Medics treat a woman injured by a car bomb in Iraq. (Photo: Adil al-Khazali / AP)
In Iraq, time leaves bloody marks upon each day of the ongoing US occupation. The policies of the Obama administration, adopted from the Bush administration, continue to wreak their havoc on the Iraqi people.
The US-created al-Sahwa (Sons of Iraq), a Sunni militia comprised mostly of former resistance fighters and even some members of al-Qaeda, that grew to 100,000 in number, now threatens to fade back into the shadows in order to resume anti-occupation resistance operations against the US military and Iraqi government security forces. The Sahwa, which were to be incorporated into the government security apparatus, have instead been suffering attacks by that same apparatus for several months - attacks that are now occurring daily. And they are reacting in kind.
On April 14, ten Sahwa-controlled checkpoints were abandoned in Babel, south of Baghdad. The Sahwa forces left their posts after not receiving their salaries. This was exactly what I was told would begin to happen when I spoke with a Sahwa commander in Baghdad two months ago. At the time of our discussion, he had told me that many of his men had not received payment from the government since October, and he feared it was only a matter of time before they would leave their posts to likely resume resistance operations.
Also on April 14, Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi accused members of the Sahwa of biding their time to wait for a chance to resume attacks against the Shiite-led government. Obviously, an effort to justify ongoing Iraqi government attacks against the Sahwa, which are perceived by the government as a threat. Mahdi credited some members of the group with helping "restore order in the country," but said that the government "can't distinguish between the two," referring to helpful members of the militia and the members waiting to strike. "That's why there have been arrests when we have discovered their links with other terrorist groups," he said.
Mahdi's move came just after an announcement made by Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, president of the Sahwa of al-Anbar province, stating he was renouncing armed struggle and was prepared to work with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "If we want a unified Iraq," he said, "we must work in that direction, on uniting Sunnis and Shias, to build one country." Obviously, Maliki's vice president has other ideas for the Sahwa that don't appear to include "a unified Iraq."
Complicating matters in Anbar, April 16 saw a suicide bomber wearing an Iraqi army uniform detonate his vest packed with explosives at a military base there, killing 16 soldiers and wounding another 50. "We had a regular parade, and were about to go into the cafeteria when a huge noise made me fall to the ground ... I saw fire, smoke and debris ... I saw people without arms and legs," soldier Mokhaled al-Dulaimi told reporters. This type of violence will not motivate the Sahwa in Anbar, led by Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, to "renounce armed struggle."
Meanwhile, continuing empty promises to the Sahwa are being made by the Iraq government. Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that the government will integrate 20 percent of the groups members into the security forces, and the other 80 percent will be appointed to "other positions," while giving no timeline for how long that might take. This sort of thing has been ongoing since October, the date the Sahwa were theoretically to be incorporated into the Iraqi government security forces.
Last week alone, at least 53 Sahwa fighters were killed in attacks across the country.
Further complicating matters, the Maliki government recently started re-examining the records of thousands of detainees who US forces recently released. The spokesman of the so-called Baghdad operation, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, said: "Rearrests of a number of persons released by the American forces were completed because they were once again returned to practice of armed action. The orders issued by Prime Minister Maliki, the Ministry of the Interior and the Supreme Judicial Council aim to examine the records of those released people as a result of the recent violence."
Ironically, the current of nationalism during the January elections in Iraq that kept Maliki in power is the same current of Iraqi identity and nationalism that could now threaten his government.
The film "Meeting Resistance," one of the only films made of the Iraqi Resistance, provides clarity here. Filmmakers Molly Bingham and Steve Connors spent months in Baghdad interviewing resistance fighters. I asked Connors his thoughts about Iraqi nationalism and how large a factor he feels it is in the current situation in Iraq.
"In recent months we have seen the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, don the mantle of nationalism and, riding on a wave of popular sentiment that in recent provincial elections has rejected the divisive US-backed ethno-sectarian politics of the last few years, consolidated his hold on power in the country. There are many who doubt the sincerity of Maliki's position and prefer to see it as cynical political opportunism, but what can no longer be denied is that the sense of Iraqi-ness that permeates the society remains a potent force in Iraq.
"Throughout the reporting for Meeting Resistance, a common thread among the people we spoke to was a powerful sense of national identity - of being Iraqi - that sometimes was underpinned by a religious belief that defense of the nation was a divine duty," Connors explained, "This held true for those who were involved in violence and their supporters in the broader community.
"As early as November of 2003 the US National Intelligence Council produced a National Intelligence Estimate that reported the resistance to occupation in Iraq as being nationalist in motivation with deep roots in the society. Department of Defense reports to Congress have shown that for the duration of the war 73 percent of significant attacks (those requiring planning and organization) have been directed at the US-led coalition forces, 15 percent targeted Iraqi troops and police, with the remaining 12 percent being aimed at civilians and producing massive casualties that have done severe damage to those groups that oppose the occupation."
Thus, this same nationalism may well be in the process of being increasingly vented against the Maliki government that is strong-arming the Sahwa and any other former resistance fighters it can get its hands on.
Then, we have more broken promises from the US military, again backed by Maliki since his government's survival depends on it, which continue to erode general Iraqi support for the government in Baghdad. April 14 turned out to be an interesting day, indeed, as not-so-coincidentally Army Col. Gary Volesky, commander of US forces in the northern city of Mosul, which is largely completely out of the control of either US or Iraqi forces, announced that US troops could remain in that city after a June deadline for withdrawal, which, of course, violates a pact reached last year that called for all US forces to withdrawal from all Iraqi cities by June 30. "If the Iraqi government wants us to stay we will stay," Volesky told reporters, as though the Iraqi government has any jurisdiction whatsoever over the US military. Laying some groundwork for the ongoing US presence in Mosul, Volesky added, "There could be bad days ahead."
Between Mosul and Baghdad lies the oil rich city of Kirkuk. Along with the growing storm of the Sahwa-Iraqi government impasse, the other current major flashpoint in Iraq is the growing tension between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs regarding the fate of Kirkuk. Also on April 14, a Kurdish political coalition announced it will boycott provincial council meetings until the main Arab party there cedes council leadership positions.
In the northern province of Nineveh, the Kurdish political coalition the Nineveh Fraternal List walked out of the council's inaugural meeting and vowed not to return until the Arab's handed over two of the council's top three leadership positions - seats the Arab's had legitimately won in the January provincial elections. Hashim al Tael, a Sunni Arab national lawmaker from Nineveh, said of the disagreements: "This is just the beginning. We may witness much more."
Not surprisingly, as a result of the aforementioned, the next day, April 15, at least 14 people were killed and more than 25 injured in a car bomb attack in Kirkuk targeting police guards outside a building of the state-owned North Oil Company. The guards were traveling home on a bus when they were struck by the bomber. Lt. Col. Ghazi Mohammad Rashid, a police spokesman, told reporters, "All that was left of the bus were its seats, the officers' Kalashnikovs and human body parts."
Bombings not dissimilar to this occur on a near-daily basis in Iraq. Sadly, these are generally what catches the headlines - as most corporate media outlets choose to report these, or nothing at all, or how much better things have become in Iraq as of late.
What continues to be missed is the deep suffering within the country that is cutting through the Iraqi people like a vicious incurable cancer, which is how most Iraqis continue to perceive the occupation.
Nowadays, at least 150 Iraqi children per year are being sold into child trafficking rings, a growing crisis that is gripping Iraq. Iraqi children are being abducted by the scores on an annual basis, and are being sold both internally and abroad. Some of the bartered youngsters become sex abuse victims.
On April 6, The Guardian reported, "Criminal gangs are profiting from the cheap cost of buying infants and the bureaucratic muddle that makes it relatively easy to move them overseas. Accurate figures are difficult to obtain because there is no centralized counting procedure, but aid agencies and police say they believe numbers have increased by a third since 2005 to at least 150 children a year."
One senior police officer reported that at least 15 Iraqi children were sold every month, some overseas, some internally, some for adoption, some for sexual abuse.
The paper continued, "Officials believe at least 12 gangs are operating in Iraq, offering between Â£200 and Â£4,000 per child, depending on its background and health. The main countries in which they are sold are Jordan, Turkey, Syria and some European countries including Switzerland, Ireland, the UK, Portugal and Sweden - One dealer, who asked to be called Abu Hamizi, said child trafficking from Iraq was cheaper and easier than elsewhere, given the readiness of underpaid government employees to help with the falsification of documents We prefer babies but sometimes families request children from one to four years old but they are rare cases."
A 2007 report by the NGO Heartland Alliance showed that traffickers regularly employed the threat or use of coercion, abduction, force, fraud, deception, abuse of vulnerability or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim.
One of the child traffickers told The Guardian that he heard one of the babies sold last year was used for organ transplants.
Why such desperation among the people of Iraq? It requires little imagination to understand their dilemma. The country was heavily bombed in 1991 by the United States, then bombed throughout the strangling twelve and a half years of economic sanctions-also led by the US, then invaded and beset with a torturous occupation now into its seventh year. The bright and shining promises of "reconstruction" and "rehabilitation" were, of course, simply part of the worst kind of propaganda used to justify an illegal act of aggression against a sovereign country.
The United States, like all empires through history, is raping and pillaging Iraq. What funds were available for reconstruction were often plundered by US soldiers themselves. Recently, The Los Angeles Times reported, "Some US troops tempted by reconstruction cash," and that the Department of Justice is pursuing some "three dozen prosecutions" of soldiers and others involving bribery for "reconstruction" projects in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For example, 28-year-old Army Capt. Michael Dung Nguyen, who was also a graduate from West Point, "managed to skim more than $690,000 in cash as the civil affairs officer overseeing millions of dollars intended for reconstruction projects and payments to private Iraqi security forces northeast of Baghdad." According to The Los Angeles Times, "at least 25 theft probes are underway." And those are only the instances where someone was caught.
Liliana Segura wrote for AlterNet recently, "The money comes from the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), which has so far spent at least $2.8 billion in US funds. It is not tied to international standards of redevelopment or normal government purchasing rules. Instead, it is governed by broad guidelines packaged into a field manual called 'Money as a Weapon System.'"
Segura points out that, according to The Los Angeles Times, "$3.5 billion in taxpayer money has been spent on the Commander's Emergency Response Program, ostensibly on 'humanitarian aid and community reconstruction projects' as well as the practice of hiring Sunni gunmen, 'often former insurgents, as security officers with the US-allied forces known as the Sons of Iraq.'"
Aside from funding ongoing Wall Street corruption in the form of so-called bailouts, this is another great use of US taxpayer money. While direct payments to the Sahwa by the US military theoretically ceased last October when the Sahwa were to be incorporated into the Iraqi military and police forces, payments morphed into another form - that of funding "reconstruction projects." Thus, most of the Sahwa who are still being paid, albeit indirectly with US tax dollars, are the same Sahwa who are slowly melting back into the Iraqi resistance in order to resume attacks against US and Iraqi soldiers.
A quick review of recent US military fatalities in Iraq finds:
â€¢ April 12: One US coalition soldier died of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated in Salah-ad Din Province.
â€¢ April 13: Sgt. Raul Moncada, 29, of Madera, California, died April 13 near Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds sustained when an explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
â€¢ April 13: A coalition forces soldier died of injuries sustained during an explosively formed projectile attack on a convoy five kilometers south of Karbalah, Iraq, at approximately 7:40 AM. The soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense.
Everything becomes twisted, grotesque and inhuman amidst the bilateral psychosis that is war and occupation. This is how West Point graduates loot funds meant for providing aid to Iraqis. This is how your tax dollars are paying the men who are killing US soldiers in Iraq. This is how nothing touched by the vile, immoral, US occupation of Iraq is left unscathed.