Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Another rotten round-up from Iraq:

  1. The Americans have restored some policing to Baghdad by using the old Baathist police force of Saddam. The big problem with this is that these police are perceived by Iraqis as a corrupt and violent extension of Saddam's security service, who assisted in bringing people to Saddam's dungeons and torture centers. This is a quick, cheap and easy way to partly reestablish the order that the Americans should have been able to enforce themselves, but the optics are terrible. The Americans will probably end up using many of the Baathist functionaries who were in place uder Saddam. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

  2. In Baghdad:

    • the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says that less than half of the city's hospitals are functioning, and a major sewage treatment plant was damaged in the war, then looted, and is in urgent need of being repaired. It was the ICRC which helped Iraqis instal in anticipation of the war a system of local generators which have allowed the water system to partially function, without which the city would be in much worse shape. The Americans have finally gotten around to restoring the electrical supply to parts of eastern Baghdad.

    • American soldiers have allowed thieves to steal all the money out of many Baghdad banks. This will probably put the banks out of business, meaning that the ordinary Iraqis who had savings accounts there will lose their life savings (assuming the money is now worth anything anyway). While the Americans stood idly by allowing the banks to be destroyed, they did manage to shoot dead three Iraqi men on the street in the mistaken belief that they were involved in the bank robberies. Lieutenant Patrick Spencer said: "Unfortunately, we killed the good guys. We found that out later by looking at their ID. The marines on the guns are not at all happy about what happened."

    • Baghdad hospitals are running out of all supplies. The children's hospital is almost out of oxygen, as the failure by the Americans to restore the electricity supply has meant that Baghdad's oxygen factory is not working.

    • Here is a story on the failed American bombing attack on a location where Saddam was thought to be in the Mansour neighborhood. Four 'bunker-buster' bombs may have been used in the attack, and sixteen civilians killed.

  3. In Basra, dysentery and gastroenteritis is spreading because of the absence of clean water. The city may be on the verge of a humanitarian disaster. Because of the inability of the British to keep security, repair of the Basra water system is proving to be impossible. Vigilantes, in the absence of any order, are administering their own rough justice.

  4. Here is the sad story of a man who had the misfortune to live in a house near the house where the Americans thought that 'Chemical Ali' was staying. He lost his wife and nine other members of his family. Then his house was looted. 'Chemical Ali' probably wasn't even in the nearby house.

  5. American cluster bombs are taking a terrible toll on children. The ones that don't explode stay on the ground as land mines, and either kill or maim the children who pick them up to play with them. Sometimes the bombs kill directly: in the area of Baghdad known as Harir city four died and seventeen were injured in a cluster bomb attack. Why were the Americans dropping cluster bombs on a residential area of Baghdad? An American Sergeant said:

    "They are a huge pain in the ass. The only way to get rid of them is to explode them one by one. What I heard is that they began using the cluster bombs because they ran out of high-explosives."

    So the American army is dropping maiming bombs on civilians because they didn't think to bring enough of the proper weapons? Or perhaps the cluster bomb maker is close friends with someone in the Pentagon or in the Bush Administration?

  6. There was a massacre of civilians at a bridge on the highway to Baghdad on April 7. The account by Laurent Van der Stockt, a photographer under contract for the New York Times Magazine, makes it clear that the American soldiers were murdering people they knew to be civilians without firing warning shots. He says:

    "With my own eyes I saw about fifteen civilians killed in two days. I've gone through enough wars to know that it's always dirty, that civilians are always the first victims. But the way it was happening here, it was insane."

    The account by Peter Maass, writing for the New York Times Magazine, is not surprisingly more sympathetic to the American soldiers, but still makes it clear that a massacre of civilians had taken place at that bridge.

  7. The American forces have refused a Save the Children plane permission to land in northern Iraq to deliver aid to the town of Arbil. There doesn't appear to be any good reason for this except perhaps bureaucratic sloth.

  8. Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon's candidate for leader of Iraq, is rapidly becoming a pariah in Iraq. One of his supporters was fired upon for having a poster of Chalabi on his windshield. Chalabi is increasingly having to answer questions about his felonious past, and it turns out he is paying his 'volunteer' Iraqi militia.

  9. Besides Chalabi, another possible candidate for American-stooge leader of Iraq was Nizar Khazraji. He was an Iraqi general of very unsavory background, having been accused of instigating the famous gas attacks on the Kurds, and was under house arrest in Denmark while this was being investigated. Despite the wishes of the United States, the Danes refused to let him go. He is described as having been 'kidnapped' from Denmark, but he may have just been liberated from his house arrest by the CIA (how do the Danes, an odd 'coalition' member, feel about this affront to their sovereignty, or were some parts of the Danish government complicit in the 'kidnapping'?). On his way to attend the meeting of opposition groups in Nassiriya, he was assassinated. The politics of all this are extremely murky. Khazraji was the CIA's candidate to lead Iraq, while Chalabi, against the wishes of the State Department, is the Pentagon's. Khazraji had a lot of enemies. Did Chalabi have him killed? The Pentagon? Other enraged Iraqis (perhaps Shi'ites)?

The Iraqis are starting to make their anger felt. On Friday, tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad after prayers to demand the departure of American troops and the establishment of an Islamic state. In Baghdad, more than 4,000 Shia Muslims protested the American occupation on Monday. These are still early days, and things are already starting to get interesting.