Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The News from Iraq


       Today, the US is ending combat operations in major Iraq cities.  It is only 6 years after President Bush, in his choreographed jet landing off San Diego, declared “Mission Accomplished,” that is, that the invasion had been “successful” and combat operations were “no longer necessary.”  But the mainstream press cannot come to terms with this.  Still, the New York Times ran a long editorial yesterday (June 30, 2009) on the attempt to prevent violence between the now largely “ethnically cleansed” areas of Iraq and create a non-murderous regime out of what even it called this “disaster.”  The pro-Iranian Shia-supported government that the war created in Iraq is celebrating the end of the American occupation.  General Odierno has had to remove combat troops he had hoped to keep in Iraq cities because Iraqi toleration of the occupying forces is so low.  Trainers and remaining troops (a very large number) are to be moved at night so that Iraqis will be less aware of the remaining heavy hand of U.S. presence.

           No one can attend to the mainstream media wording about Iraq – that this was an “optional war,” a “war of choice” and even occasionally one based on lies without feeling uneasy.  The leader of the mainstream press, the Times refuses to speak of  the aggression the U.S. government committed – the US and Britain invaded in violation of Article 2, section 4 of the United Nations Charter, once fought for by Robert L. Jackson, the leading American lawyer at Nuremburg and later Supreme Court Justice.  Aggression was the crime for which the Allies put the Nazi and Tokyo war criminals on trial.  It is a crime under American law (the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, Article 6 section 2 makes treaties signed by the United States the highest law of the land).  But even the somewhat chastened US media – the American administration has waged two wars hopelessly and through financial recklessness brought down the world economy; Obama is now the President – refuses to name American war crimes (see Richard Falk and Howard Friel’s  The Record of the Paper for an account of how over 50 years the New York Times names the crimes of others but refuses to address the same crimes in relation to the United States).

        In 2002, as a leader of the anti-War movement, I spoke on a panel with 5 Iraqis, including Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni who did some translation for the others.  All were against the war (the Denver Post did not cover the session).   I have come to know Ibrahim well.  He spoke out courageously against the War at rallies and public forums.    At 13, as a madrassa student, he had been tortured by Saddam.  He had every reason to want the overthrow of Saddam (Hussein’s regime murdered several members of his family), but saw that American aggression would have horrifying effects on the people of Iraq (the killing of uncounted hundreds of thousands of civilians, the displacement of 4 million, a fifth of the population, to nearby countries, the torture of large numbers, the further destruction of infrastructure, and so forth).  He published op-ed pieces in the Denver Post and was a regular, as I was, on the Peter Boyles and Reggie Rivers shows on educational television (ch. 12, KBDI).

     Among academics in international relations, there was a broad consensus, uniting people who had opposed one another during the Cold War, against the Iraq war.  Even the leading conservative during the Cold War Robert W. Tucker wrote a striking article in Foreign Affairs in 2004 denouncing the Bush aggression and torture as doing lasting damage to America’s reputation for honoring international law and decency.  It was almost impossible to find pro-War academics to speak on Denver television (I think there were only two).   Even among the anti-War commentators, however, Ibrahim stood out.  He spoke wisely and decently from comprehensive knowledge of the Middle East.  And that he had been tortured by Saddam intrigued even Peter Boyles, a vehement advocate of the War. Then Congressman Mark Udall from Boulder introduced Kazerooni’s testimony and Denver Post op-ed pieces into the Congressional Record. As Imam of the Islamic Center, Ibrahim also helped many people.  He participated increasingly in interfaith dialogues, trying to further understanding and toleration. I encouraged him to come to the University of Denver to do a Ph.D. (he is now in process of doing it).  In seminars with me, others would speak of how much they learned from him being in the classes, how helpful he was to them. 

        But the Bush administration was putting immense pressure on local authorities to stamp out protest.  This included pressure on the Islamic Center to get rid of its outspokenly anti-war Imam.  Kazerooni was not paid his salary.  The FBI came to visit. 

        Fortunately, a huge anti-War movement emerged, the largest in the history of the world before a war.  And the Bush policy proved to be so disastrous and so odious that the face of America in the world became the face of torturers, Abu Ghraib the true image  of the occupiers – and public anger at the regime so intense that repression could not be as sweeping as Bush and the “neoconservatives” (actually, authoritarians) desired. Kazerooni and others of us have continued to speak out.  But being heard is another matter.

     The commentary in the mainstream media on Iraq and the Middle East is framed in a reactionary way.  That he  (and I and others) were right about the war does not mean that our opinions need to enter the spectrum of what is permissible on mainstream television where such perspectives could not, even as a minority, be heard in the run-up to or during the war, or even on educational television (once better than the mainstream but no longer covering the events).  President Obama has mitigated the worst features of Bush policy, particularly with regard to torture. He is even trying to do something decent in Palestine (and trying to get the Israeli government to act less self-destructively and odiously).  Unsurprisingly, however, today’s other main story from Iraq – the imperialist scramble for oil - is not covered in the mainstream media.

       Right now, the Iraqi government is reaching decisions about how its rich reserves of oil will be controlled.  On June 30, all the major Western oil companies, and China began a two day meeting at the Oil Ministry.   The Iraqi oil companies and unions want foreign oil experts only to help them technically to develop the resources, what they name a Technical Services Agreement. They want to pay for help but then be free of foreign control.   They are petitioning oil minister Hussein al-Shahristani to check previous concessions to foreign companies.  The United States and others, however, are pressing the government to allow those companies a large share of the profits from oil: a Production Sharing Agreement.  Through the invasion, the US has tried to create a client Iraqi regime (since it is a shia-majority government, however, it was never anti-Iran), but even that client can’t stay in power without the support of the Iraqi people. In a brief July 1 story buried in the Times  on p. A10, British Petroleum and a Chinese company just secured the “rights” to the largest oil field.  Apparently, the reach of Cheneyesque imperialism exceeds its grasp.

        Sadly, in this respect, Obama as head of the Empire - continues the aims of the Bush administration.   The military bases, the gigantic embassy, the continuing presence of American troops (even by night), and the equal number of even more unaccountable mercenaries are also huge issues undiscussed in the mainstream press.  What motivates American foreign policy and what makes it into the news are unfortunately two different matters.

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