Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Unnatural Death in a Non-Existent Country


Last week, in contrast to George Bush's latest forays into fantasy, two radio interviews drove home the reality that is Iraq.

"Iraq doesn't exist anymore."

Nir Rosen has long been one of the most insightful journalists reporting on Iraq. On Tuesday,8/21/07, he was interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! You can read and listen to the interview here (Democracy Now! is free but welcomes donations). Here's two key sections:

NIR ROSEN: Iraq has been changed irrevocably, I think. I don’t think Iraq even -- you can say it exists anymore. There has been a very effective, systematic ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Baghdad, of Shias --from areas that are now mostly Shia. But the Sunnis especially have been a target, as have mixed families like the one we just saw. With a name like Omar, he’s distinctly Sunni -- it’s a very Sunni name. You can be executed for having the name Omar alone. And Baghdad is now firmly in the hands of sectarian Shiite militias, and they’re never going to let it go.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of Senator Levin calling for the Maliki and the whole government to disband?

NIR ROSEN: Well, it’s stupid for several reasons. First of all, the Iraqi government doesn’t matter. It has no power. And it doesn’t matter who you put in there. He’s not going to have any power. Baghdad doesn’t really matter, except for Baghdad. Baghdad used to be the most important city in Iraq, and whoever controlled Baghdad controlled Iraq. These days, you have a collection of city states: Mosul, Basra, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Irbil, Sulaymaniyah. Each one is virtually independent, and they have their own warlords and their own militias. And what happens in Baghdad makes no difference. So that’s the first point.

Second of all, who can he put in instead? What does he think he’s going to put in? Allawi or some secular candidate? There was a democratic election, and the majority of Iraqis selected the sectarian Shiite group Dawa, Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution, the Sadr Movement. These are movements that are popular among the majority of Shias, who are the majority of Iraq. So it doesn’t matter who you put in there. And people in the Green Zone have never had any power. Americans, whether in the government or journalists, have been focused on the Green Zone from the beginning of the war, and it’s never really mattered. It’s been who has power on the street, the various different militias, depending on where you are -- Sunni, Shia, tribal, religious, criminal. So it just reflects the same misunderstanding of Iraqi politics. The government doesn’t do anything, doesn’t provide any services, whether security, electricity, health or otherwise. Various militias control various ministries, and they use it as their fiefdoms. Ministries attack other ministries

Later, Goodman asked Rosen what he thought would happen next:

NIR ROSEN: In Iraq? It’s too late for anything good to happen in Iraq, unfortunately. If the Americans stay, we’ll see a continuation of this civil war, of ethnic cleansing, until all of Iraq is sort of ethnically -- or sectarian, homogenous zones, which is basically what’s already happened. If the Americans leave, then you’ll see greater intervention of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, supporting their own militias in Iraq and being drawn into battle.

But no matter what, Iraq doesn’t exist anymore. Baghdad will never be in the hands of Sunnis again. Baghdad will be controlled by Shia militias. They’ve been cleansing all the Sunnis from Baghdad. So Sunnis are basically being pushed out of Iraq, period. They can go to the Anbar Province, which isn’t a very friendly place. I think you’ll see that there won’t be any more elections in Iraq. Maliki is the last prime minister Iraq will have for a long time. There is neither the infrastructure for elections anymore, nor the desire to have them, nor the ability of Iraqi groups to cooperate anymore. So what you’ll see is basically Mogadishu in Iraq: various warlords controlling small neighborhoods. And those who are by major resources, such as oil installations, obviously will be foreign-sponsored warlords who will be able to cut deals with us, the Chinese. But Iraq is destroyed, and I think we’ll see that this will spread throughout the region, and this will destabilize Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, as well.

Rosen and Goodman spend a great deal of time talking about the refugee crisis as well, and the entire interview is well worth listening to or reading.

"Today, in Iraq, to die naturally is considered a blessing."

Fresh Air always has great interviews, but this is a standout. On Thursday, 8/23/07 Terry Gross interviewed NPR's Baghdad bureau chief Jamie Tarabay, who "has lived in and covered Iraq since December 2005. Australian by birth, Lebanese by heritage, she lived for three years as a child in Beirut during the bombings there. Before joining NPR, she worked for the Associated Press." Tarabay starts out by telling the story of one of her co-workers, an Iraqi whose father is kidnapped. It's a heartbreaker.

Rosen gives a fine overview of the chaos in Iraq, and certainly is not lacking in compassion (he spends most of his time on the ground and has spoken with many refugees). Meanwhile, pieces such as Tarabay's amplify the important, very human side of the situation. Every dread number Rosen invokes of the displaced, injured, brutalized and killed has a face. Every person that dies has — or had — a family. This is a world where nearly every family has been scarred by unnatural, violent death.

And, as Jonathan Schwarz remarks on Rosen's piece:

It's all interesting, and all hideous. Did you know Sweden's taken in 40-50,000 Iraqi refugees? And America's only allowed in 700? To be fair, of course, America is just 1% of the size of Sweden.

Politicians can debate whether American troops should withdraw or not, but it would be nice if Bush, Cheney and the rest would at least let the Iraqis who want to "withdraw," do so, and get out of the hell that Bush and Cheney have created. But, of course (as Rosen notes), that's unlikely to happen because that would be acknowledging failure.


(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

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