US Insiders Gloomy: War "Not Going According to Plan;" Allah 1, Jahweh, 0; Rumseld Visits Geneva: Is He an Iraqi Asset?; British Revert to Barbarism (As Usual); Will Bush Open National Hot Air Reserve?; US Navy Dolphin AWOL
by Alexander Cockburn
March 30, 2003
The situation of the US/UK invading force can be assessed as difficult. The US 3rd Infantry Division, the Marines, Division, the 101st Airborne continue to be plagued by stretched supply lines which yesterday saw one Marine unit entirely immobilized by lack of diesel fuel and the food down to one “meal” a day, with the MREs being decried by the soldiers as not fit for human consumption. Disorganization is rife. The 3rd Infantry Division marches up one side of the Euphrates, while their baggage and supplies proceed up the other, which renders bridges more “strategic” than ever. The helicopter assaults on the Iraqi Medina division left, on one account, seven still serviceable. Two helicopters were lost in the attack and twenty-six were damaged.
It is becoming clear that last week’s violent sandstorm was a very serious blow to the invaders. The Iraqis were able to reinforce their defenses around Najaf and assault launch some damaging attacks. US high tech equipment has been seriously degraded by the sand. Perennial warnings about excessive reliance on hi-tech weaponry and the hype of a supposed Revolution in Military Affairs are now returning in force.
The US/UK forces have taken no major town, are being harassed by guerilla forces and now menaced by suicide units. Five US soldiers of the Third Infantry Division were killed by one such unit on a highway north of Najaf. The British are attempting to win hearts and minds in Basra by aiming their artillery at the food warehouses, and attempting to reduce the city by plague, endeavoring to cut off the water supply. A missile killed 200 in a shelter in Basra, allegedly a “command and control center” which may by US/UK-speak for a civilian shelter, as with the Amariya shelter in Baghdad in 1991.
Even the very base of the supply line in Kuwait is a choke point, not just in the crowded and potential dangerous Persian Gulf but in the port of Kuwait, which has only 21 landing births.
Behind the steady stream of “All according to plan”, and “calm and orderly advance” press releases being pumped out of Qatar (always excepting Wallace’s dissenting squeak that the war wasn’t going according to war-game scenarios), and the Pentagon there is extreme nervousness among seasoned military observers. Serious reinforcements will take weeks to arrive. Optimists suggest that the US Third Infantry Division will soon engage and destroy the Iraqi Medina division and the road to Baghdad will lie open. A less sanguine assessment is that the two divisions will bog down in a First World War-style confrontation, with the US disadvantage of those stretched communications. The third scenario is that the Medina division will outflank the Third ID, take it in the rear and overwhelm it. Then the exultant Arab street will erupt in the humiliation of the Great Satan.
And so it will all get much, much nastier. The actual fighting component of the invading US/British force is small because (as anonymous Pentagon officers are now bitterly complaining) Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's preference for Special Forces prevailed over Gen. Tommy Franks's recommendation of a far larger force; also because huge peace demonstrations in Turkey lopped off the northern half of the invading pincers. If urban fighting increases, US strategy will veer toward old-fashioned saturation bombing. The temptation to flatten significant portions of Baghdad by B-52 raids is growing sharply as the land force gets seriously stymied.
As regards the small US/UK force trying to overwhelm Baghdad, imagine a force far less than one of the recent peace demonstrations landing in Corpus Christi, Texas, then advancing towards Phoenix through sandstorms, bypassing all major conurbations and occasionally announcing it has successfully seized significant portions of the deserts of the south west and nervously threatening to declare war on Mexico if it intervenes. (On this latter point note that the Iranian backed Islamic council has told its adherents in southern Iraq not to rise; also that the Kurds are conspicuously sitting on their hands.
The propaganda war is not going according to Western plans either. There are plenty of excellent and courageous correspondents and observers in Baghdad, not least Paul Wood of the BBC. Robert Fisk’s account "Bitter Truths of Basra" on this site attests to the importance of the Al Jazeera coverage in Basra. We have the truly extraordinary situation that the Iraqi spokesman in Baghdad is being given more credibility than the far wilder military flacks who have seriously damaged their credibility with numerous baseless claims about the capture of Iraqi towns, and preposterous British allegations that it is necessary to destroy Basra in order to bring it vital humanitarian supplies.
It should also be said that many reporters with major organizations are doing a useful and professional job. We have been reading excellent reports from UPI, Reuters and even AP, as well as Knight Ridder and other papers.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld continues to perform valiantly as a vital Iraqi asset, tremulously discovering the Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners or suddenly threatening war against Syria and Iran. Another Rumsfeld propaganda coup: The retired general named as civilian governor of occupied Iraq has visited Israel on a trip paid for by a right-wing group that strongly backs an American military presence in the Middle East. Lieutenant-General Jay Garner, the co-coordinator for civilian administration in Iraq, put his name in October 2000 to a statement blaming Palestinians for the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence and saying that a strong Israel was an important security asset to the United States. This piece of information circulated the Middle East with as much rapidity as the resignation of Richard Perle from his chairmanship of the Defense Board and the supposed trip of Vice-President Cheney’s daughter to become a human shield.
So the sky is dark with chickens coming home to roost, and bedtime reading is Thucydides' account of the disastrous Athenian siege of Syracuse. Start with the amazed discovery of the White House, the Defense Department and the permanently embedded US press corps that nations don't care to be invaded, even if they have been misgoverned by a tyrant for decades. How many Russians died defending the Soviet Union from German invasion after enduring famine and Stalin's terror? This isn't 1991, when Iraqis asked themselves, "Why die for Kuwait?"
Basra? "Military officials," ran a European press report, "later admitted that they had vastly underestimated the strength of Iraqi resistance and the loyalty of Basra's population to Saddam." The report quoted a British officer as saying "there are significant elements in Basra who are hugely loyal to the regime."
Kurdish-held northern Iraq? "Even in Kurdistan," reported the London Independent, (in the person of my brother, Patrick Cockburn), "where the US is popular and where President Saddam committed some of his worst atrocities, there are flickers of Iraqi patriotism. A Kurdish official, who has devoted years to opposing the government in Baghdad, admitted: 'Iraqis won't like to see American soldiers ripping down posters of Saddam Hussein though they might like to do it themselves. They didn't enjoy watching the Stars and Stripes being raised near Umm Qasr.'"
But perhaps the most grotesque chicken now roosting in the coop came in the form of Rumsfeld's sudden discovery of the Geneva conventions regarding prisoners of war. When five captured US soldiers were paraded in front of the Iraqi television cameras, Rumsfeld immediately complained that "it is against the Geneva convention to show photographs of prisoners of war in a manner that is humiliating for them." True. But the United States does not hold the high moral ground in leveling this charge.
In January 2002 the United States released a photograph of Guantánamo detainees kneeling, shackled and hooded. The Red Cross said the United States may have violated the Geneva conventions by releasing the photo, since no "coercion may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever." Under conditions of sleep deprivation, bright light and other techniques, at least 25 prisoners in Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo have tried to kill themselves, some more than once.
The US government claims that these men are not subject to the Geneva conventions, as they are not "prisoners of war" but "unlawful combatants." But as George Monbiot of the London Guardian remarks, "The same claim could be made, with rather more justice, by the Iraqis holding the US soldiers who illegally invaded their country. But this redefinition is itself a breach of article 4 of the third convention, under which people detained as suspected members of a militia (the Taliban) or a volunteer corps (al-Qaeda) must be regarded as prisoners of war."
On March 6 US military officials acknowledged that two prisoners captured in Afghanistan in December had died during interrogation at Bagram air base north of Kabul. A spokesman for the air base confirmed that the official cause of death of the two men was "homicide." The men's death certificates showed that one died from "blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease." Another prisoner suffered from a blood clot in the lung that was exacerbated by a "blunt force injury."
On November 21 2001, around 8,000 Taliban soldiers and Pashtun civilians surrendered at Kunduz to Northern Alliance commander Gen.Abdul Rashid Dostum. A major war crime, with powerful evidence of US participation, ensued. Jamie Doran's 2002 documentary film Massacre in Afghanistan records how 3,000 prisoners were loaded into container trucks, with the doors sealed and the trucks left to stand in the sun for several days. An Afghan soldier said he was ordered by a US commander to fire shots into the containers to provide air, although he knew he would certainly hit some of those inside. An Afghan taxi driver reports seeing a number of containers with blood streaming from the floors. According to one of the drivers, survivors of the transport ordeal were dumped in the desert near Mazar-i-Sharif. As thirty to forty US soldiers looked on, those prisoners still alive were shot and left in the desert to be eaten by dogs.
Doran interviewed a Northern Alliance soldier guarding the prison. "I was a witness when an American soldier broke one prisoner's neck. The Americans did whatever they wanted. We had no power to stop them." After an investigation, the German newspaper Die Zeit concluded that "No one doubted that the Americans had taken part." Doran, an Irishman, says in his film that the Pentagon and State Department have tried "by any means possible" to block an investigation.
The amount of hot air being put out by official US and UK spokespersons has led to an unexpected surge in the price of this vital commodity. It is feared that unscrupulous entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the recently deregulated market to corner hot air stocks and hold them off the market, thus causing the base price of hot air to rise. Democrats in Congress are calling on the Bush administration to open up the national hot air reserve, now guarded by a mixed force of Wall Street Journal editorial writers carrying their trademark popguns, plus a rabble of fedayeen in civilian clothes press ganged from the Standard, New Republic and CNN.
Evidence of the economic devastation threatened such by price rises continues to pour in to the CounterPunch news desk. Here’s a typical report (3/28) by Emily Tsao of The Oregonian under the headline:
Withering economy deflates Tigard Festival of Balloons
TIGARD -- The popular Tigard Festival of Balloons won't take flight this year because of tough economic times and a lack of sponsorship, its coordinator says. "Given the economic situation of last year, sponsorships have been very hard to come by, and we are not in a financial position to produce the festival at a level we have in the past," Bruce Ellis, the event organizer, said Thursday. He said he hoped to resume the event next year.
Every year for the past decade, the festival at Cook Park sent dozens of hot air balloons into the sky. In recent years, the three-day free event drew tens of thousands of people. Ellis said the festival cost about $80,000 a year. Title sponsor KGW chose not to renew its contract last year, he said.
The balloon festival, although no longer sponsored by the Rose Festival Association, was sanctioned by it. That meant the Tigard event was listed with other Rose Festival happenings but had an independent organizer. Community members and organizations expressed disappointment over the cancellation. "I am just sick," said Sydney Sherwood, a Tigard city councilor. "It put us on the map and it gave us an identity.”
The Jampot Files (Just Another Middle-Aged Porker of the Right)
Dear Alexander Cockburn,
I remember old Hitchens as a cherubic Trot at Oxford in revolutionary 1968. One day he was outside All Souls College, haranguing the masses to burn down fascist Oxford University. A window opened, and All Souls Warden John Sparrow, noted reactionary and Athenian sympathizer, trilled: 'Chrissie, you aren't going to be late for tea, are you?' Chrissie was somewhat embarrassed. By the way, in a recent piece, you alluded to your Irish upbringing--does this mean you are kin to the great radical journalist Claud Cockburn, who lived at Youghal? The old boy would be proud of CounterPunch.
Art Vander Pattaya,
Good one, Art! And yes, CC was indeed the Da.
This Just In:
Takoma, the Navy dolphin deployed in the war theater, has gone AWOL. Those dolphins, remember, have huge brains.
Alexander Cockburn is the author The Golden Age is In Us (Verso, 1995) and 5 Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond (Verso, 2000) with Jeffrey St. Clair. Cockburn and St. Clair are the editors of CounterPunch, the nation’s best political newsletter, where this article first appeared.