Category Archives: Iraq

RESOURCE: Webinar on Thursday on “Understanding the U.S.-ISIS crisis”

from the Institute for Policy Studies

iraq-syria-buttonJoin Phyllis Bennis, Director of the New Internationalism project, for an in-depth discussion on the crisis. We will discuss:

  • Why is the Obama administration going back to war in Iraq and Syria?
  • What is ISIS and why are they considered such a threat?
  • Is this U.S. war helping the Syrian regime?
  • Who – AND IN what country – is next?

Please join us for this important discussion – and invite your friends!

Understanding the U.S.-ISIS Crisis and Washington’s New Wars: A Discussion on Context with Phyllis Bennis

Thursday, November 13, 2014
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. EST

You can participate in the webinar online or in-person with us in the conference room of the Institute for Policy Studies (1112 16th Street NW, Suite 600, Washington DC, 20036.)

If you will be joining us online, you can listen in using either using your computer’s microphone and speakers or your telephone.

To participate, please RSVP to the webinar.

After entering your information at the above link, instructions on how to participate will be displayed and emailed to you.

We hope to see you there!

IRAQ-SYRIA: “Khorasan”, the lie that thinly concealed another military atrocity

by Julio R. Sharp-Wasserman

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Unambiguous evidence came to light after the initiation of the recent offensive against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, demonstrating that the Obama administration knowingly lied about the existence and threat level of an imaginary terrorist group they called “Khorasan,” in the lead up to the attack. This is a good time to reflect upon what religion has to offer in explaining and evaluating this type of state behavior. The Bible tells us that we are all flawed morally. This means, on the one hand, that, as with all moral criticism, denunciations of violence are most honestly and effectively directed at ourselves before they are directed at others, since each of us has the most control over her own morally imperfect behavior. On the other hand, we must also remember, as we often do not, that when state violence becomes so heinous that righteous indignation is appropriate, the same moral standards apply to agents of the state that apply to all of us, as we are all mere humans.

The public justification of this act of war crucially invoked the existence of and immediate danger posed by the imaginary “Khorasan,” both to prevent popular opposition in the U.S. and to elude the international legal requirement that military actions taken without U.N. authorization be in response to an imminent threat. The executive branch, in a strategically adroit and appallingly unethical maneuver, released this story to the press soon enough before the attack to preclude public scrutiny of the lies presented and then had other agents of the executive publically correct the fabricated account after the attack was irreversibly underway, apparently in order to evade accusations that they misinformed the public. This was well covered by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain at the left-wing publication The Intercept as well as by Andrew McCarthy at the conservative National Review. Needless to say, these state actions violate widely accepted moral principles condemning dishonesty and violence for reasons other than self-defense.

It is of the utmost importance that we realize non-violence in our own personal relationships and teach the next generation to do the same. In doing so we construct a less violent world by embodying peace. However, because of the urgency of opposing egregious ongoing U.S. government crimes in the Middle East, we should also be emphatic in holding the agents of the state personally morally responsible for these transgressions in a publically recognizable way.

There are two obstacles in popular political thinking to this advancement in popular consciousness. One is the common belief, originating in modern social contract theory, that government in a democratic society is the embodiment of a collective will, and thus immune from judgment by those citizens who are automatic participants in whatever actions the government commits. We betray this superstition when we say that “we” bombed Iraq, or that “the United States” has taken unilateral military action. But popular opinion is, even in the best functioning democracies, just one more check in a larger system of checks and balances, and functions only in certain circumstances and to a limited extent.  The agents of the state are, at the end of the day, independent individuals who make their own choices. Moreover, although we express our opinions by voting between major candidates, the more powerful forms of expression are those that involve withdrawing support from mainstream politics and pressuring political institutions from without. Vote for independent candidates or publically denounce the choice to vote when we are presented with identically warlike candidates. Attend protests and put your opposition into political writing or into art.

The second erroneous common philosophical assumption, which is less explicit, is that agents of the state ought to be held to different and more lenient moral standards simply by virtue of the fact that they are agents of the state. To think this way is to treat the state as a false idol—an object of worship too mysterious and great to be susceptible to judgment. However, murder or dishonesty committed by an agent of the state are morally identical to murder or dishonesty by anyone else. When the small group of individuals in charge of military policy kills hundreds of thousands in Iraq, this action is actually a violation of the most fundamental and obvious of moral principles, hundreds of thousands of times over. The way we think and talk about and otherwise react to this should reflect the obvious seriousness of this moral offense.

IRAQ-SYRIA: Stop the killing

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

On August 9, 1983, three people dressed as U.S. soldiers saluted their way onto a U.S. military base and climbed a pine tree. The base contained a school training elite Salvadoran and other foreign troops to serve dictatorships back home, with a record of nightmarish brutality following graduation. That night, once the base’s lights went out, the students of this school heard, coming down from on high, the voice of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

“I want to make a special appeal to soldiers, national guardsmen, and policemen: each of you is one of us. The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a man telling you to kill, remember God’s words, ‘thou shalt not kill.’ No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you; in the name of God I command you to stop the repression.”

Oscar Romero muralThe three in the tree with the loudspeaker weren’t soldiers – two of them were priests. The recording they played was of Archbishop Romero’s final homily, delivered a day before his assassination, just three years previous, at the hands of paramilitary soldiers, two of whom had been trained at this school.

Fr. Larry Rosebaugh, (who was killed in Guatemala on May 18, 2009), Linda Ventimiglia, and Fr. Roy Bourgeois, (a former missioner expelled from Bolivia who was later excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church because of his support for women’s ordination) were sentenced to 15 -18 months in prison for the stirring drama they created on the base that night. Romero’s words were heard loud and clear, and even after military police arrived at the base of the tree and stopped the broadcast, Roy Bourgeois, who would later found a movement to close the school, continued shouting Romero’s appeal as loudly as he could until he was shoved to the ground, stripped, and arrested.

As we approach the nightmare of renewed, expanded U.S. war in Iraq, I think of Archbishop Romero’s words and example. Romero aligned himself, steadily, with the most impoverished people in El Salvador, learning about their plight by listening to them every weekend in the program he hosted on Salvadoran radio.  With ringing clarity, he spoke out on their behalf, and he jeopardized his life challenging the elites, the military and the paramilitaries in El Salvador.

I believe we should try very hard to hear the grievances of people in Iraq and the region, including those who have joined the Islamic State, regarding U.S. policies and wars that have radically affected their lives and well-being over the past three decades.  It could be that many of the Iraqis who are fighting with Islamic State forces lived through Saddam Hussein’s oppression when he received enthusiastic support from the U.S. during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Many may be survivors of the U.S. Desert Storm bombing in 1991, which destroyed every electrical facility across Iraq.  When the U.S. insisted on imposing crushing and murderous economic sanctions on Iraq for the next 13 years, these sanctions directly contributed to the deaths of a half million children under age five.  The children who died should have been teenagers now; are some of the Islamic State fighters the brothers or cousins of the children who were punished to death by economic sanctions? Presumably many of these fighters lived through the U.S.-led 2003 Shock and Awe invasion and bombing of Iraq and the chaos the U.S. chose to create afterwards by using a war-shattered country as some sort of free market experiment; they’ve endured the repressive corruption of the regime the U.S. helped install in Saddam’s place.

The United Nations should take over the response to the Islamic State, and people should continue to pressure the U.S. and its allies to leave the response not merely to the U.N. but to its most democratic constituent body, the General Assembly.

But facing the bloody mess that has developed in Iraq and Syria, I think Archbishop Romero’s exhortation to the Salvadoran soldiers pertains directly to U.S. people.   Suppose these words were slightly rewritten:  I want to make a special appeal to the people of the United States. Each of you is one of us. The peoples you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a person telling you to kill, remember God’s words, ‘thou shalt not kill.’ No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you …I command you to stop the repression.

The war on the Islamic State will distract us from what the U.S. has done and is doing to create further despair, in Iraq, and to enlist new recruits for the Islamic State.   The Islamic State is the echo of the last war the U.S. waged in Iraq, the so-called “Shock and Awe” bombing and invasion.   The emergency is not the Islamic State but war.

We in the U.S. must give up our notions of exceptionalism; recognize the economic and societal misery our country caused in Iraq; recognize that we are a perpetually war-crazed nation; seek to make reparations; and find dramatic, clear ways to insist that Romero’s words be heard: Stop the killing.

* This article first appeared on Telesur English.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence http://www.vcnv.org.

IRAQ-SYRIA: Even if we defeat the Islamic State, we’ll still lose the bigger war

By Andrew J. Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich, the George McGovern fellow at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, is writing a history of U. S. military involvement in the Greater Middle East.

n-US-AIRSTRIKE-large570As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extend into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.

With our 14th front barely opened, the Pentagon foresees a campaign likely to last for years. Yet even at this early date, this much already seems clear: Even if we win, we lose. Defeating the Islamic State would only commit the United States more deeply to a decades-old enterprise that has proved costly and counterproductive.

Back in 1980, President Jimmy Carter touched things off when he announced that the United States would use force to prevent the Persian Gulf from falling into the wrong hands. In effect, with the post-Ottoman order created by European imperialists — chiefly the British — after World War I apparently at risk, the United States made a fateful decision: It shouldered responsibility for preventing that order from disintegrating further. Britain’s withdrawal from “east of Suez,” along with the revolution in Iran and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, prompted Washington to insert itself into a region in which it previously avoided serious military involvement…

Click here to read the entire article.

IRAQ-SYRIA: Moral responsibility to protect Syrian citizens from drone strikes

Pax Christi USA has signed onto the following letter. We encourage others to add their names.

Dear Mr. President:

We write with growing concerning over the air strikes in Syria and Iraq. News that your administration has abandoned the stated policy of making every effort to protect civilian lives in the course of drone strikes undermines America’s moral authority. As people of faith, we see this as a grave moral issue. We urge you to put back in place your policy that no strikes will take place unless there is a “near certainty” that civilians will not be harmed.

Your stated reason for engaging in military action against ISIL was to protect innocent civilians and to bolster the security of the United States against terrorist attack. The recent deaths of civilians, which may have been preventable under your previous stated policy, will only serve to increase the fear and distrust U.S. military action in the region has produced since 2002. It is very likely that these deaths will further radicalize the population, which only serves to weaken the national security of the United States.

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We join Human Rights Watch in calling for an investigation into whether the recent strikes in Idlib were unlawful and urge your administration to cooperate in any such investigation…

Click here to read the entire letter and/or sign.

IRAQ-SYRIA: The folly of bombing

by David Cortwright

iraq-syria-buttonIf bombing were an effective way of ending terrorism and violent extremism, Afghanistan and Iraq now would be oases of tranquility. Pakistan would be a peaceful paradise. Israel would be safe and free from the fear of terrorist attack.

Despite more than a decade of U.S. bombing and large scale military intervention, the Taliban controls large swaths of territory in Afghanistan, and ethnic militias and violent extremist groups dominate Iraq. Hundreds of U.S. drone strikes and bombardments by the Pakistani army have not pacified Waziristan. Thousands of Israeli strikes have not diminished Hamas’ grip on Gaza. Air strikes and military interventions in these cases have hardened local resistance and increased the flow of militant recruits…

Click here to read the entire article.

IRAQ-SYRIA: The hypocrisy of further military intervention in Iraq

by Julio R. Sharp-Wasserman

iraq-syria-buttonAs the United States government initiates another war in the Middle East, we are yet again asked to ignore glaring absurdities in the government’s justification of large-scale violence. A distaste for hypocrisy, so central to Jesus’ moral vision, plays an essential role in the outlook of any morally devoted person. Yet a central fact of modern politics, and one accepted as a truism in modern political science since the writings of Max Weber a century ago, is that the state claims a monopoly on the use of violence through a police and military, a privilege whose public legitimacy is based upon its use to condemn, punish and prevent violence committed by others.

This hypocrisy at the essence of the political sphere is one that we do not reflect upon often enough. We seek security of our life and property by recourse to an institution—government—which was responsible for almost all and certainly the most appalling instances of violence in the 20th century. Genocide, mass imprisonment and torture, and large-scale conflagrations can only be brought about by institutions with the taxed resources and the social privilege necessary to organize such large-scale violence. Yet these same institutions, and always the largest and most powerful of them, are, inexplicably, routinely tasked with mitigating violence whenever and wherever it materializes in the world.

The best thing anyone can do to decrease violence in the world is to abstain from violence and embody peace; and as the country with by far the largest and most active military, the best thing we can do to make the world a more peaceful place is to stop going to war. Yet the U.S. government is now telling us that the latest round of violence in the Middle East is an evil that must be stopped by still more imprecisely destructive airstrikes on civilian areas. This is, of course, exactly what we were told about the crimes of Saddam Hussein, in the official attempt to justify a war which turned out to be far more destructive than his regime. Even the most conservative estimates have placed the death toll of this war in the hundreds of thousands, and the displaced—many of whom are religious minorities or other refugees of newly unleashed sectarian violence—in the millions.

The Obama administration, in a display of astounding moral insincerity whose purpose was clearly to drum up support for more extensive intervention, bombed ISIS targets at Sinjar Mountain this summer, claiming concern for the welfare of the Yazidi religious minority. The administration did this without mentioning the fact that religious minorities in Iraq, from Yazidis to Shabaks to Christians, have been far more unsafe since the invasion and before ISIS came to prominence. It also should not be forgotten that ISIS’s formation was a direct result of the original 2003 invasion, in the wake of which Abu Musab al-Zarqawi exploited instability and newly ripened sectarian tension to build an anti-Shiite unofficial al-Qaida off-shoot in Iraq that later became ISIS. And instability in neighboring Syria, which has been ISIS’s other training ground, is certainly attributable to a significant extent to the free movement of radicals between Iraq and Syria since the destruction of the Iraqi government.

As Martin Luther King taught us, paraphrasing Jesus, violence only begets more violence; and Iraq right now is a concrete illustration of this proverb. Let us also not forget the classical liberal dictum that every government intervention has unintended consequences, because of the essential unmanageability of human behavior. Human behavior is unpredictable and that of those enraged by violence and instability is yet more unpredictable. The future conduct of millions of people affected by a large-scale act of government violence such as the one being initiated, is so far beyond the capacities of human foresight that no consequentialist argument in defense of an act of war like this one, least of all in the complex region is question, is plausible. After all, none of those within the American war machine who are currently advocating war against ISIS predicted its rise in the first place. But what is predictable is that more violence will make Iraq a more violent place.