering of all those displaced and injured as well as supporting the families of those killed.

The efforts of AMG (Arab Media Group) in promoting free advertising for charity organizations collecting donations for Lebanon is an example as to how Dubai business can lead the aid effort - more incentives and creative thinking such as this is needed.

We believe that governments as well individuals and businesses can all contribute to make a difference. Let our actions in these distressing times ensure that the full opposition to the destruction of Lebanon is felt the world over and that our silence did not make us accessories to these acts.

We encourage websites, prominent individuals, NGO's , businesses, journalists and media outlets to join with us in signing this statement to show our support for the people of Lebanon. "

They've asked people to sign it and publicise it. i already have and ask you to do the same. You can read the statement in its entirety here and you can sign the statement by sending an email to:

Hat tip reader Sophia.


Friday, August 04, 2006

Getting Inside Their Heads (Part 2)

The Party of God

Hizbullah ( the name means 'Party of God') is the successor movement to the Harakat al-Mahrumin of the 1960s and 70s led by Imam Musa Sadr. The Harakat al-Mahrumin ('The Movement of The Dispossessed) which was itself succeeded in 1975 by its armed wing Afwaj al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniyya ('The Battalions of the Lebanese Resistance') - Amal.

I need hardly point out to those of us here today the significance of the names, the narrative is clear is it not? Al-Sadr's attempts to halt the slide into violence failed and the Harakat were fully subsumed into Nabih Berri's Amal. (I will remind you in passing that both Amal and Berri are still around and still very much in business - Berri is the Speaker of the Parliament.) Ariel Sharon's invasion in 1982 speeded up and intensified this narrative of:

Increasing activism ? Increasing militancy ? Highly motivated and determined religious radicalism.

The invasion and the brutality with which the invaders and their local allies the SLA behaved confirmed the classic Shi`i view of history, that it has taken a wrong turn and must be set right. The result was Hizbullah's founding and their long war of attrition against the invaders. A war they ultimately won.

Hizbullah however is not only a military organisation and to see them as such is an error of profound magnitude leading to deeply flawed policies and executive actions. Like the Tablighi, the Ikhwanis, Hamas, or any other successful movement you care to mention it is a grassroots community movement and those roots, as the previous speaker has shown, are both deep and ineradicable. The Hizb run schools, hospitals, clinics, co-ops, businesses, they provide welfare, run a very successful political party, enforce social order, and run a small very disciplined and very efficient fighting force.

The 2005 parliamentary election clearly demonstrated the Hizb's success and the emerging Shi'ite ascendancy. Briefly; of 128 seats 29 are occupied by the Shi´i 14 of whom are clearly identified with Hizbullah, of the the 25 ministers 5 are Shi´i of whom two are Hizbullah and a third is a Hizbullah affiliate. Two accomplish these results in a voting system so clearly weighted against you is no small feat and indicates an ineradicable support for the movement in the community it serves, defends, and represents..

None of these realities are reflected in the Israeli conceptualisation of the Hizb.

The Israeli Conceptualisation of Hizbullah

For the Israelis generals and diplomats alike, Hizbullah is a "cancer" in the Lebanese body politic to be excised as soon as possible and by whatever means necessary. There is not now and never has been even the slightest acknowledgement that the Hizbullah are a lot more than "just" a strong and well-trained militia. I have yet to encounter a single Israeli officer or official prepared to admit that it is also a political party possessed of democratic legitimacy and a highly ramified social organisation. Significantly they also refuse to even try estimate the number of fighters in the militia and deny that they have ever tried determine the relationship between the political-parliamentary and military levels and the working chain of command. I doubt that I am alone in this room in found the wildly varying statements coming out of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem about what proportion of the Hizb's fighters and military infrastructure has been successfully destroyed darkly hilarious. The pattern of ingrained failure is clear, just as they nurtured, (and indeed initially funded) Hamas, the Israelis have generously provided the culture medium in which Hizbullah and Hamas thrive. Both are grass-roots movements and both are far more than, and I quote; "A pack of cowardly Arab fanatics who need to be taught a lesson." Looking round I can see that all you have heard similar sentiments from similar sources.

The prevalence of such sentiment driven "analysis" makes one wonder whether there is even the faintest conception amongst Israeli policy makers that any reduction, let alone neutralisation, of Hizbullah's military capacity is never going to be anything more than a partial and very temporary success. Whether the Israelis like it or not the Shi'a are going to get an increasing share in Lebanese governance. They are going to get an increasing share in all Lebanese state agencies and that includes the army, the security services, and the police. This is inevitable and the Israelis should as the Americans say "get used to it." What of the hope expressed by a previous speaker that as their community develops economically and stands to lose more and more from punitive military action that "moderates" will get the "upper hand"? My reply to that is two-fold:

  1. The Israelis have just destroyed most of the economic infrastructure.
  2. It is perfectly clear that the Israelis always intended to destroy most of the economic infrastructure and thereby eliminate an increasingly successful rival to Haifa.

This isn't how you win friends and influence people. Somebody tell Dan and Ehud. But this isn't the only conceptual failure. It's not even the worst such failure.

Conceptualising Hizbullah As A Cat's Paw

The complaint that Hizbullah is nothing more than an Iranian cat's paw is often expressed both in Israel and in America. What is the truth of the matter?

The Jabl Amal have always had close family and social relations with their Shia brethren both in Iran and in Iraq. The links are those of centuries of trade, intermarriage, and long periods of study in the intellectually and academically rigorous educational institutions of Karbala, Najaf, and Qum. To give a few topical examples:

  1. Imam Musa Sadr's family came from Lebanon he himself was born, raised, and studied in Iran.
  2. Hassan Nasrallah studied in both Najaf and Qum.
  3. Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr (Muqtada al-Sadr's grandfather) was Musa al-Sadr's cousin.
  4. Imam Musa Sadr's niece is married to Mohammad Khatami, President of Iran from August 2, 1997 to August 2, 2005.

These networked bonds are far more important that any Syrian connection and (short of slaughtering every Shia in the Middle East) are ineradicable. It is not even slightly surprising that Iran helped found and arm Hizbullah quite apart from the highly significant political and ideological considerations they're all part of the same group of families. Did the planners in America and Israel seriously expect that they would not defend each other? If there are Revolutionary Guards or Iranian advisers in Lebanon that is hardly surprising. What is surprising is that if they are there that there aren't more of them.

A Pattern of Flawed Military Conceptualisation(s)

Sharon's military defeat should have, but didn't, taught an important lesson. The failure to learn the lesson that a political solution was needed is common to all wings of Israeli strategic thought. Instead of seeking a mediated or even directly negotiated settlement voice after voice warned that the withdrawal from Lebanon had weakened the deterrent effect of Israeli military might and that this must be reestablished. "Why?" these voices chorused "do we not do something about Hizbullah?" "Why" they now chorus "Did we let them get so powerful?" "Could we not have prevented their ascendancy?"

The reasons why are not hard to discern:

Sharon's invasion and occupation led to the IDF being defeated and withdrawn. The defeat left Likud in general and Sharon in particular as hostages to their own failed past. His military defeat having created a hostage to fortune Sharon did not (and could not) even contemplate a further entanglement. All he could do was instruct the intelligence arm to gather information and conduct disruptive operations and instruct the military to engage in constant cross-border harrying operations.

This left Hizbullah free to arm itself and it did. Nasrallah openly boasted of his 12,000 missiles (an understatement of the true size of the arsenal) engaged in weapons research, and saw to it that his men received intensive and professional training. While all this was going on Hizbullah engaged in the construction of defensive positions upon which they could fall back. The fact that Israel has had to ask the Americans to rush them a large amount of "bunker busters" by air indicates not only the success of this program but the abject failure of the Israelis to realise what was going on. The Israeli general staff weren't the only ones making plans.

Another part of this pattern of failure of conceptualisation lay in the open contempt of the Israelis for the calibre of Hizbullah's weaponry. They thought and seemingly still do think purely in terms of air superiority and of "fly swatting." Air forces are like that and the Israeli failure is a direct function of the long ago commented upon deterioration of their ground forces and the overwhelming ascendancy of their air wing within their military apparatus.

Used correctly the katyusha is a formidable weapon. It, and the car bomb, are rightly referred to as "the poor man's air force." The katyusha is cheap, mobile, and as accurate as it needs to be. It's designed to be fired in large numbers. Fired in sufficient quantity it is more than capable of generating lots of "shock and awe" at a fraction of the cost of a conventional bombing campaign and with a lot more flexibility. Their "low tech" nature makes them difficult to detect and they are very difficult to shoot down. They're the perfect guerrilla weapon - and the Hizb have used them with verve and skill. Ask the residents of Haifa how disrupted their lives have become. From the anguished news reports it appears that the Home Front Command, the branch of the Israeli armed forces charged with defending Israeli towns, cities, and villages, never even considered that they would have to cope with rocket barrages of the current scale let alone their consequences. It appears further that they still do not believe that the scope of the attacks can and will be expanded.

The same is true of other missile capabilities - I doubt that any future Israeli naval commander will assume his ship can't be misled and not bother to turn on his radar systems.

Similarly Israeli ground troops speak with shock, and reluctant respect, of Hizb fighter capabilities. That Hizb fighters are sufficiently capable to even try to capture more IDF personnel must be causing many a sleepless night amongst Israeli politicians and generals alike. I think it entirely probable that sooner or later they'll succeed. All it takes is a stun grenade or two and those are easily obtainable on the open market. Why do you think there are so many complaints in the press about their "cowardly" way of fighting? I don't know of any military organisation that stands still in a clear line of fire waving a water pistol and waving a sign saying "come and get me" do you? [laughter from audience]

A Continuing Pattern of Conceptual Failure

Where do the roots of these failures lie? They lie in a myth. They lie in the idea that only the Israelis are adaptable, that only the Israelis think things through:

Much of the blame can be laid at the feet of the war of 1967. Israel won. It's a truism that generals re-fight the last war but one might have thought that the Israeli military planners would at least have considered a change of tactics. The war of attrition, the failures and losses of 1982, two intifadas (the root word means the shrugging off of a burden) all signposted that the next war wasn't going to be a short one. This never seems to been considered instead Israel enshrined the tactics of 1967 as a strategic doctrine.

The Hizb appear to have realised this - to have 'got inside their heads' and to have adapted accordingly. Their tactics depend upon disrupting the North and they've worked. Ask the residents of Kiryat Shimona and Haifa how long their economic survival can be guaranteed in the wake of no tourists, sharply reduced production, large-scale (and long term) work disruption etc. No civil society can put up with those for long.

From a professional point of view the Hizb's strategic thinking, their planning, and their creation of a fluid fighting force has been little short of masterful. It was also to a large degree known the Israelis have lots of "lawn mowers" and use them with abandon. The astonishing thing is that none of what was known and none of what could be reasonably deduced was met with even remotely adequately counter-strategies. Obsessed by the deterrent effect of Syrian long-range rocketry obsessed to an even greater degree by its new-found closeness to Iran had a paralysing effect and not just deterrent one. Israel could and should have actively tried to change this, for instance by pursuing some sort of dialogue with Syria - no such luck, the politicians and the diplomats were shouted down by the generals and now all must pay the price. The Syrians are not a charity. The price will be high.

You And Which Army Habibi?

Is there any realistic prospect of disarming Hizbullah? In a word "No." I'm not interested in either listening to or refuting those critics of past inaction who say that this could have been done long ago. It couldn't. Nor am I interested in getting into a sterile debate about how far their capacity has to be reduced. All they have to do is survive and they're managing that quite handily thank you very much. Destroy 9,000 rockets and you still have to find the other three thousand. You have to fight people who know the terrain intimately. Who've prepared it to their advantage and can melt away when circumstances require it. You'll have to search every single village and hamlet in Southern Lebanon and we all know how well that's ever worked the Egyptians tried it in the 1830s the Ottoman reformers tried in the mid 1800s, the French tried it (repeatedly) and decided the game wasn't worth the candle, the Israelis tried it without success, there's a lesson there. Did I mention the new bright and shiny problem? Let me conclude today's remarks with the new bright and shiny problem.


Tyre has 150,000 inhabitants. It's predominantly Shi'a. It's now overwhelmingly pro-Hizb. And in the course of making it overwhelmingly pro-Hizb. The Israeli air force have obligingly converted a reasonably well-built and difficult to defend city into a warren of death traps for anybody coming in with hostile intent. Mission accomplished, they're shocked, they're infuriated, they're not even slightly awed, and they're very willing to give any searchers a searingly warm "welcome" - well done.

(Part 3 1559, Palestine, and Militarism) will be published tomorrow) This is the only posting tonight.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Getting Inside Their Heads (Part 1)

Three weeks into the Israeli war on Lebanon a number of issues that need to be urgently addressed have become clear. It is interesting to study the type of criticism being discreetly voiced within Israel itself. Thus far army, and intelligence have been criticised for specific failures while the broader questions are not being tackled. If previous experience is anything to go by I expect that these questions have been shelved and that there will be a commission of enquiry that will focus inter alia upon the following:

  • The decision making process at the military level.
  • The decision making process at the civilian level.
  • The conceptual frameworks used during those processes.
  • The failure on the "home front."
  • The losses and benefits to the Israeli economy.

In short the Israelis are going to have do a cost benefit analysis.

The Casus Belli

Israel launched their attack upon Lebanon claiming that it was necessary in order to:

  1. Bring home two soldiers who had been captured.
  2. Prevent further cross-border operations by Hizbullah.
  3. The weakening of Hizbullah politically.

None of these goals are achievable. The return of the captured soldiers will most likely take place via the medium of protracted and indirect negotiations and that their release will be secured once Israel releases a lenghty list of prisoners as the 'quid pro quo.'

The second goal is also now unachievable. Even were the Hizb's military power to be reduced the movement is not only not going to disappear it has been greatly strenghtened. The "Cedar Revolution" was a revolution of the prosperous (and pro-western) minority and the idea that it had laid the foundations for a "new order" that could be imposed from outside was never more than wishful thinking. Durable rearrangements of the Lebanese political landscape come from below and violent attempts to impose them from outside not only invariably fail but equally invariably hurt those who make them. I am reminded of the first line of "Tristam Shandy."

The question to be addressed therefore is the extent to which Israeli and American policies are the result of deficient conceptual frameworks and a Lindblomian incrementalist approach that has caused an inexperienced civilian and military leadership to select actions from existing military contingency plans without considering alternative alternative political and diplomatic strategies. The massive use of misdirected military force sprang not only from this conceptual failure but also from a gross self overestimation. The Greeks had a word for this, "hubris."

The Israeli Conceptualisation of Lebanon

Let us start therefore with the Isaeli conceptualisation of Lebanon. In general the Israeli concpetualisation of Lebanon is that is a "troublesome neighbour" not in and of itself but because of externalities. These "external factors." have forced Israel to defend herself by launching two previous massive invasions of Lebanon:

  1. The "Litanis Operation" in 1978.
  2. Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982.

No state in the Middle East is uncomplicated or homogenous those of us familiar with Lebanon are well aware of the catchphrases and I need hardly repeat all of them to this audience —, the four most common will suffice:

  1. "The improbable nation."
  2. "The precarious republic."
  3. "The three Lebanons."
  4. "The dangerous swamp."

The last of these is particularly revealing. While it is true that Lebanon's structure means that much basic information is either entirely lacking or concealed from outsiders, likening Lebanon to a dangerous swamp is no excuse for ignorance, even a quagmire can be explored, mapped and marked.

Israel paid dearly in the past for its mistakes in Lebanon and yet, incredibly, there remains within Israel some quasi-Biblical notion that the "land of the cedars" has all of the characteristics of an ally as opposed to those of just a neighbour. Can there be any doubt that this springs more from strategic opportunism than a genuine desire for peace? Like most of you I well remember being told in the years prior to the signings of peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan that there was already a second signatory - "the land of the cedars" and that it was necessary only to find the first. This line is peddled once again by Israeli ministers and spokesmen eager to claim that they have Lebanese interests at heart and are acting only to help Lebanon "disgorge a cancer." Those who make these claims are being not only disingenuous but are ignoring certain realities:

  • The first of these is that because of its internal structure Lebanon was always going to be the last country to formally make peace with Israel.
  • The second is that far from contributing to Lebanese stability Israeli agression has invariably disturbed the country's delicate internal balances, and never in a way consonant with Israeli interests.
  • The third is that their history of agression has assuredly never endeared Israel to their northern neighbours.

One can only conclude that Israel's policy makers remain enmired in old misconceptions that hark back to their hopes of creating a Zionist-Maronite alliance that would collaborate against Arab nationalists and fundamentalist Muslims. This hope dates from Mandatory times and its persistence can be seen in the Jumayil episode of the
1970-1980s and the abortive draft peace treaty. It is based upon a crude conception of a Lebanon that is divided only confessionally and ignores its criss-cross class structure, regional interestss, family interests, and kaleidoscopic ad-hoc alliances. A conception of Lebanon based upon a census that was taken seventy four years ago (and was never repeated for internal political reasons), which igored both national and inter-regional economic indicators, and which ignored moreover Lebanon's parliamentary arrangements was always profoundly flawed and was always going to lead to seriously mistaken and countrerproductive policies.

Lebanon is one of the most intricate and dynamic societies in the Middle East and is changing all the time. Lebanese politicians, not least Hassan Nasrallah are consumate practioners of the "art of the possible" and are adept at creating intricate political arrangements that are complex compromises reflecting changed realities that stall full solutions. Lebanon is changing all the time, ingenious diplomacy is an economic necessity for its elites, a fact reflected in its internal political dynamic - let us consider the three most famous examples:

The 1943 National Pact

The pact was based upon the (already outdated) 1932 census. It is no accident that the pact was never committed to paper those who negotiated it realised that flexibility at the margins was required if its confessional distribution of power were to be effective as indeed it was for more than three decades.

Ta'if 1989

Ta'if formally ended the 1975 civil war and instituted parity between the totality of Christian denominations on the one hand and the totality of Muslim denominations on the other. In other words it divided power amongst 27 diffrent groupings. It represented a structural functionalist partial correction that symbolically disposed of the Maronite ascendancy. I say "partial" because it was a political compromise reluctantly entered into as the "least bad" option available for all concerned. It was not and was never meant to be a precise adaptation to the changing sociological and economic balance of power all it did, and all it was meant to do, was to abandon an untenable ascendancy without abandoning sectarianism qua sectarianism.

"Cedar Revolution" 2005

Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination and ensuing disturbances given the soubriquet of the "Cedar Revolution," supposedly forced the Syrian army and its security services out permanently out of Lebanon. One has to wonder how such a level of self-deception came to exist both in Israel and its western sponsors. It is significant that the very term "Cedar Revolution" appears to have originated in Washington and spread from there to Lebanon itself. Nobody could ever have supposed that this was a durable state of affairs. Since the 1920s Syrians have harboured a profound resentment that the colonial power carved a separate Lebanon from Syria as part of its policy of divide et impera and Syria maintains significant economic interests in its "sundered province."

While Syria has (in all probablility) long since abandoned any formal claim to Lebanon the idea that it would abandon its interests there was always an illusion. Perhaps those who harboured this thought were of the impression that Syria was a charitable organisation? No government, least of all the Syrian government is a chariatable organisation. The composition of Lebanese society is such that Syria has never lacked for support there and it remains a powerful presence whom none dare fully confront. Mehlis' unprofessional botching of the Hariri assasination investigation served only to compound the difficulties of those Lebanese who would like to sharply reduce (and who dream of eliminating) Syrian influence within Lebanon. Instead of wearing one pair of kid gloves they are now required to don two in all matters Damascene. An entirely probable outcome of the current debacle is that Syria will be invited to make some sort of military and/or political reappearance on the Lebanese stage - and not just as a spear carrier. This is unlikely to be welcomed in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem but if you insist on proving the Syrian president's statement that a Syrian withdawal would lead to Lebanon being attacked what can you expect. Syria is not a charity and it may well be that at the very least Israel is going to have to disgorge Shab`a and quickly too.

Hizbullah - An Integral Part Of Lebanon's System

The role and status of the Shia are the crucial and unsolved problem of the Lebanese political system the current agressive operation against them and their fellow Lebanese leads me to doubt that even the slightest contextual analysis was done by either the Israeli military or by their putative civilian masters. A competent analysis would have included at least the following:

  • Natural increase has tipped Lebanon's demographic balance in favor of the Shia who now constitute at least 40% of the population. This cancellation of the Maronite supremacy eliminated the ideological raison d'être of the initial Republic of Lebanon
  • Rural to urban migration both from the South and the Beq 'aa created a poverty belt South of Beirut of which Dahia is a prime example. Within this poverty belt the following can be observed:
    • Large scale urbanisation.
    • Greater educational opportunity.
    • Occupational shift.
  • The same processes can be seen in Tyre which has grown by an order of magnitude over the past thirty years.
  • Thus not only has the demographic balance shifted in favour of the Shia but the nature of the Shi'a community itself is also shifting and the community is advancing economically.

The result of this is that while the new urbanised Shia community cannot yet match the power of the Maronite and the Sunni communities they will do so fairly soon and their further political ascendancy is inevitable.

(Part 2 'The Party of God' will be posted tomorrow. This posting is the only posting that will be made tonight)


Update: Fixed unbelievably silly typo giving wrong date for "Cedar Revolution" from 2004 and 2005. My sincere thanks to reader Sophia for pointing out the error.

Update: Fixed very silly typo in heading to "Casus Belli"

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Acronymic Posting



You Go A Little Crazy When You See Little Body After Little Body Coming Up Out Of The Ground.

"Then came two more boys in the arms of the rescuers. One of them, the younger, around eight years old, had his arms close to his chest, his nose and mouth covered with blood. The elder, around 10, had dirt and debris in his mouth. Their slight bodies were put on a blanket, the head of the younger boy left resting on the shoulder of the elder, then four men carried the blanket off, stopping twice to rest as they took them away. The bodies of the boys were piled with other corpses in the back of an ambulance.

Two more small dead boys followed them. The medics were running out of stretchers, so they piled the corpses of the boys on one orange stretcher. One of the kids was slightly chubby; he was wearing a red T-shirt and shorts. His head rested on the lap of the younger, who was about six years old; both had the same exploding lips, covered with blood and dirt. It was obvious to everyone that these boys were not sleeping.

Then another child was pulled from under the rubble, and another followed, and then another. You go a little crazy when you see little body after little body coming up out of the ground. I looked around me and all I could see in the house was the detritus of their short lives - big plastic bags filled with clothes, milk cans, plastic toys and a baby carriage."
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Kurdistan - Gathering Storm

0 "Turkey has sent nearly 40,000 troops to the southeast to prepare for an expected rise in Kurdish rebel incursions from northern Iraq, a senior military official said on April 20.


Turkey already has some 220,000 to 250,000 troops in the southeast."
1 "Concerning the separatist terror organization, the Iraqi minister commented, “First of all, they are non-Iraqis. Second, this is not the place for them to operate or to lobby whatsoever. Third, there was a joint message delivered to them from Barzani and Talabani, asking the PKK to stop fighting...[W]e believe that these measures will convince everybody that we are in business."
2, "The fight should continue in secrecy. Even if there is a plan, we would not share it with other parties," Foreign Ministry spokesman Namik Tan told a press conference on Wednesday.[snip]Some 3500-4000 PKK terrorists are believed to be based in northern Iraq.
3, "Turkish Foreign Ministry officials yesterday denied media reports that high-level officials from the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) will have talks in Ankara this week to discuss ways to combat the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
PKK attacks police lodgings in Turkey; 7 injured

The New Anatolian with wires / Ankara
01 August 2006

Terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants opened fire on and hurled hand grenades at police lodgings in eastern Turkey late Sunday, injuring six police officers and a passer-by.

The officers were standing guard outside the lodgings in the town of Dogubayazit in the province of Agri when they were attacked, an official at the local governor's office said. The assailants escaped and police set up checkpoints on roads around Dogubayazit to apprehend them.

The PKK's bloody campaign has led to more than 37,000 deaths in Turkey since 1984, when the PKK first took up arms.

There's been escalating tension between Turkey and the PKK, and the deaths of 15 soldiers in three separate attacks this month have prompted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to disclose that the military is considering a cross-border operation aimed at eradicating PKK bases in northern Iraq. The U.S. is strongly opposed to such an operation.

Did I remember to mention that the Iranians and the Turks are coordinating their operations against the Pesh and that the Iranian ambassador to Turkey has said that there was no problem about Turkish troops crossing in to Iran for operations against the pesh. I'm sure I have mentioned this but just in case.

"The Iranians and the Turks are coordinating their operations against the Pesh, the Iranian ambassador to Turkey has said that there is no problem about Turkish troops crossing in to Iran for operations against the pesh."


Fuel In The Hands Of Pyromaniacs

Court: Temple Mount Faithful can visit holy site

High Court judges permit members of extremist Orthodox group to visit Mount on Tisha B’Av, as long as they do not cause provocation. ‘We’ll bring hundreds of Jews, and show Arabs we don’t intend to surrender single millimeter,’ members sayAviram Zino

The High Court of Justice ruled Tuesday to permit members of the Temple Mount Faithful movement to visit the Jerusalem holy site on Tisha B'Av, in the framework of an agreement the State Attorney’s Office reached with the extreme-Right Jewish group.

The Temple Mount and Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) Faithful Movement is an Orthodox movement, founded by Mideast Studies lecturer Gershon Salomon, which wishes to reestablish the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and re-institute the practice of ritual sacrifice.

Currently on the site of the Jewish temple, which was destroyed in 70 A.D., stand Islamic holy sites the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. In the past, members of the movement have been forbidden access to the site out of fear they would spark clashes with Muslims.


'We won't give up a millimeter'

Among the Temple Mount Faithful there was apprehension that police would attempt to block the visits, and they were prepared to file complaints to the High Court of Justice.

Elements on the extreme-Right told Ynet, “It is our intention to bring hundreds of Jews to the Temple Mount Thursday, and among other things we plan to pray for the wellbeing of soldiers in the north.”

“The Temple Mount is the heart of the nation, and as long as Israel doesn’t control the Temple Mount, then we do not control all of Israel,” they added.

When asked whether their visit might spark a conflagration during these sensitive times, they noted, “This is our chance to clarify to the Arabs that we don’t intend to surrender or give up a single millimeter.”

Chairman of the far-left Hadash party, MK Mohammad Barakeh, slammed the court’s verdict.

“This is a dangerous decision made in the shadow of the cruel war Israel is fighting against two peoples – the Palestinians and the Lebanese. Such a decision is like fuel in the hands of pyromaniacs, and could ignite another blaze.”

Source Y Net News

The third holiest site in the world for Muslims. "Such a decision is like fuel in the hands of pyromaniacs, and could ignite another blaze" - I want to put on record that this is the first time in my life when I've ever accused any Middle Eastern politician of understatement


Update: I see Juan Cole has this as well and links to a different source. There are times when he displays a pleasingly dark wit. This is one of them: "They'll be so o o o ry department." - mfi

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Particularly For The Sake Of The Children

"THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. You know, as we listen to our "National Anthem," it reminds us how blessed we are to live in a land where our boys and girls can grow up in a peaceful world. And on today, our hopes for peace for boys and girls everywhere extends across the world, especially in the Middle East. Today's actions in the Middle East remind us that the United States and friends and allies must work for a sustainable peace, particularly for the sake of children.

And so I want to welcome you here to the White House. What an honor to be with the Commissioner, Willie Mays. (Applause.) See, when I was growing up, I wanted to be the Willie Mays of my generation, but I couldn't hit a curve ball. So instead, I ended up being President."
President Bush's work for the sake of the children

For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary July 30, 2006
President Attends White House Tee Ball Game


Here is a summary of the news

Here is a summary of the news:

  • Ram bombing 10 killed 4 wounded. (Karrada bank)
  • Bombing of bus carrying soldiers. 25 dead 24 wounded (Biji Close to Tikrit)
  • Suicide bombing in Palestine Street. 2 killed.
  • Four electricity board employees killed and four more wounded in an ambush (Baghdad.)
  • A Car bombing in Muqdadiyah, killed seven people and wounded 10.
  • 2 people killed and 2 injured in a bombing in Kirkuk.

Each of these attacks was targeting Iraqi forces loyal to the green zone government.

  • In al-Anbar 45 people travelling home from Syria to Najaf were abducted. According to the Najaf governorate's office their fate and location is unknown. ( Their location might be unknown their fate isn't. - mfi)
  • Karim Hammoud Faraj's home was stormed by gunmen who overpowered his security detail to do it. (He's under secretary of Finance in the green zone government and is abroad at the moment. So the gunmen had to make do with abducting his guards and carrying away all the weapons in the house. - mfi)

Oh and the green zone government's National Security Adviser Muwaffaq Al-Rubaie gave a speech today to the Baghdad Muhafazah* Council in which he said:

  • Phase 2 of AL-Maliki's security plan would be implemented soon.
  • No political criticism of the plan was acceptable because political support for the plan to deal with terrorism was paramount.
  • Green zone government forces are about to take over responsibility for the Salah ad-Din Muhafazah.
  • That by the end of 2006 Iraqi forces will take over responsibility for security everywhere in Iraq. By the end of 2006 he added (in case there was any possibility that his audience had misunderstood him) the green zone forces would bear sole decision making responsibility and would execute all military operations without help from the Multi-National Force.
  • Mark from Ireland strongly considered renaming this blog to "Oh Fuck" just to get it over with.

* "Governorate" often translated as "province" - mfi.

The Targetting of Journalists Continues

Adel Naji Al-Mansour, was assasinated today. He was a reporter for Al-Alam and was found in his car close to Al-Ataifiiya. He'd been shot repeatedly. (Al-Alam's an Iranian channel very popular in Iraq particularly amongst those who can't afford a satellite dish.)


Monday, July 31, 2006

If You Don't Approve Of Bombing Kids Don't Give The Bombers Money

How to tell from the bar code if a product is Israeli
Click the graphic for more. Hat tip reader Tom (the one in Arkansas)

To Lebanon With Love (More Time To Bomb)

From here - Hat tip reader Pete Tx.

Headlines from Naharnet - July 31st 2006 7:45AM CET

Evening Roundup: Israeli Carnage Triggers Global Outrage as Ceasefire Appears Farfetched
More than 60 people were killed, many of them sleeping children, when Israeli warplanes bombed the village of Qana on Sunday, triggering global outrage and warnings of retribution for a 'war crime' as a ceasefire appeared more remote than ever....

  • Saniora Accuses Israel of 'State-Sponsored Terrorism'
  • Ceasefire Calls on the Rise,
  • Israel Condemned for Qana Massacre
  • 'Deeply Saddened' Rice Says 'We Want Ceasefire as Soon as Possible'
  • Lebanon Faces Further Isolation After Closure of Masnaa Border Checkpoint
  • Midday Roundup: Israel Unleashes its Rage on Civilians, Commits Massacre in Qana
  • Olmert Says Israel 'Not in Hurry' for Ceasefire

From Naharnet


IRAQ: Child prisoners left without support

IRAQ: Child prisoners left without support

BAGHDAD, 30 Jul 2006 (IRIN) - He isn't a criminal, but just the sight of a police officer terrifies 14-year-old Omar.

See also:
"51. Another area where support to the Iraqi government is urgently required is that of juvenile justice. [snip]. Juveniles are however often subjugated to the same lack of proper conduct by Iraqi police as are the adults. "

- ''Suffer the little children' and

"I do know that he's going to be brutalised either by Iraqi interrogators and/or by their American "handlers", I do know that he will terrorised either by Iraqi interrogators and/or by their American "handlers" and I do know that while he may not be a fully fledged "insurgent" now that he damned well will be one and with bloody good cause for it if he ever gets out. [snip]
There's something else I know and it leads me to make another prediction all his relatives know what sort of revolting treatment is going to be dished out to him by his Iraqi jailers and interrogators and/or by their American "handlers" and they're not going to wait 'til he gets out before striking back.

'In Which The Gorilla Prophesies'

Omar was one of 450 detainees who were let out of the two Iraqi and US-run prisons on 27 June, under a national reconciliation plan aimed at bringing insurgents into the political process and ending the bloodshed in Iraq.

Although Omar was falsely arrested, dozens of other children have been imprisoned for their roles in attacks, or because poverty turned them to crime, according to reports from local and international groups and the news media in the past three years.

Omar said the experience of being in prison was terrifying, "and I was crying day and night for my family." The trauma of the experience remains with him: "I would rather die than go there again."

Whatever the reason for arrest, Iraqi children are sometimes kept in the same place as adults, human rights groups say. When they leave prison, there is no psychological or other support for them to help prevent their returning to the streets and crime.

"Iraqi children prisoners are suffering from a lack of assistance to help them reintegrate into society, which opens the door for the worst criminal life," says Saleh Muhammad, a spokesman for a Baghdad-based child rescue association.

Government action

According to international human rights law, children who have been detained should be kept in a special place apart from adults, and should receive special treatment and for the minimum time possible. But in Iraq, some claim that children are detained more than two years in prisons with adults.

"I was arrested with my cousin in September 2004 when I was 14," said another child prisoner, Moussa, who was accused of participating in the insurgency but was released last year. He said prisoners were tortured with electrical shock and being bitten by dogs. "In many cases we saw colleagues returning to our jail after being raped by soldiers."

The Iraq government rejected the claim that children are being held for long periods. Officials said a few youths are arrested when they are suspected of participation in terrorism, but are only held long enough for interrogation.

"It is really complicated to find how many children are being held in Iraq prisons because they are there for a very short period of time," said Lt. Col. Hassan Obaid, senior officer in the Ministry of Interior. He said there would be no more than 100 at any one time nationwide held for interrogations.

"For sure there are cases of children who have committed serious crimes and even terrorism that promoted the killing of innocent people - but they are in special jails," Obaid said.

He said there were no children among the prisoners released by the government last month. Local groups such as the Prisoners' Association for Justice (PAJ), Relief for Innocent Children Victims of War (RICVW) and Campaign for Innocent Victims In Conflict (CIVIC) say differently.

"They do not want the issue to have international repercussions, so they release the adults in front of the cameras and the children behind it," said Farouk Saleh, spokesperson for RICVW.

"We have received information that seven children were among the prisoners released, five from Anbar governorate and two from the capital, Baghdad, but we have reached only three of them," added Saleh.

Thousands of detainees remain in US custody in Iraq, according to media reports but there is no official estimate of how many of them are children.

The US media office in Iraq said that according to their information, there are no children being held in US custody. They said only some are being taken for few hours' interrogation.

Khalid Rabia'a, spokesman for the PAJ, says that his group has conducted investigations into the problem in secret meetings with Interior Ministry sources and by talking to released prisoners. According to this research, nearly 200 children are being held in Iraq's prisons today for different causes. He said at least two children and their parents come to his offices every week looking for assistance.

"This is not a political game - they are children and their rights should be respected," says Rabia'a. "They are trying to conceal the reality, but the truth is that they are there and they need special assistance before and after their release."

Assistance lacking

In Iraq, there is no organisation specialised in helping children reintegrate into society after being held in prison.

An official at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs says that the current lack in funds has paralysed many projects, including those for children who have committed crimes.

"Such children need serious help to prevent them from going back to the streets looking for drugs or crime," said a senior official in the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs who requested anonymity. "We are trying to use our existing departments to help them, but such cases require specialized centres which Iraq lacks."

Dr Emaad Abdul-Hassan, a psychiatrist in Baghdad, has offered his services to the PAJ especially for child prisoners. He's found serious psychological problems and an increase in aggression and brutality among these patients - in particular, a desire for revenge.

"They return from prison just thinking of revenge for what they have suffered there," Abdul-Hassan said. "Some claim they were raped and others that they were tortured or suffered beatings by officers. But right now they are afraid to speak … afraid that they would be arrested again."

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), child prisoners should have access to lawyers and their families, should be kept safe, healthy, educated, well-fed, and not be subjected to any form of mental or physical punishment.

UNICEF's efforts to get more information on the fate of children held in Iraqi and US custody have been delayed by the current security situation and lack of access.



I came over here because I wanted to kill people - Steven D. Green.

Washington Post

"I came over here because I wanted to kill people."

By Andrew Tilghman

Sunday, July 30, 2006; B01

" I came over here because I wanted to kill people."

Over a mess-tent dinner of turkey cutlets, the bony-faced 21-year-old private from West Texas looked right at me as he talked about killing Iraqis with casual indifference. It was February, and we were at his small patrol base about 20 miles south of Baghdad. "The truth is, it wasn't all I thought it was cracked up to be. I mean, I thought killing somebody would be this life-changing experience. And then I did it, and I was like, 'All right, whatever.' "

He shrugged.

"I shot a guy who wouldn't stop when we were out at a traffic checkpoint and it was like nothing," he went on. "Over here, killing people is like squashing an ant. I mean, you kill somebody and it's like 'All right, let's go get some pizza.' "

At the time, the soldier's matter-of-fact manner struck me chiefly as a rare example of honesty. I was on a nine-month assignment as an embedded reporter in Iraq, spending much of my time with grunts like him -- mostly young (and immature) small-town kids who sign up for a job as killers, lured by some gut-level desire for excitement and adventure. This was not the first group I had run into that was full of young men who shared a dark sense of humor and were clearly desensitized to death. I thought this soldier was just one of the exceptions who wasn't afraid to say what he really thought, a frank and reflective kid, a sort of Holden Caulfield in a war zone.

But the private was Steven D. Green.

The next time I saw him, in a front-page newspaper photograph five months later, he was standing outside a federal courthouse in North Carolina, where he had pled not guilty to charges of premeditated rape and murder. The brutal killing of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and her family in Mahmudiyah that he was accused of had taken place just three weeks after we talked.

When I met Green, I knew nothing about his background -- his troubled youth and family life, his apparent problems with drugs and alcohol, his petty criminal record. I just saw and heard a blunt-talking kid. Now that I know the charges against Green, his words take on an utterly different context for me. But when I met him then, his comments didn't seem nearly as chilling as they do now.

Maybe, in part, that's because we were talking in Mahmudiyah. If there's one place where a soldier might succumb to what the military calls "combat stress," it's this town where Green's unit was posted on the edge of the so-called Triangle of Death, for the last three years a bloody center of the Sunni-led insurgency. Mahmudiyah is a deadly patch of earth that inspires such fear, foreboding and uneasiness that my most prominent memory of the three weeks I spent there was the unrelenting knot it caused in my stomach.

I was nervous even before I arrived. Although Mahmudiyah is only a 15-minute drive from the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, I was taken there by helicopter. Military officials didn't want to risk my riding in a truck that might be hit by a roadside bomb. I'd chosen to go to Mahmudiyah because I wanted to be on the front lines of the war and among the troops fighting it.

When I arrived in February, Green's battalion -- the 101st Airborne Division's 502nd Infantry Regiment -- was losing an average of about one soldier per week. Whenever I asked how many of the nearly 1,000 troops posted there had been killed so far, most soldiers would just frown and say they'd lost count.

Danger was everywhere. Inside the American base camps, mortar shells fell almost daily. In the towns where U.S. forces patrolled, car bombs were a constant threat. On the rural roads, the troops kept watch for massive artillery rounds hidden under piles of trash that could shred the engine block of an armored Humvee and separate a driver's limbs from his torso.

About a month before I arrived at Green's base -- an abandoned potato-packing plant lined with 20-foot concrete walls -- the soldiers there fought off a full-blown assault that rallied dozens of insurgents in a show of force almost unheard of for a shadowy enemy that typically avoids face-to-face combat. It took more than an hour to quell the attack of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades coming from all sides of the camp.

Morale took another nosedive soon after, when the hastily rigged electrical wiring system caught fire and burned down the Americans' living quarters. The soldiers watched as the early-morning blaze destroyed all reminders of home: the family photographs, the iPods and the video games that provide brief escapes from combat. When I got there a week later, a chow-hall storage room, packed with radios and satellite maps, was serving as the base command center. The sergeants were still passing out toothbrushes and clean socks to the young troops who had lost everything.

The company commander in charge of Green's unit told me that the situation was so stressful that he himself had "almost had a nervous breakdown" and had been sent to a hotel-style compound in Baghdad for three days of "freedom rest" before resuming his command.

And yet despite the horrific conditions in which they were daily being tested, I found extraordinary camaraderie among the soldiers in Mahmudiyah. They were among the friendliest troops I met in Iraq.

Green was one of several soldiers I sat down with in the chow hall one night not long after my arrival. We talked over dinner served on cardboard trays. I asked them how it was going out there, and to tell me about some of their most harrowing moments. When they began talking about the December death of Sgt. Kenith Casica, my interview zeroed in on Green.

He described how after an attack on their traffic checkpoint, he and several others pushed one wounded man into the back seat of a Humvee and put Casica, who had a bullet wound in his throat, on the truck's hood. Green flung himself across Casica to keep the dying soldier from falling off as they sped back to the base.

"We were going, like, 55 miles an hour and I was hanging on to him. I was like, 'Sgt. Casica, Sgt. Casica.' He just moved his eyes a little bit," Green related with a breezy candor. "I was just laying on top of him, listening to him breathing, telling him he's okay. I was rubbing his chest. I was looking at the tattoo on his arm. He had his little girl's name tattooed on his arm.

"I was just talking to him. Listening to his heartbeat. It was weird -- I drooled on him a little bit and I was, like, wiping it off. It's weird that I was worried about stupid [expletive] like that.

"Then I heard him stop breathing," Green said. "We got back and everyone was like, 'Oh [expletive], get him off the truck.' But I knew he was dead. You could look in his eyes and there wasn't nothing in his eyes. I knew what was going on there."

He paused and looked away. "He was the nicest man I ever met," he said. "I never saw him yell at anybody. That was the worst time, that was my worst time since I've been in Iraq."

Green had been in country only four months at that point, a volunteer in a war he now saw as pointless.

"I gotta be here for a year and there ain't [expletive] I can do about it," he said. "I just want to go home alive. I don't give a [expletive] about the whole Iraq thing. I don't care.

"See, this war is different from all the ones that our fathers and grandfathers fought. Those wars were for something. This war is for nothing."

A couple of days later, I ran into Green again, and he invited me to join him and another soldier in a visit to the makeshift tearoom run by the Iraqi soldiers who share the base with the American troops. It was after dusk, and the three of us walked across a pitch-black landing zone and into a small plywood-lined room where a couple of dozen barefoot Iraqi soldiers were sitting around watching a local news channel.

"Hey, shlonek ," Green said, offering a casual Arabic greeting with a smile and a sweeping wave as he stepped up to the bar. He handed over a U.S. dollar in exchange for three Styrofoam cups of syrupy brown tea.

Green knew a few words of Arabic, and along with bits of broken English, some hand gestures and smiles, he joked around with the Iraqis as he sipped their tea. Most U.S. soldiers didn't hang out on this side of the base with the Iraqis.

I asked Green whether he went there a lot. He did, he said, because he liked to get away from the Americans "who are always telling me what to do."

"These guys are cool," he said, referring to the Iraqis.

"But," he added with a shrug, "I wouldn't really care if all these guys got waxed."

As we talked, Green complained about his frustration with the Army brass that urged young soldiers to exercise caution even in the most terrifying and life-threatening circumstances.

"We're out here getting attacked all the time and we're in trouble when somebody accidentally gets shot?" he said, referring to infantrymen like himself throughout Iraq. "We're pawns for the [expletive] politicians, for people that don't give a [expletive] about us and don't know anything about what it's like to be out here on the line."

The soldiers who fought alongside Green lived in conditions of near-constant violence -- violence committed by them, and against them.

Even in my brief stay there, I repeatedly encountered terrifying attacks. One night, about a mile from Green's base, a roadside bomb exploded alongside the vehicle I was riding in, unleashing a deafening crack and a ball of fire. In most places in Iraq, soldiers would have stopped to investigate. In the Triangle of Death, however, we just plowed on through the cloud of smoke and shower of sparks, fearing an ambush if we stopped. Fortunately, the bomb was relatively small, its detonation poorly timed, and the soldiers all laughed about it moments later. "Dude, that was [expletive] awesome," the driver said after making sure no one was hurt.

A few days later, I was standing outside chatting with an officer about the long-term legacy of the Vietnam War when a rocket came whistling down and struck the base's south wall. A couple of days after that, a mortar round blew up a tent about 20 feet from the visitors' tent that I called home.

My experience, however, was nothing compared with that of Green and the other young men of his Bravo company who spent months in the Triangle of Death.

In the end, I never included Green's comments in any of the handful of stories I wrote from Mahmudiyah for Stars and Stripes. When he said he was inured to death and killing, it seemed to me -- in that place and at that time -- a reasonable thing to say. While in Iraq, I also saw people bleed and die. And there was something unspeakably underwhelming about it. It's not a Hollywood action movie -- there are no rapid edits, no adrenaline-pumping soundtracks, no logical narratives that help make sense of it. Bits of lead fly through the air, put holes in people and their bodily fluids leak out and they die. Those who knew them mourn and move on.

But no level of combat stress is an excuse for the kind of brutal acts Green allegedly committed. I suppose I will always look back on our conversations in Mahmudiyah and wonder: Just what did he mean?


Qana Will Impact Iraq

Several things need to be borne in mind about Qana.

  1. It's not the first time. This is the second massacre at Qana the first was a deliberate shelling of the UN refugee compound there back in 1996.
  2. Now, exactly as they did in 1996 the Israeli government is trying to say that this is all very unfortunate but the victims were "told leave or be targeted" and that anyway what they attacked was a legitmate target because Hizbullah were using it as a military installation.
  3. The third part of the Israeli defense of the attack is to point the finger at Hizbullah saying that they were using the victims as "human shields."

The problem with that line is, not to put to fine a point on it, that it's a lie and a lie likely to have severe consequences for the American forces currently occupying Iraq :

The text of the poster reads: "The massacre of children in Qana 2, is Rice's gift. The smart bombs..Stupid,"

Grand Ayatollah Sistani has issued a statement clearly referring to the US:"Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire," his statement went on to say that if a ceasfire in the "Israeli aggression" were not imposed that "dire consequences will befall the region." The reference to the likely fate of the US troops in Iraq is clear.
The UN investigation of Qana massacre No: 1 discovered that the Israeli claims were false and I've little doubt that a similar investigation of this latest atrocity will find the same. Qana's not a wealthy place and those killed in this attack, like those killed in the '96 massacre were destitute peasants unable to leave. How could they leave? Even if they had somewhere to go, the Israelis have bombed all the ways out of Qana and are attacking anyone they see on the road. Staying put was these unfortunates only option.

Nor do I believe that Hizbullah were using it as a military installation. One of the reasons why the Hizb fighters are as successful as they are is that they don't "swim amongst the population." Hizb fighters hold themselves separate - thereby avoiding the dangers posed by informers to any resistance movement. Moreover the Israelis themselves deliberately locate military facilities in civilian areas - the human shields excuse simply won't wash.

All of these facts are well known throughout the region and are being widely publicised in Arabic media. The more likely explanation is that the Israelis are panicking they've just been defeated in open battle at Bint Djbeil, they have not been able to wipe out (or even significantly reduce) Hizbullah's military capacity, their hope of a "security zone" can only come to pass if they engage in ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing is a polite way of saying "killing everyone, man woman and child, especially child, in the area whom we don't like." The Serbs did it in Bosnia, it's starting to happen in Iraq.

The real reason for the attack is that the IDF high command demanded and got permission to expand their targetting list over the weekend. They've hit target after target that was previously considered off-limits. The calculation behind this is that by hitting "high value" targets and spreading chaos amongst the civilian population they will eventually reduce the number of rocket attacks. This, the reasoning goes, will give the Americans the "window" they need to declare the Israeli operation "a success" and let them declare that the conditions now exist for an "enduring" ceasefire. Unfortunately for them and for the American hostages troops in Iraq it's not working. All it's doing is igniting regional rage against the country that makes and pays for the bombs the Israelis are using to kill innocent civilians. The Lebanese (Sunni Muslim) Prime Minister has refused to meet Rice and laid the blame fairly and squarely where it belongs. At the feet of an American government that refuses to rein in its ally. At the feet of an American government that is using Lebanon as part of an encirclement power-play against Iran. Most Iraqis are doing the same, as is the Arab "street." Ayatollah al-Najafi had already issued a statement expressing fear that the Ayatollahs ability to control their follower was slipping. (See my post of July 27th.) and now this.

Expect life to get short, lonely, and interesting, for a lot more American body bag contents dead men walking soldiers in Iraq in the near future. I rather suspect the same is true for much of the Maliki "government" I wrote about the cabinet reshuffle last Friday, there are strong rumours that a coup was only barely foiled, and now this. I expect life to get just as short, lonely, and interesting for the Maliki government as it will become for more and more American soldiers particularly as regional governors seen as too close to the Americans and the green zone government are being increasingly targetted by Sunni and Shia resistance fighters alike.


Update: The Israelis have anounced a 48 hour suspension of bombing my hunch is that this is preparatory to declaring victory and trying to salvage what they can diplomatically. I don't know if Nasrallah will accept if he does it gives the hizb 48 hours to resupply, entrench, and generally make several awkward end runs around the Israelis (and their American sponsor.) I suspect that the Cheney Bush administration's ability to transform everything they touch to brown smelly biowaste is infectious and has been vectored to their would-be regional hegemon. Then again the transmission could be in the other direction. So far the Israelis are behaving in exactly the same way as they did the last time they invaded and achieving the same results creating a tougher, more experienced, and more determined enemy, aglow in the kudos of having beaten the "invincible" IDF. Have you noticed how the attacks on the American occupiers in Iraq are growing in scale frequency and sophistication? That's how the beginning of the end started for the Israelis in South Lebanon the last time.

Update 2: Juan Cole has an excellent posting on Grand Ayatolla Sistani's pronouncement here's the last 4 paragraphs:

What could he do if he were ignored? Sistani could call massive anti-US and anti-Israel demonstrations. Given Iraq's profound political instability, this development could be extremely dangerous. US troops in Baghdad and elsewhere are planning offensives against Shiite paramilitary groups, so tensions are likely to rise in the Shiite areas anyway. But big demonstrations could easily boil over into actual attacks on US and British troops. Both depend heavily on fuel that is transported through the Shiite south. Were the Shiites actively to turn on the US for its wholehearted support of continued Israeli air raids, the US military could be cut off from fuel and supplies. The British only have around 8,000 troops in Iraq, and they would be in profound danger if Iraq's Shiites became militantly anti-occupation.

Since the Israeli treatment of Arabs is an issue on which Sunnis and Shiites agree, there is also a possibility that Sistani could finally get some respect from the Sunni community if he led such a compaign. That development would be more dangerous to the continued US military presence in Iraq than any other I can think of.

The US is already not winning against a Sunni Arab insurgency, backed by around 5 million Iraqis. If 16 million Shiites turned on the US because of its wholehearted support for Israel's actions in Lebanon, the US military mission in Iraq could quickly become completely and urgently untenable. In this case, the British troops in particular would be lucky to escape the country with their lives.

Sistani does not issue threats lightly, and he has repeatedly shown a willingness to back them up with action. Bush and US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad will ignore him to their peril.

Sistani Threatens US over Israeli War on Lebanon


Sunday, July 30, 2006


Mother and family in a 'tent city' Iraq July 30th 1960 The ancient Greeks used to call the Arabs "Sarakenoi" - "the people who live in tents," it's where our word "Saracen" comes from. In Iraq the violence being caused by the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has brought those days back for many. The UN estimates that in past four months alone about 150,000 Iraqis have fled their homes. If they're lucky relatives take them in. The unlucky ones such as this widow and her two children wind up in small tent encampments clustered around mosques.


بنت جبيل

"Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." - Michael Ledeen.

Good riddance to the myth of IDF military invincibility which first died in 2000. Somehow resurrected itself and has just been killed again. What's the significance of their withdrawal? It's this; they admitted defeat in a 18 year long (4GW) guerilla war in 2000. Their withdrawal less than 3 weeks since they mounted an invasion means they've just lost a conventional one. The US army is being taught the same painful lesson in Iraq.

This is good news if and only if the Israelis and their American paymasters learn the lesson.

The lesson is this: The days are gone, long gone, when the kind of racism underlying Ledeen's statement above was either acceptable or viable. If you barge your way into somebody's country commit murder, mayhem, looting, rape, and all the other evils attendant upon tryng to terrorise people into doing your will by waging war on them you have no right to either complain or be surprised if they pick you up and throw you against the wall to teach you manners. Nor do you have any right to sympathy. There is no difference none between a nation that sets itself up as a master race and one that sets itself up as a master nation. That was the lesson of the 20th century.

Learn the lesson. It's their home not yours and neither you nor I are welcome there other than as invited guests.

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For Nancy

Photograph taken Beirut July 29th 2006 The photogaph shows a man standing next to a sketch of Condoleeza Rice Rice is depicted as a cartoon devil
This photograph was taken in Beirut July 29th 2006. What was that we were saying? :-)


PS: Obviously I optimise images to conserve bandwidth. If you want the original image I uploaded it to thumbsnap for you. The filesize is 73.67kb. mfi