This week's editor

Mary Fitzgerald

Mary Fitzgerald is Editor-in-Chief of openDemocracy.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Who is serious?

A true response to the cruelty and humiliation of Abu Ghraib requires not dismissal or evasion but recognition of its disturbing human reality.

Genocide in Sudan? An open letter to world leaders

A terrible human catastrophe is unfolding in Sudan. It is an immediate practical test for the world community, writes Gareth Evans of the International Crisis Group. For Anthony Barnett, it raises a wider question: will the world’s public support intervention after the deceits with which America pursued it in Iraq?

The Saudi jugular

The targeting of expatriate personnel in Saudi Arabia and Iraq may augur a long, hot summer for American strategists and international oil markets alike.

Iraq in the balance

Iraqis are engaged in an intense national debate about the way they will now govern themselves. In this period of uncertainty, expectation and continued insurgency, six Iraqis discussed how they should shape their country’s future, its relationships with occupiers and neighbours, in mid–May, before the new government was formed.

Return to Iraq

Six months after their first trip to post-Saddam Iraq, Mary Kaldor and Yahia Said return to find that trust in the coalition has collapsed. They assess the nature of the violence and the likelihood of overcoming it. A catastrophe is possible but not necessary, is the conclusion to their report, from which we publish this extract.

Dreaming of Spain: migration and Morocco

Morocco matters. Its Islamist-secularist tensions, huge resource-pool of aspiring migrants to Europe, intimate relationship with Spain, and experience of terrorism place the North African country at the heart of current global concerns. In Tangiers, Ivan Briscoe discovers a link between its political frustrations and the longing of so many of its people for escape.

The magic of Indian democracy: questions for Antara Dev Sen

Antara Dev Sen provides a wonderful overview of the magic and surprise of the Indian election, and especially the way the media separated themselves from Indian realities. The ordinary Indian voter yet again showed the door to a smug, overconfident ruler.

The war for Gulf oil

United States strategy in Iraq has Gulf oil at its heart. As America feels the heat politically, diplomatically, militarily and now economically, the stakes have never been higher for its long-term future in the region.

Abu Ghraib, Gaza, and fears of failure in Iraq

The predicament facing United States forces in Iraq is currently made even more severe by two apparently separate developments – the apparently systemic abuse of Iraqi prisoners, and Israel’s forceful policy of assaults and house-demolitions in the Gaza strip.

The first development reflects evidence now surfacing that much of the treatment of detainees in Iraqi prisons stems directly from a well-established policy originating shortly after the 9/11 attacks and operating initially in Afghanistan. Such was the determination of the Bush administration to pursue al-Qaida and its associates, that it turned a blind eye to the Geneva Conventions, and began to use techniques of interrogation and persuasion reminiscent of Latin America and elsewhere at the height of the cold war.

Much of the new information has been revealed by Seymour Hersh, a journalist with a strong record of investigative accuracy (“The Gray Zone”, New Yorker, 15 May 2004). Abu Ghraib, says Hersh, is the natural consequence of importing Afghanistan-style interrogation tactics into Iraq in 2003, when the insurgency was beginning to spread beyond control and intelligence was desperately needed.

The Pentagon has denied Seymour Hersh’s allegation that it attempted to cover up the abuse. Whether Hersh has got it completely right is not yet clear, but there is already considerable evidence to support what he writes. In particular, his claim that the Abu Ghraib tactics are part of a widespread pattern is consistent with repeated statements from former detainees – even though US generals appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on 19 May blamed a breakdown in the chain of command. Moreover, other US military sources now confirm that the methods applied were not restricted to a handful of soldiers; a former Abu Ghraib intelligence officer, Sergeant Samuel Provence, says that “dozens” were involved (“Definitely a Cover-Up”, ABC News, 18 May 2004).

openDemocracy writers respond to and analyse the torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib – see the articles by Isabel Hilton, Maï Ghoussoub, and Laila Kazmi

Perhaps most revealing is the leaking of a January 2002 memorandum from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. This recommended that President Bush publicly declare the war in Afghanistan and against al-Qaida be exempt from the Geneva Conventions on the grounds that if this was not done there would be a risk of future war crimes prosecutions (Michael Isikoff, “Memos Reveal War Crimes Warnings”, Newsweek, 19 May 2004). Bush did not make this declaration.

What is becoming more apparent is that the ill-treatment of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere has been persistent and extensive. For people across the Middle East this is nothing new. What is different is that digital cameras and the internet have conspired to make it accessible to a global public in a quite unexpected manner.

The Gaza factor

The second development is the current policy of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in Gaza. After experiencing unexpected and serious casualties during recent operations in Gaza’s refugee camps, the Ariel Sharon government’s use of significant military force, including the destruction of hundreds of houses, has caused scores of Palestinian deaths. Israel justifies this on the basis of its security needs, but the reporting of its actions worldwide, and Washington’s failure to put pressure on Sharon to desist, are together responsible for the settled view across the Middle East that this is yet another example of an American-Israeli axis.

Eoin Murray writes from Gaza about Israel’s assault on Rafah in openDemocracy’s forums

Moreover, there is a near-total belief in the region that the present Israeli government has no interest whatsoever in the creation of a viable Palestinian state – rather, that it seeks to ensure that Gaza, even after any evacuation of Jewish settlements, remains a territory completely controlled by Israel. The northern and eastern borders will comprise impenetrable barriers with fully-controlled crossing-points; the southern border with Egypt will have Israeli controls on its northern margin, hence the recent demolition of houses close to the border; the Mediterranean coast will be comprehensively patrolled; and there will be no access by air.

Shlomo Ben-Ami offers an original perspective on Ariel Sharon’s Gaza plan and what the Palestinians can do; see “Sharon’s Gaza disengagement: roadmap to a Palestinian state?” (April 2004)

In parallel with this, a truncated West Bank will be fenced off, allowing its Palestinian inhabitants minimal access to Israel and Jordan; numerous strategic roads, roadblocks and key settlements will control movement between towns and cities. In the view of most Arabs, “Palestine” will resemble a series of huge open prisons with the most minimal autonomy and under the long-term domination of Israel.

This may not be the intention across the whole of Israeli society, it may even be more perception than reality, but the policies and actions of Ariel Sharon’s government make the Arab view highly plausible. In addition Sharon’s policies are widely seen to have the tacit support of the Bush administration and come at a time of ever-closer links between the Israeli and American armed forces.

A striking indication of this is the emergency refitting of the US Bradley fighting vehicles in Iraq with Israeli “add-on” armour. In spite of their existing defences, the Bradleys have proved vulnerable to powerful roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, with more than 150 US soldiers killed over the past year. The Israeli arms company Rafael has developed a form of reactive armour for Israel’s own armoured vehicles that is effective in countering such weapons, and is now working with a US partner, General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products (GDATP) to provide emergency supplies to the US army in Iraq. 140 sets of armour are currently being produced under two contracts worth $40 million.

A project under strain

The treatment of Iraqi detainees and Israel’s actions against the Palestinians, then, further inflame the anti-American mood in the Middle East. Both are occurring in the context of a deterioration in the security situation in Iraq. The assassination of the Iraqi Governing Council’s president, Izzedin Salim, in particular, appears to have crystallised opposition to US policies across a broad swathe of Iraqi opinion, much of it normally pro-American.

This stems, in part, from Salim’s long-standing record of opposition to the Saddam Hussein regime and also to the obvious fact that the US forces are unable to protect even the most senior members of the Iraqi political establishment. Even more seriously, though, the murder is seen as an example of the deeply entrenched problem of general insecurity, expressed this week by a normally pro-American Kurdish member of the IGC, Mahmoud Othman: “If something is not done about this security situation, there will be no transfer of power. Never in Iraq has it been like this – never, even under Saddam…People are killed, kidnapped and assaulted; children are taken away; women are raped. Nobody is afraid of any punishment.”

There are at present remarkably conflicting reports of US plans for the near-term future, a state of affairs that may indicate deep indecision at a moment of evident crisis. After the meeting of coalition foreign ministers on 14 May, both Colin Powell and Jack Straw raised the possibility of a withdrawal from Iraq if a new Iraqi authority demanded it. In the light of Tony Blair’s and George W. Bush’s commitment to “see things through”, this seemed to be a significant change of policy.

What is even more significant, though, is that statements about a possible withdrawal appear not to have any connection with current military planning. The US military may well be withdrawing from most Iraqi urban areas into heavily-fortified army camps and air bases, but it shows no indication whatsoever either of reducing the size of its occupying forces or of any weakening in its determination to maintain permanent bases.

Instead, current planning involves keeping as many as 135,000 troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future, a large increase on earlier plans for just over 100,000. These enhanced levels will be achieved by extending the tours of duty of 20,000 troops from the 1st armoured division and the 2nd armoured cavalry regiment by at least three months. These in turn will be replaced by fresh troops not included in the original troop rotation plans.

In the longer term, one-year tours of duty in Iraq are likely to become standard, and the Pentagon is calling up about 37,000 National Guard and reserve troops to active service this year. This will take the number of National Guard and reserve forces on active service to 226,000, an increase of 19.5%. This alone is more than twice the size of the entire British army, and gives some indication of the strains now being felt by the US military (see an earlier column in this series, “The American military: all stressed out”, 8 April 2004 ).

Perhaps the most symbolically important development of all is the decision to start moving American troops from South Korea to Iraq. The numbers will initially be small - no more than a brigade of about 3,600 troops from the 2nd infantry division. But they represent the first significant cut in the US military presence in South Korea for over a decade.

The decision, against the background of an unresolved crisis over North Korea - another key component in George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” - indicates the degree of overstretch now facing the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. It comes in advance of the further deterioration in security in Iraq that is widely expected in the summer. It is no surprise that a gathering mood in Washington senses that the occupation of Iraq is now verging on failure.

Farewell to Iraq: the least worst solution

American leaders invaded Iraq high on national vainglory and moral absolutism, says Marcus Raskin of the Institute for Policy Studies. United States forces there will never gain legitimacy. They should leave as soon as possible and allow Iraqis to find what America itself needs: a new relationship with the world.

America after 9/11: victims turning perpetrators

By launching a “war on terror” after 11 September 2001, America made a tragic mistake, says George Soros. The country must now learn a different lesson: fighting terror by creating more innocent victims perpetuates the cycle of violence, creates a permanent state of war, and corrodes the open society that wages it.

India's benign earthquake

The defeat of the ruling BJP by Sonia Gandhi’s Congress Party was followed by Sonia’s refusal to become prime minister. As Indians reel in amazement at their own democratic handiwork, Antara Dev Sen in Delhi makes sense of a political world turned upside down.

“If you trust me, allow me to make my decision.” With that Sonia Gandhi, prime minister designate of the world’s largest democracy, stepped down from the podium in the central hall of New Delhi’s parliament.

America must quit Iraq

America gave “the terrorists” their victory in Iraq by invading. It must now leave, on its own terms, says the Cato Institute’s Charles Peña, as he judges the occupation against one overriding concern: the security of Americans in their own homeland.

America's trial, Iraq's judgment

The response of neo-conservative analysts to the gruesome images of tortured Iraqis, no less than the abuse of power itself, reveals the scale of the crisis engulfing Washington’s Iraq project.

Shame

A Pakistani-American writer registers the shock of the Abu Ghraib torture photos as a wound to her identity as a United States citizen of immigrant origin.

America and Arabia after Saddam

The Iraq war is only one aspect of a “greater west Asian crisis” that carries the extreme danger of further, terrible violence. Fred Halliday joins knowledge, insight, empathy and anger to assess the current “winners” and “losers” and insist on the central importance of listening to the Iraqi people.

Abu Ghraib: I do not know where to look for hope

All I can do is scream through my keyboard.

Do the soldiers-torturers act with such abject cruelty out of racism? Racism is not enough to explain their behaviour, their abuse, the joy on their faces while they are attacking the prisoners in their flesh and their dignity.

Are they aware that the only justification left to their leaders was to save the poor Iraqi people from a regime that behaved incessantly like they do in the pictures that make me want to throw up? Have they studied Saddam’s methods of abuse and felt their efficiency, so they re-enacted them?

An Iraqi's impressions: interview with Yahia Said

What is happening in Iraq? After the Fallujah siege, as insurgency continues and the June deadline for transfer of sovereignty approaches, Caspar Henderson of openDemocracy interviews the civil society researcher Yahia Said over a line between London and Baghdad.

Iraq in a wider war

The images of American troops degrading Iraqi prisoners are shattering for the United States’s reputation amongst Arabs. But beyond Iraq – in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan – the routine casualties of the “war on terror” tell an equally grim story.

Civil liberties and the 'war on terror'

When citizens’ fundamental freedoms are made a casualty of sweeping political objectives, the damage is to democracy itself. The experienced British lawyer Geoffrey Bindman draws a lesson from those imprisoned without trial in Tony Blair’s backyard – Belmarsh prison.

Madrid through American eyes

In the election after the terrorist atrocity of 11 March, Spain’s people rallied against government lies and bad anti-terrorist policies. An American scholar in Madrid compares the American reaction to 9/11 and asks whether his compatriots can learn from the Spanish example.

An Iraqi intifada?

Hi-tech American weaponry is pounding Fallujah and Kufa, but the strategy behind it is tinged with desperation.

The widespread violence of the first two weeks of April in Iraq seemed for a short time to have abated. But in the past few days it has returned, with further major confrontations across the country, including in the southern city of Basra.

From the sublime to the ridiculous

The Middle East peace process is now meaningless. Ariel Sharon has the only game plan in town. Time to grasp this before contemplating solutions, says Lindsay Talmud.

Sharon's Gaza disengagement: roadmap to a Palestinian state?

Can Palestinians seize a victory from their defeat? They must now be given a fair chance to make a success of governing Gaza, so that it becomes the springboard to recover their destiny, argues Israel’s former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, as he seeks a way forward after the Bush-Sharon accord.

Afghanistan: no time to lose

There is a real opportunity for Afghans to build a better future for themselves, says a recent visitor to the country with a UNHCR mission. But only swift, careful action by Nato can help them seize it. Can Nato deliver?

Between Fallujah and Palestine

The tactics and weapons used in the siege of the Iraqi city of Fallujah reveal the United States’s growing military cooperation with Israel.

The second trip to Fallujah and the courteous kidnappers

Jo Wilding returns to the besieged Iraqi city with aid supplies, is kidnapped by insurgents, and lives to tell the urgent, compelling story.

Sergeant Tratner of the First Armoured Division is irritated. “Git back or you’ll git killed,” are his opening words.

Lee says we’re press and he looks with disdain at the car. “In this piece of shit?”

Makes us less of a target for kidnappers, Lee tells him. Suddenly he decides he recognises Lee from the TV. Based in Germany, he watches the BBC. He sees Lee on TV all the time. “Cool. Hey, can I have your autograph?”

America and the Iraq war, or thinking 'inside out'

The seizure of United States foreign policy by neo-conservatives made possible the Iraq war. The result has been a disaster for the international community. After the Madrid bombs, Spanish citizens sounded the alert. Will Americans follow?

Understanding the insurgencies in Iraq

Will Iraqis unite in revolt against US forces? Beneath the boiling surface of Iraqi anger lies a more complex and fractious reality which points to a different outcome.

Give us hope, not bombs

An Iraqi Kurd who welcomed the US war in his country sees arrogance and force crushing chances for freedom. His view: American occupation policy is dangerously misjudged.

A strategy disintegrates

As civilian and military casualties mount, US strategy in Iraq and south-west Asia as a whole has entered a critical period, with potentially dire consequences. But there are no signs of rethinking emerging in Washington.

Enough revolution

A distinguished Arab commentator says US strategy in Iraq is unravelling. It is time to put aside simplistic caricatures, and think harder about the future of the Iraqi people.

Fallujanomics

An American life is worth a thousand Iraqi lives. Iraqi satirist and author Khalid Kishtainy does the accounts for the recent fighting in Fallujah.

Inside the Fire

A brave and harrowing report from inside the besieged city of Fallujah where ordinary people are trapped in the cross-fire.

11 April, Fallujah

Faith, not optimism: an interview with Sari Nusseibeh

Sari Nusseibeh is a Palestinian scholar and activist of independent mind who is committed to non-violence in both the methods and goals of struggle. He talks to Linda Benedikt about his Peoples’ Voice civic initiative with Ami Ayalon, and the prospects for a long-term settlement between Israel and Palestine.
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