Some have asked permission to link to this site and specific articles. While I’m flattered that people feel the need to ask, consider this post a blanket permission to link to anything on here. If you want to give a shout-out, a rebuke, whatever. The nature of the Web is to form links and no one need ask my permission to link here. It’s free and open to the public.

Some have asked permission to link to this site and specific articles. While I’m flattered that people feel the need to ask, consider this post a blanket permission to link to anything on here. If you want to give a shout-out, a rebuke, whatever. The nature of the Web is to form links and no one need ask my permission to link here. It’s free and open to the public.

Iraqi Intifada?

An _intifada_ is brewing in Iraq, and American troops are about to stop being liberators and will be forced to embrace their inner occupiers. And many Americans don’t give a damn. Twenty soldiers have died in fighting or accidents since May 1, the day Bush declared the major fighting over. Five have died this week alone.

An _intifada_ is brewing in Iraq, and American troops are about to stop being liberators and will be forced to embrace their inner occupiers. And many Americans don’t give a damn.
Twenty soldiers have died in fighting or accidents since May 1, the day Bush declared the major fighting over. Five have died this week alone.

  • One was killed yesterday in an ambush on a military convoy about 25 miles north of Baghdad, according to CENTCOM
  • “Two US soldiers died and nine others were wounded Tuesday in a second day of guerrilla attacks in the flashpoint town of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, later claimed by a group apparently loyal to Saddam.” [AFP] The two killed were listed as Staff Sgt. Michael B. Quinn, 37, of Tampa, Fla. and Sgt. Thomas F. Broomhead, 34, both of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Nine other troops were injured.
  • Maj. Mathew E. Schram, 36, of Brookfield, Wis., was killed Monday after gunmen ambushed his military convoy in Hadithah, about 110 miles northwest of Baghdad. [AP]
  • Also on Monday, a soldier was killed on the outskirts of Baghdad when his Humvee came under attack. American troops have since been scouring the neighborhood looking for the assailants.

And yesterday, riots in the town of Hit drove U.S. troops out of town. The reasons for the violence are unclear, but it may be related to the use of Iraqi police units to aid Americans in house-to-house searches for weapons and the appalling living conditions in which many Iraqis now find themselves.
“They forced women and children to leave their houses!” shouted Esmael Rabee, a construction worker who made his voice heard above the shouts of those who had crowded around the lone foreign reporter [from the Times.] on the scene. “They violated the dignity and honor of our women. We won’t accept this violation.”
And, “They said they wanted to liberate Iraq, but this all shows it is just a game,” said Saleh Dayeh, a political science teacher interviewed in the nearby town of Mohammedi. “Petrol is the property of the Iraqi people, but now the Americans are stealing it. They are taking our property, our petrol and doing nothing for us.” (Gasoline now costs about 20 times what it was under Saddam Hussein.)
“The war has not ended,” said Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, chief of U.S. ground forces in Iraq. [Chicago Tribune] In the same article, the Trib said U.S. forces were gearing up for a major operation in central Iraq to clear out Saddamists. “We want to get rid of these scumbags,” Maj. Gen. James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, said.
These actions are happening in a belt stretching from Fallujah in the east to Hit in the west. Fallujah is well known as a violent, dangerous place among Iraqis and it was a Saddam stronghold, according to an email I received. (The sender requested anonymity.)
On top of all this, the Pentagon is having trouble convincing other countries to join in the fun. Only two dozen countries have pledged 13,000 troops to aid in policing post-war Iraq, far short of the “tens of thousands” the Pentagon was hoping for in order to allow a drawdown of American troops by fall. Poland is the most enthusiastic, sending 1,500 troops and receiving a command in central-south [or northern] Iraq. British troops are down to 15,000 (from a peak of 45,000 during the war.)
The danger is that without enough troops to do the job, overwhelmed Americans will shoot first and ask questions later, just like the British did when they occupied Mesopotamia in the 1920s while creating the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq. From my experience with Americans there, the troops are tired, war-weary, trigger-happy and — frankly — ignorant of the country. Marines didn’t know who the Kurds were. They had no idea of the geography of the country, not to mention its customs and morals. While there are more troops and patrols in Baghdad, there was almost no contact between average Iraqis and Americans. Things may be better now.
What does all this mean? The immediate answer is that U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s plans for a small ground force, popular support and an ruling infrastructure largely untouched were laughably wrong. Iraqis have taken to speaking their minds with a vengeance: The don’t want Iraqi police “protecting” them, they expect basic services to work and they want the feeling that they haven’t traded one evil, brutal ruler for a neglectful, easily distracted one. They also don’t want to feel like they’re simply pawns in a great game as Dayeh implied.
Some might say they must be patient. Some might ask who the hell cares what Iraqis think? (Which is basically what an email I received said. The author added that if a few Iraqis have to die for American security, “So be it.” Nice note, you savage.)
But what I find most disturbing is the lack of concern among many Americans, who are shirking their responsibility to demand answers from the White House as to why this looks like it’s turning into a collassal cock-up. Does it bother the war’s supporters that the whole WMD thing is vanishing in a puff of propaganda? (Dept. Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said in _Vanity Fair_ that “for bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.”) The “biological laboratories” strike me as a flimsy reason for war, considering the CIA itself says it doesn’t expect to find the presence of any bioweapons agents. “We suspect that the Iraqis thoroughly decontaminated the vehicle to remove evidence of BW agent production,” the report says. That’s silly. If the Iraqis thought the trailers were going to be captured, why waste time and energy on decontamination? Blowing them up would have been just as effective. If they didn’t expect them to be captured, there should be some traces of “BW agents” — assuming they were used to actually produce biological agents.
But no matter: According to a poll by the Program on International Policy Attutudes, 41 percent of Americans either think the U.S. has found WMDs (34 percent) or are unsure (7 percent.) Sixty-eight percent of Americans still support the war, although only half were somewhat (29 percent) or very (21 percent) certain that “when the US government presented the evidence to justify going to war with Iraq, it was … not being misleading.” Five percent were unsure.
That means 45 percent of America thinks it was lied to, but President George Bush gets props from 74 percent of the country for his “strong leadership.”
[The poll was conducted with a nationwide sample of 1,265 respondents May 14-18. The margin of error was plus or minus 3-4%, depending on whether the question was administered to the whole sample or half the sample. — from the press release.]
Also, there seems to be a collective amnesia in 20 percent of the population. One in five Americans believe, despite repeated pre-war statements from the White House and 24-7 red-eye coverage of Iraq, that the primary reason for going to war was “the fact that Saddam Hussein was an oppressive dictator.”
I actually met one of the Bush supporters at a party on Friday. He’s a smart guy and he means well. And I stand with him in his gladness that Saddam Hussein is out of power. But when I asked him if he minded being lied to as a rationale to go to war, he said no. What mattered was that Saddam was gone. Echoing Wolfowitz, he said the WMD angle was just what was needed to sell it.
Jesus. How do you argue with that?
Steven Kull, director of PIPA, said that the desire to support the war in the face of White House lies is driving some Americans to avoid news of the aftermath, to avoid “having an experience of cognitive dissonance.”
So here’s what we’re looking at. Iraq is turning into a tarbaby in the middle of a briar patch, a significant minority of Americans don’t know and may not want to know the truth about the war, and the crosshairs of the American war machine are swiveling to the east toward Tehran. (But don’t expect another war before next year’s election. Even Gen. Rove thinks three wars in one term might be a bit much.)
While the Iraqi resistance to American occupiers gets underway, there’s a desperate need for Americans to resist future moves to unjustified war. Lives — American and otherwise — are in the balance. Remember that next November.

Iraqi intrigue

According to, American proconsul L. Paul Bremer told journalists in Mosul that he had no intention of delaying the formation of an interim government, and said he “does not know the source of these stories.”

Hm. According to, American proconsul L. Paul Bremer told journalists in Mosul that he had no intention of delaying the formation of an interim government, as I commented on Saturday, and said he “does not know the source of these stories.”
Hey, Paul, here’s a hint: It’s British Diplomat John Sawers, who’s _quoted_ in the story from the New York Times and The Associated Press.

“It’s quite clear that you cannot transfer all powers onto some interim body, because it will not have the strength or the resources to carry those responsibilities out,” The Associated Press quoted Mr. Sawers as saying. “There was agreement that we should aim to have a national conference as soon as we reasonably could do so.”

So what are we to conclude from this? That Jayson Blair is reporting from Iraq? Or that Bremer is engaging in a little “cheat and retreat” of his own? Is he dashing the hopes of Iraqi opposition figures on the one hand and then denying it to journalists a couple of days later? Is the Bush Administration taking yet another play from Ronald Reagan, who once famously quipped, “My right hand didn’t know what my far right hand is doing”?
Vivion Vinson, over at the excellent Iraq Democracy Watch, mentions a Reuters report that Bremer has started drawing a distinction between an interim “authority” and an interim “government,” leading to deep suspicion on the part of the until-now strongly pro-American Iraqi National Congress.

“An interim authority is a very vague concept. I am not sure that an Iraqi representative would go to OPEC meetings (of oil exporting countries) under this setup,” Entifadh Qanbar, a senior official in the Iraqi National Congress, told Reuters.
“We will continue to tell him and push very hard. Anything of this sort will not work. The U.S. will come back and accept an interim government,” Qanbar said.
Qanbar said the United States had repeatedly agreed to form a sovereign government rather than a mere “authority”.

What’s going on here? Is this another example of the “pull it out of your ass at the last minute” planning that has marked the Bush administration’s “administration” of post-Saddam Iraq so far? I have no doubt that Bremer and Sawers told the Iraqi opposition group at a meeting that plans for an interim government would be put off. And I still maintain this is the least bad decision to make. With all the groups in Iraq jockeying for power — Ahmad Khaffaji, a politburo member of the Shi’ite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), accused Washington of breaking its promises to set up a sovereign Iraqi government and warned darkly of civil disobedience if the Americans don’t “fulfill their promises” — turning Iraq over to a government before it’s ready would be a recipe for civil war. This, obviously, would be the worst of all situations and the United States would be in a quagmire practically alone.
This puts the U.S. in a bit of a pickle. If it hands over the reigns of government too quickly, it’s civil war (probably.) If it holds on to them, it’s a colonial power in a region with long and painful memories of colonialism. Running Iraq like an oily fiefdom is not likely to engender cooperation from reluctant allies. And make no mistake: They _are_ reluctant. The sum total of troops contributed by allies other than Britain and Australia can be measured in the hundreds — their numbers look like bowling scores at U.N. league night.
Further complicating matters are, of course, the Kurds, particularly Jalal Barzani’s Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The PUK is already negotiating deals with Turkish (!) oil companies Pet Oil and General Energy to develop the oil fields around Taqtaq near Kirkuk. (Iraq War Reader has a good take on this.) As Micah Sifry muses:

All this may foreshadow a collision between the United States and the Kurds of northern Iraq over who will control the country’s richest oil fields. Hopefully, some of the journalists who have distinguished themselves on the Kurdish beat, like Charles Glass, Patrick Cockburn and Tim Judah (whose article on the Kurds graces our book), will shed more light on this soon.

With the delay of an interim government, a possible dispute with the Kurds — and Turkey? — in the future, the United States’ work in Iraq is cut out for it.
*CORRECTION May 29, 2003*
I misidentified Jalal Talabani in the preceding paragraph. It has since been corrected.

U.S., Britain put off Iraqi self-rule “indefinitely”

In a move seemingly designed to infuriate Europeans and others suspicious of the motives of the United States in Iraq, the U.S. and Britain have told the Iraqi oppositions that plans to put in place an interim government led by the opposition groups have been put on hold “indefinitely.”
This is actually a good thing.

In a move seemingly designed to infuriate Europeans and others suspicious of the motives of the United States in Iraq, the U.S. and Britain have told the Iraqi oppositions that plans to put in place an interim government led by the opposition groups have been put on hold “indefinitely.”
As _The New York Times_ reports, American proconsul L. Paul Bremer and British diplomat John Sawers told Iraqi political figures “that the allies preferred to revert to the concept of creating an ‘interim authority’ — not a provisional government — so that Iraqis could assist them by creating a constitution for Iraq, revamping the educational system and devising a plan for future democratic elections.”
Believe it or not, this is probably the best idea the Coalition has had since it decided to turn Iraq into the 51st state. Iraqis don’t want democracy right now. Well, they do, actually, but they want security a whole lot more. And they want economic development. Hemin Sultan, one of my translators in Arbil, told me that given a choice between democracy and jobs, the Iraqi people would take jobs. And he’s a Kurd in the relatively prosperous part of the country! There’s no widespread looting in Iraqi Kurdistan, nor are there roving militias claiming turf and threatening to turn that part of the country into a 21st century Lebanon.
This also sends the reassuring signal to the region that the United States is in this for a longer haul than some imagined. It’s exactly the opposite what happened in Afghanistan, in which America was so anxious to hand over power to the loya jirga and Afghanistan’s “government” that poor Harmid Karzai has been reduced to being the Mayor of some parts of Kabul instead of the president of his country.
This is a crucial signal to send, for if there’s one thing Iraq’s neighbors want to see _less_ than an extended U.S. presence in Iraq is a too hasty retreat that leaves the country shattered and refugees pouring into Syria, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey. It will also send a message to the Kurds, so they don’t get the idea they can leverage their newly ascendent position in Iraq to wring _de facto_ independence from a weak interim government.
The story reports that Iraqi opposition figures (it doesn’t mention names) are “disappointed” over the United States’ reversal.

Opposition leaders were “very respectful” to Mr. Bremer and Mr. Sawers, a participant said, “but I think everyone was also pretty forceful about the need to have full sovereignty for the Iraqis.” A question they kept posing, he added, was, “Do you want to run this place, or should we?” …
Today’s decision was a disappointment for the former opposition forces and their supporters in the Pentagon and the Congress, where officials had been pressing for an early turnover of sovereign power to a government formed by the opposition groups.

Also of note is that this decision is a victory for Colin Powell’s State Department, which has been fighting a not-very-private war of its own with the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. State has _never_ trusted INC head Ahmed Chalabi, who is wanted in Jordan for fraud in connection to the collapse of Petra Bank. State has never liked the idea of turning Iraq quickly over to the fractious opposition, knowing full well it and not the Pentagon ultimately would be the department that would have to clean up whatever messes Chalabi and his cronies would leave.
This is second such victory by the State Department recently in this internecine war in the Bush administration. The first was the appointment of Bremer, who, while reporting to Rumsfeld, is a State Department man, having spent 23 years in the diplomatic corps before retiring as a diplomat-at-large for counter-terrorism in 1989.
(I hinted at something like this back in February, and while I was outraged then, I have to reluctantly admit that this is probably the best solution at the moment. Security must come first. Only by building the foundations of a civil society can democracy have a hope of withstanding the buffets of the region’s politics, and that foundation can’t be laid in a country dominated by militias, raping, pillaging and the probable plunder of the nation’s treasury by a cabal of corrupt exiles leading an impotent interim government.)
It will be interesting to see what the reaction will be from the neocons and other hawks at the Pentagon — including vice president Dick Cheney — who supported Chalabi and the Iraqi opposition throughout the 1990s. It will be even more interesting if Bremer can keep the United States’ eyes on the ball and still in the game.
I’m sure several readers have already pointed this out in the comments — I haven’t read them yet; I will! — but the obvious and better solution would be to turn Iraq over to the United Nations to be governed as a trust, sort of like Kosovo. This would have the added benefit of encouraging more countries to send peacekeeping troops, something few are doing now. This, however, would require the Bush administration to do the Right Thing, which it has proven remarkably adept at avoiding. And since waiting on the White House to come around to that point of view will lead to a lot of Iraqis being killed as the country falls into chaos, what is the better choice? I’m not advocating Bremer’s “Shoot the Looters on Sight” policy, but security, order and basic services must be established first and foremost before a crony-filled, puppet government is established.

Debate on economics of pay-to-read independent journalism

Kevin Drum at has some interesting musings on a business model for independent journalism.

I’m slaving away on the book proposal as well as pitching articles to magazines, which is why you’re not hearing much from me, but has a decent little debate going in his comments section on a business model for independent journalism that David Appell and yours truly are working at.
In essence, Kevin is speculating on a kind of eBay for independent journalists, in which story ideas are pitched to readers and then the writer entertains bids from readers. Or, as Kevin puts it: “Readers could suggest stories and see if there are any reporters willing to follow them up.”
It’s an interesting thought, but I have no idea how to make it work technically. I’m sure some hot-shot programmer out there could encode the new rules of the freelance economy into an online service. But the two real questions are, can the writer make enough income from this to make it worth his or her while and will the readers get the quality that rivals what they can get from “mainstream” media.
I’ve been doodling a bit on a business model for Back-to-Iraq, but this is an idea I hadn’t thought of. (I don’t really have an entrepreneurial brain, sad to say.) Thoughts from you guys? Opinions?

More independent journalism hits the web

David Appell has picked up the baton of independent journalism and is asking for a modest donation for a story on the Sugar Association.

David Appell over at Quark Soup has picked up the baton of independent, reader-funded journalism. He is investigating a story on the Sugar Association, the World Health Organization and Congress. He’s asking for $250 from readers to report the story on his blog first — $5 from -40- 50 readers. (A lot more modest than the $10,000 I asked for!)
Dave’s a freelance science writer with a good resume and a nice collection of clips. In other words, he’s a real journalist. I urge people to support him, since I’m about to put my money where my mouth is and pop him $5. Let’s show the world Back-to-Iraq wasn’t a one-time stunt.

What kind of world do you want to live in?

What would you do if someone in your community took the law into his own hands and murdered an admittedly bad character? What if he then had trouble proving why he pulled the trigger?

Let’s open this up with a hypothetical situation: There’s a murderer living in your community. He’s struck before and one of your neighbors, the richest and most powerful guy in town, is convinced he’s going to strike again. Rich Guy tells everyone in town that the murderer is a bad guy and needs to be taken care of, that he has a torture chamber in his garage and that he’s a threat not only to you but to the whole town. To top it off, he beats his attractive wife and abuses his children. But no one wants to join Rich Guy’s lynch mob. And the cops aren’t much help; they say they have no evidence that he’s done anything lately. He’s a wily criminal and covers his tracks. But he gives you and everyone else in town the creeps.
Finally, Rich Guy decides to take the law into his own hands. One day, after repeated warnings, he shoots the old guy dead in the street in full view of everyone. The community is secretly glad he did it, and — bonus! — his attractive wife and children are no longer terrorized. Why, you might even date her yourself although Rich Guy has already started wooing her.
One small problem: As Rich Guy is rummaging around in the murderer’s house, he can’t find a single instrument of torture or the murder weapons that he used on his previous victims. All signs, in fact, point to a decrepit old man whose reign of terror — which at most extended to his front lawn — would soon be coming to an end anyway. There are no indications he was able to kill again. However, Rich Guy does find the old man’s personal fortune stashed away in mason jars, which he said he would take “to hold on to while his wife and child recover from their horrible ordeal.”
So now Rich Guy has killed a man — who no doubt deserved to die and could hardly be considered innocent — but he’s broken the law. He committed murder and there’s really no denying that.
Should the cops now lock him up? Prosecute him for first degree murder? What would you say if this situation happened in your community?
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Well, if that mean old man was really about to do some nasty stuff, perhaps Rich Guy should get manslaughter or justifiable homicide.” But the mean old man’s means of terrorizing his neighborhood are inconveniently absent. Do you still trust Rich Guy? Would you look at him counting the old man’s money with his arm around the beautiful widow and think, “Ah, hell, the wife and child are happy so all’s well that ends well”? Would you shrug and think, “This is the kind of town I want to live in! Who needs cops when Rich Guy can take care of the bad guys?”
But what happens if Rich Guy is wrong?
Okay, this was obviously an analogy for Iraq and the United States, and this report from the Washington Post makes it clear that not only is the search for weapons of mass destruction coming up empty, it’s looking increasingly futile. As the Post says:

The 75th Exploitation Task Force, as the group is formally known, has been described from the start as the principal component of the U.S. plan to discover and display forbidden Iraqi weapons. The group’s departure, expected next month, marks a milestone in frustration for a major declared objective of the war.

The task force is being shuttered next month, and the number of fruitless missions paints a damning indictment.
CENTCOM began the war, the story says, with 19 top weapons sites. Only two remain to be searched, with nothing coming up in the first 17. Another list had 68 top “non-WMD” sites that might offer clues to the locations of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons programs. Forty-five have been dead ends. Despite the Bush administration’s assertions that the inspections have barely begun and — irony alert! — must be given time, Task Force 75’s inspection of the high-priority targets has been marked by poor intelligence on the part of Washington or poor security that led to sites being looted or burned. This means that any materials that might have been used to produce WMD are now missing, which is what this was was allegedly fought for.
“Am I convinced that what we did in this fight was viable? I tell you from the bottom of my heart: We stopped Saddam Hussein in his WMD programs,” said Army Col. Richard McPhee, according to the Post. “Do I know where they are? I wish I did … but we will find them. Or not. I don’t know. I’m being honest here.”
But the key parts of this article are the ones that show how poorly the retroactive search for a casus belli is going.

“We came to bear country, we came loaded for bear and we found out the bear wasn’t here,” said a Defense Intelligence Agency officer here who asked not to be identified by name. “The indications and warnings were there. The assessments were solid.”
“Okay, that paradigm didn’t exist,” he added. “The question before was, where are Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological weapons? What is the question now? That is what we are trying to sort out.”
One thing analysts must reconsider, he said, is: “What was the nature of the threat?”

The suspicion that the American people — and the United Nations — were not simply misled but actively lied to by Team Bush to gain support for this war leads to a bit of a queasy feeling. At least it should.
Look, I’m not denying that good came of this and that the Iraqi people likely will eventually be better off, but I do have to ask some questions to the people now crowing that what the United States did was right:

  1. Was the good that came out of this worth the problems and costs now facing the United States?
  2. Was it worth it to saddle the United States taxpayer with a multi-billion dollar commitment to Iraq when the nation’s deficits are climbing ever higher and the economy is as stagnant a Florida swamp?
  3. Was it worth the damage to international order and alliances that has been done?
  4. Why did the United States start a war armed with a quiver full of lies?
  5. Is this the kind of world you want to live in?