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Year 2005 No. 3, January 12, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Critical September Report to Be Final Word:

Search for Banned Arms In Iraq Ended Last Month

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Critical September Report to Be Final Word:
Search for Banned Arms In Iraq Ended Last Month

Goldsmith Refuses to Disclose Iraq Legal Advice

The Taming of Sadr City

Iraqi Insurgents Ahead in War of Intelligence

Iraq: The Devastation

The January 30 Fraud

First We Vote, Then We Kick You Out

New Year and Elections...

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Critical September Report to Be Final Word:

Search for Banned Arms In Iraq Ended Last Month

By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post Staff Writer, January 12, 2005

The hunt for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq has come to an end nearly two years after President Bush ordered US troops to disarm Saddam Hussein. The top CIA weapons hunter is home, and analysts are back at Langley.

In interviews, officials who served with the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) said the violence in Iraq, coupled with a lack of new information, led them to fold up the effort shortly before Christmas.

Four months after Charles A. Duelfer, who led the weapons hunt in 2004, submitted an interim report to Congress that contradicted nearly every pre-war assertion about Iraq made by top Bush administration officials, a senior intelligence official said the findings will stand as the ISG's final conclusions and will be published this spring.

President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials asserted before the US invasion in March 2003 that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons programme, had chemical and biological weapons, and maintained links to al Qaeda affiliates to whom it might give such weapons to use against the United States.

Bush has expressed disappointment that no weapons or weapons programmes were found, but the White House has been reluctant to call off the hunt, holding out the possibility that weapons were moved out of Iraq before the war or are well hidden somewhere inside the country. But the intelligence official said that possibility is very small.

Duelfer is back in Washington, finishing some addenda to his September report before it is reprinted.

"There's no particular news in them, just some odds and ends," the intelligence official said. The Government Printing Office will publish it in book form, the official said.

The CIA declined to authorise any official involved in the weapons search to speak on the record for this story. The intelligence official offered an authoritative account of the status of the hunt on the condition of anonymity. The agency did confirm that Duelfer is wrapping up his work and will not be replaced in Baghdad.

The ISG, established to search for weapons but now enmeshed in counterinsurgency work, remains under Pentagon command and is being led by Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Joseph McMenamin.

Intelligence officials said there is little left for the ISG to investigate because Duelfer's last report answered as many outstanding questions as possible. The ISG has interviewed every person it could find connected to programmes that ended more than 10 years ago, and every suspected site within Iraq has been fully searched, or stripped bare by insurgents and thieves, according to several people involved in the weapons hunt.

Satellite photos show that entire facilities have been dismantled, possibly by scrap dealers who sold off parts and equipment to buyers around the world.

"The September 30 report is really pretty much the picture," the intelligence official said.

"We've talked to so many people that someone would have said something. We received nothing that contradicts the picture we've put forward. It's possible there is a supply someplace, but what is much more likely is that [as time goes by] we will find a greater substantiation of the picture that we've already put forward."

Congress allotted hundreds of millions of dollars for the weapons hunt, and there has been no public accounting of the money. A spokesman for the Pentagon's Defence Intelligence Agency said the entire budget and the expenditures would remain classified.

Several hundred military translators and document experts will continue to sift through millions of pages of documents on paper and computer media sitting in a storeroom on a US military base in Qatar.

But their work is focused on material that could support possible war crimes charges or shed light on the fate of Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, a Navy pilot who was shot down in an F/A-18 fighter over central Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991, the opening night of the Persian Gulf War. Although he was initially reported as killed in action, Speicher's status was changed to missing after evidence emerged that he had ejected alive from his aircraft.

The work on documents is not connected to weapons of mass destruction, officials said, and a small group of Iraqi scientists still in US military custody are not being held in connection with weapons investigations, either.

Three people involved with the ISG said the weapons teams made several pleas to the Pentagon to release the scientists, who have been interviewed extensively. All three officials specifically mentioned Gen. Amir Saadi, who was a liaison between Hussein's government and U.N. inspectors; Rihab Taha, a biologist nicknamed "Dr. Germ" years ago by U.N. inspectors; her husband, Amir Rashid, the former oil minister; and Huda Amash, a biologist whose extensive dealings with U.N. inspectors earned her the nickname "Mrs. Anthrax".

None of the scientists has been involved in weapons programmes since the 1991 Gulf War, the ISG determined more than a year ago, and all have cooperated with investigators despite nearly two years of jail time without charges. US officials previously said they were being held because their denials of ongoing weapons programmes were presumed to be lies; now, they say the scientists are being held in connection with the possible war crimes trials of Iraqis.

It has been more than a year since any Iraqi scientist was arrested in connection with weapons of mass destruction. Many of those questioned and cleared have since left Iraq, one senior official said, acknowledging for the first time that the "brain drain" that has long been feared "is well underway".

"A lot of it is because of the kidnapping industry" in Iraq, the official said. The State Department has been trying to implement programmes designed to keep Iraqi scientists from seeking weapons-related work in neighbouring countries, such as Syria and Iran.

Since March 2003, nearly a dozen people working for or with the weapons hunt have lost their lives to the insurgency. The most recent deaths came in November, when Duelfer's convoy was attacked during a routine mission around Baghdad and two of his bodyguards were killed.

Article Index

Goldsmith Refuses to Disclose Iraq Legal Advice

By Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent, The Independent, 12 January 2005

The Attorney General confirmed yesterday that the government would not release the legal advice on the war on Iraq, despite a string of demands to see the papers under the Freedom of Information Act.

Lord Goldsmith said he "was not proposing to disclose advice given confidentially within government". He denied that he had been "leant upon" by Tony Blair to pronounce war legal. "It was my genuine and independent view that action was lawful under existing United Nations Security Council resolutions," he said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said the legal advice "lies right at the very heart of the Government's case for military action against Iraq. I have no doubt that the public interest lies in publication of the whole of the advice, but I am equally sure that the Government will not want to run the risk of political embarrassment."

Meanwhile a Times poll today suggests that British support for the war in Iraq has dropped to a record low. Fewer than one in three believe the war was justified.

Article Index

The Taming of Sadr City

By Michael Schwartz*, January 12, 2005

Sadr City – the overcrowded, under-serviced 3 million-person Baghdad slum that has been the site of some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq – is the linchpin of the war.

Though there have been more spectacular battles in Fallujah and Najaf, Sadr City is of paramount importance because it is the centre of the Shi'ite rebellion, and the Shi'ites represent 60% of the Iraqi population. As a consequence, the Mehdi army – the military arm of the Sadrist movement that has dominated the area's politics for the past quarter century – has become the most important of all the insurgent groups, and a close look how it operates in its home base yields some startling conclusions about the trajectory of the struggle for control of Iraq:
· The Sadrists have developed an effective political-military strategy aimed at converting Sadr City into a "liberated area", in the classic guerrilla warfare model.
· Their main military strategy is to expel the US from their domain; only when they are under attack themselves do they venture outside Sadr City to attack US bases or supply routes.
· The al-Sadr organisation is attempting to construct a coherent "dual" government · that replaces the central government and which administers the usual set of public services – from traffic control to apprehending street criminals – within limits set by their inability to coordinate with a national government. This proto-government has been particularly assiduous in addressing the number one problem of public order, street crime, and has actually cooperated with the local police in this campaign.
· Mehdi soldiers – the guerrilla forces led by the Sadrists – though prone to thuggery, are largely under the control of this dual government, which is led by civilians – tribal leaders and Muslim clerics. The Mehdi soldiers act as the police force within the community.
· The Sadrists have been surprisingly successful in co-opting the Iraqi police, by rewarding them for working on community issues and fighting them when they participate in efforts to suppress the rebel political-military structure. American military complaints about the unreliability of their Iraqi trainees are actually a reflection of successfully applied guerrilla policy.
· The Sadrists have begun to enforce strict Islamist fundamentalism by suppressing such "moral crimes" as liquor sales and prostitution. The have utilised an ugly brand of vigilantism (firebombing, assaults and even homicide) to remove moral criminals from the community.
· The Sadrists, and parallel groups in other cities (notably Fallujah), have publicly denounced the spectacular bombings perpetrated by various terrorists groups, complaining about their negative impact on the lives and livelihoods of Iraqi civilians and calling for an active alliance with the Iraqi police in suppressing foreign jihadis and domestic terrorists.
· The organisation in Sadr City is an echo of similar developments in Sunni cities (with Fallujah as the centre), and it may foreshadow similar developments in the all-important Shi'ite south. The American attacks on various Iraqi cities, including the brutal battle of Fallujah, were an attempt to reverse this trend toward self-governed cities into which American forces rarely intrude.
· The existence of these dual governments in many cities rebuts American claims that US withdrawal would result in chaos. Ironically, just the reverse is true; US success in defeating the guerrillas would result in chaos, whereas a guerrilla victory would bring greater stability (and perhaps too strict an order) to the Iraqi cities.

To understand these non-intuitive conclusions, we begin with the two battles, in Najaf, which converted Muqtada al-Sadr – a young cleric who inherited the leadership of the Sadrist movement after his father and uncle were martyred – from a rather obscure militant into the one of the most visible and admired leaders in Iraqi society.

The battles in Najaf
Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi army were thrust into the centre of Iraqi politics by the two battles with American troops in Najaf in April and August last year. In both battles, the US sought to recapture the Shrine of the Imam Ali from the Mehdi army, and the battles were concentrated in the historic cemetery near the shrine and the densely packed residential and commercial district surrounding it. The second battle, particularly, annihilated the neighbourhood and inflicted irreparable damage on the lives and livelihoods of the local residents. Dexter Filkins of the NY Times (August 28, 2004) described it:
A scene of devastation. Hotels had crumbled into the street. Cars lay blackened and twisted where they had been hit. Goats and donkeys lay dead on the sidewalks. Pilgrims from out of town and locals coming from home walked the streets agape, shaking their heads, stunned by the devastation before them.

Both sides claimed victory in both battles, and each had good cause to do so. But beneath this disagreement over outcomes lay a larger mystery about why these decisive battles took place in Najaf. Since both sides agreed (particularly in the second battle) that the US was determined to deal a death blow to the Mehdi army, why weren't the attacks launched at its principle base in Sadr City, particularly since the presence of the sacred Shrine in Najaf made it much more difficult for the US to unleash its most devastating offensive weapons.

The difference between the two settings lies in a simple fact: in Sadr City, the Mehdi soldiers were protecting their home neighbourhoods from the ongoing US military incursions; in Najaf they were outsiders who had entered the city for the precise purpose of protecting the shrine, and had brought with them a ferocious battle with the US Marines that devastated the city. The US Army chose to attack the militia in Najaf – after experiencing frustration with attempts to assault Sadr City – "because Sadr's ragtag militia doesn't enjoy local support". (Christian Science Monitor, August 13, 2004)

While the Mehdi army could be seen as courageously defending Najaf from US invasion (and this is exactly the view taken by many residents and the vast majority of the international Shi'ite community); many local residents and pilgrims felt that the militia could have prevented all the carnage if they had never come to Najaf. Before the militia arrived, there was almost no fighting, as demonstrated by the huge throngs of pilgrims. During the Saddam Hussein regime, such pilgrimages had been severely limited, and thus his demise resulted in a mini-economic boom for local merchants.

Once the Mehdi army arrived and the fighting began, tourism died and the lives and livelihood of innumerable citizens were destroyed. During the first siege, the opinion of many was expressed by local cleric Sadr al-Din al-Kubanchi, who told NY Times reporter Abdul Razzaq al-Saeidy (April 24, 2004):
It's not brave to take refuge in the house or the mosque or the markets and use women and children as human shields ... If that happens, the [US] soldiers will attack Najaf and our enemies will happily see our blood flow.

This sentiment was elaborated during the second battle by Abu Muhammed, a pilgrim from Kut, who told Times reporter Filkins:
"I blame Muqtada al-Sadr for what happened here, and the Iraqi government, too," said an old Iraqi man, identifying himself as Abu Muhammad. "We, the simple people, are paying for their mistakes." Mr Muhammad seemed to speak for many Iraqis here, who in dozens of interviews over the last several days denounced not only Mr Sadr but the Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, as well. With their homes and businesses in ruins, it seemed for many Iraqis that most of Iraq's new leaders had failed. "Look at all the damage," an Iraqi man said to a friend as he walked down a street whose every building had been broken and crushed. "Let God take revenge on the Americans for this."

Though their hatred for the US was undiminished, many residents and pilgrims bitterly resented the presence of the Sadrist militia. In this view, the Mehdi, no matter how well intentioned, had created a war that killed many innocent civilians, destroyed a large part of a holy city, and devastated the lives of a whole community.

Sadr City as a classic 'liberated area'
Things operated very differently Sadr City, where the Mehdi army was integrated into local life. The Sadrist movement had erected a governing structure that could viably lead the community, including a legislature (made up of tribal leaders) and an executive branch made up of movement activists (including key clerics), with the Mehdi army playing the role of the police. For the near term, this incipient government had two key tasks: to make Sadr City inaccessible to US troops (and whatever allies it could muster among Iraqi armed forces); and to institute "law and order" within its boundaries. These dual goals, if successfully achieved, would offer Sadr City a semblance of a normal existence that had been disrupted when the US toppled the Saddam regime. It could not, of course, solve the larger economic and infrastructural problems that were preventing the reconstruction and revival of Iraqi society; those problems could only be addressed if and when the national government stopped being a part of the problem.

Sadrist military strategy
Looking first at the relationship with the American army, we note that the Mehdi army has adopted a distinctly defensive posture. Militia members rarely attack American convoys outside Sadr City, nor do they lob grenades into American bases located around Baghdad, two strategies they used regularly during the Najaf battles. On the other hand, once the Americans enter Sadr City, the Mehdi usually resist ferociously. They are determined to carve out areas into which Americans are at least hesitant to come, and, over time, make these areas more-or-less immune to American incursions. This goal may be unreachable in the sense that US military superiority will always allow it to mount an attack from the air or to march through the community by massing a force of sufficient size; but if the end result is that Americans come to Sadr City infrequently and stay briefly, then the guerrillas will have won a sufficient victory to proceed with their broader plans.

Phillip Robertson, writing in Salon.com, described how this strategy played out in practice when he described the reaction of Sergeant Reggie Butler (the ranking non-commissioned officer of the 1st Platoon of the 1st Cavalry) to orders that his unit patrol one of the areas in Sadr City that the Mehdi were most determined to defend:
Butler instantly understood that the officers in the operations centre had given the 1st Platoon the worst patrol in the Shi'ite ghetto, a loop around the entire northern side of the city. It was also a provocative one. The Bradleys would go within blocks of the al-Hekma mosque, a place where the Mehdi army has laid many ambushes and constantly fires at American patrols.

During this patrol, there was no fighting because both sides stayed within certain unspoken boundaries. The Americans did not attempt to actively search for guerrillas, contenting themselves with a "snap checkpoint", which involved "choking off traffic in both directions, while Iraqi soldiers searched cars full of young men". The Mehdi spotters, for their part, contented themselves with tracking the progress of the patrol:
At each of the stops, someone fired a few shots from a rifle. "When you hear that pop-pop from an AK, they are tracking you. That's how they tell everybody where you are," a gunner explained. The invisible men were watching us and holding their fire ... Three hours later, the ceasefire hadn't collapsed and Butler's platoon had only had to endure a hail of rocks thrown by Iraqi boys. They had trouble believing their good luck.

But this "truce" was only situational. Several days earlier, a vicious firefight had erupted. In this case, the patrol that invaded Sadr City was intent on searching a residence that the Americans suspected was being used to sell arms. Robertson described the events this way:
On a busy street in the middle of the day, the people and traffic disappeared. Spotters for the Mehdi army had seen the Americans coming in their convoy and signalled the fighters, who were ready to shoot from alleys and rooftops. As the street cleared out, a heavy soldier named Barron was yelling over to me in the back of the last Bradley ... "See that? No people. That's bad." Seconds after he said it, the street around the Humvees disappeared in clouds of dust where the Mehdi army bullets hit the ground. The dust came up around the wheels. It looked like the Humvees were sinking. The heavy guns on the vehicles shuddered. Gunners standing up in the Humvees were returning fire, but it was hard to see if they hit any of the Mehdi fighters who were trying to hit the convoy. It was a gun battle on an empty street against invisible men ... When we drove into the ambush, the 1st Cavalry soldiers were on their way to meet the Iraqi police and search an arms dealer's house. As the convoy arrived at the dealer's street, the four Iraqi police trucks slowed down but didn't stop. The Iraqis were supposed to conduct the search while the Americans provided security ... With the Iraqi police missing and the locals firing rockets at the convoy, Alpha Company abandoned the cordon-and-search and headed for the base at 50 miles an hour, narrowly missing a roadside bomb.

There are three noteworthy elements to this event that speak to the strategy of the Mehdi army in Sadr City. First, this incursion involved the invasion of someone's home, one of the most provocative acts the US routinely undertakes. The rules of engagement for such action call for smashing the door (rather than giving the suspect a warning by knocking) and extremely aggressive behaviour inside; actions that are pregnant with the possibility of greater violence, including death, if the residents resist or act in a suspicious manner. Sadr City residents consider this terrifying procedure a heinous attack on respected members of the community. Because of notoriously faulty intelligence, the suspects are usually not guilty of anything; but even if this suspect were an arms dealer, his neighbours would not see this as a crime. After all, an arms dealer supplies his neighbours with needed guns to resist crime or the Americans. Because the resistance has spies within the Iraqi police, they knew the destination of this mission; and were able to prevent an American assault on a respected resident of the neighbourhood; and to create a deterrent against future house invasions. This sharply contrasts with the actions in Najaf and Karbala, where the battles were between militia members and US troops, both of whom did not live there.

Second, the conduct of the battle was designed to protect the guerrillas from casualties. By occupying strategic places in the buildings above the convoy, the Mehdi were able to fire at the American and Iraqi soldiers while using the buildings to protect themselves from the superior weaponry of the American troops. As Robertson put it, "It was a gun battle on an empty street against invisible men." Typically, the guerrillas sought to start and finish battles before gunships could arrive, thus reducing the danger to themselves and to the buildings. They could easily hide their guns and pose as civilians to escape capture; a strategy that often did not work among the frequently unsympathetic townspeople in Najaf. This posture of protectiveness to the guerrilla cadre reflects classic guerrilla strategy, which seeks to fight battles only when casualties can be limited. (It of course completely precludes suicide attacks, a strategy that has not been practiced by the Sadrists.)

Third, the community was forewarned about the impending action, and given a chance to evacuate the area. Our attention is called to this by Robertson's dramatic remark, "On a busy street in the middle of the day, the people and traffic disappeared." They disappeared because of the warnings issued by the guerrillas that a battle was brewing.

It is important to note that warning the civilians also warned the Americans, since the quiet streets were a sign that the American 1st Cavalry noticed and understood. The Mehdi army was therefore sacrificing the element of surprise in order to reduce civilian casualties.

Evacuation of civilians from the battlefield is a central element in winning a guerrilla war. High levels of civilian casualties alienate the local population (even if they hate the invader). This sort of consideration is part of the explanation for the almost unanimous respect for Muqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City, His standing is indicated by the following incident reported by Washington Post reporter Scott Wilson during a patrol conducted by American and Iraqi troops (July 6, 2004):
A column of six US military vehicles and a flatbed truck carrying Iraqi National Guard soldiers stopped in traffic next to an outdoor market. A child emerged from the roadside stalls, carrying a cardboard poster of Muqtada al-Sadr ... On tiptoes, the child handed the poster to the Iraqi soldier manning a machine gun, as US soldiers watched in dismay. The Iraqi soldier, part of a nascent security force trained and funded by the United States, held Sadr's picture aloft for a gathering, cheering mob ... "If we took it from them now, this whole place would explode," said Sgt Adam Brantley, 24, of Gulf Shores, Ala, watching from behind the wheel of a Humvee.
The testimony of the American sergeant – that the community would "explode" if they tampered with the display of the Sadr portrait – is graphic evidence of the Sadrist base in this neighbourhood (and most neighbourhoods in Sadr City). This military strategy contrasts sharply with the orientation adopted by much of the Iraqi resistance. Many groups try to undermine the viability of the occupation army by attacking convoys and bases in order to inflict casualties, by fighting sustained battles designed to use up huge amounts of the US's ammunition; and by bombing supply convoys in order to deprive the military of needed ordinance. This strategy intends to exhaust the army and the American people by making the war expensive in every respect. The Sadrist strategy abandons all these goals in favour of carving out liberated areas free of American influence and – most particularly – free of the havoc and destruction caused by the various activities of the American armed forces. It involves withdrawing into Sadr City, not engaging in battles or even demonstrations outside its confines, but creating a strong deterrent against incursions by American armed forces.

Sadrist dual government
Insofar as this military strategy is successful, it enables the creation of a viable governing structure. Knight Ridder reporter Tom Lasseter described how this looks in practice (Houston Chronicle, July 17, 2004):
From directing traffic to organising blood drives, the militia overseen by firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is taking control of Baghdad's largest neighbourhood, even as Iraqi and US officials demand that the group disband. Al-Sadr's office, not the beleaguered police station, is often the first stop for Sadr City residents who want to report a crime in this teeming slum of 3 million. "Who runs Sadr City? Only the Mehdi army," said Ali Qassim, who works in an ice cream shop off one of the area's dusty boulevards ... On Tuesday morning, Iraqi police near downtown Baghdad arrested at least 500 Iraqis in a roundup targeting petty crooks and organised crime groups, but the sweep didn't extend to Sadr City. To do so would require the Mehdi army's cooperation. "If there is something wrong in this city, they will fix it," said Jasem Jaber, an Iraqi policeman assigned to Sadr City ... Most residents interviewed said the Mehdi army – named after the Shi'ite Muslim messiah – doesn't need to carry weapons anymore because it's in charge.

Christian Parenti, in a thorough Nation article put it more bluntly:
If there is anything like "progress" in Iraq it takes place here, under the radar, in the rubble of occupation. Sadr's followers, despite many faults, including thuggishness and misogyny, are central to creating what order there is in this ravaged ghetto.

This assertion of the Mehdi army as the backbone of law and order is not a simple usurpation of power by an armed gang. The Sadrists, like most successful guerrilla armies, are the enforcement arm of a politically controlled revolutionary movement. Parenti provides a vivid snapshot of how this larger structure operates in his description of the Sadrist functionary in the al-Thawra district of Sadr City:
I try to meet Muqtada's local representative, a 29-year-old sheik named Hassan Edhary, but he is on the run. The First Cav wants him, dead or alive. His two predecessors are already in Abu Ghraib. A few weeks ago, US tanks blew up this office. Reconstruction [of the office] started the next day at dawn.

When Edhary arrived suddenly at his office later that week, he sounded and acted very much like other politicians:
A stream of supplicants files through Edhary's little office, asking for advice, money and letters. One lives in an IDP [internally displaced people] camp and has no roof. Can the organisation help? Edhary says, "I don't have enough people to go investigate your claim. But if you can find a religious sheik in your area to write a letter on your behalf, then come back." A young doctor explains that a group of medical workers has some money and wants to open a free or low-cost pharmacy to serve the people. Can the office contribute some money? The sheik leans close and plays with his string of black prayer beads as the young man talks. Finally, he tells the doctor that Hussein, our hacker pal [and Parenti's interpreter], can help the clinic with its computers. Hussein and the doctor exchange numbers.

There are several interesting elements to this situation that help us to understand ways in which guerrilla war is essentially connected to a larger political structure:
· Most visible is the fact that Edhary is the accepted political authority. While such petitions could, in principle, be carried to the US-appointed interim administration, in practice virtually all local residents look only to the Sadrists.
· Almost as visible is Edhary's extreme resource poverty. He is unable to help a clearly worthy medical cause, except to provide donated computer advice. This is a symptom both of the poverty of Sadr City and of the fact that the guerrilla government has no sure means of accumulating resources. (We should note, however, that they have by-and-large refused to extort funds from the community through the coercive power of the Mehdi – a mistake some Mehdi soldiers made in Najaf.)
· Somewhat less visible is the rest of the governing structure. Edhary refers the IDP resident to his local cleric, who must validate the claim before he passes on it. This could easily be a temporising action (like so many other public officials), but it also reveals the existence of an elaborate tribal and clerical structure that is the skeleton of the dual government.

Though the resources are meagre and Edhary's presence is made episodic by his "wanted, dead or alive" status, the dual government is nevertheless visible and accessible to the local community. As long as his decisions are even-handed; as long as his authority is buttressed by both the Mehdi army and by respected community leaders, and as long as he can avoid the clutches of the Americans, Sheik Edhary will probably retain legitimacy among his constituents – a legitimacy that is aggressively withheld from the US and its appointed interim administration.

Law and order in Sadr City
Sheik Edhary is one element in a much larger system of administration headed by the Tribal Council, a legislative body made up of 28 members. The council issued its most dramatic edict in June last year in response to a year of problematic public order after the fall of Saddam. (Though order was largely restored in the fall of 2003 after the Mehdi army was formed, it became much worse when the US forces began their campaign to eliminate the Mehdi).

The new edict, circulated by leaflet throughout Sadr City, sought to reverse this trend with a comprehensive ban on a daunting range of anti-social activities, all of them enforced by the Mehdi army and all of them punishable by death. (NY Times, July 16, 2004) Among the offences were:
· Street crime, notably hijacking (a favourite of street criminals who resell stolen vehicles and/or the contents of stolen trucks), kidnapping (a lucrative and widespread criminal activity targeted at prosperous citizens, who pay as much as $50,000 to redeem family members), and robbery (both from commercial sites and from individual homes). Street crime is, by all measures, what most Iraqis consider to be the worst problem of post-Saddam Iraq.
· Political crimes, including both collaboration with the US government and terrorist activities. The leaflet specifically mentioned members of al-Qaeda, as well as locally bred Wahhabis and Saddam loyalists. (This should not be construed as purely anti-Sunni; the Sadrists vocally and physically supported the Sunni guerrillas in Fallujah and elsewhere.)
· Moral crimes, including prostitution, pimping, pornography, gambling and alcohol sales. These crimes reflect the deep streak of Islamist fundamentalism that forms a core part of the Sadrist movement. There are several noteworthy elements to this policy.

First, the list was circulated so broadly that even the American mass media took notice of it. The broad circulation reflects confidence among Sadrist leadership that the campaign would find favour with local residents.

Second, the list of crimes, particularly the moral crimes like selling liquor, was more than a little offensive to Western sensibilities. We will address this issue at length below, but in this context we need to point out that extreme hostility toward these moral crimes is organic to the Sadr City community, and not something imposed from the outside. While many Iraqis are secular and oppose such laws, the Sadr City community is dominated by tribal leaders, clerics and citizens whose fundamentalist version of Islam supports such bans (even if some or most of them find the punishment excessive – see below). For most Sadr City residents, therefore, the morality expressed in this leaflet was very resonant; and it did not generate the revulsion experienced by most Western observers.

Third, capital punishment for thievery is excessive at least, while it is unimaginably brutal for gambling or selling liquor. The Sadrists themselves preferred to use much less drastic (but often extremely brutal) means of enforcing their new legal system; but as long as the Americans controlled the larger political context, they had no way to detain prisoners or punish them with normal judicial sanctions. Their ability to threaten perpetrators therefore depended on punishment that could be enforced without courts and jails. Most such punishments are morally troubling. (More on this below.)

Fourth, for most residents of Sadr City the moral crimes were secondary to the promise that the Mehdi army would act decisively against the most pervasive problem faced by virtually everyone in Iraq: street crime. In a survey conducted (ironically by the American interim government) at about the same time, an overwhelming proportion of Baghdad residents had listed personal safety as the most important problem they faced. Street crime (like robbery, hijacking and kidnapping) was by far the most important, IEDs (street bombs designed to destroy American Humvees and tanks, but which all too frequently also injured or killed civilians) were a distant second; and the American troops themselves (whose reckless shooting whenever they chased guerrillas accounting for a substantial proportion of civilian injuries) were a close third. (The devastating use of gunships and bombers had not yet begun when this survey was completed.) Mehdi's army was proposing to eliminate all three: by arresting and/or executing street criminals, by driving out al-Qaeda and other terrorists who were responsible for the IEDs in heavily populated areas, and by keeping the American forces out of the community.

The Sadrists and street crime
In the next few days, the Mehdi army proudly advertised the results of its enforcement campaign, including the arrest of an organised ring of thieves who had been stealing from a food warehouse that services the local community. Rather than execute these thieves, they delivered them to the Iraqi police, an option made available by their quasi-symbiotic relations with formal law enforcement. (NY Times, July 17, 2004)

The complexity of the Mehdi policing function is illustrated by Sheik Edhary's handling of a crisis that occurred while Michael Parenti was observing his office hours:
Some sweaty Mehdi men rush in. They've just busted looters with four stolen trucks full of sugar. It turns out the trucks belong to a European [non-governmental organisation] NGO, not the government or some rich company. The sheik wants the vehicles and sugar returned, via the police, to the NGO. "We have the trucks in storage. Can we turn them over tomorrow?" asks the rotund Mehdi man in charge of the bust. He's wearing a dirty football jersey. "I am your servant. I have given my whole life to the religion, but I really cannot do this tonight." Edhary leans away from the men at his desk and snaps taut a section of his black prayer beads, then counts the little glass balls. He is "asking God" for advice. An even bead count means yes; odd means no. "'No! No! Absolutely not," the sheik bounces up from the desk, his outer black robe slipping from one shoulder. He's addressing the sweaty man. "The trucks must be returned tonight. If the trucks do not move now we will be blamed. Either you do it now, or just go and don't do it at all. I will find someone else." The sheik is electric with stress but dignified. "I am your servant, as you wish," says the Mehdi guy, but he looks pissed as he and his posse sweep out to deal with the trucks.

Much is revealed here:
· This scene underscores civilian control over Mehdi's army. It disconfirms the image of the Mehdi as undisciplined fanatics dictating to a cowed civilian population. Instead, the Mehdi soldiers meekly follow the orders of a religious/civil authority, much like normal urban government operations.
· Edhary's decision demonstrates that the guerrilla government operates within a logical legal framework. If the owner of the trucks had been the government, or the United States, or "some rich company" (read, "non-Iraqi corporation"), then the truck and its contents could be confiscated and utilised by the guerrilla government. Since the truck belonged to an NGO, it had to be returned. The apparent illogic is unravelled if we reference this fact of war: the Iraqi administration, the US occupation and the multinationals are all part of the occupying force and therefore are the enemy. Since time immemorial, warring countries have confiscated the goods of their enemy, even when they were first illegally taken by pirates or thieves.
· Edhary's insistence on the immediate return of the trucks reveals his concern about public opinion. Any delay might result in community residents thinking that the guerrillas themselves were involved in the theft. That is, Edhary is determined to convince his constituency that the local authority follows both a larger morality and its own laws.
· Edhary's consultation with God is more than symbolic; it represents the marriage of religion and government. The dual government that the Sadrists are erecting is embedded in Shi'ite Islam, and the functionaries work simultaneously as clerics and government officials. This integration is a source of major complaint by secular Iraqis, and a key point of condemnation by the occupation.

When the Americans could not control the looting after the fall of the Saddam government, the Mehdi soldiers were established by local clerics as alternate law enforcement (Miami Herald, April 13, 2004). The uprising in April, 2004 transformed them into an insurrectionary Shi'ite army, but they have retained both their police function and their subservience to civilian authority. By Spring of 2004 their police credentials were so entrenched that the Mehdis often patrolled their neighbourhoods or directed traffic without firearms. (Washington Post, July 9, 2004)

The Sadrists and the local police
The local insurrectionary leadership cooperate with the police around issues of mutual interest (like street crime and traffic control), but unrelentingly attack the police when they participate in American attempts to enter the community or attack the guerrillas. We have already seen that during the summer of 2004, the police left criminal enforcement in Sadr City to the Mehdis; and that the Sadrists delivered arrested criminals to the police rather than execute them. This was the carrot of cooperation.

And we have also seen the stick of violent confrontation. In the aborted attempt to apprehend the suspected arms dealer, the Iraqi police drove right past the house in order to avoid the inevitable battle that would ensue if they attempted to complete the operation. In other circumstances, when they did not or could not avoid American sponsored operations, the Mehdis fought them as ferociously as they fought the Americans (Scott Wilson, Washington Post, May 7, 2004). In one incident, the Sadrists co-existed peacefully with an Iraqi police station until the Americans used it as a launching place for an incursion into the community. The next day, the station was attacked and burned to the ground.

American media have repeatedly reported the unwillingness of Iraqi military forces to fight the guerrillas. In one instance, an attempt to ambush guerrillas setting bombs was cancelled because "Iraqi troops refused to participate". The American commander concluded, "They don't want to work." But the same troops worked hard on other assignments (Washington Post, July 9, 2004). The problem is not cowardice, but an unwillingness to engage the guerrillas. In a rare moment of public candour, Iraqi Major Mehdi Aziz told New York Times reporter Ian Fisher "We are not going to fight our people." Or, as reporter Anne Barnard wrote in the International Herald Tribune (September 6, 2004):
Police officers such as Razak Abdelkarim, 20, say that their friends and neighbours are members of the Mehdi army and that the police cannot function without their consent. "We are in the middle," he said. "If we join the Mehdi army, the Americans will kill us, and if we go and work with the Americans, the Mehdi army will kill us."

The problem of police refusing to fight guerrillas became so pervasive that it gave rise to what might be an apocryphal story of premier Allawi, reported by Paul McGeough of the Sydney Morning Herald. McGeough talked to three eyewitnesses about Allawi's alleged execution of seven suspected insurgents. According to one of the eyewitnesses:
The prisoners were against the wall and we were standing in the courtyard when the Interior Minister said that he would like to kill them all on the spot. Allawi said that they deserved worse than death – but then he pulled the pistol from his belt and started shooting them. Re-enacting the killings, one witness stood three to four meters in front of a wall and swung his outstretched arm in an even arc, left to right, jerking his wrist to mimic the recoil as each bullet was fired. Then he raised a hand to his brow, saying: "He was very close. Each was shot in the head."

Whether or not this incident actually occurred, it is the rationale for the action that is most important. One of the witnesses, defending the act, stated:
Allawi wanted to send a message to his policemen and soldiers not to be scared if they kill anyone – especially, they are not to worry about tribal revenge. He said there would be an order from him and the Interior Ministry that all would be fully protected.
This incident (or the myth of this incident) is persuasive testimony to the power of the guerrilla movement, not just in Sadr City, but in all the regions where the resistance has taken hold. The Iraqi police are reluctant, resistant and even mutinous when asked to fight locally-based guerrillas because they themselves are members of the communities that nurture, protect and applaud the guerrillas.

The Sadrists and moral crimes
Because the Interim government is secular and because the Americans frown on both the content and harshness of Islamist morality, the Mehdis cannot deliver moral violators over to the Iraqi police. As a consequence, their ad hoc enforcement of these rules tends toward vigilantism.

This is illustrated by a July, 2004, edict that all stores in the Kadhimiya district stop selling liquor within 48 hours, adding that "alcohol, songs and prostitutes" were no longer permitted in what would henceforth be a "sacred" zone (Washington Post, July 20, 2004). This enforcement philosophy was explained by Malek Suwadi al-Mohamadawi, a tribal sheik who helped draft the original proclamation outlawing liquor sales: "If they admit they are doing something wrong and say they will give it up, this will be fine. But if they don't stop, they should face these punishments." (NY Times July 16, 2004)

In the next few days, many stores eliminated liquor from their offerings, while some of those who refused were firebombed. At least one store owner died in these attacks. The most spectacular attack, described by NY Times reporter Ian Fisher, took place after the earlier warnings and attacks had failed to close a key distributor:
Luckily it was mostly beer – 6,000 cans of it – that was shot up Sunday. But the liquor distributor in Baghdad was hit with a full-scale assault: several cars and a minivan full of masked men with guns and grenades sprayed the building with hundreds of rounds. Fifty workers and customers huddled for safety on a second floor as it was raked with bullets. "It was a miracle of God that we survived this," said one of the liquor distributor's managers. He would not give his name. "Do you want me to have my head cut off?" he asked. The manager was afraid because this seemed more serious than just an attack on a liquor dealer, a fairly common crime with the rise of religion in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was removed from power last year. The police said that the liquor store raid on Sunday was a well-planned attack by the Mehdi army.
In an even more spectacular incident, the Sadrists demolished a village known for sexual libertinism (Financial Times, April 1, 2004):
A Shi'ite militia group loyal to radical cleric Muqtada Sadr has wiped out a large village in central Iraq which refused to adhere to its puritanical creed, killing many of its inhabitants and forcing the rest to flee. Hundreds of militiamen from the Mehdi's army group besieged the town of Kawali, 10 km south of the city of Diwaniya, with mortars, and smashed walls with sledgehammers three weeks ago, reducing to rubble the entire village famed for its dancers and prostitutes since the 1920s.

The Sadrists made no attempt to deny their role in this demolition. Sayid Yahya Shubari, the commander of the Mehdi's army in Diwaniya, told Financial Times reporter Nicolas Pelham:
The Mehdi's attacked after receiving reports that pimps had kidnapped a 12-year-old girl. "It was a well of debauchery, drunkenness and mafia, and they were buying and selling girls," he said. He said Kawali was flattened after the villagers shot an emissary he had sent to negotiate with them.

And once again, this was not just an ex-cathedra activity by a self-appointed vigilante force. FT reporter Pelham found considerable support for the destruction of Kawali among the local population:
In Diwaniya, a town where women are all but absent on the streets, many younger residents and some policemen praised the Mehdi army's methods as salvaging their town's reputation. "People would come from all over the south, and even Baghdad to dance with the Kawali girls," said Bassam al-Najafi, a Diwaniya restaurateur. "Women were leaving their husbands to work there. They are cleansing the town."
The Sadrists have a great deal of energy for eliminating moral crimes, and they are willing to impose severe penalties on those who resist them. Even taking into account their guerrilla status, which deprives them of the routine methods of law enforcement that might make the penalties less harsh but more certain, the zeal and determination that animate these moral crusades presage a strict Islamist civil society if they consolidate their leadership in the Shi'ite regions of Iraq.

This combination of questionable morality and murderous vigilantism is abhorrent to liberal Western sensibilities. But it is also apparent is that the social base for these policies is very broad. As the above account indicates, Diwaniya – even without Sadrist leadership – is a town were "women are all but absent on the streets" and Sadr City has long been known for the fundamentalism of its population. The campaigns to align local law enforcement with Islamist fundamentalism springs from a deep well of moral conviction in the community; it is not an imposition by a small, morally righteous, minority. The question of religious tolerance in Sadr City and other fundamentalist areas, therefore, represents one of the enduring dilemmas of popular sovereignty in Iraq. The Sadrists and numerous Sunni Muslim tendencies have repeatedly indicated their willingness to impose their morality on the non-believers in their communities and in the country as a whole (though they have at times enunciated a more tolerant approach to their secular neighbours). This issue in Iraq is not fundamentally different from the same issue in the United States, where evangelical Christians seek to embed their morality into the criminal code.

Journalist Naomi Klein, writing in The Nation, summarised the political dilemma for Western liberals thusly:
There is no question that Iraqis face a mounting threat from religious fanaticism, but US forces won't protect Iraqi women and minorities from it any more than they have protected Iraqis from being tortured in Abu Ghraib or bombed in Fallujah and Sadr City. Liberation will never be a trickle-down effect of this invasion because domination, not liberation, was always its goal. Even under the best scenario, the current choice in Iraq is not between Sadr's dangerous fundamentalism and a secular democratic government made up of trade unionists and feminists. It's between open elections – which risk handing power to fundamentalists but would also allow secular and moderate religious forces to organise – and rigged elections designed to leave the country in the hands of Iyad Allawi and the rest of his CIA/Mukhabarat-trained thugs, fully dependent on Washington for both money and might. This is why Sadr is being hunted – not because he is a threat to women's rights but because he is the single greatest threat to US military and economic control of Iraq.

The Sadrists and the terrorists
The Sadrists – and to a lesser extent, the Sunni leadership in Fallujah – have attempted to dissociate themselves from resistance fighters who utilise kidnapping, suicide bombers and other tactics designed to attack the civilian base of the occupation. Though the official edict quoted above listed al-Qaeda, Wahhabis and Saddamists as criminals subject to the death penalty, other pronouncements indicate that the denunciation extends to all "terrorists", both foreign and domestic. The Sadrist opposition to terrorism rests on much more than philosophical grounds; they view the terrorists as killing innocent civilians with bombings that fail to drive the Americans out, while giving the US military an excuse to remain in Iraq. Their general attitude was expressed by Aws Khafaji, a Sadrist cleric, after a day of coordinated terrorist attacks in June (Washington Post, June 25, 2004):
We condemn and denounce yesterday's bombings and attacks on police centres and innocent Iraqis, which claimed about 100 lives. These are attacks launched by suspects and lunatics who are bent on destabilising the country and ruining the peace so that the Iraqi people will remain in need of American protection.

A few days later, Muqtada al-Sadr spoke out against beheading: "We denounce those who decapitate prisoners. Islamic law does not permit them to do this, and anyone who does can be counted a criminal and be punished if seized." (NY Times, July 24) A few days later, he condemned the bombing of Christian Churches, (NY Times, August 3). Later that fall, the Sadrists freed 15 Iraqi national guards who were being held in exchange for an arrested Sadrist cleric, declaring "Kidnapping is not our style, let alone killing. The time has not yet come for us to follow this method." (GlobalSecurity.org, September 25, 2004)

Moreover, the Sadrists widely circulated a leaflet declaring their willingness to work with the police in protecting the country's infrastructure from terrorist bombings (Washington Post, June 25, 2004):
The Mehdi army is ready to cooperate actively and positively with honest elements from among the Iraqi police and other patriotic forces, to partake in safeguarding government buildings and facilities, such as hospitals, electricity plants, water, fuel and oil refineries, and any other site that might be a target for terrorist attacks.

They even aligned themselves with the interim administration for this endeavour. Sayeed Rahim al-Alaq, deputy head of the committee that drafted the list of offences described above, told New York Times reporter Fisher: "We are with the government. We are anti-terrorists." (July 16, 2004)

The importance of this clear denunciation of the terrorists was nicely expressed by independent reporter Rahul Mahajan (DemocracyNow.org June 28, 2004):
I think that what has happened with the resistance in the last few days is really a dramatic, important and positive development. Last week, as you know, there was a single day of violence on which over 100 people were killed. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's jihad claimed responsibility for it ... Across the country, anti-occupation figures – militant Sunni clerics, Muqtada al-Sadr's organisation, even a representative of mujahideen in Fallujah – all made open, public statements denouncing his acts and distinguishing between terrorism committed by foreigners – much of which is directed at Iraqis – and what they call legitimate resistance. It marks the emergence of the resistance as a political force ...
In Sadr City, the on-the-ground policies vis-à-vis the terrorists have yet to be definitively developed. In the absence of clear policies, the terrorists represent an ongoing threat to the viability of the resistance, since their indiscriminate attacks antagonise Iraqi citizens while providing the principle rationale for the presence of occupation troops.

Liberated areas and the question of 'law and order'
Despite important differences in religious beliefs, the proto-government in Sadr City is similar to the proto-governments that developed in Fallujah and other Sunni cites after the first battle of Fallujah in April 2004. (For a detailed portrait of the Fallujah government before the November re-conquest by the Americans, see the extraordinary series of articles by Nir Rosen in Asia Times Online, July 15-24, 2004 – Inside the Iraqi resistance). The summer of 2004 saw an increasing number of liberated cities, with the American troops on the outskirts, unsuccessfully trying to re-conquer them, leading to Tom Engelhardt's elegant portrait of the new Iraqi reality (TomDispatch, July 25, 2003):
Think of Sunni Iraq – and possibly parts of Shi'ite Iraq as well – as a "nation" of city-state fiefdoms, each threatening to blink off [the US] map of "sovereignty", despite our 140,000 troops and our huge bases in the country.

He quoted independent reporter Robert Dreyfuss to the effect that this process is already very far along (TomPaine.com July, 22, 2004):
Cities all over Iraq are totally outside the control of either the US forces or the government of Iraq. Not only Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra, but other population centres in central Iraq are virtually self-contained city-states. The Kurds run their little enclave all by themselves. Parts of Baghdad are no-go zones for Americans. And in the south, fascist Shi'ite militia and armed gangs controlled by Iranian-backed mullahs and the likes of Ayatollah [Ali al-]Sistani run things without any help from Baghdad.
In attacking first Najaf, then Tal Afar and Samarra, and finally tackling the centre of the Sunni resistance in Fallujah, the US was seeking to reverse this process. But these attacks were not designed to restore order; they were, instead, intended to prevent the consolidation of a very orderly anti-American status quo in a constantly expanding set of "liberated" areas.

Ironically, the American attacks in the fall of 2004 underscore the larger contradictions in American policy in Iraq: that the chaos American leaders keep saying they are preventing will, in fact, occur only if US military forces succeed in destroying these nascent city-states.

To see this we need only begin by recalling the description above of the Sadrist regime in Baghdad. While there is ample room for concern that the consolidation of Mehdi power might result in the forcible imposition of fundamentalist orthodoxy, there appears to be little chance that law and order would disintegrate. Without underestimating the thuggish tendencies among the Mehdi and granting that there is currently far too much street crime in Sadr City, the Sadrists are the only effective governing force in the Baghdad Shi'ite community. The removal of US troops would allow Sadrist civilian authority to operate openly and thus consolidate their daily supervision of the militia. This would enhance their ability to control the excesses of the militia and systematically reduce street crime, and would almost certainly result in an orderly (perhaps too orderly) daily existence in the areas they control.

The same prognosis could have been made with even more assurance, in Fallujah and the several other Sunni cities that were off limits to the Americans during the summer of 2004. That is, before the US upset this guerrilla-imposed order with invasions followed by ongoing battles with the resistance. In the early winter of 2004, therefore, the choice in the Sunni areas appeared to be between peacefully run cities controlled by the resistance, or chaotic, constantly disrupted cities in which large numbers of American troops prevented the guerrillas from exercising control.

In the meantime, the Kurdish provinces had a peaceful existence based on a much more fully developed form of local control, resting largely on their own militia, the peshmerga, and the two political formations that control them. The absence of an American military presence in the Kurdish region has not been a problem; on the contrary, this absence is another reassurance that the other areas could and would be quite stable if only the Americans were not disrupting their efforts.

In the Shi'ite areas of the country, the US maintains a form of technical control, but most troops are stationed outside the cites and do not pacify or disrupt daily lives. There is no evidence to suggest that the American presence has reduced violence or prevented chaos. In fact, accepted wisdom has been that American entry into the cities would be a disruptive, not a pacifying, force.

Local law and order would not collapse if the US left. Quite the contrary – US withdrawal would remove the key force currently preventing law and order in local communities. Another form of chaos, less frequently invoked, is civil war, triggered by long-standing friction among the key groupings in Iraqi society. Such issues as the disputes over hegemony in Kirkuk, the degree of autonomy to be granted to the Kurdish provinces; and the Sunni and Kurdish fears that Shi'ite dominance would lead to tyranny of the majority are all real points of division that require attention whenever Iraq becomes a sovereign state.

The American presence, however, can do no more than postpone resolution of these frictions. And, while there is no predicting the course of the negotiations, there is some reason to be optimistic. The key factor is the Shi'ites, since they are the overwhelming majority, and Sistani seems to be able to lead the Shi'ites toward compromise on these issues. Ironically, the greatest barrier to Sistani's leadership (besides the occupation) is the soaring popularity of Muqtada, which rests on his militant resistance to the US. Though the Sadrists have consistently endorsed cooperation with Sunnis and Kurds, they appear to be more volatile and less committed to this stance than Sistani. The longer the US remains, therefore, the more the ongoing guerrilla war strengthens the position of the Sadrists and weakens the leadership of Sistani. As a consequence, the continuing US presence may be undermining the chances of a peaceful resolution on the key divisive issues in Iraqi society.

The final irony is that US success against the guerrillas would almost certainly guarantee long-term chaos in Iraqi society. The evacuation and destruction of Fallujah certainly suggests this, but the chaos there is so monumental that it is probably not typical. The situations in Samarra – successfully re-conquered by the US just before Fallujah – and Mosul – the main battleground after Fallujah – are more representative. In each city, the fall and early winter of 2004 were marked by the ongoing guerrilla war, the constant disruption of city life, an absence of any orderly law enforcement, and degenerating economic and social conditions.

The US effort to destroy the insurgency can only succeed if it also destroys the ability of Iraqis to govern their own communities. Since the local clerics and tribal leaders have – from the very beginning – been instrumental in the resistance, defeating the guerrillas involves detaining or killing the leaders who form the backbone of local civil society. This became apparent in the fall of 2004, before the demolition of Fallujah, when the US failed to convince "moderates" in key cities to negotiate truce agreements that delivered militant leaders to the Americans for arrest and punishment. The failure of these negotiations left the US with the choice of conceding rule to the insurgents or attempting to re-conquer the cities and removing the local leadership. In Fallujah, the US military leadership decided that they could only accomplish this by demolishing much of the city and converting the vast majority of residents into refugees.

Contrary to the almost universally accepted mantra, the US is not preventing chaos in Iraq, it is creating it.

So far, Sadr City has escaped the frontal assaults visited upon Tal Afar, Samarra, Mosul and Fallujah. In some sense, the failure of the American military to complete the pacification of these cities may be Sadr City's main protection, since the US troops have been stretched thin by the ongoing fighting there. Sadr City's status as the centre of Shi'ite insurgency is another protection, since a full-scale attack there could well trigger insurrections throughout the currently quiescent Shi'ite areas of Iraq. As this article is written, the US has honoured a semi-official truce that keeps American troops out of the guerrilla-held area, and therefore allows for the Sadrist government to continue its rule of the nascent city-state. As long as this lasts, there will be "law and order" in Sadr City, even if the law is anti-American and the order is fundamentalist Islam.

* Michael Schwartz, professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook has written extensively on popular protest and insurgency, and on American business and government dynamics. His work on Iraq has appeared on TomDispatch, Z Net and Asia Times Online, and in Z Magazine. His books include Radical Politics and Social Structure, The Power Structure of American Business (with Beth Mintz), and Social Policy and the Conservative Agenda (edited, with Clarence Lo).

Article Index

Iraqi Insurgents Ahead in War of Intelligence

By Robert Fisk, January 11, The Independent

As usual, it was an inside job. Brig Amer Ali Nayef, deputy head of the Baghdad police, and his policeman son, Lt Khaled Amer, were driving to work in an unmarked civilian car, hoping to move through the streets of Dora without being noticed.

But the two carloads of gunmen who approached from behind knew the car, its registration number and its occupants. They blazed away with Kalashnikovs until Nayef, dead at the wheel, drove into a house.

Every day now brings its sinister evidence that the Iraqi security forces – supposedly screened by American military officers – have been infiltrated by the insurgents.

As Nayef and his son were shot dead, a suicide bomber – and there are perhaps 10 suicide bombers immolating themselves every week now in Iraq – blew himself up several miles away outside the Zafarniyah police station in Baghdad, killing four policemen and wounding 10 others.

The police were changing shifts at the time – as the bomber must have known, thereby increasing the casualties – and the killer was driving a real police car.

Last week, gunmen assassinated the governor of Baghdad, Ali al-Haidari, who was taking a pre-arranged security route to his office. Six of his bodyguards were also shot dead. The roads on which his convoy was driving were supposedly known only to the police.

Al-Haidari – who once famously announced that he planned to pull down many of the security walls in Baghdad because the city was becoming safer – even had a second route ready in case his bodyguards chose to change his journey at the last moment.

And all this is because the growing army of insurgents across Iraq intends to prevent the holding of the January 30 elections.

In the West, it probably makes sense: men dedicated to the overthrow of any possible democracy in Iraq want to destroy the country's first free election.

To the citizens of Baghdad it can seem as if the poll is being held more for the benefit of foreign political agendas – not least those of Tony Blair and George Bush – than for the well-being of innocent Iraqis.

Article Index

Iraq: The Devastation

by Dahr Jamail*, published on January 7, 2005, by TomDispatch.com

The devastation of Iraq? Where do I start? After working 7 of the last 12 months in Iraq, I'm still overwhelmed by even the thought of trying to describe this.

The illegal war and occupation of Iraq was waged for three reasons, according to the Bush administration. First for weapons of mass destruction, which have yet to be found. Second, because the regime of Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaeda, which Mr. Bush has personally admitted have never been proven. The third reason – embedded in the very name of the invasion, Operation Iraqi Freedom – was to liberate the Iraqi people.

So Iraq is now a liberated country.

I've been in liberated Baghdad and environs on and off for 12 months, including being inside Fallujah during the April siege and having warning shots fired over my head more than once by soldiers. I've travelled in the south, north, and extensively around central Iraq. What I saw in the first months of 2004, however, when it was easier for a foreign reporter to travel the country, offered a powerful – even predictive – taste of the horrors to come in the rest of the year (and undoubtedly in 2005 as well). It's worth returning to the now forgotten first half of last year and remembering just how terrible things were for Iraqis even relatively early in our occupation of their country.

Then, as now, for Iraqis, our invasion and occupation was a case of liberation from – from human rights (think: the atrocities committed in Abu Ghraib which are still occurring daily there and elsewhere); liberation from functioning infrastructure (think: the malfunctioning electric system, the many-mile long gas lines, the raw sewage in the streets); liberation from an entire city to live in (think: Fallujah, most of which has by now been flattened by aerial bombardment and other means).

Iraqis were then already bitter, confused, and existing amid a desolation that came from myriads of Bush administration broken promises. Quite literally every liberated Iraqi I've gotten to know from my earliest days in the country has either had a family member or a friend killed by US soldiers or from the effects of the war/occupation. These include such everyday facts of life as not having enough money for food or fuel due to massive unemployment and soaring energy prices, or any of the countless other horrors caused by the aforementioned. The broken promises, broken infrastructure, and broken cities of Iraq were plainly visible in those early months of 2004 – and the sad thing is that the devastation I saw then has only grown worse since. The life Iraqis were living a year ago, horrendous as it was, was but a prelude to what was to come under the US occupation. The warning signs were clear from a shattered infrastructure, to all the torturing, to a burgeoning, violent resistance.

Broken Promises

It was quickly apparent, even to a journalistic newcomer, even in those first months of last year that the real nature of the liberation we brought to Iraq was no news to Iraqis. Long before the American media decided it was time to report on the horrendous actions occurring inside Abu Ghraib prison, most Iraqis already knew that the "liberators" of their country were torturing and humiliating their countrymen.

In December 2003, for instance, a man in Baghdad, speaking of the Abu Ghraib atrocities, said to me, "Why do they use these actions? Even Saddam Hussein did not do that! This is not good behaviour. They are not coming to liberate Iraq!" And by then the bleak jokes of the beleaguered had already begun to circulate. In the dark humour that has become so popular in Baghdad these days, one recently released Abu Ghraib detainee I interviewed said, "The Americans brought electricity to my ass before they brought it to my house!"

Sadiq Zoman is fairly typical of what I've seen. Taken from his home in Kirkuk in July, 2003, he was held in a military detention facility near Tikrit before being dropped off comatose at the Salahadin General Hospital by US forces one month later. While the medical report accompanying him, signed by Lt. Col. Michael Hodges, stated that Mr. Zoman was comatose due to a heart attack brought on by heat stroke, it failed to mention that his head had been bludgeoned, or to note the electrical burn marks that scorched his penis and the bottoms of his feet, or the bruises and whip-like marks up and down his body.

I visited his wife Hashmiya and eight daughters in a nearly empty home in Baghdad. Its belongings had largely been sold on the black market to keep them all afloat. A fan twirled slowly over the bed as Zoman stared blankly at the ceiling. A small back-up generator hummed outside, as this neighbourhood, like most of Baghdad, averaged only six hours of electricity per day.

Her daughter Rheem, who is in college, voiced the sentiments of the entire family when she said, "I hate the Americans for doing this. When they took my father they took my life. I pray for revenge on the Americans for destroying my father, my country, and my life."

In May of 2004, when I went to their house, a recent court-martial of one of the soldiers complicit in the widespread torturing of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib had already taken place. He had been sentenced to some modest prison time, but Iraqis were unimpressed. They had been convinced yet again – not that they needed it – that Bush administration promises to clean up its act regarding the treatment of detained Iraqis were no less empty than those being offered for assistance in building a safe and prosperous Iraq.

Last year, the empty promises to bring justice to those involved in such heinous acts, along with promises to make the prison at Abu Ghraib more transparent and accessible, fell on distraught family members who waited near the gates of the prison to see their loved ones inside. Under a scorching May sun I went to the dusty, dismal, heavily-guarded, razor-wire enclosed "waiting area" outside Abu Ghraib. There, I heard one horror story after another from melancholy family members doggedly gathered on this patch of barren earth, still hoping against hope to be granted a visit with someone inside the awful compound.

Sitting alone on the hard packed dirt in his white dishdasha, his head scarf languidly flapping in the dry, hot wind, Lilu Hammed stared unwaveringly at the high walls of the nearby prison as if he were attempting to see his 32 year-old son Abbas through the concrete walls. When my interpreter Abu Talat asked if he would speak with us, several seconds passed before Lilu slowly turned his head and said simply, "I am sitting here on the ground waiting for God's help."

His son, never charged with an offence, had by then been in Abu Ghraib for 6 months following a raid on his home which produced no weapons. Lilu held a crumpled visitation permission slip that he had just obtained, promising a reunion with his son…three months away, on the 18th of August.

Along with every other person I interviewed there, Lilu had found consolation neither in the recent court martial, nor in the release of a few hundred prisoners. "This court-martial is nonsense. They said that Iraqis could come to the trial, but they could not. It was a false trial."

At that moment, a convoy of Humvees full of soldiers, guns pointing out the small windows, rumbled through the front gate of the penal complex, kicking up a huge dust cloud that quickly engulfed everyone. The parent of another prisoner, Mrs. Samir, waving away the clouds of dust said, "We hope the whole world can see the position we are in now!" and then added plaintively, "Why are they doing this to us?"

Last summer I interviewed a kind, 55 year-old woman who used to work as an English teacher. She had been detained for four months in as many prisons…in Samarra, Tikrit, Baghdad and, of course, at Abu Ghraib. She was never, she told me, allowed to sleep through a night. She was interrogated many times each day, not given enough food or water, or access to a lawyer or to her family. She was verbally and psychologically abused.

But that, she assured me, wasn't the worst part. Not by far. Her 70 year-old husband was also detained and he was beaten. After seven months of beatings and interrogations, he died in US military custody in prison.

She was crying as she spoke of him. "I miss my husband," she sobbed and stood up, speaking not to us but to the room, "I miss him so much." She shook her hands as if to fling water off them…then she held her chest and cried some more.

"Why are they doing this to us?" she asked. She simply couldn't understand, she said, what was happening because two of her sons were also detained, and her family had been completely shattered. "We didn't do anything wrong," she whimpered.

With the interview over, we were walking towards our car to leave when all of us realised that it was 10 pm, already too late at night to be out in dangerous Baghdad. So she asked us instead if we wouldn't please stay for dinner, all the while thanking me for listening to her horrendous story, for my time, for writing about it. I found myself speechless.

"No, thank you, we must get home now," said Abu Talat. By this time, we were all crying.

In the car, as we drove quickly along a Baghdad highway directly into a full moon, Abu Talat and I were silent. Finally, he asked, "Can you say any words? Do you have any words?"

I had none. None at all.

Broken Infrastructure

Everything in Iraq is set against the backdrop of shattered infrastructure and a nearly complete lack of reconstruction. What the Americans turn out to be best at is, once again, promises – and propaganda. During the period when the Coalition Provisional Authority ruled Iraq from Baghdad's Green Zone, their handouts often read like this one released on May 21, 2004: "The Coalition Provisional Authority has recently given out hundreds of soccer balls to Iraqi children in Ramadi, Kerbala, and Hilla. Iraqi women from Hilla sewed the soccer balls, which are emblazoned with the phrase ‘All of Us Participate in a New Iraq.'"

And yet when it came to the basics of that New Iraq, unemployment was at 50% and increasing, better areas of Baghdad averaged 6 hours of electricity per day, and security was nowhere to be found. Even as far back as January, 2004, before the security situation had brought most reconstruction projects to the nearly complete standstill of the present moment, and 9 months after the war in Iraq had officially ended, the situation already verged on the catastrophic. For instance, lack of potable water was the norm throughout most of central and southern Iraq.

I was then working on a report that attempted to document exactly what reconstruction had occurred in the water sector – a sector for which Bechtel was largely responsible. That giant corporation had been awarded a no-bid contract of $680 million behind closed doors on April 17, 2003, which in September was raised to $1.03 billion; then Bechtel won an additional contract worth $1.8 billion to extend its programme through December 2005.

At the time, when travel for Western reporters was a lot easier, I stopped in several villages en route south from Baghdad through what the Americans now call "the triangle of death" to Hilla, Najaf, and Diwaniyah to check on people's drinking-water situation. Near Hilla, an old man with a weathered face showed me his water pump, sitting lifeless with an empty container nearby – as there was no electricity. What water his village did have was loaded with salt which was leaching into the water supply because Bechtel had not honoured its contractual obligations to rehabilitate a nearby water treatment centre. Another nearby village didn't have the salt problem, but nausea, diarrhoea, kidney stones, cramps, and even cases of cholera were on the rise. This too would be a steady trend for the villages I visited.

The rest of that trip involved a frenetic tour of villages, each without drinkable water, near or inside the city limits of Hilla, Najaf, and Diwaniya. Hilla, close to ancient Babylon, has a water treatment plant and distribution centre managed by Chief Engineer Salmam Hassan Kadel. Mr. Kadel informed me that most of the villages in his jurisdiction had no potable water, nor did he have the piping needed to repair their broken-down water systems, nor had he had any contact with Bechtel or its subcontractors.

He spoke of large numbers of people coming down with the usual list of diseases. "Bechtel," he told me, "is spending all of their money without any studies. Bechtel is painting buildings, but this doesn't give clean water to the people who have died from drinking contaminated water. We ask of them that instead of painting buildings, they give us one water pump and we'll use it to give water service to more people. We have had no change since the Americans came here. We know Bechtel is wasting money, but we can't prove it."

At another small village between Hilla and Najaf, 1,500 people were drinking water from a dirty stream which trickled slowly by their homes. Everyone had dysentery; many had kidney stones; a startling number, cholera. One villager, holding a sick child, told me, "It was much better before the invasion. We had twenty-four hours of running water then. Now we are drinking this garbage because it is all we have."

The next morning found me at a village on the outskirts of Najaf, which fell under the responsibility of Najaf's water centre. A large hole had been dug in the ground where the villagers tapped into already existing pipes to siphon off water. The dirty hole filled in the night, when water was collected. That morning, children were standing idly around the hole as women collected the residue of dirty water which sat at its bottom. Everyone, it seemed, was suffering from some water-born illness and several children, the villagers informed me, had been killed attempting to cross a busy highway to a nearby factory where clean water was actually available.

In June, six months later, I visited Chuwader Hospital, which then treated an average of 3,000 patients a day in Sadr City, the enormous Baghdad slum. Dr. Qasim al-Nuwesri, the head manager there, promptly began describing the struggles his hospital was facing under the occupation. "We are short of every medicine," he said and pointed out how rarely this had occurred before the invasion. "It is forbidden, but sometimes we have to reuse IV's, even the needles. We have no choice."

And then, of course, he – like the other doctors I spoke with – brought up their horrendous water problem, the unavailability of unpolluted water anywhere in the area. "Of course, we have typhoid, cholera, kidney stones," he said matter-of-factly, "but we now even have the very rare Hepatitis Type-E…and it has become common in our area."

Driving out of the sewage filled, garbage strewn streets of Sadr City we passed a wall with "Vietnam Street" spray painted on it. Just underneath was the sentence – obviously aimed at the American liberators – "We will make your graves in this place."

Today, in terms of collapsing infrastructure, other areas of Baghdad are beginning to suffer the way Sadr City did then, and still largely does. While reconstruction projects slated for Sadr City have received increased funding, most of the time there is little sign of any work being done, as is the case in most of Baghdad.

While an ongoing fuel crisis finds people waiting up to two days to fill their tanks at gas stations, all of the city is running on generators the majority of the time, and many less favoured areas like Sadr City have only four hours of electricity a day.

Broken Cities

The heavy-handed tactics of the occupation forces have become a commonplace of Iraqi life. I've interviewed people who regularly sleep in their clothes because home raids are the norm. Many times when military patrols are attacked by resistance fighters in the cities of Iraq, soldiers simply open fire randomly on anything that moves. More commonly, heavy civilian casualties occur from air raids by occupation forces. These horrible circumstances have led to over 100,000 Iraqi civilian casualties in the less than two year-old occupation.

Then there is Fallujah, a city three-quarters of which has by now been bombed or shelled into rubble, a city in whose ruins fighting continues even while most of its residents have yet to be allowed to return to their homes (many of which no longer exist). The atrocities committed there in the last month or so are, in many ways, similar to those observed during the failed US Marine siege of the city last April, though on a far grander scale. This time, in addition, reports from families inside the city, along with photographic evidence, point toward the US military's use of chemical and phosphorous weapons as well as cluster bombs there. The few residents allowed to return in the final week of 2004 were handed military-produced leaflets instructing them not to eat any food from inside the city, nor to drink the water.

Last May, at the General Hospital of Fallujah, doctors spoke to me of the sorts of atrocities that occurred during the first month-long siege of the city. Dr. Abdul Jabbar, an orthopaedic surgeon, said that it was difficult to keep track of the number of people they treated, as well as the number of dead, due to the lack of documentation. This was caused primarily by the fact that the main hospital, located on the opposite side of the Euphrates River from the city, was sealed off by the Marines for the majority of April, just as it would again be in November, 2004.

He estimated that at least 700 people were killed in Fallujah during that April. "I worked at five of the centres [community health clinics] myself, and if we collect the numbers from these places, then this is the number," he said. "And you must keep in mind that many people were buried before reaching our centres."

When the wind blew in from the nearby Julan quarter of the city, the putrid stench of decaying bodies (a smell evidently once again typical of the city) only confirmed his statement. Even then, Dr. Jabbar was insisting that American planes had dropped cluster bombs on the city. "Many people were injured and killed by cluster bombs. Of course they used cluster bombs. We heard them as well as treated people who had been hit by them!"

Dr. Rashid, another orthopaedic surgeon, said, "Not less than sixty percent of the dead were women and children. You can go see the graves for yourself." I had already visited the Martyr Cemetery and had indeed observed the numerous tiny graves that had clearly been dug for children. He agreed with Dr. Jabbar about the use of cluster bombs, and added, "I saw the cluster bombs with my own eyes. We don't need any evidence. Most of these bombs fell on those we then treated."

Speaking of the medical crisis that his hospital had to deal with, he pointed out that during the first 10 days of fighting the US military did not allow any evacuations from Fallujah to Baghdad at all. He said, "Even transferring patients in the city was impossible. You can see our ambulances outside. Their snipers also shot into the main doors of one of our centres." Several ambulances were indeed in the hospital's parking lot, two of them with bullet holes in their windshields.

Both doctors said they had not been contacted by the US military, nor had any aid been delivered to them by the military. Dr. Rashid summed the situation up this way: "They send only bombs, not medicine."

As I walked to our car at one point amid what was already the desolation of Fallujah, a man tugged on my arm and yelled, "The Americans are cowboys! This is their history! Look at what they did to the Indians! Vietnam! Afghanistan! And now Iraq! This does not surprise us."

And that, of course, was before the total siege of the city began in November, 2004. The April campaign in Fallujah, which resulted in a rise in resistance proved – like so much else in those early months of 2004 – to be but a harbinger of things to come on a far larger scale. While the goal of the most recent siege was to squelch the resistance and bring greater security for elections scheduled for January 30, the result as in April has been anything but security.

In the wake of the destruction of Fallujah fighting has simply spread elsewhere and intensified. Families are now fleeing Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, because of a warning of another upcoming air campaign against resistance fighters. At least one car bomb per day is now the norm in the capital city. Clashes erupt with deadly regularity throughout Baghdad as well as in cities like Ramadi, Samarra, Baquba and Balad.

The intensification is two-sided. With each ratchet upwards in violence, the tactics by the American military only grow more heavy-handed and, as they do, the Iraqi resistance just continues to grow in size and effectiveness. Any kind of "siege" of Mosul will only add to this dynamic.

Despite a media blackout in the aftermath of the recent assault on Fallujah, stories of dogs eating bodies in the streets of the city and of destroyed mosques have spread across Iraq like wildfire; and reports like these only underscore what most people in Iraq now believe – that the liberators have become no more than brutal imperialist occupiers of their country. And then the resistance grows yet stronger.

Yet among Iraqis the growing resistance was predicted long ago. One telling moment for me came last June amid daily suicide car bombings in Baghdad. While footage of cars with broken glass and bullet holes in their frames flashed across a television screen, my translator Hamid, an older man who had already grown weary of the violence, said softly, "It has begun. These are only the start, and they will not stop. Even after June 30." That, of course, was the date of the long-promised handover of "sovereignty" to a new Iraqi government, after which, American officials fervently predicted, violence in the country would begin to subside. The same pattern of prediction and of a contrarian reality can now be seen in relation to the upcoming elections.

Three weeks ago, a friend of mine who is a sheikh from Baquba visited me in Baghdad and we had lunch with Abdulla, an older professor who is a friend of his. As we were eating, Abdulla expressed a sentiment now widely heard. "The mujahideen," he said, "are fighting for their country against the Americans. This resistance is acceptable to us."

The Bush administration has recently increased its troops in Iraq from 138,000 to 150,000 – in order, officials said, to provide greater security for the upcoming elections. Such troop increases also occurred in Vietnam. Back then it was called escalation.

What I wonder is, will I be writing a piece next January still called, "Iraq: The Devastation," in which these last terrible months of 2004 (of which the first half of the year was but a foreshadowing) will prove in their turn but a predictive taste of horrors to come? And what then of 2006 and 2007?

* Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist from Anchorage, Alaska. He has spent 7 of the last 12 months reporting from inside occupied Iraq. His articles have been published in the Sunday Herald, Inter Press Service, the website of the Nation magazine, and the New Standard internet news site for which he was the Iraq correspondent. He is the special correspondent in Iraq for Flashpoints radio and also has appeared on the BBC, Democracy Now!, Free Speech Radio News, and Radio South Africa.

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The January 30 Fraud

By Bob Dreyfuss , Tompaine.com, January 3, 2005

Only the most stubborn wouldn’t be convinced by Adnan Pachachi’s argument in favour of delaying the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq, now 27 days away. He is a Sunni politician, a pre-Saddam era foreign minister, and a leading candidate for the hand-picked job that Prime Minister Allawi has now. He is a conservative, pro-Gulf monarchy businessman, with ties to the CIA.

In an op-ed in the Post , on Sunday, he wrote:

[The]situation has deteriorated significantly. None of us could have imagined a year ago that parents would refuse to send their children to school because of rampant kidnapping in the capital, Baghdad. Baghdadis have told me that they have no intention of leaving their homes on Election Day, because they fear the terrorists. The same can be said of areas such as Fallujah, Samarra and Mosul, where a recent attack on a US Army base shows how easy it would be to disrupt elections, as do the recent bombings in Karbala. Nothing remotely like electioneering takes place in Iraq, even in relatively peaceful areas in the south and north. For candidates to announce mass rallies would be to issue an open invitation for terrorists to attack. Not many electoral messages beamed on radio and television will be seen or heard because of the nationwide electricity crisis.

Some argue that delaying elections would give a victory to the terrorists, and I admit there is merit in this argument. But there is more than one way for the terrorists to win in Iraq in January. Another would be for them to cause large numbers of Iraqis to stay away from the polls, not in protest but out of fear for their lives. That would result in elections whose legitimacy would be questioned. Whoever was perceived as having won such a flawed election would claim a mandate, while others would claim they had been disenfranchised. Very few scenarios take us deeper into chaos and civil unrest than this very likely outcome. I would argue that the prospect of these disastrous events unfolding is far worse than any short-lived claim of victory the terrorists might make. No electioneering. No electricity, so no news and no broadcast ads. The only thing for sure in the election is that the lock-step Shiite fanatics who follow Ayatollah Sistani’s beck and call will win massively. Virtually all of the Sunni parties are boycotting or simply ignoring the elections, since they know their constituency – in Baghdad, Mosul, Samarra and elsewhere either will boycott the election or will not dare come out to vote.

Pachachi’s idea, strongly rejected by the Bush administration, would give the powers-that-be in Iraq a slim chance to negotiate a participatory arrangement for power-sharing with the pro-Baathists, the Sunnis, the Arab nationalists and other left-centre forces, while excluding the Islamist Zarqawi-style terrorists.

It’s too much to expect Bush to see the light on this one, though the chorus of voices suggesting that the elections be postponed is growing.

Today’s Wall Street Journal attacks Pachachi, trundling out the pro-Shiite arguments that have become pro forma for neocons.

There are still some in the US government, especially at State and the CIA, who want to carve out some preferred status for Sunnis They fear a Shiite-dominated Iraqi government. But such an outcome was foreordained when we entered Iraq professing to support democracy, and we have no choice but to let the process play out.

Of course, it’s not true that the United States has no choice but to let Sistani and Co. take over Iraq. By the way, on that front, Ahmad Chalabi is taking a yet higher profile. He’s just returned from Iran, his home away from home, where he met with none other than Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and then returned to Baghdad as the Shiite coalition’s semi-official ambassador to Iran. So, the neocons’ favourite Iraqi (Chalabi) is powwowing with the neocons’ favourite Iranian (Rafsanjani). It was the latter, of course, who helped Michael Ledeen, the Mossad, and Ollie North get Bill Casey’s Iran-contra initiative rolling in the 1980s. Plus ca change . Rafsanjani is a candidate for president of Iran. It’s not inconceivable that by the end of 2005 Chalabi and Rafsanjani could end up running the two neighbouring countries.

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First We Vote, Then We Kick You Out

By Pepe Escobar Asia Times Online Dec 24, 2004

No matter what the spin from Time magazine's "man of the year", US President George W Bush, or defence chief Donald Rumsfeld, there's one overarching question facing the 83 entities – nine coalition lists, 47 political parties and 27 individuals, totalling more than 5,000 candidates – now competing for the 275 seats in Iraq's interim parliament and that will be entitled to write the next Iraqi constitution. The absolute majority of Iraqis want the Americans out of their country as soon as possible. But how?

The United Iraqi Alliance – the Shi'ite, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani-supervised electoral list (228 candidates) – has a detailed, 23-point platform. According to its main negotiator, Hussein Shahristani, the platform insists on the "sovereignty, unity and Islamic identity" of Iraq, and most crucially includes a plan with a precise date for the end of the military occupation. Whether the Americans will accept the plan (neo-conservative dreams for the Middle East collapsing in the sand), or whether this will be enough to placate Sunni anger, no one yet knows. The powerful Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars is maintaining its boycott of the elections. But a few Sunni formations are running, such as the Islamic Party, an offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood (275 candidates); the independent democrats of former ambassador Adnan Pachachi (70 candidates); and the Democratic National Party of Nassir Chaderchi (12 candidates).

"Unity" for the moment is a chimera, even within Shi'ite ranks. With firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his movement, the Sadrists, off the electoral list, the question now is to what extent the Shi'ites will be able to monopolise the critical mass as the foremost channel of expression for the disenfranchised. The Sadrists won't be part of the next elected, interim parliament. This means they will be free to constantly keep the Sistani-endorsed congressmen in check as far as their crucial point – kicking the Americans out – is concerned.

Asia Times Online sources in Baghdad confirm that moderate Iraqis – Sunni, Shi'ite, Kurds, Christians – fear above all the "Lebanisation" of Iraq. The risk of post-election civil war is immense – as attested by the proliferation of mono-ethnic and mono-confessional electoral lists, or the recent bombings outside the holy Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala. Neo-Ba'athists active in the Sunni resistance will never accept a United Iraqi Alliance victory. So there's a straight confluence between the strategy of the neo-Ba'athists and the radical Islamists of Tawhid wa Jihad, Jordanian-born extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's movement, helped by up to 2,000 Salafi jihadis from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Kuwait.

Washington will keep trying in the next few weeks to push Syria up against a wall – even if Damascus has nothing to do with Iraqi insurgents. Two Syrian clerics are being strictly monitored: Imam Abdul Aziz al-Khatib, from the al-Darwishiya Mosque in Damascus, and Imam Abu al-Daaqaa, of the Aleppo Mosque. Syria remains the main jihadi transit point into Iraq for two reasons: as long as one is a national from an Arab League country, it's easy to get a temporary resident visa; and for the Syrians, it would be next to impossible to survey their long desert borders with Iraq in the midst of widespread corruption among border officials.

Washington's accusations that Iran is interfering in Iraqi politics are also baseless. A Shi'ite-dominated Iraq will inevitably entertain good relations with Iran – but that does not mean it will be subordinated to Tehran, as Iraqi nationalism plays a much stronger role than confessionalism, the religious school one follows. There's an insistent rumour in Baghdad about the only possibility for preventing a Shi'ite-dominated government in Iraq: it would be a coup d'etat concocted by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his coterie of co-opted neo-Ba'athists, backed by the US military, who would then have to face Shi'ite guerrillas. The neo-cons, in this case, would have their pliable "Saddam without a moustache" – as Allawi has been referred to in Baghdad since he took power last June. But obviously this scenario, from Bush's "spreading freedom" point of view, is out of the question.

January 30, 2005, the day slated for Iraqi elections to be held, could be the thunder and lightning announcing the start of the Iraqi Civil War. Or, as many Iraqis convey in their prayers to Allah, it could lead to an elected Shi'ite-dominated government – but Iraqi nationalist nevertheless – convincing moderate Sunnis that their political commitment to the end of the occupation is more effective than a guerrilla strategy.

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New Year and Elections...

Baghdad Burning - posted by river, Sunday, January 2, 2005

We spent New Year at home (like last year). It was a very small family gathering and E. and I tried to make it as festive as possible, under the circumstances. We agreed, amongst ourselves in the area, to have the generator turned on from 10 pm until 2 am so we could ride out 2004 on a wave of electricity.

The good part of the evening consisted of food. Food is such a central issue for an Iraqi occasion - be it happy or sad. We end up discussing the food before anything else. For us, it was just some traditional Iraqi food and some junk food like popcorn, corn chips, and lots of candy.

We sat watching celebrations from different parts of the world. Seeing the fireworks, lights, droves of laughing and singing people really emphasizes our current situation. It feels like we are kind of standing still while the world is passing us by. It really is difficult to believe that come April, two years will have passed on the war and occupation. On most days, an hour feels like ten and yet, at the same time, it becomes increasingly difficult to get a good sense of passing time. I guess that is because we measure time with development and since things seem to be deteriorating in many ways, it feels almost as if we're going backwards, not forwards.

On the other hand, the whole tsunami/earthquake crisis also had a dampening affect on celebrations this year. It is a tragedy that will haunt the area for decades. To lose so many people so swiftly and violently is horrific. Watching all that chaos and death kind of makes you feel that maybe Baghdad isn't the absolute worse place to be.

We had our own fireworks as we began the New Year countdown. At around 10 minutes to 2005, the house shook with three colossal explosions not too far away. It came as something of a surprise at that particular moment and my cousin's two young daughters, after the initial fright, started giggling uncontrollably. E. clapped his hands and began to yell, "Yeah- FIREWORKS!! Goodbye 2004!!", which was followed by a sort of impromptu dance by the kids.

The elections are set for the 29th. It's an interesting situation. The different sects and factions just can't seem to agree. Sunni Arabs are going to boycott elections. It's not about religion or fatwas or any of that so much as the principle of holding elections while you are under occupation. People don't really sense that this is the first stepping stone to democracy as western media is implying. Many people sense that this is just the final act of a really bad play. It's the tying of the ribbon on the "democracy parcel" we've been handed. It's being stuck with an occupation government that has been labelled 'legitimate' through elections.

We're being bombarded with cute Iraqi commercials of happy Iraqi families preparing to vote. Signs and billboards remind us that the elections are getting closer...

Can you just imagine what our history books are going to look like 20 years from now?

"The first democratic elections were held in Iraq on January 29, 2005 under the ever-watchful collective eye of the occupation forces, headed by the United States of America. Troops in tanks watched as swarms of warm, fuzzy Iraqis headed for the ballot boxes to select one of the American-approved candidates..."

It won't look good.

There are several problems. The first is the fact that, technically, we don't know the candidates. We know the principal heads of the lists but we don't know who exactly will be running. It really is confusing. They aren't making the lists public because they are afraid the candidates will be assassinated.

Another problem is the selling of ballots. We're getting our ballots through the people who give out the food rations in the varying areas. The whole family is registered with this person(s) and the ages of the varying family members are known. Many, many, many people are not going to vote. Some of those people are selling their voting cards for up to $400. The word on the street is that these ballots are being bought by people coming in from Iran. They will purchase the ballots, make false IDs (which is ridiculously easy these days) and vote for SCIRI or Daawa candidates. Sunnis are receiving their ballots although they don't intend to vote, just so that they won't be sold.

Yet another issue is the fact that on all the voting cards, the gender of the voter, regardless of sex, is labelled "male". Now, call me insane, but I found this slightly disturbing. Why was that done? Was it some sort of a mistake? Why is the sex on the card anyway? What difference does it make? There are some theories about this. Some are saying that many of the more religiously inclined families won't want their womenfolk voting so it might be permissible for the head of the family to take the women's ID and her ballot and do the voting for her. Another theory is that this 'mistake' will make things easier for people making fake IDs to vote in place of females.

All of this has given the coming elections a sort of sinister cloak. There is too much mystery involved and too little transparency. It is more than a little bit worrisome.

American politicians seem to be very confident that Iraq is going to come out of these elections with a secular government. How is that going to happen when many Shia Iraqis are being driven to vote with various fatwas from Sistani and gang? Sistani and some others of Iranian inclination came out with fatwas claiming that non-voters will burn in the hottest fires of the underworld for an eternity if they don't vote (I'm wondering - was this a fatwa borrowed from right-wing Bushies during the American elections?). So someone fuelled with a scorching fatwa like that one - how will they vote? Secular? Yeah, right.

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