Iraq Watch: Humanitarian Worker Killed, Iraqi Security Forces not Ready, the Occupation as “Disaster Capitalism”

Humanitarian Worker Killed in Iraq, Disinformation and Reality in Iraq, Iraqi Security Forces not Ready, The Occupation of Iraq and “Disaster Capitalism”

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Humanitarian Worker Killed in Iraq

On Saturday April 16, humanitarian aid worker and activist Marla Ruzicka died in a car bombing in Iraq. She was the founder of a group called Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. Since 2002 she spent most of her time in Iraq and Afghanistan. She continued going into Iraq even after most international aid organizations and relief agencies had bailed out. Ruzicka got much of her training in aid work at Global Exchange, an organization she left in order to start CIVIC. Ruzicka did not explicitly denounce the Iraq war, choosing rather to focus on working with all involved parties in an effort to relieve as much human suffering as possible. According to former Global Echange coworker Media Benjamin, “Marla seemed to have one speed: all-ahead-full. She had more courage than most people we know. She loved big challenges and she took them on with a radiant smile that could melt the coldest heart.

In Iraq Ruzicka was focused on recording and publicly releasing Iraqi civilian casualty numbers. Despite claims from the U.S. military that they “don’t do body counts“, Ruzicka had obtained statistics on civilian casualties from a high-ranking U.S. military official. Noting that this information was crucial to providing compensation to Iraqi victims, Ruzicka wrote an article shortly before her death calling for the U.S. to disclose more civilian casualty figures.

Disinformation and Reality in Iraq

Since the January 30, 2005 elections in Iraq, the US military and supporters of the ongoing occupation of Iraq have routinely stated that the situation in Iraq is getting better and that the insurgency is slowly losing its influence. This claim has been regularly made in light of declining attacks against US soldiers, which are down to 40 to 50 per day. However, Patrick Cockburn in Mosul reports that these numbers are likely much higher as few reporters travel far from their hotels in Baghdad and the military itself frequently understates the number of attacks. Two significant attacks took place this week in Iraq, one assassination attempt targeting outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and another in which a helicopter carrying private mercenaries hired by the Department of Defense was shot down by a missile, demonstrating that the security situation has made little improvement, despite claims to the contrary by the United States.

Meanwhile, a new statistical analysis shows that of attacks taking place from September 2003 to October of 2004, 75% targeted Coalition forces, showing that the insurgency (or resistance) is far more targeted than the US military admits. Only 4.5% of attacks are against civilians, and as Patrick Cockburn recently reported, much of the resistance is careful to select targets directly related to the occupation. This undermines a key claim by the United States, who continues to argue that the insurgency largely consists of random violence designed to terrorize the Iraqi civilian population. Cockburn also explains how fanatical groups at the margins of the insurgency have taken advantage of the occupation to conduct attacks on targets barely connected with the occupation in order to ferment a generalized state of war that they believe will increase chances of their extremist agenda becoming popularized.

In related misinformation news, the Bush administration announced that it will no longer be releasing annual statistics on terrorism deaths, ostensibly due to the retraction of last year’s report after numbers were shown to be false. Congressman Henry Waxman has called for an investigation into the decision, stating that he believes numbers are not being release because they would show the failures of the “war on terror.”

Lastly, new documents have been released by Michigan Senator Carl Levin that show there was never a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, and that moreover, the administration knew that there was no such link. This alleged link was widely reported in the lead-up to the Iraq war and was suggested by the highest levels of the US government, including President Bush himself.

Iraqi Security Forces not Ready

Only 39% of Iraq’s 142,000 person national police force is ready for service according to an article published in Business Week. The creation of a new police force has been plagued by a number of problems – lack of weapons, infiltration by insurgent groups, rape and extortion committed by recruits, and insufficient training from the US corporations with contracts to train them. Without a large police force, the new Iraqi government will likely be unable to stay in power. This presents a problem for the Bush administration, who facing a domestic population increasingly opposed to the occupation, must find ways to give the impression that the United States is lessening its commitment in Iraq. In light of this situation, the Bush administration has begun to use militias comprised of former Ba’ath party members to hunt down insurgents, militias that in many cases are functioning essentially as death squads . The reports of death squads come one week after the United States announced its opposition to the Shiite government’s plan to remove former Ba’ath party members from the government, as the military is increasingly relying on them for security.

The Occupation of Iraq and “Disaster Capitalism”

In an article in the upcoming issue of The Nation, journalist Naomi Klein analyzes the formation of the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization and the new policy of “disaster capitalism” being undertaken by the US government. Klein describes this process in which US corporations swiftly move into areas recovering from disasters as “a new form of colonialism” in which US corporations involved in the “reconstruction” industry are in awarded lucrative contracts to rebuild war ravaged countries. While Klein uses Iraq as an example of this new disaster capitalism, she explains how the US government has identified a list of countries likely to face impending “disaster” either by external force or internal strife and has, in some cases, already developed reconstruction plans and identified corporations that will receive reconstruction contracts. She elaborated on her conclusions this week in an interview on Democracy Now.

Iraq Watch: Occupation and Reconstruction are an “Economic Catastrophe, US does not have an Exit Strategy, 300,000 Protest against Occupation

Occupation and Reconstruction are an “Economic Catastrophe,” US Does not have an “Exit Strategy” for Iraq, 300,000 Iraqis Protest Occupation in Baghdad

Occupation and Reconstruction are an “Economic Catastrophe”

After two years of occupation, news continues to come in regarding the dismal state of Iraq’s economy and the lives of its citizens as promises by the United States to rebuild the country have been shown to be empty. Iraq has become an “economic catastrophe” with a decline in living standards, increases in poverty and child malnutrition, and an unemployment rate that is as high as 65% according to some estimates. The World Food Programme estimates that one in four Iraqis survive on food rations distributed by the Ministry of Trade while 2.6 million are estimated to be so poor that they regularly sell a portion of their rations to meet other needs.

Another problem with the reconstruction has been in a lack of training given to Iraqis, with control being handed over to Iraqis to run water filtration plants without proper training resulting in a rapid deterioration of reconstructed industries while wasting millions of dollars in limited reconstruction funds. Consequently, the State Department has ordered the third major reevaluation of the Iraq reconstruction effort in the past nine months. According to an article in the LA Times, the United States is going to shift some funding from large-scale building projects, such as water filtration plants, into immediate job creation and training.

US Does not have an “Exit Strategy” for Iraq

During a surprise visit to Iraq this week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted that the United States does not have an “exit strategy” for Iraq or timetable for removing US forces from the country. Instead, Rumsfeld told soldiers that the United States has a “victory strategy” in Iraq. While Rumsfeld was in Iraq he met with the new Iraqi government and discussed the preparedness of Iraqi security forces, specifically relating the United States’ desire that former Ba’ath Party members be allowed to retain their positions in the security services. Despite public calls in Iraq for the dismissal of former Ba’ath Party members from the government. This is yet another example of how the United States tends to use the Iraqi government to maintain its occupation—a model of occupation perfected by Israel.

300,000 Iraqis Protest Occupation in Baghdad

Saturday, April 9, an estimated 300,000 Iraqis marched on Firdos Square in downtown Baghdad to show their opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Gathering in the same spot where Saddam’s statue was pulled down two years previously, the crowd waved Iraqi flags while chanting “No, no to Americans” and “Yes to Islam.” The protest was called for by cleric Moqtada Sadr and was primarily composed of Shiite Muslims drawn from the slums of Baghdad known as “Sadr City” as well as from other cities in Southern Iraq.

The protest is significant not only in that it is one of the largest public protests in Iraq since the U.S. invasion, but also in that it signifies a change in tactics by Sadr and his followers. Previously Sadr’s militia had militarily engaged U.S. forces, although they have been adhering to an informal truce since last August. Unlike previous marches called by Sadr, this Saturday none of the protesters were carrying weapons. Sadr’s followers said that the protest would be followed up with a non-violent campaign to force U.S and other foreign forces from Iraq

The U.S. military is reporting a decline in the number of attacks and U.S. casualties since January. While it is impossible to say with any certainty what the cause of this decline may be, it is reasonable to suggest that some of this reduction is due to splits within the various resistance factions. While the U.S. occupation remains very unpopular, Iraqis are becoming increasingly divided concerning resistance groups which target civilians. While some of the more militant Islamist groups continue to target Iraqi army and police, the influential Association of Muslim Scholars has reversed their position and called for Iraqis to join the army and police.

Iraq Watch: New Iraqi President and Vice President, New US Ambassador, Iraqi Leaders Call for Anti-Occupation Demonstration

Occupation Watch Website Redesigned, New Iraqi President and Vice Presidents Chosen, U.S. appoints new Ambassador to Iraq, Iraqi Leaders Call for Demonstration Against the Occupation

Occupation Watch Website Redesigned

The Occupation Watch website has been restructured into a news and information resource focusing on the U.S./coalition occupation of Iraq. Every day, they will be posting a selection of the most significant English-language news articles on the site, along with personal accounts from Iraqi blogs, human rights reports, and more. The newly relaunched site is being directed by noted author and activist Rahul Mahajan. The site features links to commentary, in-depth analytical pieces, scholarly articles, and useful background information, as well as weekly in-house analysis on the evolving situation.

New Iraqi Speaker

The National Assembly has elected a new speaker, Hajim al-Hassani. A Sunni, Hassani was chosen by the Kurdish and Shi’a parties in order to placate Sunni Arabs. The post of speaker is a high profile but largely powerless position. Hassani has spent a considerable amount of time outside Iraq, having spent twelve years working in Los Angeles for an investment firm. Following that, Hassani returned to Iraq to become minister of industry for the interim government. In that capacity he led the privatization program which announced on March 21 a change in Iraq’s investment law, allowing foreign investors to enter the Iraqi securities market and own up to 49% of publicly listed companies. Hassani provoked anger from many of his Sunni co-religionists when he tacitly backed the US-led assault on Falluja late in 2004. This was in spite of the fact that his party, the Iraqi Islamist Party, resigned from the government due to the assault.

New Iraqi President and Vice Presidents Chosen

After a considerable delay, three men have been selected as the new president and vice presidents of Iraq. As expected, the three posts were split which one of each being given to a representative of the three main religious or ethnic groups in Iraq. Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is now President; Shiite Islamist Adel Abdul Mahdi of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq is one vice president while Sunni interim president Ghazi al-Yawir is the other VP.

Talabani has a long and varied past having been part of several organizations and political parties. According to an interview on Democracy Now with veteran journalist Dilip Hiro:

“(Jalal Talabani) was born in 1934 in a place in Kurdistan called [Kelkan], and he trained as a lawyer. He went to Baghdad University, joined the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which was then run by Mustafa Barzani, a tribal Islamic leader, and then fell out with him, with Barzani, Sr., and actually went over to work with the government in Baghdad. Then after quite few twists and turns in 1975, he again, he briefly joined the Kurdistan Democratic Party, then left to go and live in Beirut, and when he was in Beirut in the mid-1970s, he came under the influence of George Habash, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Front, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, P.F.L.P., who was a Marxist leader. And he then in 1976 set up along with others Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the P.U.K., which actually described itself as a Marxist-Leninist organization. And that is the organization of which he had been a leader. He has changed sides so often that I think it would be very boring for me to go through each twist and turn….. Finally, I notice that he is being described as a greater leader who fought Saddam Hussein. I can tell you, Amy, that after this 1991 Gulf War, when there were uprising of Kurds which was suppressed by Saddam’s regime, he then later on went to head a Kurdish delegation, and in June 1991, actually, they made a deal with Saddam Hussein, and I have a picture of him, Jalal Talabani, kissing the cheeks of Saddam Hussein. That picture appears in my book, Desert Shield, Desert Storm. Anybody can check it out. So, he is being described as a greater leader. Basically, he is, to put it simply, an opportunist.”

Also in that same Democracy Now broadcast, author and activist Antonia Juhasz described vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi, who served previously as the finance minister, as a proponent of privatizing Iraq’s oil resources.

“(Mahdi) announced, in a press conference while in DC, negotiations on a new oil law for Iraq that he said would be very good for US Oil companies that would look at privatization of the oil. And he also talked about all of the economic reforms that he had put into place to fundamentally shift Iraq from a state controlled economy to an economy completely open to foreign investment, free trade, and the like. He wasn’t elected president, and won’t be prime minister, however remaining in a key leadership post makes it very likely at a minimum that he will continue to work, try to work to push all of those economic reforms. Just to also be clear, he is in the position to keep doing that for one simple reason which is that the Bremer orders, those economic changes, stay in effect unless they are specifically overturned by the new national assembly, meaning they did continue. They continue on unless they’re specifically overturned. And Mahdi will be in a position to see those move forward. He is definitely somebody who is very much supported by the Bush administration, and has continually expressed his commitment to US corporations.”

U.S. appoints new Ambassador to Iraq

The Bush Administration has appointed former ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, to be the new ambassador to Iraq. Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan, immigrated to the United States and began working for the U.S. government in 1984 in the State department. In 1988 he moved over to Defense Department, then under Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz. In 1992, he was the author of the Defense Planning Guidance. This paper was one of the earlier articulations of the Neo–con philosophy of aggressive world military dominance by the United States. In 1995, he wrote a book entitled From Containment to Global Leadership, again pushing the neo-conservative agenda of extending U.S. power all around the world. During the 1990s Khalilzad was a consultant to Unocal, which at a time was negotiating with the then Taliban government for rights to conduct a pipeline across that country. When George W. Bush became president in 2000, Khalilzad became prominent as a National Security Council member.

Iraqi Leaders Call for Demonstration Against the Occupation

According to Al-Jazeera, Iraqi leaders have called for a mass demonstration against the US-led troop presence to coincide with the second anniversary of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government. Both Shia and Sunni leaders called on their congregations to rally in Firdus Square on Saturday in central Baghdad. Firdus Square is the location where U.S. troops staged the pulling down of a statue of Saddam Hussein which became the iconic media moment for the initial invasion. Said Shaikh Abd al-Zahra al-Suwaidi, a supporter of Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr:

“To mark the anniversary of the start of the occupation, I call on all Iraqis to demonstrate tomorrow in Firdus Square where Saddam’s statue was toppled.” “The rally must be peaceful. You should demand the withdrawal of the occupation forces and press for quicker trials for Saddam Hussein and his aides before an Iraqi court.”

Iraq Watch: Intelligence Report Confirms Administration Lied, Reducing Troop Levels, Failures of Construction, New Detainee Abuse

New Iraq “Intelligence” Report Once Again Confirms Administration Lied, US Military Starts Talking about Reducing Troops in Iraq, New Articles Point to Continued Failures of Iraq “Reconstruction,” ACLU Continues Finding New Evidence of Detainee Abuse in Iraq, Iraqi Parliament Fails to Create New Government, New Problems for Halliburton

New Iraq “Intelligence” Report Once Again Confirms Administration Lied

A “final analysis” of the intelligence distortions leading up to the invasion of Iraq has placed the majority of the blame on the United States’ spy agencies while leaving the Bush administration largely unscathed despite its pressuring of the CIA to produce intelligence supporting its case for war. The harshly worded report concludes that “the intelligence community was dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” while concluding that a plethora of dissenting information was ignored in favor of flawed intelligence that supported the rush to war.

However, the report has been criticized by numerous columnists for not holding the Bush administration accountable. The commission, appointed by President Bush, was inherently problematic. The commission was never granted subpoena power and did not take sworn testimony, despite meeting with many high-ranking administration officials. It has also been criticized for closing its hearings to the public and the media. For those interested in reading more about the problems with the committee, Ralph Nader has analyzed both the formation of the commission and its findings in a recent article on counterpunch.org.

US Military Starts Talking about Reducing Troops in Iraq

Over the past two weeks, the United States military has indicated that it has begun talking about when it will reduce the levels of troops in Iraq. Comments two weeks ago by Army General Richard A. Cody revealed that the military is planning to reduce “large units” in Iraq between 2006 and early 2008. However, this week another top army general said that as long as violence levels in Iraq remain “low” until the national elections at the end of the year, the military will begin withdrawing a substantial number of troops in 2006. This news comes as the military announced that it is facing significant recruiting shortfalls, leading to some speculation that a draft will be needed to maintain current troop levels. Of course, none of the talk of reducing troops in Iraq mentions ending the occupation and a large number of soldiers and corporate contractors are expected to remain in Iraq indefinitely to maintain US interests in the region.

New Articles Point to Continued Failures of Iraq “Reconstruction”

According to a top United Nations specialist on hunger, the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath has almost doubled malnutrition rates among Iraqi children. It is estimated that a quarter of Iraqi children do not have enough to eat on a daily basis. The findings were presented to the United Nations and ignored by the United States and its limited “coalition,” despite the fact that they are supported by previous research on malnutrition in post-war Iraq. Its also worth noting the role sanctions have played in affecting children in Iraq over the past twelve years.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad a new article discloses potential corruption present among contractors repairing the city’s damaged public schools. Contractors have reportedly charged multiple times for repairs and have stolen supplies due to a lack of transparency and accountability in the contract process. Since the beginning of the “reconstruction” there have been reports of corruption regarding the Iraqi school system, with US-based corporations Bechtel and ECC International both accused of failing to fulfill contractual obligations.

ACLU Continues Finding New Evidence of Detainee Abuse in Iraq

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) continues to release new documents showing widespread, systemic abuse of detainees held by the United States in Iraq. This week a memo was released showing that the top US commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, authorized prisoner interrogation techniques that violated the Geneva conventions. The Sanchez memo was part of a new batch of documents given to the ACLU after a lawsuit that successfully forced the US government to release them. This new batch of documents is reported to detail a large number of abuses including beatings and deaths of detainees. Meanwhile, an analysis of military documents obtained by Reuters shows that detainees were being “systematically and intentionally mistreated” in Mosul.

Iraqi Parliament Fails to Create New Government

The Iraq Parliament failed to create a new government during deliberations this week. The meetings, which turned chaotic, failed to result in the selection of a new parliament speaker or cabinet positions. Tensions between Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis have been sited as a reason for the failure of these meetings as well as questions such as the relationship between church and state and federalism. Despite the lack of progress, President Bush stated “We expect a new government will be chosen soon and that the assembly will vote to confirm it.” Meanwhile, the failure of politicians to form a government runs the risk of the parliament losing what credibility it has in the eyes of the Iraqi public.

New Problems for Halliburton

Several new articles have appeared this week pointing to troubles for Halliburton. In what is expected to the first of several lawsuits, The daughter of a truck driver has brought a federal lawsuit today against Halliburton. April Johnson is seeking redress for the wrongful death of her father, Tony Johnson, who was killed almost one year ago near Baghdad International Airport.

The father of an employee of Halliburton subsidiary KBR has issued a complaint to the Justice Department, alleging that his son was gang-beaten by a group of fellow employees, known as the “Red Neck Mafia,” at the Baghdad airport where he works. Halliburton said that they had sent three of the “Redneck Mafia” members back to the USA and that they were not going to file criminal charges against the perpetrators .

Meanwhile, The financial misdeeds concerning Halliburton’s role in the “reconstruction” of Iraq continue to accumulate:

Iraq Watch: Antiwar Protests in the United States, Divisions in the Movement, New Infromation in Attack on Italian Journalist

800 Anti-War Protests Across the United States, Divisions Within the Anti-war Movement, New Information in Attack on Italian Journalist, U.S. and Iraqi Commandos Claim to have Killed 80 Insurgents

800 Anti-War Protests Across the United States

This last weekend, tens of thousands of people turned out for anti-war protests across the country, marking the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The protests, of which there were approximately 800, took place in over 600 cities and consisted of a variety of different events, including rallies, marches, civil disobedience actions, silent vigils, theatrical performances and art exhibits. Fayetteville, North Carolina. While none of the protests garnered the huge turnouts that centralized protests from two years ago had attracted, the actions of the last weekend represented a more diverse and varied movement than had been seen previously. One of the largest protests on Saturday was near Fort Bragg. Some 4,800 people gathered in what was the largest protest of any kind in Fayetteville since a 1970 protest against the Vietnam War. Represented at this protest were numerous veterans, military families, and soldiers.

Despite the variety and number of events, the protests were largely ignored or downplayed in the mainstream press. The New York Times, the self-styled “national paper of record” focused on one small civil disobedience protest at military recruiting office in Times Square, just down the street from the Times office. The local paper, the Grand Rapids Press, did not report on the protests at all in their Sunday, March 20th edition. This despite the fact that there were anti-war protests in downtown Grand Rapids as well as actions at Woodland and CentrePointe Mall. The Grand Rapids Press did run several articles about the war in Iraq to mark the second anniversary of the war. None of the articles discussed anti-war actions or ideas, instead offering the usual assortment of simplistic and sanitized Associated Press articles common in American newspapers.

Divisions Within the Anti-war Movement

While the anti-war and occupation in Iraq movements have reached out to new communities and groups, divisions have appeared within the movement itself. The two largest anti-war groups, International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice are in open disagreement over the issue of whether or not to they “support” the Iraqi insurgency. International ANSWER. is in favor of the “absolute and unconditional right of Iraqi people to resist the occupation,” regardless of the insurgents’ methods or fundamentalist ideologies, a platform that UFPJ has been unwilling to adopt. This division is not new as UFPJ, which gained popularity in part as a less radical or less dogmatic (depending on ones interpretation) alternative to ANSWER, has had various differences with the more strident positions advocated by ANSWER.

Beyond the two large anti-war groups, numerous voices within the left have been heard from lately, voicing various criticisms and concerns of the anti-war movement. In CounterPunch.org, Ron Jacobs has a scathing indictment of the effectiveness of the current anti-war movement entitled “End the Damn War“. Several writers have contributed pieces recently discussing the Democratic Party’s role, or lack of a role, in the current anti-war movement. Joshua Frank discusses Howard Dean’s supposed anti-war credentials in “The Selling (Out) of the Antiwar Movement” while Lance Selfa asks whether or not the Democrats realistically can be moved to the left. Locally, in a brief speech at the WMJPC rally in downtown Grand Rapids, Tom Schwallie cast a critical eye on the current state of the movement.

New Information in Attack on Italian Journalist

On Friday March 25 Democracy Now interviewed noted author and activist Naomi Klein about the case of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who was wounded by U.S. forces after her release by Iraqi insurgents. In the interview, Klein, who has been in Iraq and met with Sgrena, states that Sgrena was wounded more severely than the U.S. admitted and that many contradictions in the official version of events as put forward by the U.S. have yet to be answered. The U.S. has been less than forthcoming in this incident, reportedly blocking two Italian policemen from examining the car that Sgrina had been in.

U.S. and Iraqi Commandos Claim to have Killed 80 Insurgents

Mainstream news outlets reported on Thursday that Iraq government commandos backed by U.S. forces had decisively engaged and destroyed an insurgent camp killing 80 rebel fighters on Tuesday. According to Maj. Richard Goldenberg, a spokesman for the 42nd Infantry Division,” Here, they organized into a large group in a remote site, perhaps under the impression that coalition forces wouldn’t look for them there.” The attack is being touted as a victory for Iraqi government forces and the U.S., discrepancies are appearing in the official story. According to a story in Al Jazeera, a ATP correspondent who went out to the site of the camp on Wednesday, the day after the attack, and found 30 to 40 insurgent fighters there. The insurgents claim to have never left and that they had only suffered 11 deaths due to air strikes. Local hospitals have told AFP they had received no casualties from the battle.

Iraq Watch: Invasion and Occupation Two Years Later, Democrats and the Antiwar Movement

The Invasion and Occupation of Iraq: Two Years Later, Democrats, the Antiwar Movement, and Ending the Occupation of Iraq,

The Invasion and Occupation of Iraq: Two Years Later

The invasion and occupation of Iraq have taken a devastating toll on the people of Iraq. While estimates vary, between 15,000 and 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed during the invasion and occupation. The primary reason for the occupation, Iraq’s alleged stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), did not exist, resulting in a war that was largely fought for imperial gain of economic resources. Over the past two years the United States has conducted itself as an occupying power, and by all accounts, will continue to do so for many years to come.

Each week the news out of Iraq is largely the same; more civilian casualties, more abuses of detainees, more soldiers killed, more corporate takeovers of Iraqi resources, and more attacks by the growing Iraqi resistance. This week has been no different. News has come out that US troops are making videos in which they use firefights and Iraqi prisoners as the backdrop for heavy metal songs. The corporate media has been reporting on newly uncovered abuses at Abu Ghraib involving the torture of children. Greg Palast had a new report this week in which he writes about the administration’s “secret” plan to sell off Iraq’s oil fields in order to destroy OPEC. Moreover, while commentators in the United States discuss how the occupation has harmed ordinary Iraqis, new reports from Iraq indicate that many Iraqis feel that no changes and improvements in their conditions will be forthcoming from the new Iraqi government. This should come as no surprise; talks have repeatedly broken down between factions of the new Iraqi government and the Iraqi insurgency has gained legitimacy over the past year.

The invasion and occupation have also taken a lesser toll on the United States. Over 1,500 soldiers have been killed and 25,000 wounded in a war and occupation that has cost the country over $150 billion. Numerous administration officials have admitted that the war has not made the United States safer nor has it lessened the threat of terrorism, but rather, it has greatly diminished the United States standing in the world while recent polls have indicated that 70% of US citizens consider the current level of casualties “unacceptable” and that 53% of US citizens think the war was not worth fighting.

Democrats, the Antiwar Movement, and Ending the Occupation of Iraq

Two years after the invasion of Iraq there has been relatively little organized opposition to the occupation of Iraq. While the widespread civil disobedience at the start war seemed to indicate widespread resistance to the invasion of Iraq, this resistance has thus far failed to take a form capable of challenging the administration’s capacity to wage war. There have been numerous large demonstrations against the war and occupation, yet there has generally not been the type of day-to-day organizing and long-term strategizing that is needed to move from generally disconnected protests into organized resistance.

While there are a number of reasons why this has happened, one of the major reasons is the antiwar movement’s relationship with the Democratic Party. During 2004, many of the antiwar movement’s more “mainstream” elements were silent or working for John Kerry and other electoral efforts under the assumption that a Kerry presidency would end the occupation of Iraq. Of course, this was never the case; in many instances Kerry promised the status quo in Iraq at best, and at worst, actually promised to place more troops in Iraq. Unfortunately, this focus on the 2004 election was a setback for the antiwar movement, costing a year in which increased political interest could have been used to create a renewed push for ending the war.

On the eve of the anniversary of the invasion, the Democratic Party has once again shown that it has relatively little interest in ending the occupation of Iraq, with some 162 Democrats in the House of Representatives voting for Bush’s $81.4 billion spending request . Meanwhile, “liberal” opponents of the war such as MoveOn.org have decided against pushing for an end to the occupation. After looking at the Democrats indifference as well as that of some groups involved with pre-invasion mobilizing efforts, many are making the second anniversary of the war a point to refocus efforts and build a renewed movement. Antiwar organizers have recently begun to focus their efforts on challenging military recruiting and working to create a soldier movement to end the war.

Iraq Watch: Pentagon Miseed Chances to “Correct” Detainee Abuse, Military missing Recruiting Goals, Questions about US Attack on Italian Journalist

Report Shows Pentagon Missed Chances to “Correct” Detainee Abuse, Questions Continue Surrounding U.S. Attack on Italian Journalist, Military Facing Problem Meeting Recruiting Goals, Demonstration Against the Occupation of Iraq Planned in Grand Rapids

Report Shows Pentagon Missed Chances to “Correct” Detainee Abuse

A number of recent news stories have revealed that the military is refusing to take responsibility of the actions of its members with regard to the abuse of detainees. In many cases the military has declined to prosecute soldiers engaged in abusive behavior, and by virtue of their silence, have decided to provide a kind of tacit endorsement to the tactics being used against detainees. While the Pentagon has absolved itself and its top officials of responsibility in the abuse of detainees in Iraq and Guantanamo, a new report by Navy Inspector General Vice Admiral Albert Church argues that the military, by virtue of a lack of oversight and clarity in interrogation methods, contributed to the abuse of detainees. The report has been criticized by Human Rights Watch and some Democrats for failing to adequately address the involvement of higher-ranking officials in the Pentagon. Avoiding prosecuting higher ranking soldiers and officials has been a common feature of recent instances of abuse, with well-publicized deaths of detainees in Afghanistan only resulting in disciplinary action against two reservists The military has also failed to investigate abuses of Iraqi civilians, with a recent article reporting the military’s failure to investigate sexual assaults.

Meanwhile, a new video of abuses of detainees by United States soldiers has been made available. The video, made by members of the Florida National Guard serving in the 124th Infantry Regiment, shows soldiers beating detainees, swearing at them, and playing with dead bodies. The military recently concluded an investigation of the video and has determined that the video depicts “inappropriate rather than criminal behavior” and has decided not to prosecute the soldiers involved.

Questions Continue Surrounding U.S. Attack on Italian Journalist

After US troops opened fire on a car carrying Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari, and another intelligence officer, resulting in the death of Nicola Calipari, questions continue regarding the circumstances of the shooting, While the United States has sought to justify the shooting by stating that the car was speeding towards a US checkpoint and failed to respond to warning shots and hand signals, the both the Italian government and occupants of the vehicle have disputed the United States claims. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told Italy’s parliament that the vehicle was traveling slowly and stopped at the checkpoint, in addition to claiming that Calipari had notified United States forces that he was escorting a freed hostage. Giuliana Sgrena has also disputed the military’s account of the event, while others have suggested that the military may have purposely targeted Sgrena in order to stop her from writing a story on refugees from Fallujah who now live in Baghdad.

If Sgrena’s vehicle was not specifically targeted, then this incident does illustrate that the U.S. miltary’s rules of engagement in Iraq have become quite lax. So-called “friendly fire” incidents have been increasing in Iraq as the United States military tries to protect itself from insurgent attacks that often use car bombs at checkpoints, using these attacks as a pretext for aggressive security measures that occasionally result in the deaths of innocent civilians. While “friendly fire” incidents involving foreign nationals get the most attention in the corporate press, Iraqi civilians have felt the brunt of these policies.

Military Facing Problem Meeting Recruiting Goals

Over the past year, the United States military has begun to see a significant drop in the number of recruits, with recent reports announcing that the Marine Corps and National Guard have failed to reach their recruiting goals. Overall, the military has seen a significant drop in recruitment of African Americans and women. In 2000 African Americans made up 23.5% of recruits and women 22% and in 2004 these percentages dropped to 14% and 16%, respectively. The military has faced difficulties attracting new recruits with the ongoing occupation of Iraq and deadly insurgency, as well as the publicity surrounding recent policies designed to keep soldiers in the military after their enlistments expire.

Antiwar activists have also started to target military recruiting more aggressively in the past few months, as recent arrests at anti-recruiting protests have resulted in more coverage of the movement in the corporate press. Across the United States activists working as “counter recruiters” at high schools and colleges are becoming more common, as activists begin to see an opportunity to affect the military’s capacity to occupy Iraq by hindering recruiting efforts, following the simple logic that without an adequate number of soldiers in Iraq the military will be unable to continue the occupation. Anti-recruiting tactics vary, with some groups giving presentations in schools to directly counter the efforts of recruiters while others distribute handbills outside of high schools. Most efforts focus on providing students with other options and highlighting the lies told by recruiters to attract students to the military. In some cities, antiwar groups have begun providing counseling where they meet with students individually and help them explore options outside the military. Locally, the Confronting Empire working group has begun to look into organizing against military recruiters while the Institute for Global Education has been working on setting up a campaign of their own through their Committee for Military Dialogue. In Lansing, activists with Direct Action have been distributing copies of their anti-recruiting zine Through the Wire at area high schools.

Demonstration Against the Occupation of Iraq Planned in Grand Rapids

A demonstration against the ongoing occupation of Iraq will take place in Grand Rapids on the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. The demonstration is on Saturday, March 19 at 1:00pm at the Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids (Calder Plaza is on Ottawa between Michigan and Lyon). The demonstration will consist of a brief rally followed by a march through downtown. The demonstration is organized by the West Michigan Justice and Peace Coalition with input from the Confronting Empire working group. A flyer for the protest can be downloaded here.

Iraq Watch: Women in Iraq, Continued Violence, Marines Miss Recruiting Quota, Vermont Towns against the War

Women in Iraq, Violence Continues in Iraq, Marine Corps Misses Recruiting Quota, Grand Rapids Native Reporting from Iraq, 38 Vermont Towns Vote Against Iraq War

Women in Iraq

The Bush administration regularly claim that women in Iraq are “more free” since the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. This claim is, not surprisingly, completely false. Life for women in Iraq has become less safe and more violent during the occupation. The current lack of security has forced many women out of public life and constitutes a major obstacle to the advancement of their rights. Since the occupation began, armed groups have targeted and killed several female political leaders and women’s rights activists. Two new reports detail the plight of Iraqi women: Amnesty International’s “Decades of suffering – Now women deserve better” and Women to Women International’sWindows of Opportunity: The Pursuit of Gender Equality in Post-War Iraq.” Both conclude that Iraqi women must play a key role in shaping the future of their country, and Iraqi authorities must take effective measures to protect women and to change discriminatory legislation that encourages violence against them.

Violence Continues in Iraq

Despite the January elections and were supposed to represent a “turning point”, violence continues in Iraq unabated. In one of the most deadly attacks yet seen in Iraq, insurgents killed 122 Iraqis with a car bomb. The bombing was in Hilla, 60 miles south of Baghdad, and targeted a crowd of several hundred recruits who were waiting for required checkups at a medical. The victims also included men, women and children who were shopping for food and walking. The blast left at least 170 people wounded, according to the Interior Ministry. This attack was the most deadly example of the Iraqi insurgents strategy of targeting the recruiting efforts of the Iraqi Army and Police.

Recent attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq has pushed the number of U.S. deaths in Iraq to over 1,500 according to an Associated Press count. Since May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 1,362 U.S. military members have died, according to the AP count. That includes at least 1,030 deaths resulting from hostile action, the military said.

Marine Corps Misses Recruiting Quota

For the second month in a row, the U.S. Marine Corps fell short of their monthly goal for new recruits signing enlistment contracts. These last two months are the first time the Marines have failed to meet their recruitment requirements in over a decade.

This has prompted the armed services to increase their recruitment efforts, particularly among Black and Latino teenagers. In at least one instance, this has led to young people organizing against military recruiters in their schools.

Grand Rapids Native Reporting from Iraq

Grand Rapids native David Enders is back in Iraq, working as a freelance journalist. In 2003, Enders spent thirteen months in post-invasion Iraq, co-founding the Baghdad Bulletin, the first English language newspaper in post war Iraq. The 24-year old journalist has been back in Iraq for approximately a month now and has had several articles recently in The Nation, Mother Jones and Counter Punch. In April his first book, entitled Baghdad Bulletin, will be coming out on University of Michigan Press. David Enders maintains a blog called “Baghdad to Brooklyn, Ann Arbor to Beirut.

38 Vermont Towns Vote Against Iraq War

A non-binding resolution against the war in Iraq was considered by approximately 50 town meetings in Vermont, with 38 of the towns adopting the resolution. The people of Vermont have lost more soldiers per capita than any state, and have the second highest mobilization rate for its National Guard and reservists. This resolution effort has been spearheaded by Ben Scotch, the former head of Vermont’s ACLU. Said Scotch in response to why he started this effort; “A change as basic as this has to start from the grassroots.”

Iraq Watch: Army Pays Bonus to Halliburton Despite Fraud, Journalists Targeted in Iraq, Nader’s Stop the War Campaign

Nader Announces Democracy Rising ‘Stop the War’ Campaign, US Army pays Halliburton Big Bonus despite Massive Fraud, Journalists continue to be targeted in Iraq

Nader Announces Democracy Rising ‘Stop the War’ Campaign

On Thursday Ralph Nader held a press conference announcing a new “Stop the War” project by the organization Democracy Rising. The purpose of the “Stop the War” campaign is “to bring the troops home and end the occupation of Iraq by empowering activists so they cannot be ignored by decision makers in Washington, DC.” In conjunction with this new project, Democracy Rising has released two new reports related to the war in Iraq: Bush Family War Profiteering and The Institutionalization of Corruption.

The Bush Family War Profiteering report details how various members of the Bush family have personally benefited from the Iraq war. According to the report:

“The extent of Iraq contracts going to corporations which involve members of President George W. Bush’s family is widespread and extensive involving hundreds of millions of dollars. Often these firms receive contracts where the corporations have no expertise and certainly the Bush family members have no expertise or experience in these areas. It is a world not of know how but of know who, marinated in campaign contributions. It seems like Bush family and friends are trading on their relationship to the President. The matrix of government contracts and Bush related corporations invites further investigation by the media and Congress – inquiries that are long overdue.”

The Institutionalization of Corruption report looks at the hidden cost of the war and occupation of Iraq. According to the report:

“Repeatedly, the Iraq War and occupation has led to corrupt practices by U.S. government officials and corporations working with the U.S. government. Despite repeated reports of serious financial irregularities, business continues as usual – the United States keeps doing business with corporate criminals and agency and department heads responsible for this corruption continue to remain in office or go to work with contractors. This is the tip of the iceberg of a major political scandal.”

US Army pays Halliburton Big Bonus despite Massive Fraud

According to an article in Al-Jazeera, The US Army has awarded defense contractor Halliburton more than $9 million in bonuses for some of its work supporting the military in Kuwait and Afghanistan. These bonuses are for contracts being carried out by Halliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root for logistical services. Overall, KBR has earned $7.2 billion under a massive 2001 logistics contract with the US military and is set to earn more than $10 billion under that deal.

The Iraq reconstruction and logistics contracts have come under considerable scrutiny as Halliburton has squandered or “misplaced” billions of dollars. Halliburton’s fleecing of government dollars reached a new low as it was revealed in an article earlier this month that the U.S. Army agreed to pay Halliburton’s KBR subsidiary nearly $2 billion for work that, according to Halliburtonwatch.org, nobody can prove ever took place. The work was allegedly performed in Iraq and Kuwait under the Army’s LOGCAP contract, awarded to KBR in 2001 via competitive bidding. Army auditors determined last year that 43 percent of the $4.5 billion requested by Halliburton under LOGCAP could not be verified under normal accounting procedures

Journalists continue to be targeted in Iraq

Reporters Without Borders reported on Feb. 21 about a new wave of journalist kidnappings in Iraq after Raeda Wazzan, a presenter with the regional public TV station Iraqiya, was kidnapped yesterday in Mosul, 390 km north of Baghdad, probably with her 10-year-old son. Wazzan was the fourth journalist kidnapped in the last two weeks in Iraq. 21 journalists have been kidnapped in Iraq since March of 2003. Wazzan is the only woman presenter at Iraqiya, a TV station that covers the area surrounding Mosul. She and her son were abducted by gunmen while driving. Iraqiya producer Jamal Badrani narrowly escaped a kidnapping attempt in Mosul about a week ago. The headquarters of the TV station has been the target of several attacks, the most recent on 16 February when six mortar shells were fired at the building, injuring three technicians.

Earlier in the week, two Indonesian reporters who were taken hostage were released. The kidnappers, the Jaish al-Mujahedeen, or Army of Warriors said that they “freed the two Indonesian journalists after checking their identity and offered its apology for the operation to the Indonesian people”.

Iraq Watch: Prisoner Dies during CIA Torture, Abuses by Contrators, US Working against Al-Jazeera

Iraqi Prisoner Died in Handcuffs During CIA Torture, Abuses by Private Contractors in Iraq Reported, US Accused of Plan to Muzzle Al-Jazeera Through Privatization

Iraqi Prisoner Died in Handcuffs During CIA Torture

(From Democracy Now! 2/18/2005)

A major expose by the Associated Press has revealed that an Iraqi whose corpse was photographed with grinning U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib died under CIA interrogation while suspended by his wrists, which had been handcuffed behind his back. The death of the prisoner, Manadel al-Jamadi, became known last year when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. The U.S. military said back then that it had been ruled a homicide. But the exact circumstances of the death were not disclosed at the time.

According to investigative documents reviewed by the AP, the prisoner died in a position known as “Palestinian hanging.” It is unclear whether that position- which human rights groups condemn as torture – was approved by the Bush administration for use in CIA interrogations. The Justice Department and the CIA refused to comment on the story.

Al-Jamadi was one of the CIA’s so-called “ghost” detainees at Abu Ghraib -prisoners being held secretly by the agency. His death in November 2003 became public with the release of photos of Abu Ghraib guards giving a thumbs-up over his bruised and puffy-faced corpse, which had been packed in ice. According to the documents, Al-Jamadi died in a prison shower room during about a half-hour of questioning, before interrogators could extract any information. The documents consist of statements from Army prison guards to investigators with the military and the CIA’s Inspector General’s office.

One Army guard, Sgt. Jeffery Frost, said the prisoner’s arms were stretched behind him in a way he had never before seen. Frost told investigators he was surprised al-Jamadi’s arms “didn’t pop out of their sockets.” Frost and other guards had been summoned to reposition al Jamadi, who an interrogator said was not cooperating. As the guards released the shackles and lowered al-Jamadi, blood gushed from his mouth “as if a faucet had been turned on,” according to the interview summary.

Navy SEALs apprehended al-Jamadi as a suspect in the Oct. 27, 2003, bombing of Red Cross offices in Baghdad that killed 12 people. His alleged role in the bombing is unclear. According to court documents and testimony, the SEALs punched, kicked and struck al-Jamadi with their rifles before handing him over to the CIA early on Nov. 4. By 7 a.m., al-Jamadi was dead.

According to the documents seen by the AP, Al-Jamadi was brought naked below the waist to the prison with a CIA interrogator and translator. A green plastic bag covered his head, and plastic cuffs tightly bound his wrists. Guards dressed al-Jamadi in an orange jumpsuit, slapped on metal handcuffs and escorted him to the shower room, a common CIA interrogation spot.

Abuses by Private Contractors in Iraq Reported

There are new allegations that heavily armed private security contractors in Iraq are brutalizing Iraqi civilians. In an interview with NBC News, four former security contractors told that they watched as innocent Iraqi civilians were fired upon, and one crushed by a truck. The contractors worked for an American company named Custer Battles, hired by the Pentagon to conduct dangerous missions guarding supply convoys. They were so upset by what they saw, three quit after only one or two missions. Said one of the four men, “What we saw, I know the American population wouldn’t stand for.”

These abuses by private contractors would seem to be the product of a lack of a vetting process by the U.S. government. Though contractors can use lethal force, the U.S. government does not vet who is hired. The Pentagon says it does watch how companies perform and investigates any alleged misconduct. According to some military experts, discipline varies greatly among these hired contractors. “[It varies] greatly from highly professional contractors to flat-out dangerous guys,” says Col. Thomas Hammes, a Marine instructor at the National Defense University in Washington.

Hammes spent two months working alongside Iraqis. He says some contractors showed outright contempt for civilians. And even good contractors sometimes used tactics that turned Iraqis against the United States. “If the government is hiring people that are running them off the road and intimidating them, that really undercuts your message,” says Hammes.

Meanwhile, Custer Battles and the Coalition Provisional Authority are under investigation for the manner in which contracts were awarded and paid for. Franklin Willis, a former official with the Coalition Provision Authority, told the Senate Democratic Policy Commmittee that Iraq, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, was “like the Wild West — awash in $100 bills.” Willis described how, during one point in the summer of 2003, Middletown-based contractor Custer Battles was paid with $2 million in fresh U.S. bills, stuffed into a gunnysack. Willis said the cash was a partial payment on a $16-million contract that Custer Battles had won to provide security for eventual civilian flights at the Baghdad International Airport.

This hearing came just two weeks after an audit of the CPA by the special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction found the agency had failed to provide proper oversight of ministry spending, issued unauthorized contracts and lost track of $9 billion in Iraqi funds. In response to that criticism, L. Paul Bremer III, the former administrator of the authority, had strongly defended the agency’s financial practices. Bremer said auditors mistakenly assumed that “Western-style budgeting and accounting procedures could be immediately and fully implemented in the midst of a war.”

In another development concerning security contractors, it has been revealed that at least 10 South African companies and businessmen are being investigated on suspicion of recruiting former specialized police officers and soldiers to work in Iraq. Information given to the Cape Argus reveals that at least 10 South African companies may be recruiting South Africans for work in Iraq, contrary to South African law. This work includes close protection of Iraqi government officials and contract workers such as engineers.

US Accused of Plan to Muzzle Al-Jazeera Through Privatization

According to reports in the US and the Gulf, the Qatari government, owner of al-Jazeera since its foundation in 1996, has ordered privatization plans for the station to be speeded up. Many al-Jazeera employees fear this could lead to a loss of editorial freedom. America and its key ally Saudi Arabia are being accused of quietly seeking to muzzle al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite news station that has often incurred Washington’s ire for its coverage of Iraq and President George Bush’s “war on terror”.

US officials reject all charges of meddling despite the fact that Vice-President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary, have fiercely criticized al-Jazeera for what they say is biased and inflammatory reporting. Washington has been particularly irritated by the station’s coverage of civilian casualties and destruction caused by US troops in Iraq, and by its airing of messages from Osama bin Laden, the al-Qa’ida leader. In Iraq and some other Arab countries, al-Jazeera offices have been shut down.