This week's editor

Alex Sakalis, Editor

Alex Sakalis is associate editor of openDemocracy and co-edits the Can Europe Make It? page.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

The axis of deafness: America, Russia, Israel

The lessons of the Najaf siege, and events elsewhere - Russia, Afghanistan, Israel, and elsewhere in Iraq - suggest that the “war on terror” remains in deep trouble.

The present danger: from 'cold war' to 'war on terror'

The revival of the ideological spearhead of United States anti-communism in the 1980s, the Committee on the Present Danger, mirrors the shifts in American military strategy – and anticipates the consequences of a John Kerry victory.

Who lost Shi'a Iraq?

The resistance of Muqtada al-Sadr’s angry young men to United States forces in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf reveals the failures of post-Saddam reconstruction.

The current epicentre of the “war on terror” is the Shi’a holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq.

Iraq between insurgency and uprising

As United States military forces besiege the Shi’a holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq, their political masters in Washington are calculating whether to extend the “war on terror” to Iran.

Afghanistan's forgotten war

Thirty-three months after the Taliban’s fall, Afghanistan prepares for a national election amid domestic political turmoil, bravura attempts at voter registration, attacks on aid workers, and endemic insecurity. The “war on terror” is far from won here.

Who is accountable for Darfur? An interview with Gareth Evans

A United Nations resolution calls on Sudan’s government to halt the catastrophe in its Darfur region. But Gareth Evans, head of the International Crisis Group, tells Caspar Henderson of openDemocracy that the international community must do even more to press Sudan’s leaders – including holding them criminally accountable.

'Tear down that wall!' The world court and Israel

The International Court of Justice ruling that Ariel Sharon’s barrier across the West Bank breaches international law is both alarm-call and opportunity to the world community, says Eóin Murray in Gaza.

The American army rethinks

The Democratic National Convention in Boston has dominated the American media in the past week, while a range of domestic issues has dominated the European. As a result, coverage of the security situation in Iraq has – until a day of explosive violence on 28 July – declined markedly outside the Arab world. This in no way reflects an easing of the insurgency, which persists in many parts of the country.

Iraq: echoes of Vietnam

The United States’s continuing false optimism over Iraq, and the potential length of the conflict, are making a comparison between the early years of the Vietnam war and the current Iraqi imbroglio unavoidable.

The Butler report: where did Iraq's weapons go?

Official reports in the United States and Britain confirm that United Nations weapons inspectors were effective in dismantling Iraq’s arsenal in the early 1990s. Ron Manley, who helped supervise much of this process, reads the latest British report and sees how its very success later created political problems for the country’s intelligence services.

America's intelligence wars: asking the wrong question

The damning findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee report in Washington on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction highlight larger political failures, says Charles Peña.

On 7 July 2004, The United States Senate Intelligence Committee issued a scathing report of the CIA’s pre–war assessments of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The SWISH Report


You have asked SWISH to undertake an independent analysis of the progress of your campaign, as of mid–July 2004. The report is for your consideration as the SPC, but may also be shown to elements of the leadership. You have asked us to be candid in assessing current threats and opportunities, and also to suggest changes in strategy that may be appropriate in pursuant of your aims.

Al–Qaida aims and context

As we understand it, you have three short–term aims and one long–term strategic objective. The short–term aims are:

Iraq's Israeli factor

As the court appearance of Saddam Hussein reinforces Iraq’s tense political and security situation, Israeli’s military assistance to the Iraqi Kurds adds a potent element to the precarious regional power-balance.

What price sovereignty?!

How should Iraqis react to the appointment of their new government? Abdililah Nuaimi responds to his compatriot Haider Saeed: let’s use this limited space of sovereignty to create a democratic future.

America plans Iraqi escalation

The United States and Britain are playing sweet political mood music to accompany the handover of sovereignty to Iraq, but in the face of endemic insurgency their military strategists are preparing for a lengthy combat.

'Independence Day'

Haider Saeed casts a quizzical eye over Iraq’s latest independence, in which the Iraqi people remain the objects of other powers.

Iraq: the best of openDemocracy, 2002-04

openDemocracy has tracked the prelude, course and aftermath of the Iraq war – always seeking to give voice to the most vital ideas and perspectives from around the world. Here, as sovereignty is restored to an Iraqi government, a brief guide to our coverage over two tumultuous years.

The intelligence of al-Qaida

The killing of Taliban and al–Qaida commanders in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is less significant than recent evidence of al–Qaida’s subtle, long–term strategy to expand its influence in the world’s richest oil region.

Who 'sees' who? An American summit photo in an Iraqi gaze

From Baghdad, Haider Saeed reflects on how the image of Arab / Islamic leaders in “traditional” dress at the G8 summit in Sea Island symbolises the subordinate integration of non–western polities into America’s universalist but also imperial understanding of democracy.

Al-Jazeera: the world through Arab eyes

A booming satellite television industry offers the Arab world’s 280 million people fresh perspectives on Middle East and global affairs. Hazem Saghieh assesses the ambiguities of a revolution in Arab minds and screens.

No respite

Behind the hope of political stability in Iraq lies a continuing, deadly insurgency targeting the country’s electricity supply and oil installations.

The end of ideology in India?

The meaning of India’s election result lies in the experience and aspirations of ordinary Indians for a better life, not elite perception or political ideology, says the editor of the “National Review” in New Delhi.

Baghdad and Kabul: politics versus war

Diplomacy and politics are at last winning headlines in Iraq, but beneath the surface the dynamics of conflict there and in Afghanistan offer colder comfort to the United States and its allies.

Darfur: countdown to catastrophe

The world must see beyond the peace agreement between north and south in Sudan to the terrible tragedy unfolding in the country’s western Darfur region, says the International Crisis Group’s Africa specialist.

Bad seeds in a good war

The “scandal” of Abu Ghraib made Maï Ghoussoub choke, Marcus Raskin protest, and Charles Pena demand America withdraw from Iraq without delay. Misjudgment, wrong diagnosis, worse solution, says Douglas Murray.

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.
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