Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Newsweek on Iraq: online death squads, ethnic cleansing, failure

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

I just don't know what to make of Newsweek. One week, they are changing their cover in the US edition so as to not highlight the absolute disaster that has broken out (again) in Afghanistan. Then, the next week, they have not one but two articles on Iraq that use terms and words stronger than what we see around these parts - "online death squads" and "ethnic cleansing".

The first article, simply called Death Squads Online, talks about how death squads, many of which arise within the Iraqi police force are now posting information regarding people targeted for killings, as well as information relating to "how to avoid" the death squads.

The second article (by Fareed Zakaria, who in my opinion is the best of a mediocre lot at Newsweek) is titled Iraq's Dark Day of Reckoning and bypasses the "sectarian violence" meme, and even "civil war" - going directly to not one but three references to "ethnic cleansing" in describing what is now thought to be 600,000 civilian deaths since 2003.

I'll start with the Death Squad article, since it is not only a scary thought to see how these neocon war criminals have created an environment where a high-tech approach to sectarian violence, um, ethnic cleansing is being used. Not only that, but the fact that so much of this is being done by the Iraqi police force - you know the people who are supposed to "stand up so we can stand down" is a bit too "coincidental" considering how John Negroponte was the Ambassador to Iraq until last year and certainly is no stranger to death squads.

But take this opening story about a Sunni who was being accused of working with Shiite militia:

Not long ago, Mohammed Kika found out that his name had appeared on a London-based Web site run by Sunni exiles from Iraq. The Baghdad man was accused of betraying other Sunnis to a Shiite militia in the mixed neighborhood of Mansour, receiving a $200 bounty for each one he identified. The posting even disclosed the name of the barbershop where Kika could be found.

Needless to say, he fled the country. Not only that, but the web sites are endorsed by prominent Shiite leaders, and the article actually mentions the words "death squad", "Iraqi police force" and "US training and funding" all in the same sentence.

The outings are openly endorsed by some Iraqi leaders. Jalal al-Din Saghir, an influential Shiite cleric and parliamentary deputy, sponsors several sites. "Some of the Web sites can be used to catch spies by tracking their movements," he told NEWSWEEK.

Rising sectarian violence has become the No. 1 threat to Iraq's stability, with more than 2,500 Iraqis killed violently in September. Much of the killing is linked to death squads in Iraq's heavily Shiite police force, an agency that would scarcely exist without U.S. training and funding.

Not good. But the news doesn't stop there - there is talk about how an entire unit of the Iraqi Police was removed because they were linked to death squads, and another 1,700 police were fired this summer alone by the Interior Ministry (which has had more than its share of corruption issues as well).

And what is on these sites, other than names of people that are targeted by the death squads?

One site's Iraqi correspondents write in with news and views--as well as exposés of corrupt officials or snitches alleged to be aiding the death squads. One of the site's organizers, Ali Ahmad, denies that he promotes violence with his site, and says he just "publishes information to fill a vacuum that the authorities can't. People can't go to the police," says the 48-year-old, an Iraqi exile and British citizen. Last week the site published a warning "not to go to the Ministry of Higher Education to accept fellowships, because it is a trap by a death squad." Another site lists more than 300 names, birthdays and locations of suspected Shiite militia members. Shiites have sites of their own, where believers are urged to avenge suicide car-bomb attacks by slaughtering Sunnis. "Let's torture them and don't be silent," wrote one recent poster.

Well, that's just great. Nothing like a piss poor invasion and occupation with no planning to create high tech ways to exchange information on who and how to kill others. Which leads to the Zakaria article, which is really more of a commentary on how the Iraqi government is a failure, and that America has failed in Iraq. In fact, he states just that:

It is time to call an end to the tests, the six-month trials, the waiting and watching, and to recognize that the Iraqi government has failed. It is also time to face the terrible reality that America's mission in Iraq has substantially failed.

But what got me more than the startling words of "America has failed in Iraq" is the fact that Zakaria, who even if I don't agree with what he says, he is still a very intelligent man, uses the term "ethnic cleansing" to describe what many people here in the US are struggling to even call a "civil war". I will say that he does use the words "civil war" as well - he describes the 30,000 Iraqis that have died, the "franchising" of violence to local gangs all over the country and the fact that more troops or more time won't help matters at all. In fact, the very first paragraph has the following sentence:

Meanwhile, the violence has gotten worse, sectarian tensions have risen steeply and ethnic cleansing is now in full swing.

All powerfully honest assertions, especially coming from a major news publication that is relatively mainstream (even if we don't like the message or the glossing over of reality at times). But the repeated use of the term "ethnic cleansing" is the harshest and starkest term that I have seen used to date and conjures up visions of Darfur, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, Yugoslavia and other atrocities throughout history.

Take the following excerpt:

Iraq is now in a civil war. Thirty thousand Iraqis have died there in the past three years, more than in many other conflicts widely recognized as civil wars. The number of internal refugees, mostly Sunni victims of ethnic cleansing, has exploded over the past few months, and now exceeds a quarter of a million people. (The Iraqi government says 240,000, but this doesn't include Iraqis who have fled abroad or who may not have registered their move with the government.) The number of attacks on Shiite mosques increases every week: there have been 69 such attacks since February, compared with 80 in the previous two and a half years. And the war is being fought on gruesome new fronts. CBS News's Lara Logan has filed astonishing reports on the Health Ministry, which is run by supporters of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. According to Logan, hospitals in Baghdad and Karbala are systematically killing Sunni patients and then dumping their bodies in mass graves.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

Zakaria closes with a damning indictment of Bush and his "we can't leave now" line of crap:

President Bush says that if America leaves Iraq now, the violence will get worse, and terrorists could take control. He's right. But that will be true whenever we leave. "Staying the course" only delays that day of reckoning. To be fair, however, Bush has now defined the only realistic goal left for America's mission in Iraq: not achieving success but limiting failure.

Not achieving success but limiting failure. What a lofty goal. And one that I still don't know if it can be achieved.

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