Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Nir Rosen on Iraq

Nir Rosen's consistently delivered some of the best coverage on Iraq, which we've featured in August 2007 and March 2008. Here's some other recent Rosen appearances.

Rosen spoke with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! on 4/1/08. He has harsh words for both Democrats and Republicans on Iraq. Some excerpts:

AMY GOODMAN: “The Myth of the Surge”—why is it a myth?

NIR ROSEN: Well, it’s been propagated by the right and accepted by the left in the US that the surge, which is really an escalation of troops—“surge” is just a euphemism—the escalation of troops by 30,000 soldiers, somehow brought peace to Iraq. And this is just an absolute lie. Violence has subsided somewhat in Baghdad, that’s true, but it’s not the result of the increase in American troops directly. It’s the result of a few other factors...

So you have this two—the Shia and Sunni ceasefire and the decline in people to kill, the consolidation of control that we saw with various warlords and militiamen throughout Baghdad. Each neighborhood is walled off. You have a warlord or militiaman in charge of it, which actually makes things easier as a journalist, because there’s a guy you can go to to get a security guarantee. It also makes things easier for aid organizations like the Red Cross. They can now function as they do in Somalia, because Iraq has really become Somalia: different warlords controlling different areas.

Talk of the government is just absurd. There is no government in Iraq. It’s a collection of different militias, who, as we see, even fight among themselves. And we see in the recent Shia-on-Shia fighting, it’s not the government against the Mahdi Army; it’s one Shia militia, the Badr Organization that belongs to the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council—sorry, Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council—it has different names—and Dawa, so basically the pro-American Shia militias backed by the Americans fighting the largest Shia movement in Iraq, the Sadrist movement, for control over turf, over resources, and of course over the control of the population in the upcoming elections, which may or may not happen.

Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution notes this remarkable exchange from Nir Rosen's recent Senate testimony (emphasis his):

BIDEN: Based on what you've said, there's really no hope, is there? We should really get the hell out of there right now, right? There's nothing to do.

ROSEN: As a journalist, I'm uncomfortable advising an imperialist power about how to be a more efficient imperialist power. I don't think we're there for the interests of the Iraqi people. I don't that's ever been a motivation. However, I have mixed emotions on that issue. Many of my Sunni friends, beginning about a year ago, many of them who are opposed to the Americans, who supported attacking American troops in Iraq, began to grow really nervous at the idea of the Americans leaving Iraq because they knew they would be massacred. It could be Rwanda the day the Americans leave. The creation of these Sunni militias, the Awakening groups, militates against that kind of a massacre of civilians occurring because now there are actually Sunni safe zones...But I do believe that if Americans were to withdraw you'd seen an increase in violence at least temporarily, until some sort of equilibrium is reached—

BIDEN: But the good news is we wouldn't be imperialist anymore in Iraq, from your perspective.

ROSEN: (smiling widely) Only elsewhere in the region.

BIDEN: Only elsewhere in the region. I'm sure glad we invited you, I tell you. [Bloviates for ninety seconds, then turns to other witnesses.] Gentlemen, to the non-imperialist side of the witness stand...

As Schwarz wryly notes, "I think we can guess Rosen won't be invited back anytime soon. After all, when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets, the last thing you want is for someone to start telling the truth about America's foreign relations." The same post features links to video of Rosen's testimony and a pdf of his prepared statements.

Back in March, Schwarz wrote a brilliant short post I should just quote in full:

Nir Rosen And Frederick Kagan On Surge

Here's a transcript of Nir Rosen debating Frederick Kagan about the "surge" on the Lehrer Newshour. You can watch the video here.

Oddly, the fat, pale man who doesn't speak Arabic and is paid by defense contractors thinks everything is going great, while the guy who's fluent in Arabic and has spent years on the streets of Iraq thinks it's a catastrophe. Huh. You'd assume it would be the other way around.

Here's my favorite section of Kagan's huffy bloviating:

FREDERICK KAGAN: No. I think it depends very much on who you talk to in Iraq and how you talk to them about what kind of responses that you get. And I've spoken with Sunni local citizens and various people, and you get some responses that are along these lines. And you get some responses that are along other lines.

I think what's very important to understand is that this is a very local phenomenon.

People have decided to join these movements because of local conditions on the whole and not because of some big pan-Sunni "Well, you know, now this is how we're going to get them this time" plan, because you have to keep in mind people also forget the sequence of how these guys become concerned local citizens.

The first reason why they become concerned local citizens is because they don't want to be killed, because they're in a middle of a war that they're losing. And so the first and only deal that we give them is we will agree not to kill them.

We aren't paying these guys to come over to our side; we certainly aren't arming them. What we're doing is promising not to kill them in the first instance. Now, that happens on a local basis.

And then I have to contradict Mr. Rosen. There is reconciliation happening on lower levels. When you go out into Diyala, where you have mixed tribes and where you have tribes on both sides, you do have CLCs from both groups. In areas to the south of Baghdad, you're starting to see some reconciliation initiatives reaching out to one another.

JIM LEHRER: You don't see that?

NIR ROSEN: There are exceptions, of course. And Iraqis were never sectarian. They've been pushed into this by various militias.

But when you hang out with the Sunni militiamen, with the concerned local citizens, when you hang out with the Mahdi army, when you're not with the American soldiers, but when you're with them naturally, and then you ask them who they were and why they joined these forces, they're quite clear.

They're former Islamic Army of Iraq, former 1920 Revolution Brigade, former Army of the Mujahedeen, the Iraqi Resistance. Some of them are even former al-Qaida.

And, yes, they realize they have lost the war against the Americans and they have lost the war against the Shias. "And we have to get the Americans off of our backs so we can control some territory."

So now they have territory inside Baghdad and elsewhere and they can use this as a foothold. And they are attempting to become a political movement. I accompanied some of these guys from Dura (ph), guys who controlled 150, 300 men who had been in the resistance.

They went to Ramadi to pay homage to Abu Risha, one of the main leaders of the awakening, and to try to join his political movement. And why? "So that we can fight the Iranians. So we can fight the Shias."

As Nir Rosen details in "The Myth of the Surge" (covered in our March post), and other news organizations have reported as well, we are arming these guys, or have done so inadvertently, and we're certainly paying them, in part not to kill Americans. Basically, we're bribing our way to (highly) relative peace, and even that isn't working very well anymore. My favorite bit is when Kagan refers to the Awakening militias as "concerned local citizens." Bush used the same language in his speech for the fifth anniversary of the invasion. It's hilariously Orwellian, considering these "concerned local citizens" are pretty heavily armed, and some of them were killing American troops as recently as last year.

Kagan's full of such bullshit, though. Later in March, as Glenn Greenwald documented, Kagan met with a number of other unrepentant war hawks at AEI and opened by declaring:

The first thing I want to say is that: The Civil War in Iraq is over. And until the American domestic political debate catches up with that fact, we are going to have a very hard time discussing Iraq on the basis of reality.

Greenwald writes that "One has to watch the video to fully appreciate how pompously he sits there on his war throne issuing his decree about "reality" in Iraq." As Greenwald notes, less than 24 hours later, a new civil war had started to erupt in Basra.

At some point, it'd be nice if the unrepentant hawks who have been consistently, disastrously wrong were shown the door, and some genuinely smart and wise people were accorded respect, and oh, much more air time, since they rarely seem to get any even now in the corporate media. But that's no way to run an empire, now is it?

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

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