734-20071018-usiraq-embassylargeprod_affiliate911
By Ray LeMoine
This was written for the Guardian…

No place better exemplifies George Bush’s war on terror than the Green Zone. First occupied when Baghdad fell, the GZ is four square miles of the city’s finest real estate. Almost immediately the US put up 14-foot concrete blast walls, shutting out the local population. A British journalist I met in Baghdad once emailed me his take:

“The Green Zone was by far the most surreal experience of my life, with all the worst aspects of America fenced into it. Where else in the world could you find a disco playing the Bee-Gees with bulky men on steroids barging into it each other and groping the few chicks there; sweaty overweight US government employees eating Chinese takeout, then cannonballing into a former dictator’s huge swimming pool. Thank god it was zoned off. It’s enough to make you green in the face.”

And that wasn’t even the worst of it.

Nightly mortar attacks on the Green Zone started in mid-March 2004, beginning a siege that lasted four years. Back then I was living in the Republican Palace, the nerve centre of the US-led occupation. Before March, attacks were sporadic – maybe once a week – and there was still a general sense that Iraq might work out. Looking back, the mortars were foreboding. As March ended, Iraq turned and hope vanished.

By April 4 – a day now called Black Sunday – America was fighting a nationwide, dual uprising against Sunni and Shia. The Green Zone was paralysed. Nation-building ceased. From a Green Zone vantage, this was the moment America lost Iraq. It was the moment when usually tempered diplomats said “civil war” was coming, when westerners could no longer walk the streets without being kidnapped.

Now, Bush, about to leave office, is trying to secure his Iraq legacy. This month, America formally handed the Green Zone back to Iraq, complete with a baton-passing ceremony. The timing was not coincidental. Two days later, America opened a new $700m US embassy on 104-acres in the centre of the Green Zone, complete with ribbon-cutting pageantry. Technically, what the US gave back to Iraq was the Green Zone’s perimeter while keeping its heart. Bait and switch, pomp and circumstance, doublespeak – the Green Zone’s hallmarks.

While it made a fine place for security contractors to boot steroids and drink warm beer, the Green Zone came to signify American corruption, arrogance and profiteering, a power hub that somehow spent $100bn on nothing. But the wasted money has little consequence compared to US policy, implemented from the GZ, which led to the deaths of thousands. One early GZ scheme, disbanding the Iraqi army, practically created the insurgency. Another, ignoring thug cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s growing militia, meant combat that left thousands dead and made Sadr the most powerful man in Iraq. For these reasons and many more, the GZ should join Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and Bagram as symbols of Bush-era disgrace.

These days, the Bush administration uses the late-game troop surge as proof of Iraq victory. But the US and Iraq are in a place that looks like early 2004. “Fragile” is the mantra of Ryan Crocker, US ambassador to Iraq. The main difference between now and 2004 is that hundreds of thousands Iraqi civilians are dead and millions are displaced.

All Bush did was take Iraq from fragile to hellish and back to fragile. From 2004 until 2006, the civil war germinated as Bush and his Green Zone team told us Iraq was “stabilising” through elections. By February 2006, Baghdad faced mass ethnic cleansing. The capital was rapidly partitioned into mini-Green Zones, each neighbourhood walled and surrounded by militia checkpoints. Iraq’s civil war peaked in September and October 2006, when over 7,000 Iraqis were killed in two months. The 2007-2008 surge provided additional security in the capital and later co-opted the former Sunni insurgency.

Bush did not win Iraq. The surge merely stopped bleeding from a self-inflicted wound. Current Iraqi politics are more akin to “Shakespearean drama than to nascent democracy,” according to the New York Times. Each political party has its own militia. Terrorism is down, but hardly gone – bombs killed 50 last week. President-elect Barack Obama is committed to “removing all combat troops” with room for a “residual force”, without defining the difference between “combat” and “residual”. This foggy language is a reminder that Bush’s war is far from over.

By Ray LeMoine
Obama moves into the White House in one week. Here he is last year in New Hampshire at a fundraiser.
obama-100club-nh-6

By Ray LeMoine

These pictures of the Isreali assualt on Gaza were taken today by Jeff Neumann from the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing. A sky like this makes you understand why they’re fighting over this land. The first pic is of a bomb dropped by an F-16. The second pic is of an F-16 that drops bombs. gazablast-1-of-1jet-1-of-1

Transitional Silence
84144402
C/O Getty Images…Hamas fires rockets on Israel.
bomb_mecca450
Gotta love Google Images

By Ray LeMoine
Barack Obama has remained silent about the war Israel launched Saturday over Gaza, which has killed 370 in five days. On CBS Face the Nation Sunday, the president-elect’s senior advisor David Axelrod was asked about Israel’s assault on Gaza. “The fact is that there is only one president at a time,” Axelrod said on a feed via Chicago. “The Bush administration has to speak for America now. And it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to opine on these matters.”

Axelrod should have an opinion about Gaza. Considering America gives Israel billions in annual military aid, the latest conflict demands a reaction from all concerned, moral Americans. Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself. But should it have the eternal right to offend the entire Arab world (again) with a mission that has no clear goals and involves heavy aerial bombardment of one the densest packed and poorest places on earth?

Today, Israel rejected a 48-hour cease-fire that would have opened a humanitarian aid corridor to Gaza, where basic supplies are running out. If Bush doesn’t want to act, Obama should speak up and distance himself from the tacit support Axelrod gave Sunday.

Gaza is unlike most conflict zones. With its borders and ports closed, Gazans do not have the option to flee the war-zone to refugee camps (it could be argued Gaza is one big refugee camp). The border closings have put Gaza on the brink of humanitarian collapse. It is not time to stress our “special relationship” with a state that violates basic human rights. An air war over Gaza, where civilians have nowhere to flee, is terrorism.

State sponsored terrorism is the oft forgotten cause of non-state terrorism. All of the most notorious Islamic terrorist organizations (Hamas, Hezzbollah, the Taliban, Al Qeada, Lashkar) use a warped Koranic interpretation to advance a political agenda. Yet too often we look at the religious aspects of the war on terror. What makes Muslims want to kill Westerners is not a love of death, it’s Western support for the killing of Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan etc. Certainly Hamas, who are dedicated to the destruction of Israel and have been firing Qassams rockets into southern Israel by the dozens, must be confronted in some capacity. But the lessons of Lebanon apply to Gaza. In 2006 Israel tried to destroy Hezzbollah with air strikes and a ground invasion. That war left Hezzbollah stronger than before. Why should anyone assume a different outcome in Gaza?

Axelrod’s and Obama’s silence is contradictory. Why was it ok for Obama/Axelrod to criticize Bush all campaign but now just three weeks from legitimate power they shut up? This whole “one president at a time” thing might work domestically. Bailouts are one thing. No one is going to die when a bank or automaker goes under. But the war over Gaza has cost 400 lives in just five days. It demands swift reaction from all moral parties, even those not yet in power. A British government official, Douglas Alexander, had no trouble speaking out: “The human cost of this conflict is unacceptable and the humanitarian situation is getting worse by the hour.”

Axelrod seems to want to pretend that the campaign is still on, that he can sit on TV when Gaza burns and spin a non-policy. “He [Obama] will promote the cause of peace, and work closely with the Israelis and the Palestinians on that — toward that objective,” Axelrod vaguely offered Sunday, lacking any details on how to attain that “peace” “objective” in the middle of war. Unlike during the campaign, Axelrod did not criticize Bush. Instead he offered support for Bush, even though White House policy (“Israel has a right to defend itself”) has failed for 8 years running.

“This is the world Obama will inherit,” pundits are saying. Unfortunately it’s also the world he lives in, and silence/agreeing with Bush isn’t the way to peace. In the middle of this American power vacuum, Obama should publicly pressure Olmert and Bush to resolve the conflict. Obama should push for cease-fire ASAP. He should ask Israel not to invade and re-occupy Gaza. He should call for immediate regional talks that include Syria and Iran. He should ask Bush to dispatch Rice to the region. He should call for Gaza’s borders to open, to allow aid workers and journalists inside. And he should speak up now, because a Third Intifada and renewed Israeli occupation of Gaza would be blamed on both Israel and America. Further pissing off the world’s Muslims is not in the interest of a nation bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan.

randomhouse
Random House HQ

By Ray LeMoine
I’d love for Obama–who has made the majority of his money off book royalties—to offer publishing a bailout like the auto industry is getting, as NYMag suggests. The story details the recent imprint mergers at Random House:

What’s the difference between the books from Knopf and Doubleday, anyway?

It’s true. Of thethe Times’ 10 Best Books of 2008, all are Random House titles except Bolano…

FICTION

DANGEROUS LAUGHTER
Thirteen Stories
By Steven Millhauser.
Alfred A. Knopf, $24.

A MERCY
By Toni Morrison.
Alfred A. Knopf, $23.95.

NETHERLAND
By Joseph O’Neill.
Pantheon Books, $23.95.

2666
By Roberto Bolaño. Translated by Natasha Wimmer.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, cloth and paper, $30.

UNACCUSTOMED EARTH
By Jhumpa Lahiri.
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.

NONFICTION

THE DARK SIDE
The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals
By Jane Mayer.
Doubleday, $27.50.

THE FOREVER WAR
By Dexter Filkins.
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.

NOTHING TO BE FRIGHTENED OF
By Julian Barnes.
Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95.

THIS REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING
Death and the American Civil War
By Drew Gilpin Faust.
Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95.

THE WORLD IS WHAT IT IS
The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul
By Patrick French.
Alfred A. Knopf, $30.

By Ray LeMoine
I was at this Jamatt-ud-Dawa 2006 protest in Muazzafrabad, capital of Azad (free) Kashmir—or Pakistani Kashmir. Several thousands took to the streets, intermingling with bearded, elite Pakistani forces on “guard,” i.e. politicking. Back then the group was protesting being labeled “terrorists” by the Americans. But we helped with the earthquake, Dawa supporters said. Evidence suggests this “charity” is tied to the attacks in Mumbai:

Lashkar, long seen as a creation of the Pakistani intelligence service to help fight India in disputed Kashmir, was banned in Pakistan in 2002 under pressure from the U.S., a year after Washington and Britain listed it a terrorist group. It is since believed to have emerged under another name, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, though that group has denied links to the Mumbai attack.

dsc_1037
dsc_0955
Peace mon…one sign reads “Dawa”…
dsc_10031
UPDATE, 12/1: The WaPost runs a longer story today:

The U.S. State Department declared Lashkar a terrorist organization in December 2001, days after it and another Kashmiri militant group, Jaish-i-Muhammad, or Army of Muhammad, were accused of attacking the Indian Parliament.

To get around the ban, Lashkar renamed itself Jamaat-ud-Dawa. It began to bill itself as a charitable organization and was instrumental in delivering aid to victims of the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir.

The U.S. government classified Jamaat-ud-Dawa as a terrorist group in April 2006, calling it an “alias” of Lashkar.

The pics above were taken in spring 2006.

Some speculate that India will respond with force. That will likely be the case in Indian-held Kashmir, which is occupied by hundreds of thousands of Indian troops. Maybe there will be more raids and round-ups. But India has to be careful. An overreaction could have grave consequences. A worst-case is a destabilized Karachi—a city three times larger than Baghdad, much poorer, with sectarian beef. I assume Obama-Clinton will push for a regional pact to fight terrorism in conjunction with an Israel-Palestine-style push for Kashmiri peace.

UPDATE: 12/2: Steve Coll on Jamaat/Laskhar via New Yorker blog:

In 2005, I travelled for The New Yorker to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to report on the earthquake that devastated the region. To facilitate international aid, the Pakistani government opened the region to journalists, creating a very rare opportunity to travel without escort and to poke around on the border. I was particularly interested in looking up Lashkar, which I had been following for many years. I made several visits to facilities run by its charity, called “Jamat-ud-Dawa,” which is today tolerated openly by the government of Pakistan but banned as a terrorist organization by the United States on the grounds that it is merely an alias for Lashkar.

In Muzuffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, Jamat had brought in a mobile surgical unit staffed by long-bearded doctors from Karachi and Lahore—very impressive young men, fluent in English, who offered a reminder that unlike, say, the Taliban, Lashkar draws some very talented people from urban professions. (With its hospitals, universities, and social-service wings, Lashkar is akin to Hezbollah or Hamas; it is a three-dimensional political and social movement with an armed wing, not merely a terrorist or paramilitary outfit.) As part of its earthquake relief work, Lashkar ferried supplies to remote villages isolated on the far side of the churning Neelum River, one of the two snow-fed canyon rivers that traverse the area. I asked to take a ride with its volunteers, and their media officer (yes, they have media officers) agreed.

We rode in a van to the river’s edge, scrambled down a rocky hillside and boarded one of Lashkar’s rubber pontoon boats, about fifteen feet long, with a large outboard motor—useful for carrying relief supplies, but not coincidentally, also useful for infiltrating militants into Indian-held Kashmir. It has long been an open secret, and a source of some hilarity among foreign correspondents, that under the guise of “humanitarian relief operations,” Lashkar practiced amphibious operations on a lake at its vast headquarters campus, outside Lahore. The events in Mumbai have taken the humor of these “humanitarian” rehearsals away. That day on the Neelum, I chatted with our thick-bearded captain in my very poor Arabic. He spoke Arabic as well—from his religious studies, he said, although he conceded, too, that he had travelled to Saudi Arabia, where it is well understood that Lashkar has raised money. I was also told that around the time of the earthquake they set up fund-raising operations in Britain, to tap the Pakistani diaspora there.

Earlier this year, I met with a Lashkar official in Lahore. We talked about how Jamat was getting along under international pressure. I took no notes and the conversation was intended for my informal guidance, but I came away with a number of impressions. On the one hand, the group’s bank accounts remain unmolested by the Pakistani government, which gives Lashkar quite a lot of running room; on the other, the group resents the accommodations reached between Pakistan’s government and the United States. Clearly, Lashkar knows what it must do to protect the Pakistan government from being exposed in the violent operations that Lashkar runs in Kashmir and elsewhere. For example, some of its younger volunteers wanted to join the fight with the Taliban in Western Pakistan and Afghanistan, my interlocutor said, and so Jamat had evolved an internal H.R. policy by which these young men would turn in their Jamat identity cards and go West “on their own time,” much as think tanks allow policy scholars to take leaves of absence to advise political campaigns.

One question that will certainly arise as the Mumbai investigations proceed is what the United States should insist the government of Pakistan do about Jamat and Lashkar. Even for a relative hawk on the subject of Pakistan’s support for Islamist militias, it’s a difficult question—comparable to the difficult question of managing Hezbollah’s place in the fragile Lebanese political system. To some extent, Pakistan’s policy of banning Lashkar and tolerating Jamat has helpfully reinforced Lashkar’s tendency toward nonviolent social work and proseltyzing. In the long run, this work is a threat to the secular character of Pakistan, but it is certainly preferable to revolutionary violence and upheaval right now. On the other hand, there is little doubt that the Army and I.S.I. continue to use Jamat’s legitimate front as a vehicle for prosecution of a long-running “double game” with the United States, in which Pakistan pledges fealty to American counterterrorism goals while at the same time facilitating guerrilla violence against India, particularly over the strategic territory of Kashmir, which Pakistan regards as vital to its national interests.

Lashkar is a big organization with multiple arms and priorities and its leadership is undoubtedly divided over how much risk to take in pursuit of violent operations in India, particularly given the comfort and even wealth the group’s leaders enjoy from their unmolested activities inside Pakistan. If the boys in Mumbai had support from Lashkar, did the group’s leader, Hafez Saeed, who runs Jamat, know of the plan? If so, that would be a radical act that would likely mean the end of his charity’s tenuous legitimacy.

If it can be credibly established that Saeed did not know—that this was a rogue operation of some sort, or a strategy cooked up by elements of Lashkar and groups such as the Pakistani Taliban or even Al Qaeda (perhaps conducted, too, with support from rogue elements of the Paksitan security forces)—that would be an even more complicated equation. I was at a conference this morning where another panelist well-versed in these issues said he would not be surprised if it turned out that Lashkar conceived the Mumbai attacks as a way to pull Pakistani Army units and attention away from the Afghan border and into defense positions in the east, to protect the country from the possibility of military retaliation by India. In any event, if the evidence does show that uncontrolled Lashkar elements carried out the attacks, it would force India’s government to judge how to calibrate policy toward a civilian-led Pakistan government and Army command that may have little control over the very same Islamist groups that it purposefully built up and supported just a few years ago. If the evidence shows that these were purposeful attacks endorsed by Saeed and aided by elements of the Army, then the Pakistan government will have no choice but to at least make a show of closing down Jamat and arresting Saeed. Unfortunately, it has taken such action in the past, but that action has turned out to be partially symbolic and constructed for international consumption, rather than marking a true and complete change in policy.

The U.S. can do a few useful things here. At a minimum, it can provide transparent information about the investigation and where the facts lead, so that the Indian and Pakistani political systems are on the same footing; it can indict individuals and groups that can be established as culpable for the Mumbai murders, no matter who those individuals and groups are—even if they include officers in the Pakistan Army; and it can emphasize in public that the United States seeks the end of all Pakistani support for terrorist groups, no matter whether they are operating in Afghanistan, Kashmir, or Mumbai.

Coll’s one of the best people to explain Jamaat/Lashkar-ISI ties. His book Ghost Wars is the ultimate guide to pre-911 Afghan/Pakistan-US politics.

You have to hand it to Jamaat/Lashkar. They chose the perfect moment to thrust Kashmir back to the spotlight. If there’s one thing I’d add to Coll’s list of things the US can do, it’s admitting that Kashmir and Afghanistan are the same war, at least to Pakistani Jihadis—how many times did I read signs linking India, the US, and Israel at the 2006 protest pictured above? America’s largely ignored Kashmir in the War on Terror. Thanks to Lashkar, that’s over now. Kashmir is now at the center of the foreign policy agenda. And with 400,000 Indian troops in de facto occupation of a Muslim land (80,000 killed since 1989), it’s about time the West pays attention to Kashmir like it does Israel-Palestine.

83802160
Ali Yusef pic of the Green Zone external road suicide bombed yest by a blonde chick.

I think my ex is in the Mid East but I haven’t heard from her:

“We saw an attractive woman with long blond hair heading towards Checkpoint 3,” said a 37-year-old soldier who gave his name as Abu Amir, or father of Amir, referring to a major pedestrian entrance to the Green Zone. “She talked with my two friends Hasan and Ibrahim for about 15 minutes.

“I was looking at her, but I had to go back to my job behind the blast wall,” the soldier recalled. “I heard the bomb at 8:30 a.m., and when I hurried out to my two friends, they were dead.”

Blond hair is rare among Iraqis.

That was a really bad joke. Sorry.

Anyway, violence remains perpetual in Baghdad. Three bombs killed 21 yestarday. Here’s a roundup of the day’s violence in the capital:

McClatchy reports political violence in Iraq on Monday. Baghdad:

– Around 7:30 a.m. a magnetic bomb detonated under a bus for Ministry of Trade employees carrying 18 passengers – 17 female employees and a child. Fourteen passengers were killed, including the child. Three women and the bus driver were wounded, police and witnesses said.

– Around 8:30 a.m. a female suicide bomber detonated near the checkpoint three outside the International Zone where the U.S. embassy and Iraqi government buildings are located. Iraqi police say five people were killed – three civilians and two Iraqi soldiers – and 2 others were wounded. The U.S. military confirmed one death, the Iraqi soldier, and eight injuries.

– Around 11 a.m. a roadside bomb targeted a police patrol in Sinaa street near the Technology University in the Karrada neighborhood (east Baghdad). One person was killed and five others were wounded, including three policemen.

– A mortar hit Meda’in town ( south of Baghdad). Six people were wounded.

I’m still one of the folks who doesn’t understand how we plan on removing all US troops by 2011. Yes, withdrawals should begin ASAP, but what are the parameters for reengagement, i.e. if mass sectarian violence breaks out?