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Bush's Enemy du Jour

Hezbollah is a convenient way for Bush to shift focus from the escalating tide of gruesome violence in Iraq.
 
 
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On television broadcasts, the word "Hezbollah" is seldom mentioned in a sentence unaccompanied by the word "terrorist." Commentators speculate about whether al Qaida or Hezbollah is a worse threat to the United States. Richard L. Armitage, deputy secretary of state during Bush's first term, has said Hezbollah might be "the A-team of terrorists," and that "Al Qaida is actually the B-team." Former CIA agent Robert Baer admits there is no evidence Hezbollah is operating in the United States, but in response to questioning by a Fox News anchor, speculates that Hezbollah "could" attack on U.S. soil.

Hezbollah is George W. Bush's enemy du jour. Although suspected of complicity in the 1985 hijacking of a TWA jet, Hezbollah denies ever attacking anyone outside of Lebanon and Israel. The group, which comprises the Shiite brand of Islam, doesn't even attack other sects inside Lebanon. Its leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah claims Hezbollah is "like Jesus," citing the group's 2000 action in Lebanon, where Hezbollah did not take vengeance within Lebanon.

There is overwhelming support for Hezbollah in Lebanon. According to a poll by the Beirut Center for Research and Information, 87 percent of Lebanese support Hezbollah's fight with Israel. The level of support for Hezbollah is high among non-Shiite communities; 80 percent of Christians, 80 percent of Druze and 89 percent of Sunnis polled support Hezbollah.

These numbers are likely to rise in the wake of Israel's bombing of Qana yesterday, which killed over 60 civilians, mostly children. Thousands in the Middle East have taken to the streets, outraged at the carnage.

Unlike Osama bin Laden, who targets pro-Western Arab countries, Nasrallah tells Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to just stay neutral in this conflict. In a televised speech on Saturday, Nasrallah said, "The Israelis are ready to halt aggression because they are afraid of the unknown. The one pushing for the continuation of the aggression is the U.S. administration. Israel has been exposed as a slave of the U.S."

Noam Chomsky says we should always call it the "American-Israeli destruction of Lebanon." Although he thinks Israel started with proportional force as in the past, the United States began pushing its one-sided view of the conflict at the G-8 summit. Bush reportedly told Israel: "You can't stop now; you're acting for all of us."

That was a green light for Israel, acting on orders from the United States. If not, why is so much attention focused on Condoleezza Rice's every move? Because her boss is in charge of this war.

While the rest of the world calls for an immediate ceasefire, Bush-Rice's excuses just don't wash. They blame Iran and Syria. They say they want a "sustainable" ceasefire to build "a New Middle East."

Bush started his dangerous folly in another Middle Eastern country; the former "central war on terror:" Iraq. Bush has created such a disaster there that many Iraqis who hated Saddam Hussein wish he were still in power.

According to a United Nations report, 14,338 civilians died violently in Iraq in the first six months of this year. That tally is based on figures from the Iraqi Ministry of Health and Baghdad's central morgue. An average of more than 100 Iraqi civilians were killed per day last month, the U.N. reported. The overwhelming majority of the casualties in recent months took place in Baghdad. The report said, "Civilians are reported to be severely affected by heavy MNF (Multi-National Force) bombing."

Samuel W. Bodman, the U.S. energy secretary, must've had his rosy-colored glasses on when he recently met with Iraq's oil and electricity ministers in Baghdad. "The situation seems far more stable than when I was here two or three years ago. The security seems better, people are more relaxed. There is an optimism, at least among the people I talked to," he said cheerfully. Of course, Bodman gave his interview from the heavily fortified Green Zone, the only place in Iraq other than the Kurdish north that has any security at all.

"Killings, kidnappings and torture remain widespread" in Iraq, according to the U.N. report. "In some Baghdad neighborhoods, women are now prevented from going to the markets alone," the report says. Attorney Nadia Keilani told an audience at a recent San Diego teach-in that if a woman leaves her house with her head uncovered, she is often stopped and her head shaved as a warning. The next time, she is beheaded.

Keilani's 26-year-old cousin leaves her home in Iraq only three times a month. She spends her days looking through a peephole. "She is a prisoner in her own home," Keilani said. Homosexuals are "increasingly threatened and extra-judicially executed by militias and 'death squads' because of their sexual orientation," the U.N. reported.

"Attacks against teachers, university professors and students, as well as extremists inside universities, resulted in numerous deaths and an increasing number of academics and intellectuals leaving the country," the U.N. found. Eighty-four percent of the colleges have been destroyed, Keilani noted. Kidnappings proliferate, according to the U.N. Many hostages are killed even after the ransom is paid.

The "extent of the violence in areas" other than the Kurdish region "is such that likely every child, to some degree, has been exposed to it," the U.N. report says. Yesterday's New York Times reported: "Iraq's anemic investigative agencies have been ill-equipped to keep up with soaring crime, so for families seeking information, the morgues have often provided the only certainty."

Yet people who go to the morgue to retrieve their loves ones are often kidnapped and killed if their identity card says Sunni instead of Shiite. Things are going so badly in Iraq that the tours of 4,000 U.S. soldiers who had been slated to leave have been extended for up to four months.

Iraq's leaders elected under occupation with Bush's blessing are refusing to toe the line. Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, called the U.S. invasion of Iraq "the work of butchers." He said the U.S. government wanted Iraq "to stay under the American boot."

"Leave us to solve our problems," al-Mashhadani declared. "We don't need an agenda from outside."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is caught between Iraq and the Bush place. At a Washington news conference last week, al-Maliki criticized Israel's air strikes in Lebanon and urged an immediate ceasefire "to stop the killing and the destruction."

A resolution of the Iraqi Parliament had called Israel's attacks "criminal aggression." In an attempt to appear more pro-Israel than the Republicans, 20 congressional Democrats called for the cancellation of al-Maliki's address to a joint session of Congress because he wouldn't condemn Hezbollah.

Al-Maliki addressed Congress as planned, but forgot to mention the war on Lebanon for some reason. An influential Iraqi Shiite cleric, Sheik Aws Khafaji, called al-Maliki's visit to Washington a betrayal of Islam and a humiliation to the Iraqi people. "What forced you to eat with the occupiers?" Khafaji asked. "Is that your reward? You know more than anybody else that the car bombings, terrorism, explosions and bloodletting in Iraq are under the protection of the Zionist-American plans."

This morning, Bush said "the status quo in the Middle East" led to the 9/11 deaths. He's right, but for the wrong reasons. It was not Iraq, Hezbollah, Iran or Syria that perpetrated the September 11 attacks. It was al Qaida. What was Osama bin Laden so upset about? U.S.-U.N. sanctions against the people of Iraq, U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia, and U.S.-Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, president-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.