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Saturday, October 02, 2004

Iraqis Condemn Prime Minister After Falluja Raid

After the latest U.S. air strike on Falluja, enraged residents clasped wounded children and challenged Iraq's prime minister to visit the town to see how bombs were hitting civilians, not "terrorists."

"Is this a terrorist? Is this a terrorist? Iyad Allawi come and show us the terrorists," screamed a man as he fixed a bandage on the head of a small boy in his arms.

A U.S. warplane struck Falluja late Friday night, the latest in a weeks-long campaign of bombardments the U.S. military says are targeting hideouts used by followers of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most hunted man in Iraq.

Falluja, 50 km (30 miles) west of Baghdad, has been in rebel hands since U.S. forces withdrew following a failed offensive on the city in April.

Since the handover of power to an Iraqi government in June, U.S. forces are supposed to get a green light from the Iraqi government before conducting any air strikes. But many Iraqis believe Washington often acts of its own accord.

The U.S. military has repeatedly said that it conducts air strikes on Falluja only when it has specific intelligence and says that it only makes "precision strikes" on those targets.

After Friday's attack, hospital officials said at least seven civilians were killed and 13 wounded. Reuters television pictures showed Iraqis digging through mounds of rubble and twisted metal hoping to find survivors.

At one point, a child no older than 10 was pulled alive from under a pile of bricks and dust.

U.S. military officials have suggested that insurgents have pressured doctors into exaggerating casualty tolls and have cast doubt on television footage, indicating that scenes after air strikes may have been staged.

Reuters television footage of the destruction after Friday night's strike showed panicked men using their bare hands to dig out bodies. One man lay face down, covered by a heavy slab of cement over his waist and legs.

Such scenes are familiar to the people of Falluja, who say they have seen no evidence backing U.S. assertions that insurgents and foreign fighters were operating from houses that are flattened by U.S. warplanes.

Amid the screams and groans of children having their wounds stitched at a Falluja hospital Saturday, a young girl pulled dead from the rubble lay on thin mat on the floor.

Allawi's U.S.-backed government is scrambling to regain control of several rebel-held cities before elections are due in January, and put an end to suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Iraqi police and civilians.

As part of that campaign, U.S. and Iraqi forces launched an offensive against the rebel stronghold of Samarra early on Friday, killing more than 100 insurgents in fierce fighting.

The U.S. military has said the air raids on Falluja have killed scores of militants loyal to Zarqawi, who's group Washington says is allied to Osama bin Laden. It recently said as many as 100 of Zarqawi's followers had been killed in aerial bombardments and other strikes.

Samarra Residents Flee US Hell

Hundreds of Iraqi families, mostly women and children, lined up at the main entrances of Samarra, 125 kilometers north of Baghdad, in a desperate attempt to escape the gates of hell broken loose by the American occupation forces.

"The US forces are still barring families from leaving Samarra without giving any justification," Oday Al-Samrraei told IslamOnline.net.

Samrraei, who managed to flee the city two days earlier, dismissed the American measure a "collective punishment", accusing the occupation forces of "humiliating Iraqi families."

The US army said 125 "guerrillas" were killed and 88 captured during the onslaught on Samarra.

A massive force of 3,000 American troops and 2,000 Iraqi National guardsmen had stormed the city on Thursday, September 30, allegedly to regain control before the general elections, scheduled for January.

Ambulances Barred

"The occupation forces are even preventing the families from burying their dead or evacuating wounded people scattered across the city streets, " Samrraei lamented.

Many bodies were strewn in the streets but could not be collected for fear of the American snipers, residents said.

"Dead bodies and injured people are everywhere in the city and when we tried to evacuate them, the Americans fired at us," one ambulance driver told AP Television News.

"Later on they told us than we can evacuate only injured women and children and we are not allowed to pick up injured men."

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Red Crescent has set up more than twenty tents on the outskirts of the city to help the wounded, barred by the US from leaving.

Iraqi medical sources accused the American forces of denying ambulances access into the city.

And doctors inside Samrra’s only hospital complained of sever blood and medicine shortage to help the tens of people rushed in.

They said at least 50 bodies have been brought to the hospital since the unleashing of the American onslaught.

Intermittent Fighting

On the ground, the Iraqi government and the US occupation forces claimed Saturday control over most areas in Samarra except for some pockets of resistance.

"Iraqi national guardsmen, assisted by the multinational forces, have taken control of police stations in Samarra and several other areas," Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kazem told IslamOnline.net.

Earlier, Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib told reporters inside Samarra city hall they have "cleansed the city of all the bad guys and terrorists."

However, witnesses told IOL that the eastern parts of the city saw intermittent fighting between the American forces and the residents.

One resident, Qahtan Al-Douri, spoke of "fierce resistance" inside the city.

Other sources told IOL that the American forces cordoned off the city from the four corners, while warplanes and artillery continued to bombard residential areas.

In General, the streets of Samarra were deserted while water and power were cut off in several areas.

Government Blamed

The Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), Iraq’s top Sunni religious authority, heaped blame on the interim government for the bloodshed in Samarra.

"We blame the government for the injustices and aggressions suffered by the inhabitants of Samarra," the AMS said in a statement.

"The vicious campaign carried out by the occupying forces, and regrettably blessed by the interim government, is the last in a series of aggressions against the city under the pretext of rebuilding security."

The AMS also stressed that "resorting to iron and fire" to set the scene of the general elections remains a "flawed method."

The interim government had vowed to crush all "insurgent-held enclaves" in time for the nationwide elections.

A US offensive against Fallujah in April killed at least 700 Iraqis, mostly women and children, and triggered popular outrage across the country against the occupation forces.

Samir Hadad, IOL Correspondent

Jewish Peace News

[JPN Commentary: On Wednesday, Palestinian qassam rockets hit the Israeli town of Sderot near the Gaza trip. Two children, aged 4 and 2, were killed. There are no words for the depths of such a tragedy or for the magnitude of such a crime.

But the commission of a great crime does not excuse the commission of another. Israel has already retaliated and some 30 Palestinians have been killed and well over 100 wounded since the attack on Sderot. Two Israeli soldiers and a woman in an Israeli settlement in Gaza have also been killed. Now, Israel has begun a massive, long-term attack on Gaza. The Palestinian Authority has reissued its call for international intervention, and such intervention is sorely needed, but the call is falling on deaf ears, just as it has in the past.

Early statements from the Sharon government indicated that the goal of the invasion is to ensure that Hamas forces were pushed farther away from the Gaza border, out of range of Sderot. The article below gives a clearer statement; "'exacting a price' from terror organizations in Gaza, and preparation for an extended stay in the territory." In other words, simple revenge, and an attempt to silence the Hamas claim that the proposed Gaza withdrawal is happening "under fire", the idea that Hamas is trying to make it seem that Israel is retreating from its attacks in Gaza.

As usual, civilians continue to pay the price. At least 20 homes were demolished before the latest large-scale invasion of Gaza began. Most of the dead and wounded have been non-combatants, and even the militants killed have no apparent connection to attacks on Sderot. Gaza is walled off and, while this ha been effective in stopping suicide bombing attacks from that region, that effort has merely forced Hamas to find other ways of attacking Israelis, such as the qassam rockets. The same will eventually be borne out in the West Bank, with its wall.

Finally, a word must be said about the appalling name the Sharon government has given to its latest campaign of pointless revenge and criminal military acts. The name of this invasion is "Operation Days of Penitence". The Days of Penitence, also called the Days of Awe, are the 10 days between the beginning of Rosh Hashanah and the end of Yom Kippur, which has just passed. These are days when Jews everywhere are supposed to open their hearts, examine the transgressions of the past year and atone for the sins we have committed and will commit in the coming year. To name an invasion after these days, an invasion which will include the killing and wounding of innocent civilians and the destruction of the homes of may families, is an affront to the very essence of Judaism and an insult to our religion, history and culture and to all of those millions of Jews who have died for their Judaism over the centuries. – MP]

Palestinians: Large IDF force enters northern Gaza

By Aluf Benn, Amos Harel, Arnon Regular and Nir Hason, Haaretz Correspondents


A large number of Israel Defense Forces troops, accompanied by 100 tanks and helicopters flying overhead, entered the northern Gaza Strip early Friday, Israel Radio quoted Palestinian security officials as saying. The sources said that tanks had entered Beit Lahiya, the Jabalya refugee camp, and Beit Hanun.

The move comes after the security cabinet approved unanimously on Thursday Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans for an expanded military ground operation in the Gaza Strip in response to the launching of Qassam rockets and the recent escalation of hostilities in the region.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and the heads of the Israel Defense Forces presented the plan to Sharon on Thursday evening prior to the cabinet meeting.

The plan, code-named "Days of Penitence," will include an expanded IDF ground operation in areas from where Qassam rockets can be launched in the direction of Sderot, "exacting a price" from terror organizations in Gaza, and preparation for an extended stay in the territory.

A number of cabinet ministers will propose applying heavy pressure on the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip in an effort to compel residents to prevent the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel proper.

Senior diplomatic sources said on Thursday evening that the current escalation in Gaza will have no effect on Sharon's disengagement plan.

Mofaz announced on Thursday a "large-scale and prolonged operation" aimed at pushing Qassam rockets out of range of the hard-hit Negev town of Sderot, ordering the IDF to step up the campaign already underway in Gaza and to prepare to take over a buffer zone in the northern Gaza Strip.

The announcement follows Wednesday's Qassam rocket attack on Sderot, which claimed the lives of two pre-schoolers.

On Thursday, three Israelis and at least 13 Palestinians were killed in separate incidents in the Gaza Strip.

Mofaz announced his new directives after a special assessment meeting with the heads of Israel's security branches.

Mofaz declared that Wednesday's "murder of children" was an "unforgivable and intolerable" act, to which Israel must respond.

The operation is also aimed at handing the terror infrastructure in Gaza a heavy blow. The third objective set forward was the improvement of the defenses of the area's settlements.

"Israeli army activities in the Gaza Strip have a clear objective of enabling Israelis to sit in their living rooms and backyards in peace and without fear of being bombarded by Palestinian rockets and missiles," said David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister's Office.

"This is our inherent right, the right to live in peace and Israel is committed to the security of its citizens," Baker said.

The chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), called for an IDF takeover of the entire Gaza Strip, saying, "Israel should wage operation Defensive Shield number two in Gaza, take control of the entire Strip in a wide-spread operation over a period of a few weeks to gather information, destroy the terrorist organizations' infrastructure and wipe out any slicks of arms as well as the foundations for manufacturing Qassam rockets."

Steinitz added that he would bring these issues up in planned meetings with Sharon. "Since the technology for laser interception of missiles has yet to be realized, we must significantly damage terrorist infrastructures. It is our only option to ease the situation."

MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) said that Sharon and Defense Minister Mofaz must halt the deteriorating security situation, which is in danger of embroiling Israel in an endless war of attrition against Palestinian militants, according to Israel Radio.

Pines-Paz also called on the prime minister to speed up implementation of the disengagement plan.

PA calls for international intervention
The Palestinian Authority on Thursday called for the international community to put a stop to Israel's actions in Gaza.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, an advisor to chairman Yasser Arafat, said the PA is requesting "the UN Security Council, the Quartet, and the United States to get involved immediately to put an end to the massacres Israel is committing in Gaza."

[JPN Commentary: The aggressive behavior of Israeli settlers is the sort of thing that is well known yet rarely enters into the calculus of the conflict in many people's minds. Here is just one example of the behavior of the settlers.

The issue that bears repeating is that this sort of behavior on the part of settlers is a regular occurrence in the West Bank. The usual targets are Palestinians, but increasingly the brazen settlers are attacking Israeli peace activists and international volunteers. Unfortunately, the story is most likely to reach us only when Americans are attacked, as was the case here. But settler attacks are commonplace occurrences. And they are unnecessary. Most Israelis are willing to see the settlements relegated to the dustbin of history where they belong. The settlers know this, and their violent behavior is in part a way of instilling fear that any steps toward removing them will lead to civil war. But this is an empty threat—only a small percentage of the settlers are truly willing to take up arms against Israelis to keep their illegal communities standing.

The simple fact is, the settlements should not even be there. The Israeli Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz recently affirmed what the rest of the world has known for years—that Israel is bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention regarding occupied territories. One provision of that Convention is that the occupying power may not relocate its citizens into the occupied territory. The settlements are flatly illegal. Beyond that, they are the root cause of the spiraling violence from both sides. There is no substitute for ending Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and there is no other way to begin than to remove all the illegal settlements in occupied lands. Until Israel and its patron, the United States, accepts this, there is no hope of ending the violence. – MP]

West Bank Assailants Beat U.S. Activists

Associated Press


HEBRON, West Bank - Two American volunteers in a group helping Palestinians were beaten with baseball bats and chains by five men, including one who spoke English with an Israeli accent, one of the victims said Thursday.

The Americans, Chris Brown, 40, from San Francisco, and Kim Lamberty, 44, from Washington, were escorting Palestinian children to their school in a West Bank village Wednesday when they were attacked, Brown said.

The two are members of the Christian Peacemakers Team, a group that has been active in and around the West Bank city of Hebron for several years.

Brown remained hospitalized in Israel on Thursday with a punctured lung. Lamberty was released after receiving treatment for a broken arm and swollen knee.

The identity of the assailants was not known, but Bourke Kennedy, another member of the group, said the volunteers have been harassed in the past by Jewish settlers on the same road, which runs near the Maon settlement.

"We've been spat at, hit, and almost run down on occasion," Kennedy said.

The group said it would file a complaint with the Israeli authorities. Israeli soldiers arrived at the scene 30 minutes after the attack. However, the army said police would have to handle to case. Police could not be reached for comment.

The attack took place early Wednesday when Brown and Lamberty were escorting several Palestinian children from their homes to a school in a nearby village. At about 7:15 a.m., five men with black scarves wrapped around their heads attacked the Americans, Brown said in a telephone interview.

"They whipped us with chains and beat us with a stick. Then they threw stones at me and continued punching me in the face, hitting and kicking me in the back," Brown said.

The children escaped unharmed, he said.

Jewish Peace News Editors:
Judith Norman
Alistair Welchman
Mitchell Plitnick
Lincoln Shlensky
Ami Kronfeld
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
John Wilner
Joel Beinin

The Media's Culpability for Iraq

The Media's Culpability for Iraq

In October 1999, I stood in a ward of dying children in Baghdad with Denis Halliday, who the previous year had resigned as assistant secretary general of the United Nations. He said: "We are waging a war through the United Nations on the people of Iraq. We're targeting civilians. Worse, we're targeting children. . . . What is this all about?"

Halliday had been 34 years with the UN. As an international civil servant much respected in the field of "helping people, not harming them," as he put it, he had been sent to Iraq to implement the oil-for-food program, which he subsequently denounced as a sham. "I am resigning," he wrote, "because the policy of economic sanctions is . . . destroying an entire society. Five thousand children are dying every month. I don't want to administer a program that satisfies the definition of genocide."

Halliday's successor, Hans von Sponeck, another assistant secretary general with more than 30 years' service, also resigned in protest. Jutta Burghardt, the head of the World Food Program in Iraq, followed them, saying she could no longer tolerate what was being done to the Iraqi people. Their collective action was unprecedented; yet it received only passing media attention. There was no serious inquiry by journalists into their grave charges against the British and American governments, which in effect ran the embargo. Von Sponeck's disclosure that the sanctions restricted Iraqis to living on little more than $100 a year was not reported. "Deliberate strangulation," he called it. Neither was the fact that, up to July 2002, more than $5 billion worth of humanitarian supplies, which had been approved by the UN sanctions committee and paid for by Iraq, were blocked by George W. Bush, with Tony Blair's backing. They included food products, medicines and medical equipment, as well as items vital for water and sanitation, agriculture and education.

The cost in lives was staggering. Between 1991 and 1998, reported UNICEF, 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five died. "If you include adults," said Halliday, "the figure is now almost certainly well over a million." In 1996, in an interview on the American current affairs program 60 Minutes, Madeleine Albright, then U.S. ambassador to the UN, was asked: "We have heard that half a million children have died . . . is the price worth it?" Albright replied, "We think the price is worth it." The television network CBS has since refused to allow the videotape of that interview to be shown again, and the reporter will not discuss it.

Halliday and von Sponeck have long been personae non gratae in most of the U.S. and British media. What these whistleblowers have revealed is far too unpalatable: not only was the embargo a great crime against humanity, it actually reinforced Saddam Hussein's control. The reason why so many Iraqis feel bitter about the invasion and occupation is that they remember the Anglo-American embargo as a crippling, medieval siege that prevented them from overthrowing their dictatorship. This is almost never reported in Britain.

Halliday appeared on BBC2's Newsnight soon after he resigned. I watched the presenter Jeremy Paxman allow Peter Hain, then a Foreign Office minister, to abuse him as an "apologist for Saddam." Hain's shameful performance was not surprising. On the eve of this year's Labor Party conference, he dismissed Iraq as a "fringe issue."

Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor, wrote in the New Statesman recently that some journalists "consider it bad form to engage in public debate about anything to do with ethics or standards, never mind the fundamental purpose of journalism." It was a welcome departure from the usual clubbable stuff that passes for media comment but which rarely addresses "the fundamental purpose of journalism" – and especially not its collusive, lethal silences.

"When truth is replaced by silence," the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, "the silence is a lie." He might have been referring to the silence over the devastating effects of the embargo. It is a silence that casts journalists as accessories, just as their silence contributed to an illegal and unprovoked invasion of a defenseless country. Yes, there was plenty of media noise prior to the invasion, but Blair's spun version dominated, and truth-tellers were sidelined. Scott Ritter was the UN's senior weapons inspector in Iraq. Ritter began his whistle-blowing more than five years ago when he said: "By 1998, [Iraq's] chemical weapons infrastructure had been completely dismantled or destroyed by UNSCOM. . . . The biological weapons program was gone, the major facilities eliminated. . . . The long-range ballistic missile program was completely eliminated. If I had to quantify Iraq's threat, I would say [it is] zero."

Ritter's truth was barely acknowledged. Like Halliday and von Sponeck, he was almost never mentioned on the television news, the principal source of most people's information. The studied obfuscation of Hans Blix was far more acceptable as the "balancing voice." That Blix, like Kofi Annan, was playing his own political games with Washington was never questioned.

Up to the fall of Baghdad, the misinformation and lies of Bush and Blair were channeled, amplified and legitimized by journalists, notably by the BBC, which defines its political coverage by the pronouncements, events and personalities of the "village" of Whitehall and Westminster. Andrew Gilligan broke this rule in his outstanding reporting from Baghdad and later his disclosure of Blair's most important deception. It is instructive that the most sustained attacks on him came from his fellow journalists.

In the crucial 18 months before Iraq was attacked, when Bush and Blair were secretly planning the invasion, famous, well-paid journalists became little more than channels, debriefers of the debriefers – what the French call fonctionnaires. The paramount role of real journalists is not to channel, but to challenge, not to fall silent, but to expose. There were honorable exceptions, notably Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian and the irrepressible Robert Fisk in the Independent. Two newspapers, the Mirror and the Independent, broke ranks. Apart from Gilligan and one or two others, broadcasters failed to reflect the public's own rising awareness of the truth. In commercial radio, a leading journalist who raised too many questions was instructed to "tone down the antiwar stuff because the advertisers won't like it."

In the United States, in the so-called mainstream of what is constitutionally the freest press in the world, the line held, with the result that Bush's lies were believed by the majority of the population. American journalists are now apologizing, but it is too late. The U.S. military is out of control in Iraq, bombarding densely populated areas with impunity. How many Iraqi families like Kenneth Bigley's are grieving? We do not experience their anguish, or hear their appeals for mercy. According to a recent estimate, roughly 37,000 Iraqis have died in this grotesque folly.

John Pilger

Charles Lewis, the former star CBS reporter who now runs the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., told me he was in no doubt that, had his colleagues done their job rather than acted as ciphers, the invasion would not have taken place. Such is the power of the modern media; it is a power we should reclaim from those subverting it.