George W. Bush and David Petraeus are preparing to make a new Fallujah in Sadr City, home to two million Shiites in Baghdad. Thousands of people are already fleeing the area before the full-scale slaughter and destruction begin. As in Fallujah, the multitudes who cannot escape will be trapped in a "free fire zone", subjected to ruthless bombardment and ground assault. Thousands -- perhaps tens of thousands -- of innocent civilians stand in the shadow of imminent death.
The assault is part of the run-up to the coming attack on Iran -- an attempt to secure the rear of that new front by destroying Iraq's Shiite nationalist forces. It is also part of an on-going effort to eliminate the strongest rival to the Shiite extremists that Bush has installed in office in Iraq, before the conquered land's fall elections.
The preliminary assault on Sadr City has already begun, of course. As the BBC notes, in the last seven weeks around 1,000 people -- most of them civilians -- have already been killed by the Bush-Petraeus "surge" into the area. Petraeus is frantically building high-walled ghettos in Sadr City, slicing neighborhoods in half, sundering families, destroying communities and livelihoods. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is circulating leaflets in Sadr City districts, warning the people to leave -- or else.
This, you understand, is liberation. This is freedom. This is the glorious "surge" to victory. As Tacitus noted:
A rich enemy excites their cupidity; a poor one, their lust for power. East and West alike have failed to satisfy them.... To robbery, butchery, and rapine, they give the lying name of "government"; they create a desolation and call it peace.
That translation of the quote was taken from a remarkable article by David Bromwich in the New York Review of Books, a shattering analysis of the nation's hideous and horrifying moral decay in the Terror War. The title says it all: Euphemism and American Violence. You should read the whole thing, but the conclusion is most apt to our immediate subject here:
"History begins today" was a saying in the Bush White House on September 12, 2001—repeated with menace by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the director of Pakistani intelligence Mahmoud Ahmad—a statement that on its face exhibits a totalitarian presumption. Yet nothing so much as language supplies our memory of things that came before today; and, to an astounding degree, the Bush and Cheney administration has succeeded in persuading the most powerful and (at one time) the best-informed country in the world that history began on September 12, 2001. The effect has been to tranquilize our self-doubts and externalize all the evils we dare to think of. In this sense, the changes of usage and the corruptions of sense that have followed the global war on terrorism are inseparable from the destructive acts of that war.
In the name of tranquilized American people, a new evil is about to externalized upon the bodies of the women and children, the old and sick, the innocent and vulnerable in Sadr City. As the BBC reports:
The authorities in Baghdad say they are preparing for an exodus of thousands of people from eastern parts of the city. Fighting between government and US troops on one side, and Shia militia on the other, has intensified recently. Two football stadiums are on stand-by to receive residents from two neighbourhoods in the Sadr City area...
In the last seven weeks around 1,000 people have died, and more than 2,500 others have been injured, most of them civilians. The fighting so far in Sadr City has been fierce - street to street, and house to house.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is showing a determination to disarm the country's Shia militia groups - particularly the Mehdi Army - that he has never displayed before. However, Iraqi army operations, backed by US ground and air support, have so far failed to overwhelm the Shia militiamen, who are still responding with roadside bombs, sniper fire, mortars and rockets.
The government has distributed leaflets in two key districts of Sadr City, warning people to leave.The speculation is that government forces are preparing for a big push into eastern Baghdad to end the current fighting once and for all. Shortages of water and medical supplies have already made life inside Sadr City extremely difficult.
And this is just the beginning.
The story of Fallujah's destruction at Bush's order in mid-November 2004 -- a burnt offering to celebrate his renewal of power -- gives us an intimation of what is about to happen in Sadr City. This is what I wrote, in the Moscow Times, about that assault while it was still going on:
Ring of Fire: The Fallujah Inferno
"The inferno...is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."
-- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities.
There is of course no space, nowhere to move or breathe in the sealed chamber of the American Infoglomerate – the vast entanglement of corporate media and government propaganda that smothers the body politic with hysterical outpourings of diversion, drivel and deadening white noise. Here, events occur in a total vacuum: they have no history, no context, no consequences. Stripped of the heft and scope of reality, they can easily be molded and distorted to fit the prevailing political and business agendas. Amnesia, ignorance, confusion and fear are left to rule the day: excellent fuel for the stokers of the inferno, who use the heat to work their alchemical magic – transforming human blood into gold.
"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable. Smoke is everywhere. It's hard to know how much people outside Fallujah are aware of what is going on here. There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying are from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens."
This was a voice from the depths of the inferno: Fadhil Badrani, reporter for the BBC and Reuters, trapped in the iron encirclement along with tens of thousands of civilians. It was a rare breath of truth. The reality of a major city being ground into rubble was meant to be obscured by the Infoglomerate's wall of noise: murder trials, state visits, Cabinet shuffles, celebrity weddings – and, above all, the reports of "embedded" journalists shaping the "narrative" into its proper form: a magnificent feat of arms carried out with surgical precision against an enemy openly identified by American commanders as "Satan," the Associated Press reports.
One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. Unlike the first attack on Fallujah last spring, there was to be no unseemly footage of gutted children bleeding to death on hospital beds. This time – except for NBC's brief, heavily-edited, quickly-buried clip of the usual lone "bad apple" shooting a wounded Iraqi prisoner – the visuals were rigorously scrubbed.
So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.
What they saw instead were two loudly devout Christians, Bush and Tony Blair, clasping hands and proclaiming that Artica Salim had been torn to shreds in order to fight terrorism – specifically, the terrorism of Jordanian thug Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The city's alleged refusal to turn over Zarqawi was the ostensible reason for the attack; yet halfway through the assault, with dead civilian bodies already stinking in the streets, Coalition commanders finally admitted the truth: Zarqawi wasn't in Fallujah – and hadn't been there for weeks, perhaps months.
But then, Zarqawi leads a peculiarly charmed life. Three times before the war, U.S. forces were set to kill him and destroy his organization. It wasn't that difficult; after all, he was operating in Kurdish-held Iraqi territory, where the U.S. military had free rein. Yet each time, Bush called off the strike, the Wall Street Journal reports. He needed Zarqawi for his pre-war propaganda, so he could point to an "al Qaeda ally in Iraq" – even though Zarqawi was on Bush's Iraqi turf, not Saddam's. And Bush still needs Zarqawi, or someone like him – a killer whose lurid malefactions obscure the even larger crime that set all these atrocities in motion: an unprovoked aggressive war based on lies, whose only goal is the imposition of a regime that will enrich Bush's cronies while advancing American dominance of the world's resources.
Bush and Zarqawi are mirror-image enemies: foreign terrorists breaking into Iraq to spread indiscriminate death and ruin in pursuit of their brutal visions. Everywhere they go, everything they touch, everyone they draw to their cause becomes inferno.
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This story was published on May 9, 2008.