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Wed

11

Jul

2007

Saving Al Qaeda: Collective Punishment and Curious Policy in the "Surge"
Wednesday, 11 July 2007 21:00
by Chris Floyd

The Bush Administration's hideously named military offensive in Iraq's Diyala province ("Arrowhead Ripper" — there's a real hearts-and-minds moniker for you) is having the same effect we've seen in all the other many pushes and surges and crackdowns during the botched conquest: killing innocent people, alienating the locals, strengthening the insurgency — and allowing the ostensible targets of the operation to escape long before the action begins.

Arrowhead Ripper has been tearing through Diyala's capital city, Baquba, since June 18, Inter Press Service reports. The announced goal of the operation is to cleanse the area of "al Qaeda terrorists" — the term of art now given to anyone who's not down with the Bushist program. Or who just looks like they might not be down with the program. Or who just happens to be lying in their bed when Apache helicopters come calling on the village. But just as in the destruction of Fallujah in late November 2004 — a vast human sacrifice offered to the gods in gratitude for the Leader's re-election — the long, noisy PR build-up to the Diyala operation gave the leaders of the "al Qaeda associated groups" plenty of time to melt away into the night, safe and sound to fight another day. Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of U.S ground forces, admitted cheerfully that 80 percent of what he called upper-level al Qaeda leaders fled before the attacks began, the Air Force Times reported on June 22.

From Fallujah, the curiously untouched "al Qaeda" leaders — including the one-time Bushist bogeyman, Zarqawi — spread mayhem elsewhere while American forces were attacking hospitals, raining chemical weapons on residential areas, and driving 300,000 people from their homes in the city. In similar fashion, the curiously untouched terrorist leaders from Diyala are obviously raising murderous hell elsewhere — perhaps in previously peaceful Amerli, where more than 150 people were killed last week in one of the worst terror bombings of the war. (Terror bombings by the asymmetricals, that is; the state terror bombings that began with the first shock-and-awe "decapitation raids" and continue to this day have of course killed far more Iraqis.)

Arrowhead Ripper is being presented in the American press as an unalloyed success. Taking their lead from the New York Times and other bastions of the corporate media, newspapers and TV stations across the United States are carrying reports of the number of "al Qaeda" fighters killed in the province. The operation has been extensively extolled by Republicans in Congress, warbloggers and other abettors of aggressive war as proof that the "surge" is finally starting to work.


But the people of Baquba have a different view, as IPS reports. Reporter Ali al-Fadhily (the Baghdad-based partner of correspondent Dahr Jamail) has taken a novel approach to covering the offensive; instead of sitting in the Green Zone with Michael Gordon taking dictation from White House aides turned Pentagon flacks, al-Fadhily actually went to Baquba and talked to the people there. What he found was vast destruction, numerous civilian fatalities (up to 350, say members of the American-backed Iraqi government) — and, as in Fallujah, the war crime of collective punishment being carried out against Sunni civilians, with an inevitable rise in support for armed resistance to the occupation. Some excerpts:

Ongoing U.S. military operations in Diyala province have brought normal life to an end and fueled support for the national resistance. Baquba, 30 mi. northeast of Baghdad, and capital city of the volatile Diyala province, has born the brunt of violence during the U.S. military Operation Arrowhead Ripper. Conflicting reports are on offer on the number of houses destroyed and numbers of civilians killed, but everyone agrees that the destruction is vast and the casualties numerous...

The operation was launched June 18 "to destroy the al-Qaeda influences in this province and eliminate their threat against the people," according to Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, deputy commanding officer of the 25th Infantry Division.  But most Iraqis IPS interviewed in the area say the operation seeks more to break the national Iraqi resistance and those who support it. Adding credibility to this belief is the fact that the U.S. operational commander of troops involved in the operation told reporters June 22 that 80 percent of the top al-Qaeda leaders in Baquba fled before the offensive began.

"Americans want Sunni people to leave Diyala or else they face death," Salman Shakir from the Gatoon district in Baquba told IPS outside the U.S. military cordon around the besieged city. "They warned al-Qaeda days or maybe weeks before they attacked the province and so only us, the citizens, stayed to face the massacre." Shakir said many of his relatives and neighbors were killed by the military while attempting to leave the area. "I cannot tell you how many people were killed, but bodies of civilians were left in the streets."

"We all know now that the U.S. military is using the name of al-Qaeda to cover attacks against our national resistance fighters and civilians who wish immediate or scheduled withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq," Hilmi Saed, an Iraqi journalist from Baghdad, told IPS on the outskirts of Baquba.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni political group in the Iraqi cabinet, issued a statement July 1 alleging that more than 350 people had been killed in the U.S. military operation in Baquba. The group called the operation "collective punishment" and said "neighborhoods in western Baquba have witnessed, since last week, fierce attacks by occupation forces within Operation Arrowhead Ripper." The statement added, "The forces shelled these neighborhoods with helicopters, destroying more than 150 houses and killing more than 350 citizens. Their bodies are still under the wreckage. And they have arrested scores of citizens."

...Animosity towards the United States appears to be rising throughout the area as a result of the military action. "Americans are pushing us to the corner of extremity by these massive crimes," Abbas al-Zaydi, a teacher from Baquba told IPS. "They simply want us to sell cheap our religion, history, tradition, and faith, or else they would call us terrorists."

Al-Zaydi added, "My son was not a fighter, but he was killed by a militia leader who is at the same time an Iraqi army division commander. Our great fault is only that we are Sunnis, and Americans do not like that."

"It is clear now that any Iraqi who refuses to serve the American plan is considered an enemy of the United States," a community leader in the city who did not want to give his name told IPS.
There is nothing unusual about this story. As already noted, it could have been written after Fallujah or any of the other "offensives" and "new strategies" and "security pushes" we have seen during the war: Blunderbuss attacks. Innocent victims. Iraqi anger. Bitterness and radicalization. The knowingly mendacious conflation of all insurgents with "al Qaeda." And the loud, cumbersome preparations that give the honchos of violence plenty of time to get away, leaving behind only the scrubs — and the civilians — to take the blow.

A cynic might be forgiven for believing that at this point, the Bush Administration is happy to have an amorphous mass of violent groups out there, just beyond reach, able to keep the country in constant turmoil — a turmoil which requires the continued presence of American forces to keep it from worsening, as Bush and his Iraqi capos have been stressing this week. It is certainly an open fact that the United States has begun giving weapons to an alarming array of groups in recent months, some of which have been involved in the insurgency, and all of them beyond direct U.S. control. (This is an extension of earlier, more secret American moves to arm and train various sectarian and freebooting militias to operate on "sort of the dark side, if you will," to quote Dick Cheney.)

No one pursuing a rational strategy of containing violence in Iraq would adopt such a policy. That leaves us with two basic choices. Either the Bush Administration is pursuing a rational strategy whose true aims are not the ones given publicly for the surge; or else the Bushists have come to believe their own lies about al Qaeda's "central" role in the insurgency.

The latter could well be true. The shallow intellects who have driven the entire project of aggressive war in Iraq are certainly stupid enough to fall for their own bullshit (if we may resort to the vernacular) — just as Adolf Hitler and his most fanatical followers adamantly refused to recognize the ultimate ruin of their aggression in the streets of Stalingrad and on the beaches of Normandy. People in power are especially prone to self-delusion — especially when they are slavishly fawned upon by their toadies and kept well away from any of the hideous consequences of their actions, as people in power usually are. If you add to this the almost pathologically willful ignorance of George W. Bush, and the pathetically derivative, historically uninformed, inch-deep "philosophies" of the neo-cons and their outriders, you have near-perfect conditions for self-delusion on a Neronian scale.

But we must remember that the most consistent war aim of the aggressors has been the establishment of a permanent military presence in Iraq. The aim was to secure control of a major oil source in the Middle East — a "prize" that Dick Cheney, then head of Halliburton, limned in a talk at the Institute of Petroleum in 1999:

"While many regions offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest costs, is still where the prize ultimately lies."
The implantation of a military garrison to secure this ultimate prize has been the aggressors' openly stated goal for many years, long before they took power, as we have often noted here before. A succinct description of their thinking can be found in John Gray's important new book, Black Mass:

"Among the geopolitical objectives advanced by the neo-conservatives was the argument that the US must decouple from Saudi Arabia, which they viewed as complicit in terrorism. If it was to disengage in this way, the US needed another secure source of oil in the Gulf, and another platform for military bases. Iraq seemed to fit these requirements. By controlling a crucial part of the Gulf's oil reserves, the US could detach itself from an ally it no longer trusted. At the same time, it could ensure that it remained the dominant power in the region, with the capacity to limit the incursions of China, India and other energy-hungry states."
Gray goes on to note, correctly, that this was "always an incredible scenario," a utopian fantasy:

"The notion that post-Saddam Iraq would accept the transfer of its oil reserves into American hands was anyhow delusional. Why should a democratic Iraq — if that had been possible — accept the expropriation of its resource base?"
Why indeed? No self-respecting, sovereign Iraqi government would do such a thing. In fact, only a gang of cowed collaborators kept in power solely through the presence of American troops would ever accept such an expropriation.

Which brings us around to a "rational" basis for a strategy of fomenting violence in Iraq. The Bushists may well have been sincerely self-deluded in their belief that they could grab Iraq's oil on the cheap, plant bases all over the country, stick a strongman on the throne, and be thanked by the Iraqis for it. But they have learned their lesson now. They know the only chance they have left of accomplishing their war aims — the bases, the "Oil Law" — lies in keeping those cowed, weak, deeply unpopular collaborators in office. Unbridled violence aids this objective, for it "justifies" the continuing presence of the American military — which is the sole prop for the only kind of regime that would give away the nation's oil and accept foreign bases on its soil.

If this is indeed the "reasoning" behind the otherwise inexplicable policy of embittering the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people while arming violent groups and letting terrorist chieftains roam free, then this too is ultimately a delusion. In the end, sooner or later, the Iraqis will kick the Americans out of their country. There will be no bases, no "Oil Law" written by Washington lobbyists. The Bushists' war of aggression has come to ruin just as Hitler's did. The only question is how much more blood and treasure these rabid dead-enders will waste before their inevitable defeat.

Chris Floyd is an award-winning American journalist, and author of the book, Empire Burlesque: High Crimes and Low Comedy in the Bush Regime. For more than 11 years he wrote the featured political column, Global Eye, for The Moscow Times and the St. Petersburg Times in Russia. He also served as UK correspondent for Truthout.org, and was an editorial writer for three years for The Bergen Record. His work appears regularly CounterPunch, The Baltimore Chronicle and in translation in the Italian paper, Il Manifesto, and has also been published in such venues as The Nation,  the Christian Science Monitor, Columbia Journalism Review, The Ecologist and many others. His articles are also featured regularly on such websites as Information Clearing House, Buzzflash, Bushwatch, LewRockwell.com, Antiwar.com, and many others. His work has been cited in The New York Times, USA Today, the Guardian, the Independent and other major newspapers.
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