Sunday, 30 September 2007

Is Iraq a sovereign state?

The recent scandal surrounding the Blackwater USA Security Company in Iraq once again highlighted a question that many observers say is the very essence of the problems – and the ultimate solution – to the instability and violence in the war torn country. It’s a simple enough question: Is Iraq a sovereign country?

And the equally simple answer to that question is no, Iraq is essentially a vassal or client nation of the United States.

All the evidence suggests that every action of the Bush administration, from manufacturing an excuse to invade, to the distribution of the nation’s natural resources, was to create a satellite state with all the trimmings of democracy, sovereignty and independence – but one where the United States basically controls everything.

Brian Becker, co-founder of the Answer Coalition in Washington says there is no doubt that the U.S. government has absolute control over Iraq's sovereignty, making Baghdad’s sovereignty a mockery.

“You can't really have freedom when you have tens of thousands – or in the case of Iraq – 160,000 foreign troops that occupy your soil. Troops that have the capacity to go wherever they want, arrest whoever they choose, who shoot and kill whoever they choose – and on top of that – you have another 100 to 150-thousand contractors who are not subject to Iraqi law, they cannot be prosecuted in Iraq when they commit crimes,” he said.

In June 2003, Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer promulgated the CPA Order 17, a decree that exempted coalition staff, both military and civilian contractors from Iraqi legal action.

“It’s a truism of political philosophy,” said New York based political analyst Stephen Eric Bronner, ” a sovereign state has a monopoly control over the means of coercion. Which means it has monopoly control over the army, over the police and the like. This is obviously not the case for the government in Baghdad.”

The inability of the Iraqi government to investigate, bring prosecutions or even order a halt to the operations of Blackwater USA has resulted in a situation where you have a state that is recognized by other states – so it has external sovereignty if you like – but has no internal sovereignty, he said.

Eight Iraqi civilians were killed and more than a dozen were wounded when Blackwater security guards opened fire on a Baghdad street in early September. The Blackwater guards were accused of firing randomly at innocent citizens after mortar rounds had landed near their convoy.

The Iraqi government ordered Blackwater, which has more than 1,000 employees in the country, to cease operations. The company was then told to get out of Iraq, an order that was later countermanded by the U.S. embassy.

“There is no doubt about who is the most powerful man in Iraq,” said Sabah Jawad of the London-based Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation, “its Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador.”

Brian Becker said the Blackwater incident was a clear indication of the lack of sovereignty enjoyed by the administration in Bagdad, “It was a dramatic revelation of the lack of authority of a government to control private hired guns who are killing its own people and who – as the government rightly said – killed those people in cold blood. “

He said, “The Blackwater company is only accountable to itself and its own relationship with the Bush administration. They've basically been given a license to kill.”

By some estimates there are as many as 180,000 security contractors currently working in Iraq, and all of them have the same level of protection from prosecution under Order 17 as that enjoyed by the Blackwater employees.

Another clear indication of who is actually making the strategic decisions in Iraq, analysts say, was last week’s non-binding resolution passed in the U.S. Senate to divide Iraq into three distinct federal districts based on religion and ethnicity.

“There is the same sort of imperial arrogance where the Senate votes to partition Iraq as if that's somehow in the domain of U.S. elected lawmakers to decide the fate of Iraq's future,” Becker said.

The partition resolution came as no surprise to Sabah Jawad, “Its one of those things that makes you extremely irritated that the United States talks about partition,” he said, “The Bush administration has been at it since day one of the occupation. It’s a plan of divide and rule against the Iraqi people. “

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week, an outraged Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki described the partition plan as a catastrophe for Iraq and said the idea had absolutely no popular support in the country.

Political analyst Bronner agreed, “You can make an argument that this might be the best plan to split up Iraq into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish states, the problem is, there is no support for this in Iraq itself among its parties.

“So what happens is another attempt at imperialist arrogance to assert itself – the United State will decide what happens to Iraq without reference to the Iraqi people. “

Becker pointed out other examples that he says are clear examples of Baghdad’s lack of authority, notably the arrest of Iranian officials and businessmen on suspicion of aiding insurgent groups in Iraq.

“I think the arrest of the Iranian officials is particularly egregious and revealing. How is it that guests of the Iraqi government can be arrested by the occupying forces?” he asked. “If you look at all these incidents put together we can see that what's really happening to Iraq is the destruction of a nation.”

Bronner said the invasion and occupation of Iraq has crippled the country, and isn’t optimistic.
“You cannot talk of genocide in Iraq, but you can talk about societcide – the destruction of a society – and that has happened in Iraq. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, millions wounded, two and a half million in exile abroad, two million in exile internally. A situation has resulted in which one third of the country is completely incapacitated. “


He said the al-Maliki government is completely paralyzed – and its paralyzed in the first instance because it cannot guarantee security.

The purpose of creating what is essentially a failed state, Jawad claims, is and always was economic hegemony. “We have seen the Americans moving in on the Iraqi economy, and their obvious plan is to loot the Iraqi economy and place it in the hands of foreign multinational companies and banks.”

Becker said the process has already begun and is fairly well advanced.

“The oil companies – like Hunt Oil – are now signing independent contracts with the Kurdish authorities in the northern part of the country as a prototype for what the United States wants to do to Iraq – and if they could – to all the countries in the Middle East.

“Iraq really has no sovereignty and can never really have sovereignty,” he said, “until the U.S. occupation forces in their entirety – both the official military and the private contractors – have been removed from Iraq. “

(The above is based on the transcript of PressTV's "Middle East Today" hosted by Chris Gelken and first broadcast on Saturday, 29th September)

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Thursday, 27 September 2007

al-Maliki gives Washington the finger

During his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned some of his country's neighbors to stop funding and otherwise aiding insurgents in Iraq.

The U.S. delegation must have been rubbing their hands together in anticipation. But if they thought al-Maliki was going to toe the Washington line and point the finger of guilt at Syria and Iran, then they were in for a bitter disappointment. And no little measure of embarrassment.

Instead, al-Maliki fingered Saudi Arabia and Jordan, two prominent U.S. "allies" in the White House inspired War on Terror.

Perhaps it was al-Maliki's way of thumbing his nose at Washington after the fiasco of the Blackwater affair.

Apparently the Baghdad government has made repeated appeals to Riyadh and Amman to clamp down on what he's described as al-Qaida supporters in both of those countries. Odd, that we don't hear much criticism from Washington on this subject.

The prime minister has been the target of much criticism of late, not least because of his warming ties with Syria and Iran – two countries that George Bush would love to get in his crosshairs.

Doubtless al-Maliki is still smarting after being effectively overruled by Washington which countermanded his expulsion order of the Blackwater security company, accused of killing about a dozen Iraqis in a shootout on a Baghdad street.

But his naming of U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Jordon in the full glare of the press at the biggest international forum in the world suggests the dour Iraqi has a wicked sense of humor!

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Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Intolerance

Say what you like about the man, but it took courage to stand up in front of what was always going to be a hostile audience and allow himself to be assaulted by a barrage of searching questions.

Perhaps President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expected some heckling from the audience, but its doubtful he anticipated the vitriolic attack that was launched by the president of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger.

In a statement that was embarrassing to himself, his institution, and indeed the United States of America, Bollinger excoriated the Iranian president with insults and slanders, even before Ahmadinejad had been given the chance to speak.

Interestingly, looking through the reader's comments on CNN.com and the BBC website, a majority of people seem to agree that Bollinger's outburst was arrogant, rude, uncivilized and belligerent. Or "typically American" if you prefer the short version that some posters offered.

Doctor Philip Brenner, a professor of international relations in Washington says there is a lot of propaganda in the United States against Iran and the Iranian government. He praised Ahmadinejad's courage in responding to Bollinger's remarks in a calm, measured and non-confrontational way.

From our unique vantage point here in Tehran, it’s a very odd experience watching world opinion forming on television about Iran – mostly based on uninformed and simply erroneous assumptions made by people like Bollinger or Bush.

For example, we saw extensive coverage of the International Atomic Energy Agency's report on Iran, declaring without reservation that the country's nuclear program was not in violation of any IAEA rules or guidelines, that the Iranian authorities were cooperating fully with inspectors, and that there was no evidence whatsoever of a military program.

We then witness French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warning that war could ultimately be only way to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. We see Bush ranting about Iran's determination to develop a military nuclear program. Based on what exactly gentlemen? The same intelligence sources that told you there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

A few hours after Ahmadinejad reiterated to the UN General Assembly that Tehran's nuclear case was a matter that should be handled by the IAEA, German Chancellor Angela Merkel used her speech to tell the assembly that her country would push for tougher sanctions against Iran.

Last week Israel once again managed to avoid being on the receiving end of an IAEA resolution calling on it to join nuclear non-proliferation treaty and subject its nuclear installations to international supervision. The protection being offered Israel by many western countries, led by the United States, has made a mockery of the NPT – and now we are seeing existing members threatening to withdraw. They rightly argue that if Israel isn't going to be held to the same standards demanded of them, then it becomes rather pointless and possibly dangerous for them to remain as members.

Sigh.

Meanwhile, Iranian businessmen and government officials are being arrested by U.S. forces in Iraq at an alarming rate. They are frequently accused – among other things - of smuggling weapons into the country to feed the growing insurgency. Without exception, the Iraqi government immediately denounces the abductions, offers evidence pointing to the innocence of the Iranian captives and demands their immediate release. The Iraqi president has described the abductions of the Iranians as an affront to Iraqi sovereignty.

With 170,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Iraq, supported by a huge but rather disreputable collection of private contractors such as the now notorious Blackwater, the president still believes that Iraq has "sovereignty."

Another sigh.

We get to speak to ordinary Iranians on a daily basis. As I have mentioned previously, they are curious and always full of questions when I say "I am British." When circumstances have allowed a longer conversation, one question invariably pops up in one form or another and usually goes along the line of, "Why is the American government so determined to destroy us?"

Why indeed.

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Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Talk of war

That was a truly depressing newscast. I have just walked out of the studio after anchoring the 00.30 am. main news, and after so much talk of war the cheerful banter with my co-anchor had become rather more somber. There was a lot of shaking of heads and questions of "when will it all end?" or "when will people come to their senses?"

Here we have the French Prime Minister Francois Fillon saying everything should be done to avoid war with Iran – but he agreed with his hawkish Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner who said the world should prepare for the prospect of war with Iran over its nuclear program.

All this talk of war comes despite the fact that the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad ElBaradei has repeatedly insisted that the Iranian nuclear program is not a threat to the international community.

ElBaradei urged the world to remember what happened in Iraq before considering similar actions against Iran.

He was of course referring to the fact that agency inspectors were not given enough time to complete their work in Iraq. They were insisting that to the best of their knowledge no weapons of mass destruction existed in the country, and they just needed a little more time to verify that fact.

They were not given the opportunity – and the resulting war to rid Iraq of its phantom WMDs has cost many hundreds of thousands of lives.

But despite this, the talk now is of war with Iran to prevent the country developing its own nuclear weapons – weapons that Tehran insists it is not developing; a weapons program ElBaradei says of which he and his inspectors have found not a shred of evidence.

We really do have to ask "what is the purpose of the IAEA?"

If all that wasn't depressing enough, we had a report from one of our correspondents warning us of yet another catastrophe in the offing.

The U.S. is now putting pressure on the British government to move troops - recently relieved of their duty in Basra – closer to the Iranian border. The purpose is to prevent the flow of alleged Iranian weapons into Iraq. Many independent agencies have effectively debunked so-called evidence of Iranian weapons flowing into Iraq and Afghanistan, but that seems to carry no weight in Washington. There are concerns that stationing British troops too close to the Iranian border could be considered an unacceptable provocation – which it is so obviously designed to be.

Because of the hopeless mess in Iraq, some analysts believe Washington and London are simply looking for scapegoats – and Iran is a convenient target.

Newsreel footage of demonstrations in London with protesters carrying banners with the message "No War With Iran" really illustrates how far this has gone and how concerned the British public are that their government may once again be led into some insane action, with no justifiable purpose, and no exit strategy.

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Monday, 17 September 2007

And scenes of peace...

A stroll through the tranquil gardens of the Golestan Palace in downtown Tehran will quickly dispel the gloomy mood and thoughts of war and intolerance.


Said to be the oldest of the historic monuments in Tehran, the Golestan Palace (Palace of Flowers) belongs to a group of royal buildings that were once enclosed in the mud thatched walls of Tehran's ancient citadel.


Some of the buildings and mosaics here are more than 400 years old, and extensive restoration is currently underway.



Unfortunately because of the lateness of our arrival and the renovation work many of the exhibits were closed.



But a gentle stroll through the peaceful gardens - just a few hundred meters from the bustle of Tehran's famous bazaar, was reward enough to make the trip.


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