Sydney Morning Herald & London Guardian & Inter Press Service – 2006-10-20 22:50:05
Iraq a ‘Catastrophic Blunder’
David Braithwaite / Sydney Morning Herald
(October 19, 2006) — The war in Iraq has been a “catastrophic blunder” that has substantially increased the terrorist threat to Australia, one of the nation’s most distinguished former diplomats said today.
Richard Woolcott, a retired foreign affairs chief who advised seven prime ministers, launched a sweeping attack on the federal government, saying that Australian democracy was not functioning as it should. Mr Woolcott made the comments during a speech at the University of Newcastle’s annual Human Rights and Social Justice lecture this afternoon. He branded the Iraq war a “disaster”, saying the Prime Minister seemed unable to admit the obvious.
“The Iraq war has been a disaster and has substantially increased the terrorist threat Mr Howard said it would reduce,” he said. “The aim of foreign and defence policy is to make Australia secure — ironically some of our policies have placed Australians at greater risk.” Mr Woolcott called on the government to come up with an exit strategy.
“The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, having made such a catastrophic foreign and security policy blunder, are now trapped in a dilemma of their own making,” he said. He warned a precipitious withdrawal from Iraq could cause more chaos, however, staying the course would “only continue the bloodshed, energise the terrorist and Jihadists, including in our own region…”
Mr Woolcott’s criticism of the war followed recent comments from Australia’s former defence chief General Peter Cosgrove that it had boosted global terrorism and Britain’s top soldier Sir Richard Dannatt, who called for the recall of his troops from Iraq.
Mr Woolcott said human rights suffered in a climate of war and fear. “In 2006 our established ideals of decency, fairness, tolerance, justice and truth in government are under challenge,” he said.
Australia’s democracy was not functioning as it should, he said. “I believe it is affected by hubris, the arrogance that comes from 10 years in power, the politics of fear, nurtured by the so-called ‘war on terror’ and latent racism,” he said. “The government has also suffered from a lack of the important qualities of patience and humility. This is impacting adversely on the wider community, including in the areas of human rights and social justice.”
Mr Woolcott said his service to four Liberal and three Labor prime ministers proved the objectivity of his remarks, but from “personal experience” he expected to be attacked. “The present government tends to treat its critics — even those who have served it in the past — as virtual enemies rather than as possibly useful channels to community opinion,” he said.
Calling on Australia to look past the economy and calculated distractions like the “cultural wars”, Mr Woolcott said its citizens needed to address other issues in society. “Obscuring the truth, discrediting individuals who do not agree with particular policies…, the myth … that the Prime Minister is the sole repository of wise judgements and sound decision making, combined with a compliant public service and a strangely apathetic and detached wider community are all factors, which threaten the health of Australian democracy,” he said.
We’ve Lost Battle for Baghdad, US Admits
Suzanne Goldenberg / Guardian
Washington (October 20, 2006) — A day after George Bush conceded for the first time that America may have reached the equivalent of a Tet offensive in Iraq, the Pentagon yesterday admitted defeat in its strategy of securing Baghdad.
The admission from President Bush that the US may have arrived at a turning point in this war — the Tet offensive led to a massive loss of confidence in the American presence in Vietnam — comes during one of the deadliest months for US forces since the invasion.
Yesterday the number of US troops killed since October 1 rose to 73, deepening the sense that America is trapped in an unwinnable situation and further damaging Republican chances in midterm elections that are less than three weeks away.
In Baghdad a surge in sectarian killings has forced the Pentagon to review its entire security plan for the capital, Major General William Caldwell, a US military spokesman, said yesterday.
“The violence is, indeed, disheartening,” he told reporters. The US has poured 12,000 additional US and Iraqi troops into Baghdad since August only to see a 22% increase in attacks since the beginning of Ramadan. “Operation Together Forward has made a difference in the focus areas but has not met our overall expectations in sustaining a reduction in the level of violence,” Gen Caldwell said.
The bleak assessment arrives as official thinking appears to be shifting on the war, with reports that a study group led by a Bush family loyalist and former secretary of state, James Baker, could be drawing up an exit plan for US forces in Iraq.
Such a strategy would once have been unthinkable for Mr Bush, who famously vowed to keep US forces in Iraq even if he was supported only by his wife, Laura, and dog, Barney. But the president now appears willing to acknowledge that the public is losing confidence in his administration’s involvement in Iraq.
On Wednesday Mr Bush admitted for the first time the existence of a parallel between Iraq and Vietnam. Such comparisons had been fiercely resisted by the White House, which has insisted that the US would succeed in bringing stability to Iraq and democracy to the Middle East.
But Mr Bush appeared to agree that the rise in sectarian killings in Iraq could prove as demoralising to his administration’s mission in Iraq as the Tet offensive of 1968-69. Although that offensive resulted in a military defeat for the North Vietnamese forces, it turned American public opinion against the war and the then American president, Lyndon Johnson.
“There is certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we are heading towards an election,” Mr Bush said during an interview with ABC television.
He said he understood the insurgents were trying to drive American forces out of Iraq. “My feeling is that they all along have been trying to inflict enough damage so that we leave,” he said.
While Mr Bush now readily acknowledges the potentially demoralising effects of the violence, there was no sign yesterday that the White House had reached the same conclusion as critics who have called for an early withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.
“The president was making a point that he’s made before, which is that terrorists try to exploit pictures and try to use the media as conduits for influencing public opinion in the United States,” the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, told reporters yesterday.
He also rejected any comparison between Mr Bush and President Johnson. “The important thing to remember is that the president is determined it’s not going to happen with Iraq, because you have a president who is determined to win,” he said. “We do not think that there has been a flip-over point, but more importantly, from the standpoint of the government and the standpoint of this administration, we are going to continue pursuing victory aggressively.”
The Tet offensive, launched in January 1968, is seen as the turning point of America’s involvement in the war. The waves of attacks on Saigon and other southern cities was a disaster for the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. But the images of violence — including a commando attack on the US embassy in Saigon — exposed the hollowness of the Pentagon’s claims that America was in control of the situation.
The offensive shook public confidence in the commander of US forces in Vietnam, General William Westmoreland, and the then president Lyndon Johnson.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006
Government Death Squads Ravaging Baghdad
Ali Al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail / Inter Press Service
BAGHDAD, Oct 19 (IPS) — Death squads from the Ministry of Interior posing as Iraqi police are killing more people than ever in the capital, emerging evidence shows.
The death toll is high — in all 1,536 bodies were brought to the Baghdad morgue in September. The health ministry announced last month that it will build two new morgues in Baghdad to take their capacity to 250 bodies a day.
Many fear a government hand in more killings to come. The US military has revealed that the 8th Iraqi Police Unit was responsible for the October 1 kidnapping of 26 Sunni food factory workers in the Amil quarter in southwest Baghdad. The bodies of ten of them were later found in Abu Chir neighbourhood in the capital.
Minister for the Interior Jawad al-Bolani announced he is suspending the police unit from official duties, and confining it to base until an investigation is completed.
But sections of the ministry appear responsible for the abductions and killing. Ministry of Interior vehicles were used for the kidnapping in this case, and most men conducting the raid wore Iraqi police uniforms, except for a few who wore black death squad ‘uniforms’, witnesses told IPS.
The leader of the police unit is under house arrest and faces interrogation for this and other crimes, according to an official announcement.
“It is for sure that they did it,” one of the victim’s neighbours told IPS on condition of anonymity. “The tortured bodies were found the second day. They came in their official police cars; it is not the first time that they did something like this. They do it all over Baghdad, and we hope they will get proper punishment this time.”
Men of the police unit meanwhile do not face imminent punishment. “They are going to be rehabilitated and brought back to service,” director-general of the Iraqi police Adnan Thabit told IPS.
The Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni party, blamed militias with ties to the government and the US military.
“The Iraqi Islamic Party asks how could 26 people, women among them, have been transported from Amil to Abu Chir through all those Iraqi and US army checkpoints and patrols,” it said in a statement.
The US military has denied any involvement in the killings.
General Yassin al-Dulaimi, deputy minister for the interior, has said on Iraqi television several times that death squads are composed mainly of Iraqi police and army units. His comments reflect differing allegiance and agendas even within the Shia bloc.
General Dulaimi has been trying for long to expose the organised criminal gangs that have been controlling the ministry since its formation — a formation that was overseen by US authorities.
Dulaimi says he does not believe that the Shia Badr organisation, a large, well-armed and funded militia, has complete control over his ministry. But most residents of Baghdad believe that Badr has complete control over the Baghdad Order Maintenance police force, and use this force to carry out sectarian murders. This force is one of several official security teams in Baghdad.
The force is led by Mehdi al-Gharrawi, who also led similar security units during the US- led attack on Fallujah in November 2004.
“All criminals who survived the Fallujah crisis after committing genocide and other war crimes were granted higher ranks,” Major Amir Jassim from the ministry of defence told IPS. “I and many of my colleagues were not rewarded because we disobeyed orders to set fire to people’s houses (in Fallujah) after others looted them.”
Jassim said the looting and burning of homes in Fallujah during the November siege was ordered from the ministries of interior and defence.
“Now they want to do the same things they did in Fallujah in all Sunni areas so that they ignite a civil war in Iraq,” said Jassim, referring to the Shia-dominated ministries. “A civil war is the only guarantee for them to stay in power, looting such incredible amounts of money.”
Another official with the ministry of defence, Muntather al-Samarraii, told IPS that both Iran and “collaborators” within the Ministry of Interior are to blame for the widespread sectarian killings..
“I have lists of thousands of corruption cases from within my ministry, and other files to expose to the world,” he said, “But the world is not listening. When it does, I am afraid it is going to be too late.”
A police officer in Samarraii’s office, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS that he believed that murderers would not be punished for their crimes.
“They will reward them, believe me, and give them higher ranks,” he said. “This is a country that will never stand back on its feet as long as these killers are in power. And the Americans are supporting them by allowing their convoys to move during curfew hours.”
While there is little evidence of direct US involvement, questions have arisen over what the US forces have done — or not done — to encourage such killings.
A UN human rights report released September last year held interior ministry forces responsible for an organised campaign of detentions, torture and killings. It reported that special police commando units accused of carrying out the killings were recruited from Shia Badr and Mehdi militias, and trained by US forces.
Retired Col. James Steele, who served as advisor on Iraqi security forces to then US Ambassador John Negroponte supervised the training of these forces.
Steele was commander of the US military advisor group in El Salvador 1984-86, while Negroponte was US ambassador to nearby Honduras 1981-85. Negroponte was accused of widespread human rights violations by the Honduras Commission on Human Rights in 1994. The Commission reported the torture and disappearance of at least 184 political workers.
The violations Negroponte oversaw in Honduras were carried out by operatives trained by the CIA, according to a CIA working group set up in 1996 to look into the US role in Honduras.
The CIA records document that his “special intelligence units,” better known as “death squads,” comprised CIA-trained Honduran armed units which kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of people suspected of supporting leftist guerrillas.
(c)2006 Dahr Jamail.
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