Bush’s Iraq offensive threatens trade unionists

This video from Ireland shows:

First half of footage from World Against War demonstration. 15th March 2008, Belfast.

From Monthly Review:

Naftana News Release: Basra Assault Threatens Trade Unionists

Press Release

28 March 2008

Basra Assault Confirms Presence of British forces a Threat to Political and Trade Union Rights in Iraq

In a series of telephone calls from Basra over the past 48 hours, Iraqi trade union activists appeal for solidarity and describe how the so-called ‘Security Plan’ started midnight 24 March with intense shelling and fire from all kind of weapons.

The attacking forces now besieging Basra stretched all the way to the city from Dhi Qar province. Two armoured divisions are deployed, in addition to thousands of policemen, backed by US and British planning and air cover.

They have cut off electricity supplies, food and water on the city of1.5 million people. Hundreds have been killed or injured in a savage, premeditated and unprovoked attack, now spreading to much of Iraq as the people protest and show solidarity with Basra’s beleaguered people.

They describe the attack as far worse than the invasion of 2003 and begun in the same barbaric manner that the criminal Saddam employed against Basra to crush the March 1991 people’s uprising. They remind us that the present puppet Iraqi government sentenced Saddam’s Defence Minister to death few months ago for similar crimes of waging war on civilians.

The assault is backed by the US and British occupation forces,particularly in providing air cover. US planes are also bombarding areas in Basra,several southern cities and Baghdad, where tens of thousands marched yesterday denouncing the “puppet regime”. It is now, along with many other cities, under a strict curfew enforced by regime and occupation forces.

Trade union leaders have asked us to inform the public in Britain that the government’s attack on Basra serves the occupation. The city is “steadfast” and the onslaught will end in “utter failure.” The city streets were free of the occupying forces before the assault and the regime’s attacks will make it even more dependent on the occupation forces, they stressed.

Naftana, the UK support committee for the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions in the struggle for democratic trade unionism in Iraq, condemns British collusion in the preparation of the assault on Basra city and British participation in air strikes.Naftana urges all to join in calling for an immediate withdrawal of British forces from Iraq, ending the US-led occupation, and for the payment of reparations to Iraq.

In the absence of adequate media coverage of the nature and context of this savage onslaught, Naftana wants to set the record straight on UK involvement.

In December 2007, the Basra Development Commission (BDC) was formally announced after discussions between Gordon Brown and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih. (1) Brown appointed a British businessman,Michael Wareing, Chief Executive of KPMG International as “Commissioner”, apparently heading the BDC.(2)

Wareing visited Basra in February and made outrageous comments, confirming his real interests to be those of predatory business rather than the security, development and well-being of Basra and its people. Wareing told The Observer: “If you look at many other economies in the world, particularly the oil-rich economies, many of these places are quite challenging countries in which to do business. . . . Frankly, if you can successfully operate in the Niger Delta, that is a very different benchmark from imagining that Basra needs to be like London or Paris.”(3)

Wareing’s appointment was welcomed by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a major advocate of the 2003 invasion and of privatisation.

On March 13 the British Defence Minister Des Browne met with Salih in Basra Airport. Browne promised to show new action on ‘security’ in Basra province and to bring Umm Qasr port up to ‘the highest international standards’.(4)

What this meant was made clear by Salih who threatened the Governor,people of Basra and port workers’ union of Umm Qasr saying ‘there must be a very strong military presence in Basra to eradicate these militias’.(5)

What Salih, himself a former militia leader, was concerned about were organised port workers who had earlier confronted the American SSA Marine corporation in Umm Qasr and the Danish Maersk corporation in Khoraz-Zubair in the two years after these companies were imposed by the occupying forces in 2003.(6)

The new plans involve privatisation measures opposed by the port workers, who are supported by other trade unions and port management. It is likely that the planned corporate takeover of the port is required in order to facilitate the activities of international oil companies. Nevertheless, the scale of what was afoot was not apparent, but the link between military action and breaking trade unionism was.

On March 17-18 the US Vice-President Dick Cheney was in Baghdad meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who presently heads the attack on Basra city.(7)

Top of the agenda was the oil law(8) and how to insure its passage. The oil law means that international oil majors will control Iraqi oil for many decades. Various reports reveal that the present carnage was coordinated and agreed with British and American leaders. Naftana believes they commanded it.

Why? The tide of national public opinion has turned against long-term troop deployment in both the UK and the USA. If the war was fought for oil and total domination of Iraq, then those most closely associated to those interests must speed up their plans. The present onslaught aims to break popular resistance, especially from the Sadrist movement, to the passage of the oil law and to the occupation itself.

Beyond that, with local elections looming next autumn, it aims to destroy morally and physically the popular base which would otherwise be set to drive, first from local power, and subsequently from national power, the US/UK allies, Nouri al-Maliki (al-Dawa party), his main allies in the Supreme Islamic Council, led by Abdulaziz al-Hakim, and the Kurdish leaders, Talbani and Barzani.

Naftana calls on all who support democratic trade unionism to stand by the people of Iraq, with the port workers of Umm Qasr and the oil workers of Southern Iraq, with workers in Baghdad and many other cities who are in danger of physical elimination. Naftana

For further information on Naftana and IFOU:
Sabah Jawad — 07985 336886 sabah.jawad@googlemail.com
Kamil Mahdi — k.a.mahdi@exeter.ac.uk
Sami Ramadani — 07863 138748 sami.ramadani@londonmet.ac.uk

Notes for editors: Naftana (‘Our Oil’ in Arabic) is an independent UK-based committee supporting democratic trade unionism in Iraq. It works in solidarity with the IFOU.

It strives to publicise the union’s struggle for Iraqi social and economic rights and its stand against the privatisation of Iraqi oil demanded by the occupying powers.

For more information see the IFOU’s website.


1. “Invest Basra,” East of England Energy Group, http://www.eeegr.com/events/info.php?refnum=562&startnum=A0

2. “KPMG Leader appointed as Development Commissioner in Southern Iraq,” KPMG International, 1 January 2008, http://www.kpmg.com/Press/KPMGLeaderappointed.htm

3. David Smith, “Oil Giants Are Poised to Move into Basra,” Observer, 24 February 2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/feb/24/iraq.oil

4. “UK Commitment to Iraq ‘Absolute’,” BBC, 13 March 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7294144.stm

5. James Glanz, “Iraqi Troops May Move to Reclaim Basra’s Port,” New York Times, March 13, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/13/world/middleeast/13basra.html

6. Since 2003 the first shortened its name to SSA Marine. On UmmQasr, see: “SSA Marine Completes Port of Umm Qasr Management Contract,” AllBusiness, 30 June 2004, http://www.allbusiness.com/transportation/marine-transportation-ferries/5665051-1.html, and “Stevedoring Services of America,” Center for Public Integrity, http://www.publici.net/wow/bio.aspx?act=pro&ddlC=56. On Khor az-Zubair, see: Lotte Folke Kaarsholm, Charlotte Aagaard, and Osama Al-Habahbeh, “Iraqi Port Weathers Danish Storm,” CorpWatch, 31 January 2006, http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=13196; and Andy Critchlow, “IRAQ: A.P. Moeller Seeks Dismissal of Lawsuit Amid Security Threat,” Bloomberg, 14 July 2005, http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=12490.

7. John D. McKinnon, “On Iraq Tour, Cheney Seeks Security Pact,” Wall Street Journal, 20 March 2008.

8. AFP, “Cheney Makes Surprise Visit to Iraq,” 17 March 2008.

Juan Cole on the fighting in Basra etc.: here.

Repeated US air strikes in Basra and Baghdad: here.

Update 30 March 2008: here. 31 March 2008: here. 1 March 2008: here.

Britain: As Basra burns, Iraq inquiry call supported by just 12 Labour MPs: here.

Abuse in Iraqi jails: here.

Animals in the Iraq war: here.

10 thoughts on “Bush’s Iraq offensive threatens trade unionists

  1. 920-54th Street
    Oakland, CA 94608
    510-333-4301, FAX 510-215-2800


    As a result of an important action taken at the recent International
    Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) Caucus, Longshore workers will stop
    work during the first shift in opposition to the war in Iraq, on May
    1, 2008. They will also use this occasion to acknowledge International
    Workers Day to express labor solidarity concerning issues and
    challenges that confront workers.

    This war has cost more than 4,000 American lives and 29,000 have been
    seriously injured. It has been estimated that 1 million Iraqis have
    lost their lives, untold have been injured and 4 million have been
    displaced in this illegal and amoral war and occupation. The war is
    costing $435 million per day. So far, $526 billion has been expended
    on the war. The daily amount spent on the war could enroll 58,000
    youngsters in Head Start or provide health insurance to 329,200
    low-income children.

    We’re writing to ask you to contact ILWU President Robert McEllrath
    with a letter of support for the Longshore Caucus’ resolution to use
    International Workers Day to “stop work to stop the war”. Please ask
    other organizations to do the same.

    Robert McEllrath, ILWU President
    1188 Franklin Street
    San Francisco, CA 94109
    (415) 775-0533
    (415) 775-1302 FAX

    Your support in spreading the word of this historic action is very important.

    In Solidarity,

    Clarence Thomas
    National Co-Chair
    Million Worker March Movement


  2. http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/sami_ramadani/2008/03/no_no_to_the_new_dictatorship.html

    ‘No, no, to the new dictatorship’
    Sami Ramadani

    March 25, 2008 5:30 PM

    Thousands of people are joining the protest marches and “sit-ins” in Baghdad as I write these lines. They are mainly responding to a call by leading anti-occupation cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the wake of fierce clashes between the Sadr movement supporters and many thousands of occupation-backed Iraqi forces who began a major military campaign in Basra last night. Reports are coming in that many non-combatants have been killed or injured in the clashes. The Green Zone was shelled for the second day running and the government declared a curfew in several southern cities in addition to Basra.

    An urgent message this morning from an Iraqi trade union activist in Basra referred to resistance to the government forces in several Basra neighbourhoods and “savage” attacks against the resistors. The message stressed that “security plan began in the same barbaric manner that the criminal Saddam had used”. This is a reference to the March 1991 uprising that began in Basra and which was brutally crushed by Saddam’s forces.

    The demonstrators, in several areas of Baghdad as well many southern cities, held placards and chanted slogans against the military campaign in Basra, Iraq’s second biggest city. Their most prominent slogan is “Kella, kella lil ditatoriya al-jedida”: No, no, to the new dictatorship. Other slogans include: “No to the US”, “No to the occupation”, “Yes to Iraq”. Sadr movement spokesmen made many announcements today pointing to a massive campaign of arrests against Sadr supporters across Iraq.

    There is no doubt that the Sadr movement has not lost its popular appeal amongst the poorest sections of the people, who also happen to be the staunchest opponents of the occupation, just as they were amongst the Saddam regime’s most vehement opponents. Their rebellions against perceived injustice are the signposts of Iraq’s major 20th century upheavals.

    However, the attack does not come as a surprise to people in Basra, where tension has been rising for the past two weeks amidst rumours that Iraq’s main port of Um Qasr was about to be taken over by the Iraqi forces who would wrest control over the port, Iraq’s only outlet to the sea, from the port workers’ union, which is part of a coordinating committee of the province’s unions, led by the Iraqi federation of oil unions (Ifou).

    The omens of bad things to come were strengthened after US vice president Dick Cheney’s visit to Baghdad last week. Iraqis dread the outcome of visits by senior occupation figures to Baghdad, particularly visits by Cheney or former ambassador Negroponte, who is seen by many Iraqis as “the main architect of divide and rule policies and terrorist attacks on Shia, Sunni or Christian targets”. They point to major sectarian attacks, including the blowing up of the Samarra Shia shrine, during or days after each such visit. Following the bombing of the shrine, Moqtada al-Sadr himself accused the occupation of being behind the attacks – a position echoed by some Sunni clergy and secular forces. He later accused the US of sabotaging his attempts to unite with Sunnis.

    There has been a recent escalation of a persistent campaign by the occupation and government forces against Sadr movement cadres and Mahdi Army recruits for the past year despite a ceasefire declared by Sadr last year and extended this year for a further six months.

    Reports are now pouring in that clashes have spread to the southern cities of Kut, Nassiriya and Diwaniya. All entrances to Sadr City in Baghdad were closed by occupation and Iraqi forces in the past few hours. Sadr’s statement to his supporters this morning has a severe tone and accuses the government of serving the occupation and implementing its wishes. He called on people to stage sit-ins as a first step followed by “civil disobedience,” and if the government did not respond by halting its military campaigns against the Sadr movement then he would announce a third step, adding a clear warning, “li kulli hadithin hadith” – meaning that for every event there will be an appropriate response.

    It remains to be seen whether support for Sadr’s call for protest action will spread to areas outside those where the Sadr movement is traditionally strong. Some of Sadr’s previous tactics have been strongly criticised for being an obstacle to greater anti-occupation unity. These tactics included on-off participation in the government and the Sadrists’ presence in parliament (within the sect-based coalition list that won most of the seats in the January 2006 occupation-controlled elections). Though his supporters have withdrawn from the government and the sectarian coalition, their tactics have partly contributed to the sectarian climate which they constantly criticise and regard as the main obstacle to unity, a unity that reached its heights during occupation attacks on Najaf and the first attack of Falluja when Sadr’s pictures were held high by Sunnis in Falluja.

    Meanwhile, there is clearly widespread support for his call and opposition to the government’s actions in Basra amongst all well known anti-occupation figures, who have also accused the US-led occupation of backing the Iraqi forces in Basra and Baghdad by “using their air force against the people”, according to Sheikh Jawad al-Khalisy, leader of the broadly-based Iraqi Foundation Congress, in an interview this afternoon with al-Baghdadia satellite TV.


  3. http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/story/0,,2268019,00.html

    Boycott threat over military recruitment

    Polly Curtis, education editor
    Wednesday March 26, 2008

    Teachers are to launch a campaign against military recruitment campaigns which employ “misleading propaganda” in schools. The National Union of Teachers yesterday vowed to back any school staff who want to boycott armed forces recruitment campaigns.

    The union will hold a summit of teachers, education experts and campaigners to consider the issue of military recruitment after allegations that the Ministry of Defence is employing heavy-handed recruitment campaigns in schools.

    The NUT is concerned that some lesson materials prepared with MoD backing undermine schools’ legal duty to present controversial issues to children in a balanced way.

    Last week the NUT’s leadership revealed it had complained to the education secretary, Ed Balls, about the issue.

    One worksheet supplied by the MoD and designed by a private marketing company, Kids Connections, describes the UK force’s efforts in Iraq as mainly aimed at “helping the Iraqis to rebuild their country after the conflict and years of neglect”.

    It describes the work the armed forces have done in security and reconstruction, and notes the 2005 democratic elections. But union officials said it failed to mention the US-led invasion, Iraqi civilian deaths and that no weapons of mass destruction were found.

    The union backed a motion committing the NUT to “support teachers and schools in opposing Ministry of Defence recruitment activities that are based upon misleading propaganda”.

    Paul McGarr, a delegate from east London, told the conference: “Let’s just try and imagine what that recruitment material would have to say were it not to be misleading. We would have material from the MoD saying ‘… Join the army and we will send you to bomb, shoot and possibly torture fellow human beings in other countries’.”

    Brigadier Andrew Jackson, commander of the MoD recruiting group, said that teams visited 1,000 schools a year, at the invitation of the school. “Their aim is to raise the general awareness of the armed forces in society, not to recruit. We are proud of the work we do with schools and colleges to inform young people about the tremendous work and careers on offer.”

    An MoD spokesman said that all aspects of service life were discussed in detail, following a sensitive recruitment process, and that its recruitment practices avoided propaganda and glamorising war.


  4. GI SPECIAL 6D1:

    The Military Project Respectfully Requests:
    Don’t Leave Him Hanging

    U.S. Army Sgt. William Brayman, 25, from Warner Robins, Ga. …

    U.S. Army soldier, Beijia village, Iraq Feb. 4, 2008.
    (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

    Dear Friend of Peace and Justice –

    Let’s start with a basic statement.

    The Troops Have the Power to Stop the War. We must work with them to accomplish this goal.

    If you want to end the war and believe that the link between civilian and service member organizers is the key to putting a monkey wrench in the war machine — and vital to bringing the troops home — please join us and other members of the Military Project Organizing Committee at our first conference: Bridging the Gap: Making It Happen on Saturday, April 5th in New York City at Middle Collegiate Church (50 E. 7th St.).

    This is an organizers’ conference for people who wish to act together to bridge the gap between civilians and members of the Armed Forces through direct outreach.

    The Military Project Organizing Committee acted decisively to initiate the conference (with the assistance of Traveling Soldier (www.travelingsolder.com) and GI Special (www.militaryproject.org) in light of developments in the anti-war movement.

    Troops and veterans are speaking out against the war — and refusing missions — more than ever before.

    To take advantage of this momentum we must STRIKE NOW and bring the forces together to reach as many service members as possible.

    Conference speakers include:

    Clarence Thomas, Local 10, The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, San Francisco on how Iraq Veterans, active duty troops and union members can join together to do what the politicians refuse to do: bring all the troops home now;

    Richard Boyle, Vietnam War Reporter, and author of “Flower of the Dragon,” which recounts the resistance during the war and the breakdown of the U.S. Army in Vietnam will discuss his eyewitness accounts detailing the cause and effect of uprisings throughout the ranks; and

    Daniel Joseph Black, IVAW, on what it means to defend the Constitution and our population from “domestic enemies.” Black states that “If defending requires our disobedience of an autocratic war criminal, then we are so bound by our oath.”

    The conference will also feature the moving poetry of Vietnam Veteran Dennis Serdel and the arresting photography of Vietnam Veteran Mike Hastie.

    We hope that after reading this letter you will be as generous as your means allow in helping us to cover the many expenses incurred by this historic conference.

    As veterans and members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, we cannot stress enough how important it is to show our troops support in their resistance against the war.

    Our first priority should be to end this war immediately. Outreach of the sort conducted by the Military Project is vital to bringing this war to an end NOW.

    This is the focus of the conference.

    And it is an urgent task.

    Please send checks or money orders, made payable to the Military Project to:

    BOX 126, 2576 BROADWAY
    NEW YORK, N.Y.
    10025-5657 USA

    Thank you for your support–and please contact us if you would like to join us in this work.


    Jeff Englehart, Former Spc., U.S. Army
    Member, Military Project Organizing Committee
    Member, Iraq Veterans Against the War
    Lt. Fabian Bouthillette, USNR
    Member, Military Project Organizing Committee
    Member, Iraq Veterans Against the War
    U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2003

    The Military Project: contact@militaryproject.org



    An Organizers Conference

    April 5, 2008: 10 AM

    Middle Collegiate Church
    50 East 7th St., New York, New York
    [Just east of 2nd Avenue]

    U.S. Army Sgt. William Brayman, 25, from Warner Robins, Ga. …

    U.S. Army soldier patrols Beijia village, Iraq Feb. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)





    NOON: RESISTANCE THROUGH EVOCATION: PHOTOGRAPHS, POEMS; Mike Hastie & Dennis Serdel, Vietnam Veterans; Al Jaccoma, Vietnam Veterans Against The War

    12:45: Lunch break.

    1:45 PM: TROOPS RESIST WAR; VIETNAM AND IRAQ: EYEWITNESSES: Richard Boyle, Vietnam War Reporter; Garett Reppenhagen & J.D. Englehart, Iraq Veterans Against The War; Al Jaccoma, Vietnam Veterans Against The War

    3 PM: OUTREACH TO THE TROOPS [Organizing Tactics In The Real World] Fabian Bouthillette, Iraq Veterans Against The War & The Military Project

    4:20 PM: ON GUARD: “WE NEVER SWORE TO OBEY; WE SWORE TO DEFEND” Daniel Joseph Black, Iraq Veterans Against The War

    5:15 PM: IRAQ VETERANS + UNION WORKERS = HISTORY IN MOTION: Michael Letwin & Clarence Thomas, Local 10, The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, San Francisco

    Tactical Painting
    From Soldier X, Iraq 4.25.05

    The Military Project: contact@militaryproject.org
    [With the assistance of Traveling Soldier & GI Special]

    “The single largest failure of the anti-war movement at this point is the lack of outreach to the troops.” Tim Goodrich, Iraq Veterans Against The War

    “The military are the final, essential weak point of Bush and Cheney.” David McReynolds 9.29.07




    Telling the truth – about the occupation or the criminals running the government in Washington – is the first reason for Traveling Soldier. But we want to do more than tell the truth; we want to report on the resistance – whether it’s in the streets of Baghdad, New York, or inside the armed forces.

    Our goal is for Traveling Soldier to become the thread that ties working-class people inside the armed services together. We want this newsletter to be a weapon to help you organize resistance within the armed forces.

    If you like what you’ve read, we hope that you’ll join with us in building a network of active duty organizers. http://www.traveling-soldier.org/

    And join with Iraq War vets in the call to end the occupation and bring our troops home now! (www.ivaw.org/)

    If printed out, this newsletter is your personal property and cannot legally be confiscated from you. “Possession of unauthorized material may not be prohibited.” DoD Directive 1325.6 Section


  5. Posted by: “Charles Jenks” charles@peacejournal.org
    Mon Mar 31, 2008 9:27 am (PDT)

    Defend the Princeton HS Walkout Students!

    250 Princeton High School students are facing 2 days of detention after walking out of class and attending an hour long rally and speak-out protesting the five-year US occupation of Iraq on March 19th, 2008. Principal Gary Snyder had originally promised that the students would not receive detention, but reneged when it became clear that hundreds of student were planning on walking out. Four weeks earlier, the students were required to miss three periods of class while a New Orleans band played and Mardi Gras beads were thrown at them. What are the priorities of Princeton High School? We urge all student and community members to support students that have the courage to take a stand and educate themselves.

    “This detention is unfair, because we were taking a chance to voice our opinions and educate ourselves, which we are not given the opportunity to adequately do so in school,” said Aislinn Bauer, a Princeton High School sophomore and one of the organizers of the walkout. “We’re turning this punishment into something productive.”

    “What I do not understand is how we were able to miss three periods to see Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience perform and throw Mardi Gras beads at us, which had little to no educational value,” said Russell Cavallaro, another Princeton High School sophomore. “This walkout actually had educational value. Students were educated on the causes of the war, why it should never have happened, and had a chance to offer their respects to the fallen soldiers.”

    CALL and Email Princeton High School Administrators and demand that the students should be commended and not punished.



    Office of the Superintendent
    Judy Wilson – 609-806-4220

    Gary R. Snyder 609-806-4280

    Assistant Principal for grades 10 & 12
    Julianne Inverso 609-806-4280, ext 3503

    Assistant Principal for grades 9 & 11
    Harvey Highland 609-806-4280, ext 3502



    Basra Battle Strengthens Sadr
    Shiite Cleric Fights Maliki to a Draw;
    McCain’s Dilemma
    April 1, 2008; Page A8

    The Iraqi government’s inability to oust Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia from Basra has boosted the fortunes of the Shiite cleric while damaging the standing of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

    Mr. Sadr appears to be the one clear winner from the inconclusive fighting in the country’s second-biggest city, which began to taper off Monday after the cleric urged his followers to observe a truce.

    Despite a show of support for the Iraqi government in Basra Monday, the Mahdi Army retained control over large portions of the city.

    The failure of the Iraqi strikes against Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army has implications for both U.S. policy in Iraq and the presidential campaign.

    Worsening conditions in Iraq pose a particular challenge for likely Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, who has staked his candidacy on his ability to persuade antiwar voters that victory in Iraq remains possible. Sen. McCain departed from his usual talking points about Iraq Monday to say that he was surprised by Mr. Maliki’s decision to order the Basra strike.

    “Maliki decided to take on this operation without consulting the Americans,” he told reporters traveling with him in Mississippi. “I’m surprised he’d take it on himself to go down and take charge of a military offensive.”

    U.S. and British commanders said that Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army fought the Iraqi forces to a draw and were able to retain their control over large portions of Basra and other Shiite areas of the country.

    Reports of slackening violence helped send oil prices lower. In New York trading, U.S. benchmark futures fell $4.04 per barrel, or 3.8%, to $101.58. (See related article.)

    Mortar Attacks

    Militants linked to Mr. Sadr also showed an ability to inflict pain on the U.S., killing two American officials in sophisticated mortar attacks against the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad in recent days.


    • Winners and Losers: Iraqi forces’ failure to contain militants linked to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr damages the standing of Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
    • Impact Abroad: The fighting renews attention on Iraq in the U.S. presidential campaign and poses particular challenges for Sen. John McCain, who has staked his candidacy on U.S. military success in Iraq.
    • October Vote: The outcome puts Mr. Sadr in a stronger political position ahead of provincial elections this fall.

    U.S. officials said that Mr. Sadr was in a stronger political position, as well, because of the public perception that Mr. Maliki ordered the strikes to weaken the cleric and his followers ahead of provincial elections scheduled for October.

    If the elections were held today, “there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Sadrists would win across the south,” said a U.S. official at the American Embassy in Baghdad who monitors Iraqi politics.

    The assault began last week after Mr. Maliki ordered tens of thousands of Iraqi security personnel into Basra with a mandate to strike targets linked to Mr. Sadr. At the time, Mr. Maliki said the move was an effort to assert government control over the city and oust the criminals that he said had long held sway there.

    Mr. Bush and top administration officials expressed strong public support for Mr. Maliki, arguing that his willingness to wager much of his remaining personal prestige and political capital on the assault showed that the Iraqi premier was finally emerging as a strong, decisive leader.

    Instead, the fighting has left Mr. Maliki looking weaker. Mr. Maliki moved to Basra to personally oversee the assault and issued several high-profile public demands for Mr. Sadr’s followers to surrender and relinquish their weapons. But the Shiite militants rejected that ultimatum and were able to prevent the Iraqi forces from retaking the city.

    Mr. Maliki instead had to turn to Mr. Sadr for a way out of the bloodshed, which left hundreds dead. Mr. Sadr obliged Sunday with a truce offer that ordered his followers to stop fighting but made clear they were to keep their weapons — ensuring that the primary goal of the Iraqi assault would go unmet.

    ‘Birth of Sadrist Power’

    “President Bush was right that Basra marked a defining moment for Iraq, but not in the way that he intended,” said Vali Nasr, a scholar of Shiite politics at Tufts University who has advised U.S. policy makers. “This is the birth of Sadrist power.”

    Mr. Nasr said that the biggest loser in the Basra fighting was Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who has been battling Mr. Sadr for control of southern Iraq for several years.

    Mr. Hakim is an American ally who leads Iraq’s biggest Shiite political party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, or ISCI. Mr. Hakim’s forces have gradually taken control of several large Shiite regions, including the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, but they have been unable to extend their reach into Basra, a stronghold of Mr. Sadr and his followers.

    Mr. Nasr argues that the fighting in Basra was intended to strengthen Mr. Hakim’s hand by killing large numbers of Mr. Sadr’s followers and leaving forces loyal to Mr. Hakim in control of swaths of the southern port city.

    In Better Position

    The government’s inability to oust Mr. Sadr means that the Shiite cleric is now in a better position than his rival Mr. Hakim, Mr. Nasr said.

    “If the objective was to downsize Sadr, he emerges even more powerful politically and militarily,” Mr. Nasr said. “The dreams of ISCI emerging as the sole power in southern Iraq are over.”

    A recent uptick in Iraq’s violence and the U.S. death toll’s passing the 4,000 mark are contributing to Iraq’s resurgence as a central political issue in the U.S. presidential campaign.

    Mr. McCain also accused Iran of providing “extensive” support to Shiite militias in southern Iraq, including Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army. He said it was too soon to determine whether Mr. Maliki or Mr. Sadr would ultimately emerge as the winner of the fighting in Basra.

    “Apparently it was Sadr who asked for the cease-fire. It wasn’t Maliki,” Sen. McCain noted. “Very rarely do I see the winning side declare a cease-fire.”

    –Laura Meckler contributed to this article.



    U.S. Appears to Take Lead in Fighting in Baghdad
    U.S. Forces Battle Mahdi Army in Sadr City, Aircraft Target Basra

    By Sudarsan Raghavan and Sholnn Freeman
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Tuesday, April 1, 2008; 9:58 AM

    BAGHDAD, March 28 — U.S. forces in armored vehicles battled Mahdi Army fighters Thursday in the vast Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, and military officials said Friday that U.S. aircraft bombed militant positions in the southern city of Basra, as the American role in a campaign against party-backed militias appeared to expand.

    Iraqi army and police units appeared to be largely holding to the outskirts of the Sadr City fighting, as U.S. troops took the lead.

    Four U.S. Stryker armored vehicles were seen in Sadr City by a Washington Post correspondent, one of them engaging Mahdi Army militiamen with heavy fire. The din of U.S. weapons, along with the Mahdi Army’s AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, was heard through much of the day. U.S. helicopters and drones buzzed overhead.

    The clashes suggested that American forces were being drawn more deeply into a broad offensive that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, launched in the southern city of Basra on Tuesday, saying death squads, criminal gangs and rogue militias were the targets. The Mahdi Army of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite rival of Maliki, appeared to have taken the brunt of the attacks; fighting spread to many southern cities and parts of Baghdad.

    As President Bush told an Ohio audience that Iraq was returning to “normalcy,” administration officials in Washington held meetings to assess what appeared to be a rapidly deteriorating security situation in many parts of the country.

    U.S. forces were involved in about a dozen firefights Thursday in Baghdad alone, with fighting spread across six neighborhoods, according to information released by the U.S. military Friday morning.

    U.S. ground patrols in such areas as Kadhamiyah and New Baghdad repeatedly came under attack from small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, responding with their own weapons and in one case calling in helicopter support. In that incident, the helicopter fired a hellfire missile into a group of militants that had attacked U.S. troops manning a checkpoint in Kadhamiyah, killing three of them. When the militants renewed their attack, the helicopter returned and killed 10 more using a 30mm gun, according to a U.S. military release.

    In all, U.S. troops killed 42 in Thursday’s Baghdad fighting, a sign of their growing engagement in the Iraqi-designed offensive.

    Thursday night, American aircraft dropped bombs on two locations in Basra in support of Iraqi ground forces, said Maj. Tom Holloway, a British military spokesman. He said coalition forces would continue to make airpower available at the request of Iraqi troops.

    Coalition reconnaissance jets have been flying over the area for the past three days, but Thursday’s action was the first airstrike.

    The U.S. military, meanwhile, released details Friday on a fight that erupted Wednesday in Hillah, in which U.S. special forces joined with an Iraqi unit that had come under heavy assault. The Iraqi Special Weapons and Tactics unit lost nine men after a large force of militants attacked a road checkpoint. U.S. troops joined the battle, and a U.S. helicopter tracked the militant force as it pulled back and regrouped near a mosque. A hellfire missile strike killed five of them, and the rest of the group dispersed, according to a U.S. military statement.

    Maliki decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies, according to administration officials. With little U.S. presence in the south, and British forces in Basra confined to an air base outside the city, one administration official said that “we can’t quite decipher” what is going on. It’s a question, he said, of “who’s got the best conspiracy” theory about why Maliki decided to act now.

    In Basra, three rival Shiite groups have been trying to position themselves, sometimes through force of arms, to dominate recently approved provincial elections.

    The U.S. officials, who were not authorized to speak on the record, said that they believe Iran has provided assistance in the past to all three groups: the Mahdi Army; the Badr Organization of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Iraq’s largest Shiite party; and forces loyal to the Fadhila Party, which holds the Basra governor’s seat. But the officials see the current conflict as a purely internal Iraqi dispute.

    Some officials have concluded that Maliki himself is firing “the first salvo in upcoming elections,” the administration official said.

    “His dog in that fight is that he is basically allied with the Badr Corps” against forces loyal to Sadr, the official said. “It’s not a pretty picture.”

    Elements of Sadr’s militia have fought fiercely, including rocketing the Green Zone, the huge fortified compound in Baghdad where the U.S. Embassy, Iraqi government offices and international agencies are located.

    Starting about 5:25 p.m., the Post reporter heard the launch of 14 rockets, which Mahdi Army officers in the area said were aimed at the Green Zone. U.S. officials reported that 12 rounds hit the zone in that time frame, including six that fell inside the embassy compound. An American civilian contractor was killed in a residential area of the embassy compound, and another death was reported in the zone’s U.N. compound.

    Further volleys landed Friday, striking the office of Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. A guard was killed. Hashemi was not in his office at the time. U.S. officials in the Green Zone have been advised to stay indoors and wear body armor when they venture out.

    Several Mahdi Army commanders said they had been fighting U.S. forces for the past three days in Sadr City, engaging Humvees as well as the Strykers. By their account, an Iraqi special forces unit had entered Sadr City from another direction, backed by Americans, but otherwise the fighting had not been with Iraqis.

    “If there were no Americans, there would be no fighting,” said Abu Mustafa al-Thahabi, 38, a senior Mahdi Army member.

    In August, Sadr ordered his militia to observe a cease-fire, a move widely credited with helping to reduce violence across Iraq. In recent days, Sadr officials have said the cease-fire remains in force. But in practice, his fighters and Iraqi and U.S. forces are waging full-scale war in places. Further fighting with his men could slow U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq.

    American commanders said in recent days that their units were taking only a backup role in the offensive and that Iraqi forces were growing strong enough to shoulder the country’s security needs.

    Maj. Mark Cheadle, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said he could not make an accurate assessment of what the Post reporter saw without knowing the precise location. He underlined that U.S. troops were playing a backup role in the offensive but that on a battlefield that is “360 degrees,” it might seem at times that they were out front. If an Iraqi unit was about to be overwhelmed by an enemy, “of course we are going to assist.”

    On Thursday, thousands of followers of Sadr turned out for a peaceful demonstration in Baghdad. Iraqi television channels carried crowd scenes in which people carried a coffin draped in flags and decorated with a portrait of Maliki. They denounced him as a “new dictator” and chanted: “Maliki, keep your hands off. People do not want you.”

    Gunmen wearing police commando uniforms stormed the Baghdad home of a well-known member of Maliki’s government, Tahseen al-Sheikhli, and took him hostage, according to the Information Ministry. Sheikhli is a chief spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, in charge of building public support for government efforts to quell violence in the city.

    As fighting continued in Basra, saboteurs blew up one of the city’s main oil pipelines. Gunmen opened fire on the city’s police chief, wounding him and killing three of his bodyguards.

    Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Mohammad, director of military operations at Iraq’s Defense Ministry, said the Basra operation would continue until security forces captured the outlaws or wiped them out. He said the Iraqi military planned to seal and search every neighborhood to capture suspected criminals and confiscate weapons.

    But an adviser to Iraqi security forces, who had predicted that the fight in Basra would take 10 days, said it could go on much longer. He also said Iraqi forces were calling on U.S. and British forces for help. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he said he was not authorized to speak with reporters.

    “I think the government can’t win this battle without interference of Americans or British,” he said. “I think the aid or assistance is on the way.” In his view, the Iraqi military needed air coverage and help with logistics and intelligence.

    The fighters “are opening many, many fronts against the army,” he said. The adviser said the militia’s weapons, some of them made in Iran, are more powerful than those of the Iraqi army.

    So far, casualties in Basra on all sides have totaled about 400 killed and 300 wounded, he said.

    Holloway, the British military spokesman, said Iraqi security forces were “consolidating their current positions” and preparing for the next stage of the offensive. They were cordoning off areas and trying to gain control of the city “bite-size chunk by bite-size chunk.”

    Residents in Basra said they observed Mahdi Army militiamen gathering in their neighborhood stronghold of Jumhuriyah, assembling men and weapons while dodging gunfire from Iraqi army snipers at intersections.

    Staff writers Karen DeYoung and Howard Schneider in Washington and special correspondents Naseer Nouri, Zaid Sabah, K.I. Ibrahim and Dalya Hassan in Baghdad contributed to this report.


  6. http://www.arabnews.com/?page=7&section=0&article=108753&d=9&m=4&y=2008

    Wednesday 9 April 2008 (02 Rabi` al-Thani 1429)
    Basra: What Reporters Omitted and Fabricated
    Ramzy Baroud, Aljazeera.net English. —

    The latest battles in Basra, Iraq’s largest city and a vital oil port, provide ample examples of misleading and manipulative practice in corporate journalism today. One commonly used tactic is to describe events using self-styled or “official” terminology, which deliberately confuses the reader by giving no real indication or analysis of what is actually happening.

    Regardless of the outcome of the fighting which commenced upon the Iraqi Army’s march to Basra on March 24, and which proved disastrous for Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, we have been repeatedly “informed” of highly questionable assumptions. Most prominent amongst them is that the “firebrand,” “radical” Moqtada Sadr — leader of the millions-strong Shiite Sadr Movement — led a group of “renegades,” “thugs” and “criminals” to terrorize the strategically important city. Naturally Al-Maliki is portrayed as the exact opposite of Sadr. When the former descended into Basra with his 40,000-strong US-trained and equipped legions, we were circuitously told that the long-awaited move was a cause for celebration. The media also suggested we had no reason to doubtAl-Maliki’s intentions when he promised to restore “law and order” and “cleanse” the city, or to question his determination when he described the Basra crusade as “a fight to the end.” If anyone was still unsure of Al-Maliki’s noble objectives, they could be reassured by the Bush administration’s repeated verbal backings, one of which described the Basra battle as “a defining moment.”


    Reporters parroted such assumptions with little scrutiny. Even thorough journalists seemed oblivious to the known facts: that the Iraqi Army largely consists of Shiite militias affiliated with a major US ally in Iraq, Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim and his Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI); that the ISCI’s Al-Badr militias have rained terror on the Iraqi people — mostly Sunnis, but increasingly Shiites as well — for years; that the Sadr movement and the ISCI are in a fierce contest in southern provinces, and that the US allies are losing grounds quickly to the Sadr movement, which might cost them the upcoming provincial elections scheduled for Oct. 1, 2008; that the US wanted to see the defeat and demise of Sadr supporters before that crucial date because a victory for Sadr is tantamount to the collapse of the entire American project (predicated on the need to privatize Iraqi oil and bring about a “soft” portioning of the country).

    Hakim is pushing for what is being termed a super Shiite province with its center in Basra; Sadr is demanding a unified Iraq with a strong central government. Hakim wishes to see a permanent American presence in his country; Sadr insists on a short timetable for withdrawal. America’s major quandary is that Sadr reflects the views of most Iraqis.

    His possible victory in the south in fair elections could position him as the new nationalist leader, and a unifying force for Iraqis.

    What we are rarely told is that Al-Maliki, although prime minister, is helpless without the validation of Hakim. The latter’s ISCI is the main party in the ruling bloc in the Iraqi Parliament. Al-Maliki’s own Dawa party is smaller and much less popular. In order for the coalition to survive another term, Sadr needed to suffer a major and humiliating defeat. Indeed, it was a “defining moment,” but the “criminal gangs” of Basra — and Najaf, Kerbala, Diwaniyah, Kut, Hillah — have proven much stronger than the seemingly legitimate Iraqi security Forces (ISF) and their Badr militias. Even the atrocious US bombardment of Basra proved of little value, despite many civilian deaths. More, the additional thousands of recruits shoved to the battlefield — tribal gunmen lured by promises of money and power by Al-Maliki — also made little difference. The news analysts concluded that the strength of the “criminal gangs” was underestimated, thus someone had to be blamed.

    First, Al-Maliki was blamed for acting alone, without consulting with the US government. Even presidential candidate John McCain jumped on the opportunity to chastise Bush’s man in Iraq for supposedly acting at his own behest. US ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker was quoted in the April 3 New York Times as saying, “The sense we had was that this would be a long-term effort: increased pressure gradually squeezing the Special Groups.” Really? Would the US allow Al-Maliki to execute a “long-term effort” — which is costly financially, politically and militarily — without its full consent, if not orders?

    Second, the blame was shifted onto Iran. The media parroted these accusations again with palpable omissions. It is true that Sadr is backed by Iran. It is partly true that he is serving an Iranian agenda. But what is conveniently forgotten is that Iran’s strongest ally in Iraq is Hakim’s ISCI, and the central government in Baghdad considers Tehran a friend and ally. Indeed, it was the pressure from the latter that weakened Al-Maliki’s resolve in a matter of days. On March 24, Al-Maliki announced his “fight to the end,” and on April 4 he ordered a halt to the fighting and compensation for the families of the “martyrs.” What took place during this short window of time is an Iran-brokered agreement.

    Naturally, skewed reporting leads to slanted conclusions. No, the lesson learned is not that the Iraqi Army requires more training and funds, which would necessitate the US and other forces to prolong their stay in the country. It is rather that the tide has turned so fast in Iraq, whereby the new enemy is now largely Shiite, and one which envisions a unified and free Iraq which controls its own resources; that Iran’s influence in Iraq has morphed to the point of guaranteeing a win-win situation, while the US is playing with a lot fewer cards; that the US firepower has proven less effective than ever; and that the upcoming elections could create a nightmare scenario whose consequences could remove the sectarian label from Iraqi violence and replace it with a nationalist one. Reporters can be quisling, incompetent and parrots of official accounts.

    Regardless, no matter how they wish to term it, the battle of Basra is likely to change the nature of the US fight in Iraq for years to come.

    — Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London).


  7. http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5154

    Basra: Echoes of Vietnam
    Conn Hallinan | April 16, 2008

    One battle rarely wins or loses a war, at least in the moment. Gettysburg crippled Lee’s army in 1863, but the Confederates fought on until 1865. Stalingrad broke the back of the German 6th Army, but it would be two-and-a-half years before the Russians took Berlin. War — particularly the modern variety — is a complex mixture of tactics, technology, and politics. Then there are the intangibles, like morale.

    But while a single battle may not end a conflict, it can illuminate an underlying reality. This reality generally gets lost in the thunder of propaganda, illusion, and wishful thinking that always accompanies the horsemen of the apocalypse.

    Now that some of the dust has settled over the recent battle of Basra that pitted Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army against the armies of the United States and Iraq, it is time to examine what that clash meant, and what are some analogies that might help bring it into focus. There were certainly echoes of Vietnam in last month’s fighting, and some of those parallels, particularly to the 1968 Tet offensive, are worth a closer look.
    Remembering Tet

    As Frank Rich pointed out in The New York Times, there was indeed a whiff of Tet in the debacle in Basra. Just before the 1968 attack, U.S. General William Westmoreland made his historic “light at the end of the tunnel” prediction. In recent testimony before the Senate, General David Petraeus said the United States was making “significant” progress in Iraq, and his spokesman, Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, bragged that the United States had the Mahdi army on the ropes: “We’ve degraded their capability.”

    “There is a parallel to Tet here,” says military historian Jack Radey. “‘We have won the war, violence is down, the surge works’ [the U.S. told itself], and then Kaboom! The Green Zone is taking incoming.”

    Radey argues that the American “victories” against the Vietnamese in the period leading up to the Tet offensive were an illusion. “If the enemy seems to be missing from the picture, this is not proof you have wiped him out,” he says. “It is more likely proof that you have lost track of him, and he will, at his own chosen time, find ways to remind you of his presence.”

    Which is exactly what Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi army did.

    According to historian Gareth Porter, the United States mistakenly concluded that the ceasefire Sadr declared six months ago was a sign that the Mahdi army was vulnerable. When the Americans began attacking Sadr strongholds — more than 2,000 militia members and leaders have been arrested since last July’s truce — and the Mahdi army did not react, the United States was convinced that the militia was weak.
    Other Analogies

    But Tet is not the only relevant Vietnam analogy. The other parallel was Operation Lam Son, the 1971 invasion of Laos by the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN). The United States pushed South Vietnam to attack Laos in order to demonstrate that the ARVN could stand on its own two feet, and to make the point prior to the upcoming 1972 U.S. elections that Nixon’s policy of “Vietnamization” was working

    Instead, U.S. audiences watched as panicked ARVN troops clung to helicopter landing skids in their desperation to escape from Laos. Lam Son “was a disaster,” writes historian A.J. Langguth in Our Vietnam: The War, 1954-1975: “Vietnamization became one more doomed fantasy. After 10 years of training and costly equipment, South Vietnam’s troops seemed to be no match for the Communists.”

    Radey says the Lam Son analogy is a useful one. The invasion didn’t work “because the [ARVN] soldiers didn’t believe in the cause they fought for,” while their opponents, with far less fire power, “believed in what they were doing. Vive la difference.”

    As for Iraq and the recent fighting: “Was anyone paying attention the last time this lesson was taught in Vietnam?” Radey asks. “Did anyone do the reading? Hello? Do I have to start throwing chalk?”
    In Basra

    On the surface, the battle of Basra — which quickly spread to virtually every major city between Basra and Baghdad — was a major setback for Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki and the Americans. As Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar points out in the Asia Times, the principal outcome of the fighting is that “the Bush Administration’s triumphalism over the so-called Iraqi ‘surge’ strategy has become irredeemably farcical.”

    The fighting also exposed the Iraqi Army as a hollow shell, much as the Laos invasion revealed the incompetence of ARVN. While Petraeus was telling the Senate that “recent operations in Basra highlight improvements in the ability of the Iraqi security forces to deploy substantial numbers of units, supplies, and replacements on a very short notice,” journalists were reporting that thousands of Iraqi troops refused to fight and abandoned their weapons.

    According to Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail of the Inter Press Service, much of the Iraqi army simply disintegrated. A Baghdad police colonel told the reporters that the “Iraqi Army and police forces, as well as the Da’wa and Badr militias, suddenly disappeared from the streets, leaving their armored vehicles for the Mehdi militia to drive around in joyful convoys.” The Badr militia is associated with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a major ally of Maliki’s Da’wa party. Like the Mahdi army, both parties are Shiite.

    So, after three years and $22 billion in training and equipment, the Iraqi army got shellacked. The only thing that prevented a full-scale rout was the intervention of U.S. troops and air support.

    While the Americans have tried to distance themselves from the disaster by claiming that Maliki never consulted with them, historian Porter argues that the claim is ludicrous. “No significant Iraqi military action can be planned without a range of military support functions being undertaken by the U.S. command,” he writes, pointing out that U.S. trainers are embedded with every unit in the Iraqi security forces.

    It’s the Oil, Stupid

    Rather than as an assault on “criminal militias,” virtually every independent observer saw the attack as an effort by Maliki and the Americans to take control of Basra’s oil resources preliminary to turning them over to private oil conglomerates. Standing in the way of both those goals was the nationalist-minded Mahdi army as well as Iraq’s oil and dockworkers unions.

    As the Bush administration saw it, a successful attack on the Mahdi army would not only clear the way for privatizing the Iraqi oil industry, it would demonstrate that the Iraqi army was ready “to stand up,” thus boosting the campaign of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

    But as Karl von Clausewitz once pointed out, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Historical analogies are tricky. They may obscure as much as they reveal. But history is the only guide we have, and it is one the Bush administration has willfully chosen to ignore.

    As it did in Vietnam, the United States looks at Iraq though the lens of firepower and troop deployments. But war is not just about things that blow up, and occupiers always ignore the point of view of the occupied.

    For starters, people don’t like losing control of their country. With the exceptions of the Kurds and Maliki and his allies, Iraqis are overwhelmingly opposed to the occupation. That disconnect between occupied and occupiers was summed up by Luu Doan Huynh, a Vietnamese veteran of the war against the Japanese, the French, and the Americans, and one of the key diplomats in the Vietnam peace talks. “The Americans thought that Vietnam was a war,” he said. “We knew that Vietnam was our country.”

    Conn Hallinan is a Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org) columnist.


    A.J. Langguth, Our Vietnam: The War 1954-75 (Touchstone, 2000).


  8. http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=41992

    Army “Rewards” Outspoken Antiwar Soldier
    Aaron Glantz

    SAN FRANCISCO, Apr 15 (IPS) – One of the leading voices of dissent inside the U.S. Army has been promoted.

    Sergeant Ronn Cantu — who signed a petition to Congress demanding the U.S. withdraw from Iraq and gave interviews to the news shows “60 Minutes” and “Democracy Now!”, as well as IPS detailing his opposition — has seen his rank upgraded to staff sergeant. Some observers say Cantu’s promotion shows the military is now so stressed by the ongoing war it is finding it difficult to crack down on dissent within the ranks.

    Few members of the Armed Forces have made their disgust for the war in Iraq more public than Ronn Cantu. The 30-year-old Los Angeles native began speaking out during his second tour in Iraq, launching an online forum for antiwar GIs at Soldiersvoices.net, signing petitions against the war, and giving interviews to major U.S. media outlets while still stationed in Baghdad.

    Now, as a staff sergeant, Cantu says he’ll teach the soldiers under him to follow the Geneva Conventions and other laws of war.

    “There’s a lot of soldiers out there who wouldn’t recognise an unlawful order if it bit them on the behind,” he said. “So I’m going to make sure the nine guys under me are very aware of the laws of armed conflict. I just want to make sure that they keep their ethics and moral standards and keep out of trouble should anything happen.”

    Cantu hopes the soldiers under his command will behave differently than his unit did during his first tour in Iraq.

    “We had a policy of ‘making a statement’,” he told IPS. “If a bomb went off on our convoy, all of the guns would go off and we’d pretty much just pass punishment on the area we were in: windows, cars on the side of the road, farm animals, sheep. It was a revenge thing.”

    Most service members who speak out are not given the same treatment Ronn Cantu got. Like Cantu, Former Marine Corps Segeant Liam Madden signed the Appeal for Redress, an online petition to Congress from active-duty service members demanding an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.

    After co-founding the Appeal, Madden began holding workshops about the politics of the war on his base at Quantico, Virginia, bringing down the wrath of his chain of command.

    “Basically, they just gave me a lousy jobs and told all my peers they were not allowed to talk to Sergeant Madden,” he said. “It was a pretty lonely time.”

    “All the peers that I had met and become acquainted with were basically shut off and if any of them were to talk with me in the barracks or off duty they were very nervous about it,” he added.

    Many observers believe the Army is unable to effectively punish soldiers like Cantu and Madden because it’s close to its breaking point. Last month, top Army officials told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it is under serious strain and must reduce the length of combat tours as soon as possible.

    Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of Staff, said, “The cumulative effects of the last six-plus years at war have left our Army out of balance.”

    “There are certainly reasons for the military to overlook many issues today,” said Jeff Paterson, the project director of Courage to Resist, which helps troops speak out against the war from within the military. He says the depleted state of the Army has military brass increasingly reluctant to expel soldiers who oppose the war. So people who work within the rules — like Sergeant Ronn Cantu — are promoted.

    “In recruiting, they’re overlooking whether you have a high school diploma, they’re overlooking whether you have a criminal history, and once you’re in the military, they’re overlooking injuries — and now apparently they’re even overlooking people who speak out against the war,” Patterson said. “So long as you do your job, there’s a basis for the military to say ‘We need your body in Iraq’ regardless of whether we do or don’t like what you’re saying.”

    Cantu’s said his superiors told him he was being promoted because he’s served close to 10 years in the military and has met all training requirements. It’s unclear whether Cantu slipped through the cracks or the army purposefully overlooked his activist work.

    “I was pretty surprised,” he told IPS, laughing. “It doesn’t make much sense. I’d say honestly I just slipped through some bureaucratic cracks.”



  9. Pingback: Bush’s allies quit Iraq | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  10. Pingback: Iraqi trade union oppressed | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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