Friday, April 30, 2004

sorts of victory
Who’d have thought it? So it’s the last day of April 2004 and a former associate of Chemical Ali rides into an Iraqi town in his Saddam era general’s uniform, to receive a rapturous reception from the assembled crowds. It’s almost as if they’d been liberated.

The third world cops have pulled it off again. One difference this time is that the decision to retreat seems to have been made at the tactical level by the soldiers themselves without waiting for signals from their political masters, who seem a bit ambivalent, to say the least.

It is not clear whether Conway conveyed the terms of the deal to his superiors in Baghdad and at the Pentagon, or even to leaders of the U.S. occupation authority. One person familiar with the deal said it took senior U.S. military and civilian officials in Baghdad by surprise. Because of the apparent lack of consultation, some officials said elements of the agreement, particularly the speedy troop withdrawal, may be tempered by the Pentagon or by the U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of operations in Iraq.

"It's very confusing right now," a senior Pentagon official said. "There's a disconnect here and we can't figure it out."

Last week, Stratfor published an analysis which said that the occupation authorities are essentially in a three player game with Iraq’s Sunni and Shia communities. On the one hand, the occupiers depend on the quiescence of the Shi’a to make the occupation work at all. On the other, the persistence of Sunni insurgents means that dependence on the Sh’ia is not sufficient, though it may be necessary. Viewed in this light, the re-admittance of former senior Baathists to the army and the retreat from Fallujah can be seen as an attempt to make the Us a swing player in the game, opening the ground for some sort of rapprochement with Sunni guerillas and therefore strengthening their hand in negotiations with the Shi’a about the form of an eventual Iraqi government.

Well, maybe. It’s hard to know what’s going on because it’s difficult to say who’s actually in charge of American policy. It’s no surprise in this context if the Marines have decided to issue their own demarche.

(As an aside, the US Marines are supposed to operate according to the USMC Small Wars manual, a surprisingly liberal guide to military occupation and its political outcomes. How this fits in with US installed regimes like the Duvaliers and Somosas is anyone’s guess. But it does give the Marines in Fallujah the theoretical justification for a bit of pragmatic common sense).

So who’s won the battle for Fallujah, now that the Marines have decided it isn’t worth fighting? Or rather, which Iraqis? While the conflict was ongoing, the official line was that it was some kind of thugs alliance between foreign jihadis, Baathist diehards and local hooligans animated by nothing more than atavistic hatred of the United States.
The counter-argument was that Fallujah was a stronghold of Iraqi tribal culture, operating from deep rooted social imperatives of honour, loyalty and revenge. Amatzia Baram, from last year.

...many of the older tenets of tribal life linger, and help to fuel the pattern of violence in the triangle today. Attacks on coalition troops should be viewed through the prism of tribal warfare. This is a world defined in large measure by avenging the blood of a relative (al-tha'r); demonstrating one's manly courage in battle (al-muruwwah); generally upholding one's manly honor (al-sharaf). For some of these young men, killing American soldiers is a political act, but it is also not unlike what hunting lions was to British colonial officers in 19th-century Africa: it involves a certain risk, but the reward is great.

Yes, religious fanaticism may also serve as a motivation, but in Iraq the rural tribes have generally been less inclined toward religious fanaticism than the city dwellers. The problem for the coalition is that religious fanaticism and tribal values are now working in the same direction. The coalition leaders must bear in mind that while the violence is endemic, it is not unstoppable — in large part, we are dealing with people who are open to persuasion.

Specifically, the Governing Council and its American supporters must come up with a coherent tribal policy. Certainly they can be excused for not having one — they've racked up many other achievements while focusing on more pressing problems. Moreover, the hesitation to give power to tribal leaders has been understandable: cultivating the tribes and the sheiks might be seen as a contradiction of the new leaders' stated goal of forming a democratic Iraqi civil society in a modern way. But to avoid increasing violence in the Sunni Triangle, there is a need to rethink that approach.

And maybe that’s what’s started happening now. If Fallujans are somewhat exceptional in terms of Iraqi society it means that their success in fighting the US army to a standstill is less likely to be replicated elsewhere. It could also be a sign that the occupiers closer to the action have become more willing to deal with Iraq as it actually is, rather than as they believe it should be.

So it’s a good day for the resistance, but also maybe not such a bad one for the occupiers either. Next step: drop that stupid flag.

Baram article via Flit

Thursday, April 29, 2004

life imitates Onion
Yes, it's a cliche

Bush To Iraqi Militants: 'Please Stop Bringing It On'
WASHINGTON, DC—In an internationally televised statement Monday, President Bush modified a July 2003 challenge to Iraqi militants attacking U.S. forces. "Terrorists, Saddam loyalists, and anti-American insurgents: Please stop bringing it on now," Bush said at a Monday press conference. "Nine months and 500 U.S. casualties ago, I may have invited y'all to bring it on, but as of today, I formally rescind that statement. I would officially like for you to step back." The president added that the "it" Iraqis should stop bringing includes gunfire, bombings, grenade attacks, and suicide missions of all types.

...but it does keep happening.

US forces today announced an end to their siege of Falluja, saying they will pull out immediately to allow a newly-created, Iraqi security force to secure the city.

The new force, known as the Falluja Protective Army, will consist of up to 1,100 Iraqi soldiers led by a former general from the military of Saddam Hussein and will begin moving into the city tomorrow.

Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne said the agreement was reached late last night between US officials and Falluja police and civilian representatives. "The plan is that the whole of Falluja will be under the control of the FPA," Lt Col Byrne told the Associated Press.

via Matthew Turner

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

for convenience of readers understanding
From the Guardian, a tale of heroism.

In one of the stories of the dead told by KCNA - effectively the state's mouthpiece - Han Jong-suk, 56, a teacher, saved the lives of seven children but died rescuing pictures of Kim Jong-il and his late father, Kim Il-sung.

Two other of the dead, Choe Yong-il and Jon Tong-sik, were on a lunch break but rushed back to work on hearing the explosion, according to KCNA. "They were buried under the collapsing building to die a heroic death when they were trying to come out with portraits of President Kim Il-sung and leader Kim Jong-il," it said.

I can’t find it on the KCNA website, but there is this. (no permalinks, scroll down)

Literary Books Published
Pyongyang, April 27 (KCNA) -- The Pyongyang Publishing House of the Democratic People¡Çs Republic of Korea has brought out various books containing literary works created by Koreans during the Japanese imperialists' colonial rule. Among them are "On Songs Created during the Nation's Ruin," "Poems and Songs Seen through Folklore," "On Songs Sung in Our Country in the Medieval Times," "Three-thousand- ri Land And Folk Songs," "Ra Un Gyu and Movies during the Nation's Ruin," "Three-thousand-ri Land of Folk Songs" (two volumes) and "Dramas Created during the Nation's Ruin" (two volumes).

The books are written in popular way for convenience of readers' understanding.

The book "On New Folk Songs and Popular Songs Created during the Nation's Ruin" contains songs the Korean people had sung with hatred against the Japanese imperialists and ardent desire for the liberation of the country, deploring the ruined nation.

Also contained in the book are songs still widely sung among people as they are considered to have implanted patriotism into their mind and new folk songs.

It explains how the typical songs were created and disseminated in the country. It also gives songs, children's songs and new folk songs along with their notations.

These books attracted attentions of the literary men and women from the north and south of Korea and overseas who participated in the scientific symposium on the theme "Study of the popular songs of the Korean nation created before the liberation of the country" held in October Juche 92 (2003).

They are of great significance in having a correct understanding of the music heritage and other cultural wealth of the nation.

So that’s what’s happening in the DPRK. For news which doesn’t carry the sweet smell of psychosis, try North Korea Zone.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

we're from Manchester!
and we'll nick anything!

Sunday, April 25, 2004

heaven knows, she's miserable now.
Depressed at the conflict in her homeland, Riverbend consults the wisdom of Morrissey.

The current situation in the south and the supposed truce in Falloojeh has me worried and angry all at once. There's nothing that can describe the current feeling in the air... it's like that Morrissey song:

Now my heart is full
Now my heart is full
And I just can't explain
So I won't even try to

Saturday, April 24, 2004

saints days
Yesterday's tally: one small flag at Slattery's the bakers and a couple flying from the aerials of mincabs. I regret to report that the people of Crumpsall have responded to the cry of "for God, Harry and St George" with a counter-cry of "for Christ's sake, don't be so stupid."

Good. One of the things that makes me oddly proud to be English is our sturdy indifference to flags, anthems and the rest of that dismal paraphernalia (the royals are different, being an apotheosis of soap opera, the real British national art form).

In this I reach out to those Welsh people embarrassed at having a national vegetable and the Irish who bury themselves under the duvet as the gutters run with green beer. We are the League of British Grown Ups. Join Us! Or rather, don't. Watch the telly or do some DIY or something. Together, we are ridiculous. Apart, we are probably doing something mildly diverting.

Further thoughts.

St George is just crap. He didn't exist. If he did, he was just some kind of glorified pork butcher, and besides, he's a thirds hand saint, being also the national intercessor for Portuguese and Lithuanians. Most traditions are manufactured. They only work when people put a bit of care and effort into the process. St George is the Skoda Saint. No one's buying. And anyway, why not just celebrate April 23 as Shakespeare's birthday?

Since England is the home of crap telly irony, a more appropriate national deity might be St Simon Templar.

Let's imagine we did go overboard and had a big procession. The central float would be a mock up of a saloon bar full of middle aged men moaning on about how all them Chinese and irish get loads of taxpayers money to take over the town with their funny smells and alien caperings and it's just political correctness gone mad. Griping is the national pastime. Let us embrace it!

Friday, April 23, 2004

metaphor alert, part two
Iraq as Vietnam? Ask some experts.

Inevitably, Vietnamese view Iraq through the prism of their own experiences. And 75-year-old Mai Van Thuan's experience under French colonialism makes him deeply suspicious of foreign intervention of any kind.

Sixty years later, he still has vivid memories of his father's French employers slapping him across the face. Thuan worked with his father for a telephone company, installing phone lines. He remembers a daily barrage of insults. "They called me a monkey. They called me a pig."

He doesn't believe American promises about building democracy in Iraq or saving Iraqis from a brutal tyrant.
"The invaders always say nice things when they arrive," said Thuan. "They always have nice, elegant words."

Other Vietnamese voiced similar opinions.

via the Poor Man

Thursday, April 22, 2004

when the going was good...
...there was chicken for everyone.
those goddamned nuns!
Just finished Kingdom of Fear, Hunter S Thompson's sort-of-autobiography. I'm not one of those who think he burned out in the seventies, or was just an artifact of the times. His account of the Pulitzer divorce and especially his obituary of Richard Nixon, written in the eighties and nineties respectively, are still classics.

That said, a lot of his nineties stuff was just shoddy - odd bits and pieces lashed together for the benefit of ageing rebellious types. I'm glad to say that his memoirs represent a return to form. I'm also pleased to report that he appears to have a half-decent acolyte, if this Matt Taibibi piece in the New York Press is anything to go by.

"David, you may not have noticed, but we have a serious situation here. And it all starts with the nuns. We've got to get them before it's too late. There's no telling what they might leak to the press. Before we know it, this place will be crawling with reporters—the bastards."

"Sir," I said. "The press is already here. The whole war is on television. And sir, there are no nuns here. We're in a Muslim country."

"Bullshit," he said. "Call General Sanchez. He knows where the nuns are. Call him now, he'll be awake. We pay him enough, he ought to be."

Thus began what for John would be a very painful transitional period of his tenure in Iraq. One morning in that first month, a U.S. supply convoy was ambushed outside of Balad and the bodies of two dozen servicemen were paraded on the streets, their heads ultimately lodged on sticks. The AFP photo was carried all around the world.

"Look at this!" John shouted, when I came into his office the next day. "Front page of the New York Times! Those goddamned nuns are leaking everything! Get Azcona in here!"

Negtroponte? Nuns? For background, try here.
who was that masked blogger?
Gauche links with approval to a piece in the Register calling for bloggers to write under their own names instead of anonymously, pseudonymously or with first names only. He quotes the article as follows:

"Public correspondences, such as that which developed around the Royal Society in London in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century, tended to be presented as between public equals, not private friends."

The problem with this argument is that if everyone puts their full names, they’ll soon add the letters after those names and the whole thing will turn into a credentialing exercise, adding to the emerging hierarchies between blogs on issues like number of links, etc. There is a certain appeal to the idea that blogs are a conspiracy of equals against big meeja, but that notion would be more likely to flourish if everyone was anonymous.

But who says blogs should be about democracy or equality anyway? Most seem to fall into either internal or external categories. You have the wonder-of-me type blogs, which generally seem to be written by teenagers or people in the first years of their careers. There’s also a large group of public affairs blogs, generally by men approaching or within middle age who don’t feel that their views have been given sufficient recognition by the world, and are glad for the chance to make an impact with whoever is out there who might be reading.

So why write pseudonymously, if this is the case? Many don’t, giving their full names proudly as though anticipating recognition at last. If others don’t it’s because, in a sense, blogging is a last fling at youth. It uses new technology and revitalizes people whose views are all too well known to the people they know with the opportunity to collar strangers and demonstrate to them their wisdom and virtue. It adds some vitality to their attenuated belief that they can make a difference.

Pseudonyms fit in with that too. When I was around 14, I remember riding on the Metropolitan Line in London and seeing a long extract from William Blake painted all over the Westway (the one about the Horses of Experience being better than the tigers of…something or other). It was tremendously impressive. That’s what I like about blogging. It’s basically graffiti, scribbled in a hurry and viewed in passing, but maybe remembered, especially if attached to an intriguing tag.

Shorter version: Blogging is vanity publishing, and pseudonyms tickle people’s vanity, including mine. The problem with this is that it also appeals to people’s vanity to start organizing conferences, laying down rules and generally covering the whole thing with a thick, bureaucratic crust.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

and your specialist subject for tonight is...
I dread to think what the prizes are.

A game show aired by Lebanese militant group Hezbollah's satellite television channel has raised eyebrows.

In "The Mission", which is shown on al-Manar, contestants battle for points which enable them to step towards Jerusalem on a virtual map.

Questions range from the date of the French Revolution to names of militants who carried out suicide attacks.

via Nick Barlow

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

one, two, many Fallujahs
With the fighting around Fallujah now subsided, the question of motive remains. It’s difficult to see any strategic purpose to the conflict. On the one side, it any such aim was obscured by the atavistic logic of vengeance and vendetta, along with almost tribal notions of military honour, blood price and masculine threat display.

One the other side, we know that the Iraqis were fighting to defend their homes.

Mike Davis brings news that a consistent purpose might have been behind the general swirl of events: practice.

The battle of Fallujah, together with the conflicts unfolding in Shiia cities and Baghdad slums, are high-stakes tests, not just of U.S. policy in Iraq, but of Washington's ability to dominate what Pentagon planners consider the "key battlespace of the future" -- the Third World city.

The Mogadishu debacle of 1993, when neighborhood militias inflicted 60% casualties on elite Army Rangers, forced U.S. strategists to rethink what is known in Pentagonese as MOUT: "Militarized Operations on Urbanized Terrain." Ultimately, a National Defense Panel review in December 1997 castigated the Army as unprepared for protracted combat in the near impassable, maze-like streets of the poverty-stricken cities of the Third World.

As a result, the four armed services, coordinated by the Joint Staff Urban Working Group, launched crash programs to master street-fighting under realistic third-world conditions. "The future of warfare," the journal of the Army War College declared, "lies in the streets, sewers, high-rise buildings, and sprawl of houses that form the broken cities of the world."

update: spoke too soon about violence abating in Fallujah. For the record, here's an assessment of modern urban warfare from the professional point of view.
referendum or ransom note
So we get to vote on the EU constitution after all. After stalling on giving us a referendum on the grounds that what was to be effectively the first ever written constitution applied to the UK was just a bit of administrative tidying up, now Euro-enthusiasts are getting a little too keen for a ruck.

Don't be fooled by Jesuitical Eurosceptics or nervous Europhiles, both of whom will insist this referendum is just about one EU treaty and not about our membership in the EU. Whatever it says on the ballot paper, the real question will be "Do you want us to be in the EU or not?" For this constitutional treaty, when and if it is agreed by European leaders, will be the new, authoritative description of what the EU is to be for some time to come. Anyone who votes "no" must be prepared to get out of the EU altogether.

Jackie Ashley was harping on a similar theme a couple of weeks back. I’m sure there are a lot of people amongst the ranks of the professional eurosceptics who want us to leave the EU altogether. But that isn’t implied by a vote on the EU’s constitutional framework. Nor does it represent the views of the country at large. Most polls show that a plurality wants to stay in the EU but oppose the single currency and are suspicious of the constitution.

That’s my view. I don’t believe that a single financial architecture covering everywhere from Helsinki to Dublin works in practical terms. Interest rates and currency values will always be too low in some places and too high and others. European economies might eventually converge, but will the gain from that be any greater than the gain we could have had without going through the pain in the first place? On a personal basis, if George Soros hadn’t forced us out of the ERM back in 1992, I wouldn’t have been able to buy my house on a 100% mortgage. Why would staying the course have made me any better off?

And I don’t buy the idea that the constitution just makes the changes necessary for the EU to function effectively with its new members. In that case, why call it a constitution?

In general, Europhiles can’t seem to understand that for most people, EU membership is a matter of utility rather than ideology. I’m ready to be persuaded on whatever merits the EU constitution has. But if the government try and frame the issue as a choice between leaving the EU and voting for the constitution, then I’m not prepared to be blackmailed into a yes vote. If the constitution’s such a good thing then it doesn’t need that kind of bullying to get it approved.

Monday, April 19, 2004

freedom to censor
“The market will free China” has been a dominant meme in reporting the country since Clinton originally won election in 1992, claiming that Bush “coddled dictators” in obvious reference to Tiananmen back in 1989. A sustained lobbying effort soon made it pretty clear to him that the appropriate policy for a pro-business democrat was to go right ahead and coddle China a whole lot more. So the idea that consumer chpice will eventually lead to political choice was the natural fallback position, also one which chimed well with the market supremacist mode of the 1990’s as well as finding intellectual underpinning in public choice theory. Additionally, the internet gave the whole ideological package a nice futurist feel. It also contains a kind of get out clause. If this freedom stuff doesn;t work out, then hey, whatever, it's the future and we're all going to be cyborgs anyway. Pursue wow, not democracy.

It’s one of those turbocharged memes which just keeps on keeping on:

While a decade ago government media outlets were the only source of news, market-oriented Internet portals are now challenging the state media. When the Internet picks up a sensitive story, it's not long before the increasingly earnings-driven mainstream print media feels forced to jump into the fray.

(via Arts and Letters Daily)

The point that the writer misses or ignores is the fact that it’s the major tech companies which have given China the technology to censor the internet in the first place, and which continue to do so as the price of entry into the market.

The quick workaround: Chinese authorities tweaked the national firewall, making the new Google China different from the site that was turned off. Today, Chinese who use Google to search on terms like "falun gong" or "human rights in china" receive a standard-looking results page. But when they click on any of the results, either their browsers are redirected to a blank or government-approved page, or their computers are blocked from accessing Google for an hour or two. "They have a new mechanism that can block the results of certain searches," Brin says. Did Google help China find or obtain the filtering technology? "We didn't make changes to our servers" is all he'll say.

Monstrous coroprate vanity. We'll show you that we can find the stuff you want, but you can't actually get the information.And Google aren’t the only ones.

The group specifically named technology firms Microsoft Corp., Nortel Networks Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. for deals they have done in China which AI believes have contributed to the government's ability to monitor and censor public Internet use in what it sees as a major strike against freedom of expression.

According to the report, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of people detained in China over the last year for expressing their opinions online. What's more, the Chinese government has been increasing its surveillance and monitoring of cyber cafes, Internet service providers and businesses in the country, AI said.

A friend of mine in China accesses this site using bits of workaround technology. the Chinese government demands that companies that work in its market find new ways to block these workarounds. So that doesn’t so much point to greater freedom for China as integrate the whole issue into the product development cycle of technology companies.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

mortal thoughts
All obituaries, all the time. Welcome the Blog of Death.

via Brian Leiter

Saturday, April 17, 2004

it's a Thor point

Are you damned?
Brought to you by Rum and Monkey

You will die a warrior and be spirited away by warbling wenches to the Hall of the Slain. Meat and mead for ever more, well until Ragnarok, anyway, when you will do battle with giants, giantesses, dwarfs, elves and Nidhug, a dragon who likes to nibble trees. Odin is great!
More from Haiti

The salvage operation came to an end last month as 'rebels' continued to 'take cities'. I work in these 'cities' and I saw the rebels' modus operandi. They came in, shot the police - who usually numbered no more than two or three - and left. Only a similarly equipped counterforce could have stopped them. The beleaguered government appealed for help in the Security Council, but this was delayed by the Bush administration - delayed long enough for the government to fall, or be pushed out.

Did the US and France have a hand in Aristide's removal? Were he and his wife being held against their will? Most of Aristide's claims, initially disputed by US officials from Noriega to Donald Rumsfeld, are now acknowledged to be true. His enemies' claims that Aristide met with officials in Antigua - Aristide said they were not allowed to move from their seats - were undermined by reports from Antigua itself. Noriega acknowledged during a House hearing that Aristide did not know of his destination until less than an hour before landing in the Central African Republic. Even CAR officials acknowledge that no Haitian authorities were involved in the choice of destination.

Read, weep, etc. You know the drill.

Friday, April 16, 2004

does my bomb look big in this?
Had to happen. The islamic Onion. I'll give it six...

via Crooked Timber
call the metaphor police
Just when they thought the Vietnam meme had been safely stamped on, a new metaphor emerges from out of the past.

The full scope of our disaster in Syracuse – er, sorry, Iraq – may be evident before the party conventions, as well as prior to the fall election. Might Bush do an LBJ and choose not to run? Will a Kerry who voted for the war be a credible nominee? Military disaster can displace all sorts of certainties.

As an extended tale of hubris dismantled and ground into the dirt, the Pelopponesian War has an accumulating relevance factor, though the US won't share Athen's ultimate fate.

Also from the article:

The pretense that we came to “liberate” the Iraqi people and not as conquerors is no longer credible. Faced with a popular uprising, we effectively declared war on the people of Iraq. The overall American commander, Gen. John Abizaid, “gave a stark warning for the Iraqi fighters, from the minority Sunni as well as the majority Shiite populations,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“ ‘First, we are going to win,’ Abizaid said, seated at a table in a marbled palace hall. … ‘Secondly, everyone needs to understand that there is no more powerful force assembled on Earth than this military force in this country .…’ ”

Meilan dialogue, anyone?

Also at SFTT, David Hackworth assesses the progress of the new Iraqi armed forces in his inimitable "I normally prefer kicking ass to literature but that Hemingway's an OK guy in my book" style.

post and riposte
From Stratfor, today:

Bush's inability and/or unwillingness to articulate a coherent strategic justification for the Iraq campaign -- one that integrates the campaign with the general war on Islamists that began Sept. 11 -- is at the root of his political crisis right now. If the primary purpose of the U.S. invasion of Iraq was to bring democracy to Iraq, then enduring the pain of the current crisis will make little sense to the American public. Taken in isolation, bringing democracy to Iraq may be a worthy goal, but not one taking moral precedence over bringing democracy to several dozen other countries -- and certainly not a project worth the sacrifices now being made necessary.

If, on the other hand, the invasion was an integral part of the war that began Sept. 11, then Bush will generate public support for it. The problem that Bush has -- and it showed itself vividly in his press conference -- is that he and the rest of his administration are simply unable to embed Iraq in the general strategy of the broader war. Bush asserts that it is part of that war, but then uses the specific justification of bringing democracy to Iraq as his rationale. Unless you want to argue that democratizing Iraq -- assuming that is possible -- has strategic implications more significant than democratizing other countries, the explanation doesn't work. The explanation that does work -- that the invasion of Iraq was a stepping-stone toward changes in behavior in other countries of the region -- is never given.

This is not only odd, but also it has substantial political implications for Bush and the United States. First, by providing no coherent answer, he leaves himself open to critics who are ascribing motives to his policy -- everything from controlling the world's oil supply, to the familial passion to destroy Saddam Hussein, to a Jewish world conspiracy. The Bush administration, having created an intellectual vacuum, can't complain when others, trying to understand what the administration is doing, gin up these theories. The administration has asked for it.

Was a democratic Iraq the plan all along? Is it plan B? If so, what was plan A)? From Juan Cole

I have concluded that the Bush administration is like Iran. The Iranian government has two of everything. It has a relatively liberal president, and a hardline supreme jurisprudent. The reformists control the foreign ministry, the hardliners control the military. The reformists have some parliament representatives, the hardliners control the Guardian Council, which has the power of judicial review over parliament. You never know with the Iranian government who is on top or what a policy means, since it could be coming from either competing section of the same government.

Likewise, in the Bush administration, the Pentagon has its own foreign policy, which competes with and often trumps the foreign policy of the State Department and the National Security Council. Thus, Gen. Myers is pointing fingers at Iran and Syria and making all sorts of wild accusations at them, darkly hinting they will be overthrown if they don't shape up. And Colin Powell is writing them polite letters about bilateral relations and could they please use their good offices to help the Americans in Iraq. It is bizarre, and the urbane, canny leaders in Damascus and Tehran (who have long experience of residence in the UK and Germany respectively), must be scratching their heads in wonder at this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde American hyperpower that rages about an axis of evil and goes about preemptively invading countries on the one hand and then comes politely, hat in hand, to request selfless assistance on the other.

I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that there isn’t a plan at all. 9/11 was a severe insult to the US psyche, destroying the whole notion of US exceptionalism and the response since then has as much been an attempt to restore the national virginity as a substantive attempt to punish the perpetrators or re-order the Islamic world. It’s post traumatic stress disorder masquerading as geopolitics. In policy terms there was an urgent need for something that convinced everyone that a hard line was being taken. Those around to take that hard line happened to be fixed on the invasion of Iraq, which resonated more widely as unfinished business. How could something that felt so good be wrong?

Can a hyperpower be so frivolous? Part of the point of being a hyperpower is that you make the weather. Your own visions become other people’s realities.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

more from Fallujah
Jo Wilding’s been busy.

First we go down the street we were sent to. There is a man, face down, in a white dishdash, a small round red stain on his back. We run to him. Again the flies have got there first. Dave is at his shoulders, I am by his knees and as we reach to roll him onto the stretcher Dave’s hand goes through his chest, through the cavity left by the bullet that entered so neatly through his back and blew his heart out.

There is no weapon in his hand. Only when we arrive, his sons come out, crying, shouting. He was unarmed, they scream. He was unarmed. He just went out the gate and they shot him. None of them have dared come out since. No one had dared come to get his body, horrified, terrified, forced to violate the traditions of treating the body immediately. They couldn’t have known we were coming so it’s inconceivable that anyone came out and retrieved a weapon but left the body.

He was unarmed, 55 years old, shot in the back.

Some – me included – might find the style deliberately overwrought. Others, I suspect, will be looking for an opportunity to discredit her because they don’t like the information she’s coming out with. I don’t think she’s lying. But there is a wider issue over killing civilians during an insurgency involving irregular combatants in urban areas.

The short answer is that it’s going to happen. You’re a US trooper looking through his gunsight for targets out of uniform, nearly all male, any age from 15 - maybe – upwards. An apparently unarmed civilian suddenly pops into sight, running from one place to another. Agitated in some way. You have a split second to make a decision. The wrong one, and you or your mates are dead. Outcome: dead civilians.

Once they are dead, it’s natural and convenient to claim them for the enemy. Like they used to say in Vietnam, if they’re dead, they’re VC. That in turn adds institutional approval to the whole process.

In effect, the real decision to kill civilians was made when the US decided to crunch their way into Fallujah in revenge for the four mercenaries butchered the other week. Contrast this with the killing of the six British military policemen in the South last summer. No reprisals there, though I bet a lot of the squaddies were sorely tempted. Result: no uprising worth the name in the UK-occupied area of Iraq.

It's curious how the most powerful, hi-tech army in the world can't seem to rise above the imperatives of what amounts to tribal honour, even when it sets their own cause back. But up close, it looks less like a blunder and more like a crime.
defeatist of Arabia
The Sunday Times doesn't print much stuff like this these days.

The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.

Yet our published policy has not changed, and does not need changing. It is that there has been a deplorable contrast between our profession and our practice. We said we went to Mesopotamia to defeat Turkey. We said we stayed to deliver the Arabs from the oppression of the Turkish Government, and to make available for the world its resources of corn and oil. We spent nearly a million men and nearly a thousand million of money to these ends. This year we are spending ninety-two thousand men and fifty millions of money on the same objects.

Whatever happened to the corn?

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

third world cops
Back during the Korean war, troops from the Chinese PLA chased the US and its allies from the Yalu river halfway down the Korean peninsula. A decade or so later, the Vietnamese mauled the Yanks like wolverines until their government cried ‘uncle’. And now we have Fallujah.

It’s become a regular cycle in foreign affairs. Every now and again, some reluctant third world cops have to slam the Americans up against the wall to show them that they’re not omniscient. I paraphrase, of course.

But the failure of the US to wipe out the Fallujah insurgency or suppress the Sadrists seems to mark some sort of turning point.

For this we can thank the Bushies. Their failure to put enough troops in theatre has meant that we have reached the turnaround point a lot sooner than in either Vietnam or Korea.

There’s an opportunity here. The ceasefire in Fallujah seems to have come about following negotiations between local politicians and whoever’s leading the insurgents in the city. Likewise, Sadr’s people are falling back after negotiations with other Shi’ite groups. There’s no reason why a similar process of negotiation between Iraq’s confessional and other factional groups needs 100,000 US troops and a colonial administration to guarantee it. In fact, it’s the presence – and increasingly the behaviour – of these troops that’s the main cause of the violence. So bring them home.

After all, the Iraqis are perfectly capable of building a democracy, as the pro-war left keep telling anyone with misgivings about the great adventure. It’s time to stop interfering with the process.

Monday, April 12, 2004

front line
Blogging from Fallujah

Al-Nazzal told us about ambulances being hit by snipers, women and children being shot. Describing the horror that the siege of Fallujah had become, he said, "I have been a fool for 47 years. I used to believe in European and American civilization."

Sunday, April 11, 2004

more on Blunkettismo
Chris Lighfoot has been on the case over I D cards, now due to be inflicted in 2008. Bottom line: they don’t work.

Suppose that the comparison of (say) iris photographs is 99.99% accurate: that is, when you compare my iris photograph against my reference photograph, the system identifies me correctly in 9,999 out of 10,000 cases, and says it's not me one time in 10,000. Similarly, when you compare my iris photograph against someone else's, 9,999 times out of 10,000, it says it's not me, and one time out of 10,000 it says it is me.

Now suppose that I go down to ID Cards 'R' Us (proprietor: Capita plc., most likely) to get an ID card. My iris is photographed, and to ensure that I'm not a Bad Evil Terrorist, my iris photograph is compared against the reference photographs for everyone else in the database (about 40,000,000 people). Even with a 0.01% error rate, the system will come up with 4,000 matches to me -- that's 4,000 people who have to be individually checked to make sure that they're not actually false identities that belong to me.

And for those who think that “the civil liberties case has been refuted”, try this:

In 1938 the Gestapo were presented with a glittering prize. The Anschluss- the unity of hitherto democratic Austria and Nazi Germany - put them in charge of the Vienna headquarters of the ICPC, the forerunner to Interpol. Thus, they had access to thousands of files on convicted or suspected criminals and their associates. Since many of the files on suspects dealt with politically-motivated crime, they were a godsend to an organisation that was about to take over most of Europe. ICPC knowledge helped them compile arrest lists. Even more useful for repression, deportation and terror were the captured police files of the conquered governments.

Why is this historical fact important? Because it’s a warning about the dangers that lurk in the scheme now being proposed by the government to create a national database and an ID card system. This might solve some crimes: it will certainly hand a weapon to any future ill-intentioned regime. Rather than being a move to increase safety and get rid of risk, it is a huge gamble. To adopt it would be to bet that nothing as nasty as Nazism will ever get close to state power again. It’s also to bet that nothing as nasty as Al Quaida or pIRA never gets its hands on a copy of the database. Forever is a long time.

The ‘liberal democracies’, some of which have more than two hundred years (just three lifetimes) of political continuity, have from time to time pursued highly illiberal and undemocratic policies, as members of racial minorities (such as ethnically Japanese US citizens) or victims of Cold War paranoia will testify. A national database would enable the government and its successors to keep track of everyone, all the time, for ever. If this measure ever gets passed, we’d better hope that, against all the evidence, Francis Fukuyama’s proclamation of ‘the end of history’ was right. Or do we not care about our grandchildren?

Chris titles his piece "Is all hope now lost". Personally, I've got some residual faith that the government's chronic incompetency, especially in technical matters, will manifest itself at an early enough stage to derail the plan. Other than that, we need some heroic hackers to make some demonstration forgeries and broadcast how they did it. I'm sure I'm being naive, but maybe information wants us to be free too.
As a journalist and writer, Claud Cockburn could kick Orwell’s skinny, pompous arse every day of the week and twice on Sunday. His centenary is celebrated over at Counterpunch, as a prelude to a tale of guerillas, gorillas and spy mania by the man himself.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

more reportage
I remember "community circuses" from the eighties. They represented an interesting paradox of the times - fundamentally humourless people on a mission to bring wholesome fun to the masses. Roomfuls of solemn people in tie-dyed playworker pants and shoes like cornish pasties solemnly learning to juggle. A sight I thought I'd forgotten - or that I believed I could forget if I tried very, very hard.

But not only did they persist, some of them actually had the bottle to go to Iraq. Jo Wilding runs a circus in Iraq. Maybe that should be "another circus". Here's her account of the three Japanese kidnap victims.

Nayoko used to bring food for the street kids and wash their clothes for them, the boys who later stayed in the shelter in Bab a Sherji and now live in the Kurdish House. She wasn’t with an NGO at all, just an individual who raised some money to come over and help the kids and did it, learnt some Arabic, quietly got on with it. As a result no one, no embassy, no organisation, knows anything about her. The Japanese embassy thought all three of them had just arrived.

And it makes no difference, of course it makes no difference, that I know them; it makes no difference to the terror on her face, the young woman who used to help the street kids on Abu Nawas, the man who was investigating depleted uranium contamination. It makes no difference that their faces are familiar, that I used to see them at the internet on Karrada Dakhil and wander down the street with them. But it feels horrible.

Because you know that the Japanese government won’t accede to the demand and you know that the kidnappers won’t go back on their ultimatum and you know there’s not much chance of them escaping and it’s no different from all the other violent deaths that people have suffered out here, a lot of them pre-planned in one way or another, contemplated by the pilot who fired the missile into the civilian area or the commander who sent the pilot, but to see them alive and to know what is coming is almost unbearable.

Friday, April 09, 2004

I've been struggling with various bits of instant analysis on the current hullabaloo in Iraq, but failing miserably. The point is that in the absence of detailed knowledge of the region all commentary tends to boil down to "why I was right all along". I'm going to restrict entries on this topic to developments that don't seem to be reported much elsewhere or which add a new slant.
to the north
...the pot starts to boil. From the International Crisis Group

A series of negotiations produced an interim constitution (Transitional Administrative Law, TAL) on 8 March 2004 that recognised a single Kurdish region effectively equivalent to what the Kurds have governed in semi-independence since 1991 (i.e., without Kirkuk), elevated Kurdish to official language status alongside Arabic, and met another Kurdish demand by providing for a census to determine the final status of Kirkuk. However, away from the give and take of the negotiations in Baghdad, the Kurds are contributing mightily to a volatile atmosphere in Kirkuk, using their numbers and superior organisation to undo decades of Arabisation.

Significantly, however, the tough TAL negotiations and the friction in Kirkuk mask a profound shift in Kurdish strategy that is yet to be broadcast and understood publicly. The top leaderships of the two principal Kurdish parties are offering Iraqi Arabs what amounts to an historic compromise: acceptance of an autonomous region as the maximum objective of the Kurdish national movement they represent and, even more importantly, a willingness to abandon the exclusive claim to Kirkuk. Regrettably, Kurdish leaders have yet to start preparing the Kurdish people for this deep strategic shift.
Another threat looms: if the U.S.-designed political transition comes unstuck in the face of spreading unrest, as the events of the past few days threaten, Kurdish leaders may alter their stance again and be tempted to protect the gains they have made since 1991 by asserting unilateral control over claimed territories, including Kirkuk. That would likely cross a Turkish "red line" and risk a grave regional confrontation, requiring international intervention.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

department of be glad you're not there
From Flit, an apparent eyewitness account of the fighting in Kut, including some curious comments on the role of someone referred to as the "British governor."

We faced a force of four to five hundred rebels, with mortars, RPGs and various handheld weapons. There were four US soldiers---myself and the other people in my team----about twenty coalition soldiers, and thirty or so scared British and Aussie expats, including the British governor. The coalition soldiers had a couple tank/hybrid vehicles, but they didn’t have much ammo for them. By midnight, everyone was running out. We kept impressing this on Higher, and they just couldn’t get that through their heads. What the fuck good are they? We are running out of ammo. We will be over-run if light hits this place in the morning and finds us still here...


What makes it worse was that we kept trying to get reinforcements and air cover and evac, and eventually we had to do it ourselves. We called up around 1500 because it became apparent that we weren’t going to get out, requesting air cover. We thought it would be over by 1700. By then, though, we realized something else was going on---darkness falls at seven. We heard that the whole province was under control, and that Sadr’s representatives had offered a cease fire while they negotiated. No other government building in the province was not under his control. Our little force, outmanned and outgunned, held him off for better than twenty hours, and then slipped out under his nose. He wanted to keep us there, be his bargaining chips while he tightened his fist around the province. And that fucking governor went along with it. We eventually found out the governor was contacting the command and telling them, no, no Evac behind our backs. He wanted US Marines dropped off and the civilians put in the helicopters while they secured his villa and offices. His own people were running around trying to arrange Evac, and kept counter-manding him. Then he’d go on the air and countermand them. I kept overhearing conversations I wasn’t supposed to hear.
meanwhile, in another part of the empire
an old man has a pertinent question

The U.N. worker said that President Karzai was perceived as “a weak leader with very little street credibility.” He told me that, again and again, when he met with village elders, as part of his work, “the old people say, ‘Hamid is a good man. He doesn’t kill people. He doesn’t steal things. He doesn’t sell drugs. How could you possibly think he could be a leader of Afghanistan?’”

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

insight from unexpected places
Just finished watching the original Dawn of the Dead movie. I was struck by the line spoken by a priest in the early part of the film, after a SWAT team had cleared out a slum tenement, strictly for the good of the inhabitants, of course.

"You can do what you like now. You are stronger than us. But they, I think, will soon be stronger than you."

As the Iraqi said to the Marine...
keep smiling through, just like you always do
Just what the country needs!

Optimists International can now claim Baghdad, Iraq as the home of its most recently organized chapter. Founded in 1919 with chapters in 28 countries, Optimists is a service organization best known for “bringing out the best in kids.” The new chapter held its organizational meeting at the former palace of Saddam Hussein, now the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Headquarters in Baghdad. A group of 28 civilian CPA staff and Iraqi nationals attended.

via Billmon

Monday, April 05, 2004

the reason why
I don’t know any more about military affairs than any other bullshitter with a broadband connection. But I think it’s safe to say that the mayor has turned up in his Daimler, the ribbon has been cut and the second front in Iraq is now officially open. Welcome to the fair. Refreshments will be provided, but there’s no tombola.

The question is why, and more specifically, why now, three months before the official handover. In today’s Guardian, Melanie Klein asserts that the Sadrists have been deliberately provoked.

At first, Bremer responded to Sadr's growing strength by ignoring him; now he is attempting to provoke him into all-out battle. The trouble began when he closed down Sadr's newspaper last week, sparking a wave of peaceful demonstrations. On Saturday, Bremer raised the stakes further by sending coalition forces to surround Sadr's house near Najaf and arrest his communications officer.

Predictably, the arrest sparked immediate protests in Baghdad, which the Iraqi army responded to by opening fire and allegedly killing three people. At the end of the day on Sunday, Sadr called on his supporters to stop staging demonstrations and urged them to employ unnamed "other ways" to resist the occupation - a statement many interpreted as a call to arms.
Here's one possible answer: Washington has given up on its plans to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, and is creating the chaos it needs to declare the handover impossible. A continued occupation will be bad news for George Bush on the campaign trail, but not as bad as if the hand-over happens and the country erupts, an increasingly likely scenario given the widespread rejection of the legitimacy of the interim constitution and the US- appointed governing council.

The timing of the whole affair certainly seems to indicate some provocation. First the Sadrist newspaper was shut down, leading to a series of demonstrations which grow in size but stay peaceful. Then Sadr’s saide is arrested, resulting in a much larger demo that ends in violence. And now the insurrection and the arrest warrant for Sadr, originally issued three months ago, but acted on only now.

The problem with Klein’s analysis is that there’s no guarantee that the Sadrists would have erupted as they did after the handover. Arguably, they would have been in a better position to exert influence without taking to the mattresses when the US started taking a less overt hand in Iraqi politics.

This leads to the cock-up theory. The US authorities decided that they would restrain someone who from their point of view was a bad actor by shutting down his newspaper. Protests ensue, grow and guns begin to be discharged. Firefights erupt and the situation escalates from there. This presupposes a level of incompetence that seems consistent with the CPA’s postwar “planning”.

Naturally, the official line is to characterize the Sadrists as an extreme minority. True enough. But that wilfully misses the point. They don’t have to be a minority. There just has to be enough of them. Juan Cole does the numbers.

But simple statistics don't tell the story. If there are 25 million Iraqis and Shiites comprise 65%, that is about 16 million persons. Ten percent of them is 1.6 million, which is a lot of people who hate Americans enough to approve of attacks on them. If Sunni Arabs comprise about 16% of the population, there are 4 million of them. If 30% approve of attacks, that is 1.2 million. That is, the poll actually shows that in absolute numbers, there are more Shiites who approve of attacks on Americans than there are Sunni Arabs. The numbers bring into question the official line that there are no problems in the South, only in the Sunni Arab heartland.

The other problem is that attitudes change, and sometimes they change rapidly. The US cannot count on the percentage of Shiites who approve of attacks on its troops remaining at 10% if it is strafing Sadr City in Baghdad. Every 1% increase in the number of Shiites who approve of attacks equals 160,000 new enemies

And blogger Raed gives a fuller breakdown of the social context from which the insurgency springs. If the CIA had given him US$6 million a year instead of Chalabi then they might not be in the mire. He makes an interesting point on the description of Al Sadr as an “outlaw” too.

How can anyone be an outlaw when we don’t have a law.

Interestingly enough, Raed’s family blog tracks the start of the disturbances to the assassination of Ahmed Yassin. And Justin Raimondo at reminds us of Josh Marshall’s assessment of the hawks in the Bush administration’s plans from a year ago.

In their view, invasion of Iraq was not merely, or even primarily, about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Nor was it really about weapons of mass destruction, though their elimination was an important benefit. Rather, the administration sees the invasion as only the first move in a wider effort to reorder the power structure of the entire Middle East. Prior to the war, the president himself never quite said this openly. But hawkish neoconservatives within his administration gave strong hints.

In February, Undersecretary of State John Bolton told Israeli officials that after defeating Iraq, the United States would "deal with" Iran, Syria, and North Korea. Meanwhile, neoconservative journalists have been channeling the administration's thinking. Late last month, The Weekly Standard's Jeffrey Bell reported that the administration has in mind a "world war between the United States and a political wing of Islamic fundamentalism ... a war of such reach and magnitude [that] the invasion of Iraq, or the capture of top al Qaeda commanders, should be seen as tactical events in a series of moves and countermoves stretching well into the future."

In short, the administration is trying to roll the table--to use U.S. military force, or the threat of it, to reform or topple virtually every regime in the region, from foes like Syria to friends like Egypt, on the theory that it is the undemocratic nature of these regimes that ultimately breeds terrorism. So events that may seem negative--Hezbollah for the first time targeting American civilians; U.S. soldiers preparing for war with Syria--while unfortunate in themselves, are actually part of the hawks' broader agenda. Each crisis will draw U.S. forces further into the region and each countermove in turn will create problems that can only be fixed by still further American involvement, until democratic governments--or, failing that, U.S. troops--rule the entire Middle East.

And of course, now the call is for more troops.

I don’t know if the second front has been called into being as part of a long term plan by the hawks in the Bush administration. I do know that I have a college age stepson and that if I were an American I’d be a little nervous about whether his road to university might go through Baghdad if Bush is elected again.
thinking alike?
A while ago I wondered whether elements in the Israeli government were of the opinion that the US was becoming a little too committed to Iraq. Now somebody who actually knows what he is talking about seems to be wondering the same thing.

Friday, April 02, 2004

aux armes, citoyens

What revolution are You?
Made by altern_active

found via Harry's Place
imaginary conversation between a Prime Minister and his polling guru
PM - So, how d’you think it went?

PG – Very well, Prime Minister. I think your comments on ID cards hit exactly the right note.

PM – Well, we have to move things along quickly from the start. You don’t think people will point out that the Spanish have ID cards…

PG - …and that they didn’t prevent the bombing in Madrid? I’m sure people are pointing that out right now. It doesn’t matter. These people are in favour of doing nothing in the face of the terrorist threat.

PM – when “there is no longer a civil liberties objection in the vast majority of quarters.”

PG – Precisely

PM – And yet I can’t help remembering that we did manage to pick up those people just this week, without having ID cards in place.

PG - Amateurs, frankly. Anyone serious knows that if you buy large amounts of ammonium nitrate without actually having straw in your hair, the security forces are going to want a chat. We can’t rely on others to be so stupid. We also have to answer some tough questions about the nature of what we’re doing and the political implications of the whole war on terror for the government.

PM – What are you thinking, specifically?

PG – It’s like this. Remember all that stuff about zero tolerance policing? We took it on because we needed to look tough, because it came from America and because our polls showed it was a winner with the public. What it actually involved wasn’t really relevant, given the media equity of the concept. But if you look at it closely, there are actually some serious policy implications.

PM – How do you mean?

PG – For one thing, there are two types of zero tolerance policing. The first may or may not help to solve crime, but does a lot to reassure the public - having graffiti cleaned up, nationalizing teenagers, that sort of thing. The second is intelligence based and looks for long term results. That does more to cut crime, but by definition it’s not so visible. The public doesn’t see it and does not feel reassured. There are no headline political benefits. Compulsory ID cards fall into the first category. Excuse fingers, but they show we are “doing something”, which counts as much as if we are actually doing something.

PM – But we don’t have unlimited resources. There is a case, which I’m not necessarily making but which will be made, that we should be targeting these resources to the most effective means possible of finding terrorist groups before they target us.

PG – But what if we do that, and a bomb goes off anyway? No anti-terrorism strategy is infallible. In fact, we have to assume that our efforts will fail and that a bomb will go off somewhere. Our priority here is to take steps that will stop the public here responding in the same way that they did in Spain. Aznar’s tactis of blaming ETA was a nice try. After all, ETA are a credible threat. We can’t turn round after an explosion and blame the real IRA. We have to have a record to point to give people a reason to rally round us.

This is especially important given your leadership role in the global war on terror. The world can’t afford to lose you, PM. Britain can’t. The correct policy approach is not the one which is most likely to protect us from a terrorist attack. It’s the one most likely to keep you in office. Naturally, one’s preference is for the two approaches to be identical.

PM – (sighs) Y’know, sometimes I wish we were back in 1997. It all seemed so simple then. Mornings spent getting overexcited about the internet. Afternoons spent appreciating the design community. Evenings at the Brit awards. Free Dierdrie Rashid!

PG – Never mind, PM. Let’s remember that we have a lot of opportunities to get things done right now. Paradoxically, the war on terror may be just the thing to restore the public’s trust in you after Iraq. It offers the means of getting the nation to rally round and keeping Gordon off your back. It provides the opportunity to take hold of public institutions and thoroughly modernize them, and maybe get the public to accept some of our less popular plans. It would almost be a shame if…what’s that gleam in your eye, Prime Minister?

PM – exactly the same as the one in yours.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

april fools's day
Round up of media hoaxes here.
rebel town
I've never quite made up my mind about the Iraqi "resistance". There clearly is a right of resistance for those Iraqis who choose to take it. If it exists, that right exists at least to some extent independently of those who choose to take it up. But it's a bit of a stretch to support people who take their insurgency cues from the Night of the Living Dead.

The mob character of the violence also seems to tell against the idea that there is a resistance movement at all. It looks more like the direct response of a segment of the Iraqi population to their military occupiers. Flit provides some useful operational background and analysis.

Briefly, US military units in the area tended to stay clear of the town after a number of violent incidents. A new unit is rotated in and tries to make an impact, leading to a nasty firefight last week. Then four private sector military contractors - mercenaries, really - roll into town just in time for the barbecue.

Expat weblogger Fiona at Wires recounts her narrow escape last week and provides interesting details about Fallujah itself. Aparently, Saddam never got a grip on the place either.

Sallah tells us that Fallujah is the only place in Iraq where (even during Saddam’s regime) there was never a ruling Governor. It’s a real rebel town. Based on the traditional tribal system (which still exists). They are very proud and dignified people who WILL NOT accept within their multi – tribal society, working out their own co – existence, that there should be a person promoted to such a position that does not respect this equality and the diversity. The first Governor lasted a day before he was shot dead, the second, two. Rebel town.