‘Into the Abyss’

March 28, 2008

An uneasy sense of watching in slo-mo some nasty, cruel shit hitting the fan.

Iraq’s Prime Minister was staring into the abyss today after his operation to crush militia strongholds in Basra stalled, members of his own security forces defected and district after district of his own capital fell to Shia militia gunmen.
With the threat of a civil war looming in the south, Nouri al-Maliki’s police chief in Basra narrowly escaped assassination in the crucial port city, while in Baghdad, the spokesman for the Iraqi side of the US military surge was kidnapped by gunmen and his house burnt to the ground.
Saboteurs also blew up one of Iraq’s two main oil pipelines from Basra, cutting at least a third of the exports from the city which provides 80 per cent of government revenue, a clear sign that the militias — who siphon significant sums off the oil smuggling trade — would not stop at mere insurrection.
From his field headquarters inside Basra city, the Prime Minister vowed to press on with his attack, which he said was not targeting the Mahdi Army in particular but all lawless gangs. “We have come to Basra at the invitation of the civilians to do our national duty and protect them from the gangs who have terrified them and stolen the national wealth,” he said. “We promise to face the criminals and gunmen and we will never back off from our promise.”

Residents of Basra complained that water and electricity had been turned off in the three main areas besieged by the Iraqi Army, which has an entire division deployed for the battle. They also said that they were running low on food an unable to evacuate their wounded. Estimates of the death toll in Basra reached as high as 200, with hundreds more wounded.
“The battle is not easy without coalition support,” lamented one Basra resident, who had worked as a translator for the British forces. “The police in Basra are useless and helping the Mahdi Army. The militia are hiding among the civilians. This country will never be safe, I want to leave for ever. I don’t know how to get out of this hell.”

timesonline.co.uk, (3/27/08)

While Decider George was lying his ass off this week about the creeping situation in Iraq, one prominent Republican plucked the truth out of Lewis Carroll:

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) suggests to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that there is no cause for optimism towards the situation in Iraq, propagated by arrogance, with an ever-growing cost in lives and money, despite a recent speech by President Bush.
“I think this is another episode of ‘Alice in Wonderland,'” the Senator says. “What’s up is down, and what’s down is up. What do you mean, ‘stability and security?’ Baghdad, for example, has been over the last year essentially ethnically divided.”
“And,” Hagel adds, “when you look at the casualties the United States has taken since since the so-called ‘military surge,’ over 900 deaths; you look at almost 30,000 wounded, and the money we’ve put in there.
And then, the other point of this is, too: If, in fact, the ‘surge’ has calmed things to a point where the President and others are saying ‘Well, they’ve done a great service, and they’ve achieved some terrific things,’ why, then, is the administration talking about keeping more American troops in Iraq for the remainder of this year than we had before the ‘surge’?”
“This,” the Senator continues, “is still a very unstable, serious, dangerous situation in Iraq.”

rawstory.com, (3/28/08)

Hagel has always appeared a good guy — despite being a Republican — and has been a vocal critic of Decider George’s disaster in Iraq since before the beginning. When he was first elected to the Senate in 1996, he indicated he was only serve two terms, which he’s done (re-elected in 2002) and he’s going to keep his word: Hagel announced last fall he would not run this year.

One of the best journalists covering the Iraq war (and one of the bravest) is Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent. Since he has been covering the Iraq mess since day one, his dispatches have been really precise. And he seems to be a good writer, too, which is sometimes not the case with reporters.
Cockburn was interviewed on Democracy Now! last Thursday and had some interesting notes from the margin:

Well, you know, they’ve always been very—the US has always been very hostile to Muqtada, and this came from the very beginning of 2003. And then, when Jerry Bremer was US viceroy in Iraq, there was an extraordinary degree of sort of venom and demonization of Muqtada, describing him as Hitler and so forth, and curiously, also an underestimation of him, because while at one time—moment they’d say that he was like Hitler, at another moment Bremer was just trying to arrest him and thinking there would be no reaction. So, there’s always been extreme hostility on the part of the US, mainly, I think, because Muqtada is the most important leader on the Shia side who’s consistently called for an end to the US occupation, for a US withdrawal, and also maybe because he’s a cleric, he wears a black turban. So in many minds of many American politicians, maybe he looks alarmingly like a younger version of Ayatollah Khomeini. But I think the main thing they have against him is that he wants the US to withdraw.

You know, I have a sinking feeling in my stomach when I hear things like that. (off a question of is the US “winning,” or the surge, a success?”) And I was in Baghdad when McCain was there. You know, people say to me, “Are things getting better in Iraq?” And, you know, in one sense, you could say they are, because a year ago we were having, as I said earlier, 3,000 civilians slaughtered, tortured to death every month. This month, we’re probably going to have 1,500, 1,600 civilians killed. So, you know, in a sense, things have got better. We’ve gone from 3,000 to 1,600. But, you know, we’ve gone from 100 percent bloodbath to 50 percent bloodbath, but it’s still a bloodbath, so I think it’s really ludicrous for Vice President Cheney or Senator McCain to say, you know, we’re on the verge of victory, things are good.
And then there are, you know, those television—there was famous television of McCain in Shorja market in Baghdad last year saying American people aren’t being told the truth about Iraq. Now, very noticeably, he didn’t go back to Shorja market when he visited a couple of weeks ago, and one of the reasons might be that his security advisers would say, “Don’t go,” because the market is controlled by the Mahdi Army. So, really, this is very deceptive. There’s something of an improvement in security in Baghdad. A lot of this has to do with the fact there are no mixed areas left there, so Sunni and Shia don’t really mix. We have a truce with the Madhi Army. But, you know, it’s still a city which is the most dangerous in the world, and that’s really what should get through to people outside Iraq.”

democracynow.org, (3/27/08)

Much of the insider news and real truth about the situation in Iraq has come from foreign journalists.
The US media has been either too scared or too lazy, or too close to power.

Al-Maliki and Iraq may not be just staring into the abyss: They and the US might already in its depths.

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