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Iraq Civil War
T he explosion of outright civil war in Iraq has left the country traumatized, the Iraqi government crippled, and the U.S. occupation in ruins, but most ominously, it may be the beginning of the end for Iraq as a nation.
Even before the mosque bombings in late February, the Kurdish north had effectively separated while powerful Shiite politicians were pushing for an autonomous region in the south. In mid-February, lame duck Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari was selected to continue in office precisely because he was beholden to the new kingmaker in Iraq, populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Following the Iraqi government’s inability to prevent communal violence, Kurdish parties, with support from Sunni Arab politicians, issued a letter calling on the bloc of religious Shiite parties—the United Iraqi alliance (UIA)—to withdraw Jafari as their candidate. Jafari’s party, Dawa, and parliamentarians affiliated with Sadr, dismissed the demand, but some Shiite politicians were critical of Jafari’s poor performance and he had also lost the support of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which had pushed for another candidate.
The significance of all the wrangling is that Iraq has been effectively without a government since the December elections. Numerous observers are saying a government won’t be in place until at least May, if not later.
In the meantime, power has undeniably passed to Shiite militias, particularly Sadr’s Mahdi Army, which was behind much of the sectarian bloodletting after the Askariya Shrine in Samarra was demolished on February 22 when Shiite death squads took to the streets with impunity. The Washington Post reported on February 27 that the main morgue in Baghdad “had logged more than 1,300 dead since Wednesday [February 23]....” Most victims were said to be Sunnis, with many dragged away at night—all during a strict curfew. Another Washington Post report noted, “Shiite militias are roaming the streets among and alongside Iraq’s police and army, attacking and occupying dozens of Sunni mosques.”
Despite shrill U.S. and Iraqi government denunciations of the report, the death toll is almost certainly a large undercount. It doesn’t include other morgues or hospitals in Baghdad, tallies from the rest of the country, families unable to bring bodies to the morgue during the curfew, and corpses yet to be recovered. The violence was said to be tapering off by February 27, but one Iraqi government official told Time Magazine that on that day alone some 230 people—mostly Sunni—were killed in a single neighborhood of Baghdad.
Numerous reports had Iraqi security forces either not interfering or even participating in the sectarian war. Much of this is due to the fact that the police are under the control of Shiite militias.
The bold display of power by Mahdi army fighters was underscored by a chilling account in the Sunday Telegraph (London). On February 26 it described how “long convoys” of Mahdi Army fighters made their way from Baghdad to Samarra. Despite a curfew on road travel, one convoy joined by Telegraph reporters was “nodded through almost 50 checkpoints, including one run by Americans.”
The initial wave of violence was followed by retaliatory strikes on Sunni and Shiite mosques and clerics in a fit of ethnic cleansing. The Independent reported on March 3 that the head of the government’s Sunni endowment claimed that 45 Sunni preachers and mosque employees had been killed, 37 Sunni mosques destroyed, 86 damaged by weapons fire, and another 6 in the hands of Shiite militia.
In and around Baghdad, thousands of Iraqis fled from areas where they were in the religious minority. In Baghdad, according to the New York Times , “Sunni Arabs in the worst-hit mixed neighborhoods remained terrified, and many said they used the evening hours after the curfew to move their families to safer areas.” North of Baghdad in the village of Mishada, reported the Washington Post, one resident said he and around 200 other Shiites had left the town after being threatened. In Baghdad’s Sunni suburb of Abu Ghraib, according to the Guardian , scores of Shiite families have reportedly fled. In Fallujah—dubbed by occupying forces as the “safest city” in Iraq—nine Shiite families fled on one day. Reuters described how “some families on both sides of Baghdad’s religious divide abandoned homes where they felt threatened by neighbors.”
he proliferation of militias
in the security forces is tacit U.S. policy. Eager to “stand
up” Iraqi forces, the Bush administration has allowed the police
to take over huge swaths of Baghdad and other cities despite knowing
that they were more loyal to their warlords than the Iraqi government.
One “high-ranking U.S. military officer” admitted to the
last November that in northeast Baghdad alone, where
Sadr is based, more than 30,000 police were affiliated with his
militia, the Mahdi Army. The official claimed, “The Mahdi army’s
got the Iraqi police and Badr’s got the commandos. Everybody’s
got their own death squads.” All those forces were trained,
armed, and equipped by the U.S. occupation.
The Badr Brigade is the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is one of the main parties in the Iraqi government and rivals to Sadr. According to 2 different reports, 14 police commandos were killed at a Sunni mosque in Baghdad by Mahdi Army militiamen. At another Sunni mosque in Baghdad, one group of Mahdi fighters holding the mosque was nearly overrun by another Mahdi militia.
The initial spasm of bloodletting took place while Sadr was out of the country. He endorsed the violence at first, stating, “If the authorities can’t protect us, then we will defend our holy places with our blood.” Afterwards, he called for peace, organized joint prayer sessions with Sunnis, and told his followers to focus on ousting the occupation. The chaos, however, revealed that Sadr has a tenuous grip at best over his own forces.
All together, renewed internecine warfare is unlikely to split neatly along sectarian lines and will involve jostling among various factions for power within religious and ethnic communities, various towns and cities, and the country as a whole. In Basra, for example, after Friday prayers on March 3, the New York Times reported that a crowd of “several thousand people marched to the headquarters of the state-owned South Oil Company, many of them chanting, ‘Southern oil for the South’.” They had been listening to a sermon by Sheik Sabah al Saeidi of the Shiite Fadhila Party, which has a puritanical base like Sadr’s party, but which has broken with Sadr. Sheik Sabah compared a prominent Sunni parliamentarian to Hussein. “There are some people who use the same words Saddam used, such as Tareq al Hashemi, when he uses the word ‘mob,’” Sheik Sabah said. “This word reminds me of the 1991 uprising, when Saddam used that word to describe us.So what is the difference today between Saddam and Tareq al Hashimi?”
This super-heated rhetoric and extremist positioning increases the power of local power brokers and their factions at the expense of a central government. Basra is especially ripe for inter-Shiite warfare.
Last August and September, Sadr’s forces fought gun battles with Badr militia in Basra, Nasiriyah, Hilla, and other cities in southern Iraq. In many cities, the security forces are even split between the Mahdi Army and Badr Brigade. According to the Economist , two southern provinces, Maysan and Dhi Qar, are no-go zones for the British and Italian troops stationed there. Sadr’s forces have also assumed many state-like powers, from running a vast network of charities and educational facilities to running courts in which the accused are tried, convicted, and punished by means that include torture and execution.
In March 2005 the police chief in Basra told the Guardian that half of his 14,000-member force was allied with various party militias, an admission that cost him his job. Death squads involving the police are held to be behind “hundreds of assassinations” a month in the city, mainly against ex-Baathists. The day of the shrine bombing, “gunmen in police uniform” allegedly broke into a prison, kidnapped 12 Sunni prisoners, and shot them.
What’s questionable about this account is whether they were really just gunmen impersonating police. Since the unmasking in April 2005 of death squads operating within the Interior Ministry, the Iraqi government and its U.S. patrons have denied the existence of death squads, claiming that they were either rogue forces or insurgents who stole police uniforms. Recent reports that U.S. troops unmasked a death squad operating in the Iraqi Highway Patrol are also suspicious as a plethora of Pentagon documents show the U.S. military has funded them, provided them with cars and weapons, and built an entire training academy for them.
Many detailed reports of death squads in Baghdad revealed that they were equipped with 9 mm handguns, flak jackets, two-way radios, and Land Rovers, all supplied to the Interior Ministry by U.S. forces. In addition, the death squads operate at night and often in large convoys of 10 to 20 vehicles when it would have been impossible to evade the curfews and checkpoints. Sadr’s lieutenants have picked up on this trick and now say the bands of fighters clad in black conducting the latest killings are also imposters.
The death squads were initially set up in 2004 with heavy U.S. backing and funding in the Interior Ministry’s Special Police Commandos. The planning goes back to December 2003 when Allawi spent time at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia to discuss creating an intelligence service to spy on Iraqis. At first the commandos were former special forces and exBaathists recruited by Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s government. After the transitional government’s accession to power last April, Badr Brigade forces assumed control of the ministry and commandos under Bayan Jabr.
Most Sunnis appear to have been caught off-guard by the scale of the latest violence. But this is likely to seal their turn away from the government. Earlier this year, one poll found that 92 percent of Sunnis thought the Iraqi government was illegitimate and 88 percent endorsed attacks on U.S. forces. Nancy Youssef of Knight Ridder reported that after the killings and attacks on mosques, Sunnis from across central Iraq “were sending weapons to Baghdad and were preparing to dispatch their own fighters to the Iraqi capital.” Even before the upsurge in violence, some Sunni groups announced that they were setting up a militia called the Anbar Revolutionaries to fight Shiite and Kurdish militias.
President Bush, meanwhile, has remained firmly ensconced in his bubble, denying that there is even a civil war. The last argument for occupying Iraq—that only U.S. forces could prevent a civil war—proved hollow. U.S. commanders responded to the sectarian fury by sequestering troops inside their bases, instead of deploying them as a buffer between warring factions.
U.S. military officials both denied the carnage—U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch declared, “we are not seeing civil war igniting in Iraq. We are not seeing 77, 80, 100 mosques damaged in Iraq. We are not seeing death on the streets” —and praised the ineffectual response: “I think what we have seen showed the capability of the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government in a difficult situation,” said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson. Yet a more accurate sentiment of the U.S. occupiers’ perspective might have been one made last October. Speaking to reporter Tom Lasseter, one anonymous “senior military official in Baghdad” said, “Maybe they just need to have their civil war. In this part of the world it’s almost a way of life.”
Despite polls showing both the U.S. public and troops overwhelmingly in favor of a pullout, the mantra from the White House is “stay the course.” Senior officials have been talking about the concept of a “long war,” meaning 10 to 20 years of continuous combat, while in Iraq work continues on building permanent U.S. bases.
According to an insidedefense. com report, the Army has requested $167 million this year to build an exclusive network of supply roads in Iraq that would bypass “high-threat areas” prone to roadside bombs.
There is still the insurgency. A recent report from the International Crisis Group describes the armed resistance as gaining in confidence and capabilities. There has been a steady rise in the number of attacks during the past 3 years, averaging about 80 a day at present. The most recent Pentagon report on Iraqi security forces states outright that not one unit is capable of operating independently.
Ironically, if there is any force holding the country together it is Sadr. His power base is in Baghdad so a breakup is against his interests. But that’s of no comfort to the Bush administration. Speaking of the occupiers, Sadr says, “Cut off the head of the snake, then the entire evil will go away.” So goes Operation Iraqi Freedom.
A.K. Gupta is currently an editor of the Indypendent in New York city.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.