ten years of horror in Iraq: is this what Syria now has to look forward to?

On Wednesday [March 20th] Democracy Now! spoke with investigative journalist Dahr Jamail (currently working for Al Jazeera). Jamail provided a detailed review of the terrible conditions in Iraq, ten years after the US-led “liberation”; a campaign which began with the notorious “shock and awe” assault and one that has directly resulted in more than a million deaths (which include over a hundred thousand documented civilian deaths so far).

With a puppet president, Nouri al-Maliki, installed, the US occupation is now being quietly maintained by the presence of thousands of military contractors, whilst meanwhile the Iraqi population is the target of terrorist attacks on an almost daily basis as sectarian violence spirals out of control – 65 people were killed, and hundreds wounded by bomb blasts in Baghdad just on the day of the anniversary itself.

What Dahr Jamail describes is nothing less than a hell on earth where human rights abuses are rampant, and the use of indefinite detention and execution is commonplace:

… the situation in Iraq today, 10 years after the U.S.-led invasion and occupation began, it’s just utter devastation. It’s a situation where, overall, we can say that Iraq is a failed state. The economy is in a state of crisis, perpetual crisis, that began far back with the institution of the 100 Bremer orders during—under the Coalition Provisional Authority, the civil government set up to run Iraq during the first year of the occupation. And it’s been in crisis ever since.

The average Iraqi is just barely getting by. And how can they get by when there’s virtually no security across large swathes of country to this day, where, you know, as we see in the headlines recently, even when there’s not these dramatic, spectacular days of dozens of people being killed by bombs across Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, on any given day there’s assassinations, there’s detentions, there’s abductions and people being disappeared and kidnapped?

First of all, we have a situation where detentions across Iraq, primarily in Sunni-dominated parts of Baghdad, as well as in areas like Fallujah, predominantly Sunni cities, where people are being detained, en masse at times, nightly home raids, same type of stuff that the U.S. military used when they were in Iraq. And then the types of torture being described coming out of the prisons is truly horrific: people being hung by their ankles for days at a time while their heads are in buckets of water on the ground; people having their hands tied behind their backs and then hung from their hands for sometimes days at a time; electrical shock being used on people’s limbs, on their genitals, on their tongues; men being raped by broom handles as well as bottles; women in prison being raped. I spoke with one woman released just over a week ago at this point, talking about how she had been in prison for four years and was raped repeatedly by Iraqi forces. [There are] other types of techniques being used—and again, all of this comes back to the types of workings of Colonel James Steele … [more about Steele in a moment]

But the types of torture is ongoing. It’s rampant. It’s one of the driving factors as to why we’re seeing massive Friday protests now, well into the three month, across Al Anbar province and the Adhamiyah district of Baghdad, where Sunnis are demanding a halt for the detentions, a halt of the so-called Article 4, which is the legislation passed and being used in the Iraqi government that—basically where they took a page out of the Bush playbook of giving them carte blanche to arrest anybody for any reasons under the guise of terrorism charges, of suspected terrorism, and then they can be held indefinitely. I spoke with people both at Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch about this, and they said one of the problems now is, it’s the detentions and the being held secretly is so rampant now by the Iraqi security forces that there isn’t really even a need for secret prisons anymore. Remember a ways back, we had—it all came out that there were secret Maliki prisons. Well, now, today in Iraq, they’re referring—they’re being referred to by a lot of Iraqis as “secret prisoners,” because people are being detained, their families aren’t—there’s no law requiring that the families be notified, nobody knows where these people are. They can be held in any prison anywhere in broad daylight, because no name is being registered anywhere. So, literally, we have untold numbers of people being detained, being treated horrifically.

Asked whether he agreed with many people that the problems in Iraq are “not so much the result of the U.S. invasion but rather sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias”, Jamail’s response is unequivocal:

I don’t agree. I think all of this is a direct result of—either direct or indirectly a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation and the strategy applied. I mean, we saw something come out just last week in a joint investigation of BBC Arabic and The Guardian, which gave hard evidence, insider evidence, of the machinations of the U.S. using retired Lieutenant Colonel James Steele, infamous during the Reagan administration of orchestrating so many of the death squads in Central America along with Negroponte. Well, Negroponte happened to be the U.S. ambassador to Iraq for some of the occupation and, of course, brought in his old buddy James Steele to set up the same types of tactics, the detentions, the types of torture techniques that we’re seeing rampant across today—across Iraq today, the blatant attempts to foment sectarian violence, sort of a divide-and-conquer policy. Even Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld under Bush, back around 2006, 2007, referred to kind of casually using the “Salvador Option” in Iraq, and that’s precisely what he was describing.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Friday’s Democracy Now! offered a more extended profile of Colonel James Steele, investigating his role in Iraq and formerly in El Salvador, where he had previously coordinated death squads and torture centres. Also heavily implicated are General David Petraeus and Donald Rumsfeld.*

In the second part of the same interview [from Wednesday 20th], Jamail reported on another side of the horrors in today’s Iraq. A huge increase in birth defects and cancers, most especially plaguing the city of Fallujah, which are a direct consequence of the earlier US bombardment with the widespread use of weapons containing white phosphorous and depleted uranium (DU):

Overall, the country has seen a massive increase in cancer rates from the 1991 Gulf War up to present, even according to official Iraqi government statistics. In 1991, for example, there were 40 registered cases of cancer out of 100,000 Iraqis. By 1995, four years after that war, that number had jumped to 800 out of 100,000 Iraqis. And then—by 2005, that number had doubled— The most recent statistic, I’ll end with, before I get into Fallujah. And what these images are showing is that in 2005 we saw 1,600 Iraqis with cancer out of 100,000, so a massive escalation that continues.

And going on to Fallujah, because I wrote about this a year ago, and then I returned to the city again this trip, we are seeing an absolute crisis of congenital malformations of newborn. There is one doctor, a pediatrician named Dr. Samira Alani, working on this crisis in the city. She’s the only person there registering cases. And she’s seeing horrific birth defects. I mean, these are extremely hard to look at. They’re extremely hard to bear witness to. But it’s something that we all need to pay attention to, because of the amount of depleted uranium used by the U.S. military during both of their brutal attacks on the city of 2004, as well as other toxic munitions like white phosphorus, among other things.

And so, what this has generated is, from 2004 up to this day, we are seeing a rate of congenital malformations in the city of Fallujah that has surpassed even that in the aftermath of—in the wake of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that were—that nuclear bombs were dropped on at the end of World War II. So, Dr. Samira Alani actually visited with doctors in Japan, comparing statistics, and found that the amount of congenital malformations in Fallujah is 14 times greater than the same rate measured in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in the aftermath of the nuclear bombings.

These types of birth defects, she said—there are types of congenital malformations that she said they don’t even have medical terms for, that some of the things they’re seeing, they’ve never seen before. They’re not in any of the books or any of the scientific literature that they have access to. She said it’s common now in Fallujah for newborns to come out with massive multiple systemic defects, immune problems, massive central nervous system problems, massive heart problems, skeletal disorders, baby’s being born with two heads, babies being born with half of their internal organs outside of their bodies, cyclops babies literally with one eye—really, really, really horrific nightmarish types of birth defects. And it is ongoing.

The images in this report are so absolutely shocking that I have decided not to embed the video, but if you would like to hear more of what Dahr Jamail had to say or to read the full transcript then click here to watch on the Democracy Now! website.

Click here to read my own earlier post about the use of white phosphorous and DU in Fallujah.

On Friday [March 15th], a day that marked the second anniversary of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Democracy Now! also interviewed Rim Turkmani, an astrophysicist and member of the Syrian Civil Democratic Alliance, who had come to New York to meet with Security Council members in order to discuss possible political solutions to the developing crisis in Syria. This is part of what Rim Turkmani said:

The uprising started as a nonviolent uprising; however, because of the extreme violence, you know, the way the regime responded to this uprising, things developed very quickly into a very violent movement. However, there have been external actors who were supporting the arming of the opposition, and unfortunately that fueled the violence, increased dramatically the number of casualties, and turned the whole thing into more of a war, rather than a revolution. So nowadays, people don’t talk about democracy anymore. You don’t talk about the original rights and freedoms, which the people two years ago went to the street to protest for. We’re talking more about ending a war.

And I see all these statements, you know, from France and Britain, and even the U.S., are very contradicting and saying that we want to arm the rebels; however, we want a political solution. I mean, for me, a political solution means a peaceful solution. Peace can only be reached through peaceful ways, peaceful means, and can’t be reached through fueling the violence. So, I don’t think their efforts will help in calming the situation or dropping the number of casualties in the country. […]

It’s more of a geopolitical struggle, really, over Syria than responding to the needs of the people. I am a member of the opposition, as well. All [of] my group, very active inside Syria, is in opposition, but it’s a nonviolent opposition. That is very clear in its aim to reach democracy. However, we don’t reach any—we don’t get any support. We are—there’s systematic efforts to marginalize people like us inside Syria and focus only on the armed rebels. And they are the ones now who are stealing all the headlines. Now, why? Because, yes, there are certain actors, regional and international, who see this as a proxy war, and it’s an opportunity to fight their international opponents. It’s a struggle over Syria, over power, and the Syrians are falling victims to that.

I cannot find this clip uploaded on youtube but you can read the full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website by clicking here.

Obviously it was the Bush-Cheney administration who are most responsible for the campaign against Iraq, although the Obama administration has nevertheless been complicit in the on-going chaos; the US occupation now secured by the stay-behind presence of those thousands of military contractors, with a completely blind eye turned to the brutality of the Maliki regime. Meanwhile, and with Iraq already in ruins, Obama is once more talking up the need for “humanitarian intervention” in neighbouring Syria. A conflict that has been allowed to escalate in part thanks to American covert support for terrorist groups.

In an excellent week of broadcasts, Democracy Now! also welcomed freelance foreign correspondent Reese Erlich to talk more specifically about US and Saudi Arabian involvement in the Syrian conflict:

What I found was that the Saudi government and wealthy Saudis are involved in arming Syrian rebels, the most ultraconservative, ultrareligious groups, such as al-Nusra, and that hundreds of Saudis are infiltrating across the borders from Jordan and Turkey and going to fight with these extremist groups in Syria. […]

Well, the Saudis want to see a pro-Saudi government emerge. The analysts I spoke to in Saudi Arabia point to what they call the Yemen model, where there was an Arab Spring uprising, the head of the government was replaced, but a pro-Western, pro-Saudi general replaced the old guy. So, they’d love to see that happen in Syria. But as my sources pointed out, it’s not going to happen, because Syria is very, very different from Yemen.

And in the case of the U.S., the U.S.—you know, the debate in the U.S. is whether—well, shall we bomb them? Shall we create a no-fly zone and arm the rebels and take a more militant stand? Or shall we continue kind of the Obama policies of secretly arming the—and covertly arming and training the guerrillas? The problem is, the reason this has not been resolved, as pointed out to me by a Muslim Brotherhood leader that I interviewed in Istanbul, is that the U.S. hasn’t found a leader that it can trust to pursue its interests. If you recall, in the case of Iraq or Afghanistan, there was a guy the U.S. promoted as the new democrat, supposedly, who turned out to be otherwise. But they haven’t found that guy yet in Syria, and that’s one of the reasons that they’re taking a less than militant stand in support of the Syrian rebels.

In the same roundtable interview, Rim Turkmani added:

As we all know, Saudi Arabia is not a democratic country. The uprising started to reach a democratic Syria. So, I don’t have faith in any undemocratic country to support democratic transition inside Syria. I’m not surprised that they’re supporting the armed rebels and increasing the level of violence in Syria. However, we are very confident that violence never, ever leads to democracy. So, as much as I oppose the regime, my group opposes the regime, we oppose also these efforts from Saudi Arabia to turn Syria into a jihadi land. I mean, the Syrians are—their mentality is very, very different from like the jihadi extreme Muslims’ mentality, and I think they will find it very difficult to market their ideas inside Syria. However, the violence is giving them the right environment, fertile environment, for such ideology to spread. […]

And you heard even the U.K. and the U.S., even though they’re supporting a little bit the arming, they’re still talking about a political solution. A political solution means that we have to talk to all these armed people, all the armed groups, and bring them to a negotiation table. I trust we can bring the Syrians. We can bring those who defected from the army or those who thought they were carrying arms to defend their families. However, the jihadists are going to be impossible. They are going to be the real obstacle to any peace process in Syria. Their cause is global. It’s not for democracy, certainly. Even if the regime falls tonight, they’re going to continue their fight. They are not interested in any negotiations and any peace deal. And their threat is not going to be contained inside Syria. It’s certainly going to affect the whole region. This is why we have to act very quickly to end this war and bring together a peaceful solution for all the Syrians. It has to be all-inclusive, to bring all the Syrians into a negotiation table to reach a peaceful solution towards a democratic Syria. We’re not interested in any project that doesn’t lead eventually to a democratic country.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Additional:

Mike Prysner joined the US Army when he was 17, between his junior and senior years in high school. He left for basic training in June 2001 and was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, NY. In March 2003, his company was attached to the 173rd Airborne Brigade to take part in the initial invasion of Iraq. This is an edited version of a powerful speech he delivered at the 2008 “Winter Soldier” in Maryland. Testimony of what was really going on in Iraq:

Mike Prysner was also one of the speakers at the event “Speaking Truth to Power: a permanent state of war” on April 9, 2011 in Asheville, NC:

*

* Click here to watch “James Steele: America’s Mystery Man in Iraq”, a 15-month investigation made by the Guardian and BBC Arabic and produced by Maggie O’Kane [who gave an extended interview about the film on Democracy Now! on Friday 22nd].

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, depleted uranium, did you see?, El Salvador, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, USA, Yemen

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