President Bush: Get Used To Iraq Civil War

President Bush doesn’t like to hear people using the ‘c’ word. In discussions about the war in Iraq, Mr Bush believes that appropriate language includes ‘sectarian violence’, ‘struggle for freedom’, ‘central front in the war on terror’, even ‘new phase’ – anything but ‘civil’ war. Yet given the increasing use of the term civil war by retired generals, analysts, politicians, pundits, the general public and the media, Mr Bush might be well-advised to start covering his ears.

On Monday, NBC became the first major television network to use the term in their coverage of the war in Iraq. On the Today show, Matt Lauer explained that “after careful consideration, NBC News has decided that a change in terminology is warranted, that the situation in Iraq with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas can now be characterized as civil war.” Meanwhile, ABC News and CBS News have not yet settled on a policy regarding their use of the term civil war, although this has been the subject of constant discussion at both networks. ABC News senior vice president Paul Slavin has said, “We are not there yet,” owing to the difficulty of settling on a definition.

James Fearon, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, says defining civil war is a complex business. However, there is consensus that it involves a violent conflict between organized groups within a country that are fighting over control of the government, one side’s separatist goals, or some divisive government policy. Most scholars also use the threshold of 1,000 dead. At the same time, political goals are crucial, so if the conflict in Iraq ever became purely a matter of violence between Sunni and Shiite communities driven by revenge and hatred rather than by political goals, many political scientists would then reject the term civil war.

The Washington Post has so far avoided any references to the civil war in Iraq, in particular because the US and Iraqi governments reject the term. On MSNBC’s Hardball, the paper’s national security reporter Dana Priest admitted that, while she “absolutely” believes Iraq is now in the grip of a civil war, “We try to avoid the labels, particularly when the elected government itself does not call its situation a civil war.”

Yet Los Angeles Times foreign editor Marjorie Miller questioned whether any country would admit it is in the midst of a civil war. Her editorial team were not influenced by either government in their decision to start using the term civil war on October 7. Ms Miller told the Jim Lehrer News Hour, “You have one country divided into armed factions that are engaged in combat. They’re using heavy weaponry. They’re using bombs, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades. They’re using machine guns mounted on the back of vehicles. Each side has combatants in and out of uniform. They’re attacking government ministries. You have 100 Iraqis dying at least every day. What do you call that, if not civil war?”

Most scholars surveyed by the New York Times agreed that Iraq is mired in a bloody civil war. One political scientist at Yale, Nicholas Sambanis, further said, “The level of violence is so extreme that it far surpasses most civil wars since 1945”. Nevertheless, the paper intends to use the phrase “sparingly and carefully” and “not for dramatic effect”.

Richard Betts, professor of political science and director of the Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, has said that that use of the term could have serious political implications for the Bush administration. “Well, it is a political issue now because the semantic question has political connotations,” Professor Betts told the Jim Lehrer News Hour. “Using the term does work against the administration’s line of argument, just as the administration’s insistence on using another term is a way of trying to deflect attention from the extent to which things aren’t as nice as we’d like.”

According to recent polls taken by NBC News, the Wall Street Journal, CNN and Gallup, roughly two-thirds of Americans believe that Iraq is embroiled in civil war. Immediately before the mid-term elections, most Americans also said they believe the US should withdraw its troops within one year.

It is widely believed that the Bush administration has refused to acknowledge the civil war in Iraq for fear that Americans will begin demanding to know why US troops are risking their lives and dying in an internal conflict in a foreign land, thereby collapsing already weak support for the war among Americans.

Yet if the Bush administration continues to refuse to acknowledge the civil war in Iraq, one of the potential consequences could be that the US will not implement the right change of course. Retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who led troops in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said in an interview with the Washington Post, “If they can’t characterize what’s going on in Iraq in an honest fashion, we can’t begin to address the problem.”

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Iraq War: Sects Battle With Technology, Media

Shi’ites and Sunnis are waging a war by media against the backdrop of sectarian violence in Iraq, using television broadcasts and the internet to draw battle lines and rally behind their militias, supporters and neighbors in Baghdad.

On Saturday, the Shi’ite siege of the state-owned Iraqiya television station included a live two-hour broadcast from Sadr City, where three Iraqi Members of Parliament loyal to local cleric Moqtada al-Sadr fielded questions from residents who blasted the Maliki government for not preventing Thursday’s car bombings which left 215 Shi’ites dead and 250 wounded. The Shi’ite Mahdi Army also used Saturday’s broadcast to denounce the Maliki government, label Sunnis “terrorists” and vow revenge for the bombings. On Sunday, angry residents hurled stones at Prime Minister Maliki’s motorcade when he visited Sadr City to attend a gathering to honor the victims of Thursday’s attacks. As the mob surged towards Mr Maliki’s armored car, one man was heard to shout, “It’s all your fault!”

Meanwhile, the Sunni-owned satellite channel al-Zawraa TV is back on air full-time in defiance of a ban by the Iraqi government; the station was shut down in early November for covering a pro-Saddam Hussein rally and inviting viewers to phone in to discuss his death sentence. Over the past week, al-Zawraa TV correspondents have abandoned their boarded up offices in Baghdad and hit the road, roaming the countryside and broadcasting around the clock from a satellite truck. They beam the programs to an Egyptian satellite distributor, Nilesat, which then retransmits the channel to countries across the Middle East, including Iraq.

In Baghdad, a number of Sunnis are using internet technology and electronic bulletin boards to warn each other about Shi’ite troops amassing in their neighborhoods and carrying out attacks; this has raised fears that more violence will follow Monday’s lifting of the three-day curfew in Baghdad. The following messages appear to have been collected from local discussion boards and translated by an Iraqi dentist who maintains a blog on the web site healingiraq.blogspot.com:

“Urgent. Please intervene to save the Jihad district from another massacre … estimated to be around 500 mercenaries, fully armed with medium and light weapons. And now some of them are taking attack positions in preparation for a new massacre in the district. The buses have not stopped arriving, even though terrified residents have called the police and governmental officials.” – Anonymous, Jihad

“Salam Aleikum. Over 40 vehicles with Mahdi Army militiamen have gathered near the Dora police station. They started arriving at 7 p.m., and at 7:45 p.m. we could see about 40 vehicles preparing to attack Dora.” – Abdul Rahman Abdul Qadir, Karkh

“Residents of Mansour, large groups of armed militiamen have been seen heading from the Washash and Iskan districts to attack Mansour. Prepare to defend yourselves and your neighbours, Sunni and Shia, from the attack of the treacherous Mahdi Army militias.” – Ibn Al-Mansour, Mansour

Other postings offer a range of pointers for residents who have no experience in urban warfare, including instructions on how to prepare weapons, conserve ammunition, avoid mortar fire (by not gathering in large groups), spread out in small groups but maintain communication (to quickly identify security breaches) and choose positions that offer a means of retreat and escape.

Although the seizure of radio and television stations has long been a feature of military coups, and certainly the use of video technology by terrorists has taken horror viewing to a new level, it is a relatively new development for civilians to harness web technology and satellite communications to express their views, request protection from militias, issue warnings to each other and organize resistance during a civil war crisis. These are some of the early indications of how modern communication technologies are changing the way wars are fought and people are organized, even in countries where normal infrastructure has broken down.

TV Station Seized: Maliki Fights For Control Of Iraq

Fears that Iraq is barreling down the road to civil war reached fever pitch yesterday after Shi’ite followers of Moqtada al-Sadr took over the state-run Iraqiya television station to denounce the Iraqi government, label Sunnis “terrorists” and demand revenge for Thursday’s sectarian attacks in Sadr City in northeastern Baghdad. The program featured a live community gathering and was broadcast out of Sadr City, where multiple car bombs exploded in crowded markets on Thursday leaving 215 Shi’tes dead and 250 wounded.

The Sadr City takeover of Iraqi state television is a major development in the escalation of sectarian conflict, especially since the Maliki government appears to have been powerless to stop the broadcast. “We’ll obviously try to control them as much as we can, but when they (kill) more than 150 people in bombings, they have the right to speak,” said Bassam al Husseini, one of Maliki’s top advisers. “What are we going to do? We can’t stop this. It’s too hot right now.”

Shi’ite militias used the broadcast to announce plans to launch further attacks on Sunni neighborhoods as soon as the Iraqi government lifts its curfew on Monday. Many Sunni viewers were shocked to hear their neighborhoods targeted. “I got four phone calls from friends telling me to change the channel to Iraqiya and see what’s happening,” said Mohamed Othman, 27, a Sunni resident of Ameriya, one of the districts mentioned in the program. “I think this is an official declaration of civil war against Sunnis. They’re going to push us to join al Qaeda to protect ourselves.” Sunni politicians vowed to file complaints against the channel for inciting sectarian violence.

There have been repeated recent reports of Shi’ite militiamen dressed in Iraqi police uniforms carrying out kidnappings and watching on as militias carried out attacks against Sunnis without trying to intervene. During the live broadcast from Sadr City, members of the Mahdi Army apparently boasted that they were distributing police uniforms throughout Shiite neighborhoods “to allow greater freedom of movement”. This will only escalate sectarian tensions and further undermine confidence in the Maliki government which has allowed Shi’ite militias to control parts of the police and army, and has also allowed government departments to be run as sectarian fiefdoms.

In the wake of the latest sectarian violence, local support for militias on both sides has surged because people do not believe the Maliki government can provide a reasonable level of security. During the televised broadcast, Sadr City residents shouted, “There is no government! There is no state!” One unidentified Sadr City resident told the cheering television crowd, “This is live and, God willing, everyone will hear me. We are not interested in sidewalks, water services or anything else. We want safety. We want the officials. They say there is no sectarian war. No, it is sectarian war, and that’s the truth.”

Information/breaking news taken from McClatchy Newspapers

Bush, Maliki Under Pressure As Iraq Violence Continues

US hopes for stabilizing Iraq were dealt a further blow yesterday as violence swept through Baghdad in revenge for Thursday’s deadly car bombings in Shi’ite Sadr City.

At least six cars are now known to have been used in the Sadr City market attacks, which involved three suicide car bombers and three unattended cars packed with explosives, one of which was discovered and successfully disarmed. The death toll from these bombings stands at 215, with a further 250 wounded.

On Friday, a triple car bombing in the northern city of Tal Afar, which also has a large Shi’ite population, left 23 people dead and 42 injured.

Despite appeals for calm from Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders in Iraq, angry Shi’ites have retaliated by torching Sunni homes, mosques and even worshippers.

The most shocking violence occurred in the Sunni section of the mainly Shi’ite neighborhood of Hurriya in Baghdad’s northwest, where militants seized six Sunnis leaving Friday prayers, drenched them in kerosene and burned them alive. Several houses in the area were also attacked and set alight.

Militias armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades attacked and set ablaze at least four Sunni mosques in Baghdad; another mosque came under heavy gunfire in Baquba, 37 miles north of Baghdad. Shi’ite militias also launched a barrage of mortar shells into the predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhood of Adhamiya in northern Baghdad. Thirty-one people are confirmed dead from the latest violence.

Witnesses have claimed that men dressed in Iraqi police uniforms looked on as Shi’ite militias carried out attacks on Sunnis and did nothing to stop them.

Baghdad remains in lockdown after the Iraqi government issued an indefinite curfew banning vehicles and pedestrians from the streets. Baghdad International Airport and Basra’s airport and seaport also remain closed. Iraqi security forces have further cordoned off Sadr City, where members of the Shi’ite Mahdi Army patrol the neighborhoods of Hurriya and Yarmouk, in defiance of the curfew.

Moqtada al-Sadr, local ruler of Sadr City and the Mahdi Army, blamed al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein loyalists for Thursday’s devastating car bombings in Sadr City. He has demanded that Harith al-Dari, head of Iraq’s (Sunni) Muslim Clerics Association, immediately issue fatwas that forbid Sunnis from killing Shi’ites and associating with al Qaeda. Mr Dari is wanted by Iraqi authorities for suspected links to terrorist groups and now lives outside Iraq, yet he is still highly influential in Iraq’s Sunni community.

Meanwhile, it is likely that Thursday’s three-hour militia attack on the Shi’ite-controlled Ministry of Health, which immediately preceded the car bombings in Sadr City, had an element of revenge. Less than two weeks ago, Shi’ite militiamen dressed in police uniforms raided the Sunni-controlled Ministry of Higher Education and kidnapped over 100 people, some of whom remain missing.

US President George Bush has urged Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to share more power with the minority Sunni population to allay their fears of victimization under the majority Shi’ite government; this has fuelled much of the Sunni unrest since the US invasion in 2003 and enabled the infiltration of al Qaeda. Yet Iraqi Shi’ites are reluctant to share power and oil wealth with the Sunnis, after suffering centuries of oppression under minority Sunni rule, dating back to the Ottoman Empire.

Mr Maliki is being heavily pressured by the US to disband local militias, especially those that control sections of the Iraqi police and security forces. However, Mr Maliki depends on powerful local leaders like Mr Sadr and his followers to maintain his own balance of power against Shi’ite rivals in the government. After the latest attacks, local support for militias on both sides has also reportedly surged.

Mr Bush is due to meet with Mr Maliki in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Wednesday to discuss how the US can most quickly hand over control to Iraqi security forces and withdraw American troops.

Mr Sadr has warned that any meeting with Mr Bush would cost Mr Maliki the support of 30 legislators in the 275-member Iraqi Parliament, including Ministers in three cabinet positions, which could destabilize the government. Mr Sadr has repeatedly demanded the immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.

Mr Maliki’s supporters have insisted that he will meet with Mr Bush as planned.

Iraq: Death, Bombings, Civil War and Chaos Continues – Meltdown

Iraq skid precariously close to full-blown civil war yesterday as the death toll climbed to 202 following the bombings of three crowded markets in the Shi’ite neighborhood of Sadr City in northeastern Baghdad. A further 250 people were reportedly injured. The car bombings, believed to be the work of al Qaeda, were preceded by a three-hour siege of the Shi’ite-controlled Health Ministry in central Baghdad.

At approximately 12:15 pm, a group of 30 men believed to be from a local Sunni militia fired on the building of the Health Ministry with machine guns and mortars. The brazen attack lasted for three hours and only ended when US troops and Iraqi security forces arrived to stop it.

Then at 3:10 pm, the first of three car bombs ripped through the popular Jamila market in Sadr City, quickly followed by explosions at al-Hay market and al-Shahidein Square, during the markets’ busiest time of day, to cause maximum carnage. This marked the single bloodiest day of the US occupation.

The co-ordinated bombings in Sadr City seem to represent a new phase in Iraq’s complex internal turmoil, and are certainly designed to provoke retaliation. For more than two years, al Qaeda has been radicalizing local Sunni militias while exploiting the fears of minority Sunni Arabs that they will not get a fair deal politically from the US-friendly Shi’ite majority government and that they will be decimated by Iran-backed Shi’ite militias as soon as the US occupation ends. Al Qaeda has repeatedly insisted that the only viable path for Sunni Arabs in Iraq is to seize power through military victory.

In February 2006, al Qaeda’s bombing of al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest sites in Shi’a Islam, destroyed the mosque and ignited the current wave of sectarian conflict between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. Iraqi leaders are now convinced that al Qaeda is also behind the car bombings in Sadr City

“It is clear al Qaeda did this. It is their way to attack innocent people. There are no governmental buildings, no army bases, no security forces attacked. The victims were only innocent civilians,” said Abdul Karim Khalaf, Iraq’s Interior Ministry spokesman. “These attacks aim to destroy Iraq and the political process.”

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki condemned the violence and “the dark hand of conspiracy that is shedding the blood of the innocent”. He vowed to bring those responsible to justice and imposed an absolute and indefinite curfew in Baghdad, lifted on Friday only for Shi’ites undertaking the journey to the holy city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, to bury their dead. The Prime Minister further closed the airport in Baghdad to all commercial flights; the Shi’ite-controlled oil port at Basra also shut down in sympathy.

Prominent Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurd leaders in Iraq joined together to appeal for calm. Moqtada al-Sadr, local cleric and defacto ruler of Sadr City and the Mehdi Army, also publicly appealed for restraint and unity among Iraqis.

Yet angry Shi’ites had already begun to return fire, launching a barrage of mortars at the Abu Hanifa Mosque in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah in northeastern Baghdad, killing one person and wounding seven others.

Thanksgiving In New Orleans: Katrina Leaves Planted Determination

Over a year after hurricanes Katrina and Rita left trails of destruction through Louisiana, the resilient spirit of the Bayou State is again making news around the world. Yesterday, an international Reuters report featured the wave of picturesque trailer gardens sprouting up in New Orleans and Louisiana, including several photographs that capture a distinctively familiar local charm.

Where FEMA trailers once stood among scattered debris and hues of brown and grey, flower beds are coming up roses – thanks to the inspired vision of residents who, despite the relatively cramped confines of their trailer homes, decided there was room enough to display their house-proud sensibilities.

The trend first caught the eye of the Times-Picayune, who recently held a Trailer Beautification Contest and hosted an awards ceremony at Longue Vue House and Gardens to toast the winners. Among the celebrated gardeners were Joe and Mary Perez. Mrs Perez proudly said, “We do things differently here in Louisiana. We don’t sit back and let things be.”

Participants were also interviewed by Reuters, including contest judge Mary Hazen of the Louisiana Garden Club Federation, herself a FEMA trailer resident and avid gardener. “All of those gardens were healing gardens,” said Ms Hazen. “Any kind of garden is good for you. You lose what’s on your mind, and you dig, and you watch.”

This view was backed by Joy Harrison, president of the American Horticultural Therapy Association. She noted that the healing properties of ‘therapy gardens’ for war veterans and hospital patients have been scientifically documented for years. Ms Harrison said, “Many gardens are created for respite and solace, for the purpose of restoring one’s balance and sense of well-being. If you plant something in the ground, there’s a sense of hope and nurturing.”

Lorene Holbrook of Metairie plans to live in the trailer at the front of her property until her home is rebuilt. “Everything was brown and grey, and the trailer was no beauty,” said Mrs Holbrook. “When you’ve got some flowers out there, it looks like somebody cares.” As she and her husband planted their garden, they decided to keep a number of plants they believe may have been transported by hurricane Katrina. Their finishing touch was planting a lime tree, “because we’re rum-and-tonic people.”

This kind of quaint and hearty attitude is a famed Louisiana cultural asset; the widespread beautification of the humble FEMA trailer is but its latest manifestation.

Despite all the uncertainties attending the rebuilding process, residents know there is no place like home and they will continue to fight to rebuild, repopulate and beautify their communities. Indeed, it is this indomitable spirit that has always made Louisiana and New Orleans such a wonderfully engaging and charming place to live – and for this we can truly give thanks.

President Bush Returns From Asia to Partisan Politics – Right To The End

After vowing to work constructively with Congressional Democrats in the wake of the GOP’s thumping defeat on November 7 prior to his trip to Asia, President Bush has confirmed a number of appointments and nominations that look set to crash the bipartisan honeymoon. Not only is Mr Bush defiantly brushing off the Democrats and the general electorate, his choices will almost certainly further alienate moderate Republicans who voted with their feet at the mid-term elections.

One heated controversy concerns the appointment of Dr Eric James Keroack as deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, a position that oversees family planning programs. Last week, the Boston Globe reported that Dr Keroack, a Massachusetts based obstetrician-gynecologist, is a fierce opponent of abortion, contraception and premarital sex – the latter of which he compares to heroin addiction and modern germ warfare. This calls to mind other memorable socially conservative sexual analyses such as Senator Trent Lott’s (R-Miss.) comparison of homosexuality to alcoholism and kleptomania, and Senator Rick Santorum’s (R-Penn.) infamous ‘man on dog’ clanger in an interview about privacy and homosexuality. Dr Keroack has further described the distribution of contraceptives as ‘degrading to women’. Women’s health advocates argue that these views create a profound conflict of interest between Dr Keroack and Family Planning, an agency that has provided a wide range of birth control-related health services to American women since the 1970’s. President and chief executive officer of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts Dianne Luby said, “Putting Dr Keroack in charge of our nation´s largest family planning program is dangerous to women´s health.” Other critics see Dr Keroack’s appointment as a thinly-veiled attack on a woman’s right to choose and a major concession to the electorally loyal Christian right.

Another move criticized as blatantly partisan is President Bush’s renomination of John Bolton as US ambassador to the United Nations. Last year, Democrats and key Republicans opposed Mr Bolton’s nomination and blocked a vote on his nomination. President Bush’s response was to appoint Mr Bolton during the Congressional recess. Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I., defeated Nov. 7), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, has vowed to block Mr Bolton´s renomination. “The American people have spoken out against the President´s agenda on a number of fronts, and presumably one of those is on foreign policy,” said Mr Chafee. “And at this late stage in my term, I´m not going to endorse something the American people have spoke out against.” Mr Bolton’s critics have accused him of systematically bullying his colleagues, taking facts out of context and exaggerating intelligence – he’s also given the Senate false information by failing to note on a questionnaire that the inspector general interviewed him during a State Department/CIA joint inquiry into falsified evidence that Iraq tried to obtain uranium yellowcake from Niger.

Finally, there is strong opposition to President Bush’s renominations of four controversial appeals court candidates whose initial nominations expired without Senate action. These judicial nominees include two candidates for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Terrence Boyle and William Haynes. Mr Boyle is a North Carolina district court judge and former close aide to Jesse Helms, the former Republican Senator widely regarded as racist and segregationist. Mr Haynes is the Defense Department General Counsel who played a key role in helping the Bush administration to develop a narrow definition of ‘torture’ that enabled a range of human rights abuses. He is now a defendant in a recently filed lawsuit in Germany which alleges that he (and his eleven co-defendants) committed war crimes against detainees held by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan and the US-controlled Guantánamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.

The candidate for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco is William Myers, a lobbyist and staunch opponent of environmental regulations. His nomination has raised concerns for Democrat senators poised to head committees on global warming, who have already begun pushing the case for mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Lastly, there is Michael Wallace of Mississippi, nominated to take over the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, despite his being deemed unqualified for the appeals court by an American Bar Association panel. These four judicial nominees have drawn the ire of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who is expected to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee in January. He said that President Bush is “choosing partisanship over progress and division over unity, at the expense of a fair and independent judiciary. This is exactly the kind of political game-playing that prompted Americans to demand change and a new direction in Washington.”

It does appear that President Bush has already put the press conferences behind him, and gotten back to the serious business of partisan sparring.

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