Archive for the ‘WMDs’ Category
Well, I got my Internet connection back, and I got my cable TV back, all is right with the universe. At least my little corner of it. Lots of news this week, though it’s more and more apparent to me that what passes for news in the mainstream media is little more than talking points issued by the administration on behalf of their corporate handlers. So with that in mind, a random look at the week’s “news.”
US soldiers withdraw from Iraqi cities! This was touted as some sort of big moment for Iraqis, the Iraqi government even went so far as to declare it a national holiday. This is just another in an endless series of stage managed events for the benefit of the American taxpayers. Pretty much the story of our occupation of Iraq from the get go, when the Pentagon bussed a handful of Kurds around to have pics of happy Iraqis welcoming our troops. Or the Saddam statue pull-down. The reality is that packing up your tent and moving it a few miles down the road doesn’t constitute a “withdrawal” of any sort. We still have a massive (and mind numbingly expensive) military presence in Iraq with no sign it’s going anywhere soon. And the Iraqi “government” is a puppet government at best, a quisling government at worst.
Moving right along, I read an article about an interview with President Obama. I was shocked by a few points, so I’ll comment on this news article. It starts with Obama lecturing the Russians and telling them “The Cold War” is history. Excuse me? Yes, for Russia it’s history. For the USA and its allies, the Cold War never ended. NATO wasn’t dissolved, it in fact has been expanded right up to Russia’s borders with plans to expand it into the former Soviet Union on the table. NATO is fighting in Afghanistan. In other words the US Cold War policy of encircling, isolating, and weakening Russia continues to this day. As long as NATO still exists, the USA is in Cold War mode, that Obama can say this sort of insulting nonsense with a straight face shows what a consummate politician and liar he is.
The article goes on to say “With most experts in agreement that there’s a good chance Iran could have a usable nuclear bomb sometime during his presidency.” Actually, the experts say precisely the opposite, the USA’s own intelligence agencies have concluded that Iran stopped working on bombs years ago. And yet here is a “news” article basically stating as fact that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons. In the same vein Obama said that Iran cannot be allowed to become a “nuclear power,” whatever that was supposed to mean. More effort to conflate Iran’s nuclear program with a weapon’s program, so that the demonisation of Iran can continue apace. As I have stated before, Iran’s nuclear program is completely legal under international law (unlike, say, Israel’s covert nuclear program,) perfectly sensible for them in an economic sense, and even if they did build a few nukes, so what? The USA and Israel’s vast modern nuclear arsenal is more than a match for a few fifties eras nukes and will be for generations to come.
In any event I will post more on Iran and the situation there sometime next week. Unlike most people who simply regurgitate talking points (TV really has destroyed most people’s ability to think for themselves) I try to look at as much of the picture as I can and come to my own conclusions. And there’s a whole lot of “big picture” when it comes to Iran, so I will be doing a lot of research this weekend. I may even change my mind about aspects of the situation, it’s been known to happen.
To be fair, the article did end with one Obama quote that I am in complete agreement with. When it was pointed out that since he signed the $780 billion economic stimulus bill in February, the economy has lost more than 2 million jobs, Obama said: “What we are still seeing is too many jobs lost, …” As the expression so crudely puts it, no shit Sherlock. All the various stimulus packages around the world did was shovel more money upwards, basically bandaging the problem while the foundation of the economy continues to rot. No matter how much lipstick and perfume you use, a stinking corpse is still a stinking corpse.
Next week, Iran, maybe more on the economy, the Battle of Gettysburg, and watever else pops up. Have a great weekend everyone.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s almost certainly public domain, is an historically important image, and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. I don’t even know who to credit it to, if anyone knows let me know and I will properly attribute it. The image is from Catherine the Great’s grand tour of newly acquired lands in Crimea in 1787. It was alleged that General Potemkin built fake villages to impress the Empress with the value of Potemkin’s conquests. How much truth there is to the story is debateable, but it does nicely illustrate that the idea of using spin to legitimize invasion and conquest has been around for a awhile.)
I’m a little concerned about developments in Pakistan. More than a little concerned actually. This is easily the number one spot on the planet where all hell could break out in the near future. And by all hell, I mean a major war, possibly even a nuclear war. Usually when our leaders in Washington make hysterical claims about some grave danger we face overseas, they are exaggerating for their own propaganda purposes. In the case of the unravelling situation in Pakistan, Washington may be misstating the problem and ignoring the role they played in creating it, but there is no doubt it is a problem.
First of all, what’s going on? Well, the Pakistani government has been cutting deals with militants in its border regions. In fact Pakistan has basically ceded control of parts of Pakistan within 100 miles of the capitol to Taliban militants. Oh my. Instability has been spreading throughout Pakistan for a number of reasons. A collapsing economy. Indian meddling. Pakistan was basically forced to join a war against the Taliban that they weren’t enthusiastic about to begin with, and their war effort is falling apart. And there seems to be no doubt that America’s rocket attacks are turning Pakistanis against the USA and their own government in large umbers. This is one of the amazing examples of how war supporters have fatal tunnel vision, they can rant and rave about the rocket attacks Gaza and how even one rocket justifies Israel’s military violence, yet they can’t grasp that firing rockets into Pakistan is going to piss the Pakistanis off in the same way so many Israelis are outraged.
In any event, I digress. Adding to the problem in a huge way are the comments of our leaders in Washington. Both Clinton and General Petraeus have recently lectured the Pakistanis on how they are conducting themselves with their rebellious border provinces. Clinton was particularly harsh, basically accusing the Pakistanis of abdicating to the Taliban. Quick poll, how would Americans react if some foreign leader lectured us and told us we had to do things their way or else? To put it mildly, people would be rushing to American leaders who told the foreign leaders to butt out.
Which leads to the conclusion that Washington is trying to destabilize Pakistan, maybe with hopes of inspiring a military coup. At the very least these comments aren’t helping, and are a propaganda godsend for the Taliban and other such groups. I mean, for seven years now we have been losing ground in this part of the world, while the power and influence of our chosen enemies is increasing. Yet our only response is more troops and more threats and more rocket attacks … the very things that have been destabilizing the region for years?
God only knows what is going to happen, but at least the chances of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the Taliban or the like is small. The Pakistani army retains very tight control of them, they no more want the Taliban to have the bomb than the USA does. And if it seems that an Islamic revolution is sweeping Pakistan, there’s no doubt that the USA /India/Israel would take military attack to destroy the Pakistani nuclear arsenal … very possibly with the support of the Pakistani military. Still, that would only add more fuel to the fire.
In some ways what most disturbs me about this mess is that western thinking on the subject never seems to change. For two centuries now British and then American armies have periodically marched through the region trying to impose our version of secular reality on them, and despite two centuries of bloody failure, we just keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
Maybe this will all work out OK. Obama does seem to be a little more inclined to diplomacy than Bush. A little. However, he seems to have the same blind spot as everyone in Washington regarding spending on war, no price is too high. (Well, no price in American dollars and foreign blood.) I don’t see how we can possibly invade and occupy Pakistan, yet we seem determined to forge a course where abject surrender or massive war are our only options. This is not a sound geopolitical strategy.
Maybe I’ll write a post of the ten biggest blunders in the “War on Terror,” that could be fun. Stay safe everyone and have a great weekend.
(The above image is claimed as Public Domain under British copyright law as it was executed prior to 1939. The author is unknown. It’s a nineteenth century painting of the Battle of Maiwand, where in 1880 an Afghan warlord defeated a British army in one of the few victories of an Asian army over a western one in the nineteenth century. Just another example of our endless penchant for pouring European blood on the ground in foreign parts.)
“My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.” —George Bush 2003
It’s been six years since former President Bush announced that US forces were entering Iraq to defend us from the evil Saddam and his terrible weapons that could destroy American cities at any moment. Iraqis lined the streets and threw flowers as our heroic troops marched into their land and freed them from tyranny and oppression. It brings a tear to my eye just to think about, thousands of years of using armies to plunder and conquer, and finally a man had the vision to use military force to reshape the world for noble purposes.
Snort. Gag. Retch. Projectile vomiting. OK, this is very simple. If you thought that the US invasion of Iraq was about defending America and for the benefit of the Iraqi people, I have a bridge you might want to buy. Too subtle? OK, if you thought that Iraq was a threat to the USA, you’re an idiot. Maybe you’re not always idiotic, but your brain dropped the ball on this occasion. The idea that Saddam’s Iraq posed a “grave danger” to the world didn’t pass the laugh test.
Sure, if Saddam had really tried he might have been able to smuggle explosives or what not into American cities and pulled of some sort of 9/11. Maybe a dozen 9/11s. Tens of thousands of Americans dead. After which we would have turned Iraq into a parking lot. Saddam was evil, not stupid and suicidal. And of course every other country on the planet, hundreds of corporations, insurgent groups, and criminal organizations could do the same thing. My God, should we invade all them too?
Six years, and what has Bush’s war in Iraq wrought? Hundreds of thousands are dead, at least as many are wounded, including hundreds of thousands of American GIs. That’s right, hundreds of thousands of returning GIs may have brain injuries according to the Pentagon. Due to modern armour and medical care, guys that would have died in previous wars are now coming home alive … but with injuries that will haunt them their entire lives.
In fact, it’s fair to say that many of these men (and women) will die in the years to come from their injuries, and that Bush has done with their lives exactly what he did with our money. He spent it today, but the future will have to pay the bills. Deficit dying as it were. Not only are Americans still dying in Iraq, they will continue to die for decades even if we pull out tomorrow. Some accomplishment.
Six years later and I’m still angry. I’m angry that so many Americans bought the WMD nonsense and the idea that Iraq was some sort of threat to the USA. I’m angry that Americans are still dying and being maimed in Iraq. Yes, increasingly sophisticated attacks on US troops in Iraq continue, and they will never stop. And I’m angry that Americans simply forgot about the war when the violence slightly decreased. A permanent drain on our treasury and our youth’s blood, and we can’t even continue the public debate as to the wisdom of this? I guess not.
In any event despite the image above, I’m not trying to compare America to Nazi Germany, Bush was no Hitler. There is one parallel though that we ignore, when Hitler launched his crusade to reshape Europe by force of arms, there was a lot of justice in his cause. The Treaty of Versailles that Germany was forced to sign at gun point in World War War was a grossly unjust treaty. There were people at the time who said it would be the cause of the next war.
And by 1940 Hitler had rectified these wrongs, and he had his “Mission Accomplished” victory tour of Paris. Granted even by then his forces had done some very bad things, armies and soldiers always do bad things. No one imagined at this point just how bad it would get as Hitler got carried away by his success. In that sense we are fortunate that Bush’s invasion of Iraq was such a failure, if it hadn’t so quickly turned into a bloody mess Bush would almost certainly turned his sights on Iran and Syria. In that sense maybe the sacrifices of our dead in Iraq weren’t entirely pointless, they may have prevented Bush launching a much bigger bloodier war.
Finally, the point I’m dancing around with this post, it is far more accurate to say that “war makes monsters” than “monsters make war.” It doesn’t matter how noble your motives might be, war brings out the worst in men, not the best. At the Nuremberg Trials they decided that invasion was the mother of all war crimes, because it is the crime from which all the rest flow.
Six years later and I still think the invasion of Iraq was a terrible ghastly mistake. The people who predicted wonderful things would follow our invasion were naive at best, and liars at worst. Though Dick Cheney is much more than just a liar, but I’ve save his evil rantings for another day.
God rest the souls of all who have died in Bush’s misbegotten little war.
(The above picture is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is an historically important image. It’s Hitler on his one and only tour of Paris in 1940. I chose it because it’s high enough resolution that you can see the expression on their faces, click on the image for the full size version. The guy on Hitler’s left is Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect. They are trying to look noble, they just look hollow and lost to me. Hitler went on from this moment to end up dying by his own hand in a Berlin bunker in 1945. Speer not only survived the war, he survived the Nuremberg Trials as the “Nazi who said he was sorry.“)
OK, in a previous post we have escaped being incinerated by a nuclear weapon’s initial flash through dumb luck, and escaped being crushed and imploded by the ensuing shock wave through quick wits and a fortuitously placed shelter of some sort. Now we are standing outside the subway staring at the starkly beautiful and terrible mushroom cloud rising a few miles away. “This can’t be good” would be a reasonable assessment of the situation, aren’t we now doomed to die a horrible death from fallout induced radiation poisoning? No. In fact if you’ve made it this far, there’s a good chance you will be around to tell this story to your grandchildren. And they won’t be mutants from fifties horror movies either, well, at least some of them.
The reason is that the danger from fallout is exaggerated, and even better, a few simple precautions can reduce that danger considerably. What is fallout? Fallout is dust and debris sucked up and pulverized and irradiated by the nuclear explosion, tossed up into the air by the mushroom cloud, and delivered to nearby locations by the wind. Unless the bomb was designed to create fallout, which is unlikely, fallout is going to be rather minimal. However, even better, fallout is simply radioactive dust falling from the sky, possibleyin rain, possibly invisibly. Why is that better? Because, for that dust to really hurt you, it has to get inside you. Thats right, the mere presence of radioactive fallout, while not a good thing, is not nearly so bad as inhaling or swallowing the dust.
So now the clever reader just figured out the purpose of the pillowcase they had stuffed in their briefcase or purse because they read about it in Doug’s Darkworld, and has already ripped it into strips to act as an impromptu breathing mask. Wrap your face so that as much as possible you’re breathing through cloth, wet cloth if it can be arranged, and proceed on your way. The fallout is only going to drift downwind from the bomb site, try to proceed away from both the bomb site and any area downwind from the site. Think of it this way, invisible poisonous dust may be falling from the sky, if you can avoid breathing or eating it, you will be OK. It’s also a good idea to not let any accumulate on your body.
How can all this be accomplished? Wear a mask of some sort, improvised if necessary. Change the mask every 15 minutes or so. Don’t eat or drink anything that has been exposed to fallout, not a good time to quench one’s thirst in puddles or fountains. Changing into uncontaminated clothes and showering yourself off is a good idea when possible. A good idea to cover your hair if you are outside.
OK, by now it is clear that while fallout danger can be minimized, boy, it’s not going to be easy or safe to run around in a fallout contaminated area. On the plus side only areas downwind of the central blast site are going to get fallout. That means if facing the mushroom cloud the wind is at your back, count your blessings and proceed in a direction away from the blast area, preferably with the wind in your face. Fallout is only really dangerous for a few days, it takes decades to fade away entirely but most of the radioactive material in fallout is unstable and decays into harmless dust very quickly. This is why the fallout shelter was invented, if one can get to a decent fallout shelter fast enough, the danger from fallout is mitigated even further.
Which leads to part three of my “How to survive a nuclear attack” series. Fallout shelters. Yes, rather than run around in the aftermath of a nuclear attack, it might be a good idea to lay low in a fallout safe structure. It is even possible to build a fallout shelter. Coming soon. In conclusion, I’m not trying to minimize the terrible danger of nuclear weapons (or nuclear power plant fires, the above information also applies if your local nuclear plant catches fire,) I’m trying to illustrate the central idea that there are many possible calamities in our lives where a little knowledge quickly applied is the difference between being a survivor…or a statistic.
(The above image was taken by a US government employee in the course of their duties, and is thus public domain under US law. This is a picture from the Apple-2 nuclear test on 5 May 1945, also known as Operation Cue. This was the last big public(!) nuclear test, and was extensively covered by the media of the day. It’s also the test where the iconic video images linked in the previous post were. Yes, civilian volunteers were trucked in to witness the test and its aftermath, those were the good old days!)
Missile defense in Poland…one more step along the road to nuclear war with Russia…why are we doing this?
In a little break from Georgia, I thought I’d mention that the world has slipped a little closer to nuclear Armageddon in Poland. Yes, the USA and Poland have signed a deal to deploy a US missile system in Poland, purportedly to defend the USA and Europe from missiles from rogue states such as Iran and Korea. This is fascinating several levels, almost all of them unpleasant.
First of all, North Korea and Iran have defence budgets that are trivial compared to the USA’s, and neither is known to possess advanced missile technology. The idea that they have or could have some sort of secret strategic weapons program that is a serious threat to the USA and Europe with their thousands of modern accurate nuclear warheads, is well, hard to swallow. So already this is a little sketchy, we’re spending a fortune to defend against a basically non-existent threat? Even if one makes a case that they might develop such weapons some day, look at the map, you’re going to defending Europe from Iran by building a missile defence in Poland? Why not Turkey, or Armenia, where the Russians offered to build a joint anti-Iranian missile defence system? Sadly, as has been the case since the collapse of the Soviet Union, any offer the Russians make is rejected out of hand, not to mentions promises made to them are broken. In any event, it’s hard to deny that a missile defence system in Poland is more directed at Russia than Iran. If it’s directed at Iran at all.
The Russians are very upset about this, and have gone so far as to point out that this will make the missile sites in Poland legitimate nuclear targets. Why should Russia be worried about a defencive missile system? Couldn’t they easily defeat such a system if they tried? Well, maybe, but that’s not the point. These types of defencive missile systems were outlawed during the Cold War with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. They were considered destabilizing because they would just encourage the deployment of huge numbers of missiles and warheads in order to overwhelm the missile defence. And a working ABM system would be of great use in a first strike, since hopefully a successful first strike would leave Russia with only a few missiles to shoot back with. So these systems arguably aren’t defencive at all, in fact a missile defence system is the ultimate first strike weapon. It’s a safe bet the USA wouldn’t allow Russia to deploy a missile “defence” system in Cuba.
Lastly, it’s not even clear that the anti-missile system will even work. So we are raising tensions with Russia and risking war, over a probably non-workable missile defence system being built to defend against a non-existent threat. This is, frankly, nucking futz. Still, it’s part and parcel of the USA’s never ending effort to completely surround and isolate Russia, with the goal being the the so-called New American Century where the US is the world’s sole superpower and we won’t even allow regional powers to challenge our dominance. In the case of our relations to Russia, it means the USA is playing Monopoly while the Russians are playing chess. I’ve linked to that article before, but it’s such a good read I wanted to particularly recommend it to those who are trying to understand US foreign policy in regards to Russia.
The main point I want to raise here, which seems to be completely dismissed by the powers that be and the media, is that by pursuing a policy of confrontation and isolation toward Russia, we are risking nuclear war. Back in the seventies and eighties people were justifiably afraid of a nuclear war with Russia. Now it’s something that can just be brushed aside as an idle threat? While Americans are usually easily herded into supporting a war, like the citizens of many other countries sadly, this isn’t like a war with Panama or Iraq or even Iran, a nuclear exchange with Russia would be the worst catastrophe that the USA has ever seen. Think 9/11 except with three million, or thirty million, dead.
So we are risking nuclear war just so USA has access to central Asian oil and ever more money can be poured into arms industry coffers? World War One started over such silly machinations as this, at least they had the excuse of not really understanding how bad a world war could be in the industrial era. Nearly 100 years years later you’d think we would know that risking a world war is a really bad idea, but apparently not. I should also point out that the relative strengths of the USA and Russia haven’t really changed much since the Cold War, and in some ways the Russian position has greatly improved since then. Again, more reason to make peace with them, not war.
The other ticking time bomb in this NATO/Russia confrontation is the fifteen million Russians who found themselves no longer living in Russia after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Many of them had been living in Russia for generations, and had no desire desire to stop being Russian citizens. The problems in Georgia are just a small sampler of this sort of thing, there are millions of other Russians living in post USSR states that not only consider themselves Russian, Russia considers them to be Russians. These people are for the most part now despised minorities in their new nations, and for the most part have not been treated fairly. The Georgians for example simply outlawed the Ossetians and Abkhazians from even forming their own political parties to press for their rights.
Nuclear war is a bad thing, we should be following Lincoln’s example, not Cato the Elder:
“Carthago delenda est!” (Carthage must be destroyed)
—Cato the Elder
“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”
We could have made friends with Russia after the Cold War, that’s certainly what they wanted. It’s probably too late now. Know where your nearest fallout shelter is?
(The above image was created by the author using public domain maps and may be freely reproduced for all non-commercial educational purposes. Credit & Copyright: Doug Stych. Coming soon, more on surviving fallout, clearly I was on the right track.)
There’s news today about a report concerning US preparations to attack Iran. I’ve been sort of quietly hoping that the whole issue will go away. The US can’t really be seriously considering attacking Iran, can they? If the report is to be believed, preparations are well under way for a massive aerial assault on Iran that will not only destroy Iran’s known nuclear facilities, it will also largely destroy the Iranian military and government. The goal would be to prevent Iran from getting a bomb, destroy any Iranian capability for retaliation, and so weaken the Iranian regime that it might be overthrown from within, or at least weakened so badly that it is no longer a regional threat. That’s the optimistic plan at least.
I still hope we don’t attack Iran, but anything is possible. It would be consistent with history and the Bush administration to up the ante so to speak, and it wouldn’t be the first time in history that the US expanded a war that was going badly in a misguided effort to improve the situation. Bush threatening Iran and invoking the holocaust doesn’t reassure me. These threats are simply the latest in what has been obviously concerted campaign to blame our problems in Iraq on Iran. Despite an almost complete lack of proof, and tons of proof that insurgents are getting most of their foreign help from Saudi Arabia.
So frankly, my concern levels are rising again. I have decided to revisited and expand my post of almost a year ago listing ten reasons not to attack Iran. My original reasons are listed below, with today’s addendum in italics.
- Iran has thousands if not tens of thousands of missiles to fire back, think Hezbollah on steroids. This hasn’t changed, thousands of Iranian missiles hitting the green zone and oil facilities in the gulf states and Saudi Arabia would be a non-trivial problem.
- The Shiites in Iraq would almost certainly turn on us, think Iraqi insurgency getting three or four times bigger. Again, want to find out what would happen if the Iranians did everything they could to support insurgents in Iraq? Attacking Iran will do the trick. Even if one thinks they are already helping Iraqi insurgents, if we attack them they can help openly without restriction.
- Other key American allies such as Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia could easily be swept away by fundamentalist revolutions. Well, Turkey would have to be added to this list now.
- The price of oil would spike, which means the cost of gas could easily double. Again, large scale war in the Persian Gulf could do far more than double the price of gas.
- Shock and Awe doesn’t work. Bombing Iran will no more make Iranians our compliant friends than 9-11 made Americans rush out and urge surrender to Bin Laden. I am planning a post on the “bombing myth” in the USA, Americans tend to wildly over estimate what can be accomplished with bombing.
- Islamic extremists everywhere would be empowered and legitimized by further proof that Bush’s “war on terror” is just a euphemism for “war on Islam.” OK, this is just an extension of number three in a way, but the point remains valid. OBL has persuaded a few losers on the west to undertake amateur terror attacks, some with deadly result. We need more of this?
- Our friends would think less of us, and our “friends” Russia and China would be encouraged to solve their international “problems” the same way. If anything, this item has gotten stronger and more relevant. Want to make the Russian/Chinese alliance stronger? Attacking Iran will do the trick.
- Other countries would have strong incentive to develop nuclear weapons themselves to deter US attack. Not that they don’t already have such incentive, heck, since I wrote this North Korea was rewarded for developing nukes.
- People would die, lots of people, innocent people. This is important. Still is.
- Worst of all, another war would mean giving Bush more powers. And if we give Bush any more powers, he’s going to start appearing in public in tights. No one wants that. I still stand by this, though it’s getting harder to make jokes about this situation.
All of the above aside, my current thinking is that there are three main reasons not to attack Iran. The first is that the case for war with Iran is based on some very questionable premises, more about that in a subsequent blog. The second is that major wars always have unintended consequences, they never turn out the way that was confidently predicted. The third and most important reason is that thepeople who conceived of and are planning this war, are the very same people who conceived of and planned the war on Iraq. Remember that? The cheap relatively bloodless war where the Iraqis were going to welcome us with open arms as liberators and democracy would flow through the streets of the Middle East.
We already know what’s flowing through the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan, adding Iran to the list is going to help?
(The above image of the Banberry US nuclear weapons test was produced by the US government and is public domain under US copyright law. I used it because it illustrates that the world is big and bomb explosions are small, and that even carefully planned things can go wrong…this underground nuclear test was not supposed to vent fallout like this. Lastly to remind people that this could be a nuclear war, I don’t think anyone wants that either.)
How did I miss this? Those ungrateful Kurds burned down the museum and memorial we built to commemorate the infamous 1988 Halabja gas attack!
Quick history lesson. In 1988 Iraq and Iran were at war, Saddam’s Iraq was an American ally…and was slowly losing the war. (A war of aggression that Saddam blatantly started by the way.) The Iranians were allied with Kurdish insurgents in northern Iraq, in the spring of that year with Iranian help Kurdish insurgents captured the ethnically Kurdish town of Halabja (pop. approx. 70,000) from Saddam’s forces. Saddam’s response? His military attacked Halabja with chemical weapons in the worst chemical weapons attack on civilians in recent history. Hundreds of people died horribly, likely there 3-5,000 dead. While initially there was some attempt to blame the attack on Iran, almost all now agree the evidence points to Saddam and Iraq.
Fast forward. The Iranians looted the town before they withdrew, Saddam’s returning troops destroyed what was left. Nothing is done for more than a decade, Kurds live in huts in the ruins, suffering from the residual aftereffects of the gas attack. The USA invades and liberates Iraq. In 2003 a Museum/Memorial is opened in Halabja dedicated to the memory of the victims. Colin Powell even visits and is feted as a hero.
After that, nothing. No reconstruction, no medical help…despite the fact that the security situation in Halabja is excellent. Kurdish Islamic militants rapidly gain influence in the town as the corrupt and/or incompetent Kurdish “government” in northern Iraq makes excuses for not rebuilding the town. In 2006, on the eighteenth anniversary of the attack, locals were protesting the corruption and lack of rebuilding. (It must have been especially galling seeing American and Kurdish politicians invoking the massacre non stop for eighteen years to justify their cause, while actually doing nothing for the people of Halabja.) Kurdish troops started firing above the crowd, the protest turned into a riot and rioters attacked and burned down the Museum. At least one person was killed in the mêlée, many were injured. Nothing has happened since, Halabja remains in ruins and the locals are now so hostile to westerners that it simply isn’t safe for them to travel there.
Gee, one would think that considering how often and how loudly the USA invoked the massacre in Halabja to justify US policy in Iraq, we would have done something to actually help the victims? Even as survivors testified at Saddam’s trial about the atrocity, nothing was being done to help the town. The western press has gone to great lengths to avoid any mention of Halabja, there are only a tiny handful or articles about the town’s plight and the burning of the Museum. I didn’t know of any of this until yesterday, and I thought I followed the situation in Iraq very closely.
The lesson to be learnt here seems obvious to me. What politicians say has no bearing on reality. Despite all the concern about Halabja expressed by leaders in the west, they did nothing there except build a museum. And the Kurdish politicians, so often touted as the great benefactors of freedom and democracy of the American liberation, have done exactly the same. (The money donated by westerners to rebuild Halabja is missing in action.) Halabja neatly illustrates the almost mind numbing hypocrisy in the west regarding our policies in Iraq. We say we invaded Iraq for their own good, yet have done nothing to help Saddam’s most high profile victims except exploit them for propaganda purposes. How does Colin Powell sleep at night?
It should also be clear from the recent history of Halabja why Islamic fundamentalists and militants have grown so powerful and popular in Iraq. The western media largely ignores the light years wide gap between what the west says and what it does, to the people living under the benevolent colonial government we installed in Iraq the distinction is painfully obvious. Halabja’s plight neatly illustrates why so many of them hate us, and why fundamentalist militias and terrorists have found Iraq to be a fertile recruiting ground.
And the almost complete absence of this story in the western media once again shows what a myth the idea of the “liberal” media is. If the western media really was liberal and anti-Bush and anti-war, stories like Halabja’s burning museum would be front page news. I’m willing to bet that few if any readers ever saw the above image. What a mess.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and it is central to illustrating the post. Credit: New York Times)