Saturday, January 29, 2005

Security stepped up for Iraq poll

"In Baghdad, bursts of heavy machine gun fire rattled through central districts at midday, and several heavy detonations shook the downtown area in the afternoon. American fighter jets roared through the skies in a show of force. Iraqi police and soldiers set up checkpoints through streets largely devoid of traffic. (...) Iraq's president has predicted that most of his country's people will not go to the polls for a historic election tomorrow, mostly because of security fears." (The Guadian)
"The election forms the cornerstone of the Bush administration's plan to transform Iraq from dictatorship to democracy after the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. But it risks fuelling a raging insurgency and fomenting sectarian strife. (...) The polls have divided Iraq. The 60 per cent Shi'ite majority strongly supports the election, expected to hand them political dominance after decades of oppression under Saddam. But in the Sunni Arab heartlands where the insurgency is strongest, few are expected to vote. Several leading Sunni Arab groups are boycotting the polls, saying the climate of violence means the election cannot be free and fair." (Melbourne Herald Sun)
"Many Iraqis vowed to brave the threat of bombs and bullets for what their interim government promises will be the country's first democratic election since the 1950s.
But others clearly were afraid of being targeted at the polls or afterwards, when indelible blue ink daubed on their fingers to prevent multiple voting could mark them for death."
In some parts of the country, officials have kept the locations of polling stations a secret until the last minute, so insurgents would have less time to plan. (...) "I don't know who to vote for. I don't know how to vote. I don't know where to vote," said Sheik Ahmad Al-Janabi in Falluja, a city west of Baghdad devastated in November by fierce fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents. "From what we know of elections, there are promotions, there is campaigning, there are places to vote. A person knows who to vote for to be able to vote. Have you ever heard of going to vote and not knowing the candidates?"
"But the turnout in Iraq will be critical in establishing the credibility of the election that could see the majority Shiite Muslim community take a leading role in ruling an Arab country for the first time in centuries. "

Tomorrow will definitely be a historic day but probably not for good reasons. This is likely to be one the least credible election ever. However it remains an absolutely necessary first step towards having a legitimate government. Even those who opposes the war (like I do) wish good luck to the Iraqi people as this day might seal the prospects of any political future for a "united Iraq".
The least we can say is that the country is not united.
These elections will probably make things worse but remain unavoidable. They will make things worse because they will show in a striking maneer that the occupation of Iraq is a failure and this is not a good thing for the coalition. They are yet unavoidable because Iraq needs a legitimate government to unite the country.


Guardian, UK:,2763,1401430,00.html
Melbourne Herald Sun, Australia:,5478,12095713%255E401,00.html, UK:
Sify, India:

Friday, January 28, 2005

World marks Auschwitz liberation

Chosun Ilbo, South Korea:
International Herald Tribune, France:
CBS News:
Globe and Mail, Canada:
Boston Globe, MA:
New Zealand Herald, New Zealand:
Indian Express, India:
Times of India, India: Press, Turkey:
Reuters AlertNet, UK:

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Iraq air crash kills 31 US troops

A 100 feet-long "sea-stallion" helicopter crashed while it was on a "security & stability operation" (Telegraph / NYT).
The U.S. military simply stated that the "weather was bad" and did not rule out hostile fire as a cause. "The helicopters travel by night to reduce the chance of insurgent attacks" (LA Times / NYT / Arab News)
Another military source admitted that the "sea stallion" is "not very manoeuvrable". It is the largest and heaviest helicopter used by US troops (NYT).

This "accident" happens as tension is increasing ahead of the election (BBC).
The total death toll since the invasion is now 1,579 with 1,418 US casualties. However, the death toll is rising faster and faster. In January 2004, US troops had less than 2 casualties per day. This month, the daily toll is already near 4 casualties per day.
This is "nothing" compared to the Iraqi death toll. "Last year, 15,000 insurgents have been killed" said a military source (FT). There would be as much as 17,000 civilian death since the invasion and probably much more as the John Hopkins Bloomberg School statistical survey has shown.
For 1 coalition casualty, at least 11 Iraqi civilians are killed.
The coalition authorities report that the current violence is mainly limited to 4 provinces. Iraq has 18 provinces. (FT)

All these bad news were quickly tackled by a vigorous propaganda from both the Bush administration and the coalition authorities.
Even though the invasion took place almost 2 years ago, Bush declared "in the long term, the mission will spread freedom". (LA Times)
Martyrdom was celebrated by military authorities: "Heroes sacrifice... bringing democracy" (LA Times)
Meanwhile, Al Qaida describes the polls as "centers of infidelity and vice" (San Diego Union Tribune).

Even though their predictions has been proven wrong in the past, the Bush administration was busy making rosy forecasts:
"In March or in April, things will sort themselves" said D. Rumsfeld with his usual language of clarity (Reuters).
When journalists asked how he would judge if the Iraqi election were credible and successfull, Bush declined to say what would be a satisfactory turnout (The Independent). He also stopped short of giving a timetable from withdrawing US troops from Iraq (Turkish Press).


Los Angeles Times (subscription), CA:,0,6594097.story?coll=la-home-headlines
New York Times:
Financial Times, UK:, UK:
Gulf Daily News, Bahrain:
San Diego Union Tribune, CA:
The Scotsman, UK:
Jerusalem Post, Israel:
Arab News, Saudi Arabia:
Independent, UK:
Turkish Press, Turkey:
Boston Globe, MA:
CBC News, Canada:
Indian Express, India:
Guardian, UK:,1280,-4758055,00.html
The Age (subscription), Australia:

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Iraqi forces 'committing abuse'

Here is today's story:

One more week, one more report of human rights abuses in Iraq...
This time, it's about the Iraqi security forces. The organization bringing the case is the US-based group Human Rights Watch.

About the context, here is what the Washington Post reported 4 months ago (Sep 27, 2004): "A war within a war is playing out across Iraq. On one side are the jobless and underemployed young men who continue lining up to apply for positions in the reconstituted police and National Guard. On the other side are the insurgents working assiduously to kill them."
About the way these Iraqi security forces are perceived by the Iraqi (Sunni Iraqi?) population, there is at least one blog who gives some hints, unfortunately I can't find the link anymore. There is also this blogger calling the Iraqi security forces "national thieves":
About Human Rights Watch:

From these reports, I have learned that we can't expect the Iraqi security forces to bring back stability to the country.
They appear to apply for this kind of jobs for the salary. They seem to be considered as "mercenaries" by at least some part of the population.

Here is the list of human rights violation: "Detainees were routinely beaten with cables and metal rods during interrogation, given electric shocks and kept blindfolded and handcuffed for days" / "Detainees were held for long periods in isolation, deprived of food and water and crammed into small cells with standing room only" / "Iraqi police sought bribes in return for releasing prisoners or allowing them access to family members or food and water."
These violations are said to be "systematic". No need to blame a few "bad apples".

Those who still fancy talking about "a liberation war for freedom and democracy" will either keep their eyes closed or get away with some quick denials. Others will only focus on these list of violations and atrocities of the last few months without looking at the big picture.

It's still time to keep saying that the war started with a lie. There was no WMDs. Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not a threat to the US population.
Justifying the ongoing occupation with the arguments of "stability"/"nation-building" are definitely helping the Bush administration feel more morally right. The thing is the evidence brought by all these reports are not supporting these views. The country is not getting more stable.

We can't even look surprised by these reports. It's true that all these atrocities take place in a war-zone. Attacks and killing of civilians by the insurgents are a good reason for "being tough" from the perspective of the coalition soldiers and Iraqi security forces.
On the other hand, they are no reason to be surprised that part of the Iraqi population have long given up their support to the occupation: Too many evil things are being done in the name of "anti-terrorism".


Here are more media reports on the same issue:

Washington Post, DC:
Financial Times, UK:
International Herald Tribune, France:
CTV, Canada:
Reuters, UK:
CNN International:
The Times, UK:,,7374-1455417,00.html
Los Angeles Times (subscription), CA:,1,4804001.story?coll=la-headlines-world&ctrack=2&cset=true
Hindustan Times, India:,001300180001.htm
ABC Online, Australia:
Al-Jazeera.Net, Qatar:
Turkish Press, Turkey:
China Daily, China:
Independent, UK:
Today (Singapore), Singapore:

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

World 'must learn from Holocaust'

Here is the BBC's story:

The United Nations was created 60 years after the world acknowledged that the Nazi ideology has led to the mass slaughtering of 6,000,000 people. The 1948's UN Human Rights declaration was intended to prevent the recurrence of the horrors of the holocaust.

60 years later, the world has experienced at least 2 more genocides:

The Khmer Rouge killed 1,700,000 people in Cambodia from 1975 until 1978 (20% of population?)
In 1994: The Rwanda genocide's death toll was 800,000 dead (more than 10% of population), most of all were Tutsis (ethnical minority) killed by Hutus (ethnical majority).

From all these events, we may learn that:
--> Ideologies (ultra-Maoism, Nazism)
--> Racism (anti-semitism, anti-Tutsi)
--> Colonialism (ethnicity I.D. cards in Rwanda)

... have all contributed to make these crimes become reality.

Against ideological propaganda, racist behaviors and colonialist tendencies, we may stop genocides through:

--> promoting dialogue between communities and nations (to uproot ideological misconceptions)
--> promoting education through better higher school enrollment and a free press (to uproot ignorance of human diversity leading to racism).
--> promoting cultural diversity (to uproot the misconception of a "leading civilization" vs. "savages").
--> As a last resort, sending an international military force to stop a genocide.


Other reports on the same issue:

ABC Online, Australia:
Los Angeles Times (subscription), CA,1,2507960.story?coll=la-headlines-world&ctrack=1&cset=true
New York Times:
The Globe and Mail, Canada:
The Times, UK:,,3-1455255,00.html
Guardian, UK:,1282,-4753215,00.html

Thursday, January 13, 2005

No WMDs in Iraq

The Bush administration finally acknowledged to have given up the search for WMDs.

As a reminder, here is a couple of quotes from US officials before and after the invasion of Iraq.
Bush administration comments on WMDs


Statements by the Bush administration before and after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 on Saddam Hussein's weapons programs:


"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." - Vice President Dick Cheney, Aug. 26, 2002.

"The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Sept. 8, 2002.

"After 11 years during which we have tried containment, sanctions, inspections, even selected military action, the end result is that Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons and is increasing his capabilities to make more." - President Bush, Oct. 7, 2002.

"Saddam Hussein is a man who told the world he wouldn't have weapons of mass destruction, but he's got them." - Bush, Nov. 3, 2002.

"The gravity of this moment is matched by the gravity of the threat that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction pose to the world." - Secretary of State Colin Powell, Feb. 5, 2003.

"Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq. ... We removed a declared enemy of America who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder." - Bush, July 12, 2004.

"We got it wrong. We have seen nothing to suggest that he had actual stockpiles." - Powell, Oct. 1, 2004.

"We were all unhappy that the intelligence was not as good as we had thought that it was. But the essential judgment was absolutely right. Saddam Hussein was a threat." - Rice, Oct. 3, 2004.

"It turns out that we have not found weapons of mass destruction. Why the intelligence proved wrong I'm not in a position to say, but the world is a lot better off with Saddam Hussein in jail." - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Oct. 4, 2004.

"He retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction and he could have passed that knowledge on to our terrorist enemies." - Bush, Oct. 7, 2004.

"Based on what we know today, the president would have taken the same action because this is about protecting the American people." - White House press secretary Scott McClellan, on Wednesday.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

When deadly force bumps into hearts and minds - The Economist

Back to the Iraq war with this thought-provoking article from the Economist.


When deadly force bumps into hearts and minds
Dec 29th 2004 BAGHDAD, MOSUL, RAMADI AND TAL AFAR From The Economist print edition

With elections due in a month, our “embedded” correspondent reports on how the American army is failing to persuade Iraq's sour Sunni minority to co-operate

THERE is only one traffic law in Ramadi these days: when Americans approach, Iraqis scatter. Horns blaring, brakes screaming, the midday traffic skids to the side of the road as a line of Humvee jeeps ferrying American marines rolls the wrong way up the main street. Every vehicle, that is, except one beat-up old taxi. Its elderly driver, flapping his outstretched hand, seems, amazingly, to be trying to turn the convoy back. Gun turrets swivel and lock on to him, as a hefty marine sergeant leaps into the road, levels an assault rifle at his turbanned head, and screams: “Back this bitch up, motherfucker!”

The old man should have read the bilingual notices that American soldiers tack to their rear bumpers in Iraq: “Keep 50m or deadly force will be applied”. In Ramadi, the capital of central Anbar province, where 17 suicide-bombs struck American forces during the month-long Muslim fast of Ramadan in the autumn, the marines are jumpy. Sometimes, they say, they fire on vehicles encroaching within 30 metres, sometimes they fire at 20 metres: “If anyone gets too close to us we fucking waste them,” says a bullish lieutenant. “It's kind of a shame, because it means we've killed a lot of innocent people.”

And not all of them were in cars. Since discovering that roadside bombs, known as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), can be triggered by mobile telephones, marines say they shoot at any Iraqi they see handling a phone near a bomb-blast. Bystanders to an insurgent ambush are also liable to be killed. Sometimes, the marines say they hide near the body of a dead insurgent and kill whoever comes to collect it. According to the marine lieutenant: “It gets to a point where you can't wait to see guys with guns, so you start shooting everybody...It gets to a point where you don't mind the bad stuff you do.”

Since September 1st, when the battalion's 800 men were deployed to Ramadi, they have killed 400-500 people, according to one of their senior officers. A more precise estimate is impossible, because the marines rarely see their attackers. When fired upon, they retaliate by blitzing whichever buildings they think the fire is coming from: charred shells now line Ramadi's main streets. “Sometimes it works in the insurgents' favour,” admits Rick Sims, a chief warrant officer. “Because by the time we've shot up the neighbourhood, then the guys have torn up a few houses, they're four blocks away, and we just end up pissing off the locals.”

These brutal actions are what the marines have been trained for. They are superb fighters, among the best infantrymen of the most formidable force ever assembled. They are courteous—at least to their friends—and courageous. Long will this correspondent remember the coolness with which one teenage marine flicked away his cigarette and then the safety-catch on his rifle, as a sniper's bullet zipped overhead. Since arriving in Ramadi, some 20 marines have been killed and 160 wounded by suicide bombs and IEDs, in ambushes and by mortars. Many were on their second seven-month tour of Iraq and, after a seven-month break to retrain and refit, can expect to spend next Christmas there too. Yet their morale was high.

Neither are they, nor any of the American forces accompanied during three weeks in Iraq, short of ingenuity. In Ramadi, the marines have rewritten their training manual for urban warfare. Having been taught to seize towns methodically, block by block—a method more appropriate to Stalingrad than Baghdad—they have learned to patrol at high speed and on foot, sending snipers on to the rooftops ahead, along streets littered with bomb debris and daubed with hostile slogans: “Slow Daeth [sic]” and “America down”.

In Fallujah, 40 miles (64km) east of Ramadi, the marines who survived the fierce assault on the town in November have a sardonic acronym for the skills it taught them: FISH, or Fighting In Someone's House. FISH involves throwing a hand grenade into each room before checking it for unfriendlies, or “Muj”, short for mujahideen, as the marines call them.

America's new war toys are on impressive display. In increasingly stormy northern Iraq, a lightly-armoured troop-carrier, the Stryker, is delivering infantrymen to the battlefield in numbers and at speeds unprecedented. As the Strykers race along, their computers display constantly-updated aerial maps of the surrounding area: a digitising of warfare that has made it virtually impossible for any ally of America to fight high-intensity battles at its side. The army's logistical support, needless to add, is superb. America's 138,000 soldiers and marines in Iraq sleep in smart heated cabins and enjoy tasty food, excellent gymnasiums and internet access.

Win a war, lose a peace

Yet armies can be good at war-fighting or good at peacekeeping but rarely good at both. And when America's well-drilled and well-fed fighters attempt subtler tasks than killing people, problems arise. At peacekeeping, peace-enforcing or policing, call it what you will, they are often inept. Even the best of them seem ignorant of the people whose land they are occupying —unsurprisingly, perhaps, when practically no American fighters speak Arabic. And, typically, the marine battalion in Ramadi has only four translators. Often American troops despair of their Iraqi interlocutors, observing that they “are not like Americans”.

American marines and GIs frequently display contempt for Iraqis, civilian or official. Thus the 18-year-old Texan soldier in Mosul who, confronted by jeering schoolchildren, shot canisters of buckshot at them from his grenade-launcher. “It's not good, dude, it could be fatal, but you gotta do it,” he explained. Or the marines in Ramadi who, on a search for insurgents, kicked in the doors of houses at random, in order to scream, in English, at trembling middle-aged women within: “Where's your black mask?” and “Bitch, where's the guns?” In one of these houses was a small plastic Christmas tree, decorated with silver tinsel. “That tells us the people here are OK,” said Corporal Robert Joyce.

According to army literature, American soldiers should deliver the following message before searching a house: “We are sorry for the inconvenience, but we must search your house to make sure you are safe from anti-Iraqi forces [AIF].” In fact, many Iraqis are probably more scared of American troops than of insurgents.

Whether or not the insurgency is fuelled by American clumsiness, it has deepened and spread almost every month since the occupation began. In mid-2003, Donald Rumsfeld, America's defence secretary, felt able to dismiss the insurgents as “a few dead-enders”. Shortly after, official estimates put their number at 5,000 men, including many foreign Islamic extremists. That figure has been revised to 20,000, including perhaps 2,000 foreigners, not counting the thousands of hostile fighters American and British troops have killed; these are the crudest of estimates.

With insurgents reported to be dispensing criminal justice and levying taxes, some American officers say they run a “parallel administration”. Last month in Mosul, insurgents are reported to have beheaded three professional kidnappers and to have manned road checkpoints dressed in stolen police uniforms. In Tal Afar, farther west, insurgents imposed a 25% cut in the price of meat.

American military-intelligence officers admit their assessments are often little better than guesses. They have but a hazy idea of when and by whom the insurgency was planned, how many dedicated fighters and foreign fighters it involves, who they are, or how much support they command. The scores of terrorists who have blown themselves up in Iraq over the past year are invariably said to be foreign fanatics. But this has almost never been proved.

In bold contrast to his masters in Washington, General George W. Casey Jr, the commander-in-chief of coalition forces in Iraq, credits foreigners with a minimal role in the insurgency. Of over 2,000 men detained during the fighting in Fallujah, fewer than 30 turned out to be non-Iraqi. In Ramadi, the marines have detained a smaller number of foreigners, including a 25-year-old Briton two weeks ago, who claimed to be pursuing “peace work” but whose hands were coated with explosives. Pleased to find an enemy who understood English, marines say they queued up to taunt him; one told him he would be gang-raped in Abu Ghraib.

Peering into the dark

It is impossible to measure the insurgents' power with much accuracy. Official American reports are absurdly sunny, prone to focus on deliveries of footballs to Baghdad's slums rather than attacks on army patrols. American figures for reconstruction projects are often exaggerated. A huge hitch is that diplomats and non-Iraqi journalists can travel freely hardly anywhere in Iraq outside the Kurdish north for fear of being kidnapped and killed.

On January 30th, Iraqis are supposed to take a grand stride towards unfettered self-rule when they elect a transitional parliament that in turn will endorse a new government. Its legitimacy will depend to a large degree on the overall turnout and the geographical spread of the voting. In the predominantly Sunni Arab areas, which are overwhelmingly where the insurgency has taken root (and where this report is focused), most potential voters seem unlikely—out of conviction or fear—to go to the polls. (The Sunnis make up about a fifth of Iraqis; the Kurds, who are decidedly keen to vote, are similar in number, while Shia Muslims, who are eager to rule the roost after centuries under Sunni control, comprise about 60%.)

According to official American reports, the insurgency is relatively concentrated: 14 out of Iraq's 18 provinces are said to see fewer than four attacks on coalition forces per month. But this includes several potentially volatile Shia provinces, like Dhi Qar and Maysan, parts of which are run by the still-armed Mahdi Army militiamen loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric who made mayhem between April and August. Only four provinces—Baghdad, Anbar, Salah ad Din and Ninewa—see many more attacks. But as they include the capital city, the third-biggest city (Mosul) and the homeland of most of the country's Sunnis, they are no small problem: the equivalent in the United States might be an insurgency raging in those states that voted Democrat in November, and sporadic lawlessness in many of the rest.

More happily, since the carnage in Fallujah—now deserted and substantially demolished, though still violent—insurgents no longer control any town outright. The Americans estimate that around 1,600 of the enemy were killed in the battle to retake the town; several times that many are thought to have fled, mostly to Baghdad and the northern parts of Babil province.
It is unclear how much this really set back the insurgents. The many spectacular rebel attacks since the recapture of Fallujah show that the Americans have not, as their officials claim, “broken the back of the insurgency”. But it has at least inconvenienced their enemy. Among the treasures found in the town were 400 caches of arms and an ice-cream van kitted out as a mobile car-bomb workshop. In the last three weeks of November, when the battle began, the incidence of car bombs across Iraq dipped from 44 a week, to 33, then 22.

In Ramadi, as in many troubled places, the assault on Fallujah was marked by a sudden spike in violence, followed by a relative lull. After a bloody September and October—when the marines faced up to nine IEDs a day and fought street battles with, they reckon, scores of insurgents at a time, and when most of Ramadi's inhabitants fled—the past month has yielded roughly one IED every few days, and a handful of serious ambushes.

This may be because night-time temperatures have fallen to freezing, or because Ramadi's marines were reinforced by an army battalion. But it may also reflect a shift in the insurgency's character.

Midway through the past year—in July, in Ramadi—the insurgents began increasingly to seek softer targets, especially Iraqi security forces, Iraqis working for coalition forces, American supply convoys and the oil infrastructure. In November, one in four American supply convoys was ambushed. Three months ago, American officials overseeing reconstruction in Mosul were lobbied by 30 Iraqi contractors in an average day; now, they struggle to find even one brave enough to accept their dollars. A low helicopter flight over the Kirkuk oilfield, Iraq's second-biggest, presented a scene from the Book of Revelation: each of seven oil wells was marked by a tower of orange flame, meeting in a canopy of dense black smoke.

Starker still is the cost in lives. In the first nine months of 2004, 721 Iraqi security forces (ISF) were killed, according to figures compiled by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank; in October, the figure was 779. The surge of violence in Mosul at the start of the Fallujah campaign has not abated; the city's police are the main victims. On November 10th and 11th, rebels devastated almost all the city's police stations, after the 4,000-strong police force had fled. Around 200 dead policemen and ISF members, usually beheaded, have since been dumped about the city. Its American contingent is also under unprecedented attack. On December 21st, at lunchtime, 18 Americans were killed by a suicide bomber in an army mess-tent in Mosul.
Barely six months ago, Mosul was one of the most tranquil spots in Iraq. Now it is one of the most violent, and least policed. It may be no coincidence that, until last January, around 20,000 American troops were billeted in and around the city and led by a most dynamic commander. With troops urgently required elsewhere, they were replaced by 8,500 soldiers, around 700 of whom were diverted to Fallujah and Baghdad.

Forget hearts and minds, for now

Thus harried, American commanders have abandoned the pretence of winning the love of Iraqis ahead of the scheduled vote. “Our broad intent is to keep pressure on the insurgents as we head into elections,” says General Casey. “This is not about winning hearts and minds; we're not going to do that here in Iraq. It's about giving Iraqis the opportunity to govern themselves.”

That could be possible if Iraqis would only accept the opportunity America is offering—which is not the case in Ramadi, for example. Though the city has more than 4,000 police, they refuse to work alongside American forces. According to the marines, the police's sole act of co-operation is to collect wounded insurgents from their base. For most of the past four months, Anbar has had no provincial administration, since the governor resigned after his children were kidnapped. Elsewhere, America's forces are incapable of giving Iraqis the security they crave because, quite simply, there aren't enough of them.

Consider western Ninewa, a vast desert area dotted with fiercely xenophobic towns and ending in over 200 miles of unfenced border with Syria. America has 800 soldiers there. Yet they are barely able to subjugate the town of Tal Afar, outside which they are based. In September, American forces fought a battle (in style, a prelude to the retaking of Fallujah) to wrest it back from insurgent control after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian fanatic, was reported to be preaching in the town's mosques. Over 80 civilians were killed in the crossfire and 200 buildings flattened. In November, insurgents blew up the town's police stations. The local police chief and his bodyguards are the only police still working; he changes his disguise several times a day.

Little surprise that the Americans had not visited the nearby smugglers' town of Baij in force for three months, until they rode there one recent night in a convoy of 1,000 troops, with Apache attack helicopters flying overhead. The target was three houses in the town centre which signal intelligence had linked to Mr Zarqawi's group. The Americans had no further intelligence to support their mission except that provided by an informant from the local Ayzidi tribe, America's main ally in the area. This source claimed there was a wounded Yemeni rebel in the town. “I think it should be a great operation,” said Colonel Robert Brown, beforehand. “I think a lot of folks from Fallujah have gone there and we need to go there.”

There was no one in the three targeted houses bar women and children. Baij's police station had been blown up and its police had fled. The town's English-speaking former mayor, Abdullah Fahad, was frank about the town's allegiances. “There are terrorists here, not from Syria, not from Mosul, but from Baij. Some are Baathists and some are Islamists and before they hated each other but now they work together, and they tell people that if they don't work with them they will kill them.”

Mr Fahad, who claimed to have survived several assassination attempts and whose son had been kidnapped, refused to help the Americans on the grounds that he would be murdered if he did. When the American commander offered to protect him, he replied: “Thank you, but you are not always here. This is the first time I have ever seen you.” Whereupon the American troops labelled Mr Fahad a “bad guy”, and debated whether to detain him.

Instead, they detained 70 men from districts identified by their informant as “bad”. In near-freezing conditions, they sat hooded and bound in their pyjamas. They shivered uncontrollably. One wetted himself in fear. Most had been detained at random; several had been held because they had a Kalashnikov rifle, which is legal. The evidence against one man was some anti-American literature, a meat cleaver and a tin whistle. American intelligence officers moved through the ranks of detainees, raising their hoods to take mugshots: “One, two, three, jihaaad!” A middle-tier officer commented on the mission: “When we do this,” he said, “we lose.”

Copyright © The Economist Newspaper Limited 2005. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Tsunamis made us kinder and more humble - The Nation (Thailand)

REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE: Tsunamis made us kinder and more humble

Published on January 03, 2005

For a nation that is accustomed to nothing more severe than floods clogging the streets, canals and rice fields, the massive tsunami that struck last Sunday was a serious shock. But the waves have made us kinder and less arrogant.

The catastrophe also shattered the belief, long held dear by the Thai people, that their country is invincible in the face of any danger.
The Thais have great confidence in their destiny. We always see ourselves as Buddha’s country. Come what may, Phra Siam Devadhiraja will always at the critical moment protect us, ensuring our safety and well being. After all, we escape Mother Nature’s punishments every year during the monsoon season while other neighbouring countries, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, suffer untold losses year after year.
It has long been a widely held belief that Thailand’s unique geographical location, nestled at is in the heart of Southeast Asia between Indochina and South Asia, would save it from any natural threat from the Pacific or Indian Ocean . Thais even call their land the “Golden Peninsula”.
But the gigantic waves that swept across the Indian Ocean towards the South and Southeast Asian coastlines washed away this myth for good. What is miraculous is that it has been quickly replaced by a stronger sense of realism, determination and solidarity.
The destruction made us and our leaders search our souls, inspiring us to ask whether we had taken the power of nature for granted and to ponder what could be done to lessen the damage. We were caught naked without any preparations in place. More local and foreign lives could have been saved if the emergency response and rescue efforts had been sufficient and more efficient.
Even the technological ability to access real-time information on earthquakes and tsunamis, is meaningless if the officials concerned do not pay serious attention or prove themselves able to deliver early warnings in time. What’s worse, in this case they appear to have failed to even consider that the impossible might occur during the holiday season.
This catastrophe will have far-reaching psychological affects on the Thai people. Our sense of vulnerability will increase. This is the first time in our collective memory that we have experienced such devastation inside the country. The death toll could reach 7,000 as rescue efforts continue. This feeling will surely heighten the sense of resolution and solidarity that has appeared among the people in the affected areas and far beyond. In the face of disaster they have helped and comforted each other.
Despite the widely reported tragedies and human losses, stories have begun to emerge that have praised the generosity and kindness of local people. Even though they have been directly affected or devastated by family losses and in some cases were even injured, the local people were still able to show kindness and assistance to those whose needs were more urgent, especially distraught tourists. Private initiatives and generosity helped save lives. These common folks knew exactly what to do. They gave food, water and money to the neediest and provided shelter for the homeless.
While the public response, most of all the compassion, came naturally and in time, the bureaucrats were less responsive. Most of them were waiting for someone high up to tell them what to do. As everybody knows by now, they were waiting for instructions from Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, expecting him to step in and direct the rescue operation. Thaksin himself mentioned this point.
It is silly for them to think like this in times of crisis. Local authorities must take whatever steps are necessary to save lives and improve the situation. Over the past four years, Thaksin has been busy promoting the CEO-style of leadership, which clearly hampers local initiative and spontaneity. Lack of understanding, coordination and cooperation have been cited as key weaknesses in the official response.
So it was a bit out of place, if not self-serving, when he lashed out at local officials and agencies for their failure to pursue on-the-spot rescue operations. The biggest lesson of this situation is that no single person has the power to make a decision that will offset the effects of a disaster.
Finally, perhaps more than the ruling party Thai Rak Thai would like to admit, the seismic waves have humbled Thaksin and his arrogance, at least temporarily. The outpouring of international generosity and assistance has forced him to eat his own words. In normal times he would raise his eyebrows and condemn foreign countries for interfering in internal affairs or for looking down on us for our inability to assist ourselves.
His comments over the weekend showed just a hint of humility, an emotion he had never before exhibited. He said that he could not refuse the emergency and humanitarian assistance that had arrived or was on the way. That would be impolite. Still, offers for help from foreign leaders have been turned down. They were told that if the country needed anything, a request would be made.
Since it came to power in 2001, the Thaksin government has manifested its independence by rejecting foreign assistance. Thailand is no longer a recipient country, he has reiterated, but a donor country. He has also boasted about Thailand’s rapid economic progress, claiming that the Kingdom will soon join the ranks of industrial countries. Did the great wave mock his pride?
It is hoped that we all learned from the devastation. If we emerge from the wreckage with humility and a better understanding of ourselves, especially our limits and potential, then we will be a better people who can create a better nation.

The Nation