Wednesday, September 12, 2007 

9/11, 7/7 and inquiry fatigue.

Peter Tatchell, for reasons unknown, has brought up yet again the supposed unanswered questions surrounding the 9/11 attacks. Sunny mentions, quite reasonably, that to even do this opens you up to the accusation of being a conspiracy theorist, but while true, it's not really much excuse for just giving the tin-foil hat brigade yet another excuse to rear their ugly heads with their delusional ravings of how it was either a controlled demolition, a missile that hit the Pentagon, or even in fact a projected hologram, and err, didn't really happen at all.

Even though some questions do remain unanswered about 9/11, the inquiries into what happened that day have been far more exhaustive than anything we've seen so far into 7/7. We know exactly who did it, how they did it, where they lived previously and their justifications for doing so. The main conspirator that plotted the attacks has been caught. al-Qaida, unlike over 7/7, 21/7 or the Madrid bombings, has claimed responsibility and only yesterday released the latest videotape containing one of the hijackers' living will. What we don't know is whether the attacks could have been prevented had either the Bush administration been more focused on the terrorist threat or if the warnings of the FBI and CIA had been acted upon.

More to the point, the fallout from 9/11 is now much more important than the attacks themselves were, and the continuing questions about them are. They happened; there's nothing we can do about that now, except learn from the lessons they've given. You don't have to be a cynical bastard to note that the Bush administration chose this week for the report to the Senate and Congress on the Iraqi surge: what better time to accuse those of wanting to end the nightmare in Iraq of being unpatriotic? The Bush line on Iraq is that they're fighting the terrorists there so that they don't have to do so in America. It's a laughable argument based on sophistry, but in a nation where 33% still believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, it's one that still holds some weight. Also prevalent in the report by Petraeus were yet more accusations about Iran's involvement, while Rice today scaremongered about Ahmadinejad's pledge to fill the vacuum. The announcement that an American base, you know, the ones that are all going to be dismantled once the US withdraws, is going to be built within 4 miles of the Iranian border just shows where all that is inexorably leading to: another confrontation, more needless deaths, and the threat of yet more collateral damage through blowback.

As Simon Jenkins points out though, at least American democracy has somewhat attempted to hold those in charge of the Iraq war to account. Back here the contempt with which the opposing view has been held both by Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown has meant that we haven't even had the slightest voice in determining how much longer our own troops stay in the country. An attempt to hold an inquiry was voted down by Labour backbenchers too cowardly to listen to the overwhelming view of the public who have long wanted to know how we were dragged into this mess in the first place. Meanwhile, the families and relatives of those caught up in 7/7 are reduced to resorting to legal action to obtain a full independent inquiry into the events of that day and the acquaintances that the bombers had with other now convicted terrorist plotters. Compared to the inquiries and inquest into 9/11, we know next to nothing about where they came from, where they trained and who they had contact with. They deserve so much better.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007 

The state of Iraq.

As the long-awaited September 15th report to Congress by General Petraeus on the progress of the so-called "surge" gets ever closer, likely to be somewhat optimistic over a slight drop in sectarian violence but highly critical over the Iraqi government's failure to meet the goals set down to it, the rhetoric, propaganda and downright lies of the Bush administration have been ratcheted up accordingly.

Last week saw the quite incredible sight of a man who did everything he could to avoid going to Vietnam using the blood spilled on both sides of that disastrous war to justify the continued presence of US troops in Iraq. Even Christoper Hitchens was moved to condemn it. This mangled, ahistorical account of events, in effect claiming that the US withdrawal led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when in fact the spreading of the war into Cambodia through mass-bombing raids was almost certainly the trigger for the overthrow of the government as those targeted joined Pol Pot's insurgency, ought to have been expected from an administration that doesn't just misunderstand history, but has from the beginning wanted to create its own reality. As the unnamed Bush administration aide told Ron Suskind, "we're an empire now". Four years on, thousands of dead American servicemen later, the administration in its desperation continues to try to make its own unreality, only to be brought down by its own imperial hubris.

When fatuous, intellectually bankrupt allusions to past horrors fail to enthuse the American public and the "Defeatocrats" continue to call for a withdrawal as quickly as possible, it was inevitable that the next bogeyman had to be pulled out of the president's battered hat. To accuse Iran, although no innocent party in Iraq of "murderous activities" may just be ever so slightly rich coming from the man personally responsible for the disaster that has led, directly or indirectly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents. Iran probably has supplied some of the Shia militias with weapons; it'd be more surprising if they'd stood idly by and watched as their neighbour and once most feared enemy was removed, especially as thousands of jihadists, some of whom have denounced the Shia as "kuffar", and a result just as much a threat to Iran as to America, moved into the vacuum of power. Why on earth though would the Sunni insurgent groups want the help of the hated mullahs of Iran when they can just buy the weapons supplied to the Iraqi army and police by the US on the black-market, almost 190,000 of them? Besides, Saddam and his army, handily disbanded by Paul Bremer, had also left behind vast stockpiles of both explosives and weaponry in caches across the country, giving the insurgents more than enough to be going on with, at least up until recently.

For all the claims, both from the Bush administration, General Petraeus and some sections of the media that the surge has worked or at least been working, the security situation outside of Baghdad, where most of the extra troops have deployed, has deteriorated accordingly. Call it the Fallujah effect: like how the majority of the insurgents moved out of the city on both occasions when it was laid surge to by American forces, the fighters get out of an area about to be specifically targeted and move elsewhere, leaving pockets of resistance behind which fight on. Where the insurgency was once strongest in Anbar province and Baghdad, it's moved now to Diyala and up towards Mosul, regrouping and reconstituting. The barbaric slaughter of the Yezidis in multiple suicide bombings, killing over 500, almost certainly carried out by the "Islamic State of Iraq", was only the most visible statement of their ability to attack anywhere and nearly anyone. Despite the surge, June saw the highest average number of daily attacks on US troops since the beginning of the war, reaching 177. As Juan Cole has pointed out, this has happened during the stifling heat of the summer months, when it becomes almost too hot to do anything during the day.

Keeping cool in temperatures approaching 120F has in fact got even worse. The power in Baghdad is now barely on for more than an hour a day, sometimes for 2 if they're lucky. The near collapse of the power grid doesn't just affect the obvious, it's also making the sewage situation in the Iraqi cities even worse, and the news that cholera has broken out in northern regions of Iraq is only surprising in that it's occurred there and not further south. The queues for fuel are just as bad as ever, if not worse, according to IraqSlogger, sadly soon to go subscription only.

Despite encouraging signs that al-Qaida in Iraq (now the self-proclaimed "Islamic State of Iraq") was increasingly being turned on, both by local populations formerly supportive, in the form of the Anbar Salvation Council for one, and also by other insurgent groupings sickened by the repeated attacks on innocent civilians, leading to the formation of the "Reform and Jihad Front", led mainly by the Islamic Army in Iraq, there appears to be little sign of the organisation losing its ability both to attract jihadis from overseas and willing suicide bombers, or its ability to launch deadly attacks. The animosity between the IAI and the ISI may well have been overstated by both reporters and the US for obvious reasons: there was a reported truce (there have been others, only for them also to quickly break down), only to be followed by a suicide bombing apparently targeting the local IAI leadership in Fallujah. As almost all the suicide bombings are carried out by the ISI (Ansar-al Sunnah and the newly formed and little known "Shield of Islam" have carried out others), it's highly likely to have been the latest, and quite possibly the most serious fratricidal attack between two of the Sunni insurgent groups so far. Evan F. Kohlmann has produced a vital, highly in-depth report on the state of the Sunni insurgency, well worth reading, which is available here (PDF).

While it's obvious that a full withdrawal may well temporarily cause casualties to escalate, the presence of the US is only now making the security situation worse, and the longer they stay the longer it will take for the Iraqi army and police to stand up on their own. While much of the insurgency is being kept going only by the presence of US troops, it's also certain that the Islamic State of Iraq, links to the actual leadership of al-Qaida or not, is going to continue its guerrilla war against whoever is nominally in power. The removal of the US from the equation may actually galvanise the groups opposed to al-Qaida into fully facing up to its distortion both of Islam and of humanity; while the US cannot destroy it, the Iraqis themselves certainly can. Whether the US leaves next year, in 5 years or 10 years, the re-awakened tensions between Sunni and Shia are also going to play out regardless, and the drop in sectarian violence, rather than being down to American pressure, might be more due to both factions gradually coming to their senses. As for the British presence, we need to get out, and now. It's that simple.

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