Ball of Confusion
"Oh, Great Googamooga, can't you hear me talking to you
just a ball of confusion, oh yeah
that's what the world is today, hey"
-- The Temptations, "Ball of Confusion"
"With their tanks and their bombs,
And their bombs and their guns.
In your head, in your head, they are crying..."
-- The Cranberries, "Zombie"
On Wednesday, November 12, U.S. forces resumed their bombing campaign in Baghdad. The target was a warehouse supposedly used by insurgents, and the blasts "set off explosions that reverberated through the Iraqi capital," according to the Associated Press. Following recent US strikes in Tikrit, the Baghdad bombing was aimed at "a known meeting, planning, storage and rendezvous point for belligerent elements currently conducting attacks on coalition forces and infrastructure," the Pentagon said in a statement. Now that bombing has resumed, do you suppose President Bush will retrace his steps back to the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln and declare that the battle has been re-engaged?
The resumption of US bombing may have been what the top American military commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, meant when a day or so earlier he spoke of a "turning point" in the war. According to The New York Times, Lt. Gen. Sanchez "outlined a new get-tough approach to combat operations in areas north and west of Baghdad, strongholds for loyalists of Saddam Hussein."
Lt. Gen. Sanchez made his remarks before news broke of a truck bombing at the headquarters of Italy's paramilitary police in the southern city of Nasiriyah, which killed 31, including 18 Italians, and wounded dozens more.
(By the way, the Pentagon would like to assure you that its bombing raids are precision strikes and no civilians are hurt or killed. And, if there is a little collateral damage along the way, the Pentagon also wants you to know that it's not in the business of keeping a count of those killed. Unlike the Pentagon, however, a recent report by The Project on Defense Alternatives made it its business to investigate the Iraqi body count. The PDA's report "estimated that 13,000 Iraqis, including as many as 4,300 non-combatants, were killed during the major combat phase of the war in Iraq."
What's goin' on?
These days, I'm sure I'm not the only one having a hard time figuring what's going on over at the White House. These are mega-bungles: The failure of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to move forward and its increasingly strained relationship with the Bush Administration; the mounting number of US dead and wounded; the escalating attacks on non-American coalition forces and the withdrawal of a number of international aid agencies from the country; and the eroding support at home for the Bush Administration's occupation.
A few days ago L. Paul Bremer, the US overseer in Iraq, was rushed back to Washington for urgent briefings with the president, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The key agenda item was speeding up the transference of power to the Iraqis and getting US troops the heck out of there.
Only a few days earlier, administration officials floated a notion that the Iraqi Governing Council might be replaced by a Hamad Karzai-type of arrangement; in other words, by a leader selected by the United States.
The White House, sensing that the IGC is not moving quickly enough in hammering out a new Iraqi constitution and setting a timetable for elections, has sent Robert Blackwill, the head of the Iraq political transition portfolio of the National Security Council's Iraq task force, to Iraq to speed things along.
Shortly after the DC meeting, news surfaced in the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer of a top-secret intelligence report warning that Iraqis were tiring of the US occupation and were becoming increasingly supportive of the resistance. CNN later reported that according to a senior administration source, the memo notes that: "More Iraqis are 'flooding to the ranks of the guerrillas.' Many of these Iraqis are Sunnis who had previously been 'on the sidelines' but now believe they can 'inflict bodily harm' on the Americans; Ammunition is 'readily available,' making it much easier to mount attacks; and organization coordination is getting "tighter" among foreign insurgents -- "extremists including but not limited to al Qaeda and Hezbollah -- and those 'displaced people' who lost power."
Of major concern to policymakers is the erosion in the homeland of support for the occupation as the US casualties continue to mount: Nearly 400 U.S. soldiers have died since the beginning of the War, and recently the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, reported that more than 7,000 wounded U.S. soldiers have been treated at a single US military hospital -- Landstuhl Regional Medical Center -- in Germany. The Iraq Coalition Casualty Count Web site has the number of wounded at nearly 2300 (an average of nearly 10 soldiers per day).
The daily drip, drip, drip of bad news
And then, there's the drip, drip, drip of daily stories that are, at best, minor annoyances to the White House -- and at worst, a signal of an administration in disarray: What's up with cutting back veterans' benefits and services? Why aren't cameras allowed into Dover Air Force Base to record the homecoming of US casualties? Why hasn't the president visited with families of soldiers killed in Iraq? Which Pentagon whiz kid was behind the manufacturing and marketing of the story of the "rescue" of Jessica Lynch?
Another one of these "minor annoyances" popped up the other day at the press briefing of White House spokesman Scott McClellan. Veteran DC reporter and columnist Helen Thomas asked McClellan whether the 17 US soldiers that had been held prisoner by Iraq would receive the financial compensation, from Iraqi funds held by the US government, recently awarded them by a judge. McClellan's response was Evasion 101.
The Antic Muse Web Blog caught the exchange and published the following excerpts:
Helen Thomas: "Scott, there are 17 former POWs from the first Gulf War who were tortured and filed suit against the regime of Saddam Hussein. And a judge has ordered that they are entitled to substantial financial damages. What is the administration's position on that? Is it the view of this White House that that money would be better spent rebuilding Iraq rather than going to these former POWs?"
McClellan: There is simply no amount of money that can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. That's what our view is."
Thomas: "White House is standing in the way of them getting those awards, those financial awards, because it views it that money better spent on rebuilding Iraq?"
McClellan: "Again, there's simply no amount of money that can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering... "
Thomas: "Why won't you spell out what your position is?"
McClellan: "I'm coming to your question. Believe me, I am. Let me finish. Let me start over again, though. No amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of a very brutal regime, at the hands of Saddam Hussein. . . But again, there is simply no amount of compensation that could ever truly compensate these brave men and women."
Thomas: "Just one more. Why would you stand in the way of at least letting them get some of that money?"
McClellan: That's why I pointed out that that was an issue that was addressed earlier this year. But make no mistake about it, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the torture that these brave individuals went through... "
Thomas: "... you don't think they should get money?
McClellan: "... at the hands of Saddam Hussein. There is simply no amount of money that can truly compensate those men and women who heroically served... "
Thomas: "That's not the issue... "
McClellan: "... who heroically served our nation."
Thomas: "Are you opposed to them getting some of the money?"
McClellan: "This issue was addressed earlier this year, and we believe that there's simply no amount of money that could truly compensate these brave men and women for what they went through and for the suffering that they went through at the hands of Saddam Hussein... "
Thomas: "So no money."
Winning the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis isn't easy when US troops are dropping bombs and shooting at them indiscriminately. The other day the Associated Press reported that US troops in Baghdad "accidentally fired on a car carrying a member of the Iraqi Governing Council. The council member, Mohammed Bahr al-Uloun, escaped injury but the driver was wounded." At a roadblock in Fallujah, "US troops fired on a truck carrying live chickens Tuesday night, killing five civilians."
''They went to bring chickens ... and they came back at 9 or 10 at night and we were waiting for them,'' Khalid Khalifa al-Jumaily, whose two nephews were killed on the truck, told AP. ''The Americans fired on them.''
According to the secret CIA report, there may be as many as 50,000 insurgents, and more appear to be joining every day. "There are thousands in the resistance -- not just a core of Ba'athists. They are in the thousands, and growing every day. Not all those people are actually firing, but providing support, shelter and all that," an intelligence source in Washington familiar with the CIA report told The Guardian.
Bill Berkowitz writes a regular column for WorkingForChange.com