Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Christopher r. Martin
Gay & Lesbian Community Notes
Eleanor J. Bader
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
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
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.