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An Election Is Not Democracy — Two Views

January 31st, 2005 - by admin

Linda McQuaig / Toronto Star & Rick Salutin / Globe & Mail – 2005-01-31 23:30:41

Election Charade Is Simply About Iraq’s Oil
Linda McQuaig / Common Dreams / The Toronto Star

(January 30, 2005) — In the weeks before the US invasion of Iraq, the influential New YorkTimes columnist Thomas Friedman wrote approvingly of “the breath-taking audacity” of the Bush administration’s plans for Iraq.

Friedman noted that the invasion would lead to “a long-term US occupation” and that “Iraq will be controlled by the iron fist of the US Army.”Apparently, he didn’t regard any of this as a problem — just part of the job of remaking Iraq to fit the fantasies of US policymakers.

Friedman’s casual acceptance of Washington’s right to redesign other countries — an attitude rampant among media commentators as well as US officials — sheds light on why the occupation of Iraq has been such a disaster, and why there’s little reason to believe Iraq is on the path to democracy.

No matter how inspired the rhetoric, the US project in Iraq has never been about democracy. It’s been about getting control of Iraq’s vast, virtually untouched oil reserves, and extending Washington’s military reach over the region. “Think of Iraq as a military base with a very large oil reserve underneath; you can’t ask for better than that,” Wall Street oil analyst Fadel Gheit told me in an interview.

Bush officials never wanted to run Iraq themselves, but rather to have a loyal local do it for them. Before the invasion, their plan was simply to install the wealthy, CIA-groomed exile Ahmed Chalabi. They also drew up sweeping plans to privatize the entire Iraqi economy, including the oil sector — before the Iraqi people got to cast a single vote.

But the “iron fist of the US army” has not been popular in Iraq, fuelling a resistance that has turned key parts of the country into a free-fire zone. Among other things, this makes meaningful elections impossible. If large numbers of people are too terrified to vote, the results won’t reflect the popular will — yet they’ll give an aura of legitimacy to a government that may represent a tiny minority.

But while useless in advancing real democracy, the election is highly useful to George W. Bush, who will point to a “democratic” transfer of power.

Questioned last week, Bush said the US would withdraw if asked by the new government. Really? Earlier in the week, the Pentagon acknowledged plans and budgets to keep120,000 troops there for at least two more years.

It sure looks like Washington plans to go on calling the shots in Iraq, but now there will be a plausible government to show off to the world. If Iraq’soil industry is put on the chopping block and ends up in the hands of US oil companies, Washington will be off the hook; the decision will have been made by the “elected” Iraqi government. At last — mission accomplished.

Don’t Mistake Elections for Democracy
Rick Salutin / The Globe and Mail

“The notion that, you know, somehow we’re not making progress [in Iraq] I — I just don’t subscribe to. I mean, we’re having elections.” — George W. Bush

(January 28, 2005 ) — I would call this a fetish, a handy term that comes from anthropology, where it describes “any object of irrational or superstitious devotion.” Karl Marx adapted it as he puzzled over the oddity of capitalist economies, in which people often have more intense relations with things they buy than with humans they know (commodity fetishism).

Freud applied it to sexual proclivity: for obsession with a part, like a foot or shoe, rather than the whole to which it belongs. George Bush has an elections fetish.He often repeats the term in an empty, adoring, fetishistic way. He grows almost tumescent just saying the words: “People are voting. . . . It’s exciting times for the Iraqi people. . . . The fact that they’re voting in itself is successful.”

He also tends to use the part, elections, for a grander whole: freedom or democracy, as if elections are democracy, full stop. And note that he said “we’re,” not “they’re,” having elections.”Irrationally reverenced” is part of the Concise Oxford’s definition of a fetish.

What’s irrational in the Bush reverence for Iraq’s election? Well, the vote is being imposed after an unprovoked invasion and under an occupation that is onerous and humiliating — a set of contradictions that seem evident to almost every Iraqi passerby interviewed by a Western journalist who slips out of his barricaded hotel.

It will occur under a virtual lockdown: traffic banned, airport closed, a three-day curfew.Iraqis will vote for 111 different lists, but few candidates are named, out of fear. The election’s promoters, the occupying powers, tortured detainees (the latest photos show UK troops making naked Iraqis simulate oral and anal sex). Jittery soldiers kill families whose cars approach checkpoints. Fallujah lies waste, its 300,000 people living as refugees. You have to really focus on voting and nothing else, to get giddy about this election.

What else is irrational in the fetish? It’s capricious. It doesn’t attach to all elections, just some. (Her shoe but not others.) In 1984, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua held an election that was validated by 400 observers from 40 countries, but the US rejected its legitimacy. In 1990, the country elected a party supported by the US, and it accepted the result.

In Algeria in 1991, the Islamic Salvation Front (’nuff said) won a clear victory, but the army cancelled the result. No objection from the US. For that matter, Yasser Arafat was probably the most genuinely elected Arab leader in his time, but the US said he had to go. Riddle me that.

The British Colonial Office had a great term for this approach to elections in the Arab world: indirect rule. Margaret MacMillan quotes an official in her book Paris 1919: “What we want is some administration with Arab institutions which we can safely leave while pulling the strings ourselves, something that won’t cost very much . . . but under which our economic and political interests will be secure.”

Sounds exactly like what the US got in Afghanistan with Hamid Karzai, whom they first approved and then got elected. Same deal with Ayad Allawi in Iraq: Appoint him prime minister, then make sure he’s elected. They’ve now decided Belarus, for some reason, is democratically objectionable, while their ally Uzbekistan, where an opposition leader was boiled alive for insisting on his religious rights, is not on the same list.

But a fetish would hardly be a fetish if it weren’t fickle.The notion of fetishes suits our era of archaic religious clashes: Islam versus Christianity and Judaism etc. The Bible’s second commandment, after all, forbids graven images, i.e., fetishes.

But I confess I actually thought about it after Stephen Harper’s latest warning over same-sex marriage: that it might lead to polygamy. If polygamy, I thought, what will we need to panic about next — idolatry? But say this at least for the Bible: While it is dead set against fetishes, it nowhere prohibits polygamy.


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Some Just Voted for Food

January 31st, 2005 - by admin

Dahr Jamail / Inter Press Service – 2005-01-31 23:28:43


BAGHDAD (January 31, 2005) — Voting in Baghdad was linked with receipt of food rations, several voters said after the Sunday poll. Many Iraqis said Monday that their names were marked on a list provided by the government agency that provides monthly food rations before they were allowed to vote.

“I went to the voting centre and gave my name and district where I lived to a man,” said Wassif Hamsa, a 32-year-old journalist who lives in the predominantly Shia area Janila in Baghdad. “This man then sent me to the person who distributed my monthly food ration.”

Mohammed Ra’ad, an engineering student who lives in the Baya’a district of the capital city reported a similar experience. Ra’ad, 23, said he saw the man who distributed monthly food rations in his district at his polling station. “The food dealer, who I know personally, of course, took my name and those of my family who were voting,” he said. “Only then did I get my ballot and was allowed to vote.”

“Two of the food dealers I know told me personally that our food rations would be withheld if we did not vote,” said Saeed Jodhet, a 21-year-old engineering student who voted in the Hay al-Jihad district of Baghdad. There has been no official indication that Iraqis who did not vote would not receive their monthly food rations.

Many Iraqis had expressed fears before the election that their monthly food rations would be cut if they did not vote. They said they had to sign voter registration forms in order to pick up their food supplies.

Their experiences on the day of polling have underscored many of their concerns about questionable methods used by the U.S.-backed Iraqi interim government to increase voter turnout.

Just days before the election, 52 year-old Amin Hajar who owns an auto garage in central Baghdad had said: “I’ll vote because I can’t afford to have my food ration cut…if that happened, me and my family would starve to death.”

Hajar told IPS that when he picked up his monthly food ration recently, he was forced to sign a form stating that he had picked up his voter registration. He had feared that the government would use this information to track those who did not vote.

Calls to the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq (IECI) and to the Ministry of Trade, which is responsible for the distribution of the monthly food ration, were not returned.

Other questions have arisen over methods to persuade people to vote. US troops tried to coax voters in Ramadi, capital city of the al-Anbar province west of Baghdad to come out to vote, AP reported.

Initial Claims of 72 Percent Turn-out Turn Out To Be False
IECI officials have meanwhile ‘downgraded’ their earlier estimate of voter turnout. IECI spokesman Farid Ayar had declared a 72 percent turnout earlier, a figure given also by the Bush Administration. But at a press conference Ayar backtracked on his earlier figure, saying the turnout would be nearer 60 percent of registered voters.

The earlier figure of 72 percent, he said, was “only guessing” and “just an estimate” that had been based on “very rough, word of mouth estimates gathered informally from the field.” He added that it will be some time before the IECI can issue accurate figures on the turnout.

“Percentages and numbers come only after counting and will be announced when it’s over,” he said. “It is too soon to say that those were the official numbers.”

Where there was a large turnout, the motivation behind the voting and the processes both appeared questionable. The Kurds up north were voting for autonomy, if not independence. In the south and elsewhere Shias were competing with Kurds for a bigger say in the 275-member national assembly.

In some places like Mosul, the turnout was heavier than expected. But many of the voters came from outside, and identity checks on voters appeared lax. Others spoke of vote-buying bids.

The Bush Administration has lauded the success of the Iraq election, but doubtful voting practices and claims about voter turnout are both mired in controversy.

Election violence, too, was being seen differently across the political spectrum. More than 30 Iraqis, a US soldier, and at least 10 British troops died Sunday. Hundreds of Iraqis were also wounded in attacks across Baghdad, in Baquba 50km northeast of the capital as well as in the northern cities Mosul and Kirkuk.

The British troops were on board a C-130 transport plane that crashed near Balad city just northwest of Baghdad. The British military has yet to reveal the cause of the crash.

Despite unprecedented security measures in which 300,000 US and Iraqi security forces were brought in to curb the violence, nine suicide bombers and frequent mortar attacks took a heavy toll in the capital city, while strings of attacks were reported around the rest of the country. As US President George W. Bush saw it, “some Iraqis were killed while exercising their rights as citizens.”

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Ashes to Ashes — from Auschwitz to Iraq

January 31st, 2005 - by admin

Chris Floyd / The Moscow Times – 2005-01-31 23:16:40


(January 28, 2005) — This week, grim ceremonies marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, where the Nazis murdered 1.5 million people. These remembrances of horror provoked extensive commentary, summed up in a single agonizing question: How could this have happened?

Answers — some simplistic, others more nuanced — were offered by various pundits and scholars:
It was one man’s madness;
it was the result of unique historical circumstances;
it was the inevitable byproduct of a totalitarian system, and so on.

Implicit in these comments was the comforting notion that such deliberate mass atrocity is possible only under a tyrannical regime, led by brutal dictators, “madmen” like Hitler, Stalin and Saddam; it could never happen in a democracy, where a free people exercise its electoral will, and strong civic structures curb the excesses of state power.

Indeed, in his “fire sermon” at the inauguration, US president George W. Bush claimed that democracy is a divine system, created by God Himself. It could therefore never be an instrument of evil. Does this stance correspond to reality, to history? To get at the deeper truth, perhaps the question we should ask is not, “How did Auschwitz happen?” but rather, “What exactly happened at Auschwitz?”

The Political Anatomy of Auschwitz
Well, here’s what happened:
• Government leaders ordered the murder and torture of innocent people in the defense of “the Homeland” and the superior “moral values” of their culture.

• They produced copious justifications for their actions, including legal rulings from top government attorneys, while concealing the actual operational details from public knowledge in the name of “national security.”

• When faced with undeniable evidence of atrocity, they blamed “bad apples” in the lower ranks.

Suddenly, viewed in this light, Auschwitz doesn’t seem so strange, so otherworldly, so removed from us. For we have seen all of these things come to pass today, perpetrated by the world’s greatest democracy, by elected leaders whose initially dubious hold on power has just been ratified by the free vote of a free people.

We have seen these democratic leaders launch a war of aggression on false pretenses — a deliberate action which they knew would lead to mass murder.

We know this war has killed at least 100,000 innocent people, according to a scientific study by the respected medical journal The Lancet. The overwhelming majority of these 100,000 have been killed by direct military action of the US-UK coalition, most of them long after “major combat operations” ended, The Lancet reports. (It’s fascinating to watch the Bushists quibble over this number — “The death count’s not really that high, it wasn’t deliberate, it was collateral damage, it’s anti-American propaganda,” etc. — like Holocaust revisionists disputing the reality of Auschwitz: “It wasn’t really 1.5 million, it wasn’t deliberate, it was disease, overwork, Jewish propaganda, etc.”)

Creeping Bushism
We know that thousands of Iraqis have been imprisoned unjustly; up to 90 percent of all detainees were innocent of any offense, the Red Cross reports.

We know that many of these innocents have been tortured, using techniques and guidelines laid down by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and approved by Bush.

We know that many people have died from this torture, as the pro-war Times of London reports, not only in Iraq but also in secret CIA prisons around the world, where thousands of people are being held without charges — and where the administration’s tepid restrictions on torture do not apply, as Bush’s legal factotum, Alberto Gonzales, admits.

And we know that whenever fragments of truth about this widespread, thoroughgoing program of atrocity do manage to surface from the darkness, Bush and his apologists run for cover and cast the blame on underlings.

“This so-called ill-treatment and torture in detention centers … were not, as some assumed, inflicted methodically, but were excesses committed by individual prison guards, their deputies, and men who laid violent hands on the detainees.”

These words have a familiar ring, echoed almost daily by a Bush official or a right-wing commentator — but in fact the quote is from Rudolf Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz, as Scott Horton notes in the Los Angeles Times.

Horton and other writers also unearthed statements by Nazi leaders and jurists declaring the Geneva Conventions “obsolete” for the “new kind of war” they were fighting against Bolshevik “terrorists” on the Eastern Front — precise equivalents to the language used by the Bush White House in its “torture memos.”

Nixon’s Position on Civilian Deaths: ‘I Don’t Give a Damn!’
There is nothing new in this, of course. Richard Nixon, first elected on a deceptive platform of “ending” the Vietnam War, in fact expanded the conflict with secret invasions of Laos and Cambodia that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Even after these invasions came to light, Nixon was re-elected, democratically, by one of the largest margins in US history.

His infamous Oval Office tapes capture this democratic leader mocking aides who sought to restrain his most murderous impulses (including his repeated proposals to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam): “You’re so goddamned concerned about the civilians, and I don’t give a damn. I don’t care.” Yet as the Pentagon Papers showed, Nixon was just part of a decades-long, bipartisan record of US deception and military escalation in Indochina that led to millions of deaths.

Yes, democracy remains the best system yet devised for the ordering of human society. But even the strongest democracy can be subverted by leaders bent on deception and aggression. Even the strongest democracy can give rise to a ruthless, corporate-driven war machine, to secret prisons, secret armies, torture regimens and mass slaughter. Democracy, for all its virtues, is not proof against systematic moral corruption — or monstrous atrocity. The ashes of Auschwitz are still falling on the innocents being murdered today.

Copyright © 2005 The Moscow Times.
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Condi Rice: Handmaiden to Evil

January 31st, 2005 - by admin

The Black Commentator – 2005-01-31 23:03:43


(January 27, 2005) — The first Black female US Secretary of State will inevitably preside over a general and dramatic decline in American influence in the world, a process that accelerates with each passing week.

So bizarre is American behavior, so disconnected from objective facts and from international conversation and evolving human standards of conduct — that Condoleezza Rice cannot escape becoming a caricature of diplomacy.

The Bush Pirates rolled their dice in Iraq in the Spring of 2003 — and came up snake eyes. Even elements of the US corporate media see the handwriting on the historical wall: Utter defeat for the neo-con project in Iraq, and descent into terminal isolation for the superpower. The war is all but lost, according to a study released by Knight Ridder Newspapers on January 23:

“The United States is steadily losing ground to the Iraqi insurgency, according to every key military yardstick. …

“The analysis suggests that unless something dramatic changes — such as a newfound will by Iraqis to reject the insurgency or a large escalation of US troop strength — the United States won’t win the war.”

The Americans never wanted to hold elections in Iraq, but ran out of political wiggle room when Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani last year threatened to bring a million of the faithful into the streets of Baghdad and Basra.

However, as the excellent Pepe Escobar, of AsiaTimes, reported on January 27, this weekend’s “elections” are possibly the most farcical held in human history. Bush “has introduced to the world the concept of election at gunpoint”:

“Of 1 million eligible expatriate voters, only 10% will actually vote. There are no Sunni Arab candidates (in part because the US military killed — or jailed — many Sunni party and tribal leaders). For any Iraqi in Jordan, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Turkey, it will be impossible to cross the border and vote: borders will be closed for three days.

Inside Iraq there will be curfews — and even traffic will be blocked. Half of all candidates have already withdrawn. And there will be no international monitors. As the names of the roughly 7,700 candidates on 80 party coalition lists are still unknown on the eve of polling day, no wonder the word on Baghdad’s streets is that ‘the Americans gave us the first secret elections in history.'”

Elect, then Eject US
The Americans dare not deny the Shi’ites their victory. But, as Escobar reported in December, and as has been consistently misrepresented by US corporate media, the Ayatollah is no friend of the occupation:

“The United Iraqi Alliance – the Shi’ite, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani-supervised electoral list (228 candidates) — has a detailed, 23-point platform. According to its main negotiator, Hussein Shahristani, the platform insists on the ‘sovereignty, unity and Islamic identity’ of Iraq, and most crucially includes a plan with a precise date for the end of the military occupation.”

Thus, the Americans have been painted into a corner. Bush insists that US forces will remain in Iraq “as long as it takes,” but has been forced to invest every ounce of political capital on elections that, in Escobar’s words, may result in the verdict: “First we vote, then we kick you out.”

Meanwhile, the world watches as armed-to-the-teeth US troops stand on street corners, handing out election literature in someone else’s country, after having flattened Fallujah, a city roughly the size of Newark, New Jersey.

Imagine if machinegun-toting Germans had performed similar electoral duties in occupied France, in 1942. Would any civilized observer have considered such a process legitimate? Yet Bush bets that his atrocity will be seen as a light unto the nations – an amazing measure of the chasm that separates the Pirates from civilization.

Aijaz Ahmad, in a piece for the political journal Frontline, published by The Hindu of India, describes an American mindset that is, in a word, savage:

“The mentality that the Americans brought into their attack on the people of Falluja was well indicated by the marine commanders who said on record that Falluja was a ‘house of Satan’ and those other commanders who told their soldiers to ‘shoot everything that moves and everything that does not move’; to fire ‘two bullets in every body’; and to spray every home with machine-gun and tank fire before entering them.”

Yet, for all the blood shed by both Iraqis and Americans, the US has suffered a huge net loss in world public opinion, and in the resources that it has sought to steal. The Americans are now more ill-positioned than two years ago, said Mr. Ahmad:

“By contrast, none of the gains the US had sought in Iraq and in the region as a whole has been realized, almost two years after Baghdad fell, seemingly so easily: not the capturing of the Iraqi oil, not the ability to use Iraq as the main military base in the region so as to begin an orderly withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, not the dream of using Iraq as a base for launching attacks against Syria, Iran, Lebanon or whatever. A demonstration of the invincibility of American power has come together with the overwhelming evidence of the limits of American power of the ground. We can now witness an imperial overreach even before they have reached very far.”

The Black Commentator said much the same thing on March 20, 2003, as Shock and Awe broke over Iraq. “War is the great and terrible engine of history,” we wrote. “Bush and his Pirates hope to employ that engine to harness Time and cheat the laws of political economy, to leapfrog over the contradictions of their parasitical existence into a new epoch of their own imagining. Instead, they have lunged into the abyss, from which no one will extricate them, for they will be hated much more than feared.

“In attempting to break humanity’s will to resist, the Bush pirates have reached too far.”

Handmaiden to Evil
George Bush and his handmaiden, Condoleezza Rice, speak a strange language that is understood only by the denizens of the American bubble. It is a language of aggression, pure and simple — an American Manifest Destiny that threatens the sovereignty of every other nation on the planet, but pretends to be a liberating force.

Bush also delivered an implicit threat to those Americans who resist involvement in his savage crusade: “We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands,” said Bush in his inaugural address. “The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Bush men (and woman) are prepared to declare domestic opponents of his imperial policies to be threats to internal American liberties.

In her confirmation hearings, Condoleezza Rice showed herself to be as bellicose as her master. In addition to Syria and Iran, writes Patrick Sale, of the Lebanon-based Daily Star, Rice placed Muslims in general in the cross-hairs. “America and the free world,” she declared, “are once again engaged in a long-term struggle against an ideology of hatred and tyranny and terror and hopelessness. And we must confront these challenges …”

Confrontation, everywhere, including in the south of our own hemisphere. Rice made a special effort to signal aggressive US intentions against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for his “close association” with Fidel Castro.

Democratic Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd reminded Rice that Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, President of the southern colossus, Brazil, is also on good terms with Castro. He might have also told her that Brazil and other Latin American nations are working furiously to sever their dependency on strangulating US terms of trade, most notably by concluding massive new deals with China; that Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba and Uruguay may soon launch a cooperative news service, so that CNN and other American agencies will no longer pollute their national dialogues; that Brazil, South Africa and India are busily establishing strategic alliances designed to circumvent the North — especially the United States; that India, China and Russia are struggling to create new poles of power in the world, circles of influence in which the US would be absent.

A Bad Poker Hand
The US invasion and ongoing torture of Iraq put the planet on notice that Washington is a danger to global stability. Not just progressives, but the conservative elites of Europe and Asia, were shocked and awed in ways that the insular Americans did not contemplate.

The Financial Times, a spokes-publication for Britain’s elite, warns: “Central banks are shifting reserves away from the US and towards the eurozone in a move that looks set to deepen the Bush administration’s difficulties in financing its ballooning current account deficit.” These financial managers are careful to move away from the dollar incrementally, so as not to plunge the global system into panic — but the direction is inexorably away from the US currency.

As a nation, we are being set up for a deep fall, but the fault lies with the Bush men (and woman), who are playing a kind of poker with the rest of the planet — one in which the only cards in their hands are military.

The military fiasco in Iraq has shown that these are weak cards, yet the only response from the Bush Pirates is to threaten further aggression in Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and Cuba. Ironically, the corporate class that Bush serves is the least “patriotic” of all, ready and eager to abandon the homeland to its economic fate in favor of greener pastures in Asia.

Bernie Sanders, the socialist congressman from Vermont, exposed these rich traitors for what they are, in a recent issue of In These Times:

“Amazingly, while the US middle class declines, corporate America is helping make China the economic superpower of the 21st century. Not only is China rapidly becoming the manufacturing center of the world, it is quickly becoming the information technology hub as well.

“Andy Grove, the founder of Intel, predicted last year that the United States will lose the bulk of its information technology jobs to China and India over the next decade. These are some of the best-paying jobs available.

“And John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, is typical of many corporate leaders when he said: ‘China will become the IT center of the world, and we can have a healthy discussion about whether that’s in 2020 or 2040. What we’re trying to do is outline an entire strategy of becoming a Chinese company.'”

The Bush men (and woman) loot the American treasury and threaten world order in the service of corporations that have already abandoned their US nationality, and now seek to destroy the sovereignty of all other nations. They have initiated a war against… everyone.

Civility cannot long exist where savages rule. In questioning the perennial prevaricator Condoleezza Rice, Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton found it impossible to keep up the pretensions of the upper chamber. “I don’t like impugning anyone’s integrity, but I really don’t like being lied to,” Dayton said. “Repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally.”

The entire planet is rejecting blatant American lies and aggression, and actively conspiring to undermine United States military, economic and political domination.

This aggression now has a new face — that of a Black woman. We are saddened at the historical irony, but so be it. Evil comes in all colors.

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Elections and Unexpected Consequences

January 31st, 2005 - by admin

Robert Fisk / The (London) Independent – 2005-01-31 09:42:58


(January 29, 2005) — Shias are about to inherit Iraq, but the election that will bring them to power is creating deep fears among the Arab kings and dictators of the Middle East that their Sunni leadership is under threat.

America has insisted on these elections — which will produce a largely Shia parliament representing Iraq’s largest religious community — because they are supposed to provide an exit strategy for embattled US forces, but they seem set to change the geopolitical map of the Arab world in ways the Americans could never have imagined.

For George Bush and Tony Blair this is the law of unintended consequences writ large.

Amid curfews, frontier closures and country-wide travel restrictions, voting in Iraq will begin under the threat of Osama bin Laden’s ruling that the poll represents an “apostasy”. Voting started among expatriate Iraqis yesterday in Britain, the US, Sweden, Syria and other countries, but the turnout was much smaller than expected.

The Shia Crescent
The Americans have talked up the possibility of massive bloodshed tomorrow and US intelligence authorities have warned embassy staff in Baghdad that insurgents may have been “saving up” suicide bombers for mass attacks on polling stations.

But outside Iraq, Arab leaders are talking of a Shia “Crescent” that will run from Iran through Iraq to Lebanon via Syria, whose Alawite leadership forms a branch of Shia Islam. The underdogs of the Middle East, repressed under the Ottomans, the British and then the pro-Western dictators of the region, will be a new and potent political force.

While Shia political parties in Iraq have promised that they will not demand an Islamic republic — their speeches suggest that they have no desire to recreate the Iranian revolution in their country — their inevitable victory in an election that Iraq’s Sunnis will largely boycott mean that this country will become the first Arab nation to be led by Shias.

On the surface, this may not be apparent; Iyad Allawi, the former CIA agent and current Shia “interim” Prime Minister, is widely tipped as the only viable choice for the next prime minister – but the kings and emirs of the Gulf are facing the prospect with trepidation.

In Bahrain, a Sunni monarchy rules over a Shia majority that staged a mini-insurrection in the 1990s. Saudi Arabia has long treated its Shia minority with suspicion and repression.

‘God Favored the Shia with Oil’
In the Arab world, they say that God favoured the Shia with oil. Shias live above the richest oil reserves in Saudi Arabia and upon some of the Kuwaiti oil fields. Apart from Mosul, Iraqi Shias live almost exclusively amid their own country’s massive oil fields. Iran’s oil wealth is controlled by the country’s overwhelming Shia majority.

What does all this presage for the Sunni potentates of the Arabian peninsula? Iraq’s new national assembly and the next interim government it selects will empower Shias throughout the region, inviting them to question why they too cannot be given a fair share of their country’s decision-making.

The Americans originally feared that parliamentary elections in Iraq would create a Shia Islamic republic and made inevitable — and unnecessary — warnings to Iran not to interfere in Iraq. But now they are far more frightened that without elections, the 60 percent Shia community would join the Sunni insurgency.

[The] poll is thus, for the Americans, a means to an end, a way of claiming that — while Iraq may not have become the stable, liberal democracy they claimed they would create — it has started its journey on the way to Western-style freedom and that American forces can leave.

Few in Iraq believe that these elections will end the insurgency, let alone bring peace and stability. By holding the poll now — when the Shias, who are not fighting the Americans, are voting while the Sunnis, who are fighting the Americans, are not — the elections can only sharpen the divisions between the country’s two largest communities.

While Washington had clearly not envisaged the results of its invasion in this way, its demand for “democracy” is now moving the tectonic plates of the Middle East in a new and uncertain direction. The Arab states outside the Shia “Crescent” fear Shia political power even more than they are frightened by genuine democracy.

Election Results could ‘Destabilize’ the Region
No wonder, then, King Abdullah of Jordan is warning that this could destabilise the Gulf and pose a “challenge” to the United States. This may also account for the tolerant attitude of Jordan towards the insurgency, many of whose leaders freely cross the border with Iraq.

The American claim that they move secretly from Syria into Iraq appears largely false; the men who run the rebellion against US rule in Iraq are not likely to smuggle themselves across the Syrian-Iraqi desert when they can travel “legally” across the Jordanian border.

[The] election may be bloody. It may well produce a parliament so top-heavy with Shia candidates that the Americans will be tempted to “top up” the Sunni assembly members by choosing some of their own, who will inevitably be accused of collaboration. But it will establish Shia power in Iraq — and in the wider Arab world — for the first time since the great split between Sunnis and Shias that followed the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

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US Firms’ Work Hinges on Outcome of Iraq Elections

January 31st, 2005 - by admin

David R. Baker / San Francisco Chronicle – 2005-01-31 09:41:38


(January 28, 2005) — When Iraqis go to the polls Sunday, they could determine the fate of reconstruction in their ravaged country.

US firms hired to fix Iraq’s broken power plants and sewage systems already have seen their progress slowed by the country’s relentless insurgency, which has sabotaged their projects and killed at least 300 of their employees. If Sunday’s election triggers a civil war between Sunni and Shiite Iraqis — a conflict some analysts consider likely — reconstruction may grind to a halt. It could, analysts say, prompt the United States and its contractors to leave Iraq earlier than planned.

If, however, the election gives the country’s government greater legitimacy among ever-skeptical Iraqis, it could make the work of companies such as San Francisco’s Bechtel Corp. far easier. Contractors could eventually move between job sites more freely, spend less on armed guards, and worry less about their American and Iraqi employees now targeted for death.

“If the poll is disorganized and the Sunnis don’t turn out, then it probably means the United States is going to have to rethink its strategy,” said Loren Thompson, an analyst with the Lexington Institute think tank in Arlington, Va. “If it goes fairly well, that will reassure Bechtel and the other companies that the US government will stick with the plan.”

The companies have already modified their operations to prepare for the election.

Most contractors have told their employees to hunker down in their fortified compounds as the vote nears and avoid travel on the country’s lawless roads unless absolutely necessary. Iraqi employees have, in some cases, melted away from work sites, staying at home as the insurgents step up their intimidation campaign.

Of course, difficult working conditions are nothing new. Reconstruction engineers have endured countless swings in Iraq’s level of violence before. They are paid with US taxpayer money, work for the US government and say they intend to finish out their contracts. They hope the vote brings some stability.

“We want to mirror the optimism of the administration and the field commanders in that, by allowing the Iraqis to have this stake in their own future, they will perhaps step up and take more responsibility for security,” said Earnest Robbins, senior vice president and manager of the international division of Parsons Corp. The Pasadena firm repairs Iraqi oil field equipment and destroys captured ammunition.

If the election triggers a civil war? “We’ll look real hard at whether we belong there or not and whether the US government would want to intervene,” Robbins said.

The insurgency has, so far, not been able to stop reconstruction. But it has exacted an awful price.

The Western firms rebuilding sewage plants and rail lines, hospitals, and oil pipelines have been forced to live under armed guard, restrict their movement between towns and, in some cases, fix the same equipment again and again. Money that should have gone to repairs now goes to security.

One federal reconstruction official recently estimated that security accounts for 10 to 20 percent of each company’s overhead costs. Some analysts consider that estimate low.

Hidden Casualties: 60 Halliburton Employees Killed in Iraq
The precautions sometimes aren’t enough. As of Jan. 18, at least 240 American contractors had been killed in Iraq, according to insurance data reported to the Department of Labor. It’s an incomplete list, which doesn’t include, for example, the 60 employees of defense contractor Halliburton who have died in Iraq.

Iraqis working with Western companies have come under frequent attack from the insurgents, although no one has yet compiled a full list of those killed. At least two Iraqis working with Bechtel, for example, are known to have died during the past year.

Despite the violence, work continues.

Bechtel recently finished a $23 million drinking-water project in Basra that the company began in 2003. Bechtel dredged a silted-up, 149-mile canal that brings fresh water to Iraq’s second-largest city, which has seen far less recent violence than Baghdad. The firm also refurbished 13 water-treatment plants there and fixed a pumping station.

The project nearly doubled the amount of fresh water flowing into Basra. But in an example of reconstruction’s frustrations, many residents still can’t get a steady flow in their sinks. The city’s distribution pipes have too many holes and illegal taps. The water seeps out into the dirt beneath Basra.

“You’ve got so many taps in it, the water can’t get to the end of the line,” said Bechtel spokesman Greg Pruett, speaking from Baghdad.

Pruett said he didn’t want to predict how the election would affect Bechtel’s work environment. “The one thing I’ve learned here in Iraq is, every day stands on its own,” he said.

Bechtel, like other reconstruction companies, will let its Iraqi employees skip work to vote, if they chose to go to the polls. Pruett said several Iraqis he has spoken with have vowed not to let anyone keep them from voting.

“We certainly have told all our Iraqi employees that … they absolutely have time to go vote, just like in the United States,” Pruett said.

Some Iraqi reconstruction workers already are staying home.

“As the violence has increased in the last two weeks, we have seen an increase in the number of people on our jobs who’ve declined to continue working, due to concerns about their own safety,” said Jerry Holloway, spokesman for Fluor Corp. of Aliso Viejo (Orange County), which performs electrical repairs.

“On the other hand, we’ve been able to fill those slots with other people willing to work,” he added.

With the election approaching, the scope of the violence has spread. Kenneth Kurtz, whose San Francisco company supplies security guards to reconstruction companies, said some of the country’s many political parties and factions have begun to attack each other.

“You don’t just have the insurgents fighting the military,” said Kurtz, chief executive officer of the Steele Foundation. “You now have the added issues of political instability.”

Kurtz said he is reducing the number of his men in the country, although he declined to give specifics.

He said Steele has no intention of leaving the country entirely, since working in high-risk environments is part of the company’s job. But Kurtz said he feared that fighting among Iraqis could spread after the election if, as expected, the long-dominant Sunni Arabs lose power to the Shiite majority they once repressed.

“You see the pieces coming together for civil war,” he said.

E-mail David R. Baker at dbaker@sfchronicle.com.
©2005 San Francisco Chronicle

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Who’s Dying in Our War?

January 31st, 2005 - by admin

Rone Tempest / Times Staff Writer – 2005-01-31 09:38:16


CAMP ANACONDA (January 30, 2005) —- Some months after the Americans took over the sprawling Balad Air Base, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, someone posted an enigmatic sign on the main gate asking: “Is Today the Day?”

Soldiers at the base, which the US military renamed Logistics Support Area Anaconda, or Camp Anaconda, take turns speculating about what the sign means. In the tense months leading up to today’s planned national elections in Iraq, the population at the base has swollen to more than 22,000 soldiers and civilian contractors. Some Camp Anaconda residents — installed in relative comfort inside the 15-square-mile compound that now features four dining halls, two swimming pools, a first-run movie theater and a Burger King franchise — have concluded that the sign is a military safety message: “Stay Alert!”

For the 90 California National Guard soldiers who make up Alpha Company, a Petaluma-based arm of the 579th Engineer Battalion of Santa Rosa, and regularly venture outside the base to patrol the treacherous canal-veined perimeter, the sign carries a more ominous meaning. The soldiers are part of one of the most star-crossed National Guard units in Iraq.

Since arriving at Anaconda last March, one out of five in Alpha Company has been killed or wounded. Three of the nine California National Guardsmen killed in Iraq by the end of 2004 were from Alpha Company.

“A lot of the guys hate the sign,” says Alpha Company Sgt. Timothy “T.J.” McClurg, a 27-year-old welder from Chico sent home to recover after shrapnel from a roadside bomb ripped into his foot on Nov. 11. “They think it means today is the day we get hit, or today is the day we die.”

For Patrick Ryan McCaffrey, a 34-year-old father of two from the Bay Area suburb of Tracy, the day was June 22, 2004. McCaffrey, a rising auto-body shop manager in Palo Alto, signed up for the National Guard during the wave of patriotism that swept the country after Sept. 11, 2001.

“Can you believe what’s happening?” McCaffrey asked Marlene Cather, one of his co-workers at Akins Collision Repair. “We need to do something.”

Exactly one month after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, McCaffrey joined a National Guard unit with a mission statement that emphasizes its engineering support role to “provide mobility, counter-mobility and survivability support to a combat arms brigade” as well as “providing manpower and engineering expertise” during stateside crises.

In the troubling days after Sept. 11, National Guard units across the land reported hundreds of similar enlistments. But like many of the other 50,000-plus National Guard soldiers now serving alongside about 20,000 Army Reserve troops in Iraq, McCaffrey didn’t foresee that he would one day find himself in deadly combat on the other side of the world. McCaffrey’s unit had not been in overseas combat since World War II.

In the half century before Iraq, the engineers had been deployed on missions ranging from forest fires to the 1965 Watts riots. Their duties included temporary assignments to search for weapons in state prisons, remove snow from blocked mountain passes and, in May 1993, to bury a gray whale that had washed up on the beach near Eureka. McCaffrey told friends when he enlisted that he expected to be assigned to homeland security duties, such as guarding the Golden Gate Bridge or Shasta Dam.

“Patrick thought by joining the engineers he would be doing something constructive to fight terrorism on the West Coast,” recalls his father, Bob McCaffrey.

Call in the Reserves
But as the US campaign in Iraq bogged down in the summer of 2003, the Pentagon turned to its legions of “citizen soldiers,” serving mostly weekend duty in crumbling state armories, and ordered them to relieve exhausted regular Army units in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Authorized by a presidential emergency order issued only two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the historic deployment took place with relatively little public notice or fanfare. It wasn’t until later, when the Guard and reserve troops began dying and getting injured in Iraq, that presidential candidate John Kerry and others began describing their overseas service as a “backdoor draft.”

Today more than 40% of the 150,000 US soldiers in Iraq are either National Guardsmen or reserves. By the end of the spring, that percentage is expected to rise to more than 50%.

Despite McCaffrey’s expectations as a National Guard engineer, his marching orders were quite different. Once the U.S. moved into Iraq, he was converted into an infantryman and sent into combat, one of more than 5,000 California National Guard soldiers mustered for service in the war.

As the Pentagon scrambled to adjust to long-term military occupation, similarly abrupt job reclassifications became widespread. After years of developing caste pride as engineers, their transformation into foot soldiers was unsettling.

“It’s like telling the Lakers that they are not going to play basketball but are now going to be Ping-Pong champs,” says retired Army Col. David H. Hackworth, a critic of the current National Guard policy.

It also meant that some of the soldiers got less training than the regular Army infantry they were replacing. Army infantrymen receive 14 weeks of training in their specialty. A National Guard engineer normally undergoes eight weeks of basic infantry training and six weeks in engineering school, where they learn how to plant mines, detonate explosives and lay concertina wire, among other skills.

Called to Active Duty
McCaffrey’s company was called to active duty on Jan. 17, 2004, after a month of refresher training in Ft. Lewis, Wash., followed by another month of more Iraq-specific maneuvers at Ft. Irwin, Calif. Problems occurred at both training camps.

The Ft. Lewis routine was disrupted by the arrest of a Washington National Guardsman, a member of the same 81st Brigade as the Californians, for attempting to sell military secrets to undercover federal agents posing as members of Al Qaeda. The Ft. Irwin training came to an unpleasant conclusion after someone stole the 9-millimeter handguns of a California battalion commander and his first sergeant, setting off a security crisis.

After the inauspicious start, the 579th Alpha Company, under the command of Capt. William C. Turner, a computer chip designer from Mountain View, arrived in Iraq in early April 2004. McCaffrey was initially gung-ho about the assignment. He regularly wrote to his family about the children he met in the villages and often asked for hard candy or soccer balls to distribute to the Iraqi kids.

But after only a month of daily patrols along the dangerous periphery of the base, McCaffrey confided to family and friends that he had become disillusioned with the American war effort, particularly after the revelations of prisoner abuse by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib. In a May 16 e-mail to his mother, Nadia McCaffrey, he described how the abuse scandal had inflamed anti-American sentiment among Iraqis.

McCaffrey also was troubled by the behavior of the Iraqi national guard units, then called the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, that he and his fellow soldiers had been assigned to train. The line between friend and foe had become increasingly blurred in a country where brown-and-tan camouflage Iraqi uniforms are for sale in many markets.

On April 20, McCaffrey and other members of the 2nd platoon, 2nd squad — nicknamed “Double-Deuce” — were called out in the middle of the night to find the source of a rocket that had hit inside the base. McCaffrey’s unit stopped two Iraqis on a motorcycle, one of whom McCaffrey recognized as a man he had been training earlier in the day at Camp Anaconda.

The two Iraqis were “swiped” for explosives and tested positive for TNT and another explosive known as RDX. Suspected of participating in the rocket attack, both were arrested as insurgents. When McCaffrey called home the day after the arrests, he told his father how distressed he was about the incident.

“That episode cut Patrick and all the soldiers right to the quick,” says his father, a San Jose building contractor. “It made them all realize that things were not going the way they were supposed to be going. It also made him mad as hell because now they not only had to look in front of them, but they had to look behind as well.”

The incident now seems a precursor of what happened later at the military base in Mosul. On Dec. 21, a suicide bomber wearing an Iraqi national guard uniform blew himself up in a crowded mess tent, killing 22 people, including 14 US soldiers.

Four of the dead were National Guardsmen from Maine and Virginia. For McCaffrey, the arrest of the two Iraqis also foreshadowed a devastating reality that would come two months later, on a narrow asphalt road surrounded by cotton fields outside Camp Anaconda.

The Guard Goes to War
While the use of guard units in combat theaters has a long history in the U.S., they were almost always asked to play a supporting role. In addition, much of its combat service history faded from memory during the last 50 years as the National Guard was rarely called upon to fight. In the end, only 7,000 National Guard troops-;only a handful from California-;served among the 2.6 million military men and women who went to Vietnam.

The last time large numbers of guardsmen were sent into long-term combat was during the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, when, for example, the California National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division, based in Los Alamitos, participated in many bloody battles, including those at Chorwon, Heartbreak Ridge and Sandbag Castle. Three of its soldiers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

But President Lyndon B. Johnson rejected advice to send the reserve components to Vietnam, and his reasons were political. The president felt that calling up the reserves would endanger his ambitious Great Society domestic agenda. To many military leaders, Johnson’s decision not to call up the reserves was the greatest mistake of that war.

The exclusion demoralized National Guard units and left the Guard with a reputation as an alternative for those hoping to avoid dangerous duty. As the 2004 presidential election demonstrated, resentment still runs deep over the Guard-as-safe-haven issue.

After Vietnam, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Creighton Abrams Jr. vowed that the reserves would play an active role in all future conflicts. Since then, virtually all American military action has included the National Guard.

Sending the Guard into extended combat is a different story. Currently, National Guard soldiers deployed in Iraq account for nearly one-third of the U.S. ground forces. By the end of 2004, 154 National Guard soldiers had been killed and more than 1,000 wounded in the conflict. The first days of 2005 were even bloodier. Ten National Guardsmen were killed during the first week of this year.

Johnson, the visceral Texas politician, knew by intuition what Bush administration officials are learning today: In an unpopular war, National Guard troops and reserve soldiers represent a potential political land mine. They tend to be older, and are more likely married with children. They’re also much more entrenched in their civilian communities than the regular military. In Iraq, for example, the average age of US Marines killed in action is 21; the average age of guardsmen lost in combat is 10 years older.

Violating the ‘Citizen Soldier’ Concept
Richard H. Kohn, history professor and chair of the Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, argues that the Iraq deployment violates the “citizen soldier” concept at the heart of the National Guard.

“By transforming them into a very different armed force, you are robbing these people of a substantial part of their civilian lives, warping their careers and changing the kinds of people who can afford to be part-time soldiers,” Kohn says. He adds that because many guardsmen are civilian police, fire and emergency medical workers, the deployment “steals people from very important civilian functions” while depriving state governors of crucial emergency forces.

As the military occupation of Iraq approaches its third year, morale and recruitment issues have begun to surface. A 2004 battlefield survey conducted in Iraq for the Secretary of the Army showed that morale among the National Guard soldiers was “markedly lower” than that of active-duty soldiers.

At the heart of the complaints, the survey results said, is the feeling among guardsmen that they are “treated like second-class citizens in the Army.” More recently in New Mexico, where the California National Guard’s 184th Infantry Regiment was preparing to be deployed to Iraq, soldiers complained to a Los Angeles Times reporter about poor training and inadequate equipment. “We are going to pay for this in blood,” one said.

In a celebrated incident on Dec. 8 in Kuwait, Tennessee National Guard Spc. Thomas Wilson surprised Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld during an impromptu press conference, asking why Guard units were being sent into Iraq with inadequate armor on their vehicles. Cheered by his fellow soldiers, Wilson claimed that his unit was forced to rummage through local landfills for “rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass . . . to put on our vehicles to take into combat.”

“I call it the ‘question heard ’round the world,’ ” says military historian Col. Mike Doubler, a Tennessee native who served 14 years in the Army and nine years in the Guard. “There is a growing perception-;among guardsmen and reservists-;that there are two armies in Iraq.”

It’s likely no coincidence that on Dec. 17, National Guard Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum announced that, because of declining recruitment during the Iraq war, the service now will offer inducements to make reenlistment more attractive. Among the incentives: tripling retention bonuses from $5,000 to $15,000. Blum also announced that the number of Guard recruiters would be increased nationally from 2,700 to 4,100.

Experts predict that the first real test of the war’s impact on the National Guard will come this spring, when soldiers returning from Iraq have their first opportunity to quit. “The fact is,” says Kohn, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill professor, “we have worn these people out [and] taken advantage of their patriotism and service. Many of them are going to quit as soon as they get a chance.”

Patrick McCaffrey: A Sunnyvale Childhood
At Camp Anaconda, Patrick McCaffrey battled his own morale problems as well as those of his overworked unit. He had excellent people skills developed during a civilian career of dealing with emotional car owners. Because of his talent for calming customers, McCaffrey’s desk was the closest to the front door at Akins Collision.

McCaffrey practiced a kind of holistic collision repair, caring for the client as well as the car. “People would come in a panic mood after an accident, hurting and wanting their cars fixed,” says colleague Marline Cather. “Patrick would say, ‘You know, we can fix your car quickly, but it takes longer to fix people.’ ”

McCaffrey grew up on the San Francisco Peninsula in Sunnyvale in Santa Clara County. For most of his childhood it was a relatively sleepy Bay Area suburb and agricultural processing center. His parents, Bob and Nadia, met in Paris in 1966. Bob was a US Army cryptographer and Nadia, a French citizen, was a cafe waitress. The couple married at Nadia’s family farm in Auvergne in 1968 and moved to California, where Bob landed a construction job.

The young McCaffreys rented a two-bedroom wood-frame duplex in a working-class neighborhood known to longtime residents as “the lowlands.” Compared to the mansions in the coastal hills, the homes there are modest. After his son was born on May 26, 1970, Bob McCaffrey built him a sandbox and, a few years later, installed an aboveground pool in the backyard. “It was a paradise for kids,” recalls Nadia McCaffrey. “Our house was the center of the neighborhood.”

But McCaffrey’s happy childhood took a turn after Bob and Nadia separated when their son was 11. Nadia took a job as a receptionist at a resort hotel on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia. Patrick spent the school years with his father in Sunnyvale and summers with his mother on the island. The separation was hard on the boy. He developed anorexia during his early teens and became so thin that his parents feared he might die. Nadia recalls him arriving one summer at the Moorea airport.

“When I saw him come off the plane I just burst into tears,” she says. “He was 15 years old and he weighed less than 80 pounds.”

Alarmed, Nadia returned to Sunnyvale. Patrick began gaining weight, and later enrolled in a YMCA weight-lifting program. By his senior year at Homestead High School, McCaffrey was big and strong enough to play cornerback on the football team. According to parents and friends, though, he spent the rest of his life trying to overcome a self-image as the proverbial weakling at the beach, and some say that may have played a role in his decision to join the National Guard.

McCaffrey’s other passions in high school were cars and the Washington Redskins. He developed his Redskins devotion because he admired powerful Washington running back John Riggins, who starred for the team in the 1970s and ’80s. He was hooked after watching Riggins break free for a 43-yard winning touchdown over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII. As an adult, McCaffrey turned the den in his Tracy home into a Redskins shrine. In the will he prepared before leaving for Iraq, McCaffrey asked to be buried with a Redskins pennant and beneath a gravestone inscribed “Redskins Forever.”

High school was followed by a brief stint at a local junior college and an entry-level job as a detailer at Akins Collision Repair, where he impressed the owners with his management potential. He continued his regular workouts at Gold’s Gym until his body grew solid and powerfully packed on his 5-foot-11-inch frame. An early marriage ended in divorce, but it produced his first child, Patrick Jr., now 10, who lives with his mother in Mountain View.

In 1999, on a trip with friends in Rosarito, Baja California, McCaffrey met Sylvia Aguilar, a Mexican citizen who grew up and attended high school in Oceanside. McCaffrey was captivated after spending a romantic evening on the beach holding hands and talking. Aguilar liked that McCaffrey talked so lovingly and openly about his son, and the pain he felt when he was separated from him. Later, Aguilar, now 27, was charmed when McCaffrey drove from Palo Alto to Oceanside to meet her family.

Since his career was thriving, he bought a ranch-style home in Tracy, a San Joaquin Valley exurb that caters to first-time homeowners. The couple married in 2000, and daughter Janessa, now 3, was born two months before the Sept. 11 attacks. Many were puzzled that McCaffrey risked it all by joining the National Guard.

At work, Akins owner Sharon Rupp was one of the most surprised. “We had plans to expand our business and [McCaffrey] was key,” Rupp says. She planned to name him general manager of his own shop. McCaffrey did not consult his father, with whom he discussed most important things in his life.

“If he had asked me I would have advised him against it,” Bob McCaffrey says. Nadia McCaffrey, who now operates a nonprofit grief counseling program and has become a leader in the Northern California antiwar movement, has been a lifelong pacifist and opposed her son’s enlistment from the beginning. She says, though, that she was powerless to stop it. “He was like a lion in a cage,” she recalls of her son’s reaction to watching the terrorist attacks on television. “He just wanted to do something.”

Longtime friend Romulo Rimando says McCaffrey “told me that he wanted to set an example for his son.” When McCaffrey left for Iraq, he put pictures of Sylvia, Patrick Jr. and Janessa in a pendant and wore it constantly around his neck.

The management skills McCaffrey developed in the auto-body shop soon proved useful in Iraq. At Ft. Irwin and later in Iraq, McCaffrey quickly emerged as a leader, receiving a battlefield promotion to corporal only a few days after arriving at Camp Anaconda and a recommendation for promotion to sergeant not long after. When other soldiers were feeling down, McCaffrey buoyed them.

“He had this way of coming up and rubbing my shoulders when I would get stressed out,” says Spc. Chris Murphy, a 22-year-old Lake County rock musician who quickly bonded with the older McCaffrey during training at Ft. Irwin. “He’d say, ‘Hey man, relax. Calm down.’ ” McCaffrey was one of the strongest men in Alpha Company and always one of the first to volunteer for extra duties. If soldiers had problems with an officer, McCaffrey often intervened on their behalf.

After the incident in April, when McCaffrey learned that his Iraqi trainee was among those suspected of attacking the base, he went to his superiors. “Patrick told them they needed to change the way they operated with these people because they couldn’t be trusted,” Bob McCaffrey recalls from one of his frequent phone conversations with his son. “But nothing happened. He was very disillusioned with the command structure.”

Then there was the matter of the heavy workload. The long missions outside the razor wire in the mounting heat of summer took a toll. McCaffrey, trained as a combat lifesaver, felt that the officers were working the men too hard. The soldiers complained that the 579th, along with the two other California and Washington State National Guard companies assigned to patrol the base perimeter, represented less than 3% of the soldiers at Camp Anaconda but bore the brunt of the danger while other regular military units seemed to enjoy relative safety inside the base.

McCaffrey called his wife on June 21, the eve of an early-morning mission to search for weapons outside the base. “Usually when he called he would reassure me,” Sylvia says. “But this time he said, ‘Babe, I’m just so tired. They don’t let us sleep at night. I just wanted to call and say I love you.’ ”

Double-Deuce Down
By June 2004, nerves were on edge at Camp Anaconda. Temperatures during the day approached 125 degrees. Inside the circus-style tents where the soldiers slept, the thermometer seldom fell below 105 degrees.

Electricity to run the few air conditioners was erratic. Some took turns sleeping in the generator-powered, air-conditioned computer rooms. On June 16, insurgents launched a heavy mortar attack against the base that hit the post exchange, killing three soldiers and wounding 25 others. With typical dark humor, the soldiers began calling the base “Mortaritaville.” No one had had a day off in more than two weeks.

McCaffrey’s squad received orders late on June 21 to go on patrol before dawn the next morning. To the weary troops, the squad’s nickname of “Double-Deuce” was starting to sound like a bad poker hand. The commander woke them at 3 a.m. By 5, the men were “outside the wire,” trudging through the high brush and farmers’ crops, using metal detectors to hunt for weapons caches and other signs of insurgent activities.

The squad regrouped at 10:30, and by then several were showing signs of heat exhaustion. One of the first to fall out was Sgt. Dennis Sarla. McCaffrey administered a saline IV to the sergeant, who then was transported back to base. McCaffrey, wearing a bandana to keep the sweat from dripping into his eyes, took over carrying Sarla’s heavy radio, an older model that weighed nearly 75 pounds.

No one was surprised that he took the radio in addition to his M-16, grenades and body armor. “McCaffrey always took care of that little bit of slack for other people,” says best pal T.J. McClurg. He wanted to carry his team like Riggins had carried the Redskins.

When another soldier fell out, he was replaced by Spc. Bruce Himelright, a 27-year-old native Texan who had been manning the .50-caliber machine gun on one of the transport vehicles parked a mile or so away. After a 20-minute break, the officer leading the patrol, 2nd Lt. Andre Tyson, huddled with the troops.

Through a translator, several members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps complained that the patrol was wasting its time looking for weapons in the farmlands. Tyson, a 34-year-old Costco manager from Riverside who was fresh out of officer candidate school when sent to Iraq, decided to split the patrol into two squads and follow a roughly parallel course through the brush and overgrown fields. McCaffrey, who had the only radio, went with the lieutenant. He was joined by Himelright, as well as the Iraqi translator and three Iraqi trainees. McClurg, who was manning one of the Humvees on higher ground closer to the base, stayed in touch with McCaffrey over the radio.

McClurg’s radio handle was “2-2 Bravo.” McCaffrey’s was “2-2 Dismount.” At one point McCaffrey called to report that his group was near an abandoned Iraqi military police checkpoint near Bakr Village. Before the war, the village was off-base housing for Iraqi air force officers. Now the 400 or so middle-class houses were mostly occupied by squatters.

What happened next is still under investigation by the Department of Army, Criminal Investigation Division. “To protect the integrity of the investigation we won’t be able to provide you any details at this time,” says Criminal Investigation spokesman Chris Grey, a Pentagon civilian. However, interviews in Iraq and in the US with several Alpha Company soldiers, including Capt. Turner, the company commander and Mountain View computer chip designer, produced the following reconstruction of events:

Walking on the narrow asphalt road near Bakr Village, Tyson and McCaffrey stopped to confer and use the radio. On the village side of the road was a crumbling mud wall, about 5-feet-tall. On the other side was a deep, dry irrigation canal. Himelright, trailing behind, knelt on the road with his rifle in ready position facing the village. As he turned slightly to see what Tyson and McCaffrey were doing, he noticed that two of the Iraqi trainees, looking nervous, had detached themselves 10 yards away from the group, leaving the Americans and the Iraqi translator alone on the road.

Himelright sensed something was wrong, but before he could react, he heard a burst of gunfire and felt himself hit in the left hip. According to Capt. Turner, at least one of the Iraqi trainees opened fire on the three Americans from close range. The bullets struck Tyson several times in the neck and head and hit McCaffrey in the legs and unprotected areas of his upper body.

Wounded, Himelright ended up on his back at the bottom of the dry canal. Looking up into the bright sun, he saw the unidentifiable silhouette of a man standing on the rim of the road. The man leveled his gun at Himelright and fired another burst at the prostrate American. Three AK-47 armor-piercing bullets lodged in Himelright’s Kevlar vest. Another round hit his ammunition magazine. Himelright was knocked unconscious by the bullets, but not wounded again. When he revived, adrenaline pumping, he was able to climb the canal wall. He saw the bodies of Tyson and McCaffrey. The radio was broken, so Himelright fired several rounds from his M-16 into the air to call for help.

“I started worrying and calling out on the radio: ‘2-2 Dismount this is 2-2 Bravo. 2-2 Dismount this is 2-2 Bravo,’ but there was no answer,” says McClurg, who was sitting atop his Humvee a half-mile away. He became more concerned when he saw military vehicles, including a medic Humvee, headed toward the Bakr Village road.

Someone on the radio blurted out that they had found one dead and two wounded. At the time, they apparently thought that one of the downed men was still alive. McClurg listened with dread for the battle roster numbers of the fallen soldiers. “Right off the bat I heard McCaffrey’s number,” he recalls.

The three Iraqi soldiers who were with the Americans fled the scene. Two of them eventually wandered back into the American base, but the third, reportedly a skilled Russian-trained sniper who served in the Iraqi army, has not been found despite an ongoing search by American forces. It’s still not known if other attackers participated in the ambush, perhaps from behind the wall where Tyson and McCaffrey stopped. One villager claims to have seen a blue farm van parked nearby.

So far, military authorities have denied requests for an official report on the incident, including the disposition of the two Iraqi trainees on the patrol who returned to Camp Anaconda. Citing the ongoing investigation, the military also has declined a request from McCaffrey’s father and wife for a formal autopsy report.

Chris Murphy, one of McCaffrey’s best friends in Alpha Company, wrote an account of the ambush that was picked up by several soldier Internet blogs. Murphy also was on the patrol that day, but went with the other group after Tyson split up the unit. In his account, he recalls coming upon McCaffrey’s lifeless body sprawled on the asphalt road. In the distance, near the village, curious Iraqi civilians had begun to gather.

“We were supposed to meet back up where the palm trees were,” Murphy says. “I remember McCaffrey saying, ‘This is [crazy], man. They’re not going to stop pushing us until someone gets hurt or killed. Then maybe they’ll let up.’ That was the last thing I remember him saying.”

McCaffrey is buried in Oceanside, his wife’s family home, in a cemetery that looks out over the Pacific Ocean. On his headstone, as he requested, are the words “Redskins Forever.”

The Killed and Wounded of Alpha Company

Killed in Action

• Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey, 34, Tracy (promoted posthumously)
• Sgt. First Class Michael Ottolini, 45, Petaluma
• 2nd Lt. Andre Tyson, 33, Riverside

Wounded in Action

• Sgt. Michael Gilmore, 36, Livermore
• Spc. Charles Hayes, 24, San Jacinto
• Staff Sgt. Adam Henson, 36, El Centro
• Bruce Himelright, 27, Chico
• Sgt. Paul Hoffman, 44, Fair Oaks
• Sgt. Timothy “T.J.” McClurg, 27, Chico
• Spc. Anthony Melendez, 29, San Francisco
• Staff Sgt. Daniel Nevins, 32, Windsor
• Sgt. Frank Papworth, 44, Sonoma
• Spc. Harold Parker, 19, Long Beach
• Spc. Albert Poindexter, 27, Ukiah
• Spc. Jason Rivera, 19, Perris
• Spc. Robert Sales, 42, Santa Rosa
• Sgt. First Class Norman Valdez, 42, Upper Lake
• 2nd Lt. Christopher Coles, 26, Maple Valley, Wash.
• 1st Lt. Matthew Doxey, 28, Seattle, Wash.
Spc. James Huff, 19, Lakewood, Wash.

Rone Tempest is a Times staff writer and longtime foreign correspondent. He was helped on this story by UC Berkeley graduate journalism students Jeff Nachtigal, Melissa Nix and Adam Raney, reporting as part of The Times’ ongoing series on the California National Guard, “The Guard Goes to War.” Previous stories in the series and other materials can be viewed at http://www.latimes.com/guardgoes. Staff writers Monte Morin, reporting from Iraq, and Scott Gold, reporting from New Mexico, also contributed to this story.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Media Disinformation on Voter Turnout?

January 31st, 2005 - by admin

Michel Chossudovsky / Global Research – 2005-01-31 09:03:43


(January 31, 2005) — Related Facts regarding Voter Turnout, which contradict the official figures and statements:

1. In five out of 18 governates, according to a Russian parliamentary observer, the elections were either cancelled due to the lack of security or were marked by a very low turnout. (Novosti, 30 Jan). This statement contradicts the figures presented by the IECI at the Press Conference, which indicate voter turnout of 50 per cent or more in all the governates. (including Sunni regions where there was a boycott, as confirmed by several press reports). (See Table 1 below)

2. According to Xinhua (5 hours before the close of polling stations): “The turnout was very low during the past few hours in Tikrit, Dujail, Balad and Tuz, much lower than expected,” a source in the electoral body told Xinhua. “In addition, no voters showed up in Baiji, Samarra and Dour,” said the source, who declined to be identified. The cities of Dujail and Balad have mixed population of Shiites and Sunnis, while Tuz has a mosaic of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. In Tikrit, some 170 km north of Baghdad, 75 percent of the voting stations have not been visited till now. (Xinhua, 30 Jan 2005, 9 AM GMT)

3. Several cities in Iraq did not receive electoral materials, “In the city of Mosul, the deputy governor said that four towns did not receive the election process materials. How do you justify this? These towns are Bashqa, Bartillah, Al-Hamdaniyah and Jihan. They did not receive the material for the election process.” (Iraqi Al-Sharqiyah TV, 30 Jan)

Table 1: Breakdown of Voter Turnout according to IECI official : 2 hours before closing of voting booths

At the start of the live relay, Al-Lami listed the voter turnout in each governorate as follows:
• 70 per cent in Al-Sulaymaniyah Governorate (northeastern Iraq),
• 60 per cent in Salah-al-Din Governorate (north of Baghdad),
• 60 per cent in Al-Ta’mim Governorate (northern Iraq),
• 82 per cent in Duhok Governorate (far northern Iraq),
• 65 per cent in Baghdad Al-Rusafah,
• 95 per cent in Baghdad Al-Karkh,
• 90 per cent in Karbala (southeast of Baghdad),
• 50 per cent in Diyala (Governorate, northeast of Baghdad), 66 per cent in Babil (Governorate, south of Baghdad),
• 75 per cent in Wasit (Governorate, southeast of Baghdad), 66 per cent in Basra (Governorate, southeastern Iraq),
• 80 per cent in Dhi-Qar (Governorate, southeastern Iraq),
• 92 per cent in Maysan (Governorate on Iranian border, southern Iraq),
• 80 per cent in Al-Muthanna (Governorate, in southern Iraq),
• 50 per cent in Al-Qadisiyah (Governorate, to south of Baghdad), and
• 80 per cent in Al-Najaf (Governorate, southern Iraq).

Vote turnout in Al-Anbar (western Iraq) and Salah-al-Din governorates is a big surprise; it will be announced in the coming news conference (as heard), God willing. The number of polling centres opened is 5m171 in all of Iraq’s governorates.”

Source: IECI Press Conference, Al-Iraqiyah TV, Baghdad, in Arabic 1224 gmt 30 Jan 05


(January 30, 2005) — Text of satellite interview with Farid Ayyar, official spokesman of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, in Baghdad, by Iman Sadiq, broadcast live by Iraqi Al-Sharqiyah TV on 30 January.

Sadiq First of all, we welcome you. We are happy to have you with us in your capacity as a fellow journalist. You and your staff have performed very well in the Iraqi elections. This is a national effort, for which you should be thanked. This was not really expected. Secondly, we welcome you as the official spokesman of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI).

Ayyar Thank you very much and you are welcome.

Sadiq We have several questions to put to you, since you are the official spokesman of the IECI. But we want you to answer in your capacity as a fellow journalist as well. First of all, Al-Sharqiyah has received many complaints. Two hours before the polls closed, there was a news conference. You explained that the voter turnout had reached 72 per cent and in some areas 90 per cent. After the polls were closed and at a news conference, you told those present that the expected voter turnout was 60 per cent. Why this contradiction, although there was only a difference of two hours between the two statements?

Ayyar Thank you very much for your introduction, which was realistic, because the success of these elections does not concern a certain category or group. Rather, it concerns all Iraqis, including those who did not take part in the elections. Iraq is for all and the elections are for all. Therefore, responsibility should also be assumed by all.

Sadiq Dr Farid, why this contradiction?

Ayyar I will answer you. First of all, about the question that has to do with announcing a certain turnout; well, the percentage that was announced in the afternoon was an estimate and it depended on the flow of people in front of polling centres and not on official statistics produced by counting the ballots.

Sadiq On what did the percentages that were announced at the news conference depend? Were they based on the flow of people only?

Ayyar Yes, on the basis of the flow of people and the expectations in front of the polling centres at many places throughout Iraq and also some contacts with the presiding officers of these centres, whether in the north, the south or the centre. The person who announced these figures did not say that they were final figures. So far, we have no results for the elections. The counting is taking place right now. I heard that Al-Sharqiyah knows some things, which we do not know.

Sadiq In the city of Mosul, the deputy governor said that four towns did not receive the election process materials. How do you justify this? These towns are Bashqa, Bartillah, Al-Hamdaniyah and Jihan. They did not receive the material for the election process. Why is this?

Ayyar The deputy governor is not authorized to make a statement on behalf of the IECI, which is impartial. He does not have the right to speak in our name. I am the official spokesman and I can speak about everything related to the IECI and the elections.

Sadiq He did not speak in the name of the IECI. He only said that some areas did not receive the election process materials. What is your justification, since you represent the IECI, which is in charge of the elections?

Ayyar This did not happen. We have distributed all the supplies, forms and ballot boxes based on a tight plan to all areas. I do not know how he said this. We are certain that our work was good, although there is a possibility of human error. Anyone might make a mistake. However, this did not happen.

Sadiq The IECI exerted tremendous efforts and you deserve to be thanked for that. It was a huge effort that nobody expected and nobody denies this. However, ballot counting has started using lamps. Does this negatively affect the results or the ballot counting?

Ayyar I would like to say that among the things that were imported to provide polling stations with is these special lamps. These lamps were brought so as to have enough light, in case a power outage takes place, in order to enable those involved in the ballot counting to do their job. This is part of the things we purchased to supply the needs of polling stations in Iraq. Therefore, lamps are available and the ballot counting is currently under way. We will announce results once we have them.

Sadiq If the IECI is the only party concerned with this issue, what is the reason for the delay in announcing the results? Two weeks or 10 days are too much. Everybody is waiting eagerly for the results of the elections. Seventy per cent of ballot counting was completed a few hours after closing ballot boxes. Why then is this delay if the IECI is the only party concerned with this issue?

Ayyar Thanks for telling me that 70 per cent of ballot counting was completed despite the fact that I, the spokesman for the IECI, do not know this per cent until now! There is no delay. The official and final results will be announced after receiving the results of the out-of-country voting, which will continue for four days according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Afterward, these results will be collected together with local results here and will be announced to the public in an official ceremony. We want to finish this matter as soon as possible. There is nothing hidden (changes thought) – but we will finish the job and announce results most probably in less than 10 days, or even in seven or six days. We will finish our work and announce results in an honest and transparent manner.

Sadiq Then you will not give us a specific date for announcing the final or the initial results.

Ayyar The initial results will be announced as soon as the IECI receives them. They will be announced day by day during pre-planned news conferences. If any results become available to us by tomorrow, we will definitely announce them. After ballot counting, every polling centre will announce its results. Afterward, these results will be sent to the main centre –

(Sadiq, interrupting) We received many results from Kirkuk, Huwayjah, Mosul and Basra governorates. Results have started to appear and they are being sent to Al-Sharqiyah TV, but we do not want to announce them so as not to cause chaos or discrepancy in figures. We will wait for the IECI’s results. We thank you for the tremendous efforts you exerted and we are happy that you are a fellow journalist. Thank you very much.

Source: Al-Sharqiyah, Baghdad, in Arabic 1837 gmt 30 Jan 05. BBC Monitoring, Copyright 2005 Financial Times Information

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Seeking Iraq’s Oil Prize

January 28th, 2005 - by admin

David R. Baker / San Francisco Chronicle – 2005-01-28 23:28:45


SAN FRANCISCO (January 26, 200) — The Iraqi government that emerges from Sunday’s election may open its oil business to foreign investment, and international petroleum companies are jockeying to curry favor with the war-torn country.

Firms from the United States and Europe — including Royal Dutch/Shell Group and the Bay Area’s own ChevronTexaco — are literally working for free on certain engineering and training projects to get their feet in the door.

The companies are forging these arrangements with Iraq’s oil ministry to help train Iraqi engineers and study ways to tap more of the country’s vast oil reserves, estimated to be either the second- or third-largest in the world.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials are drafting a law that would encourage international companies to invest in the country’s tattered oil industry, run by the state since 1972. The current finance minister, a candidate in the election, announced the legislation late last month, although he offered few details.

“So I think this is very promising to the American investors and to American enterprises, certainly to oil companies,” Finance Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi said at a National Press Club conference in December.

The idea of bringing international companies and their money into Iraq’s oil business isn’t new.

In the 21 months since Saddam Hussein’s ouster, the interim Iraqi government and its American advisers have suggested several times opening up the country’s oil industry, which is saddled with ancient equipment and sabotaged by insurgents. But many Iraqis bridled at the notion that the country’s oil reserves should be controlled by foreigners.

The widespread conviction in the country that the United States invaded to seize their oil hasn’t helped.

“There is a strong belief, which should not be underestimated, that the whole purpose of the war was to gain US control over Iraqi oil,” said Walid Khadduri, editor of the Middle East Economic Survey, in a recent speech. “It is going to take a good deal of persuasion and a great deal of transparency to convince a majority of public opinion that the gradual privatization of the oil industry is for the good of the people and neither a war prize nor a way for carpetbaggers to get rich quickly.”

Flurry of Agreements
International oil companies have approached post-Hussein Iraq with caution, their hunger for new crude supplies tempered by near-daily insurgent attacks on the country’s pipelines.

But the companies’ ties to Iraq are growing. In the last two months, Iraq’s oil ministry has signed a flurry of agreements to study the potential of some of the country’s underdeveloped oil fields and train its engineers on the latest technology and techniques.

Royal Dutch/Shell Group signed an agreement with the ministry Jan. 14 to study the vast Kirkuk field, which has been producing for decades and is currently estimated to hold 8.7 billion barrels of reserves. Shell also will help draft a master plan for tapping Iraq’s natural gas.

Shell will do the work for free as a way to strengthen its links with the ministry, said spokesman Simon Buerk in the firm’s London headquarters.

“It’s our aspiration to build a relationship with the Iraqis,” Buerk said. “We want to establish ourselves as a credible partner.”

BP, formerly known as British Petroleum, signed a contract last week to study the Rumailah oil field near Basra. Exxon Mobil Corp. inked a memorandum of cooperation with the ministry last fall, laying groundwork to provide the ministry with technical assistance and conduct joint studies. An Iraqi-Turkish consortium won a contract in late December to help develop the Khurmala Dome oil field.

ChevronTexaco Training
San Ramon’s ChevronTexaco has been flying Iraqi oil engineers to the United States for four-week training courses since early last year. The company also helps those engineers analyze data from the Kirkuk and South Rumailah fields.

ChevronTexaco describes the program as a goodwill gesture, one that will not necessarily result in future contracts with the Iraqis. “We made it clear there will be no quid pro quo,” said company spokesman Don Campbell.

For years, Iraq’s oil has been a tempting but forbidden prize.

The Baathist government nationalized Iraq’s oil industry in 1972, slamming the door on foreign ownership or investment. Thirteen years of international sanctions after Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait further isolated the industry, cutting it off from new equipment and new techniques.

Unexploited Resources
That isolation left much of Iraq’s oil wealth untapped. Only 17 of the country’s 80 discovered oil fields have been developed, according to the US government’s Energy Information Administration. Only 2,300 wells have been drilled in Iraq. Texas has about 1 million.

No one is quite sure how much oil the country has, in part because large swaths of the land remain unexplored by oil companies. Confirmed reserves of 112 billion barrels to 115 billion barrels would give Iraq the world’s third- largest supply, behind Saudi Arabia and Canada. Estimates of the country’s full holdings go as high as 214 billion barrels.

Global oil companies, faced with declining production in many of their existing fields, want in.

“That’s the name of the game today for (integrated oil companies) — access to new supplies,” said Robert Ebel, director of the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The companies, however, have been hesitant to push for deals with Iraq’s transitional government as the election nears.

“The people they may start talking with today might not be around next week or next month,” Ebel said.

The insurgency has added to their caution. Most analysts don’t expect big oil companies to invest heavily in Iraq until the violence against Westerners and anyone helping them subsides. Shell’s study of the Kirkuk oil field, for example, will be performed outside Iraq, using data already collected.

“In terms of security, we’re monitoring the situation, and clearly, right now, we’d have concerns about the safety of staff there,” Buerk said.

Iraqi officials have moved slowly on opening up their oil industry to the outside world. They badly want to increase production, which supplies 95 percent of their government’s revenues. Foreign cash could help.

But in the invasion’s aftermath, oil is a sensitive subject. Iraqis see oil as a part of their national identity. Oil money pouring into the state budget in the 1970s — after nationalization — built schools, hospitals and highways. Many Iraqis are leery of letting foreigners own any piece of the industry.

Antonia Juhasz, a project director at the International Forum on Globalization think tank, said Iraqis may see the proposed law to invite investment as confirmation that the war was, at heart, a struggle over oil. Her organization has criticized both the war and the involvement of American companies in Iraq’s reconstruction.

“It seems like the most blatant description of why everyone thought we went to war in Iraq,” Juhasz said.

E-mail David R. Baker at dbaker@sfchronicle.com.
© San Francisco Chronicle
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Guantanamo Bay Prisoners Tried Mass Hanging

January 28th, 2005 - by admin

The Toronto Star / Associated Press – 2005-01-28 23:01:28


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (January 24, 2005) — Twenty-three terror suspects tried to hang or strangle themselves at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a mass protest in 2003, the military confirmed today.

The incidents came during the same year the camp suffered a rash of suicide attempts after Maj.-Gen. Geoffrey Miller took command of the prison with a mandate to get more information from prisoners accused of links to al-Qaida or the ousted Afghan Taliban regime that sheltered it.

Between Aug. 18 and Aug. 26, the 23 detainees tried to hang or strangle themselves with pieces of clothing and other items in their cells, demonstrating “self-injurious behaviour,” the US Southern Command in Miami said in a statement. Ten detainees made a mass attempt on Aug. 22 alone.

US Southern Command described it as “a co-ordinated effort to disrupt camp operations and challenge a new group of security guards from the just-completed unit rotation.”

Guantanamo officials classified two of the incidents as attempted suicides and informed reporters. But they but did not previously release information about the mass hangings and stranglings during that period.

Those incidents were mentioned casually during a visit earlier this month by three journalists, but officials then immediately denied there had been a mass suicide attempt. Further attempts to get details brought a statement Friday night, with some clarifications provided today by military officials at Guantanamo Bay and the U.S. Southern Command.

Alistair Hodgett, a spokesman for Amnesty International’s office in Washington, was critical today of the delay in reporting the incident.

“When you have suicide attempts or so-called self-harm incidents, it shows the type of impact indefinite detention can have, but it also points to the extreme measures the Pentagon is taking to cover up things that have happened in Guantanamo,” he said.

“What we’ve seen is that it wasn’t simply a rotation of forces but an attempt to toughen up the interrogation techniques and processes.”

Officials said today that they differentiated between a suicide attempt in which a detainee could have died without intervention and a “gesture” they considered aimed only at getting attention.

Gen. Jay Hood, who succeeded Miller as the detention mission’s commander last year, has said the number of incidents has decreased since 2003, when the military set up a psychiatric ward.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.


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