News from Baghdad on Tuesday morning, from the New York Times:
A series of devastating car bombings rocked Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 121 people and wounding hundreds more, according to preliminary accounts by witnesses, the police and hospital officials....
The attacks were the worst in Iraq since twin suicide bombings destroyed three ministries on Oct. 25, killing at least 155 people. They fit a pattern of spectacular attacks in the capital, followed by weeks of relative calm. In August, two suicide car bombs exploded near the country’s Finance and Foreign Ministries, killing at least 122.
After you have taken a moment to mull this unspeakable rending of human lives -- not just the individuals who were killed but also the lifelong, lacerating grief of their survivors -- a rending which is a direct result of an American invasion and occupation that not only loosed a savage sectarian war in the shattered, conquered land but also actively abetted it at every turn, go back and read the last paragraph of that excerpt again.
The worst attack in -- not years, not decades -- but mere weeks. In other words, it's hardly been a month since the last time, of many times, over and over, like clockwork, that dozens of people were ripped to shreds in the American-caused, American-abetted, American-supported civil wars in Iraq.
Think on that, then think on this: the situation in Iraq is now being held up as a model, a goal, for Barack Obama's massive expansion of the war and occupation in Afghanistan. Obama himself has called the "surge" in Iraq "an extraordinary achievement," and has at every turn promoted and propagated the myth that George W. Bush's escalation of a hideous war of aggression was a resounding success. This myth is based on one thing only: the fact that the peak of the ghastly death rate produced by the American occupation dropped to a somewhat less horrific level. But as countless experts and analysts have pointed out, this drop had very little to do with the addition of some 28,000 American troops. (And parenthetically, what a small thing the Iraqi "surge" seems now, with Obama having already launched two "surges" in Afghanistan, which will, in the end, add up to more than 50,000 troops -- with the concomitant number of mercenaries who now augment, when they do not surpass, the official military contingents in America's imperial campaigns.)
Patrick Cockburn is the latest to put Iraq's "model" surge in its proper perspective, in a piece this week in The Independent:
There are real parallels between the US and British intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they are not the ones which the White House and Downing Street are publicising. In both countries foreign forces were intervening in a potential or actual ethnic and sectarian civil war. In Afghanistan this is between the Pashtun on one side and the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara on the other and has been going on for 30 years. In Iraq it is between the Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs. The Sunni were the predominant community under Saddam Hussein and were displaced by the Shia after a horrendous civil war which reached its peak in and around Baghdad in 2006-07. Sunni insurgents did surprisingly well against US troops, but lost the war against the Shia.
The guerrilla war against the US in Iraq ceased because the Sunni community was being slaughtered by Shia death squads. "Judging by the body counts at the time in the Baghdad morgues, three Sunnis died for every Shia," Dr Michael Izady, who conducted a survey of the sectarian make-up of Baghdad for Columbia University's School of International Affairs, is quoted as saying. "Baghdad, basically a Sunni city into the 1940s, by the end of 2008 had only a few hundred thousand Sunni residents left in a population of over five million." Defeated in this devastating sectarian civil war, the Sunni ended their attacks on US troops and instead sought their protection. The "surge" of 28,000 extra US troops who arrived in the summer of 2007 had a marginal impact on the outcome of the fighting.
Yet it is the mythical success of the US troop "surge" in Iraq in 2007-08 which is being used as a template for US military policy in Afghanistan two years later. A strategy, which did not work in the way the Pentagon said it did in Iraq is now to be applied in Afghanistan where conditions are, in any case, entirely different.
Cockburn goes on to note that Obama's strategy in Afghanistan, just like Bush's in Iraq, is guaranteed (by design?) to enflame ethnic conflict:
The Obama plan outlined last week envisages training 100,000 new Afghan soldiers and 100,000 new policemen over the next three years. But where are these recruits to come from? Given the high desertion rate, the combat strength of the Afghan army is reportedly only 46,000 troops in a country that is larger than France. These troops, and particularly the officer corps, are already disproportionately Tajik, the ethnic group to which a quarter of Afghans belong. The US can only increase the military strength of the Afghan state swiftly by skewing it towards the Tajiks, who were always the core of opposition to the Taliban. This will increase sectarian hatreds.
And of course, the addition of thousands more foreign forces carrying out intensified military operations in Afghanistan will mean thousands more civilian deaths -- one of the primary elements fuelling violent resistance to the Western occupation.
In other words, as always in our bipartisan Terror War, the actual policies pursued by our leaders will, of necessity, produce the opposite result of their stated aims: quelling terrorism, dampening extremism, bringing stability, and, in the words of Obama's escalation speech at West Point, building "a better future for our children and grandchildren" by ensuring that "other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity."
Let's state it again: you cannot achieve such goals, even in the slightest degree, with the foreign policies and military actions of the Bush and Obama administrations. You cannot invade countries, kills thousands upon thousands of innocent people, destroy societies, unleash and foment civil war, impose corrupt, violent, repressive regimes on shattered, suffering people and expect that this will somehow build "a better future" for your children and grandchildren -- much less for the children and grandchildren that you are murdering, brutalizing and traumatizing.
As we said here the other day, only an idiot could actually believe such things. And while our leaders may be moral nullities, they are not idiots. Therefore it is clear beyond all doubt and argument that the stated purposes for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are deliberate, knowing, well-considered lies. Thus all the earnest debates and commentaries on the relative efficacy of various policies aimed at achieving these completely specious goals are pointless. In the end, such diversionary "debates" only serve the causes of war, domination, profiteering and elite power that are, in the end, the only true goals of these campaigns.
Do you want more proof of the inherent subversion of the Terror War's stated goals by the actual policies adopted by our leaders? Then look at Pakistan this week -- or almost any week these days -- where dozens of people were killed in the intensified civil war that has been "ratcheted up" at Washington's insistence.
For the last year, the Obama administration has waged a relentless campaign of hectoring, pressure, humiliation and blackmail to force the Pakistani government to wage open war on Pashtun tribes and sectarian groups opposed to Pakistani collaboration with America's growing military presence in the region.
(And please note: Washington does not object at all in principle to the retrograde religious extremism of the targeted sectarian groups in Pakistan -- or in Afghanistan, for that matter. For one thing, many of these same groups received copious support from America during the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. And of course, Obama, like all of his predecessors, joyfully embraces -- even, yes, bows to -- perhaps the most retrograde, extremist religious regime on earth, Saudi Arabia. Never believe -- not for a moment -- that it is the content of faction's belief that determines Washington's attitude toward it. This determination is made solely on the basis of how that group advances -- or impedes -- American policy interests at any given time and place. One need only look at the vicious religious extremists embraced and empowered by the United States in both Afghanistan and Iraq in the past few years to see that.)
And so, bowing to this pressure, throughout the year the Pakistani military has dutifully "ratcheted up" its attacks on its own people. And what has been the inevitable result? More violence, more terrorist attacks, more instability, more extremism.
Nothing illustrates this better than two stories that were paired together on the New York Times website on Tuesday (although only one made the front page of the print edition): Pakistan Told to Ratchet Up Fight Against the Taliban and Twin Attacks in Eastern Pakistan Kill at Least 66. Cause and effect don't come much clearer than that.
The first story is a remarkable tale of imperial extortion that nakedly reveals the true nature of American policy in the region: play ball, by our rules -- or get it in the neck. The administration of the new Nobel Peace Prize laureate is now openly telling the Pakistanis that if they do not kill more of their own people, then by God, the Americans are going to do it for them:
The Obama administration is turning up the pressure on Pakistan to fight the Taliban inside its borders, warning that if it does not act more aggressively the United States will use considerably more force on the Pakistani side of the border to shut down Taliban attacks on American forces in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials said.
But because this is the New York Times, one of the great keepers of the American exceptionalism flame, we must have this ludicrous, laughable line inserted right after these direct threats:
United States officials said the message did not amount to an ultimatum....
The Pakistanis got the message, however:
For their part the Pakistanis interpreted the message as a fairly bald warning that unless Pakistan moved quickly to act against two Taliban groups they have so far refused to attack, the United States was prepared to take unilateral action to expand Predator drone attacks beyond the tribal areas and, if needed, to resume raids by Special Operations forces into the country against Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders ... A Pakistani official who has been briefed on the meetings said, “Jones’s message was if that Pakistani help wasn’t forthcoming, the United States would have to do it themselves.”
In other words (we're having to use a lot of "other words" in this piece, but that's unavoidable when translating the higher bullshit of government and media), this was the message of the world's greatest beacon of freedom and goodness: "Listen up, Paki -- attack who we say or we're going to invade your fucking country. You savvy me lingo, Sambo?"
Yes, it is that crude; and yes, it is precisely that kind of condescending, dehumanizing racism that lies behind this approach. And try to picture the smug look of smirking satisfaction that accompanied this quote from the story:
A senior administration official, asked about the encounter, declined to go into details but added quickly, “I think they read our intentions accurately.”
And how's this for patting the blackjack in your palm, looking around the room and saying, with a sinister smile: "Nice little shop you got here, pal. Too bad if something, like, happened to it."
“We’ve offered them a strategic choice,” one administration official said, describing the private communications. “And we’ve heard back almost nothing.” Another administration official said, “Our patience is wearing thin.”
But of course what we are talking about here is Pakistan escalating the already extensive -- and heavy-handed, civilian-killing -- "counter-terrorism" operations it has launched at Washington's insistence in the past two years. These attacks have been met with a wave of reprisals from the targeted groups -- as well as by attacks of uncertain provenance. (In the world of "counterinsurgency," where death squads and double agents abound, one can never be sure where the ultimate origin of any attack comes from -- or even if the attackers themselves know who is pulling the strings. For more on this, see here, here and here, among many examples.)
The result of Obama's year-long policy of escalation in Pakistan is clear: more violence, more terrorism, more instability. Yet even after this clear evidence of failure (according to the purported reasons for the escalation), what is the "new" policy after the "strategic review"? The same, only more so. We can thus look forward to a lot more of this:
Militants set off two bombs on Monday night in one of the busiest markets of this eastern Pakistani city, then sprayed the crowd with gunfire, killing at least 54 people, including many women and children, and wounding at least 150 others, Pakistani authorities said on Tuesday.
News agencies reported a fresh attack on Tuesday in the same region. A bomb near the offices of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate in Multan killed at least 12 people, the reports said.
This was part of a series of attacks that have killed hundreds of people in the past few weeks. As the Guardian noted earlier this month:
...[A] wave of attacks.. started two months ago, on the eve of an army drive into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan. More than 400 Pakistanis have died since early October in attacks on UN offices, security installations and crowded bazaars. The capital, Islamabad, increasingly resembles cities such as Kabul, with rising sandbagged walls, checkpoint-clogged streets and shopping areas bereft of foreigners and, increasingly, Pakistanis.
Nearby Rawalpindi has suffered even more attacks, including a 22-hour siege of the army headquarters in early October that left 23 people dead and badly embarrassed the military.
And so the cycle goes on and on -- now with a Peace Laureate at its head. Looking at this ever-growing darkness, I keep coming back to something I wrote the day after 9/11:
Blood will have blood; that's certain. But blood will not end it. For murder is fertile: it breeds more death, like a spider laden with a thousand eggs. And who now can break this cycle, which has been going on for generations?
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on December 9, 2009.