Don't Forget the Alamo II

Bremer’s De-De-Baathification Gambit
Legitimates Fallujah Rebels

By Greg Moses

Lakhdar Brahimi and US Generals led the way last week, both camps hinting that de-Baathification in Iraq was a policy too stridently enforced by US civilian command. And by week’s end, their remarks were answered by Paul Bremer, who, “with Iraqi resistance growing, especially in the Sunni Triangle region west of Baghdad,” invited tens of thousands of Sunni Iraqis back into his nation-building plans.

And so began the de-de-Baathification of Iraq. Or was it just the gambit of the week?

Speaking from Rome Tuesday, Brahimi said, in code that had Baath written all over it, “The large number of political prisoners in Iraq and the large number of office workers who have been fired more than once without any clear reason, are a big problem for the international community with regard to the peace process and their efforts to pacify the country.”

Speaking almost simultaneously from a palace overlooking the Tigris River, US Major General John Batiste said that some of the million members of the Iraqi ruling party should be allowed to return to work. “They would be schoolteachers. They would be engineers.”

Bremer’s concession to peacemakers and generals came at the precise time when the US needed to isolate political support for armed insurgents in Fallujah. On the eve of a US assault on the city, Bremer relented on his policy of mass punishment toward Iraqi teachers and bureaucrats who had once belonged to the ruling party.

In a Wednesday article, “Don’t Forget the Alamo,” I reported that Brahimi’s support for old Baathists in the Sunni Triangle might be a deal-breaker for Kurds and Shi’a leaders who have constituted the ruled majority for so long.

Brahimi is under pressure by the White House to bring everyone together by June 30, and his rehabilitation of Baathists brings some gravity to the emerging government that had been previously missing. Ahmed Chalabi, the returned expatriate, will now be dropped, according to various recent sources.

With the Fallujah militia threatening to unify anti-US rebellion among Sunnis, Bremer’s reversal seems to be doing only what will be considered necessary to minimize the political fallout of a full-scale US assault on that city.

Yet Bremer’s reversal sends another message, too. By abandoning his criminal policy toward the Baathists, Bremer’s action shows that Fallujah militia may deserve some respect for representing legitimate complaints against the policies of US occupation.

Bremer’s de-Baathification policy had been questionable from the start. He fired thousands of teachers at a time.

Like Al-Sadr’s rebels in the Shi’a holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, the Fallujah militia seem to be saying things that the US authority needs to hear.

Rather than respect the rebels for bringing the civilian authority to its senses, President Bush persists in calling them, “a bunch of thugs and killers.”

Again, I say, don’t forget the Alamo. US forces can kill every rebel in several cities at once. But if those militia represent the heartfelt grievances of besieged Iraqis, then Iraqi history will be written like Texas history some day.


Peacemakers in Our Face

The Families, the Ayatollahs, and Brahimi

By Greg Moses

Call me a fat, Western pacifist, but I’m not in a hurry to choose between gunslingers this week. In view of the dust, fire, and death in Iraq, perhaps there are other choices.

For example, the families. One can simply say “the families” these days. Everyone knows who you are talking about; family members of 9/11 victims.

After the Presidential briefing memo was abruptly de-classified over the Easter/Passover weekend, family members explained how they cut the path to the memo by getting the commission appointed and getting questions asked.

Yet if everyone this week talks about the families, no one has learned how to treat them very well. There are abrupt introductions on television shows: meet the wives of men killed in the twin towers. Hello, thank you for being here.

There are “little notes” that commissioners sometimes read, when catering to the curiosities of the “little people.”

And there is the astonishment that paralyzes the war script when the “wives” or “ladies” are asked–“are you not now more right wing than you were before? Don’t you find yourself more in favor of giving up civil liberties and going after the bad guys with guns?”—-and when all three of the “wives” or “ladies” in response shake their heads no, and look at you. As if it’s true. Boys never do grow up. Now what do you say?

Not that all men are gunslingers. Three Grand Ayatollahs, for instance this week made a peace call to Najaf. Will we learn as much about their action as we learn about soldiers and generals? Not likely. Peacemaking is too quiet for commercial tv. We’d have to be drawn into a complex discussion of the relationships between Americans, Al-Sadr, and the Ayatollahs. We’d need real questions, a real desire to resolve.

Which brings us back to the families. They warn us that the Commission is not asking excellent questions. The families have demanded an investigation, but this is not quite the investigation they asked for. If the commission is not talking about the problem of 9/11 in a way that satisfies families of victims, then we can worry that more families of victims there will be.

“You don’t have to take away someone’s civil liberties in order to get people to talk to each other,” said one of the wives. She was referring to the people in the Executive Branch who conversed so privately and so poorly about threatened hijackings, and who then followed up with really bad, and loudly broadcast discussions about terrorism. Had the conversations been better, who knows where we might be today.

The families say also that key witnesses, whistle blowers, who make themselves and their stories known to the families, are not being called to testify.

As the problem of 9/11 is usually put, either you do nothing or you go to war. But the families argue that a change in conversation would have crucial effects. And they argue that even the conversation that would change the conversation is a conversation not allowed to take place. Not by the commission, not by the media.

President Bush, at his press conference, confirmed that he’s as single-minded as he ever was–“Mr. President, you say the same things over and over again”—but the President also brought with him news that the world’s most renowned peacekeeper, Lakhdar Brahimi, is negotiating on the President’s behalf. Apparently, even the gunslinger wants an end to dust
and death, but doesn’t quite know how to talk his way into it.

Along with news of Brahimi, the families, and the Ayatollahs, this awful week brings hope that highly informed conversations can actually find ways to give the gunslingers a rest.

Meanwhile, I am in no hurry to choose a gunslinger. Until we find the conversations that the families, the Ayatollahs, and Brahimi are looking for; relax, there will always be gunslingers to choose between.

History of the World Part III

A Guest Lecture

By Greg Moses

As you see from your readings this week, Alexander Cockburn demands a President who’s not some kind of war criminal. Manning Marable preaches one more eulogy for the death of civil rights. And Donald Trump entrepreneurs (yes, I’ll make that a verb) a television series that is huge, if not spectacular, for giving out one good job. Baghdad, are you ready for this?

Our briefing today centers around an image:

It’s the internet map of AOR CENTCOM, otherwise known as Central Command’s Area of responsibility. As you can see, there are 27 countries numbered under the headings of four regions and we’ll take them from the top of the list: Horn of Africa; South Asia; Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and Northern Red Sea; and finally, Central Asia.

It could be Western Pennsylvania in 1680, or Texas in 1830, the Philippines in 1890, or Africa and South America in 1950. And let’s not forget Germany or Japan 1940. As you can see from the map here, we’re talking about the macro view.

Bush, Kerry, Nader. Imagine any of them posing for photos in front of a wall full of Presidential oil paintings. And stick with me here, I’m going to get to the point.

Here’s how it happens. Big business grabs up the money and power while millions sweat to make it happen. Then, at the end of the day, everyone is exhausted, but big business always has extra money to rent out great talents and hired guns who can go to work on the fortunes of tomorrow. During the 1990s, for example, you couldn’t get too rich too quick or drop too many bombs.

Now this surplus of power and money forms a capacity for which something has to be found to do. For instance, we could spend this power equalizing our citizenship and fulfilling the dream of civil rights at home. That would be like pure democracy. But no. In the end, and over someone’s dead body, the money always finds something else to do.

Please, you’re not going to make me write the numbers the board? Inequalities increase, elites consolidate power, and military spending exceeds every known contingency of self-defense. You can see on your syllabus that I recommend reading any almanac. Okay then, yes, I guess so. The numbers will definitely be on the final exam. So make sure you do the reading.

Effective business, ineffective civil rights. These are the twin, um, conditions that produce the crops of war criminals from which we, um, our Presidents choose. Am I making myself clear about this? Name me the Presidential campaign that was hard fought between human rights heroes? Well, think about it.

Everyone sweats, but only a few fortunes get made, and this is the only formula that anyone respects. You got another formula in mind, you keep it quiet, because we do have some work for would-be war criminals at home, too. Sorry, but that’s the way it is.

So we have this fabulously powerful system that produces these gigantic concentrations of wealth and power, owing largely to the fact that the not all the people who sweat get their fair slice of the pie.

Affirmative action. Silliest thing you ever saw, yapping about fair shares at a pie gobbling contest. What does Marable say about reparations? Be sure you highlight that.

Which brings us back to the map on the wall. AOR CENTCOM. And why it is labeled Area of responsibility? What does Cockburn say about war drums and candidates for President? Well look at the size of that map. No President is going to be big enough to say no to that map. That’s why civil rights will starve another generation at home. And why inequalities will increase owing to surplus accumulations of value.

And why some of us prefer to go to bed with Socrates, who argued, “my poverty is my proof.” Yeah, tell that to the jury, Friedrich.

Well, sorry, I didn’t mean to let my personal feelings get in the way of objective analysis. I’ll be sure to put some Ayn Rand readings on the syllabus next fall. She was Russian, you know.

In the meantime, think about which of these 27 countries you’ll want to write on. It’s your area of responsibility, too.

Be sure to keep up with the readings: almanac, Cockburn, Marable, and Trump. And remember lite beer, fewer carbs, less filling. See you Thursday.

Tasking the Why

US out of Saudi Arabia

By Greg Moses

On April 20, I started collecting items from Google News that answered to the search term “peace.” On April 21, the daily winner of the peace-word search was the voice of Osama Bin Laden, speaking from the pages of Common Dreams.

Bin Laden as peacemaker of the day? The timing of this result was partly due to a six-day delay, as the text of Bin Laden’s peace offer migrated to Common Dreams from the Middle East Media Research Center.

In the transcript, which was translated from a widely-aired tape–aired widely, that is, everywhere but the US, where “national security” and “decency” prevail over editorial freedom–Bin Laden declares a unilateral cease fire over Europe for three months,
promising to extend the truce only if European soldiers leave the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.

For Bin Laden, the attacks by Al Qaeda must be viewed as acts of retaliation and self-defense:

“As for those who lie to people and say that we hate freedom and kill for the sake of killing – reality proves that we are the speakers of truth and they lie, because the killing of the Russians took place only after their invasion of Afghanistan and Chechnya; the killing of the Europeans took place only after the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan; the killing of the Americans in the Battle of New York took place only after their support for the Jews in Palestine and their invasion of the Arabian Peninsula; their killing in Somalia happened only after Operation Restore Hope. We restored [i.e. repelled] them without hope, by the grace of Allah.”

The invasion of the Arabian Peninsula is Bin Laden’s most frequently stated, and most frequently ignored, justification for his war-making against the US. The Council on Foreign Relations presents the question at its website, “Has bin Laden called for a U.S. withdrawal from Saudi Arabia?” and then replies tersely: “Yes, repeatedly.”

“US out of Saudi Arabia,” is the grievance that Bin Laden has been pressing all these years, even prior to the gruesome Black Hawk Down catastrophe in Somalia.

As the story is usually told, it was Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in 1990 who negotiated the setup of US military bases in Saudi Arabia, by promising that the troops would be withdrawn immediately after the First Gulf War. Much like Cheney in 1990, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today also promises that US troops will leave as soon as possible from Iraq.

In Saudi Arabia, of course, the military bases were not pulled out, and neither do many believe today that US strategists really intend to ever leave Iraq.

These are only a few of the facts that have not scratched the fenders of the 9/11 Commission lately telecasting live from Washington. Commissioners are eager to say that we should have gone to war earlier with Al Qaeda, but who has asked whether the agenda of Bin Laden’s war might have been otherwise addressed?

As far as the official brains of Washington are concerned, all we need to know is that Bin Laden has declared war on us. I have not seen these official voices of war and order ask why.

In all the “tasking” that was done or not done in behalf of “intelligence” prior to 9/11, no one at the Commission seems interested in asking, excuse me, who was tasking the why?

The most chilling defense for failing to task the why question would be that everyone in official Washington already knew very well what Bin Laden was upset by. And because they knew, they deliberately refused to go there.

After all, it is commonly asserted that covert US money helped train Bin Laden as mujahideen liberator, fighting infidels in Afghanistan, back when the infidels were Russians. So if official Washington asks not why Bin Laden is fighting, perhaps it is because he who semlt it, dealt it. The quieter we are about the why question, the less embarrassment we’ll feel.

It is racism–and cool pandering to racism–that analyzes Bin Laden’s army as dark, metaphysical demons of hate. Like any human army, they have their human motivations. And any opposing army’s commander-in-chief would do well to strategically understand his opponent and his opponent’s source of appeal.

US President George Bush panders to racism–and reveals one of his sources of appeal–when he stands on the world stage and casts the forces of darkness against the forces of light.

In the transcript of Bin Laden’s peace tape, a phantom of the Western imagination breathes his own air and stands at the center of his own history. Meanwhile, bodies pile up in Iraq today because the US imagination remains at war with a phantom that Bin Laden did not create.

The contraband Bin Laden peace tape that appears just now in a transcript of our common dreams is one more invitation for America to walk out of its own nightmare onto historical ground. Because it is the task that scares us most, the journey from phantom to history requires the only kind of courage that will get us into lasting peace.

Don't Forget the Alamo

Looking for What’s Not Broke Down

By Greg Moses

As the United Nations takes up investigation into the traffic of oil coupons in Iraq, it is beginning to look like nothing’s not broke down. The great managing institutions of democracy are sliding very rapidly toward pure marksmanship, or what Arab News calls the new paradigm of “murder and malevolent mapmaking.”

In all this mess, I find only one remaining shred of hopeful analysis that a pacifist can cling to, that there is still a basis for moderation on the ground in Iraq, if the US does not blow it away. But first:

Even the desperate cheers for UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, mine included, seem not to notice how unlikely will be his chances for putting Iraq back together again.

Editorial boards are just catching up to the promise that was made last week when President Bush announced in his press conference: “That’s what Mr. Brahimi is doing. He’s figuring out the nature of the entity we’ll be handing sovereignty over.”

Among observers in the West, Brahimi is winning points for straight talk about US failings. Sam Hamod summed up with approval Brahimi’s candid communication. The US has managed to alienate Iraq through a strange form of liberation that includes mass arrests and punishments. Brahimi is able to say such things.

“The large number of political prisoners in Iraq and the large number of office workers who have been fired more than once without any clear reason, are a big problem for the international community with regard to the peace process and their efforts to pacify the country,” said Brahimi this week from Italy.

But conservative pundit Michael Rubin reports that, “Kurdish and Shia leaders say privately that the Brahimi plan is dead-on-arrival.” On the ground in Iraq, reports Rubin, Brahimi is perceived as a Baathist sympathizer, too close to the old regime.

Thus, when the Italian press agency AGI this week wired the above Brahimi quote about the mistreatment of office workers and political prisoners, it served the emerging audience of hopeful Westerners looking for a candid broker and human rights advocate. But it very likely also warned non-Baathist contenders for power inside Iraq, who might very well perceive Brahimi’s concern for old “office workers” and “political prisoners” as sympathy for Baathists deposed.

As the UN heads into an oil-coupon scandal, it is difficult to see from what source Brahimi, the former undersecretary of the Arab League, is likely to draw his legitimacy.

This is bad news for Fallujah and Najaf, the so-called “flashpoint cities” where US troops stand ready for further fighting. Brahimi was able to say things like, “Collective punishments are not acceptable – cannot be acceptable, and to cordon off and besiege a city is not acceptable.”

So what now stands in the way of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, who sees the resistance in Fallujah and Najaf as nothing more than a “final stand”?

Vaguely defined “civic officials” in Fallujah have promised to disarm their rebels during a ceasefire. But according to three Iraqi journalists who sneaked into the city’s back door, there really is no cease fire in Fallujah if you count the F16s, the Apache gunships, or the smoldering Humvees.

“Bush doesn’t need to dig mass graves – he collapses our houses on top of us,” shouted a man at the edge of town. What are the prospects of disarming rebels under these circumstances?

In the Shi’a holy city of Najaf, things look more worrisome still. Sam Hamod says that short wave reports buzz with news that many Shi’a pilgrims from throughout the world stayed on at Najaf as volunteers.

Yet US commander Gen. Sanchez says he’s ready to resume the attack on the holy city of Najaf and kill the insurgent commander Moqtada al-Sadr. “We’ll be applying the same levels of constraint that we’ve always applied in operating in this country and making sure that we respect the people and that we respect their religious shrines,” he said.

Does Sanchez know what he’s saying? Is he under orders to draw the Shi’a into holy war, thereby drawing involvement from Iran?

On the Iraqi side, al-Sadr is simply not to be considered a criminal for defending the holy city. ‘We are trying to solve the problem. The US wants a guarantee that Iraqis will try him. But it is impossible for us to arrest him,” said one mediator quoted by the Guardian. He’s an important source, as we’ll see.

Now that the US has provoked a popular military opponent in the figure of al-Sadr, would it not be the wiser course to draw him in? Remember, for example, the Alamo? There was fine bunch of insurgents engaged in illegal defense of a mission town. Their “final stand” did not do away with that movement.

So I have wanted to be hopeful about last week’s dispatches concerning ceasefires, Brahimi, and local mediators. But it looks like “ceasefire” means “US air attacks continue.” And with Brahimi on the ropes already, leaning into a scandal-tarnished UN, we are back to the unilateral threats of Rumsfeld, and provocations that seem intent to fight a holy war.

Near term hope lies with Washington vs. Washington. Is there a hand inside the beltway that can restrain Rumsfeld and company? Perhaps. And maybe that’s why a researcher with the US Congressional Research Service is releasing his report on the vestiges of moderation in Iraq. Here, finally, is that one shred of hopeful analysis that I was talking about at the start.

Kenneth Katzman begins his survey of “moderation” in Iraq with the emergent leader of Iraq’s Shi’a, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who will resist secularization in Iraq while favoring “curbs on women’s rights, alcohol consumption and Western-style entertainment.” Yes, that’s the state of moderation into which Bush has liberated the Iraqis. But there are other moderate forces at play.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) may be Iraq’s most established Shi’a group, with a 10,000 member militia, the Badr Corps, but Katzman says the group has been weakened by an August 2003 assassination of its leader, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqer al-Hakim, and by “suspicions” that the organization is Iranian inspired.

Al-Daawa, on the other hand, is older and more wary of Iranian influence. It’s leader, Ibrahim Jaafari, is already a member of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). Above, it was an Al-Daawa negotiator, Jawad al-Maliki, who told the Guardian that the rebel leader of Najaf is simply not to be arrested.

Finally Katzman drops the name of Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, “a former Al-Daawa activist turned human rights activist”, who also serves on the IGC. Here is a name that warrants further investigation.

After surveying these “moderate” groups, Katzman clearly warns that further US aggression against al-Sadr might collapse the middle ground. And that ground has been made all the more brittle by surprise announcements from Bush that portions of the West Bank could be ceded to existing Israeli settlers. And that, by the way, he’ll be sending John Negroponte to Iraq, too.

My conclusion from all this: that a shred of hopeful evidence can still be found in the Katzman report when it points to Al-Daawa and other moderate groups. Right now, Al-Daawa negotiators are saying that al-Sadr deserves US respect. Therefore, the ability for the US to respect al-Sadr is the tiny prospect that remains for rebuilding Iraqi peace. At the very least, American war makers have this chance to not have an Alamo on their hands.

Brahimi Report

The Italian news agency AGI quotes Brahimi saying, “The large number of political prisoners in Iraq and the large number of office workers who have been fired more than once without any clear reason, are a big problem for the international community with regard to the peace process and their efforts to pacify the country.”

Brahimi was in Italy, assuring officials that prospects were good for the release of three remaining Italian citizens held hostage Iraq. A fourth Italian hostage had been killed. The hostage takers demanded Italy’s withdrawal from the US coalition in Iraq. And the Italian press reported rumors of ransom.

As for Brahimi’s main work these days, arranging a transition to Iraqi governance, Reuters reports that “Mr. Brahimi says the new government should be led by a prime minister, a president and two vice presidents until nationwide elections can be held next January.”

Sam Hamod of the Al Jazeerah Information Center translated some of Brahimi’s recent statements into plain English: “Dr. Lakhdar Brahimi, made very clear in his statements after meetings with Iraqi and American leaders in Iraq that Mr. Bremer and U.S. Military officers had inflamed the situation in Iraq and they had best change their ways. He pointed out that Iraqis were tired of the American arrests of people without charges, holding them without trials, torturing and brutalizing people who were under arrest, and often killing those they arrested. He also pointed out that Bremer was wrong to shut down Al Sadr’s newspaper; it was an undemocratic thing to do, and further that he had no valid reason for going after Al Sadr and that the attacks on Fallujah were criminal and against international law because of the targeting of civilians, ambulances and sanitation and electrical infrastructure. As far as Brahimi was concerned, the American behavior had been a disaster for the Iraqi people and had alienated the Iraqi people and turned them against America and it’s alleged quest to establish democracy. He also said that the puppet “governing council” should be totally disbanded and replaced by a popularly elected president, two vice presidents and a parliament or a congress, with America staying out of the picture and withdrawing as soon as possible so that the UN could come in and clean up the mess the Americans had made. Of course, he put matters in more diplomatic language than this, but those were his main points.”

As Hamod points out, the US has ensnared the region with contracts and troops, neither of which will be withdrawn in the near future.

And Michael Rubin, writing for National Review online says Iraqi perceptions of Brahimi converge with suspicions that the US is betraying democracy: “A staunch Nasserist, they say Brahimi is much more interested in rehabilitating former senior Baathist officers than in promoting democracy. Brahimi has demonstrated disdain not only for Iraq’s Kurdish minority, but also for Iraq’s Shia majority. As undersecretary of the Arab League between 1984 and 1991, Brahimi stood silent as Saddam massacred more than 100,000 Iraqi Kurds, and then perhaps 400,000 Iraqi Shia. As Iraqis discover and excavate new mass graves every week, there are constant reminders of Brahimi’s silence. Visiting Baghdad on U.N. business in 1997, Brahimi added insult to injury, as Iraqi television showed Brahimi embracing Saddam’s Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, a man whom Iraqis hope to try for crimes against humanity.”

“Kurdish and Shia leaders say privately that the Brahimi plan is dead-on-arrival.”


As for Bush’s nomination of John Negroponte as US Ambassador to Iraq, I can be brief. He was ambassador to Honduras during Iran-Contra, ambassdor to Mexico during repression of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, and ambassador to the UN when the US bolted into Iraq. Nothing to learn about peacemaking here. The superhighway of links to Negroponte’s record might begin with Al Martin at, who is a veteran and former Iran-Contra insider.