Thursday, July 31, 2003

The Days of Wonder in Iraq
By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
July 31, 2003

Mr. Kiesling’s Warnings

John Brady Kiesling came to the limelight with his courageous resignation from the State Department just before the war had begun in Iraq. He was a career diplomat. Colleagues and superiors had warned him that he would be throwing away his lifelong career for “nothing”. But Mr. Kiesling took the step beyond remaining ordinary, collecting the steady paychecks, and counting for his rewarding retiring days. After struggling through sleepless nights pondering on various aspects of the war issue, Mr. Kiesling came to the conclusion that a unilateral, "preemptive" strike against Iraq would simply not only be wrong, but harmful to the United States as well.

In his widely circulated resignation letter Mr. Kiesling wrote, "The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson." The path we were on would lead to "instability and danger, not security."

Many of Mr. Kiesling’s warnings have materialized since then. Our world has not become a more stable and peaceful place after this unjustified war contrary to the endless propagations of voluminous attributions by the American Enterprise Institute and its surrogates in various clothes. Like the thousand years old barbaric tradition, they have displayed and replayed through the long tentacle of cable news media the prized grotesque photos of dead “brothers” of Baghdad, while the memory is still fresh for most of the world population on American rightful protests in displaying of dead and imprisoned soldiers by the fallen Iraqi regimes during the heights of the war breeching the Geneva Convention which is applicable to all the world citizens, Arabs and Non-Arabs, Americans and non-Americans.

This type of hypocrisy, double standards that irritates many, even the truest friends of America cannot but wonder what’s really going on behind these seemingly errant policies.


Mounting Attacks

The major battles of Iraq war ended more than three months ago. Bush’s spectacular landing over American ship, proclaiming the victory in grandiose fashion were widely televised. But since then, there are mounting attacks on the American occupying forces in Iraq. On the average, 12 attacks per day are reportedly been committed ”including assaults by mortar, sniper fire, hand grenades, land mines, RPGs, and, most chillingly, close-range shots to the back of the head in the midst of the noonday crowds in central Baghdad. Moreover, reports from Iraq suggest that the pool of "resistance" recruits and sympathizers is growing larger. Coalition troops now face not just renegade fedayeen, but tribesmen bent on vengeance, disgruntled ex-officials and soldiers, Islamist mujahideen, and simple criminals.” [2]

These attacks are termed as the desperate acts of old Baathist remnants.

In his recently published article in The New York Review of Books, Max Rodenbeck observes that after more than a hundred days of Iraq’s “liberation”, “the occupying power has still not revealed what it plans to do with wanted Baathists, although it has posted an almost comically large reward, $25 million, for the bigger fish. America has still not explained, to general Iraqi satisfaction, what the goals of its occupation are. It has not set a time limit for its presence. Nor has it restored public services to the meager standard Iraqis have long had to suffer, let alone improved them. The world’s most powerful military machine has not even provided basic security”. [2]

When Rumsfeld and others high in the Defense Department say that the defeated Baathists are solely responsible for the attacks on American troops, there might be partial truths in it. Yes, Saddam’s collapsed regime may have become vengeful, but perhaps there are other seething elements in action as well in Iraq.

The oppressed, bombarded and the decade old sanctioned Iraqis are glad to see Saddam’s regime is overthrown, but their pure distrust, anger and frustration toward the occupying forces, who are running their nation without any efficient coordination and long term management plan, who are not providing the basic amenities and securities to the mass, are equally condemned in every suppressed roar in the chaotic streets of Baghdad, and also in other cities and rural places.


Manipulation of Public Fears

Till now, the Bush Administration, at least the hawkish elements are able to manipulate public fears from September 11 catastrophe to further their aggressive agendas, “they adopted "the power politics of the schoolyard as their model of human interaction" and reduced a complex moral universe to a permanent face-off between "the forces of light and the forces of darkness." They used "lies and half-truths" to build a case for invading Iraq as "a step toward a more complete power grab." As the neo-conservatives began to drive American policy, old-school internationalists tried to come to terms with them, hoping to retain influence. But accommodation has proved no easy task.” [3]

Mr. Kiesling sums up this neo-conservative infested administration as the following: “This is an administration at war, and you are with them or you are against them”. And in the process, the rational paths toward reconciliation and peace are replaced by the irrational divine guidance and a thousand eyes for eye kinds of vengeance mood.


Misconceptions, Miscalculations and Misrule

In Iraq, the American Proconsul Paul Bremer has indeed taken a few positive steps, like his initiative of a budget that surpassed Saddam’s old budget by two folds. There are also reports of “new goods and fresh opinions” beginning to give Iraqis a taste of the potential rewards of freedom. [2]

But Max Rodenbeck points out that amid these few positive steps, there are countless failures those were avoidable, and those would have caused less sufferings of the Iraqis who have already suffered much from Saddam’s brutal regime and American leaded economic sanctions and rogue war.

It is true that Americans do not have any ill wills towards Iraq. Most Americans truly wish to see a prospering Iraq where the ordinary Iraqis live in their peaceful life. The recent chaotic mess in every parts of Iraq is mostly due to “prewar misconceptions, wartime miscalculations, and postwar misrule.” There are no surprises here.

The “prewar misconceptions” was based on the neo-conservative’s drum rolling portrayal of a quick victory in Iraq following by a red carpet treatment of the “liberators” that has simply not been materialized.

The “wartime miscalculations” was based on Chalabi and Makiya types of expatriate Iraqis who had advised Pentagon that the “shock and awe” would obliterate all forms of resistance quickly, with minimal casualties for the Iraqis and Americans alike.

Well, things did not turn this way as well. The latest conservative estimate of Iraqi civilian casualties has exceeded the range of 5000-7000; that is “even assuming the number is half the lower figure, this represents ten times the human toll of September 11, relative to Iraq's population.” Also, uncounted deaths of many thousands of Iraqi soldiers have hundreds of thousands of grieving family members alive, fuming in tears-full rage.

During the war, Rumsfeld was gloating in his neatly ironed suit on how precise American bombardments were, and in two-thirds of these cases, he was right about it. But there were still 1200 cluster bombs “dropped from the air, and many thousands more lobbed by artillery. (The effect of this was particularly devastating at Baghdad's airport, where US troops feinted, withdrew, and then crushed six battalions of counterattacking Iraqis.) Each of the aerial bombs contained 200–300 bomblets, of which, on average, some 5 percent failed to explode. The dud rate for artillery-fired munitions was triple that figure. In other words, an absolute minimum of 15,000 such deadly objects are now scattered across Iraq, not to mention all the other forms of lethal discarded ordnance.” [2]

Back in November of 2002, an expert panel opined that disbanding the Iraqi army swiftly would cause tremendous resentments in the 400,000 strong Iraqi army, but the Bush Administration ordered Bremer to do this anyway, creating untoward angers in a defeated and now unemployed army and among their famished families.


Shifting Public Sentiment

Before and during the war in Iraq, the peace activists around the globe were united, coordinated with each other from across the oceans and mountains; borders and thousand miles distance didn’t matter; language barriers were forgotten. Their goal was the unified stance against the war, against the killing of children, men, women and elderly Iraqis. There were millions poured into the streets, lighting the candlelight vigils. The Priests, Rabbis, Imams and Pundits marched in unison forgetting the mundane theological crackpot differences. The atheists, agnostics, believers and communists and capitalists were under the same umbrella. A Muslim woman cried loudly hearing Pope John Paul’s last moment plea from the Vatican podium; Devoted Hindus raised their hands in prayers along with praying Imams in New Delhi’s interfaith march; this world of ours were overwhelmingly against this war and it remains so.

After the major bloodshed ended, the muscles of might and bombardment fright had incinerated the despised Saddam regime, thousands were buried and mourned for, the peace activists lost their steam, they felt stupefied finding that their heart-felt protests could not stop the war, could not bring a peaceful resolution that could have saved thousands of those who are now decaying in unmarked graves, or the wounded Iraqis living their miserable lives, amputees, and blind, feeling burden to their overburdened family.

With the soaring quagmire like environment existing in Iraq, where all the prewar premonitions, warnings from the anti-war activists are coming to float around Bush Administration’s forceful Merry-Go-Round depiction of the real events, anti-war peace activists are getting motivated once again, their days of slumber are getting replaced with the vitalized new goals for achieving a non-violent world.


United Nations in the Shadow

Paul Rogat Loeb writes in his recent Znet article, “To most Iraqis, US troops have become symbols of colonialism and chaos. The longer they stay, the more they become targets, and the more Iraqis will resent the US for imposing our will and grabbing for oil while failing to secure basic needs like electricity, clean water, and physical safety. Because the UN represents the entire international community, including eighteen Arab states, a UN administration, in contrast, would be far less likely to be seen as a foreign military occupation. Although the new forces would probably still face some opposition, both armed and unarmed, they won't be tarred with the same neocolonial agenda. Iraqis wouldn't view them as simply in it to dominate their country or project American power. Without the disruption of a growing armed insurgency, efforts at restoring basic services, maintaining stability, and setting up a democratic and representative Iraqi government would be far easier. A UN Mandate might even allow a similar transition to when UN forces finally ended Indonesia's bloody occupation of East Timor and supervised that country's return to democracy.” [4]

One may ask: why is the Bush Administration so opposed to the ideas of giving United Nations the upper hand in this messy transition period in Iraq? It is perhaps the powerful capital interests of the neo-conservatives, and the profit-seeking corporations combined who are behind this administration’s opposition to the United Nation’s leading role idea.

Paul Wolfowitz was blunt in his remark this week that he would not like to see UN taking the leadership role in Iraq because he believes UN to be painfully slow in its execution of plans. There is no surprise here either. This is the same man who before the war was promulgating the fabricated ideas of tons and tons of WMDs scattered around in Iraq, who was forceful in his global agenda of seeing neo-conservative’s imperial dream come true.

A few decades before, in another blunder filled American adventure, many thousands of American soldiers gave their life for a battle that seem quite senseless in today’s light. The same arrogance, similar fervent pursuance of divine ideology based goals were in play in that blood ravaged Vietnam war era, killing hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians along with lost lives of American soldiers in the jungle of Southeast Asia.

Yes, Iraq is not Vietnam. America has acquired vastly more sophisticated killer machines and its technological and economic superiority is unsurpassed. But in the guerilla war, where the rage and resentment arising from witnessing beloveds’ torn up bodies, suffering through bleak and frustrating agonies of lawlessness, Saddam’s strong military boots are replaced by American military boots with no clear goal and exit strategy of the occupying forces in sight, the increasing likelihood is there of a more stronger resistance warfare spreading all over Iraq.

Only the international communities united under the established international laws abide by the UN, can save the miseries and sufferings of Iraqis, it can also put international peace keeping forces who will be less target to the guerilla warfare thus saving young American soldiers’ lives from bullets and hand grenades.

“Chas. Freeman, the retired ambassador, is more direct. "We have a national mentality now that says, if you see a problem, shoot it! Because we know that we're very, very good at shooting things."” [3]

But shooting the problem will not bring peace in Iraq.


References

1. George Monbiot, “America is a Religion”, The Guardian, July 29, 2003

2. Max Rodenbeck, “The Occupation”, The New York Review of Books, August 14, 2003 Issue.

3. Bob Thompson, “Preemptive Strike”, The Washington Post, July 27, 2003.

4. Paul Rogat Loeb, “Hope Out of Quagmire”, Znet, July 30, 2003.

5. Bob Herbert, “Dying in Iraq”, The New York Times, July 31, 2003.

6. Picture Reference: http://www.mcc.org/gallery/02_08/photos/irq_02_02_17.jpg


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Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: sohelkarim@yahoo.com.

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Friday, July 11, 2003

Global Warming and Uncertainty

Dear Readers,

Scientific uncertainty is the fact of life. There is not much argument about it. But the dogmatist attitudes in turning back from the present scientific data and warnings regarding the alarming global warming trend are not acceptable. Things can go exceedingly sour if ice in the poles melts.

J.W. Anderson in his Washington Post opinion editorial writes, “when the sea level rises in the Bay of Bengal it also rises in California and along the Delmarva Peninsula.” Millions of people will be affected if the coastal nations and towns and cities get inundated with the rising sea, the devastations from that unthinkable scenario are too grim to perceive for many. But the government leaders are elected and paid to take prudent necessary actions. They have scientific and financial resources available to them to implement plan in preventing that crouching meltdown of civilization.

Mr. Anderson provides three aspects of global climate change:

1. In the past century, our world has grown warmer.

2. Scientists find carbon dioxide as the main reason for this global warming. Carbon dioxide is “a gas that traps heat and is generated by burning fuels”. In the recent years, CO2 emission seeping into our atmosphere has increased considerably.

3. So far, no one is absolutely certain on what’s going to happen if CO2 level keep increasing in the atmosphere.


Mr. Anderson states that the geological record is full of warnings that when change comes, it can come exceedingly fast. “The evidence hints at hidden trigger mechanisms that, once sprung, can send whole continents into radically different climates. It could happen for purely natural reasons, having nothing to do with human activities. But the rapid buildup of carbon dioxide from power plants and cars and furnaces increases the risk. That much is not an uncertainty.”

Folks in the Bush Administration and many Republicans and corporations blame that putting too much emphasis on environmental issues will ruin the present economy. Mr. Anderson has a answer for them: “An effective plan to lower the risk of catastrophic climate change need not damage the economy, any more than buying insurance against fires and floods damages the economy. Scientific uncertainty is a fact of life. One purpose of public policy is to address uncertainty. It's not an excuse for inaction in confronting a rising risk.” He discusses on tax issues to pay for the environmental causes.

Please read his article from the following location: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A40912-2003Jul10.html

Also you can check out the article “Climate Change: The Science isn’t settled” of James Schlesinger that Mr. Anderson point to in his reference: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19892-2003Jul7.html

Barnaby J. Feder has written an article that was published in The International Herald Tribune this week. He observed that there are alarming signs that the big companies are doing poor job “of preparing for the business impact of global warming, according to a report issued by a coalition of investor, environmental and public interest groups. Most of the 20 corporate giants discussed, including leaders in the oil, auto and utility industries, are also failing to disclose to investors enough about the financial risks they face from climate change, according to the report, which was prepared by the Investor Responsibility Research Center in Washington and released Wednesday.” This article can be read from the following location: http://www.iht.com/articles/102403.html

“Global warming is linked with extreme weather conditions, according to a study by the World Meteorological Organization.” This comment was published in a CBC’s article. Here are a few excerpts:

“It points to the number of extreme conditions this year. In the United States, there were 562 tornadoes during May, a record number in any month. In southwestern France, temperatures soared above 40 C, the highest temperatures recorded for the month of June. The extreme heat in India killed at least 1,400 people. Heavy rainfalls in Sri Lanka caused massive floods and landslides killing at least 300 people and damaging the land. "New record extreme events occur every year somewhere in the globe, but in recent years the number of such extremes have been increasing," the organization said. "As the global temperatures continue to warm due to climate change, the number and intensity of extreme events might increase," it concluded. Read the full article from the following location: http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2003/07/03/extremeweather_030703

For a basic refresher in the Global Warming issue, read the following The Guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theissues/article/0,6512,391051,00.html

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
July 11, 2003

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Bangladesh: Preventing the Launch Tragedies


Dear Readers,

Like the previous times, there will be multiple investigative reports and recommendations. Cabinet Ministers and Parliamentary Members will show outcry filled whimpers in their decorative visits in villages, homes of hundreds of victims perished in the Meghna’s recent launch M.V. Nasrin-1 capsize disaster. This is the similar trend observed in the previous catastrophes in Bangladesh. In a few months, the reports will gather dusts and recommendations will be discarded quietly while public attentions are transferred to other emotional issues of the days.

The grief stricken father was hugging his son on the bank of Meghna. A veiled woman was wiping off her tears, and other anguished faces and eyes looked on. Only a few bodies are recovered. Hundreds are feared to be washed away in the vigorous river current. In 1994, around the same spot, M.V. Dinar was drowned with 400 travelers, that ship was never recovered. Bangladesh does not have state-of-the art equipments for the timely recovery job. The time is well past to tackle this issue of enhancing the capability of aging recovery ships and equipments.

The Daily Star editorial recommended that imposing strict punishments on the responsible launch companies, fining them heavily, and making them pay for the injured and perished victims’ families might be a good deterrent. The editorial writes, “The fact of the matter is, the launch owners and operators who had been previously in breach of law got away, so that violation of rules has been a recurrent phenomenon. If the errant launch operators were punished, there would have been a deterrent effect and we wouldn't perhaps be witness to such tragedies time and again.”

Strong leadership in implementing all the dust gathering old reports and recommendations are a sure necessity. Rather than continuing the endless squabbling between the two major political parties in Bangladesh, why don’t the honorable Prime Minister Begum Khalida Zia and the honorable opposition party leader Shaikh Hasina Wajed join in a real struggle for preventing the certainty of more preventable tragedies waiting to be unlocked in the future?

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
July 9, 2003


Launch disaster one too many


Recurrence of accidents as past violators went unpunished

Though it is not yet known exactly how many lives were lost in Tuesday night's launch capsize in the Meghna, initial reports say over 80 per cent of the 700 or so passengers perished.

The launch that sank was clearly overloaded. Incredible though it may sound, a survivor has divulged that the vessel was carrying passengers of another launch, which could not, for some reason or the other, make its scheduled journey. So the vessel might have been carrying double the number of passengers it had the capacity for. And all this has happened only a few months after a series of launch disasters claimed hundreds of lives.

What is evident from the latest capsize is that navigational rules are still honoured more in their breach than observance. But why? The fact of the matter is, the launch owners and operators who had been previously in breach of law got away, so that violation of rules has been a recurrent phenomenon. If the errant launch operators were punished, there would have been a deterrent effect and we wouldn't perhaps be witness to such tragedies time and again.

We have to recall here that nor'westers in the month of April accounted for many launch accidents. The situation reached such a pass that launches were barred, for a brief period though, from operating during the most vulnerable hours in the evening. Apart from that, attempts were made to get at the root of the problem as to why so many launches capsized in such a short time. That led to categorisation of the vessels on the basis of their river worthiness. A number of vessels were found to be totally unfit for carrying passengers. But we have not yet heard of any follow-up measure in this respect.

The shipping minister himself addressed the issue and there was a short spurt of hyper-activity which created the impression that the government would not let the matter rest until some safety measures were put in place.

But when overloading, the most avoidable risk factor, has caused another major disaster
it is hard to believe that the situation has changed.

We condole the deaths of the launch passengers and would like to urge the government to go beyond forming another probe body, which is of course necessary to ascertain the causes behind the capsize, but the emphasis must be on eliminating breach of rules. It is time also to make compensatory payments to families of launch accident victims mandatory. That itself could have a deterring effect.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Death Toll hits 44 in Pakistan Mosque Attack

Dear Readers,

Bodies were blown to pieces. The sectarian violence in Pakistan is not new. It has been going on for many years. Extremist Sunnis are killing innocent Shi'ites, Ahmedia, Christians, and the Shi'ites and Ahmedias are fighting back killing innocent Sunnis and other groups of people in the revenge attacks. Though it is too early to put blame in any one group, this is a very similar pattern of violence arising months after months, years after years. Now the scared civilians in Pakistan will be awaiting for the revenge attacks from the other groups, and this cycle will continue unabated unless the Pakistani Government takes impartial initiatives and implementations of their dust filled rules in stopping further killings.

"If these incidents are not halted then terrorism will engulf the entire country," this was uttered by Sajid Ali Naqvi, head of Islami Tehrik Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf said, "It is unfortunate that some elements in Pakistan are undermining what Pakistan stands for. It is unfortunate that this small minority are able to derail or undermine national feelings". He promised for a strong response.

And a strong response he must take. But along with this proposed "strong response" comes the necessity of a democratic Pakistan, without Musharraf's wielding military uniforms and boots in governing Pakistan from unmistakable shadow. With the real democracy established in Pakistan, these blood-filled grievances and revenges among the various communal groups can be dealt with more effectively with the participation of wide range of peaceful Pakistani people in the governing process, handling and neutralizing the extremist elements of the society from within not from outside influences.

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
July 4, 2003


Death toll hits 44 in Pakistan mosque attack

A suicide attack on a packed Shi'ite mosque in southwestern Pakistan during Friday prayers killed at least 44 people and wounded 65 others, the country's leading private emergency service said.

Describing what was the worst such attack in Pakistan in recent years, witnesses at the main Shi'ite mosque in the centre of the city of Quetta reported seeing gunmen firing on worshippers before at least one suicide bomber blew himself up.

"According to our information, 44 people were killed and 65 wounded," Ali Murad of the Edhi Welfare Foundation told Reuters.

Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Mehdi Najafi, who was leading prayers at the time of the attack, gave a toll of 40 dead and 52 injured.

Earlier, officials put the toll at 32 dead but said it could rise.

"I saw bodies blown to pieces," said worshipper Khan Ali, 60, who was slightly injured in the attack, which sparked angry protests among Shi'ite Muslims in the city.

No group claimed responsibility for the raid, but officials said it appeared to be linked to rivalry between minority Shi'ites and majority Sunni Muslims, which has often exploded into violence in the past.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said it was too early to say who was to blame.

Military leader President Pervez Musharraf, in Paris on an official visit, vowed to punish the perpetrators.

The attack will come as an embarrassment for Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led "war on terrorism", who tried during his visit to Europe and the United States to calm investors' fears after a spate of attacks on Western and Christian targets in Pakistan last year blamed on Islamic militants.

Witness accounts of the latest attack varied.

Worshipper Mahmood Hussain said two bearded men fired on worshippers before a third person blew himself up.

Another witness reported seeing two suicide bombers setting off explosives, while the information minister said there were three attackers, two of them suicide bombers who died instantly and a third later who died of his wounds.

Hundreds of people have been killed in sectarian violence involving Sunni and Shi'ite militants in recent years.

Violence has worsened again this year after a relative lull in 2002.

Angry crowds of Shi'ites from the Hazara tribe, some armed and firing shots into the air, took to the streets and gathered outside the hospital where the bodies and casualties were taken.

Vehicles, shops and a wing of the hospital were set ablaze and the army was called in.

Crowds began to disperse after paramilitary troops used loudspeakers to announce a curfew.

Musharraf has arrested hundreds of Islamic militants since announcing support for the "war on terrorism" in 2001 but still failed to prevent such attacks.

He vowed a "very strong" response.

"It is unfortunate that some elements in Pakistan are undermining what Pakistan stands for. It is unfortunate that this small minority are able to derail or undermine national feelings," he told reporters.

Sajid Ali Naqvi, head of Islami Tehrik Pakistan, the main Shi'ite political group and an opponent of Musharraf, called it a "terrorist incident" organised with the knowledge of state agencies.

"If these incidents are not halted then terrorism will engulf the entire country," he said.

In the southern port city of Karachi in February, nine Shi'ites were shot dead outside a mosque by gunmen on motorcycles.

Days later, two more Shi'ites were killed.

Less than a month ago, 11 police recruits were killed and nine wounded when gunmen opened fire on their vehicle in Quetta.

All the victims were Shi'ite Hazaras.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/justin/nat/newsnat-5jul2003-6.htm