DAWN - Opinion; October 25, 2006

October 25, 2006


Lost in the maze of Iraq war

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

THE number of American soldiers who have been killed in Iraq is now approaching 3,000, with October being on course to becoming the bloodiest month for the Americans since the clashed in Fallujah and Najaf two years ago. The number of Iraqi deaths has been estimated as more than 600,000 in an article in the British medical journal, the Lancet.

This figure has been hotly disputed by American officials and the Iraqi government, but there is no doubt, given the grisly reports appearing on a daily basis, that the Iraqi death toll is far higher than the 30,000 that President Bush had offered as an off the cuff estimate some two months ago.

The Iraqi government has now ordered its ministry of health to stop releasing the figure of monthly deaths as recorded by the mortuaries to the United Nations and has stated that all mortality figures will now be released only by the prime minister’s office. This figure for September, and that too only for Baghdad, was 2,667.

The new security offensive launched by the combined Iraqi and American forces to bring peace to Baghdad has failed. An American commander has conceded that the number of attacks in Baghdad was 22 per cent higher in October than last month suggesting that the death toll in October for Iraqis in Baghdad, too, will go well beyond 3,000. This plan is now said to be under review. It has become clear that this carnage is caused for the most part by sectarian attacks that have, in most cases, only a tenuous link with the Ba’athist or foreigner-led insurgency. It is now acknowledged that sectarian violence and the spread of militias have replaced the insurgency as the biggest challenge to US efforts to bring security to Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

The oft-repeated promise by Prime Minister Maliki to cleanse the Iraqi security forces of militia elements and to bring the militias — the principal perpetrators of sectarian strife — under control remains unfulfilled. Maliki’s problem is that while he recognises that armed militias cannot be allowed to compete with the regular security forces and that those elements of the militia that have infiltrated the security forces need to be weeded out, he cannot take decisive or even semi-decisive actions in this direction without jeopardising the fragile coalition he heads.

He has dismissed the Shia officials in the interior ministry, who headed the special commando force and the public order brigade, and has promised to place both forces under the command of a non-partisan competent official. But so fraught is the situation that the new appointee’s name has not been made public since he has insisted that arrangements for providing security for his family should be made before he takes over.

A stark illustration of Maliki’s limited authority and his political weakness was provided by a recent incident. An official of Moqtada Al-Sadr’s party was arrested by the Americans who said the raid in which they arrested the cleric, Sheikh Mazin al-Saidy, was carried out on the basis of intelligence that suggested that he had led a Mahdi army unit involved in death-squad killings and assassinations. Sheikh Mazin was released at the specific request of Prime Minister Maliki, one of whose spokesman said that his release had been ordered because he was innocent. Another spokesman said that there was “room for political engagement with Moqtada” and that anything that would disrupt such political engagement would not be “very constructive”.

For the Americans, who have now openly acknowledged that the sectarian strife and carnage, rather than the insurgency, poses the greatest security challenge, this has been particularly galling. Moqtada has been a thorn in their side since the very beginning. It was at his behest that the first killing of religious leaders took place shortly after the American invasion and it was then that the seeds were laid for the open battles that the Americans had to fight against Moqtada’s Mahdi army in Najaf.

Currently, American reports, clearly based on official briefings, maintain that 92 per cent of the mortar and rocket attacks on the Green Zone housing the Americans and the Iraqi government were launched from Sadr City — the Baghdad suburb of impoverished and frustrated Shias that is under the control of Moqtada Al-Sadr and indeed his principal bastion of support.

On the other hand, Moqtada controls a large and crucial bloc of seats in parliament and it was with his support that Maliki won the right to be prime minister. It is on his continued support that his fragile government depends. After the Sheikh Mazin incident, Maliki flew to Najaf to seek the assistance not only of Ayatollah Sistani but also of Moqtada to bring down the level of violence. So far, the plea for assistance appears to have elicited little response.

There has been a proliferation of militias. A senior American military official estimated there were 23 militias operating in Baghdad alone. There is also in the south a struggle for power between rival Shia groups. The traditional struggle for leadership between the late Ayatollah Sadr — the father of Moqtada Al-Sadr — and Ayatollah Hakim — the father of the present leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) — has surfaced most recently in Amara, a few weeks after a similar but less publicised clash in Diwaniya. The intra-Shia conflict is threatening to grow and may well spread from the Shia strongholds in the south to Baghdad and its immediate environs.

The Iraqi parliament is not helping matters. It has approved in the face of strong Sunni opposition a proposal allowing the Shia majority provinces in the south to form an autonomous region akin to Iraqi Kurdistan. The only concession to Sunni sensibilities was that the measure would be implemented after 18 months. No effort appears to have been made to address the central Sunni concern that with the formation of these autonomous regions, the Sunnis in resource-poor central Iraq will have no access to the oil revenues generated in the north and south of the country.

There has been no call for disarming and disbanding the militias. There has been no follow-up on the amnesty for the insurgents. In other words, there appears to be no willingness to address the hard question that need to be resolved if Iraq’s descent into sectarian chaos is to be halted and reversed.

In America, Bush’s Iraq policies are under increasing attack and may prove to be the single most decisive factor in the November midterm elections. Nobody is prepared to accept the further loss of American lives in what is seen to be a lost cause. Increasingly, Bush finds himself isolated not only from most independent Americans but also from traditional Republicans. Support for him and for his Iraq policy has fallen to an all-time low. Calls for a change of policy which implicitly if not explicitly provides for a withdrawal of American forces are now coming from the likes of Senator Warner — a strong Bush supporter and one of the most influential leaders of the Republican Party.

It is likely no matter what Bush does now that the Democrats will win control of the House and may well win the majority in the Senate also. For the moment, however, the president seems to be unwilling to consider any drastic change. In his Saturday radio address to the nation, he reiterated that while he was prepared for a change of tactics his goal in Iraq remained “clear and unchanging” and that the goal was “victory”. That, however, is unlikely to come.

It is perhaps indicative that the Republican co-head of the Iraq Study Group, formed at the urging of prominent Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, Mr James Baker, famous for leading the legal battle that ensured Bush’s electoral victory in Florida in the 2000 presidential elections, has revealed that he agreed to join the Group only after President Bush urged him to do so. Baker’s official involvement with Iraq has been limited to the tour he undertook, again at Bush’s urging, to get international assistance pledges for the reconstruction of Iraq. But his recently published book makes clear that he had serious reservations about the Iraq policy even though much of the criticism was directed at the Rumsfeld-led department of defence rather than the White House.

This would seem to indicate that President Bush, in asking him to join the panel, was looking for a bipartisan recommendation that would make a change of policy less damaging politically. Even if this is not so and Bush remains determined to “stay the course” his political weakness will not allow him to do so.

Baker and his Democratic counterpart, Lee Hamilton, have said that they will make their recommendations only after the elections, possibly immediately after the Thanksgiving holidays, and have refused to reveal any details publicly of what their conclusions are. But speculation is rife. The ideas that will apparently be included in the Group’s recommendations are said to range from (a) a phased withdrawal with more resources being devoted to the training of Iraqi security forces and a small rapid reaction force being retained in the country or in a neighbouring country to respond to calls for assistance from the Iraqi government; (b) a partition of the country into Kurdish, Sunni and Shia regions; (c) dialogue with Iran and Syria to secure their assistance in bringing the sectarian strife and insurgency in Iraq to an end and making the concessions necessary to ensure their cooperation; (d) holding an international conference bringing together Iraq’s neighbours and other influential member of the international community to use their influence with various factions in Iraq to bring about reconciliation and an agreed solution to the problems of federalism.

There will be many other variations but the end objective is clear. America’s politicians are now looking upon Iraq as an insoluble problem and want to find a way to “cut their losses” and “run” from the ill-considered adventure. But they want to do so in a manner that can be presented to the world as at least halfway “honourable”. When they do, a devastated Iraq with little by way of visionary leadership and a very fractured domestic polity will be left on its own to cope with an impossible situation. A replay of the miseries that were visited upon Afghanistan by an indifferent world community and meddling neighbours in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal in 1988 and the emergence of a Taliban like force is not difficult to visualise.

I hope I am wrong but developments seem to be pointing in that direction. The Muslim world in general and Pakistan in particular should start preparing to cope with the devastating impact it will have on us all.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

We can do without the death rows

By Zubeida Mustafa

TWO high-profile executions — one in India and the other in Pakistan — were stayed last week. Had they been carried out, both would have created ripples beyond international borders. One was the hanging scheduled for October 20 of a Kashmiri man in India, Mohammad Afzal Guru, who had been convicted for his role in the storming of the parliament house in New Delhi in 2001.

The other case was that of Mirza Tahir Hussain, a British national, accused of murdering a taxi driver 18 years ago in Chakwal. These hangings have not been set aside. They have only been postponed — the first indefinitely and the second until December 31. In the coming weeks human rights lobbies can be expected to mount pressure on the governments in New Delhi and Islamabad to commute the sentences.

Guru’s case has deep implications for India’s politics and foreign policy. It is highly political — the 2001 event brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war and the opposition party, the BJP, is baying for blood. Yet objective opinion believes that Guru’s conviction was flawed. As his mercy petition awaits a decision by the president of India, his lawyers have said they will approach the Supreme Court in an attempt to get the conviction overturned.

Mirza Tahir Hussain’s case has a strong humanitarian dimension. The intervention of the British government — earlier discreet and behind-the-scenes and now more overt and vocal — has created international interest. Both cases have once again brought into the limelight the ongoing debate on capital punishment. Hussain’s case also raises questions about our legal system that has two parallel strands running within it. Since Ziaul Haq proceeded to Islamise the judiciary and the laws, judges and lawyers have encountered many dichotomies that have made it difficult to dispense justice.

Take the case of Mirza Tahir Hussain. For 18 years it has woven its way through both systems. First the sessions court convicted him in 1989. The Lahore High Court acquitted him in 1996 but withdrew its jurisdiction soon thereafter and the case went to the Federal Shariat Court which handed down a death sentence in 1998. The Supreme Court upheld the verdict. Thereafter it has been left to the family of the murdered man and the convict to negotiate compensation and forgiveness under the Qisas and Diyat law. Hussain, who has spent half his life in jail, says the cab driver was killed accidentally by his own gun which went off in a scuffle. The driver had tried to sexually assault Hussain, who had resisted. There were no witnesses and Hussain has consistently pleaded not guilty. He himself took the taxi and the gun to the police station and surrendered them there.

Is it not time for us now to ponder over the arguments advanced by abolitionists against the death penalty? Since 1993, when Italy launched a campaign to do away with capital punishment, 129 countries have either abolished the death penalty altogether, or retained it only for very grave crimes, or have not practised it for years. That leaves only 68 which still execute their citizens. Unfortunately, Pakistan happens to be one of them. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, this year 253 people have been sentenced to death in the country while 42 have actually been sent to the gallows. In 2005, 477 received the death penalty out of which 52 were executed. The year before that 394 were sentenced and 15 hanged.

These figures show that the courts are not as trigger happy as the impression we have. All of those who get the death verdict are allowed to fight their appeals and most of them do it for years. Given the ineptitude and corruption of the police and the way the prosecution works in this country, it is widely realised that the chances of a miscarriage of justice are very high indeed. In fact, there are always doubts about the guilt or innocence of a person sentenced to death. In that case one may well ask, why don’t we join the ranks of the abolitionists?

It is now universally acknowledged that the two major justifications for capital punishment — its deterrent and retributive character — have lost ground. The rise in the crime rate is a clear evidence of the failure of harsh punishments, including the death penalty, to deter people from taking to crime. In fact, the psychological impact of the death penalty has never been analysed in depth. As the Italian prime minister in 2000, Giuliano Amato, observed, the death penalty is “disgusting, particularly if it condemns an innocent”. It is its irrevocability that is so frightening. He added, “It remains an injustice even when it falls on someone who is guilty of a crime.” This might sound strange to people whose concept of the ultimate justice is that it should be retributive. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the conventional wisdom in this society.

But it is time that people were told that any penalty which dehumanises and brutalises is an injustice to society itself. Exposure to state terrorism, as an execution by the state amounts to, affects the people’s psyche. It desensitises them to violence and aggression which they come to accept as normal behaviour. It encourages them to use force, resort to human rights abuse and violate the law. It is time the human dimension of the death penalty — its impact on the psyche of individuals — was also taken into consideration. The death penalty produces a negative impact on the public mind.

In a study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice, two sociologists citing cases of homicides in New York state in 1907-63 write that within a month following an execution two additional murders (above the normal rates) occurred. In one case a 12-year-old boy hanged himself after a well publicised execution. Publicity of violence incites further violence, is the conclusion they reach. And which hanging can be kept secret?

A picture of a public hanging in Tehran published by Amnesty International in its annual report of 2003 focuses on the reaction of the spectators. All of them are seen to be in a state of awe and shock — while one young man is actually seen bursting into tears.

This picture alone should be a convincing case for abolishing the death penalty and it must be done now, as I.A. Rehman, the director of the HRCP, pleaded in his article last week. As a first step the president could order a moratorium on capital punishment right away.

The Disneyfication of war

By George Monbiot

Most of our memorials sentimentalise war. Few commemorate the horror. But now we have a new category whose purpose seems to be to trivialise it.

Last week a vast bronze sculpture was unveiled in Montrose, on the east coast of Scotland, by Prince Andrew. It depicts a hero of the second world war, wearing a seaman’s cap, who was decorated with “the equivalent of the George Cross”. It’s a bit late, perhaps, but otherwise unsurprising — until I tell you that the hero was a dog. The statue depicts a St Bernard called Bamse, which reputedly rescued two Norwegian sailors. It is the latest manifestation of the new Cult of the Heroic Animal.

The Imperial War Museum in London is currently running an exhibition called The Animals’ War. It features stuffed mascots, tales of the “desperate plight” of 200 animals trapped by the fighting in Iraq, and photos of dogs wearing gas masks. It tells us about the “PDSA Dickin medal - the animals’ Victoria Cross”, which has been awarded to 23 dogs, 32 pigeons, three horses and one cat for “acts of conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in wartime”. The museum resounds with cries of “aaah!” and “how sweet!”. War is now cute.

Last year Disney released an animation called Valiant about the heroics of a group of messenger pigeons in the second world war. In 2004 a vast sculpture called Animals at War was unveiled by Princess Anne on Park Lane in London. It cost 1.5 million pounds and is dedicated “to all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time ... From the pigeon to the elephant, they all played a vital role in every region of the world in the cause of human freedom. Their contribution must never be forgotten.” In Liverpool there are now two statues commemorating a dog — Jet — that was used to find victims of air raids in the second world war.

I have no objection to remembering the suffering of animals. If someone started a subscription for a statue of a battery pig or a broiler chicken (conveniently forgotten by almost everyone), I might even contribute. But the emphasis given to animals’ suffering in war highlights a failure to acknowledge the suffering of human beings. The tableau in Park Lane carries the justifying motto: “They had no choice.” Nor did the civilians killed in Iraq, the millions of women raped over the centuries by soldiers, or the colonial subjects who died of famine or disease in British concentration camps. You would scour this country in vain for a monument to any of them.

Bamse has been dead for 62 years. Both the Park Lane memorial and the exhibition at the Imperial War Museum were inspired by a book by Jilly Cooper — the patron saint of English bourgeois sentiment — called Animals in War. But it was first published in 1983. It is only since the invasion of Iraq that this Disneyfication of war seems to have become a major industry.

Animals have featured in war memorials for at least 4,000 years. But they have, for the most part, been used as representations of human dominance and courage. The tableau in Park Lane, depicting a weary shire horse, two exhausted pack mules and an Irish setter seeking his master, could almost be a response to Landseer’s insouciant lions in Trafalgar Square.

If these beasts were conceived, like his, with anthropomorphic intent, they would represent the mute, trudging foot soldiers of the imperial army, prey to Trafalgar Square’s top predators. The inscription might have read: “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?” But they weren’t. No metaphor is intended here; we are asked to concentrate on the suffering of the animals, not the infantry.

The monument has an interesting list of sponsors. Alongside the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs’ Home, the Household Cavalry and the Amalgamation of Racing Pigeons is an odd collection of industrialists. There’s Sir Anthony Bamford, who runs JCB and who was exposed a few days ago as the president of the Midlands Industrial Council (MIC), which has donated almost one million pounds to the Conservative party.

The Labour party accuses the MIC of exploiting a loophole in electoral laws, which oblige donors to reveal their identity. There’s Lord Ballyedmond, who — both directly and through his company Norbrook Laboratories — gave 1.1 million pounds to the Tories in 2001. They are joined by the PR company Spa Way (best known for representing the “private security contractor” Tim Spicer); the late property developer and former Conservative councillor Sir Stanley Clarke; and Eva and Kirsten Rausing, the niece and daughter-in-law of the Swedish industrialist Hans Rausing, whose tax affairs have caused some controversy here and who has donated 343,000 pounds to the Conservative party.

Perhaps the most interesting name on the list is William S Farish III. An old friend of the Bush family, he is a major donor to the Republican party and was the US ambassador to Britain from 2001 to 2004. One of his tasks here was justifying the war with Iraq. He inherited much of his money from his grandfather, the Texan oil millionaire William S Farish II.

In 1942 William S Farish II pleaded “no contest” to charges of criminal conspiracy with the Nazis, and was denounced by Senator Harry Truman for behaviour that “approaches treason”. Through the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, of which he was president, he was alleged to have run a cartel with the German company IG Farben. Farben manufactured Zyklon B, the poison used in the gas chambers, and ran a plant using slave labour at Auschwitz. Among other deals, William S Farish II had agreed to share patents for making synthetic gasoline and artificial rubber with Farben, while withholding them from the US navy. He was fined and died soon afterwards. His son died a few weeks later in an air accident, leaving the family fortune to William S Farish III.

So what is going on? What is so appealing about these memorials to the members of the royal family who agreed to unveil them, to the crowds who have packed the new exhibition, and to the rightwing multimillionaires who financed the giant tableau? Why, when the war we started in Iraq appears to have killed hundreds of thousands of human beings, have we become obsessed by the non-human victims of conflict?

I’m not sure, but the last panel in the Imperial War Museum’s exhibition offers a possible explanation. It reproduces the inscription on a monument erected by the British in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, raised to commemorate “the animals that died in the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902”. This was a war of almost unprecedented brutality in which the British beat the Boers by burning down their homes and herding them into the world’s first large-scale concentration camps, where more than 40,000 people died. “The greatness of a nation,” the inscription says, “consists not so much in the number of its people or the extent of its territory, as in the extent and justice of its compassion.”

This is a worthy index, on which Britain would have been placed close to the bottom, unless we were judged by our compassion - or sentiment - for animals. These monuments, perhaps, permit us to see ourselves as kind people, even as unspeakable acts are committed on our behalf.

—Dawn/Guardian Service

Scuttling to victory

AMERICANS, Iraqis and many others must have wondered just what George Bush meant in his weekly radio address on Saturday when he insisted: “Our goal in Iraq is clear and unchanging. Our goal is victory.”

The president’s comments can only be counted as bizarre at a time when concerns about the deteriorating situation have reached a “tipping point” due to a combination of events on the ground in Baghdad, Amara and elsewhere — and the impending decimation of the Republicans in the November 7 Congressional elections. Mr Bush’s nonsensical message, a variant of his stock line about “staying the course”, is likely to be quickly forgotten. The phrase that will be long remembered is that of Alberto Fernandez, head of public diplomacy at the state department: he told al-Jazeera that US policy in Iraq had suffered from “arrogance” and “stupidity”.

Recent days have seen policy-makers in Washington scuttling to catch up with ordinary voters, and with some leading Republicans, who have had enough of this misconceived and incompetent war, their interest galvanised by leaks from James Baker’s blue-ribbon, bipartisan Iraq study group. Mr Bush and Condoleezza Rice both say there is no fundamental shift of strategy in the offing, merely a review of “tactics” in pursuit of a stable democracy. But talk of milestones, yardsticks and benchmarks attests to an increasingly urgent desire to quit before the going gets very much worse.

The long-standing refusal to set out a timetable for US withdrawal for fear of emboldening the insurgents is collapsing into hints about giving Nuri al-Maliki 18 months to rein in the militias. Other volte-face are being mooted from the list of bad options now available: formal three-way partition of an already dangerously fractured country; seeking the help of neighbouring Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia; negotiations with any Iraqi group except Al Qaeda; installing a new “strongman”. The overall effect is one of panic and floundering.

The difficulty here is sorting out what is in the best interests of the people of Iraq.

—The Guardian, London