Posts tagged Baghdad

Wednesday Lazy Linking

Don’t forget.

  • The world is awesome.

  • People are awesome. You don’t need plans, or politics, or power. Put them up against people, and people will win every time. People came up with that video. Also, other people came up with this.

  • Technological civilization is awesome. (In case you’re wondering, it’s awesome because it’s made of people.)

  • Books are awesome. Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Times (2009-05-29): Some Thoughts on the Pleasures of Being a Re-Reader

  • To-day is awesome. It’s an anniversary. My love and I were married three years ago today. If the normal online rounds are held up for a while, well, that’s why.

Solidarity.

  • In memory of George Tiller. feministe (2009-05-31): In honor of Dr. Tiller (if you would like to donate in memory and in honor of Dr. Tiller’s work). Among others, the National Network of Abortion Funds has established a George Tiller Memorial Abortion Fund.

  • IQSN, L.A. I.M.C. (2009-05-27): Solidarity with Queer Bulgaria on 27 June 2009. A day of international actions in solidarity with the LGBTQ Pride march in Sofia, Bulgaria. Last year’s march was attacked by neo-Nazi groups who decided to Keep Our Children Safe with a campaign of roving basher gangs and by slinging molotov cocktails and small explosives at the marchers. International Queer Solidarity Network calls for a European mobilization, with support from the United States, that will stand in solidarity with Queer Bulgaria for this year’s march.

News.

Comment.

Historicize.

Communications.

Wednesday Lazy Linking

The tall poppies, part 3: prosperity threatens to spread into southern Iraq

Third verse, same as the first.

Let’s say that you are trying to rebuild a once-prosperous country racked by years of tyranny, desperate poverty and near-constant violence. Corruption, terrorism, and warlordism are daily sources of terror. Most of the country is completely dependent on foreign aid. Grinding poverty is the norm all throughout the countryside, and farmers cannot support themselves on their usual crops. But there is one glimmer of hope: lucrative new opportunities to grow a traditional cash crop, which promises to lift many small farmers, currently on the edge of penury or starvation, into a much more comfortable standard of living. How should you react?

Well, according to the United States government, the best thing to do is to portray this lucrative cash crop as a fundamental menace to civil society, to shoot the farmers who grow it, and to poison or burn the fields they grow it in. We know this because they already did it in Afghanistan, in spite of the obviously hurtful consequences for Afghan farmers. Meanwhile, in southern Iraq, the same thing is likely to happen again soon:

The cultivation of opium poppies whose product is turned into heroin is spreading rapidly across Iraq as farmers find they can no longer make a living through growing traditional crops.

Afghan with experience in planting poppies have been helping farmers switch to producing opium in fertile parts of Diyala province, once famous for its oranges and pomegranates, north-east of Baghdad.

At a heavily guarded farm near the town of Buhriz, south of the provincial capital Baquba, poppies are grown between the orange trees in order to hide them, according to a local source.

The shift by Iraqi farmers to producing opium is a very recent development. The first poppy fields, funded by drug smugglers who previously supplied Saudi Arabia and the Gulf with heroin from Afghanistan, were close to the city of Diwaniyah in southern Iraq. The growing of poppies has now spread to Diyala, which is one of the places in Iraq where al-Qa’ida is still resisting US and Iraqi government forces. It is also deeply divided between Sunni, Shia and Kurd and the extreme violence means that local security men have little time to deal with the drugs trade. The speed with which farmers are turning to poppies is confirmed by the Iraqi news agency al-Malaf Press, which says that opium is now being produced around the towns of Khalis, Sa’adiya, Dain’ya and south of Baladruz, pointing out that these are all areas where al-Qa’ida is strong.

The agency cites a local agricultural engineer identified as M S al-Azawi as saying that local farmers got no support from the government and could not compete with cheap imports of fruit and vegetables. The price of fertilizer and fuel has also risen sharply. Mr Azawi says: The cultivation of opium is the likely solution [to these problems].

Initial planting in fertile land west and south of Diwaniya around the towns of Ash Shamiyah, al-Ghammas and Shinafiyah were said to have faced problems because of the extreme heat and humidity. Al-Malaf Press says that it has learnt that the experiments with opium poppy-growing in Diyala have been successful.

Although opium has not been grown in many of these areas in Iraq in recent history, some of the earliest written references to opium come from ancient Iraq.

It was known to the ancient Sumerians as early as 3400BC as the Hul Gil or joy plant and there are mentions of it on clay tablets found in excavations at the city of Nippur just east of Diwaniyah.

— Patrick Cockburn, CounterPunch (2008-01-24): http://www.counterpunch.org/patrick01242008.html

Cockburn, buying into the basic mythology of the United States government’s warped narco-diplomacy, bizarrely describes this rare chance for Iraqi farmers to lift themselves out of poverty with a traditional Mesopotamian crop, now extremely lucrative, as a menacing development, and immediately links it with warlordism and terrorism, rather than with the small farmers who are now able to get by on their new source of income. In fact, as far as I can tell, the upshot of the story is, in some parts of Iraq, because the government’s prohibitionist apparatus has more or less entirely broken down, many currently impoverished farmers are now menaced by the prospect of once again being able to make enough money to support themselves, and the only genuine dangers involved anywhere are the dangers that directly or indirectly result from the bullheaded commitment of the United States government and its client government in Iraq to destroying the opium farmers’ chance at a viable new source of income.

Just as it happened in Afghanistan, what will happen from here in Iraq is that U.S. officials will scream their heads off about the horrible menace of pain-killers being sold to willing customers, and then funnel money and military resources to the Iraqi government in order to launch chemical and paramilitary eradication programs—the primary effects of which will be to dramatically reinforce the power of terrorists and local warlords over the opium trade, and meanwhile to destroy the livelihoods of desperately poor farmers. Eradication, after all, forces illegal opium farmers to deal with whoever has the political juice necessary to do the smuggling, and in southern Iraq that mainly means gangsters, militia warlords, and influential jihadis. The farmers, on the other hand, will be forced to choose between living with the constant danger of having their lives and livelihoods ruined by government eradicators, or else going back to more-or-less guaranteed penury while they try to grow more of the same old unprofitable crops that they failed to make any money from before.

Meanwhile, this violent campaign on behalf of political corruption and mass starvation will be passed off by sanctimonious U.S. and U.N. narco-bureaucrats as a make-or-break struggle for democracy and freedom in Iraq, which, among those who have lost themselves in the twisted labyrinth of statist policy goals, have somehow become immediately and unquestioningly equated with adopting a particular set of policy outcomes in support of the United States government’s hyper-aggressive commitment to domestic drug prohibitionism.

This is statist nation-building on the march — with warlordism and grinding poverty dragging the country down into hell, the U.S., U.N., and U.K. gear up to enforce a political economy straight out of Mao’s Great Leap Forward on a nation of millions so that they never have to question their domestic policy initiatives. The United States government’s rabid pursuit of international narcotics prohibition, no matter what the predictable human consequences of their belligerence, reflects an absolutely deranged set of priorities.

Further reading:

War and manhood

(Links via Dulce Et Decorum Est 2006-07-31 and comments on Tennessee Guerrilla Women 2006-07-30.)

Here is a view of war and manhood from the bottom of the ranks.

I came over here because I wanted to kill people.

Over a mess-tent dinner of turkey cutlets, the bony-faced 21-year-old private from West Texas looked right at me as he talked about killing Iraqis with casual indifference. It was February, and we were at his small patrol base about 20 miles south of Baghdad. The truth is, it wasn’t all I thought it was cracked up to be. I mean, I thought killing somebody would be this life-changing experience. And then I did it, and I was like, All right, whatever.

He shrugged.

I shot a guy who wouldn’t stop when we were out at a traffic checkpoint and it was like nothing, he went on. Over here, killing people is like squashing an ant. I mean, you kill somebody and it’s like All right, let’s go get some pizza.

At the time, the soldier’s matter-of-fact manner struck me chiefly as a rare example of honesty. I was on a nine-month assignment as an embedded reporter in Iraq, spending much of my time with grunts like him — mostly young (and immature) small-town kids who sign up for a job as killers, lured by some gut-level desire for excitement and adventure. This was not the first group I had run into that was full of young men who shared a dark sense of humor and were clearly desensitized to death. I thought this soldier was just one of the exceptions who wasn’t afraid to say what he really thought, a frank and reflective kid, a sort of Holden Caulfield in a war zone.

But the private was Steven D. Green.

— Andrew Tilghman, Washington Post (2006-07-30, B01): I came over here because I wanted to kill people.

When Tilghman met Green, Green was angry and disillusioned about the war. He seethed about the old men’s demands for restraint (We’re out here getting attacked all the time and we’re in trouble when somebody accidentally gets shot?), and about the meaninglessness of this war:

See, this war is different from all the ones that our fathers and grandfathers fought. Those wars were for something. This war is for nothing.

— Quoted by Andrew Tilghman, Washington Post (2006-07-30, B01): I came over here because I wanted to kill people.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Green was wrong about the wars that our fathers and grandfathers fought. Or any other war fought by men in the name of the National Manhood. Meanwhile, here is another view of war and manhood, from the top of the ranks:

The Wars Our Fathers and Grandfathers Fought

photo: burnt corpses lie in a ruined street

Aftermath of the Tokyo firebombing, 10 March 1945

photo: an aerial view of Hiroshima, leveled

Aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, 6 August 1945

photo: leveled houses around the Nagasaki railroad station

Nagasaki railroad station

photo: a ruined residential neighborhood, with all the homes burnt or toppled

Iwakawa-machi residential neighborhood, Nagasaki

BombingOfSnuol.jpg

Aftermath of U.S. bombing of Snuŏl, Cambodia on 3 May 1970.

AUSTRALIA intervened to stop key US military strikes against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, fearing they might constitute a war crime.

Major General Maurie McNarn, then a brigadier and commander of Australian forces in Iraq, on several occasions played a red card against the American plans, which included hits on individuals. His objections drew anger from some senior US military figures.

In one instance, Major General McNarn vetoed a US plan to drop a range of huge non-precision bombs on Baghdad, causing one angry US Air Force general to call the Australian a pencil dick.

However, US military command accepted Major General McNarn’s objection and the US plans were scrapped.

The revelation of how Australia actively and successfully used its veto power in the 2003 invasion of Iraq is contained in a new book on the US-Australian alliance, The Partnership, by The Weekend Australian’s foreign editor, Greg Sheridan.

… The book reveals that Major General McNarn — now the head of the Defence Intelligence Organisation — delivered a great shock to the US when he first used the red card and then put his objections to the proposed US military strike in writing.

Shit, exclaimed one American when he saw the document. What if this leaks? Major General McNarn replied that if the US did not take the illegal action, it would not matter.

As coalition forces prepared plans to take Baghdad, Major General McNarn vetoed three of five proposed US Air Force weapon systems — mostly huge bombs — on the grounds that they were not accurate for a radius of less than 16m and, as a result, were unsuitable for use in a built-up area.

— Cameron Stewart, The Australian (2006-07-29): Aussie veto stopped US war crimes

There are of course two stories here. The first story, the one emphasized by the news report, is that the Australian general halted the U.S. generals’ plans to indiscriminately bomb Baghdad—which would have made the war even more of an abattoir for Iraqi civilians than it became even with the more restrained bombing. The second story is that the U.S. generals made plans to indiscriminately bomb Baghdad. Plans they were invested in, and plans they were enraged to see blocked.

This is what I was talking about

A couple of months ago I elliptically grumbled about media coverage and analysis of the riots originating from French slums. Here’s an example of what I was on about, but from a positive angle. This is what I was talking about; this is what you should be doing.

A group of enterprising students at Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, has some advice for the politically disaffected: If you find the media’s Iraq coverage unsatisfactory, pick up the phone. Don’t call the Times, or CNN, or Rupert Murdoch; call Baghdad. There are a couple of Iraqi phone books available on the Internet, and plenty of interesting people willing to share their stories directly, from six thousand miles away, many of them speaking decent English. When your phone bill starts to get out of hand, try downloading Skype, software that allows two people to talk free, from anywhere in the world, using computer microphones and a headset.

Amelia Templeton, a senior history major, estimates that she has spoken with twenty-five Iraqis over the past year, and now, as she said the other day, it’s a bad idea to ask me about Iraq unless you plan on listening for a while. One of the Iraqis she spoke with, a painter named Esam Pasha, who is a grandson of the former Prime Minister Nuri al-Said, has even invited her to visit Baghdad. I was told that if I came he’d pick me up at the airport, she said. Given what that road is like, how dangerous it is going to and from the airport, that’s quite an offer.

Templeton is one of the editors at War News Radio, a weekly half-hour show broadcast on the Swarthmore campus station, and podcast over the Web, where it draws as many as three thousand listeners a day. The show’s stated aim is to rediscover the voices of real people in Iraq. …

The students began, two semesters ago, by creating a homemade sound studio, using bulletin boards and egg cartons hung from ceiling pipes. Now, thanks to the college, they’ve got proper acoustic tiling, although space heaters are still required to supplement the building’s old radiator, and the reporters sometimes wear ski jackets and hats while manning the phones. They have secured interviews, in recent weeks, with the C.E.O. of the new Iraqi Stock Exchange, an aspiring filmmaker in Baghdad, and the Sunni politician Adnan Pachachi. In one broadcast, an Iraqi doctor, referring to the mood at the checkpoints, said, Everybody feels terrified; everything around is horrible, and you expect that you may be killed at any minute. (His daughter had been shot, he said, by U.S. soldiers.)

We thought we were at a disadvantage not being on the ground in Iraq, Eva Barboni, a junior poli-sci major, said. But when you hear from reporters there that they can’t even leave their hotels you start to think. The sound quality afforded by Skype, it turns out, is often better than what can be achieved over the weak landlines in the Green Zone.

If you’re working for a big American network, with a film crew following you, you’re not going to get out on the streets in Baghdad, Wren Elhai, a sophomore, said. We can do a lot from here that the networks can’t do.

— Ben McGrath, The New Yorker (2005-12-19): Baghdad to Swarthmore

Is there any guarantee that by chatting up any Iraqi you happen to pick out of the phone book, you’ll get the straight story, the whole truth, or even comments that are especially interesting? No, of course not. Iraq is full of people, like any other country, and some of those people are liars, creeps, toadies, cranks, or anything else you could think of.

One drawback of the long-distance approach, of course, is that you can’t be sure whom you’re talking to. Templeton, while working on a segment about a typical Iraqi teen-ager, ended up speaking with a father she later came to suspect of being a Baath Party official. She killed the story. I thought maybe they weren’t the average, she said.

— Ben McGrath, The New Yorker (2005-12-19): Baghdad to Swarthmore

But, as I said before, There’s nothing wrong with addressing statements and then giving some reasons for taking them to be insincere or misleading. But it is totally irresponsible to make loud and confident declarations about why complete strangers are doing something when you haven’t so much as bothered to ask them or to find out what they’ve said on the matter.

The fact that so many words are daily so confidently poured forth about Iraq and Iraqis, by both amateur and professional blowhards who have not done something as simple as this, whose sole or primary sources of information are newsmedia outlets that march on through reportage while resolutely neglecting to do things as simple as this to make themselves less than ignorant about the conditions in Iraq or what ordinary Iraqis have to say about the concrete effects of the Great Powers’ policies on their own day-to-day lives, should tell you something not just about public debate in general, but also about the nature of the Iraq War and the continuing occupation in particular.

You can find information on, and broadcasts of, War News Radio at the War News Radio website.