I’ve just switched on to the Chinese media after being told a story about a Chinese tycoon named as Mr Fan who apparently had five mistresses. The story goes that after he ran into financial difficulties he found he could no longer afford to keep his mistresses and ran a competition to decide which one he would keep.

At a hotel in the city of Qingdao he invited a judge to help him choose his ultimate mistress based on her beauty, singing and finally on her ability to drink, unbeknownst to his mistresses. The mistresses were provided with flats paid for by the tycoon and when one of the mistresses, named Miss Fu, learnt that her services were no longer required and that Mr Fan would no longer pay for her flat she decided to exact revenge by driving them all over a steep cliff. She died but the four other mistresses and the tycoon survived. The story broke in the Shanghai Daily, so the story goes, because Fu left a letter detailing the competition. Mr Fan then paid £500,000 to her family.

The story was narrated to me after I told a friend about a programme I had seen last night on BBC 4 about the Chateau Margaux vineyard (watch The Faith here) which produces some of the world’s finest wine. Making forays into China the vineyard have taken their vintage wines to China on a marketing exercise designed to stamp their mark as the best of the best, and they were met with open arms. The following are the evangelistic words of the Chateau…

beauty certainty refinement leisure elegance softness depth… Margaux has a kind of wisdom I think… not to show off its power but to hide it behind its charm and elegance …its not just fermented juice … wine is so complex, so interesting, we want to understand it more … we can be philosophical … wine is so close to ourself, its life-span, its life expectancy is more than ours

Here in a nutshell the imperialism that lies behind the brand but one which sounds so sexy and seductive.

At a function to raise money for the victims of the 2008 earthquake the Chateau Margaux sold a magnum of wine for a mere £56,000. That’s eight bottles of wine to you and me. The people in attendance were the Chinese bourgeoisie. In China the filming concentrated on bourgeois women who have long since abandoned Chairman Mao outfits, in fact you would be hard pressed to distinguish them from our own greedy and decadent elites. And the 12 approved hairstyles for women of the cultural revolution were nowhere to be seen. They imbibed wines from Margaux’ vineyards to the point that they were now giggling and flirting with the very sober French architect and present manager of the Margaux brand.

This little vignette, narrated to me by my purveyor of fine stories, intrigued me so much I decided to go online and research it. What I discovered was that Agence France Presse had sold this story onto the international press and the same story was running almost word for word in the global press. The New York Daily News reported it as did Time magazine. It seems Mr Fan had been inspired by talent competitions he had seen on TV. The uniform reporting of this strange story made me more curious.

Here is the story in the Singaporean Straits Times. I tried to find the original source and eventually found a cached version in the Shanghai Daily filed by a Li Xinran from where AFP had lifted the story. Further digging led me to ZonaEuropa, a conservative Chinese blog written in English, that debunked the story as false. It was claimed that original story had come from the Peninsula Metropolitan News, one of the world’s fastest growing newspapers.

The Peninsular Metropolis Daily later sacked a journalist by the name of Yi Lie for “plagiarizing” the story. This is a different claim from the Chinese Zone Europa who are adamant the story is false. Belabouring the point, some journalist gets sacked but we still don’t know whether the story is true or not.

THE loser of a bizarre talent contest drove her former lover and the man’s four other mistresses off a cliff in eastern China’s Shandong Province in an apparent fit of anger, killing herself and injuring the others.

The survivors told police the crash was an accident, but a letter left by the dead woman revealed the details of an unusual competition gone awry. According to the document, the businessman was going to lay off four of his five mistresses due to financial trouble. The women were allowed to vie for the remaining position by competing on their looks, their singing and speaking and their ability to drink alcohol, the Qingdao-based Peninsula Metropolis Daily newspaper reported yesterday.

The case dates back to December 6, when police in Qingdao received a report that a car had crashed through the guardrail of a mountain highway and plummeted into a deep valley. The female driver died at the scene while five others, including a man, were sent to a hospital.

Police thought at first it was simply a traffic accident involving friends on a leisure trip. But the parents of the dead woman, identified as a 29-year-old surnamed Yu, told police that a man surnamed Fan was to blame.

Yu left behind a letter that claimed she and the four other women were Fan’s mistresses. Fan met Yu in 2000 in a Qingdao restaurant where she worked as a waitress, the report said. The Shanxi native reportedly became Fan’s mistress shortly thereafter and lived with him in a two-room apartment bought by the man.

Fan, a married entrepreneur, also kept other four mistresses – two of whom were his employees and two his former clients, the report said.

Fan introduced the five to each other, but none chose to break up with him, as each reportedly received 5,000 yuan (US$733) a month plus a rent-free apartment.

But business began to go bad, and Fan decided to lay off all but one mistress to save money, according to the newspaper report. To select the best one, he reportedly staged a talent show in a hotel last May, even inviting an instructor from a local modeling agency to be a judge, although Fan did not reveal his true purpose.

Yu was knocked out in the first round based on her looks, and a Ms Liu eventually took the crown after she won the drinking contest.

When Fan told Yu she had lost her position and he was selling her apartment, she decided to take revenge, the newspaper said.

The crash happened after Yu invited Fan and the other four women to tour Laoshan Mountain, a scenic site in Qingdao, before she returned to her home province.

Fan shut down his company after the crash, and his wife demanded a divorce after learning about his affairs. Fan later paid 580,000 yuan to Yu’s parents as compensation for her death. And the other four mistresses went off on their own.

What this demonstrates clearly is the sorry state that our media is in when a story can get sucked up by a global news agency like AFP and then be distributed to media around the world with no journalist thinking to fact check the story and not think twice about attaching their bylines.

What seems to have got Zona Europa’s ire up is the negative way in which the Chinese are being perceived because of this story. As if scandal were something distinctly foreign. On the same page that this story of the non-existent Mr Fan was carried I read about a 32 year old woman who allegedly bedded a couple of handfuls of China’s ruling class and businessmen. She’s been very busy and bedded the following men –

(1) the director of the Shanghai Nuclear Power Company; (2) the chairman of a Shanghai investment company; (3) the former director of the Shanghai Social Security Administration; (4) Qin Yu, the former Shanghai City Government Office deputy secretary-general and later Baoshan district mayor; (5) the Shanghai City Party deputy secretary-general; (6) the Shanghai Electricity Company chairman; (7) the State Statistics Bureau director.

55% of Chinese men questioned in a survey said they would bed her if they were a Chinese official.

Question: If you were a government official, would you break the law for the sake of Lu Jiali?
55%: Yes
30%: No
15%: Don’t know

A reader said “When I saw the results, I am speechless — are there any good men left in the world?” I have to say that I am left speechless by the 15% who are undecided!

Miss Liu Jiali is now in hiding in an undisclosed country due to having become embroiled in a scandal over social security in China.


UPDATE*: To all my 17 readers (I am proud of you*) – Sorry I have updated this countless times in an attempt to tighten it up.

Antagonist, I was compelled to write a response to your post on Sanguinetti’s Terrorism, which got a little too unruly, so I am posting it here.

The BBC recently aired a Panorama investigation into the BAe scandal. A senior civil servant dropped a bombshell during the programme, describing the pressure that was put on him to halt investigating links to Prince Bandar of the House of Saud, BAe and Downing Street in the autumn of 2006. He was told displeasing Bandar would lead to the Saudis ceasing to cooperate with UK intelligence services on terrorism which could have led to untold numbers of UK citizens dying on our streets in terrorist attacks.

The investigations were dropped but in the meantime British taxpayers have been funding Bandar’s jet set lifestyle to the tune of several million UK£££s each year since the 1980’s. The British government promised to deliver us from terror but in actuality this is how it protects us. Once this would have been a scandal but not anymore! The incident illustrates the point that Sanguinetti makes, “Our general and the other strategists of the high political police also know that spectacular terrorism is always anti-proletarian, and that it is the pursuit of politics by other means: pursuit, however, of the anti-proletarian politics of all States.”

While Guy Debord points out the dangers of such tangled webs of deceit:

“So it is that thousands of plots in favor of the established order tangle and clash almost everywhere, as the overlap of secret networks and secret issues or activities grows ever more dense along with their rapid integration into every sector of economics, politics and culture. In all areas of social life the degree of intermingling in surveillance, disinformation and security activities gets greater and greater. The general plot having thickened to so that it is almost out in the open, each part of it now starts to interfere with, or worry, the others. All these professional conspirators are spying on each other without really knowing why, are colliding by chance and yet not identifying each other with any certainty. Who is observing whom? On whose behalf, apparently? And actually? The real influences remain hidden, and the ultimate aims can only be seen with great difficulty and almost never understood. So that while no one can say he is not being tricked or manipulated, it is only in rare instances that the manipulator himself can know if he is a winner. And in any case, to be on the winning side of manipulation does not mean that one has chosen the right strategic perspective. Tactical successes can thus lead great powers down dangerous roads.”

So I found myself perusing Debord’s criticisms of Sanguinetti’s text and then I had to reread Spectacle of the Society. Since then, Lenin’s Tomb has been expounding on conspiracy theories, and particularly 911 conspiracy theories, as a diversionary tactic of the ruling class. Debord pointed out how the Spectacle invites such endless commentary by we, the passive spectators, and how the discourse of power is a one-way dialogue in which everything is reduced to mere appearance (in this situation – the appearance of freedom of speech); there are things that cannot be said because they are bound to spoil the party.

You can discuss the conspiracy theory that some fanatical Arab men funded by the evil cave-dwelling Osama bin Laden conspired to fly planes into the Twin Towers and kill 3000 US citizens. This is an apparently acceptable truth because it is the official truth. You cannot, however, discuss why certain privileged white males residing in the US and the UK might want to see those towers come down or how that dreadful event enabled them to massacre one million Iraqis for oil and hegemony!

You can also make the case for how seeking to unravel what happened on September 11th has become heretical and that those who persist in trying to bring to light the nefarious deeds of those who have benefited from 911 are now engaging in useless dialogue because there is no way to ascertain the truth (this “truth” which only becomes something of relevance because it has been FOUGHT for). Do we have to wait for declassification in 30 years? And is this not bowing to ruling class demands that this dialogue be based on the factual record which we know they are more than happy to corrupt and redact? LT weakly argues that such lies will be impossible to untangle and further, his main point, they are diverting us from the task of fighting the institutions that perpetuate human suffering, human terror.

That’s Noam Chomsky’s line too, which is essentially an anarchist position (not a socialist one, I am perplexed that LT the Socialist advocates this line some 4 years after Chomsky’s book on 9-11). Pray tell when have anarchists ever usurped the institutions in the history of anarchist struggle? When people on the left join with those on the right in attempting to squash the search for truth about something as pivotal as 911 and the subsequent war on terror, Debord’s analysis that these competing ideologies are part of the Spectacle is borne out. Changing the institutions has a nice ring to it but it is futile, nothing short of recognizing that we don’t need them will suffice – however, that’s a truth too far.

Ex-MI5 Whistleblower – Annie Machon on complacency around 9-11

To my mind 911 is the single most important event to have transpired in my life time and for that reason alone, I want to know what happened. The media have in no way attempted to answer the questions I have about what happened that day. If an investigator, after analyzing footage of the twin towers collapsing, then demonstrates that there is no way aeroplanes flying into them could have caused them to collapse on their own foot print, is that a conspiracy theory? That’s an attempt to discover what happened, surely? Those non-officials who have examined the collapse are looking at the same material the 9-11 commission contemplated and they are coming up with different conclusions. How so? Is it because the Commission chose to ignore certain annoying details because they did not fit in with the official truth?

Facts like the collapse of Building 7, or how kerosene that was able to melt the building trusses into molten pools of steel despite the fact that it burns at a lower temperature than that needed to cause steel to melt, and other facts about how office furniture that met with US fire safety regulations (i.e had to be resistant to fire) was able to burn and be turned to dust stand out as annoying details that to date pundits both bloggers and professional journalists keep shtum about.

The Spectacle can’t handle it, so it is not discussed. The very act of mentioning this then becomes a revolutionary act. Calling for people to shut up about it and get on with the task at hand, i.e. overthrowing the state (for whom or what, I ask) is no different to those reporters embedded with the US military who ask us to to trust them even though they are not reporting the whole truth because Saddam is a very bad man. Do we really need a new layer of very bossy white men to come in and sort out the mess for the rest of us? Who tell us we are not thinking right thoughts? Is this not where we are being led by such apathy towards truth and power?

Where were all these anti-conspiracy theorists when the US and UK were selling Iraq’s WMD? That is the most huge fucking conspiracy, leave out the theory part because we know who did what, when, where and why!

In the meantime, 911 is a sacred truth, always called upon by our leaders to justify the sickening carnage meted out on innocent people in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine; to convince us that rolling back civil liberties is for our own good and to stir up the reactionary forces of racism and xenophobia. It’s the only way to keep you safe to shop, for God’s sake… get out there and shop! Didn’t Bush say that a day or so after 3000 people died? “We have to fight them there to be safe here” to enjoy the Spectacle of the endless production of images and commodities that distinguish this way of life from those poor bastards being dragged from the scene of another car bomb on a stretcher to a hospital that has a generator providing electricity and no anaethetic since March 2003.

Sanguinetti and Debord were well aware of conspiracies and this document outlines some startling events that took place in Italy that point to the ruling class engineering events to achieve outcomes, not so different from those who sat down and put their signatures to various PNAC documents which proclaimed that nothing short of a new Pearl Harbour would bring in the new American Century. Then it was only a short step to create it, just like Pearl Harbour or the Reichstag fire.

Why the horror in saying in our own lifetimes that the State is ruthlessness enough to kill it’s own citizens, why wait 30 years to do so? The British State has shown it is quite capable of aiding and abetting the cold-blooded murder and torture of Iraqi people, it’s prepared to send it’s own men to die in a war that it’s subjects did not have the stomach for, how much different is it to kill it’s own citizens to achieve it’s objectives? How can we forget the IRA bombs and the fact that the public were never warned by officials despite the IRA transmitting warnings to the police. We could be forgiven for thinking that the State would have wasted no time in capitalizing on the deaths of a few citizens that it had allowed to occur.

Sanguinetti points to some ruling class tactics that will confuse us further. He says it is far easier to attack a simulated enemy than a real one and:

“…for the real enemy, the proletariat, power would like to refuse it even the status of enemy: if workers declare themselves to be against this demented terrorism, then “they are with the State,” if they are against the State, then “they are terrorists,” that is to say enemies of the common good, public enemies. And against a public enemy, everything is permitted, everything is authorised.”

The principal war is being carried out against the proletariat disguised as a war on Muslims. So in timely fashion a poll is conducted prior to the anniversary of the July 7th bombing which reveals that UK Muslims are highly skeptical of the war on terror and the government’s role in 7/7 – a quarter of those polled believed that government agents were involved with the terrorist attacks on 7/7 to howls of disbelief among the establishment’s scribes who opine that they find it difficult to believe (Muslim) people still believe this.

Moderate Muslims are attacked for not countering the extremism that leads a man, a neurosurgeon who it would seem had everything to live for, to apparently set himself on fire in the most ludicrous terror attack on an airport. Later extremists are introduced on Newsnight and published in the Guardian as ex-Jihadis! It is acceptable for reformed Jihadi Muslims to publish screeds blaming all terrorism on Islamic theology, but the same media is reticent about publishing wrong thoughts by “moderate” Muslims who question Western Imperialism. Hassan Butt “I feel absolutely nothing for this country. I have no problem with the British people…but if someone attacks them I have no problem with that either” has been the voice of Islamic radicalism in this country and no column inch has been spared in publicizing his hopes and wishes that Islamic terrorists bomb and maim the innocent on UK soil.

“One thing I’ve always tried to stress is the point that the mujahideen that are coming in from Britain should strike at the heart of the enemy which is within its own country, within Britain.

“Those mujahideen that are coming from America should strike, again, at the heart of America and I have always been in favour of this.”

That was in 2002. This has been followed by other cold rationalizations for terrorism in the West but his latest career move, following a damascene moment, sees Butt giving up terrorism to write for the Guardian!

Yet not so long ago Butt was featured on CBS

Like thousands of other young British Muslims, [Butt] became exposed to some of the most radical Imams in Britain – Imams who supported attacks on westerners all over the world and believed that they had a tacit agreement with the British authorities.

They could preach hatred, they could recruit followers, they could raise funds, and they could even call for Jihad – Holy war – as long as they didn’t call for attacks on British soil. London became such a safe haven for Muslim militants that it came to be known as “Londonistan.”

“Do you think this was an unspoken deal with the establishment? That, do whatever you want here as long as you don’t blow us up?” Simon asks Butt.

“Absolutely. I believe that sincerely,” Butt tells Simon. “That was an unspoken deal. And as a result of that, what tended to happen is the British government lost count of how many people were going abroad getting trained and coming back and going into operational mode as sleeper cells.”

If there was such a deal, it was shattered in July 2005, when the four suicide bombers blew themselves up on the London subway; three of the terrorists were born in Britain of Pakistani parents.

Hints of the connection of MI6 to Islamic terror networks. Is that why Butt has not been charged under the Terrorsim Act 2000 despite admitting to recruiting individuals for terrorism and his open incitement of terrorism?

In the meantime, Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP confidently asserts that the BNP are one crisis away from power. It seems that Nulabour are doing their best to bring this crisis about.

It is clear now that the media need not be concerned with presenting facts, these organs can print pretty much whatever they like, claims such as “45 minutes to WMD” are followed by hand-wringing mea culpas the next only to be topped by fantastical plots of bombs that can be constructed easily from ingredients found in an ordinary kitchen. No journalist need ever fear the response of an outraged public.

It is only necessary to believe as passionately in today’s hand-wringing mea culpa as one did in yesterday’s passionate defense of the war to rid Iraq of WMD, to nobly and selflessly bringing democracy and enlightenment to the people of Iraq. The public, we are told, have the memory of a goldfish and won’t remember what happened 3 seconds ago. That’s what they like to think but the news cycle is designed to turn over stories at such a vast speed, it is the media that is unable to recall what happened 3 seconds ago. So we can watch a BBC journalist pointing to Building 7 (Saloman Brothers Building) in the background of a New York skyline, proclaiming that Building 7 had collapsed when in actual fact it is still standing and clearly visible behind her. It collapsed some 20 minutes later, conveniently onto it’s own footprint!

Has the BBC to date offered a satisfactory explanation for this extraordinary act of premonition by one of their journalists?

There will be no mourning of the truth within the pages of their holy tributes to anorexic celebs and blatant propaganda, so why should they care if the public suspend all credulity when presented with the next plot? We all know the story will unravel as more details surface.

A similar poll carried out among other groups would have discovered similar levels of doubt as for instance in New York, following 911, a majority of New Yorkers expressed the view that the government knew about the impending attacks on the Twin Towers and allowed them to be carried out. Opinions that are borne out by documents published by the Project for a New American Century documents two years before 911, which argued that for the US to dominate the world “some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor” needed to happen.

In the UK it fell on Michael Meacher to address this in the press (This War on Terrorism is Bogus) and since then the whiff of whacko conspiracy theorist has attached itself to him. Saying the unthinkable in the society of the spectacle is never a good career move.

Elsewhere in the media, verisimilitude was given to stories of passports belonging to Saudi hijackers found lying on the streets of New York following the fireball that was intense enough to melt steel trusses of the Twin Towers but, inexplicably, not paper passports… That’s broadcastable, but reasonable doubts about the Spectacle will not be allowed to enter that one way discourse on power and on consumption of the image of the twin towers collapsing.

Even if the State had not engineered the terrorist attacks, it certainly has not been shy in capitalizing on them. Afterwards, Donald Rumsfeld advertised the formation of the Proactive Pre-emptive Operations Group, or P2OG, which he said would provoke terrorist attacks, then requiring “counter-terror” reprisals by the US on countries harbouring terrorists.


It is necessary to ensure that “ .. the spectators must certainly never know everything about terrorism, but they must always know enough to convince them that, compared with terrorism, everything else must be acceptable, or in any case more rational and democratic.” (Debord) and by this standard it is then permitted to execute Brazilians in the underground or shoot Muslims in their homes. Today it is Muslims who have had their most basic right to life overturned by the State in the name of protecting citizens from terrorism.

Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (part of our Human Rights Act) protects the right to life and places onerous obligations on the State to protect the lives of all us. This principle places tight limitations on the use of deliberate and lethal force.

Such action is the gravest of steps in a democracy. It can only ever be justified where “absolutely necessary”; where there is no other way of effectively protecting the lives of others.

Even in the context of a suspected suicide bomber, Article 2 requires that everything possible is done to avoid a moment where lethal force is the only viable means of preventing the suspect from detonating a device and bringing injury and death to others. However, there may be situations where lethal force is the only means of protecting huge loss of life.

Tomorrow it will be everyone else

When all the laws of the State are in danger, “there only exists for the State one sole and inviolable law: the survival of the State.” It is interesting how every terrorist act has occurred just when that survival looked tenuous, when the state was in crisis and rocked by scandal. Harpies Blair, Blunkett or Reid would shriek of impending terrorist attacks and it mattered not one jot to the supine media that no evidence, intelligence or facts were presented.

“The only attack capable of fatally wounding the State is today uniquely that which consists of denouncing its terrorist practices, and violently denouncing them.”

Think Madrid.

We Need More Attacks on American Soil

“In his first interview as the chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party, Dennis Milligan told a reporter that America needs to be attacked by terrorists so that people will appreciate the work that President Bush has done to protect the country. ‘At the end of the day, I believe fully the president is doing the right thing, and I think all we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on [Sept. 11, 2001],’ Milligan said to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, ‘and the naysayers will come around very quickly to appreciate not only the commitment for President Bush, but the sacrifice that has been made by men and women to protect this country.’”

Another salient point, these acts of terror are like a drug and must be managed because each new act looks less terrifying than the one preceding it. Nothing can compare to 911 and since 7/7/05 acts of terror in the UK have now been reduced to the constant streaming of farcical spectacles of exploding cars driving into airport terminals (no doubt aided and abetted by the technologically superior Iran) or Somalis looking ominously out of the media, suspected of plots uncovered by mind-readers which is enough to ensure that they are held behind bars for 28 days awaiting their day in a kangaroo court and all relayed to us by breathless commentators on 24 hour news channels.

This latest Piccadilly/Glasgow incident became a full scale terrorist event within a day, it was enough to cause disruption to the fourteen thousand spectators that were waiting to watch the matches at Wimbledon in person and don’t mention the people taking flights that weekend, in what has now become an annual disruption preceding the anniversary of July 7th. Details were leaked slowly on a continuous loop. Gas canisters, we were informed, were being carried in a Mercedes that had crashed. The gas canisters became a device. The upgrading to a device was followed by the news that there were nails involved and it was inevitable that a demonstration of the lethality of this device was followed the next day at Glasgow Airport in an event that killed exactly nobody. Fortunately. While in Iraq real car bombs continue to detonate killing scores of people on a daily basis. In the meantime a suicide letter was recovered from the burnt-out Cherokee at Glasgow Airport, proving once again that the fiendish Al Qaeda are more competent at making fire-proof paper than bombs.

Thus demonstrating another truism from Sanguinetti’s pamphlet – that it is essential bloodless rehearsals for future acts of terrorism are carried out first. These acts are mere rehearsals preparing the public for future spectacles.

All the white working class kids in my little corner of the world are onto this one and have been for the past year or so!

Soaring global demand for copper is a growing threat to the British railway network leading to a surge in trackside metal theft, police have warned. Copper theft caused more than 240,000 minutes of delays for train passengers last year after a near-fivefold rise in robberies at tracks and depots.

Rail customers are the victims of an economic crime that is being driven by the insatiable demand for industrial material in China and India, said Andy Trotter, deputy chief constable of the British Transport police. “It is a growing problem,” he said. “You have only got to look at the rising copper price on the metal market and the theft of copper matches that rise almost absolutely. Unfortunately, the impact on the infrastructure is beginning to bite.”

Copper theft is a major problem in north-east England, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the delays related to metal thieves in the UK and wreaking havoc with the Northern Trains franchise. Mr Trotter said the regional bias of the problem may reflect the north-east’s industrial heritage. “The north-east has a tradition of heavy industry and of people who know how to deal with copper and metals,” he said. “There are also lots of people who know how to trade in it.”

Police also blamed copper thieves for the demolition of a bungalow in Bradford yesterday. The unoccupied house exploded after copper gas pipes on the outer walls were fractured, apparently by someone trying to rip them out. Police are looking for two boys, aged 10 and 11, in relation to the explosion.

“The copper is going through larger scrapyards, then to smelters and then by ship to China, which has an incredible demand for copper, particularly with the Beijing Olympics coming and the demand for telecoms infrastructure,” Mr Trotter said.

The global price of copper has risen fivefold since 2001 and has risen above $8,000 (£4,000) a tonne this year, driven by demand for its use in car production, building and power grids. China accounts for about 20% of global copper consumption and the US for 13%. Such is the demand that 2p pieces are more valuable if they are melted down for their copper…

…The clampdown has also led to stakeouts at suspect scrapyards, which have emerged as key outposts in the cable crime food chain.

Copper theft is also spreading to other industries. Earlier this month, Northumbrian Water said it had stepped up security after a spate of thefts from some of its sewage works in the north-east which it said would cost the company £100,000.

What makes this theft criminal and why is theft of oil or minerals from the third world through force not? Rhetorical question… Looking from my own lofty height I see no violent crime. Yes, cables are stolen from the railway and sidlngs but these are young boys still in school and some barely out of it who have picked up the profrit motive in an adulterated fashion. He! The Guardian. Non Sexy. So PC.

That aside, I ask you to think of Zambia, a supplier of copper to the world market during the sixties and seventies, eighties, nineties but which always found that the market for copper was controlled abroad in trading markets and ensured that so many Africans in Zambia lived below the poverty line sans water and electricity and good schools on the dirt road that passed their home. A road which a public transport vehicle might pass two or three times a day, if you were lucky. People in Zambia, those who worked the mines that stripped the copper, never saw wealth from copper enriching their communities.

Now I have to feel sorry for a bunch of booted and suited wankers who miss their trains because some entrepreneurial ten year olds steal copper from their railway? Give me a break.

I am watching Filthy Rich and Homeless on the telly and so far I am struck by how free enterprise is not so free.

A bunch of filthy rich brats give up the comforts of their homes to live on the streets sans mobiles, money, contacts.

One of the more entrepreneurial of the group arrogantly imagines he can make £200 pounds a day and begins his new enterprise by blagging flowers on credit from a wholesaler. His attitude to the waifs and strays he has encountered on the streets so far, has been that they are lazy, good for nothings. Given the chance to make hard cash he is dismayed to suddenly discover he needs a license to sell those flowers to the general public. The license costs money. Money he, of course, does not have. The coppers soon get to recognise him and thwart his plan at every underground station he decides to pitch at.

He is cold, tired and hungry and now begins to see the purpose of the soup kitchen.

The Guardian. So PC.

The Daily Mail pulled the following article from their online Mail on Sunday edition following a D-notice being issued by the Attorney General or Herr Reid sending a couple of bruisers around to the rag following revelations of his drunken behaviour in Baku?

A cached version can be found here. If you click on the link for the original article you are informed that Article:454442 Not Found. This is London also ran and pulled the story. The article is explosive, if true.

It tells the seedy story of life inside BP and how BP worked with MI6 to topple the Azerbaijan government twice in order to install a more friendly regime under Hayder Aliyev, a former KGB general and First Deputy Prime Minister of the USSR. Months later in September 1994, BP signed the so-called Contract of the Century worth £5 billion and which put BP at the head of Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), an oil producing consortium. The majority of Azerbaijan’s population some 10 years later are still mired in poverty with no access to electricity or gas, while those living beside the pipeline still await compensation for environmental damage to their land and livelihoods. In the same period BP has recorded rocketing profits.

“BP supported both coups, both through discreet moves and open political support. Our progress on the oil contracts improved considerably after the coups.” Les Abrahams

Salient facts are left to the final paragraphs. The corruption runs deep. As the layers are peeled away from this story events that reveal the machinations of BP and Big Oil in the Caucasus – connections that go back beyond the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 come into sharp focus.

Hookers, spies, cases full of dollars…how BP spent £45m to win ‘Wild East’ oil rights


BP executives working for Lord Browne spent millions of pounds on champagne-fuelled sex parties to help secure lucrative international oil contracts.

The company also worked with MI6 to help bring about changes in foreign governments, according to an astonishing account of life inside the oil giant.

Les Abrahams, who led BP’s successful bid for a multi-million-pound deal with one of the former Soviet republics, today claims that Browne – who was forced to resign as chief executive last month after the collapse of legal proceedings against The Mail on Sunday – presided over an “anything goes” regime of sexual licence, spying and financial sweeteners.

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He also claims that Home Secretary John Reid was arrested at gunpoint on a BP-funded foreign trip for being out on the streets after a military curfew had been imposed.

Mr Abrahams tells how he spent £45 million in expenses over just four months of negotiations with Azerbaijan’s state oil company.

Armed with a no-limit company credit card, he ordered supplies of champagne and caviar to be flown on company jets into the boomtown capital, Baku, to be consumed at the “sex parties”.

The hospitality continued in London, where prostitutes were hired on the BP credit card to entertain visiting Azerbaijanis.

Mr Abrahams, an engineer by training, joined BP in 1991, just as the disintegration of the Soviet Union had triggered a “new gold rush” by oil multi-nationals seeking a share of the 200 billion barrels of oil reserves beneath the Caspian Sea.

While employed by BP, Mr Abrahams says he was persuaded to work for MI6 by John Scarlett, now head of the service but then its head of station in Moscow.

He says he was passing information to Scarlett in faxes and at one-to-one meetings in the Russian capital.

He also claims that BP was working closely with MI6 at the highest levels to help it to win business in the region and influence the political complexion of governments.

Mr Abrahams worked for BP’s XFI unit – Exploring Frontiers International – which specialises in opening new markets in often unstable parts of the world.

He said Lord Browne, then BP’s head of exploration, allocated a budget of £45 million to cover the first year’s costs of the Baku operation.

“The order came from Browne’s aides to ‘get them anything they want’.

“By ‘them’, they meant local officials in Azerbaijan,” Mr Abrahams said.

“There were 20 or 30 people working on it at BP head office, and we soon had a steady stream of executives coming over as negotiators. We got through the money in just four months – after which it was simply increased without question.”

He described a Wild West world in which oil executives with briefcases full of dollars rubbed shoulders with mafia members, prostitutes and fixers and cut their deals in smoke-filled back rooms.

“The BP officials would come out to Baku in groups of five or six, every week,” he said.

“Sometimes I would charter an entire Boeing 757 to carry as few as seven staff. Their main base was the hard currency bar of the old Intourist hotel – so named because it accepted only dollars and was only open to foreigners.

“It was full of prostitutes and many of us, including me, used them on a regular basis, although we quickly established they all worked for the KGB.

“If we went back to the rooms, not only were they bugged, but the girls would quiz us closely about what we were doing and where we were going, and reported straight back to their handlers.

“Everywhere was bugged, and all the phones were tapped. One of our executives was recorded saying unflattering things about the president, and his comments were played back to us in a meeting with local state oil company officials.

“We were then told clearly that he was no longer welcome in the country.”

Mr Abrahams helped to forge links with the local officials by throwing lavish parties. He said the Azerbaijani girls who worked in the BP office, which occupied a floor of the Sovietskaya hotel, would attend the parties and routinely provide “sexual favours”.

They were also presumed to work for the local intelligence services.

“There was one girl, called Natasha, assigned to teach us Russian, but it usually ended up as more that that. She would use the intimate opportunity to ask us questions about what we were up to.

“Caviar and champagne were consumed at the parties, which would start in the bars but inevitably end with the girls in the rooms.

“We had a company American Express card with no name on it which we could use to draw out $10,000 a time to pay for entertaining without ever having to account for it.

“Our local fixer was called ‘Zulfie’, who would help find girls, drink and occasionally hashish. We always suspected he worked for the KGB, because he was so well connected.

“A lot of the BP men’s marriages went wrong. Either they ended up with the local girls, or the wives would find out – often because the girls would ring their home numbers “by accident”.

“I don’t believe that Browne didn’t know everything that was going on. He came out to Baku on five or six occasions.”

Mr Abrahams, who left BP in 1994, said his first marriage buckled because of his work in Baku. He has since remarried and lives in West London with his new wife Lana and six-year-old daughter Anastasia. He now works as an adviser to the EU.

He said BP applied the same laissez-faire attitude to hospitality when Azerbaijani officials came to the UK during the negotiations.

“I was given a hotline number which connected to a desk in the Foreign Office. It meant visas could be granted instantly for the Azerbaijanis and collected on arrival at the airport, rather than taking the usual several weeks.

“We had bundles of cash to spend on them when they got here, and could again use the corporate card without restraint.

“We would typically have a dinner at which Lord Browne would be present, then he would go home and we would head off to somewhere like the Gaslight Club in Piccadilly – where girls would dance topless and you would get charged £250 for your drink.

“Our guests would usually want girls to go back with afterwards. Sometimes we could persuade the girls in the clubs, but more often we would just phone up an escort agency.

“We could charge them straight to the BP Amex card. But it sometimes became problematic. One group of Khazak Oil officials stripped their hotel rooms in Aberdeen bare, including the sheets and pillowcases, and they would usually clear out the minibars wherever they were staying.”

All the entertaining paid off in September 1992 when BP signed a £300 million deal to exploit the Shah Deniz oilfields.

Mr Abrahams says that a key factor in securing the deal was an £8 million payment BP made that year to SOCAR, the state-owned oil company in Azerbaijan, for the right to use a construction yard on the edge of the Caspian Sea.

“It was effectively a sweetener to help to secure the deal – and it worked,” he said.

Among the guests at a dinner and ceremony at Baku’s Gulistan Palace to celebrate the Shah Deniz deal were Lord Browne and Baroness Thatcher.

Mr Abrahams says he was told to ensure that everything ran smoothly for the event, including meeting Browne’s fastidious requirements.

“I had his favourite brand of water, Hildon, and his preferred foods flown out in advance, and I made sure money was paid for police escorts and to circumvent immigration procedures at the airport for Browne and his entourage.

“That evening, he personally handed me a briefcase containing a cheque for $30 million (£15million), to close the deal.

“He was so keen to wear a particular shirt, which he had left at the airport, that I persuaded the chief of police to close off the roads so his cavalcade could go via the airport to collect it.”

In 1993, Mr Abrahams played host to a group of MPs who visited Baku as guests of BP, including Harold Elletson – then a Tory MP but now an adviser to the Liberal Democrats – and Home Secretary John Reid, a Shadow Defence Minister at the time.

“John flew out in the BP Gulfstream jet,” he recalls.

“After dinner, we went drinking in the hard currency bar. He was drinking a lot – this was a year before he gave up for good – and I grew worried as it got closer to the time of the curfew imposed because of the tense political situation at the time.

“I said, ‘Come on John, we have to get back to the hotel.’ But as we left, he was swaying around and being very noisy.

“I urged him not to draw attention to us because we weren’t meant to be still on the streets. But then a van load of police armed with Kalashnikovs pulled up and asked us what we were doing.

“He said, ‘I am a British politician…’ I urged him to be quiet, but then he said to one of the policemen, ‘If you don’t take that f***ing Kalashnikov out of my face I’m going to stick it up your f***ing a***.’

“With that, we were arrested and shoved at gunpoint into the back of the van.

“It was only after I persuaded the driver to go to the hotel to speak to the intelligence officer there that they released us. John had only about two hours’ sleep, then was up at 5.30am to fly to the nearby war zone of Nagorno Karabakh. He was completely hung over.”

Some of Mr Abrahams’ most intriguing claims surround the alleged co-operation between BP and the British intelligence services to secure a more pro-Western, pro-business regime in the country.

He says the operation, masterminded by Scarlett in Moscow, contributed to the coup in May 1992 which saw President Ayaz Mutalibov toppled by Abulfaz Elchibey, and then to a second change a year later which saw Haydar Aliyev take power.

Just months after Aliyev was installed, BP signed the so-called ‘contract of the century’, a £5 billion deal which placed BP at the head of an oil exporting consortium.

John Scarlett, says Mr Abrahams, “approached me very subtly and asked me to help to gather information for him.

“Because my daily route to the construction yard passed the supply routes for Nagorno Karabakh, he asked me to report on troop and weapons movements. And BP’s deputy representative in Russia seemed very close to the embassy, too.

“BP supported both coups, both through discreet moves and open political support. Our progress on the oil contracts improved considerably after the coups.”

Subsequently released Turkish secret service documents claimed BP had discussed an ‘arms for oil’ deal with the assistance of MI6, under which the company would use intermediaries to supply weapons to Aliyev’s supporters in return for the contract.

When the documents emerged in 2000, BP denied supplying arms – although sources admitted its representatives had “discussed the possibility”.

A BP spokesman said last night of Mr Abrahams’ claims: “There are some facts in his account that are accurate, but we don’t recognise most of it. We regard it as fantasy.”

A spokeswoman for John Reid said she had no comment and the Foreign Office said of Mr Abrahams’ claims: “We neither confirm nor deny anyone’s allegations in relation to intelligence matters.”

UPDATE: 20.05.07

Looks like the cached version has been pulled from Google too! Does it really matter? The facts are out there! Let us rise.

Warning! Not for the easily offended!

After a run in with Paris Hilton’s lawyers, Gallery of the Absurd removed a piece of artwork from it’s internet blog that showed Paris in an unflattering light. The offending image was this – a parody of Hilton and Ritchie go to camp – now sans fresh-water crabs the Gallery had drawn attached to the side of the boat, in reference to Paris’ alleged (wink) crotch infestation of crabs that many were talking about on the net and which Hilton’s lawyers were not very happy about. So the Gallery removed the offending crabs.

Hilton’s displayed crotch in a host of celebrity mags is more of an assault on womanhood, I think, than a couple of crabs painted on the side of the boat, but more on that later. The fact is, thanks to the papparazi that Paris courts so assiduously, most of us have seen Paris’ crotch, however her crabs have yet to be photographed.
The Simpletons -Gallery of the Absurd
The Gallery removed the crabs from the image but not before vowing to continue painting Paris. Upholding the Gallery’s promise, more images are now ready to be viewed here.

Also from the Gallery is this poignant image of Paris

Paris Hilton - Jason Maynard

According to the artist, the piece speaks “of the pinnacle of modern day mob mentality’s ability to build higher and higher pedestals for their celebrity objects to sit – for the pleasure of seeing them fall.”

I think someone ought to remind the artist Maynard that nobody democratically elected Hilton to be humanity’s “celebrity object.” The same people that hoisted her exposed crotch into the celebrity magazines are the same ones that are scrutinising every detail of her fall from grace, the fall which they themselves have engineered. It’s the media that photograph Paris’ crotch, publish it and put it in the magazines much to our disgust and/or fascination. Men might display their genitals to shock women in lonely public places but for women, there is no power in flashing only shame and scorn lie there. Hilton and co. do not gain any points from it. As we have seen. Or is there?

Call me a cynic but there’s been a flurry of coochie exposing by the rich and famous of late, Britney, Janice Dickenson etc. If a man flashes the response is “ewww, put it away you perv!” but when female celebs are doing it? Outrage. It is the ultimate publicity gimmick. One after another, celebs are leaving their knickers at home and flashing for the papparazzi. One thing that unites all these lunch-box images is that all of them display crotches that have been brazilian waxed, not a hair in sight, making them appear pre-pubescent. Also the labia you would expect to see on a mature woman are absent. Susie Bright writes about it here.

I am left with the grim thought that all these crotch shots are nothing more than an attempt to imprint on women the idealised labia that can only be surgically applied and by plastic surgeorns – it’s all the rage now in the USA.

Here we are trying to tell our teenage daughters that they are beautiful just as they are and the plastic surgeons are selling them silicon here and a nip tuck there. A few years down the line our girls will be demanding labia ops because theirs just doesn’t look right when compared to those pics of Paris and Janice and the girls in the Playboy magazine. And… here are all the politically correct screaming about how the uncivilized perform cliteroctemies!

I don’t blame the parents, the media, or the mob. No, I blame them and the surgeons!

From The Tribune

Creepy Nick

NICK “neotrot” Cohen, lately responsible for a lengthy published rant deriding the left for its opposition to the war in Iraq, has been given a dressing down by his mother for being politically incorrect. Well, it was more than that actually. She gave him a slapping.

Mum Maggie was seriously upset at being called a Stalinist in the opening pages of nasty Nick’s book. Not least because, when the Cohen family last gathered together to enjoy a jolly Christmas, cowardly Nick failed to mention the reference, or even the book.

Maggie, a lifelong leftie, could not contain her feelings when she next saw her son. Although diminuitive to Nick’s beanstalk proportions, she let him have one round the chops. “In all the years they were growing up I never hit the children,” Maggie recently told friends. “Now I have to go and do it when he is grown up.”

He deserved it Mrs Cohen because he’s a very naughty boy!

In de binBlair finally announces the date of his departure. Er… which happened sometime yesterday in Sedgefield. The date of reckoning was only announced publicly the day before yesterday which didn’t really leave me or anyone else enough time to express our personal feelings about his departure, in fact we were given so little notice that Blair was able to fly to his constituency, Sedgefield in a private jet without meeting with the adoring public that the sycophants were assured must exist…

How different from the days when he took the British electorate by storm and won an overwhelming majority promising to make Britain a kinder place. Then later as a friend of Bush he took him to visit his home in Sedgefield and his local pub, no doubt, as proof of how he, Blair, was undervalued by the British electorate. Look, he must have told Bush, in all his years he had only managed to acquire a modest house in the environs of Sedgefield and only ever warm beer to drink in the local. The life of the British politician is gruelling*, very quaint, and a world away from the Bush photo-ops in the ranch where cronies (FEMA and Texas police Dept) spend most days clearing the ranch of shrub and the tents of embittered mothers (and their supporters) who have lost their sons in Bush’s war. Bush of course found this all so quaint and immediately awarded Blair with a shiny medal as compensation. Blair to date has not been able to collect the medal for fear of being tarred with the label of being Bush’s poodle! He should have not worried because that label was attached to him on Feb 17.03. The idea of a kinder Britain out the window. One in which representative democracy died and two jelly babies rule by consent.

Nothing more to say really as the sycophants dutifully pay him homage. One such toady from Ghana praised his humanitarianism and told us how wonderful he had been for Africa. Rwanda. Sierre Leone. Somalia. Democratic Republic of Congo. Zimbabwe. Darfur. Note how Darfur’s now the Word, not Sudan! Darfur … Whoop de doo.

*arduous: characterized by toilsome effort to the point of exhaustion; especially physical effort; “worked their arduous way up the mining valley”; “a grueling campaign”; “hard labor”; “heavy work”; “heavy going”; “spent many laborious hours on the project”; “set a punishing pace”

Is it possible to even begin to imagine the horror…

‘this space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it. […] The question is how do you interpret the alley? […] We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps. […] I want to surprise him! This is the essence of war. I need to win […] This is why that we opted for the methodology of moving through walls. . . . Like a worm that eats its way forward, emerging at points and then disappearing. […] I said to my troops, “Friends! […] If until now you were used to move along roads and sidewalks, forget it! From now on we all walk through walls!” Frieze

A shocking article follows on how the distinction between the interior (domestic) landscape and public urban spaces is continuously being blurred. Homes now become thoroughfares and conduits for the IDF in Israel’s so-called “occupied territories”, as the setting for wars stops being something that happens “out there”. Private homes and living rooms become the setting for conducting warfare. Into these private spaces the paraphernalia of war is becoming as acceptable as the family photo on the mantle-piece. The destructive force of electric drills and stun grenades are used to puncture the peace and serenity of the family home. Holes are drilled through walls to create safe spaces for soldiers to move through as they give up the “dangerous and deadly alley-ways”. What shocks me here is that this form of blurring the distinction between the public and the private, the inside and the outside, this “infestation” of our private spaces destroys any lasting idea that the “war” will be carried out in zones which are recognised as battlefields but increasingly in our homes and as that happens the geographic boundaries of war is spread so that those inside are no different from those outsiders that invade their homes with drills and stun grenades. The private unarmed citizen becomes a combatant too whose private space is one that can be invaded in order to search and destroy those who resist such debasement. Surely that is all of us? The distinction between the combatant and the civilian is lost within this. Inside the home lurks an enemy seeking to use the sanctity of this space to inflict harm on the shock troops. So the argument goes. Read on…

The Art of War

IDF drill through walls

The Israeli Defence Forces have been heavily influenced by contemporary philosophy, highlighting the fact that there is considerable overlap among theoretical texts deemed essential by military academies and architectural schools by Eyal Weizman

The attack conducted by units of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on the city of Nablus in April 2002 was described by its commander, Brigadier-General Aviv Kokhavi, as ‘inverse geometry’, which he explained as ‘the reorganization of the urban syntax by means of a series of micro-tactical actions’.1 During the battle soldiers moved within the city across hundreds of metres of ‘overground tunnels’ carved out through a dense and contiguous urban structure. Although several thousand soldiers and Palestinian guerrillas were manoeuvring simultaneously in the city, they were so ‘saturated’ into the urban fabric that very few would have been visible from the air. Furthermore, they used none of the city’s streets, roads, alleys or courtyards, or any of the external doors, internal stairwells and windows, but moved horizontally through walls and vertically through holes blasted in ceilings and floors. This form of movement, described by the military as ‘infestation’, seeks to redefine inside as outside, and domestic interiors as thoroughfares. The IDF’s strategy of ‘walking through walls’ involves a conception of the city as not just the site but also the very medium of warfare – a flexible, almost liquid medium that is forever contingent and in flux.

Contemporary military theorists are now busy re-conceptualizing the urban domain. At stake are the underlying concepts, assumptions and principles that determine military strategies and tactics. The vast intellectual field that geographer Stephen Graham has called an international ‘shadow world’ of military urban research institutes and training centres that have been established to rethink military operations in cities could be understood as somewhat similar to the international matrix of élite architectural academies. However, according to urban theorist Simon Marvin, the military-architectural ‘shadow world’ is currently generating more intense and well-funded urban research programmes than all these university programmes put together, and is certainly aware of the avant-garde urban research conducted in architectural institutions, especially as regards Third World and African cities. There is a considerable overlap among the theoretical texts considered essential by military academies and architectural schools. Indeed, the reading lists of contemporary military institutions include works from around 1968 (with a special emphasis on the writings of Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari and Guy Debord), as well as more contemporary writings on urbanism, psychology, cybernetics, post-colonial and post-Structuralist theory. If, as some writers claim, the space for criticality has withered away in late 20th-century capitalist culture, it seems now to have found a place to flourish in the military.

I conducted an interview with Kokhavi, commander of the Paratrooper Brigade, who at 42 is considered one of the most promising young officers of the IDF (and was the commander of the operation for the evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip).2 Like many career officers, he had taken time out from the military to earn a university degree; although he originally intended to study architecture, he ended up with a degree in philosophy from the Hebrew University. When he explained to me the principle that guided the battle in Nablus, what was interesting for me was not so much the description of the action itself as the way he conceived its articulation. He said: ‘this space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it. […] The question is how do you interpret the alley? […] We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps. […] I want to surprise him! This is the essence of war. I need to win […] This is why that we opted for the methodology of moving through walls. . . . Like a worm that eats its way forward, emerging at points and then disappearing. […] I said to my troops, “Friends! […] If until now you were used to move along roads and sidewalks, forget it! From now on we all walk through walls!”’2 Kokhavi’s intention in the battle was to enter the city in order to kill members of the Palestinian resistance and then get out. The horrific frankness of these objectives, as recounted to me by Shimon Naveh, Kokhavi’s instructor, is part of a general Israeli policy that seeks to disrupt Palestinian resistance on political as well as military levels through targeted assassinations from both air and ground.

Goya Disasters of war

If you still believe, as the IDF would like you to, that moving through walls is a relatively gentle form of warfare, the following description of the sequence of events might change your mind. To begin with, soldiers assemble behind the wall and then, using explosives, drills or hammers, they break a hole large enough to pass through. Stun grenades are then sometimes thrown, or a few random shots fired into what is usually a private living-room occupied by unsuspecting civilians. When the soldiers have passed through the wall, the occupants are locked inside one of the rooms, where they are made to remain – sometimes for several days – until the operation is concluded, often without water, toilet, food or medicine. Civilians in Palestine, as in Iraq, have experienced the unexpected penetration of war into the private domain of the home as the most profound form of trauma and humiliation. A Palestinian woman identified only as Aisha, interviewed by a journalist for the Palestine Monitor, described the experience: ‘Imagine it – you’re sitting in your living-room, which you know so well; this is the room where the family watches television together after the evening meal, and suddenly that wall disappears with a deafening roar, the room fills with dust and debris, and through the wall pours one soldier after the other, screaming orders. You have no idea if they’re after you, if they’ve come to take over your home, or if your house just lies on their route to somewhere else. The children are screaming, panicking. Is it possible to even begin to imagine the horror experienced by a five-year-old child as four, six, eight, 12 soldiers, their faces painted black, sub-machine-guns pointed everywhere, antennas protruding from their backpacks, making them look like giant alien bugs, blast their way through that wall?’3

Naveh, a retired Brigadier-General, directs the Operational Theory Research Institute, which trains staff officers from the IDF and other militaries in ‘operational theory’ – defined in military jargon as somewhere between strategy and tactics. He summed up the mission of his institute, which was founded in 1996: ‘We are like the Jesuit Order. We attempt to teach and train soldiers to think. […] We read Christopher Alexander, can you imagine?; we read John Forester, and other architects. We are reading Gregory Bateson; we are reading Clifford Geertz. Not myself, but our soldiers, our generals are reflecting on these kinds of materials. We have established a school and developed a curriculum that trains “operational architects”.’4 In a lecture Naveh showed a diagram resembling a ‘square of opposition’ that plots a set of logical relationships between certain propositions referring to military and guerrilla operations. Labelled with phrases such as ‘Difference and Repetition – The Dialectics of Structuring and Structure’, ‘Formless Rival Entities’, ‘Fractal Manoeuvre’, ‘Velocity vs. Rhythms’, ‘The Wahabi War Machine’, ‘Postmodern Anarchists’ and ‘Nomadic Terrorists’, they often reference the work of Deleuze and Guattari. War machines, according to the philosophers, are polymorphous; diffuse organizations characterized by their capacity for metamorphosis, made up of small groups that split up or merge with one another, depending on contingency and circumstances. (Deleuze and Guattari were aware that the state can willingly transform itself into a war machine. Similarly, in their discussion of ‘smooth space’ it is implied that this conception may lead to domination.)

I asked Naveh why Deleuze and Guattari were so popular with the Israeli military. He replied that ‘several of the concepts in A Thousand Plateaux became instrumental for us […] allowing us to explain contemporary situations in a way that we could not have otherwise. It problematized our own paradigms. Most important was the distinction they have pointed out between the concepts of “smooth” and “striated” space [which accordingly reflect] the organizational concepts of the “war machine” and the “state apparatus”. In the IDF we now often use the term “to smooth out space” when we want to refer to operation in a space as if it had no borders. […] Palestinian areas could indeed be thought of as “striated” in the sense that they are enclosed by fences, walls, ditches, roads blocks and so on.’5 When I asked him if moving through walls was part of it, he explained that, ‘In Nablus the IDF understood urban fighting as a spatial problem. […] Travelling through walls is a simple mechanical solution that connects theory and practice.’6

To understand the IDF’s tactics for moving through Palestinian urban spaces, it is necessary to understand how they interpret the by now familiar principle of ‘swarming’ – a term that has been a buzzword in military theory since the start of the US post cold War doctrine known as the Revolution in Military Affairs. The swarm manoeuvre was in fact adapted, from the Artificial Intelligence principle of swarm intelligence, which assumes that problem-solving capacities are found in the interaction and communication of relatively unsophisticated agents (ants, birds, bees, soldiers) with little or no centralized control. The swarm exemplifies the principle of non-linearity apparent in spatial, organizational and temporal terms. The traditional manoeuvre paradigm, characterized by the simplified geometry of Euclidean order, is transformed, according to the military, into a complex fractal-like geometry. The narrative of the battle plan is replaced by what the military, using a Foucaultian term, calls the ‘toolbox approach’, according to which units receive the tools they need to deal with several given situations and scenarios but cannot predict the order in which these events would actually occur.7 Naveh: ‘Operative and tactical commanders depend on one another and learn the problems through constructing the battle narrative; […] action becomes knowledge, and knowledge becomes action. […] Without a decisive result possible, the main benefit of operation is the very improvement of the system as a system.’8

This may explain the fascination of the military with the spatial and organizational models and modes of operation advanced by theorists such as Deleuze and Guattari. Indeed, as far as the military is concerned, urban warfare is the ultimate Postmodern form of conflict. Belief in a logically structured and single-track battle-plan is lost in the face of the complexity and ambiguity of the urban reality. Civilians become combatants, and combatants become civilians. Identity can be changed as quickly as gender can be feigned: the transformation of women into fighting men can occur at the speed that it takes an undercover ‘Arabized’ Israeli soldier or a camouflaged Palestinian fighter to pull a machine-gun out from under a dress. For a Palestinian fighter caught up in this battle, Israelis seem ‘to be everywhere: behind, on the sides, on the right and on the left. How can you fight that way?’9

Critical theory has become crucial for Nave’s teaching and training. He explained: ‘we employ critical theory primarily in order to critique the military institution itself – its fixed and heavy conceptual foundations. Theory is important for us in order to articulate the gap between the existing paradigm and where we want to go. Without theory we could not make sense of the different events that happen around us and that would otherwise seem disconnected. […] At present the Institute has a tremendous impact on the military; [it has] become a subversive node within it. By training several high-ranking officers we filled the system [IDF] with subversive agents […] who ask questions; […] some of the top brass are not embarrassed to talk about Deleuze or [Bernard] Tschumi.’10 I asked him, ‘Why Tschumi?’ He replied: ‘The idea of disjunction embodied in Tschumi’s book Architecture and Disjunction (1994) became relevant for us […] Tschumi had another approach to epistemology; he wanted to break with single-perspective knowledge and centralized thinking. He saw the world through a variety of different social practices, from a constantly shifting point of view. [Tschumi] created a new grammar; he formed the ideas that compose our thinking.11 I then asked him, why not Derrida and Deconstruction? He answered, ‘Derrida may be a little too opaque for our crowd. We share more with architects; we combine theory and practice. We can read, but we know as well how to build and destroy, and sometimes kill.’12

In addition to these theoretical positions, Naveh references such canonical elements of urban theory as the Situationist practices of dérive (a method of drifting through a city based on what the Situationists referred to as ‘psycho-geography’) and détournement (the adaptation of abandoned buildings for purposes other than those they were designed to perform). These ideas were, of course, conceived by Guy Debord and other members of the Situationist International to challenge the built hierarchy of the capitalist city and break down distinctions between private and public, inside and outside, use and function, replacing private space with a ‘borderless’ public surface. References to the work of Georges Bataille, either directly or as cited in the writings of Tschumi, also speak of a desire to attack architecture and to dismantle the rigid rationalism of a postwar order, to escape ‘the architectural strait-jacket’ and to liberate repressed human desires.
In no uncertain terms, education in the humanities – often believed to be the most powerful weapon against imperialism – is being appropriated as a powerful vehicle for imperialism. The military’s use of theory is, of course, nothing new – a long line extends all the way from Marcus Aurelius to General Patton.

Future military attacks on urban terrain will increasingly be dedicated to the use of technologies developed for the purpose of ‘un-walling the wall’, to borrow a term from Gordon Matta-Clark. This is the new soldier/architect’s response to the logic of ‘smart bombs’. The latter have paradoxically resulted in higher numbers of civilian casualties simply because the illusion of precision gives the military-political complex the necessary justification to use explosives in civilian environments.

Here another use of theory as the ultimate ‘smart weapon’ becomes apparent. The military’s seductive use of theoretical and technological discourse seeks to portray war as remote, quick and intellectual, exciting – and even economically viable. Violence can thus be projected as tolerable and the public encouraged to support it. As such, the development and dissemination of new military technologies promote the fiction being projected into the public domain that a military solution is possible – in situations where it is at best very doubtful.

Although you do not need Deleuze to attack Nablus, theory helped the military reorganize by providing a new language in which to speak to itself and others. A ‘smart weapon’ theory has both a practical and a discursive function in redefining urban warfare. The practical or tactical function, the extent to which Deleuzian theory influences military tactics and manoeuvres, raises questions about the relation between theory and practice. Theory obviously has the power to stimulate new sensibilities, but it may also help to explain, develop or even justify ideas that emerged independently within disparate fields of knowledge and with quite different ethical bases. In discursive terms, war – if it is not a total war of annihilation – constitutes a form of discourse between enemies. Every military action is meant to communicate something to the enemy. Talk of ‘swarming’, ‘targeted killings’ and ‘smart destruction’ help the military communicate to its enemies that it has the capacity to effect far greater destruction. Raids can thus be projected as the more moderate alternative to the devastating capacity that the military actually possesses and will unleash if the enemy exceeds the ‘acceptable’ level of violence or breaches some unspoken agreement. In terms of military operational theory it is essential never to use one’s full destructive capacity but rather to maintain the potential to escalate the level of atrocity. Otherwise threats become meaningless.

When the military talks theory to itself, it seems to be about changing its organizational structure and hierarchies. When it invokes theory in communications with the public – in lectures, broadcasts and publications – it seems to be about projecting an image of a civilized and sophisticated military. And when the military ‘talks’ (as every military does) to the enemy, theory could be understood as a particularly intimidating weapon of ‘shock and awe’, the message being: ‘You will never even understand that which kills you.’

Eyal Weizman is an architect, writer and Director of Goldsmith’s College Centre for Research Architecture. His work deals with issues of conflict territories and human rights.

A full version of this article was recently delivered at the conference ‘Beyond Bio-politics’ at City University, New York, and in the architecture program of the Sao Paulo Biennial. A transcript can be read in the March/April, 2006 issue of Radical Philosophy.

1 Quoted in Hannan Greenberg, ‘The Limited Conflict: This Is How You Trick Terrorists’, in Yediot Aharonot; http://www.ynet.co.il (23 March 2004)
2 Eyal Weizman interviewed Aviv Kokhavi on 24 September at an Israeli military base near Tel Aviv. Translation from Hebrew by the author; video documentation by Nadav Harel and Zohar Kaniel
3 Sune Segal, ‘What Lies Beneath: Excerpts from an Invasion’, Palestine Monitor, November, 2002;
http://www.palestinemonitor.org/eyewitness/Westbank/what_lies_beneath_by_sune_segal.html 9 June, 2005
4 Shimon Naveh, discussion following the talk ‘Dicta Clausewitz: Fractal Manoeuvre: A Brief History of Future Warfare in Urban Environments’, delivered in conjunction with ‘States of Emergency: The Geography of Human Rights’, a debate organized by Eyal Weizman and Anselm Franke as part of ‘Territories Live’, B’tzalel Gallery, Tel Aviv,
5 November 2004
5 Eyal Weizman, telephone interview with Shimon Naveh, 14 October 2005
6 Ibid.
7 Michel Foucault’s description of theory as a ‘toolbox’ was originally developed in conjunction with Deleuze in a 1972 discussion; see Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, ‘Intellectuals and Power’, in Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. and intro. Donald F. Bouchard, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1980, p. 206
8 Weizman, interview with Naveh
9 Quoted in Yagil Henkin, ‘The Best Way into Baghdad’, The New York Times, 3 April 2003
10 Weizman, interview with Naveh
11 Naveh is currently working on a Hebrew translation of Bernard Tschumi’s Architecture and Disjunction, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1997.
12 Weizman, interview with Naveh

The preferences and the prejudices of the swing voter in the marginal constituency retain a disproportionate influence within our political system. As such, the modern politician seeks to neutralise – or triangulate around – difficult political terrain. There is no better example of this terrain than the current debates around race and demographic change.

Labour Party Deputy leader contestant Jon Cruddas tackles immigration and the far right in this essay…

Race, Class and Migration: Tackling the Far Right

18 April 2007

Article by Jon Cruddas in the Policy Network book “Rethinking Immigration and Integration: a New Centre-Left Agenda”

Over the last few years, many of our communities have experienced extraordinary rates of change – primarily driven by mass migration, changing patterns in the demand for labour and the dynamics of the housing market. The policy issues thrown up by these forces have been diffi cult for the state to comprehend; not least because many of the people affected by the changes do not show up in the census and therefore do not exist for the purposes of public policy making.

Moreover, the communities undergoing these rapid demographic changes are often the most poorly equipped to do so, and maintain high levels of poverty, social immobility and poor public services. Poorer, low-cost housing areas, primarily in urban settings, are taking the strain in managing migration fl ows. The impact of migration on the labour and housing markets has triggered tensions and threatened community cohesion. In particular communities, the local population grows at a faster rate than the state’s refinancing of public services, as decisions on funding are based on an out-of date formula for resource allocation.

These issues demand an adequate response from the state that must be based on the empirical realities of modern Britain. It means a return to issues of class, race, poverty and migration. It means that we have to construct a real-time demographic picture upon which to build such an adequate response. It is through such a response that we can construct a framework for addressing the material conditions which aid the far-right in exploiting these issues.

Yet the configuration of the electoral system pushes politicians into dangerous territory when addressing race and migration. The preferences and the prejudices of the swing voter in the marginal constituency retain a disproportionate influence within our political system. As such, the modern politician seeks to neutralise – or triangulate around – difficult political terrain. There is no better example of this terrain than the current debates around race and demographic change.

Those negatively affected by migration perceive government efforts to tackle immigration as being woefully inadequate, as the issues which concern them are not sufficiently reported in the media and therefore are not commonly understood. This underreporting, combined with the strain placed on existing services by the recent expansion in migration, has led to disillusionment and caused voters to seek populist answers.

The economic losers from immigration are becoming increasingly alienated from their traditional Labour representation. This essay explores this fundamental economic and political rupture. On the one hand, the current situation has created a contest of tough policies on migrants. Due to the lack of a visible and coherent Labour policy, right-wing political parties (both mainstream and more extremist) have garnered support from traditional Labour voters. Immigration is a contentious issue which will increasingly determine electoral outcomes.

On the other hand, migrant labour has contributed to the economic prosperity enjoyed by Britain. Migrants bring an enormous range of benefits to the British economy, and many low-skilled workers are filling gaps in the UK labour market.

The combination of migration and economics can also result, in the worst cases, in racism and extremism. With reference to my own constituency in East London, I offer an insight into the way these forces combine and the consequences of the rise of extremist political forces. This article argues that what is required is a response grounded in the material conditions of disadvantaged communities, in order to remove the forces that are feeding extremist political movements.

Public perceptions must be tackled in order for the government to receive credit for its policies, but simultaneously, these policies need to be more responsive to the actual situation on the ground.

Changing labour markets and the demand for labour

Globalisation and the information and communication technologies have been widely cited as the key contemporary levers of change that are reshaping the labour markets of the future. Yet, the fundamental problem with this conception of the ‘new knowledge economy’ is one of evidence. On the basis of both the empirical changes over the last ten years and the best projections for the future, it is clear that we are witnessing an ever more pronounced polarisation within the labour market – and wider society – often described as the ‘hour glass’ economy.

On the one hand, there exists a primary labour market – the knowledge economy. On the other, there is an expanding secondary labour market where the largest growth is occurring – in service-related elementary occupations, administrative and clerical occupations, sales occupations, caring, personal service jobs and the like. In terms of absolute employment growth since the early 1990s, the fastest growing occupations have been in four long-established services (sales assistants, data input clerks, storekeepers and receptionists); in state dominated education and health services; and the caring occupations (care assistants, welfare and community workers, and nursery nurses).

In short, employment growth has been concentrated in occupations that could scarcely be judged new, still less the fulcrum of a ‘new economy’. New Labour’s political strategy has been driven by the dynamics at work at the top end of this hour glass – the political inference being that those who occupy the bottom half will always stick with Labour as they have no other viable alternative. For purposes of political positioning, the worldview has developed which renders the working class invisible and downgrades the needs of working class communities. Yet paradoxically, New Labour has overseen an economic strategy characterised by the expansion in the demand for relatively low waged work. In short, empirically it has brought about the development of a thriving bottom of the hour glass. This mix has tended to create a brittle tension between the narrative of New Labour and the empirical realities of the modern world. New Labour presents a picture of immigration in England for both the purposes of policy and public relations which is necessarily wrong because of the evidence on which it is based. This clashes with the experience of British people, whose experience of immigration is concerned with how daily life is affected by migration, and who see only the gap between Labour policy and migration issues.

This gap needs to be bridged in order to confront the problems caused by migration and show the public that these problems are being addressed in a serious way. Furthermore, the benefits of immigration must be emphasised. This tension also characterises the politics and the economics of migration. On the one hand we triangulate around migration and race given the prejudices of the swing voter in the swing seat.

Thus the importance of the swing voter lies behind the portrait painted by Labour: tight control over immigration and a protection against the negative aspects of these population flows. The presentation of Labour policy thus becomes of the greatest importance.

On the other hand, migrant labour – regulated and unregulated – has in reality been the cornerstone of government economic strategy, fuelled by the demand for relatively low-waged labour. The best illustration of this collision between rhetoric and reality is the data regarding the minimal prosecutions for those employing un-regularised migrant labour. Given the rate of inward migration alongside the lack of market regulation, it is impossible to conclude anything other than that migrant labour is seen as a key driver in tacitly de-regulating the labour market in order to reproduce this flexible low waged economy.

Migration: the numbers game

Rapid change is occurring in the British economy and wider society. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the population is growing at its fastest pace since the early 1960s despite record emigration. The ONS estimates the population of Britain to be some 60.2 million in June 2005 – a year-on-year rise of around 0.6 per cent or 375,000. According to research 235,000 of the 375,000 rise was due to net migration, with the remainder made up by the growing gap between births and deaths. In the same year net outward migration rose to 114,000 – the highest figure since records began in 1991.

The ONS has announced a programme to improve on these estimates given an acknowledgment that increasing numbers of people are on the move at any one time. This review is a tacit acceptance that these figures understate the real demographic changes at work within the UK – despite the record numbers contained in the estimates. The data assumes only a net migration of 74,300 from the new accession states.

The government has recently announced that some 427,095 people from the new EU countries had registered to work here over the two years from May 2004. However, the self-employed, students and dependents and legal ‘non-working’ residents do not register. It is a common estimate that at least 600,000 new EU nationals have now migrated to the UK over the last two years. The initial government estimate of the inflows was between 5,000 and 13,000. When we begin to scrutinise the details of this migration interesting information emerge. Most of them have come from Poland – 264,000. 82 per cent are young, aged between 18 and 34 and have no dependents. Most jobs performed are relatively low waged and low skilled jobs. In short there appears to have been a massive demographic movement into the UK driven by demand for certain forms of labour. Yet many of these families do not appear on the radar of public policy-makers, who remain attached to an out of date census that cannot encompass the sheer demographic dynamic that has developed over the last few years.

Demography, race and class: a case study of New Labour and the BNP

The Local Election results in May 2006 saw the British National Party (BNP) make significant electoral gains in specific parts of the country. Overall, the BNP gained 33 new councillors bringing their total to 48. BNP candidates were elected or polled over 25 per cent of the vote in over 100 council wards across the country. These gains built upon earlier electoral gains. The BNP polled 808,000 votes in the European elections and would have secured several MEPs and London Assembly members were it not for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). At the last General Election the BNP saved its deposit in 34 constituencies and made inroads within some of Labour’s traditional working class communities.

In 125 London the BNP polled 4.9 per cent in the Assembly elections. They had averaged some 35 per cent in five council by-elections over the last two years in Barking and Dagenham. Here, in September 2004, they won their first council seat in London for 11 years. This performance is significant not least because over the last few years there has been a sustained campaign against the BNP on the ground. At local level a new ‘Popular Front’ politics has been forged through anti-fascist groups and churches together with local union branches and voluntary and political groups coming together to defeat the far right.

How then are we to understand the BNP vote? This is partly accounted for by the ability of the BNP to become the depository of anti-Labour feeling in a number of wards given the limited alternatives available to vote for any other mainstream Party. Across the borough Labour stood 51 candidates, the Tories 23, UKIP 17, the BNP 13 and the Liberals 4.

This psephological analysis does not account for the material forces that underpin the BNP presence in the borough. The key forces at work relate to extraordinary demographic shifts that occur against a legacy of poverty and sustained underinvestment in public services and infrastructure. The key driver of the demographic transformation is the relatively low cost private housing market. Yet this consequence of ‘the right to buy’ has also heightened demand for social housing given sustained house price inflation over the last five years.

The major demographic changes are off the radar of public policy-makers who remain attached to census data that offers diminishing returns in terms of understanding the day to day realities of life in the borough. Major population changes have occurred since the census data. Yet public policy making assumes a stable – indeed slightly declining – population of 164,000 for issues of resource allocation with a static ethnic make up for every year since 2001. As such, formal state decision making assumes a stable demography. Yet the borough retains the lowest housing costs across the whole of London and as such it has developed a magnetic pull for all those in search of such housing.

The only data set that begins to uncover the demographic shifts that every resident is aware of is year-on-year data regarding school rolls. This shows up both a rapidly growing head count but also dramatic shifts within that total. For example, between 2003 and 2005 the percentage of white children on the school roll fell by some 9.1 per cent – three quarters of this change was accounted for by black African children – as the influx of migrants radically changed the demographics of certain areas. Immigration is occurring in ever greater numbers. One of the key factors behind the emergence of the extreme right is this breach between the formal state perception of the borough and the day to day dynamics at work within the locality. The incremental investment in public services by the state on the basis of out of date population statistics cannot begin to deal with concerns that demographic change is occurring whilst resources are becoming scarcer.

Therefore, this has helped to form the perception that these changes are actually reducing the social wage. This perception could be expressed in terms of growing health inequalities, or reduced access to social housing or even declining hourly wage rates as the dynamic of migration triggers a race to the bottom of working conditions. As such, issues of resource allocation are seen by many as issues of race – which becomes the prism through which, for example, health, housing and wage inequalities are viewed. The most acute politicisation of resources concerns housing. Yet it is considered to be driven by race rather than systematic failure to provide low rent social housing units. 127 It is here that the issue of working class disenfranchisement comes into play. New Labour has quite consciously removed class as an economic or political category.

It has specifically calibrated a science of political organisation – and indeed an ideology – to camp out in middle England with unarguable electoral successes. Yet the question remains as to whether the policy mix developed to dominate a specifi c part of the British electoral map actually compounds problems in other communities with different histories and contemporary economic and social profiles. It is not just about social housing, although this is the most concrete manifestation of the core problem. It is about the ability of the state to anticipate and invest in the poor urban communities that take the strain of rapid demographic change. These communities are themselves the least able to navigate through such change as they retain the legacies of previous periods of political and economic failure. It is across this seam of class, race, poverty, public service inequalities and the demography of urban Britain that the question of Labour renewal might be considered when cast alongside the rise of the BNP.

The policy remedies are actually easy to identify – housing strategy, labour market reform, sustained education investment, the removal of health inequalities, use of brownfield land, a creative approach to demographic change in real time – including a regularisation of illegal migrants so as to properly quantify population growth. In many respects, although unfashionable, the remedies are often self-evident. In reality, it is an exercise in political will. Such remedies would, in turn, allow us to return to the class disenfranchisement issues contained in current present strategy and the associated triangulations of New Labour, especially regarding race.


The way we have sought to neutralise negative political issues regarding race, immigration and asylum has been particularly damaging. The government has never attempted to systematically annunciate a clear set of principles that embrace the notion of immigration and its associated economic and social benefits. Yet at the same time it has tacitly used immigration to help the preferred flexible North American labour market. Especially in London, legal and illegal immigration has been central in replenishing the stock of cheap labour across the public and private services, construction, and civil engineering.

Politically, the government is then left in a terrible position. We triangulate around immigration and collude in the demonisation of the migrant whilst relying on the same people to rebuild our public and private services and make our labour markets more fl exible. Immigrant labour is the axis for the domestic agenda of the government yet we fail to defend the principle of immigration and by doing so we reinforce the isolation and vulnerability of immigrants. We aid the process of stigmatising the most vulnerable as the whole political centre of gravity moves to the right on matters of race. The wages of many of my constituents are in decline.

House prices appear to rise inexorably upwards, whilst thousands seek nonexistent new social housing. Public service improvements fail to match localised population expansion let alone the long term legacy of underinvestment. At work their terms and conditions are under threat as they compete for jobs with cheap immigrant labour. In terms of access to housing and public services and their position in the workplace, many see immigration as a central determinant in their own relative impoverishment. This remains unchallenged whilst the media and political classes help demonise the immigrant.

Those communities that must accommodate the new immigrant communities are the ones least equipped to do so. They themselves have the most limited opportunities for economic and social mobility. Yet they remain disenfranchised due to the political imperatives of middle England whilst political elites ramp up tensions in these very communities due to the way they triangulate around race.

It is this mixture of class poverty and race, together with policy issues around housing, public services and the labour market which has created such a rich seam for the BNP in many parts of the UK, especially when we see a national debate around race and immigration that heightens tensions in our community. To date, the debate around migration has been fundamentally dishonest in that it has tended to discuss the issues through a focus on the relative strength of the government’s immigration policy, rather than the actual material conditions experienced by both the migrant and the community within which he or she comes to reside.

A renewed focus on the material conditions within these communities would hopefully provide a more robust policy platform from which to manage population flows.

Another terror plot unravels!

The row over allegations that lives were endangered by leaks about major anti-terrorism operations deepened last night as it emerged that there were a series of disclosures about one highly sensitive investigation.

As Tony Blair rejected calls for an inquiry, and Liberal Democrats called upon the police to investigate, it emerged that journalists received up to three separate briefings about an allegation that a group of men was planning to abduct and behead a Muslim British soldier.

The Guardian has been told that an aide to John Reid, the home secretary, was responsible for one of those leaks, and has also learnt that there is strong suspicion among the highest-ranking police at Scotland Yard that one of their own officers also briefed the media.

The controversy centres on a series of raids which led to nine arrests across Birmingham in February. Six men were subsequently charged with a number of terrorist offences. The row over the leaks which accompanied those arrests erupted after deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, warned on Tuesday that such disclosures, both in advance of operations and while they were ongoing, could be illegal and highly dangerous.

The Guardian reports that this information which later proved to be inaccurate came from the office of John Reid while in a further development there is now a strong suspicion that a further leak came from an officer within Scotland Yard.

Defence lawyers are expected to argue that it will be impossible for any of the men arrested in Birmingham to receive a fair trial as a consequence of the leaks at the time of their arrest. One lawyer, Tayab Ali, said he had been told by a senior West Midlands officer that the disclosures may have been an offence under the Official Secrets Act.

So we are reminded yet again of how the British system of justice will be run. Without a scrap of evidence UK citizens can be arrested, no charges pressed and their lives and good names destroyed on the basis of surreptitious rumours from the office of the Home Secretary, John Reid.

Naturally, Reid attempts to spin his way out of this by blaming the government’s army of spin-doctors. A rather stupid move which is bound to backfire on him. Reid claimed that the leakers were trying to “squeeze out some short-term presentational advantage” by secretly briefing on anti-terror operations.

    N.b. Reid clearly understands the principle: never being one to pass up a “short-term presentational” opportunity as when when he visited Forest Gate last year to warn Muslim parents to look for signs of brainwashing in their children. Right on cue, Reid was heckled by the highly visible Abu Izzadeen (aka Trevor Brooks), a well known Islamic extremist and activist, which raised questions about how it was he was able wander into the room of invited guests, reported to be at a secret location, without drawing the attention of police and security. As Abu Izzadeen was ejected from the room, Reid remarked “I was making the very simple point that however sensitive these issues are, we must never allow ourselves to be intimidated or shouted down.” It is ironic because this incident drowned the voices of moderate Muslims who were in attendance, and sadly their opinions on his talk were never broadcasted. You might also recall that this was during the period when Reid was attempting to raise his profile as a possible contender for the Labour leadership.

Other events that were unfolding at the time of the Muslim soldier beheading terror leak were damaging stories about fundraiser Lord Levy (the arrests coming a day before his), Prescott/casino sleaze and turmoil in the Home Office. A source at West Midlands Police said at the time that “There is widespread fury that Whitehall officials have been briefing sensitive details of this operation. This terror raid has come at a very convenient time for the Government as it has taken a number of embarrassing stories off the news agenda.”

Iain Dale has posted online the correspondence between Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve and John Reid here in which the Guardian allegations are emphatically denied. As Dale says, it is only a matter of time before the gauntlet is thrown down and some brave editor reveals the identity of the ministerial aide responsible for briefing the press. We must wait with baited breath until then.

Of course Blair doesn’t want another leak enquiry, according to the conservatives this would bring to over 60 the number of investigations that have been carried out so far. From Iain Dale.

60 Leak Inquiries in First 3 Years. In the first three years of the Labour Government, 60 leak investigations were ordered by Whitehall departments. There were nine leak inquiries alone in the Home Office in the first three years under Jack Straw (The Guardian, 14 February 2000). These included inquiries into: a leak to the Guardian of a memo from Jack Straw watering down provisions in the Freedom of Information Bill; a leak to the Telegraph of the outcome of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry; and even a leak from the Cabinet Office into David Clark’s first-class air trip to Australia and New Zealand as part of fact finding tour into freedom of information legislation.

Leak enquiries are only conducted when the leak embarrasses the government but not when the identity of the leaker would embarrass the government. A charge made by David Gauke (con) and one which the government … naturally denies.

Blair vs Cameron

“Since the administration keeps saying that failure is not an option, they are redefining success in a way that suits them.” James Denselow, Iraq specialist, Chatham House

Iraqis remove charred body from explosion

Iraqi firefighters evacuate a burned body from the site of a car bomb explosion at a market in Baghdad’s al-Sadriyah neighborhood, April 18, 2007 Ahmad al-Rubaye / AFP / Getty

Bush administration officials have been using the drop in Iraqi fatalities as proof that the surge is working and leading to defused tensions between the Sunnis and Shias. What they don’t tell you is that the figures they cite do not include Iraqis killed by car bombs. The fatalities they count are the dead bodies that turn up on streets which they attribute to “sectarian murders” and not the death squads which freely roam the environs of Baghdad armed with US provided Gluck pistols and shiny new vehicles courtesy of the US taxpayer, in particular the Wolf Brigade.

“We would go into a Sunni town, cordon the town, search it [and] confiscate weapons. The searches would go great because [of the] American presence. We would leave, and the Wolf Brigade went back in that night and started kidnapping and killing people, [and] burned a couple of houses down.” U.S. Army Maj. Charles Miller, advisor to the Wolf Brigade in Iraq

Don’t forget that the death squads and the US helped stoke these sectarian killings and right now the US is hard at work building a five-kilometer “neighbourhood wall” of 3.5-meter-high concrete blocks around Adhamiya which will close off the largest Sunni neighbourhood in Baghdad from surrounding areas completely, making the ethnicization of the conflict physical.

The U.S. military described the wall as “one of the centerpieces of a new strategy by coalition and Iraqi forces to break the cycle of sectarian violence,” in a statement. But few Iraqis agreed.

“Surrounding areas of the capital with barbed wire and concrete blocks would harm these areas economically and socially,” said the Islamic Party, a predominantly Sunni formation. “In addition, it will enhance sectarian feelings. This will cause great damage to the neighborhood’s residents and have a negative effect on these areas instead of solving problems. It will deepen the gap between the people and encourage sectarianism.”

Whatever happens to the wall around Adhamiya, the U.S. military isn’t likely to abandon its strategy of carving up Baghdad neighborhoods.

“The U.S. military is walling off at least 10 of Baghdad’s most violent neighborhoods and using biometric technology to track some of their residents, creating what officers call ‘gated communities’ in an attempt to carve out oases of safety in this war-ravaged city,” reported the Washington Post.

“In some sealed-off areas, troops armed with biometric scanning devices will compile a neighborhood census by recording residents’ fingerprints and eye patterns, and will perhaps issue them special badges, military officials said.”

The logic is simple, according to one U.S. military officer: “If we keep the bad guys out, then we win.”

The logic is simple but flawed. Riverbend poignantly recalls Baghdad before the war, “One could live anywhere. We didn’t know what our neighbors were- we didn’t care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.” The wall will only make matters worse. See Warsaw Ghetto.

Google Earth photo of Adhamiya Neighbourhood (see here for full picture as above image needs to be resized to appear correctly in blog.) The Wall was begun on April 10th and is currently being built overnight by US troops despite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s order to stop.

There will only be one entrance into and out of Adhamiya and biometric passports will be used to check the identity of everyone entering and leaving.

The red X shows where the Sarafiya Bridge once graced the Tigris River until it was recently destroyed in an an attack on the Green Zone. Now see following map:

adhamiya sunni green zone bridge

It is quite obvious that somebody wants to isolate the Sunni. There will be no escape routes for the Sunni of Adhamiya should they need to flee an attack by Maliki forces.

In the meantime, while the number of tortured bodies being found dumped on the streets is down the number of Iraqis killed by car bombs has risen.

According to Juan cole:

Iraqis killed in February: 1806 (64.5/day)
Iraqis killed in March: 2078 (67/day)

That’s not a significant drop but a rise! Meanwhile, deaths in Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city, have risen.

Bush administration officials have pointed to a dramatic decline in one category of deaths — the bodies dumped daily in Baghdad streets, which officials call sectarian murders — as evidence that the security plan is working. Bush said this week that that number had declined by 50 percent, a number confirmed by statistics compiled by McClatchy Newspapers.

But the number of people killed in explosive attacks is rising, the same statistics show — up from 323 in March, the first full month of the security plan, to 365 through April 24.

Overall, statistics indicate that the number of violent deaths has declined significantly since December, when 1,391 people died in Baghdad, either executed and found dead on the street or killed by bomb blasts. That number was 796 in March and 691 through April 24.

Nearly all of that decline, however, can be attributed to a drop in executions, most of which were blamed on Shiite Muslim militias aligned with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Much of the decline occurred before the security plan began on Feb. 15, and since then radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his Mahdi Army militia to stand down.

According to the statistics, which McClatchy reporters in Baghdad compile daily from police reports, 1,030 bodies were found in December. In January, that number declined 32 percent, to 699. It declined to 596 February and to 473 in March.

Deaths from car bombings and improvised explosive devices, however, increased from 361 in December to a peak of 520 in February before dropping to 323 in March.

In that same period, the number of bombings has increased, as well. In December, there were 65 explosive attacks. That number was unchanged in January, but it rose to 72 in February, 74 in March and 81 through April 24.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government refuses to hand over to the UN it’s civilian casualty numbers because they fear that the statistics would be used to undermine the work of the USUK coalition. The UN released a report citing it’s own figures which claimed that despite the surge, sectarian violence for February and March was high, contradicting Bush administration officials and Bush who in a recent interview made the following incoherent comments on the war in Iraq:

I mean, there is an acceptable level of violence in certain societies around the world. And the question is, you know, what is that level? That’s where the experts come in. You know, you and I can’t determine that sitting here in New York, but we can ask people’s advice upon it. David Petraeus is — would have an opinion on that. Ryan Crocker, our ambassador in Iraq. That’s a very interesting way of putting the question. Because all — there is an acceptable level of violence in all societies. Even our own. President George W Bush

Don’t ask the people of Iraq whether the violence is acceptable. Ask an expert like General Petraeus who sees the surge continuing “well beyond the summer.”

“Petraeus is being given a losing hand, I say that reluctantly. The war is unmistakably going in the wrong direction. The only good news in all this is that Petraeus is so incredibly intelligent and creative…. I’m sure he’ll say to himself, ‘I’m not going to be the last soldier off the roof of the embassy in the Green Zone.’ ”Gen. Barry McCaffrey. “

The longer the coalition remain, the more Iraqis that will get killed.

During the Presidential address to the US public in January Bush said,

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

But during his recent PBS interview with Charlie Rose, the plans changed. Visible improvements are no longer one of the benchmarks as Iraqis clearly have a higher tolerance of violence.

ROSE: There is no question on their part and on your part that catastrophe worse than it is today is inevitable if there’s not a political solution and if the United States pulls out in the near term.

BUSH: Well, first of all, you said this is a catastrophe worse today. You know, it is….

ROSE: Well, there’s sectarian violence that is of a certain level.

BUSH: It is, but it’s significantly lower than it was a couple of months ago.

ROSE: And is there an acceptable level of violence?

BUSH: Well, that’s the question to the Iraqi people. That’s a fascinating question. I mean, there is an acceptable level of violence in certain societies around the world. And the question is, you know, what is that level? That’s where the experts come in. You know, you and I can’t determine that sitting here in New York, but we can ask people’s advice upon it. David Petraeus is — would have an opinion on that. Ryan Crocker, our ambassador in Iraq. That’s a very interesting way of putting the question. Because all — there is an acceptable level of violence in all societies. Even our own.

ROSE: And where do you…

BUSH: Even though all violence needs to be abhorred — nevertheless, there is, you know, there’s certain violence, levels of violence that people say, well, gosh, I can go about my life, I’ve got…

ROSE: We can’t create zero violence is what you’re saying.

BUSH: Well — and by the way, if the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory. In other words, if you say, you know, I’m going to judge the administration’s plan based upon whether they’re able to have no car bombings in Baghdad. We will have just given — because car bombings are hard to stop, or suicide bombings, very hard to stop.

We have just given Al Qaida or any other extremist a significant victories. And that’s one of the problems I face in trying to convince the American people, one, this is doable. In other words, I wouldn’t have our troops there if I didn’t think this is, one, important; and secondly, achievable.

But I also understand on their TV screens, people are saying horrific bombings, and they’re saying to themselves, is this possible? Can we possibly succeed in the face of this kind of violence? And that’s where this enemy, the enemy of moderation, has got a, you know, they’ve got a powerful tool (inaudible).

Bush thinks that the media are handing the enemies of moderation a powerful tool by broadcasting the reality of everyday car-bombings and violence in Iraq. Focusing on suicide bombings is handing Al Qaida (the base) a significant victory? In other words, not only is the “surge” not working but Bush is losing the perception war. He knows it. We know it. So why is he sending yet more US soldiers to die in Iraq? Why does he vainly continue to sell the Iraq war to the American public as winnable? +650,000 deaths later… His sociopathology is matched by his wife’s:

“Many parts of Iraq are stable now. But, of course, what we see on television is the one bombing a day that discourages everybody.”

Bush surge

“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabrics of their life”.

By now there are few people who can fail to recognize that the British Prime Minister has been misleading himself and us to believe that which is false to be valid, and that which is valid to be false. Self-deception has been honed to a fine craft in this man. It seems we are swimming in a sea completely bereft of a moral compass, awash with dishonesty and led by self-serving men who talk up war with no regard to the lives their actions destroy. I shake my head in despair and wonder how we as a people will recover from this shameless episode.

Blair’s latest performance before the press, following the release of the 15 British Navy seamen and woman by Iran was an excellent example of Blair’s self-deception. Blair, caught on the hop by the Iranian action made an off-the-cuff address to the press in which avoiding acknowledgement of Iranian “magnamity” was central. Instead, referring to the deaths of four British soldiers in Iraq the previous day, he alleged, “It’s far too early to say that the particular terrorist act that killed our forces was an act committed by terrorists who were backed by any elements of the Iranian regime, so I make no allegation in respect of that particular incident. But the general picture, as I have said before, is there are elements at least of the Iranian regime that are backing, financing, arming, terrorism in Iraq.” He presented no proof. In the propaganda war being waged by Britain against Iran it only necessary to repeat ad-infinitum such fact-free accusations and appear to believe them.

In an article appearing in the Gulf Times was the following snippet

“Iraqi army soldiers swept into the city of Diwaniya early this morning to disrupt militia activity and return security and stability of the volatile city back to the government of Iraq,” the US military said in a statement.

Bleichwehl said troops, facing scattered resistance, discovered a factory that produced “explosively formed penetrators” (EFPs), a particularly deadly type of explosive that can destroy a main battle tank and several weapons caches.

Followed by

Police in Basra indicated an explosion that destroyed a British armoured fighting vehicle, killing four soldiers and a translator on Thursday, was caused by a new type of bomb.

“We found two bombs … that were similar to the bomb that exploded targeting the British troops,” Major General Mohamed Moussawi said. “These are new bombs that haven’t been used and do not have a precedent in southern Iraq.”
The bomb blast left a crater several metres across and a metre deep in the road.

US and British forces have accused neighbouring Shia Iran of supplying Shia militias with EFPs, which are normally placed on the side of the road and fire a metal projectile embedded in the device into the target at high speed.

But a Western explosives expert in Iraq said it appeared from photographs of the crater that the blast had been caused by a commercial landmine buried in the road, not by an EFP

Yes, for months now we have been told that Iran was supplying these EFPs to what are now being dubbed “anti-Iraqi forces” but that the knowledge to make them were beyond the abilities of Iraqis. Juan Cole however says that “One of the key components, which is difficult to mill, is routinely used in oil field technology, and lots of Iraqis know how to make it.” Now that evidence has surfaced of workshops being found in Iraq producing EFPs, the accusation mutates so that Iran is now training the Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Iraqi militia fighters are being trained in Iran to build and use deadly armor-piercing roadside bombs and complex attack strategies against American forces, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell would not say how many militiamen had gone to Iran but said that questioning of fighters captured as recently as this month confirmed many had been in Iranian training camps.

“They do receive training on how to assemble and employ EFPs,” Caldwell said, adding that fighters also were taught how to carry out attacks that use explosives followed by assaults with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms.

EFP stands for explosively formed penetrator. The weapon causes great uneasiness among U.S. forces because it explodes with tremendous force and can penetrate heavily armored vehicles with a fist-size lump of molten copper. In January, U.S. officials said EFPs had killed at least 170 American soldiers in

“We know that they are being in fact manufactured and smuggled into this country, and we know that training does go on in Iran for people to learn how to assemble them and how to employ them. We know that training has gone on as recently as this past month from detainees’ debriefs,” Caldwell said at a weekly briefing.

The general would not say specifically which arm of the Iranian government was doing the training but called the instructors “surrogates” of Iran’s intelligence agency. He also said the U.S. military had evidence that Iranian intelligence agents were active in Iraq in funding, training and arming Shiite militia fighters.

Caldwell opened the briefing by showing photographs of what he said were Iranian-made mortar rounds, RPG rounds and rockets that were found in Iraq.

The accusations are the latest attempt by the United States to show that Iran is meddling in the Iraq war. If true, the training poses a serious threat to both U.S. forces and Iraqi stability. Iraq, which like Iran is majority Shiite, has found itself in a difficult position since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, trying to maintain good relations with its neighbor while not angering the Americans.

Commanders of a splinter group inside the Shiite Mahdi Army militia have told The Associated Press there are as many as 4,000 members of their organization that were trained in Iran and that they have stockpiles of deadly roadside bombs known as EFPs.

Asked for reaction, Caldwell said he could not confirm the number.

The Mahdi Army commanders who spoke to the AP did so on condition of anonymity because their organization is viewed as illegal by the American military and giving their names would likely lead to their arrest and imprisonment. They said Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards was running the training operation in Iran.

Gen. Ramazan Sharif, spokesman of the Revolutionary Guards, denied ties with the Mahdi Army in Iraq.

“This sort of news and information is planned by occupier (U.S.) forces in Iraq as part of their psychological operations against Iran,” he said.

“This hollow claim was repeatedly rejected by Iraqi government and officials. And the occupiers could not provide any evidence to support it,” Sharif said. He said the United States was using such claims as a cover for its failures in Iraq.

The Mahdi Army is loyal to radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who U.S. officials say is holed up in Iran.

On Wednesday, Iraqi Cabinet ministers allied to al-Sadr threatened to quit the government to protest the prime minister’s lack of support for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.

Such a pullout by the bloc that put Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in office could collapse his already perilously weak government. The threat comes two months into a U.S. effort to pacify Baghdad in order to give al-Maliki’s government room to function.

There have been many attempts by the US to link Muqtada al Sadr to Iran. After years of being fed disinformation about Iraq there is little cause to believe these latest pronouncements.

The man is a nationalist who is both suspicious and resentful of foreign interference by Iran. On the 9th of April he called once more for unity between Sunnis and Shias. More worryingly for the US, he called for the Iraqi army and police to join his forces in overthrowing the occupation forces, urging them not support the “occupier because it is your enemy.”

Najaf 9th April 2007

“Iraq has had enough bloodshed. The occupation forces led by the biggest evil, America, is working to sow dissent either directly or through its agents.”

The day after the Najaf rally attended by a million Iraqis shouting “Yes! Yes! Iraq. No! No! America”, Al Mahdi soldiers were parading in the streets in a show of power and a slap to the face of PM Nouri al-Maliki who claimed that the Iraqi army were in control of its streets.

Iraqi Cabinet ministers allied to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened Wednesday to quit the government to protest the prime minister’s lack of support for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, according to a statement.

Such a pullout by the very bloc that put Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in office could collapse his already perilously weak government. The threat comes two months into a U.S. effort to pacify Baghdad in order to give al-Maliki’s government room to function.

Nouri al-Maliki’s government is riven with divisions. Other blocs are also threatening to pull out.

Four years after the occupation of Iraq, the “political process” that resulted from the invasion is still as precarious as ever. In the Arab media today, almost every major political bloc is threatening to abandon the “political process,” each for their own reasons.

Al-Hayat reported that the Kurdish bloc considers the Kirkuk referendum to be a major condition for “its participation in the political process.” After an acute political crisis with Turkey over the issue of Kirkuk, the Iraqi vice-prime minister (representing the Kurdish bloc) Barham Salih warned the government from “placing obstacles” in the path of the application of the 140th article of the constitution.

…As if those developments were not enough trouble for Maliki, the government is also faced by similar threats from the Sunni bloc in the parliament. Az-Zaman and al-Hayat write that a strong current within the Sunni Tawafuq coalition is calling for a withdrawal from the government and the political process as a whole. (Slogger reported earlier on this development.)

While ‘Adnan al-Dulaimi (leader of the Tawafuq bloc) affirmed that his party is not intending to abandon the political process, he also stated that not all parties within his coalition are in agreement over this issue. Dulaimi specifically referred to the Islamic Party (one of the major constituents of Tawafuq) who, Dulaimi said, is planning to form its own independent coalition in the parliament.

This piece of excellent journalism appeared in the New Yorker recently. It describes the nightmarish conditions that Iraqis who collaborate with the US experience and the callous disregard for their safety they face. Entering the Green Zone to carry out duties for the US is fraught with difficulties. A frank memo from the American Embassy in Baghdad to the Secretary of State paints a portrait of Iraqi staff living in fear for their lives. One employee asked to be given press credentials following an incident when a guard read out loudly “Embassy” from her ID card. Such things overheard by the wrong people can lead to death in Iraq. Nor are staff able to be used at “on-screen” events for fear of being recognized.

Iraqis who wish to flee the country find themselves out of luck. Passports issued during the Saddam era have been cancelled by the Iraqi government while those issued after the 2003 invasion were so shoddily produced that no Western or Arab governments are accepting them due to wide-scale forgeries in circulation.

A new series of passports was being printed, but the Ministry of the Interior had ordered only around twenty thousand copies, an Iraqi official told me, far too few to meet the need—which meant that obtaining a valid passport, like buying gas or heating oil, would become subject to black-market influences. In Baghdad, Othman told me that a new passport would cost him six hundred dollars, paid to a fixer with connections at the passport offices. The Ministry of the Interior refused to allow Iraqi Embassies to print the new series, so refugees outside Iraq who needed valid passports would have to return to the country they had fled or pay someone a thousand dollars to do it for them.

The article is bursting with information that allows us to see clearly the depradations facing Iraqis and is well worth the read.

Iraqi Collaborator Masks Face
An Iraqi interpreter wears a mask to conceal his identity while he assists a soldier delivering an invitation to an Imam for a meeting with an American colonel. Photograph by James Nachtwey.

On a cold, wet night in January, I met two young Iraqi men in the lobby of the Palestine Hotel, in central Baghdad. A few Arabic television studios had rooms on the upper floors of the building, but the hotel was otherwise vacant. In the lobby, a bucket collected drips of rainwater; at the gift shop, which was closed, a shelf displayed film, batteries, and sheathed daggers covered in dust. A sign from another era read, “We have great pleasure in announcing the opening of the Internet café 24 hour a day. At the business center on the first floor. The management.” The management consisted of a desk clerk and a few men in black leather jackets slouched in armchairs and holding two-way radios.

The two Iraqis, Othman and Laith, had asked to meet me at the Palestine because it was the only place left in Baghdad where they were willing to be seen with an American. They lived in violent neighborhoods that were surrounded by militia checkpoints. Entering and leaving the Green Zone, the fortified heart of the American presence, had become too risky. But even the Palestine made them nervous. In October, 2005, a suicide bomber driving a cement mixer had triggered an explosion that nearly brought down the hotel’s eighteen-story tower. An American tank unit that was guarding the hotel eventually pulled out, leaving security in the hands of Iraqi civilians. It would now be relatively easy for insurgents to get inside. The one comforting thought for Othman and Laith was that, four years into the war, the Palestine was no longer worth attacking.

The Iraqis and I went up to a room on the eighth floor. Othman smoked by the window while Laith sat on one of the twin beds. (The names of most of the Iraqis in this story have been changed for their protection.) Othman was a heavyset doctor, twenty-nine years old, with a gentle voice and an unflappable ironic manner. Laith, an engineer with rimless eyeglasses, was younger and taller, and given to bursts of enthusiasm and displeasure. Othman was Sunni, Laith was Shiite.

It had taken Othman three days to get to the hotel from his house, in western Baghdad. On the way, he was trapped for two nights at his sister’s house, which was in an ethnically mixed neighborhood: gun battles had broken out between Sunni and Shiite militiamen. Othman watched the home of his sister’s neighbor, a Sunni, burn to the ground. Shiite militiamen scrawled the words “Leave or else” on the doors of Sunni houses. Othman was able to leave the house only because his sister’s husband—a Shiite, who was known to the local Shia militias—escorted him out. Othman took a taxi to the house of Laith’s grandfather; from there, he and Laith went to the Palestine, where they enjoyed their first hot water in several weeks.

They had a strong friendship, based on a shared desire. Before the war, they had both longed for the arrival of the Americans, expecting them to change their lives. They had told each other that they would try to work with the foreigners. Othman and Laith were both secular, and despised the extremist militias on each side of Iraq’s civil war, but the ethnic conflict had led them increasingly to quarrel, to the point that one of them—usually Laith—would refuse to speak to the other.

Laith began to describe these strains. “It started when the Americans came with Shia leaders and wanted to give the Shia leadership—”

“And kick out the Sunnis,” Othman interrupted. “You admit this? You were not admitting it before.”

“The Americans don’t want to kick out the Sunnis,” Laith said. “They want to give Shia the power because most Iraqis are Shia.”

“And you believe the Sunnis did not want to participate, right?” Othman said. “The Americans didn’t give them the chance to participate.” He turned to me: “You know I’m not just saying this because I’m a Sunni—”

Laith rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

“But I think the Shia made the Sunnis feel that they’re against them.”

“This is not the point, who started it,” Laith said heatedly. “Everybody is getting killed, the Shia and the Sunnis.” He paused. “But if we think who started it, I think the Sunnis started it!”

“I think the Shia,” Othman repeated, with calm knowingness. He said to me, “When I feel that I’m pushing too much and he starts to become so angry, I pull the brake.”

Laith had a job with an American organization, affiliated with the National Endowment for Democracy, that encouraged private enterprise in developing countries. Othman had worked with a German group called Architects for People in Need, and then as a translator for foreign journalists. These were coveted jobs, but over time they had become so dangerous that Othman and Laith could talk candidly about their lives with no one except each other.

“I trust him,” Othman said of his friend. “We’ve shared our experiences with foreigners—the good and the bad. We don’t have a secret life when we are together. But when we go out we have to lie.”

Othman’s cell phone rang: a friend was calling from Jordan. “I had a vision that you’ll be killed by the end of the month,” he told Othman. “Get out now, please. You can stay here with me. We’ll live on pasta.” Othman said something reassuring and hung up, but his phone kept ringing, the friend calling back; his vision had made him hysterical.

A string of bad events had given Othman the sense that time was running out for him in Iraq. In November, members of the Mahdi Army—the Shia militia commanded by the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr—rounded up Othman’s older brother and several other Sunnis who worked in a shop in a mixed neighborhood. The Sunnis were taken to a local Shia mosque and shot. Othman’s brother was only grazed in the head, but a Shiite soldier noticed that he was still alive and shot him in the eye. Somehow, he survived this, too. Othman found his brother and took him to a hospital for surgery. The hospital—like the entire Iraqi health system—was under the Mahdi Army’s control, and Othman decided that his brother would be safer at their parents’ house. The brother was now blind, deranged, and vengeful, making life unbearable for Othman’s family. A few days later, Othman’s elderly maternal aunts, who were Shia and lived in a majority-Sunni area, were told by Sunni insurgents that they had three days to leave. Othman’s father, a retired Sunni officer, went to their neighborhood and convinced the insurgents that his wife’s sisters were, in fact, Sunnis. And then, one day in January, Othman’s two teen-age brothers, Muhammad and Salim, on whom he doted, failed to come home from school. Othman called the cell phone of Muhammad, who was fifteen. “Is this Muhammad?” he said.

A stranger’s voice answered: “No, I’m not Muhammad.”

“Where is Muhammad?”

“Muhammad is right here,” the stranger said. “I’m looking at him now. We have both of them.”

“Are you joking?”

“No, I’m not. Are you Sunni or Shia?”

Thinking of what had happened to his older brother, Othman lied: “We’re Shia.” The stranger told him to prove it. The boys had left their identity cards at home, for their own safety.

Othman’s mother took the phone, sobbing and begging the kidnapper not to hurt her boys. “We’re going to behead them,” the kidnapper told her. “Choose where you want us to throw the bodies. Or do you prefer us to cut them to pieces for you? We enjoy cutting young boys to pieces.” The man hung up.

After several more phone conversations, Othman realized his mistake: the kidnappers were Sunnis, with Al Qaeda. Shiites are not Muslims, the kidnappers told him—they deserve to be killed. Then they stopped answering the phone. Othman called a friend who belonged to a Sunni political party with ties to insurgents; over the course of the afternoon, the friend got the kidnappers back on the phone and convinced them that the boys were Sunnis. They were released with apologies, along with their money and their phones.

It was the worst day of Othman’s life. He said he would never forget the sound of the stranger’s voice.

Othman began a campaign of burning. He went into the yard or up on the roof of his parents’ house with a jerrican of kerosene and set fire to papers, identity badges, books in English, photographs—anything that might incriminate him as an Iraqi who worked with foreigners. If Othman had to flee Iraq, he wanted to leave nothing behind that might harm him or his family. He couldn’t bring himself to destroy a few items, though: his diaries, his weekly notes from the hospital where he had once worked. “I have this bad habit of keeping everything like memories,” he said.

Most of the people Othman and Laith knew had left Iraq. House by house, Baghdad was being abandoned. Othman was considering his options: move his parents from their house (in an insurgent stronghold) to his sister’s house (in the midst of civil war); move his parents and brothers to Syria (where there was no work) and live with his friend in Jordan (going crazy with boredom while watching his savings dwindle); go to London and ask for asylum (and probably be sent back); stay in Baghdad for six more months until he could begin a scholarship that he’d won, to study journalism in America (or get killed waiting). Beneath his calm good humor, Othman was paralyzed—he didn’t want to leave Baghdad and his family, but staying had become impossible. Every day, he changed his mind.

From the hotel window, Othman could see the palace domes of the Green Zone directly across the Tigris River. “It’s sad,” he told me. “With all the hopes that we had, and all the dreams, I was totally against the word ‘invasion.’ Wherever I go, I was defending the Americans and strongly saying, ‘America was here to make a change.’ Now I have my doubts.”

Laith was more blunt: “Sometimes, I feel like we’re standing in line for a ticket, waiting to die.”

By the time Othman and Laith finished talking, it was almost ten o’clock. We went downstairs and found the hotel restaurant empty, with no light or heat. A waiter in a white shirt and black vest emerged out of the darkness to take our orders. We shivered for an hour until the food came.

There was an old woman at the cash register, with long, dyed-blond hair, a shapeless gown, and a macramé beret that kept falling off her head. I recognized her: she had been the cashier in 2003, when I first came to the Palestine. Her name was Taja, and she had worked at the hotel for twenty-five years. She had the smile of a mad hag.

I asked if there had been any other customers tonight. “My dear, no one,” Taja said, in English. The sight of me seemed to jar loose a bundle of memories. Her brother had gone to New Orleans in 1948 and forgotten all about her. There was music here in the old days, she said, and she sang a few lines from the Spaniels’ “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight”:

Goodnight, sweetheart,
Well it’s time to go.
I hate to leave you, but I really must say,
Goodnight, sweetheart, goodnight.

When the Americans first came, Taja said, the hotel was full of customers, including marines. She took the exam to work as a translator three times, but kept failing, because the questions were so hard: “The spider is an insect or an animal?” “Water is a beverage or a food?” Who could answer such questions?

Taja smiled at us. “Now all finished,” she said.


Millions of Iraqis, spanning the country’s religious and ethnic spectrum, welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But the mostly young men and women who embraced America’s project so enthusiastically that they were prepared to risk their lives for it may constitute Iraq’s smallest minority. I came across them in every city: the young man in Mosul who loved Metallica and signed up to be a translator at a U.S. Army base; the DVD salesman in Najaf whose plans to study medicine were crushed by Baath Party favoritism, and who offered his services to the first American Humvee that entered his city. They had learned English from American movies and music, and from listening secretly to the BBC. Before the war, their only chance at a normal life was to flee the country—a nearly impossible feat. Their future in Saddam’s Iraq was, as the Metallica fan in Mosul put it, “a one-way road leading to nothing.” I thought of them as oddballs, like misunderstood high-school students whose isolation ends when they go off to college. In a similar way, the four years of the war created intense friendships, but they were forged through collective disappointment. The arc from hope to betrayal that traverses the Iraq war is nowhere more vivid than in the lives of these Iraqis. America’s failure to understand, trust, and protect its closest friends in Iraq is a small drama that contains the larger history of defeat.

An interpreter named Firas—he insisted on using his real name—grew up in a middle-class Shia family in a prosperous Baghdad neighborhood. He is a big man in his mid-thirties with a shaved head, and his fierce, heavily ringed eyes provide a glimpse into the reserves of energy that lie beneath his phlegmatic surface. As a young man, Firas was shut out of a government job by his family’s religious affiliation and by his lack of connections. He wasted his twenties in a series of petty occupations: selling cigarettes wholesale; dealing in spare parts; peddling books on Mutanabi Street, in old Baghdad. Books, more than anything, shaped Firas’s passionately melancholy character. As a young man, he kept a credo on his wall in English and Arabic: “Be honest without the thought of Heaven or Hell.” He was particularly impressed by “The Outsider,” a 1956 philosophical work by the British existentialist Colin Wilson. “He wrote about the ‘non-belonger,’ ” Firas explained. Firas felt like an exile in his own land, but, he recalled, “There was always this sound in the back of my head: the time will come, the change will come, my time will come. And when 2003 came, I couldn’t believe how right I was.”

Overnight, everything was new. Americans, whom he had seen only in movies, rolled through the streets. Men who had been silent all their lives cursed Saddam in front of their neighbors. The fall of the regime revealed traits that Iraqis had kept hidden: the greed that drove some to loot, the courage that made others stay on the job. Firas felt a lifelong depression lift. “The first thing I learned about myself was that I can make things happen,” he said. “When you feel that you are an outcast, you don’t really put an effort in anything. But after the war I would run here and there, I would kill myself, I would focus on one thing and not stop until I do it.”

Thousands of Iraqis converged on the Palestine Hotel and, later, the Green Zone, in search of work with the Americans. In the chaos of the early days, a demonstrable ability to speak English—sometimes in a chance encounter with a street patrol—was enough to get you hired by an enterprising Marine captain. Firas began working in military intelligence. Almost all the Iraqis who were hired became interpreters, and American soldiers called them “terps,” often giving them nicknames for convenience and, later, security (Firas became Phil). But what the Iraqis had to offer went well beyond linguistic ability: each of them was, potentially, a cultural adviser, an intelligence officer, a policy analyst. Firas told the soldiers not to point with their feet, not to ask to be introduced to someone’s sister. Interpreters assumed that their perspective would be valuable to foreigners who knew little or nothing of Iraq.

Whenever I asked Iraqis what kind of government they had wanted to replace Saddam’s regime, I got the same answer: they had never given it any thought. They just assumed that the Americans would bring the right people, and the country would blossom with freedom, prosperity, consumer goods, travel opportunities. In this, they mirrored the wishful thinking of American officials and neoconservative intellectuals who failed to plan for trouble. Almost no Iraqi claimed to have anticipated videos of beheadings, or Moqtada al-Sadr, or the terrifying question “Are you Sunni or Shia?” Least of all did they imagine that America would make so many mistakes, and persist in those mistakes to the point that even fair-minded Iraqis wondered about ulterior motives. In retrospect, the blind faith that many Iraqis displayed in themselves and in America seems naïve. But, now that Iraq’s demise is increasingly regarded as foreordained, it’s worth recalling the optimism among Iraqis four years ago.

Ali, an interpreter in Baghdad, spent his childhood in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, where his father was completing his graduate studies. In 1987, when Ali was eleven and his father was shortly to get his green card, the family returned to Baghdad for a brief visit. But it was during the war with Iran, and the authorities refused to let them leave again. Ali had to learn Arabic from scratch. He grew up in Ghazaliya, a Baathist stronghold in western Baghdad where Shia families like his were rare. Iraq felt like a prison, and Ali considered his American childhood a paradise lost.

In 2003, soon after the arrival of the Americans, soldiers in his neighborhood persuaded him to work as an interpreter with the 82nd Airborne Division. He wore a U.S. Army uniform and a bandanna, and during interrogations he used broken Arabic in order to make prisoners think he was American. Although the work was not yet dangerous, an instinct led him to mask his identity and keep his job to himself around the neighborhood. Ali found that, although many soldiers were friendly, they often ignored information and advice from their Iraqi employees. Interpreters would give them names of insurgents, and nothing would happen. When Ali suggested that soldiers buy up locals’ rocket-propelled grenade launchers so that they would not fall into the hands of insurgents, he was disregarded. When interpreters drove onto the base, their cars were searched, and at the end of their shift they would sometimes find their car doors unlocked or a mirror broken—the cars had been searched again. “People came with true faces to the Americans, with complete loyalty,” Ali said. “But, from the beginning, they didn’t trust us.”

Ali initially worked the night shift at a base in his neighborhood and walked home by himself after midnight. In June, 2003, the Americans mounted a huge floodlight at the front gate of the base, and when Ali left for home the light projected his shadow hundreds of feet down the street. “It’s dangerous,” he told the soldiers at the gate. “Can’t you turn it off when we go out?”

“Don’t be scared,” the soldiers told him. “There’s a sniper protecting you all the way.”

A couple of weeks later, one of Ali’s Iraqi friends was hanging out with the snipers in the tower, and he thanked them. “For what?” the snipers asked. For looking out for us, Ali’s friend said. The snipers didn’t know what he was talking about, and when he told them they started laughing.

“We got freaked out,” Ali said. The message was clear: You Iraqis are on your own.


The Arabic for “collaborator” is aameel—literally, “agent.” Early in the occupation, the Baathists in Ali’s neighborhood, who at first had been cowed by the Americans’ arrival, began a shrewd whispering campaign. They told their neighbors that the Iraqi interpreters who went along on raids were feeding the Americans false information, urging the abuse of Iraqis, stealing houses, and raping women. In the market, a Baathist would point at an Iraqi riding in the back of a Humvee and say, “He’s a traitor, a thug.” Such rumors were repeated often enough that people began to believe them, especially as the promised benefits of the American occupation failed to materialize. Before long, Ali told me, the Baathists “made the reputation of the interpreter very, very low—worse than the Americans’.”

There was no American campaign to counter the word on the street; there wasn’t even a sense that these subversive rumors posed a serious threat. “Americans are living in another world,” Ali said. “There’s an Iraqi saying: ‘He’s sleeping and his feet are baking in the sun.’ ” The U.S. typically provided interpreters with inferior or no body armor, allowing the Baathists to make a persuasive case that Americans treated all Iraqis badly, even those who worked for them.

“The Iraqis aren’t trusting you, and the Americans don’t trust you from the beginning,” Ali said. “You became a person in between.”

Firas met the personal interpreter of L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority—which governed Iraq for fourteen months after the invasion—in the fall of 2003. Soon, Firas had secured a privileged view of official America, translating documents at the Republican Palace, in the Green Zone.

He liked most of the American officials who came and went at the palace. Even when he saw colossal mistakes at high levels—for example, Bremer’s decision to abolish the Iraqi Army—Firas admired his new colleagues, and believed that they were helping to create institutions that would lead to a better future. And yet Firas kept being confronted by fresh ironies: he had less authority than any of the Americans, although he knew more about Iraq; and the less that Americans knew about Iraq the less they wanted to hear from him, especially if they occupied high positions.

One day, Firas accompanied one of Bremer’s top political advisers to a meeting with an important Shiite cleric. The cleric’s mosque, the Baratha, is an ancient Shiite bastion, and Firas, whose family came from the holy city of Najaf, knew a great deal about the mosque and the cleric. On the way, the adviser asked, “Is this a mosque or a shrine or what?” Firas said, “It’s the Baratha mosque,” and he started to explain its significance, but the adviser cut him short: “O.K., got it.” They went into the meeting with the cleric, who was from a hard-line party backed by Tehran but who spoke as if he represented the views of all Iraqis. He didn’t represent the views of many people Firas knew, and, given the chance, Firas could have told the adviser that the mosque and its Imam had a history of promoting Shia nationalism. “There were a million comments in my head,” Firas recalled. “Why the hell was he paying so much attention to this Imam?”

Bremer and his advisers—Scott Carpenter, Meghan O’Sullivan, and Roman Martinez—were creating an interim constitution and negotiating the transfer of power to Iraqis, but they did not speak Arabic and had no background in the Middle East. The Iraqis they spent time with were, for the most part, returned exiles with sectarian agendas. The Americans had little sense of what ordinary Iraqis were experiencing, and they seemed oblivious of a readily available source of knowledge: the Iraqi employees who had lived in Baghdad for years, and who went home to its neighborhoods every night. “These people would consider themselves too high to listen to a translator,” Firas said. “Maybe they were interested more in telling D.C. what they want to hear instead of telling them what the Iraqis are saying.”

Later, when the Coalition Provisional Authority was replaced by the U.S. Embassy, and political appointees gave way to career diplomats, Firas found himself working for a different kind of American. The Embassy’s political counsellor, Robert Ford, his deputy, Henry Ensher, and a younger official in the political section, Jeffrey Beals, spoke Arabic, had worked extensively in the region, and spent most of their time in Baghdad talking to a range of Iraqis, including extremists. They gave Firas and other “foreign-service nationals” more authority, encouraging them to help write reports on Iraqi politics that were sometimes forwarded to Washington. Beals would be interviewed in Arabic on Al Jazeera and then endure a thorough critique by an Iraqi colleague—Ahmed, a tall, handsome Kurdish Shiite who lived just outside Sadr City, and who was obsessed with Iraqi politics. When Firas, Ali, and Ahmed visited New York during a training trip, Beals’s brother was their escort.

Beals quit the foreign service after almost two years in Iraq and is now studying history at Columbia University. He said that, with Americans in Baghdad coming and going every six or twelve months, “the lowest rung on your ladder ends up being the real institutional memory and repository of expertise—which is always a tension, because it’s totally at odds with their status.” The inversion of the power relationship between American officials and Iraqi employees became more dramatic as the dangers increased and American civilians lost almost all mobility around Baghdad. Beals said, “There aren’t many people with pro-American eyes and the means to get their message across who can go into Sadr City and tell you what’s happening day to day.”


On the morning of January 18, 2004, a suicide truck bomber detonated a massive payload amid a line of vehicles waiting to enter the Green Zone by the entry point known as the Assassins’ Gate. Most Iraqis working in the Green Zone knew someone who died in the explosion, which incinerated twenty-five people. Ali was hit by the blowback but was otherwise uninjured; two months later, he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt while driving to work. Throughout 2004, the murder of interpreters and other Iraqi employees became increasingly commonplace. Seven of Ali’s friends who worked with the U.S. military were killed, which prompted him to leave the Army and take a job at the Embassy.

In Mosul, insurgents circulated a DVD showing the decapitations of two military interpreters. American soldiers stationed there expressed sympathy to their Iraqi employees, but, one interpreter told me, there was “no real reaction”: no offer of protection, in the form of a weapons permit or a place to live on base. He said, “The soldiers I worked with were friends and they felt sorry for us—they were good people—but they couldn’t help. The people above them didn’t care. Or maybe the people above them didn’t care.” This story repeated itself across the country: Iraqi employees of the U.S. military began to be kidnapped and killed in large numbers, and there was essentially no American response. Titan Corporation, of Chantilly, Virginia, which until December held the Pentagon contract for employing interpreters in Iraq, was notorious among Iraqis for mistreating its foreign staff. I spoke with an interpreter who was injured in a roadside explosion; Titan refused to compensate him for the time he spent recovering from second-degree burns on his hands and feet. An Iraqi woman working at an American base was recognized by someone she had known in college, who began calling her with death threats. She told me that when she went to the Titan representative for help he responded, “You have two choices: move or quit.” She told him that if she quit and stayed home, her life would be in danger. “That’s not my business,” the representative said. (A Titan spokesperson said, “The safety and welfare of all employees, including, of course, contract workers, is the highest priority.”)

A State Department official in Iraq sent a cable to Washington criticizing the Americans’ “lackadaisical” attitude about helping Iraqi employees relocate. In an e-mail to me, he said, “Most of them have lived secret lives for so long that they are truly a unique ‘homeless’ population in Iraq’s war zone—dependent on us for security and not convinced we will take care of them when we leave.” It’s as if the Americans never imagined that the intimidation and murder of interpreters by other Iraqis would undermine the larger American effort, by destroying the confidence of Iraqis who wanted to give it support. The problem was treated as managerial, not moral or political.

One day in January, 2005, Riyadh Hamid, a Sunni father of six from the Embassy’s political section, was shot to death as he left his house for work. When Firas heard the news at the Embassy, he was deeply shaken: he, Ali, or Ahmed could be next. But he never thought of quitting. “At that time, I believed more in my cause, so if I die for it, let it be,” he said.

Americans and Iraqis at the Embassy collected twenty thousand dollars in private donations for Hamid’s widow. At first, the U.S. government refused to pay workmen’s compensation, because Hamid had been travelling between home and work and was not technically on the job when he was killed. (Eventually, compensation was approved.) A few days after the murder, Robert Ford, the political counsellor, arranged a conversation between Ambassador John Negroponte and the Iraqis from the political section, whom the Ambassador had never met. The Iraqis were escorted into a room in a secure wing of the Embassy’s second floor.

Negroponte had barely expressed his condolences when Firas, Ahmed, and their colleagues pressed him with a single request. They wanted identification that would allow them to enter the Green Zone through the priority lane that Americans with government clearance used, instead of having to wait every morning for an hour or two in a very long line with every other Iraqi who had business in the Green Zone. This line was an easy target for suicide bombers and insurgent lookouts (known in Iraq as alaasa—“chewers”). Iraqis at the Embassy had been making this request for some time, without success. “Our problem is badges,” the Iraqis told the Ambassador.

Negroponte sent for the Embassy’s regional security officer, John Frese. “Here’s the man who is responsible for badges,” Negroponte said, and left.

According to the Iraqis, they asked Frese for green badges, which were a notch below the official blue American badges. These allowed the holder to enter through the priority lane and then be searched inside the gate.

“I can’t give you that,” Frese said.


“Because it says ‘Weapon permit: yes.’ ”

“Change the ‘yes’ to ‘no’ for us.”

Frese’s tone was peremptory: “I can’t do that.”

Ahmed made another suggestion: allow the Iraqis to use their Embassy passes to get into the priority lane. Frese again refused. Ahmed turned to one of his colleagues and said, in Arabic, “We’re blowing into a punctured bag.”

“My top priority is Embassy security, and I won’t jeopardize it, no matter what,” Frese told them, and the Iraqis understood that this security did not extend to them—if anything, they were part of the threat.

After the meeting, a junior American diplomat who had sat through it was on the verge of tears. “This is what always calmed me down,” Firas said. “I saw Americans who understand me, trust me, believe me, love me. This is what always kept my rage under control and kept my hope alive.”

When I recently asked a senior government official in Washington about the badges, he insisted, “They are concerns that have been raised, addressed, and satisfactorily resolved. We acted extremely expeditiously.” In fact, the matter was left unresolved for almost two years, until late 2006, when verbal instructions were given to soldiers at the gates of the Green Zone to let Iraqis with Embassy passes into the priority lane—and even then individual soldiers, among whom there was rapid turnover, often refused to do so.

Americans and Iraqis recalled the meeting as the moment when the Embassy’s local employees began to be disenchanted. If Negroponte had taken an interest, he could have pushed Frese to change the badges. But a diplomat doesn’t rise to Negroponte’s stature by busying himself with small-bore details, and without his directive the rest of the bureaucracy wouldn’t budge.

In Baghdad, the regional security officer had unusual power: to investigate staff members, to revoke clearances, to block diplomats’ trips outside the Green Zone. The word “security” was ubiquitous—a “magical word,” one Iraqi said, that could justify anything. “Saying no to the regional security officer is a dangerous thing,” according to a second former Embassy official, who occasionally did say no in order to be able to carry out his job. “You’re taking a lot of responsibility on yourself.” Although Iraqi employees had been vetted with background checks and took regular lie-detector tests, a permanent shadow of suspicion lay over them because they lived outside the Green Zone. Firas once attended a briefing at which the regional security officer told newly arrived Americans that no Iraqi could be trusted.

The reminders were constant. Iraqi staff members were not allowed into the gym or the food court near the Embassy. Banned from the military PX, they had to ask an American supervisor to buy them a pair of sunglasses or underwear. These petty humiliations were compounded by security officers who easily crossed the line between vigilance and bullying.

One day in late 2004, Laith, who had never given up hope of working for the American Embassy, did well on an interview in the Green Zone and was called to undergo a polygraph. After he was hooked up to the machine, the questions began: Have you ever lied to your family? Do you know any insurgents? At some point, he thought too hard about his answer; when the test was over, the technician called in a security officer and shouted at Laith: “Do you think you can fuck with the United States? Who sent you here?” Laith was hustled out to the gate, where the technician promised to tell his employers at the National Endowment for Democracy to fire him.

“That was the first time I hated the Americans,” Laith said.


In January, 2005, Kirk Johnson, a twenty-four-year-old from Illinois, arrived in Baghdad as an information officer with the United States Agency for International Development. He came from a patriotic family that believed in public service; his father was a lawyer whose chance at an open seat in Congress, in 1986, was blocked when the state Republican Party chose a former wrestling coach named Dennis Hastert to run instead. Johnson, an Arabic speaker, was studying Islamist thought as a Fulbright scholar in Cairo when the war began; when he arrived in Baghdad, he became one of U.S.A.I.D.’s few Arabic-speaking Americans in Iraq.

Johnson, who is rangy, earnest, and baby-faced, thought that he was going to help America rebuild Iraq, in a mission that was his generation’s calling. Instead, he found a “narcotic” atmosphere in the Green Zone. Surprisingly few Americans ever ventured outside its gates. A short drive from the Embassy, at the Blue Star Café—famous for its chicken fillet and fries—contractors could be seen, in golf shirts, khakis, and baseball caps, enjoying a leisurely lunch, their Department of Defense badges draped around their necks. At such moments, it was hard not to have uncharitable thoughts about the war—that Americans today aren’t equipped for something of this magnitude. Iraq is that rare war in which people put on weight. An Iraqi woman at the Embassy who had seen many Americans come and go—and revered a few of them—declared that seventy per cent of them were “useless, crippled,” avoiding debt back home or escaping a bad marriage. I met an American official who, during one year, left the Green Zone less than half a dozen times; unlike many of his colleagues, he understood this to be a problem.

The deeper the Americans dug themselves into the bunker, the harder they tried to create a sense of normalcy, resulting in what Johnson called “a bizarre arena of paperwork and booze.” There were karaoke nights and volleyball leagues, the Baghdad Regatta, and “Country Night—One Howdy-Doody Good Time.” Halliburton, the defense contractor, hosted a Middle Eastern Night. The cubicles in U.S.A.I.D.’s new Baghdad office building, Johnson discovered, were exactly the same as the cubicles at its headquarters in Washington. The more chaotic Iraq became, the more the Americans resorted to bureaucratic gestures of control. The fact that it took five signatures to get Adobe Acrobat installed on a computer was strangely comforting.

Johnson learned that Iraqis were third-class citizens in the Green Zone, after Americans and other foreigners. For a time, Americans were ordered to wear body armor while outdoors; when Johnson found out that Iraqi staff members hadn’t been provided with any, he couldn’t bear to wear his own around them. Superiors eventually ordered him to do so. “If you’re still properly calibrated, it can be a shameful sort of existence there,” Johnson said. “It takes a certain amount of self-delusion not to be brought down by it.”

In October, 2004, two bombs killed four Americans and two Iraqis at a café and a shopping center inside the Green Zone, fuelling the suspicion that there were enemies within. The Iraqi employees became perceived as part of an undifferentiated menace. They also induced a deeper, more elusive form of paranoia. As Johnson put it, “Not that we thought they’d do us bodily harm, but they represented the reality beyond those blast walls. You keep your distance from these Iraqis, because if you get close you start to discover it’s absolute bullshit—the lives of people in Baghdad aren’t safer, in spite of our trend lines or ginned-up reports by contractors that tell you everything is going great.”

After eight months in the Green Zone, Johnson felt that the impulse which had originally made him volunteer to work in Iraq was dying. He got a transfer to Falluja, to work on the front lines of the insurgency.

The Iraqis who saw both sides of the Green Zone gates had to be as alert as prey in a jungle of predators. Ahmed, the Kurdish Shiite, had the job of reporting on Shia issues, and his feel for the mood in Sadr City was crucial to the political section. When a low-flying American helicopter tore a Shia religious flag off a radio tower, Ahmed immediately picked up on rumors, started by the Mahdi Army, that Americans were targeting Shia worshippers. His job required him to seek contact with members of Shiite militias, who sometimes reacted to him with suspicion. He once went to a council meeting near Sadr City that had been called to arrange a truce between the Americans and the Mahdi Army so that garbage could be cleared from the streets. A council member confronted Ahmed, demanding to know who he was. Ahmed responded, “I’m from a Korean organization. They sent me to find out what solution you guys come up with. Then we’re ready to fund the cleanup.” At another meeting, he identified himself as a correspondent from an Iraqi television network. No one outside his immediate family knew where he worked.

Ahmed took two taxis to the Green Zone, then walked the last few hundred yards, or drove a different route every day. He carried a decoy phone and hid his Embassy phone in his car. He had always loved the idea of wearing a jacket and tie in an official job, but he had to keep them in his office at the Embassy—it was impossible to drive to work dressed like that. Ahmed and the other Iraqis entered code names for friends and colleagues into their phones, in case they were kidnapped. Whenever they got a call in public from an American contact, they answered in Arabic and immediately hung up. They communicated mostly by text message. They never spoke English in front of their children. One Iraqi employee slept in his car in the Green Zone parking lot for several nights, because it was too dangerous to go home.

Baghdad, which has six million residents, at least provided the cover of anonymity. In a small Shia city in the south, no one knew that a twenty-six-year-old Shiite named Hussein was working for the Americans. “I lie and lie and lie,” he said. He acted as a go-between, carrying information between the U.S. outpost, the local government, the Shia clergy, and the radical Sadrists. The Americans would send him to a meeting of clerics with a question, such as whether Iranian influence was fomenting violence. Instead of giving a direct answer, the clerics would demand to know why thousands of American soldiers were unable to protect Shia travellers on a ten-kilometre stretch of road. Hussein would take this back to the Americans and receive a “yes-slash-no kind of answer: We will take it up, we’ll get back to them soon—the soon becomes never.” In this way, he was privy to both sides of the deepening mutual disenchantment. The fact that he had no contact with Sunnis did not make Hussein feel any safer: by 2004, Shia militias were also targeting Iraqis who worked with Americans.

As a youth, Hussein was an overweight misfit obsessed with Second World War documentaries, and now he felt grateful to the Americans for freeing him from Saddam’s tyranny. He also took a certain pride and pleasure in carrying off his risky job. “I’m James Bond, without the nice lady or the famous gadgets,” he said. He worked out of a series of rented rooms, seldom going out in public, relying on his cell phone and his laptop, keeping a small “runaway bag” with him in case he needed to leave quickly (a neighbor once informed him that some strangers had asked who lived there, and Hussein moved out the same day). Every few days, he brought his laundry to his parents’ house. He stopped seeing friends, and his life winnowed down to his work. “You have to live two separate lives, one visible and the other one invisible,” Hussein told me when we spoke in Erbil. (He insisted on meeting in Kurdistan, because there was nowhere else in Iraq that he felt safe being seen with me.) “You have to always be aware of the car behind you. When you want to park, you make sure that the car passes you. You’re always afraid of a person staring at you in an abnormal way.”

He received three threats. The first was graffiti written across his door, the second a note left outside his house. Both said, “Leave your job or we’ll kill you.” The third came in December, after American soldiers killed a local militia leader who had been one of Hussein’s most important contacts. A friend approached Hussein and conveyed an anonymous warning: “You better not have anything to do with this event. If you do, you’ll have to take the consequences.” Since Hussein was known to have interpreted for American soldiers at the start of the war, he said, his name had long been on the Mahdi Army’s blacklist. It was not just frightening but also embarrassing to be a suspect in the militia leader’s death; it undermined Hussein in the eyes of his carefully cultivated contacts. “The stamp that comes to you will never go—you will stay a spy,” he said.

He informed his American supervisor, as he had after the previous two threats. And the reply was the same: lie low, take a leave with pay. Hussein had warm feelings for his supervisor, but he wanted a transfer to another country in the Middle East or a scholarship offer to the U.S.—some tangible sign that his safety mattered to them. None was forthcoming. Once, in April, 2004, when the Mahdi Army had overrun Coalition posts all over southern Iraq, he had asked to be evacuated along with the Americans and was refused; his pride wouldn’t let him ask again. Soon after Hussein received his third threat, his supervisor left Iraq.

“You are now belonging to no side,” Hussein said.

In June, 2006, with kidnappings and sectarian killings out of control in Baghdad, the number of Iraqis working in the Embassy’s public-affairs section dropped from nine to four; most of those who quit fled the country. The Americans began to replace them with Jordanians. The switch was deeply unpopular with the remaining Iraqis, who understood that it involved the fundamental issue of trust: Jordanians could be housed in the Green Zone without fear (Iraqis could secure temporary housing for only a limited time); Jordanians were issued badges that allowed them into the Embassy without being searched; they weren’t subject to threat and blackmail, because they lived inside the Green Zone. In every way, Jordanians were easier to deal with. But they also knew nothing about Iraq. One former Embassy official, who considered the new policy absurd, lamented that a Jordanian couldn’t possibly understand that the term “February 8th mustache,” say, referred to the 1963 Baathist coup.

In the past year, the U.S. government has lost a quarter of its two hundred and six Iraqi employees, and many have been replaced by Jordanians. Not long ago, the U.S. began training citizens of the Republic of Georgia to fill the jobs of Iraqis in Baghdad. “I don’t know why it’s better to have these people flown into Iraq and secure them in the Green Zone,” a State Department official said. “Why wouldn’t we bring Iraqis into the Green Zone and give them housing and secure them?” He added, “We’re depriving people of jobs and we’re getting them whacked. It’s not a pretty picture.”

On June 6th, amid the exodus of Iraqis from the public-affairs section, an Embassy official sent a six-page cable to Washington whose subject line read “Public Affairs Staff Show Strains of Social Discord.” The cable described the nightmarish lives of the section’s Iraqi employees and the sectarian tensions rising among them. It was an astonishingly candid report, perhaps aimed at forcing the State Department to confront the growing disaster. The cable was leaked to the Washington Post and briefly became a political liability. One sentence has stuck in my mind: “A few staff members approached us to ask what provisions we would make for them if we evacuate.”

I went to Baghdad in January partly because I wanted to find an answer to this question. Were there contingency plans for Iraqis, and, if so, whom did they include, and would the Iraqis have to wait for a final American departure? Would any Iraqis be evacuated to the U.S.? No one at the Embassy was willing to speak on the record about Iraqi staff, except an official spokesman, Lou Fintor, who read me a statement: “Like all residents of Baghdad, our local employees must attempt to maintain their daily routines despite the disruptions caused by terrorists, extremists, and criminals. The new Iraqi government is taking steps to improve the security situation and essential services in Baghdad. The Iraq security forces, in coördination with coalition forces, are now engaged in a wide-range effort to stabilize the security situation in Baghdad. . . . President Bush strongly reaffirmed our commitment to work with the government of Iraq to answer the needs of all Iraqis.”

I was granted an interview with two officials, who refused to be named. One of them consulted talking points that catalogued what the Embassy had done for Iraqi employees: a Thanksgiving dinner, a recent thirty-five-per-cent salary increase. Housing in the Green Zone could be made available for a week at a time in critical cases, I was told, though most Iraqis didn’t want to be apart from their families. When I asked about contingency plans for evacuation, the second official refused to discuss it on security grounds, but he said, “If we reach that point and have people in danger, the Ambassador would go to the Secretary of State and ask that they be evacuated, and I think they would do it.” The department was reviewing the possibility of issuing special immigrant visas.

To receive this briefing, I had passed through three security doors into the Embassy’s classified section, where there were no Iraqis and no natural light; it seemed as if every molecule of Baghdad air had been sealed off behind the last security door. The Embassy officials struck me as decent, overworked people, yet I left the interview with a feeling of shame. The problem lay not with the individuals but with the institution and, beyond that, with the politics of the American project in Iraq, which from the beginning has been conducted under the illusion that controlling the message mattered more than the reality. A former official at the Embassy told me, “When we say that the corridors of power are insulated, is it that the officials aren’t receiving the information, or is it because the construct under which they’re operating doesn’t even allow them to absorb it?” To admit that Iraqis who work with Americans need to be evacuated would blow a hole in the Administration’s version of the war.

Several days after the interview at the Embassy, I had a more frank conversation with an official there. “I don’t know if it’s fair to say, ‘You work at an embassy of a foreign country, so that country has to evacuate you,’ ” he said. “Do the Australians have a plan? Do the Romanians? The Turks? The British?” He added, “If I worked at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, would the Hungarians evacuate me from the United States?”

When I mentioned these remarks to Othman, he asked, “Would the Americans behead an American working at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington?”


In the summer of 2006, Iraqis were fleeing the country at the rate of forty thousand per month. The educated middle class of Baghdad was decamping to Jordan and Syria, taking with them the skills and the more secular ideas necessary for rebuilding a destroyed society, leaving the city to the religious militias—eastern Baghdad was controlled by the poor and increasingly radical Shia, the western districts dominated by Sunni insurgents. House by house, the capital was being ethnically cleansed.

By that time, Firas, Ali, and Ahmed had been working with the Americans for several years. Their commitment and loyalty were beyond doubt. Just going to work in the morning required an extraordinary ability to disregard danger. Panic, Firas realized, could trap you: when the threat came, you felt you were a dead man no matter where you turned, and your mind froze and you sat at home waiting for them to come for you. In order to function, Firas simply blocked out the fear. “My friends at work became the only friends I have,” he said. “My entertainment is at work, my pleasure is at work, everything is at work.” Firas and his friends never imagined that the decision to leave Iraq would be forced on them not by the violence beyond the Green Zone but from within the Embassy itself.

After the bombing of the gold-domed Shia mosque in Samarra that February, Sadr City had become the base for the Mahdi Army’s roving death squads. Ahmed’s neighborhood fell under their complete control, and his drive to work took him through numerous unfriendly—and thorough—militia checkpoints. Strangers began to ask about him. A falafel vender in Sadr City whose stall was often surrounded by Mahdi Army alaasa warned Ahmed that his name had come up. On two occasions, people he scarcely knew approached him and expressed concern about his well-being. One evening, an American official named Oliver Moss, with whom Ahmed was close, walked him out of the Embassy to the parking lot and said, “Ahmed, I know you work for us, but if something happens to you we won’t be able to do anything for you.” Ahmed asked for a cot in a Green Zone trailer and was given the yes/no answer—equal parts personal sympathy and bureaucratic delay—which sometimes felt worse than a flat refusal. The chaos in Baghdad had created a landgrab for Green Zone accommodations, and the Iraqi government was distributing coveted apartments to friends of the political parties while evicting Iraqis who worked with the Americans. The interpreters were distrusted and despised even by officials of the new government that the Americans had helped bring to power.

In April, a Shiite member of the parliament asked Ahmed to look into the status of a Mahdi Army member who had been detained by the Americans. Iraqis at the Embassy sometimes used their office to do small favors for their compatriots; such gestures reminded them that they were serving Iraq as well as America. But Ahmed sent his inquiry through the wrong channel. His supervisor was on leave in the U.S., and so he sent an e-mail to a reserve colonel in the political section. The colonel refused to provide him with any information, and a couple of weeks later, in May, Ahmed was summoned to talk to an agent from the regional security office.

To the Iraqis, a summons of this type was frightening. Ahmed and his friends had seen several colleagues report to the regional security office and never appear at their desks again, with no explanation; one had been turned over to the Iraqi police and was jailed for several weeks. “Don’t go. They’re going to arrest you,” Ali told Ahmed. “Just quit. It’s not worth it.” Ahmed did not listen.

The agent, Barry Hale, who carried a Glock pistol, questioned Ahmed for an hour about his contacts with Sadrists. The notion that Ahmed’s job required him to have contact with the Mahdi Army seemed foreign to Hale, as did the need to have well-informed Iraqis in the political section of the Embassy. According to an American official close to the case, Hale had a general distrust of Iraqis and wanted to replace them with Jordanians. Another official spoke of a “paranoia partly founded on ignorance. If Ahmed wanted to hurt an American, he could have done it very easily in the three years he worked with us.”

Robert Ford, the political counsellor, spoke to top officials at the Embassy to insure that Ahmed—whom several Americans described as the best Iraqi employee they had worked with—would be “counselled” but not fired. Everyone assumed that the case was closed. But over the summer, after Ford’s service in Baghdad ended, Hale started to pursue Ahmed again. “It was a witch hunt,” one of the officials said. “They wanted to fire him and they were just looking for a reason. They decided he was a threat.” The irony of his situation was not lost on Ahmed: he was suspected of giving information to a militia that would kill him instantly if they knew where he worked.

In late July, Hale summoned Ahmed again. On Hale’s desk, Ahmed saw a thick file marked “Secret,” next to a pair of steel handcuffs.

“Did you ever get a phone call from the Mahdi Army?” Hale asked.

“I’ll be lucky if I get a phone call from them,” Ahmed replied. “My supervisor will be very happy.”

The interrogation came down to one point: Hale insisted that Ahmed had misled him by saying that the reserve colonel had “never answered” Ahmed’s inquiry, when in fact the colonel had sent back an e-mail asking who had given Ahmed the detainee’s name. Ahmed hadn’t considered this an answer to his question about the detainee’s status, and therefore hadn’t mentioned it to Hale. This was his undoing.

When Ahmed returned to his desk, Firas and Ali embraced him and congratulated him on escaping detention. Meanwhile, lower-ranking Embassy officials began frantically calling and e-mailing colleagues in Washington, some of whom tried to intervene on Ahmed’s behalf. But by then it was too late. The new Ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his deputy were out of the country, and the official in charge of the Embassy was Ford’s replacement, Margaret Scobey, a new arrival in Baghdad, who had no idea of Ahmed’s value. Firas said of her, “She was really not into the Iraqis in the office.” Some Americans and Iraqis described her as a notetaker for the Ambassador who sent oddly upbeat reports back to Washington. Two days after the second interrogation, Scobey signed off on Ahmed’s termination, and ordered a junior officer named Rebecca Fong to go down to Ahmed’s office and, in front of his tearful American and Iraqi colleagues, fire him.

Ahmed later told an American official, “I think the U.S. is still in a war. I don’t think you’re going to win this war if you don’t win the hearts of your allies.” The State Department refused to discuss the case for reasons of privacy and security.

Ahmed’s firing demoralized Americans and Iraqis alike. Fong transferred out of the political section. For Firas, it meant that, no matter how long he worked with the Americans and how many risks he took, he, too, would ultimately be discarded. He began to tell himself, “My turn is coming, my turn is coming”—a perverse echo of his mantra before the fall of Saddam. The Iraqis now felt that, as Ali said, “Heaven doesn’t want us and Hell doesn’t want us. Where will we go?” If the Americans were turning against them, they had no friends at all.

Three days after Ahmed’s departure, Scobey appeared in the Iraqis’ office to say that she was sorry but there was nothing she could have done for Ahmed. Firas listened in disgust before bursting out, “All the sacrifices, all the work, all the devotion mean nothing to you. We are still terrorists in your eyes.” When, a month later, Khalilzad met with a large group of Iraqi employees to hear their concerns, Firas attended reluctantly. After the Iraqis raised the possibility of immigrant visas to the U.S., Khalilzad said, “We want the good Iraqi people to stay in the country.” An Iraqi replied, “If we’re still alive.” Firas, speaking last, told the Ambassador, “We are tense all the time, we don’t know what we are doing, right or wrong. Some Iraqis are more afraid in the Embassy than in the Red Zone”—that is, Baghdad. There was a ripple of laughter among the Iraqis, and Khalilzad couldn’t suppress a smile.

At this point, Firas knew that he would leave Iraq. Through the efforts of Rebecca Fong and Oliver Moss—who pulled strings with counterparts in European embassies in Baghdad—Ahmed, Firas, and Ali obtained visas to Europe. By November, they were gone.


On the morning of October 13th, an Iraqi official with U.S.A.I.D. named Yaghdan left his house in western Baghdad, in search of fuel for his generator. He saw a scrap of paper lying by the garage door. It was a torn sheet of copybook paper—the kind that his agency distributed to schools around Iraq, with date and subject lines printed in English and Arabic. The paper bore a message, in Arabic: “We will cut off heads and throw them in the garbage.” Nearby, against the garden fence, lay the severed upper half of a small dog.

Yaghdan (who wanted his real name used) was a mild, conscientious thirty-year-old from a family of struggling businessmen. Since taking a job with the Americans, in 2003, he had been so cautious that, at first, he couldn’t imagine how his cover had been blown. Then he remembered: Two weeks earlier, as he was showing his badge at the bridge offering entry into the Green Zone, Yaghdan had noticed a man from his neighborhood standing in the same line, watching him. The neighbor worked as a special guard with a Shia militia and must have been the alaas who betrayed him.

Yaghdan’s request for a transfer to a post outside the country was never answered. Instead, U.S.A.I.D. offered him a month’s leave with pay or residence for six months in the agency compound in the Green Zone, which would have meant a long separation from his young wife. Yaghdan said, “I thought, I should not be selfish and put myself as a priority. It wasn’t a happy decision.” Within a week of the threat, Yaghdan and his wife flew to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

Yaghdan sent his résumé to several companies in Dubai, highlighting his years of service with an American contractor and U.S.A.I.D. He got a call from a legal office that needed an administrative assistant. “Did you work in the U.S.?” the interviewer asked him. Yaghdan said that his work had been in Iraq. “Oh, in Iraq . . .” He could feel the interviewer pulling back. A man at another office said, “Oh, you worked against Saddam? You betrayed Saddam? The American people are stealing Iraq.” Yaghdan, who is not given to bitterness, finally lost his cool: “No, the Arab people are stealing Iraq!” He didn’t get the job. He was amazed—even in cosmopolitan Dubai, people loved Saddam, especially after his botched execution, in late December. Yaghdan’s résumé was an encumbrance. Iraqis were considered bad Arabs, and Iraqis who worked with the Americans were traitors. The slogans and illusions of Arab nationalism, which had seemed to collapse with the regime of Saddam, were being given a second life by the American failure in Iraq. What hurt Yaghdan most was the looks that said, “You trusted the Americans—and see what happened to you.”

Yaghdan then contacted many American companies, thinking that they, at least, would look favorably on his service. He wasn’t granted a single interview. The only work he could find was as a gofer in the office of a Dubai cleaning company.

Yaghdan’s Emirates visa expired in mid-January, and he had to leave the country and renew the visa in Amman. I met him there. The Jordanians had been turning away young Iraqis at the border and the airport for several months, but they issued Yaghdan and his wife three-day visas, after which they had to pay a daily fine, on top of hotel bills. After a week’s delay, the visas came through, but, upon returning to Dubai, Yaghdan learned that the Emirates would no longer extend the visas of Iraqis. A job offer as an administrative assistant came from a university in Qatar, but the Qataris wouldn’t grant him a visa without a security clearance from the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, which was in the hands of the Shia party whose militia had sent him the death threat. He couldn’t even become a refugee, which would have given him some protection against deportation, because the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had closed its Emirates office years ago. Yaghdan had heard that the only way to get a U.S. visa was through a job offer—nearly impossible to obtain—or by marrying an American, so he didn’t bother to try. He had reached the end of his legal options and would have to return to Iraq by April 1st. “It’s like taking the decision to commit suicide,” he said.

While Yaghdan was in Dubai, news of his dilemma made its way through the U.S.A.I.D. grapevine to Kirk Johnson, the young Arabic speaker who had asked to be transferred to Falluja. By then, Johnson’s life had been turned upside down as well.

In Falluja, Johnson had supervised Iraqis who were clearing out blocked irrigation canals along the Euphrates River. His job was dangerous and seldom rewarding, but it gave him the sense of purpose that he had sought in Iraq. Determined to experience as much as possible, he went out several times a week in a Marine convoy to meet tribal sheikhs and local officials. As he rode through Falluja’s lethal streets, Johnson eyed every bag of trash and parked car for hidden bombs, and practiced swatting away imaginary grenades. After a local sniper shot several marines, Johnson’s anxiety rose even higher.

In December, 2005, after twelve exhausting months in Iraq, during which he lost forty pounds, Johnson went on leave and met his parents for a Christmas vacation in the Dominican Republic. In the middle of the night, Johnson rose unconscious from his hotel bed and climbed onto a ledge outside the second-floor window. A night watchman noticed him staring at an unfinished concrete apartment complex across the road. The night before, the sight of the building had triggered his fear of the sniper, and he had instinctively dropped to the floor of his room. Standing on the ledge, he shouted something and then fell fifteen feet.

Johnson tore open his jaw and forehead and broke his nose, teeth, and wrists. He required numerous surgeries on his shattered face, and stayed in the hospital for several weeks. But it was much longer before he could accept that he would not rejoin the marines and Iraqis he had left in Falluja. There were rumors in Iraq that he had been drunk and was trying to avoid returning. Back home in Illinois, healing in his childhood bed, he dreamed every night that he was in Iraq, unable to save people, or else in mortal peril himself.

In January, 2006, Paul Bremer came through Chicago to promote his book, “My Year in Iraq.” Johnson sat in one of the front rows, ready to challenge Bremer’s upbeat version of the reconstruction, but during the question period Bremer avoided the young man with the bandaged face who was frantically waving his arms, which were still in casts.

Johnson moved to Boston, but he kept thinking about his failure to return to Iraq. One day, he heard the news about Yaghdan, whom he had known in Baghdad, and that night he barely slept. It suddenly occurred to him that this was an injustice he could address. He could send money; he could alert journalists and politicians. He wrote a detailed account of Yaghdan’s situation situation and sent it to his congressman, Dennis Hastert. But Hastert’s office, which was reeling from the Mark Foley scandal and the midterm elections, told Johnson that it could not help Yaghdan. Johnson wrote an op-ed article calling for asylum for Yaghdan and others like him, and on December 15th it ran in the Los Angeles Times. A U.S.A.I.D. official in Baghdad sent it around to colleagues. Then Johnson began to hear from Iraqis.

First, it was people he knew—former colleagues in desperate circumstances like Yaghdan’s. Iraqis forwarded his article to other Iraqis, and he started to compile a list of names; by January he was getting e-mails from strangers with subject lines like “Can you help me Please?” and “I want to be on the list.” An Iraqi woman who had worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority attached a letter of recommendation written in 2003 by Bernard Kerik, then Iraq’s acting Minister of the Interior. It proclaimed, “Your courage to support the Coalition forces has sent home an irrefutable message: that terror will not rule, that liberty will triumph, and that the seeds of freedom will be planted into the hearts of the great citizens of Iraq.” The woman was now a refugee in Amman.

A former U.S.A.I.D. procurement agent named Ibrahim wrote that he was stranded in Egypt after having paid traffickers twelve thousand dollars to smuggle him from Baghdad to Dubai to Mumbai to Alexandria, with the goal of reaching Europe. When the Egyptian police figured out the scheme, Ibrahim took shelter in a friend’s flat in a Cairo slum. The Egyptians, wary of a popular backlash against rising Shia influence in the Middle East, were denying Iraqis legal status there. Ibrahim didn’t know where to go next: in addition to his immigration troubles, he had an untreated brain tumor.

By the first week of February, Johnson’s list had grown to more than a hundred names. Working tirelessly, he had found a way to channel his desire to do something for Iraq. He assembled the information on a spreadsheet, and on February 5th he took it with him on a bus to Washington—along with Yaghdan’s threat letter and a picture of the severed dog.

Toward the end of January, I travelled to Damascus. Iraqis were tolerated by Syria, which opened its doors in the name of Arab brotherhood. Yet Syria offered them no prospect of earning a living: few Iraqis could get work permits.

About a million Iraqis were now in Syria. Every morning that I visited, there were long lines outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in central Damascus. Forty-five thousand Iraqis had officially registered as refugees, and more were signing up every day, amid reports that the Syrian regime was about to tighten its visa policy and had begun turning people back at the border.

One chilly night, I went to Sayyida Zainab, a neighborhood centered around the shrine of the sister of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet and the central martyr of Shiism. This had become an Iraqi Shia district, and on the main street were butcher shops and kebab stands that reminded me of commercial streets in Baghdad. There were pictures of Shia martyrs, and also of Moqtada al-Sadr, outside the real-estate offices, some of which, I was told, were fronts for brothels. (Large numbers of Iraqi women make their living in Syria as prostitutes.) Shortly before midnight, buses from Baghdad began to pull into a parking lot where boys were still up, playing soccer. One bus had a shattered windshield from gunfire at the start of its journey. A minibus driver told me that the trip took fourteen hours, including a long wait at the border, and that the road through Iraq was menaced by insurgents, criminal gangs, and American patrols. And yet some Iraqis who had run out of money in Damascus hired the driver to take them back to Baghdad the same night. “No one is left there,” he said. “Only those who are too poor to leave, and those with a bad omen on their heads, who will be killed in one of three ways—kidnapping, car bomb, or militias.”

In another Damascus neighborhood, I met a family of four that had just arrived from Baghdad after receiving a warning from insurgents to abandon their house. They had settled in a three-room apartment and were huddled around a kerosene heater. They were middle-class people who had left almost everything behind—the mother had sold her gold and jewelry to pay for plane tickets to Damascus—and the son and daughter hadn’t been able to finish school. The daughter, Zamzam, was seventeen, and in the past few months she had been seeing corpses in the streets on her way to school, some of them eaten by dogs because no one dared to take them away. On days when there was fighting in her neighborhood, Zamzam said, walking to school felt like a death wish. Her laptop computer had a picture of an American flag as its screen saver, but it also had recordings of insurgent ballads in praise of a famous Baghdad sniper. She was an energetic, ambitious girl, but her dark eyes had the haunted look of a much older woman.

I spent a couple of hours walking with the family around the souk and the grand Umayyad Mosque in the old city center. The parents strolled arm in arm—enjoying, they said, a ritual that had been impossible in Baghdad for the past two years. I left them outside a theatre where a comedy featuring an all-Iraqi cast was playing to packed houses of refugees. The play was called “Homesick.”

In the past few months, Western and Arab governments announced that they would no longer honor Iraqi passports issued after the 2003 invasion, since the passport had been so shoddily produced that it was subject to widespread forgery. This was the first passport many Iraqis had ever owned, and it was now worthless. Iraqis with Saddam-era passports were also out of luck, because the Iraqi government had cancelled them. A new series of passports was being printed, but the Ministry of the Interior had ordered only around twenty thousand copies, an Iraqi official told me, far too few to meet the need—which meant that obtaining a valid passport, like buying gas or heating oil, would become subject to black-market influences. In Baghdad, Othman told me that a new passport would cost him six hundred dollars, paid to a fixer with connections at the passport offices. The Ministry of the Interior refused to allow Iraqi Embassies to print the new series, so refugees outside Iraq who needed valid passports would have to return to the country they had fled or pay someone a thousand dollars to do it for them.

Between October, 2005, and September, 2006, the United States admitted two hundred and two Iraqis as refugees, most of them from the years under Saddam. Last year, the Bush Administration increased the allotment to five hundred. By the end of 2006, there were almost two million Iraqis living as refugees outside their country—most of them in Syria and Jordan. American policy held that these Iraqis were not refugees, that they would go back to their country as soon as it was stabilized. The U.S. Embassies in Damascus and Amman continued to turn down almost all visa applications from Iraqis. So the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world remained hidden, receiving little attention other than in a few reports from organizations like Human Rights Watch and Refugees International.

Then, in early January, U.N.H.C.R. sent out an appeal for sixty million dollars for the support and eventual resettlement of Iraqi refugees. On January 16th, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on refugees, chaired by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, of Massachusetts, held hearings on Iraqi refugees, with a special focus on Iraqis who had worked for the U.S. government. Pressure in Congress and the media began to build, and the Administration scrambled to respond. When an Iraqi employee of the Embassy was killed on January 11th, and one from U.S.A.I.D. on February 14th, statements of condolence were sent out by Ambassador Khalilzad and the chief administrator of U.S.A.I.D.—gestures that few could remember happening before.

In early February, the State Department announced the formation of a task force to deal with the problem of Iraqi refugees. A colleague of Kirk Johnson’s at U.S.A.I.D., who had been skeptical that Johnson’s efforts would achieve anything, wrote to him, “Interesting what a snowball rolled down a hill can cause. This is your baby. Good going.” On February 14th, at a press conference at the State Department, members of the task force declared a new policy: the United States would fund eighteen million dollars of the U.N.H.C.R. appeal, and it would “plan to process expeditiously some seven thousand Iraqi refugee referrals,” which meant that two or three thousand Iraqis might be admitted to the U.S. by the end of the fiscal year. Finally, the Administration would seek legislation to create a special immigrant visa for Iraqis who had worked for the U.S. Embassy.

During the briefing, Ellen Sauerbrey, the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, insisted, “There was really nothing that was indicating there was any significant issue in terms of outflow until—I would say the first real indication began to reach us three or four months ago.” Speaking of Iraqi employees, she added, “The numbers of those that have actually been seeking either movement out of the country or requesting assistance have been—our own Embassy has said it is a very small number.” Sauerbrey put it at less than fifty.

The excuses were unconvincing, but the stirrings of action were encouraging. When Johnson, wearing the only suit he owned, took his list to Washington and dropped it off at the State Department and the U.N.H.C.R. office, the response was welcoming. But he pressed officials for details on the fates of specific individuals: Would Yaghdan be able to register as a refugee in Dubai, where there was no U.N.H.C.R. office, before he was forced to go back to Iraq? How could Ibrahim, trapped in Egypt without legal travel documents, qualify for a visa before his brain tumor killed him? Would Iraqis who had paid ransom to kidnappers be barred entry under the “material support” clause of the Patriot Act? (One Embassy employee already had been.) How would Iraqis who had no Kirk Johnson to help them—the military interpreters, the Embassy staff, the contractors, the drivers—be able to sign up as refugees or candidates for special immigrant visas? Would the U.S. government seek them out? Would they have to flee the country and find a U.N.H.C.R. office first?

Thanks in part to Johnson’s list, Washington was paying attention. Privately, though, a former U.S.A.I.D. colleague told Johnson that his actions would send the message “that it’s game over” in Iraq, and America would end up with a million and a half asylum seekers. Johnson feared that the ingrained habit of giving yes/no answers might lower the pressure without solving the problem. His list kept growing after he had delivered it to the U.S. government, and the desperation of those already on it grew as well. By mid-March, Iraqis on the list still had no mechanism for applying to immigrate. According to the State Department, a humanitarian visa for Ibrahim would take up to six months. And Yaghdan’s situation was just as dire now as it was when Johnson had written his op-ed. “No matter what is said by the Administration, if Yaghdan isn’t being helped, then the government is not responding,” Johnson told me.

For him, it was a simple matter. “This is the brink right now, where our partners over there are running for their lives,” he said. “I defy anyone to give me the counter-argument for why we shouldn’t let these people in.” He quoted something that President Gerald Ford once said about his decision to admit a hundred and thirty thousand Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon: “To do less would have added moral shame to humiliation.”


In 2005, Al Jazeera aired a typically heavy-handed piece about the American evacuation from Saigon, in April, 1975, rebroadcasting the famous footage of children and old people being pushed back by marines from the Embassy gates, and kicked or punched as they tried to climb onto helicopters. The message for Iraqis working with Americans was clear, and when some of those who worked at U.S.A.I.D. saw the program they were horrified. The next day at work, a small group of them met to talk about it. “Al Jazeera has their own propaganda. Don’t believe it,” said Ibrahim, the Iraqi who is now hiding out in Cairo.

Hussein, the go-between in southern Iraq, had also begun to think about Vietnam. He had heard that America had left the Vietnamese behind, but he couldn’t believe that the same thing would happen in Iraq. “We might be given a good chance to leave with them,” he said. “I think about that, because history is telling me that they always have a moral obligation.” To Hussein, the obligation was mutual, because he still felt indebted to the Americans for his freedom. I asked him what he would do if he found himself abandoned. Hussein thought about it, then said, “If I reach this point, and I am still alive when I see moral obligation taking the incorrect course, I will say, ‘I paid my debt. I am free.’ ”

At the end of the Vietnam War, Frank Snepp was the C.I.A.’s chief analyst at the American Embassy in Saigon. His 1977 book about the last days of the Vietnam War, “Decent Interval,” describes how the willful ignorance and political illusions of top U.S. officials prevented any serious planning for an evacuation of America’s Vietnamese allies. Thousands were left to the mercy of the Communists. The book contains a photograph of the author, thirty-one at the time, standing on the bridge of the U.S.S. Denver in the South China Sea, three days after being evacuated from Saigon by helicopter. He is leaning against the rail, his tan, handsome face drawn taut as he stares slightly downward. Recently, I asked Snepp what he had been thinking when the picture was taken.

“I was overwhelmed with guilt,” he said. “I kept hearing the voices on the C.I.A. radios of our agents in the field, our Vietnamese friends we wouldn’t be able to rescue. And I had to understand how I had been made a party to this. I had been brought up in the Old South, in a chivalric tradition that comes out of the Civil War—you do not abandon your own. And that’s exactly what I had done. It hasn’t left me to this day.”

No conquering enemy army is days away from taking Baghdad; the city is slowly breaking up into smaller, isolated enclaves, and America’s Iraqi allies are being executed one by one. It’s hard to imagine the American presence in Iraq ending with a dramatic helo lift from a Green Zone landing pad. But, in some ways, the unlikelihood of a spectacularly conclusive finale makes the situation of the Iraqis more perilous than that of the South Vietnamese. It’s easier for the U.S. government to leave them to their fate while telling itself that “the good Iraqis” are needed to build the new Iraq.

American institutions in Vietnam were just as unresponsive as they are in Iraq, but, on an individual level, Americans did far more to evacuate their Vietnamese counterparts. In Saigon they had girlfriends, wives, friends, whereas Americans and Iraqis have established only work relationships, which end when the Americans rotate out after six months or a year. In the wide-open atmosphere of Saigon, many officials, including Snepp, broke rules or risked their lives to save people close to them. Americans in Baghdad don’t have such discipline problems. A former Embassy official pointed out that cell phones and e-mail connect officials in Iraq to their bosses there or in Washington around the clock. “When you can always connect, you can always pass the buck,” he said. For all their technology, the Americans in Baghdad know far less about the Iraqis than those in Saigon knew about the Vietnamese. “Intelligence is the first key to empathy,” Snepp said.

I asked Snepp what he would say to Americans in Iraq today. “If they want to keep their conscience clean, they better start making lists of people they must help,” he said. “They should also not be cautious in questioning their superiors, and that’s a very hard thing to do in a rigid environment.”

Richard Armitage, who was Deputy Secretary of State under Colin Powell during the first years of the Iraq war, served as a naval officer in Vietnam. In the last days of that war, he returned as a civilian, on a mission to destroy military assets before they fell into North Vietnamese hands. He arrived too late, and instead turned his energy to the evacuation of South Vietnamese sailors and their families. Armitage led a convoy of barely seaworthy boats, carrying twenty thousand people, a thousand miles across the South China Sea to Manila—the first stop on their journey to the United States.

When I met Armitage recently, at his office in Arlington, Virginia, he was not confident that Iraqis would be similarly resettled. “I guarantee you no one’s thinking about it now, because it’s so fatalistic and you’d be considered sort of a traitor to the President’s policy,” he said. “I don’t see us taking them in this time, because, notwithstanding what we may owe people, you’re not going to bring in large numbers of Arabs to the United States, given the fact that for the last six years the President has scared the pants off the American public with fears of Islamic terrorism.”

Even at this stage of the war, Armitage said, officials at the White House retain an “agnosticism about the size of the problem.” He added, “The President believes so firmly that he is President for just this mission—and there’s something religious about it—that it will succeed, and that kind of permeates. I just take him at his word these days. I think it’s very improbable that he’ll be successful.”

I was in Baghdad when the Administration announced its new security plan—including an effort to stabilize Baghdad with a “surge” of twenty thousand additional troops. I spent a day with Lieutenant Colonel Steven Miska, who commands a small American base surrounded by a large Iraqi one in the old-line Shia district of Kadhimiya. Everywhere we went, Iraqi civilians asked him when the surge would begin. Two dozen men hanging out at a sidewalk tea shop seemed to have the new strategy confused with the Iraq Study Group Report; I took the mix-up to mean that they were desperate for any possible solution. A Shia potentate named Sheikh Muhammad Baqr gave me his version of the new plan over lunch at his house: the Americans were trying to separate the ten per cent of the population that belonged to extremist militias—whether Shia or Sunni—from what he called the “silent majority.” If families evicted from mixed areas could be convinced to return to their homes, and if unemployed young men could be put to work, the plan had a chance of restoring confidence in the Americans. The Sheikh warned, “In six months you will have to see this plan work, or else the Iraqi people will tell the Americans to find another venue.” The Sheikh had even less faith in the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which he called a collection of “sectarian movements” brought to power by American folly. “We don’t need democracy,” he said. “We need General Pinochet in Chile or General Franco in Spain. After they clear the country, we’ll have elections.”

Lieutenant Colonel Miska, for his part, described the security plan as an attempt to get Americans off the big bases and into Iraqi neighborhoods, where they would occupy small combat outposts on the fault lines of sectarian conflicts and, for the first time, make the protection of civilians a central goal. The new plan represented a repudiation of the strategy that the Administration had pursued for the past two years—the handover of responsibility to Iraqi security forces as Americans pulled out of the cities. President Bush had chosen a new commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, who recently oversaw the writing of the Army and Marine Corps’s new counter-insurgency manual. Petraeus has surrounded himself with a brain trust of counter-insurgency experts: Colonel H. R. McMaster, who two years ago executed a nearly identical strategy in the northern city of Tal Afar; Colonel Peter Mansoor; and David Kilcullen, an Australian strategist working at the State Department. Bush named Timothy Carney, a retired ambassador, to be his reconstruction czar in Iraq; Carney had left the Coalition Provisional Authority in disgust after seeing Bremer make mistake after mistake. After four years of displaying resolve while the war was being lost, the President has turned things over to a group of soldiers and civilians who have been steadfast critics of his strategy. It is almost certainly too late.

In Baghdad, among Iraqi civilians and American soldiers, it’s impossible not to want to give the new strategy a try. The alternative, as Iraqis constantly point out, is a much greater catastrophe. “I’m still hoping Bush’s new plan can do something,” Othman told me. In the weeks after the surge was announced, there were anecdotal reports of Shia and Sunni families returning to their homes. But even if this tentative progress continues, three major obstacles remain. The first is the breakdown of U.S. ground forces, in manpower and equipment; it isn’t clear that the strategy can be sustained for more than six months—nowhere near enough time to repair the physical and social destruction of Baghdad.

The second obstacle was described to me by an international official who has spent the past three years in Iraq. “The success of the American strategy is based on a premise that is fundamentally flawed,” he said. “The premise is that the U.S. and Iraqi governments are working toward the same goal. It’s simply not the case.” Shia politicians, the official said, want “to hold on to their majority as long as they can.” Their interest isn’t democracy but power. Meanwhile, Sunni politicians want “to say no to everything,” the official said; the insurgency is politically intractable.

Finally, there is the collapse of political support at home. Most Americans have lost faith in the leadership and conduct of the war, and they want to be rid of it. More important than all the maneuverings in Congress, at the White House, and among the Presidential candidates is the fact that nobody wants to deal with Iraq anymore. The columnist Charles Krauthammer, the most ardent of neoconservative hawks, has found someone to blame for the war’s failure: the Iraqis. He recently wrote, “We midwifed their freedom. They chose civil war.” John Edwards, the Democratic Presidential candidate, is also tired of Iraqis. “We’ve done our part, and now it’s time for them to step up to the plate,” he recently told this magazine. “When they’re doing it to each other, and America’s not there and not fomenting the situation, I think the odds are better of the place stabilizing.” America is pulling away from Iraq in the fitful, irritable manner of someone trying to wake up from an unpleasant sleep. On my last day in Baghdad, I had lunch with an Embassy official, and as we were leaving the restaurant he suddenly said, “Do you think this is all going to seem like a dream? Is it just going to be a fever dream that we’ll wake up from and say, ‘We got into this crazy war, but now it’s over and we never have to think about Iraq again’?” If so, part of our legacy will be thousands of Iraqis who, because they joined the American effort, can no longer live in their own country.

Othman and Laith are still in Baghdad. Earlier this month, Othman spent more than two thousand dollars on passports for his mother, his two younger brothers, and himself. He is hoping to move the family to Syria. Laith wants to find a job in Kurdistan.

Firas, Ali, and Ahmed are now in Sweden. All three of them would have preferred to go to America. Ali had spent his childhood in the United States; Ahmed was fascinated with American politics; Firas never felt more at home than he had on their training trip, listening to jazz in Greenwich Village. Like all Iraqis who worked with Americans, they spoke in American accents, using American idioms. Ahmed delighted in using phrases like “from the horse’s mouth” and “hung out to dry.”

I asked Firas why he hadn’t tried to get a visa to the United States. “And what would I do with it?” he said.

“Ask for asylum.”

“Do you think they would give me an asylum in the U.S.? Never.”


“For the U.S. to give an asylum for an Iraqi, it means they have failed in Iraq.”

This wasn’t entirely true. Recently, Iraqis who made it to America have begun filing petitions for asylum, and, because they undoubtedly face a reasonable fear of harm back home, a few of them have been accepted. A much larger number of Iraqis are still waiting to learn their fates: U.S.A.I.D. employees who jumped ship on training trips to Washington; Fulbright scholars who have been informed by the State Department that they have to go back to Iraq after their two- or three-year scholarships end, even if a job or another degree program is available to them in America. The U.S. government, for which Firas worked for three and a half years, had given him ample reason to believe that he could never become an American. Still, if he had somehow made it here, there is a chance that he could have stayed.

Instead, he is trying to become a Swede. I met him one recent winter morning in Malmö, a city of eighteenth-century storefronts and modern industrial decay at the southern tip of Sweden, just across the Öresund Strait from Copenhagen. He was waiting to hear the result of his asylum petition while living with Ahmed in a refugee apartment block that was rapidly filling up with Iraqis. Since the war began, nearly twenty thousand Iraqis had arrived in the country. Firas was granted asylum in February.

Sweden amazed Firas: the silence of passengers on trains; the intolerance for smoking; the motorists that wait for you to cross the street, as if they were trying to embarrass you with courtesy. When I joked that he would be bored living here, he laughed grimly and said, “Good. I want to be like other people—normal. How long before I can be afraid or shocked? There is nothing that makes me afraid or shocked anymore.”

We walked from the train station to the Turning Torso, a new apartment tower, designed by Santiago Calatrava, that twists ninety degrees on its axis as it rises fifty-four stories into the slate-gray sky, and drank Swedish Pilsners at the Torso Bar and Lounge. When the Americans came to Iraq, four years ago, Firas felt that he could finally begin his life. Now, at thirty-five, he was starting over yet again.

I asked him if he felt betrayed by America.

“I have this nature—I don’t expect a lot from people,” Firas said. “Not betrayed, no, not disappointed. I can never blame the Americans alone. It’s the Iraqis who destroyed their country, with the help of the Americans, under the American eye.” I was about to say that he deserved better, but Firas was lost in thought. “To this moment,” he said, “I dream about America.” ♦

Angelina Jolie to adopt again! Weeks after adopting a Vietnamese child. This time she has chosen a little girl from Chad. This article makes the adoption look as exciting as shopping for colour-coordinated household items.

I am sure Jolie has put a lot of thought into what she is doing but she’s pissed off the gossip mags by favouring People magazine over the other rags with baby photos and has recently come in for a drubbing from the frustrated competition. Angelina, when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.

Women of Color wittily describes the adoption as Jolie’s very own affirmative action here:

Jolie – who recently adopted a 3-year-old Vietnamese boy she renamed Pax Thien -also has a Cambodian son, Maddox, and an Ethiopian daughter, Zahara, plus her biological daughter with Pitt, Shiloh.

“Angelina and Brad want to make sure Zahara doesn’t feel alienated as the only black face in their family,” a source told London’s News of the World. Jolie herself recently said, “Should you balance the races, so there’s another African person in the house for Zahara, after another Asian person in the house for Mad? We think so.”

Jolie reportedly has already picked out a 1-year-old girl from Oure Cassoni in Chad and has her lawyers working on the adoption paperwork. “She is hoping to have her daughter home by the summer,” a source told the British paper.

She’ll be needing one of these… Or maybe not. She has four full-time nannies.

Gallery of the Absurd

Hat tip to Racialicious – my netiquette has been remiss here, not expecting any hits I didn’t (blush) acknowledge the source!

“Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated…
From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
George Walker Bush Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People on September 20, 2001,

What happens when the hostile regime is the United States?

Thanks to ABC for exposing to a mainstream audience US involvement in terrorist organizations operating in Iran. In The Secret War Against Iran we learn that:

A Pakistani tribal militant group responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence sources tell ABC News.

The group, called Jundullah, is made up of members of the Baluchi tribe and operates out of the Baluchistan province in Pakistan, just across the border from Iran. It has taken responsibility for the deaths and kidnappings of more than a dozen Iranian soldiers and officials.

U.S. officials say the U.S. relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the U.S. provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or “finding” as well as congressional oversight.

Tribal sources tell ABC News that money for Jundullah is funneled to its youthful leader, Abd el Malik Regi, through Iranian exiles who have connections with European and Gulf states.

This was suspected for some time but what perfect timing – just when the UK is involved in delicate negotiations with Iran over the captured British servicemen and woman! Update: Of course! It was a good day to bury bad news coming as it did on the cusp of the release of the British servicemen held captive by Iran. Here on a plate is the proof that USUK have been aiding and sponsoring terrorist groups inside Iran, although they will continue to deny it. They have insisted that the are targeting Iranians inside Iraq.

Now we know the truth thanks to Jundallah and the ABC – how very odd that ABC would release this information at this time. In February of this year, the security council strongly condemned the attack and called for those responsible to be brought to justice. “The members of the Security Council reiterated that no cause can justify the use of terrorist violence,” and “They underlined the need to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of this terrorist attack, as with all terrorist attacks. Let’s see whether they have the balls to bring the USUK to the council to answer questions on their involvement and press for sanctions against USUK.

The group is led by Abdulmalak Rigi, a 23 year-old Iranian Baloch (http://www.roozonline.com). It is believed to have emerged on the scene in 2003 and is known for bold attacks against high-profile targets, especially government and security officials. In a May telephone interview with Rooz, an Iranian online newspaper, Rigi defended Jundallah’s use of violence as a just means to defend Baloch and Sunni Muslim interests in Iran and to draw attention to the plight of his people whom he describes as Iran’s poorest and the victims of genocide. Significantly, Rigi declares himself an Iranian and Iran as his home. He also claims not to harbor separatist aspirations. Instead, according to Rigi, Jundallah’s goal is to improve the life of Iranian Baloch (http://www.roozonline.com).

The Telegraph reported in February 2006 that the US was “secretly funding militant ethnic separatist groups in Iran in an attempt to pile pressure on the Islamic regime to give up its nuclear programme.” However, the Financial Times, in the same month detailed how the military wing of the Marines, Marine Corps Intelligence, were conducting research into whether Iran was prone to a violent fragmentation along the same kind of fault lines that were splitting Iraq.

The operations are controversial because they involve dealing with movements that resort to terrorist methods in pursuit of their grievances against the Iranian regime. In the past year there has been a wave of unrest in ethnic minority border areas of Iran, with bombing and assassination campaigns against soldiers and government officials. Such incidents have been carried out by the Kurds in the west, the Azeris in the north-west, the Ahwazi Arabs in the south-west, and the Baluchis in the south-east. Non-Persians make up nearly 40 per cent of Iran’s 69 million population, with around 16 million Azeris, seven million Kurds, five million Ahwazis and one million Baluchis. Most Baluchis live over the border in Pakistan.

The Telegraph article stated that the funding for separatist groups in Iran came directly from the CIA’s classified budget but it was now “no great secret”, according to a former high-ranking CIA official in Washington.

His claims were backed by Fred Burton, a former US state department counter-terrorism agent, who said: “The latest attacks inside Iran fall in line with US efforts to supply and train Iran’s ethnic minorities to destabilise the Iranian regime.”

Scott Ritter warned in June 2005 that the Mujahadeen el-Khalq (MEK) was working exclusively for the CIA’s Directorate of Operations.

It is bitter irony that the CIA is using a group still labelled as a terrorist organisation, a group trained in the art of explosive assassination by the same intelligence units of the former regime of Saddam Hussein, who are slaughtering American soldiers in Iraq today, to carry out remote bombings in Iran of the sort that the Bush administration condemns on a daily basis inside Iraq.

Perhaps the adage of “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” has finally been embraced by the White House, exposing as utter hypocrisy the entire underlying notions governing the ongoing global war on terror.

More images showing German soldiers playing with skulls and bones in Afghanistan have surfaced. The site had been a regular stopping point for patrols. Those who didn’t play along were considered wimps.

skull fuck
One image showed a soldier posing with the skull next to his exposed penis.

Let me just quote Stan Goff here:

Now, allow me to turn to a highly eupehemized scandal in Germany right now. Nine German soldiers assigned to the NATO occupation of Afghanistan have been busted for posing with the skulls of dead Afghans. “Posing.” Other accounts say “desecrating.” In fact, in at least one of the pictures, a German soldier has his dick out of his pants in the suggestion that he is about to… “skull fuck” it.

For those not in the know, I am about to break the code of omerta with the fraternity of men. This term is common military parlance, and more and more among American (and German, too, it seems) males. When you really want to prove you male “bona fides,” you talk about humiliating the enemy, by removing the eye from a corpse and “skull fucking” it.

For those newcomers and lurkers and men who don’t get it yet, how much more perfect an example could I give of the association of male sexuality with violence, aggression, and the humiliation of the (real or symbolic) female victim. And what better example of many liberal and leftist men’s cluelessness than this masculinity-donning remark by Spencer Ackerman in the context of complaining about being red-baited off of a magazine staff.

Men, language like this is not one whit more excusable or acceptable or defensible than racial epithets or ethnic slurs. But had Ackerman discussed “jewing people down” or “nigger-rigging” or any of the other shit we’ve managed to at least run off the public stage in the interest of some facade of decency, lefty blogs would be lit up like an NSA communications board, in an attempt to see who could level the harshest condemnation. Yet the implication that reception of a penis — which most men desire from women — is synonymous with the desecration of the enemy dead, seems to drift along with hardly a rustle of the leaves.

Dumping Toxic waste – the underbelly of globalization

Trafigura, the Dutch firm that dumped toxic waste in Ivory coast which killed 10 people has admitted moral, but not legal, responsibility for the incident. Trafigura says it contracted properly with an Ivorian company called Tommy to dispose of the waste which was later found to have been dumped under cover of darkness in Abidjan’s residential neighbourhoods. The following morning people awoke to a sickening stench.

“The smell was so bad we were afraid. It burned our noses and eyes.”

According to Lydia Polgreen and Marlise Simons, Tommy hired more than a dozen tanker trucks into which the sludge was pumped. Later…

The trucks fanned out, at night, to at least 18 sites across the city …according to the French cleanup crew and witnesses in several neighborhoods where the material was dumped. Later…

Several trucks went to the Abidjan landfill, in a community called Akuedo. Residents there are accustomed to foul odors, but they knew something was particularly bad about the new material. They chased and surrounded one of the trucks, forcing the driver to flee on foot, witnesses said. In other places, trucks were simply abandoned by drivers fearful of being attacked.

Ten people have died, including four children, while about 100,000 have been treated for nausea, vomiting, nosebleeds and migraines following exposure to the toxic waste which experts say contained hydrogen sulphide and also led to paralysis of the country’s public health system. According to a WHO spokesman, “This has put a double burden on the already weak health system of Cote d’Ivoire. This crisis has shown that the country does not have the capacity to deal with such an emergency.” On top of this, the environment has been destroyed and scared people have been displaced from their homes, many seeking refuge in the forests arround Abidjan.

Public furore over the scandal led to the Prime Minister and his government being forced to resign amid public belief that corruption was to blame for the dumping.

So far, ten people from Trafigura and Ivorian Tommy are in custody including 3 customs officials and a high ranking official at the Department of Transport. Customs officials went out on strike in support of their arrested colleagues which led to petrol stations closing due to a shortage of petrol caused by port closures..

“We have never handed back or refused waste before… But the crux was that Trafigura refused to pay. If they had, the material would have been treated and there would have been no problem.”

The rotten affair began in August when European tanker, Probo Koala, docked ship in Abidjan after leaving the Netherlands where it had hoped to offload the waste which was described as the ship’s slops. Amsterdam Port Services (APS) had offered to take care of the mess for €12,000 but the slops smelt so much workers were being sickened and Trafigura had also underestimated how much “waste” they were carrying. APS upped the price . It would have incurred costs of $35,000 a day as demurrage with additional penalties of $250,000 for delays. Trafigura, a company which in 2005 made €22 billion ($28 billion) in revenues balked at the price. After a brief stand off in the port, the dutch authorities allowed the tanker to take back its waste. Probo Koala then travelled on to Estonia, then Nigeria where it offloaded crude before contracting with Ivorian company, Tommy, to take the waste. To date, Trafigura have refused to reveal how much Tommy was paid to dispose of the waste.

Compagnie Tommy was formed after Probo Koala set sail from the Netherlands by Ivoirian businessmen. It received its licence to dispose of toxic waste as early as July 12th.

Both Trafigura and members of the president’s family held shares in a company called Puma Energy, which awarded Tommy the contract to dispose of the toxic sludge the ship was carrying. Officials at Trafigura’s headquarters in the Netherlands have denied any involvement in Tommy…

So far, 500 tons of toxic sludge has been discovered at 18 sites across Abidjan, including a lagoon and the public garbage dump. European waste experts say that the Ivory Coast, one of the world’s poorest countries has no facilities to deal with such waste.

The identity of tanker is convoluted. According to Polgreen and Simons, it was “a Greek-owned tanker flying a Panamanian flag and leased by the London branch of a Swiss trading corporation whose fiscal headquarters are in the Netherlands.”

Trafigura Beheer BV has a checkered past. The company was found to have bribed inspectors in Iraq to purchase more oil than it was allowed under the “oil for food” scheme. Trafigura was founded in 1993 by associates of Marc Rich with his money, Business Week reported last year.

Polgreen and Simons revealed allegations that the Probo Koala had acted as an illegal, floating refinery off the coast of Gibraltar and the Spanish city of Algeciras, where it served as a sort of “bunker ship” for chemical wastes from other ships — a claim Trafigura has denied last summer, while global gas prices were soaring. Since then, Deutsche Presse-Agentur has reported that analyses of the tanker have supported those accusations. Trafigura has denied these allegations.

In a letter to the New York Times, Graham Sharp, director of Trafigura wrote on October 4th:

To the Editor:

Re “Global Sludge Ends in Tragedy for Ivory Coast” (front page, Oct. 2): We are shocked and distressed at the tragic events in Abidjan, but we do not believe that Trafigura can be held to have behaved irresponsibly or unethically.

We believe that the vessel slops we discharged in Ivory Coast were not capable of causing the harm that happened there. In particular, we are certain that they did not contain hydrogen sulfide.

A certified local company, Tommy, was contracted to removed the slops for disposal. The slops were offloaded in the port into road tankers under the supervision of customs officials, port officials and environmental officials. Trafigura began legal proceedings against Tommy on Sept. 8 in Ivory Coast.

We have traded in West Africa for 10 years and invested in sustainable development and the industry infrastructure in Ivory Coast. We intend to continue that commitment.

Trafigura also claimed in a pr release that “The slops discharged were not “toxic waste”. They were a mix of gasoline blend stock, spent caustic soda and water, as used routinely to clean gasoline cargoes.”

SPIEGEL has obtained a copy of a confidential fax the captain of the Probo Koala sent to his African partner company, in which he writes that the load was “not waste water from normal shipping operations,” but “chemical waste water” that exceeded allowable limits.

“It’s pure petrochemical waste,’‘ said Rudolph Walder, a Swiss hazardous waste expert with the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination mission. He said Tuesday the material included solids, oily substances and water _ products that could come from a refinery, from the petrochemical industry or from the cleaning of ships.

U.N. experts previously said the waste contained the potentially dangerous chemical hydrogen sulfide, the source of the rotten smell.

“It is very clear to me that (the waste) is a product that violates the Basel convention,” Walder said.

According to the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported in its September 8 situation report that the toxic waste contains Hydrogen sulphide, mercaptans, mixed aromatic and aliphatic distillates, and unspecified organochlorides. Hydrogen sulfide, which in concentrated doses can kill humans but when diffused gives off the odour of matches or rotten eggs, according to an Ivorian government health report.

“In 30 years of doing this kind of work I have never seen anything like this,” said Jean-Loup Queru, an engineer with a French cleanup company brought in by the Ivoirian government. “This kind of industrial waste, dumped in this urban setting, in the middle of the city – never.”

“The slops from the Probo Koala were handed over to a certified local Abidjan slops disposal company, Compagnie Tommy [remember the company set up to dispose of Probo Koalas waste on July 12th], following Trafigura’s communication to the authorities of the nature of the slops, and a written request that the material should be safely disposed of, according to country laws, and with all correct documentation.

“Compagnie Tommy confirmed that the slops would be correctly processed as chemical slops, with the consent of both the Ministry of Transport and the Port Authorities.”

However, Ivory Coast did not have the facilities to dispose of this waste. This is a classic example of how greedy and unscrupulous businesses are taking advantage of lax international environmental laws to offload waste in Africa that would otherwise be too expensive to dispose of in Europe. The conventions that European heads of state sign are, in effect, meaningless.

“This is the underbelly of globalization,” said Jim Puckett, an activist at the Basel Action Network, an environmental group that fights toxic waste dumping. “Environmental regulations in the north have made disposing of waste expensive, so corporations look south.”

An investigation is underway. The UN Environment Programme is seeking evidence of whether there has been a breech of the Basel Convention, a protocol which regulates the movement of hazardous waste across international borders. It is heartening that Abidjans understood clearly what was taking place here and brought down their crooked masters. Masters who were prepared to allow the dumping of hazardous waste which lead to deaths and environmental destruction.

The cleanup which has been underway for the past two months is estimated to cost $13 million, the UN has given the country some $64 million to deal with the health care crisis.

“Anywhere where a country is suffering from political or economic instability there is always room for it to be treated as a dumping ground.”

More to follow…

In a CNBC interview yesterday, Maria Bartiromo asked President Bush: “Have you ever Googled anybody? Do you use Google?”

Think progress!

Bush’s answer betrays his lack of savvy when it comes to “the Internets”.

“Occasionally. One of the things I’ve used on the Google is to pull up maps. It’s very interesting to see that. I forgot the name of the program, but you get the satellite and you can — like, I kind of like to look at the ranch on Google, reminds me of where I want to be sometimes. Yeah, I do it some. I tend not to email or — not only tend not to email, I don’t email, because of the different record requests that can happen to a president. I don’t want to receive emails because, you know, there’s no telling what somebody’s email may — it would show up as, you know, a part of some kind of a story, and I wouldn’t be able to say, `Well, I didn’t read the email. ‘But I sent it to your address, how can you say you didn’t?’ So, in other words, I’m very cautious about emailing.”

Jarvis Cocker’s latest video “Running The World”

Running The World

The lyrics…

Well, did you hear there’s a natural order?
Those most deserving will end up with the most.
That the cream cannot help but always rise up to the top?
Well I say… shit floats.
If you thought things had changed,
Friend, you’d better think again.
Bluntly put in the fewest of words:
Cunts are still running the world
Now the Working classes are obsolete
They are surplus to society’s needs.
So let ’em all kill each other
and get it made overseas.
That’s the word, don’t you know?
From the guys that’s running the show.
Let’s be perfectly clear boys and girls:
Cunts are still running the world
Oh feed your children on crayfish and lobster tails
Find a school near the top of the league.   
In theory, I respect your right to exist
I will kill you if you move in next to me.
Ah, it stinks, Yeah, it sucks,
It’s anthropologically unjust,
Oh but the takings are up by a third,   
Cunts are still running the world
The free market is perfectly natural,
Do you think that I’m some kind of dummy?
It’s the ideal way to order the world;
Fuck the morals does it make any money?
And if you don’t like it? Then leave
or use your right to protest on the street.
Yeah, use your right but don’t imagine that it’s heard
Not whilst cunts are still running the world

Cunts are still running the world

George Bush’s attempt to redefine success in Iraq by diverting attention from body counts to the provision of health-care and schools was met with disbelief by Iraqis.

“I define success or failure as whether or not the Iraqis will be able to defend themselves. I define success or failure as whether schools are being built or hospitals are being opened. I define success or failure as whether we’re seeing a democracy grow in the heart of the Middle East,” he told ABC News.

Half of the deaths that have occured in Iraq due to violence could have been prevented if proper medical care was available. The Independent reports that in the 14 months following the 2003 invasion, $20 bn of British and American funds was spent on reconstruction and reequipping Iraq’s 180 hostpitals. Half of that went missing through corruption, incompetence and criminal activity.

Since the invasion not a single Iraqi hospital has been built, according to Amar al-Saffar, in charge of construction at the Health Ministry.

In fact, no hospital had been built since the Qaddumiya hospital opened in 1986 in Baghdad, he said. When the war started it had 20 intensive care unit beds. Now it has half that, with many patients forced to buy their own oxygen supplies on the black market.

The only significant attempt to build a hospital was a project promoted by Laura Bush, the First Lady, in Basra. She frequently praised the $50 million paediatric hospital being built in the southern city. But Mr al-Saffar said that through financial mismanagement — the bane of postwar reconstruction across the country — it had never been completed.

Another senior Health Ministry official was surprised that Mr Bush had latched on to healthcare as proof of progress in Iraq. “It is the worst situation that the Ministry of Health has been in in its entire history,” he said. Healthcare had become so dire that half of those who died of injuries from terrorist attacks might have been saved, according to Bassim al-Sheibani, of the Diwaniyah College of Medicine, writing in the British Medical Journal.

While only 3000 of Iraq’s 18,000 schools have been refurbished.

56 per cent of Americans believe going to war in Iraq was a mistake; compare that to 23% who thought it was a mistake in March 2003 while 75% then thought invading Iraq was the right thing to do. More worryingly for Bush, a Newsweek poll carried out on October 5th found that a majority believe that the US is losing ground in it’s efforts to establish a stable democratic Iraq while over 50% say that they think the administration lied about WMD prior to the invasion.

July 2018
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