Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sadr City | War Funding Resources | UFPJ Action Alert

The Iraqi Red Crescent estimates that hundreds have fled Sadr City amid heavy fighting and curfews that continue to cut off access to food, water, and electricity. There is also an update from the congressional quarterly on the next steps on the congressional strategy for war funding. You will find wonderful resources and action ideas on the link to voices for creative nonviolence. There is also a link to the UFPJ call. The AFSC defund/refund letter to congress is at the bottom of the message.

925 Dead in Sadr City Clashes
Agence France Press, 30 April 2008

UNHCR Concerned About Funding for Refugees and IDPs
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 30 April 2008

A View Inside Sadr City –Slideshow
New York Times, 28 April 2008


Democrats’ War Spending Strategy Riles Many
Josh Rogin, Congressional Quarterly, 29 April 2008

“After weeks of discussions, several House aides confirmed that they could bring to the floor, probably next week, a bill that would be open to three specific amendments: one for over $170 billion in war funding, another for domestic spending items and a third for a series of Iraq-related policy provisions.

The bill would then be packaged and sent to the Senate, which would hold floor votes on its own amendments and send the measure back to the House to be cleared.

Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, the chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said House and Senate Democrats were closing in on an agreement. “I think we’re about 95 percent there,” Inouye said.

But after a leadership meeting Tuesday evening, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said no final deal had been struck. “There are still a lot of moving parts,” Hoyer said.”


Voices for Creative Nonviolence: Iraq War Funding Resources*

* You will find a question and answer section on war funding, several very helpful charts of voting records on approval for war funding, and a history of amendments that have been added to the funding bills over the years.


UFPJ – Action Alert

AFSC Documents

Download "The Iraqi Refugee Crisis" (spring/summer update)

Download "Iraqi Refugee Resettlement" (new)

Healing the Wounds of War: Alternatives to War Funding

Peacebuilding Measures Outlined in the Document

1) Stop funding the U.S. military presence in Iraq
2) Negotiate a timetable for a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces
3) Withhold funding allocated for arming Iraq’s sectarian militias and armed forces
4) Suspend plans to implement a $60 billion U.S. arms package to the region

Cost of War – Activist Tool Kit

Defund/Refund Letter to Congress

New Resource Page

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Funding Occupation

Congress will soon begin another discussion on the amount of war funding necessary to sustain the wars and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Kathy Kelly has a rousing call appeal to stop collaborating. Weary of War? Don't Collaborate It is the clearest debunking of the recent congressional appeals to demand that Iraq do more to sustain the occupation with their oil revenue.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

$170 billion War Funding Request

Congressional Quarterly is reporting that “House Democratic leadership is close to finalizing a decision to combine all outstanding Bush administration requests for war funding — totaling at least $170 billion — into one huge bill, according to lawmakers and aides. Such a move would clear war funding from the congressional agenda until well into the next administration.”

Huge War Supplemental in Works
Congressional Quarterly, 16 April 2008

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Uprooted and Unstable: Meeting Urgent Humanitarian Needs in Iraq

This new report by two seasoned travelers to the region gives an accounting of the humanitarian crisis inside of Iraq. It has helpful policy recommendations regarding increasing assistance, for Iraqis returning home (which is discouraged at the moment), and the way forward.

Uprooted and Unstable: Meeting Urgent Humanitarian Needs in Iraq
Kristele Younis and Nir Rosen, Refugees International (April 2008)

Executive summary (excerpt)

Five years after the US -led invasion, Iraq remains a deeply violent and divided society. Faced with one of the largest displacement and humanitarian crises in the world, Iraqi civilians are in urgent need of assistance. Particularly vulnerable are the 2.7 million internally displaced Iraqis who have fled their homes for safer locations inside Iraq. Unable to access their food rations and often unemployed, they live in squalid conditions, have run out of resources and find it extremely difficult to access essential services. The US, the government of Iraq and the international community must begin to address the consequences of leaving Iraqis' humanitarian needs unmet.

As a result of the vacuum created by the failure of both the Iraqi Government and the international community to act in a timely and adequate manner, non-state actors play a major role in providing assistance to vulnerable Iraqis. Militias of all denominations are improving their local base of support by providing social services in the neighborhoods and towns they control. Through a 'Hezbollah-like' scheme, the Shiite Sadrist movement has established itself as the main service provider in the country. Similarly, other Shiite and Sunni groups are gaining ground and support through the delivery of food, oil, electricity, clothes and money to the civilians living in their fiefdoms. Not only do these militias now have a quasi-monopoly in the large-scale provision of assistance in Iraq, they are also recruiting an increasing number of civilians to their militias - including displaced Iraqis.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tax-Day Actions | Petraeus-Crocker | Kennedy-Biden Report on Iraqi Refugees | Lessons Learned

New links for next week’s tax-day actions and call in - please take a moment to share with friends and family. You should also take a look at the report back slideshow; it begins with a beautiful shot of the light installation in San Francisco. Regarding the Petraeus-Crocker hearings. Phyllis Bennis has talking points and Juan Cole looks at the role of foreign military occupations in retarding national reconciliation. There is also a copy of the report issued yesterday by Senators Kennedy and Biden on Iraqi refugees. Zia Mian also has an interesting article on intervention and lessons learned.

Iraq Update 9 April 2008: Making a Difference for Iraqis
Action: Tax-Day Call In
Background Resources: Tax-Day Call In
Report Back: Slideshow on Commemorating the Human Cost of War
Updated Resource Page: Learn About Iraq

Petraeus-Crocker Hearings: Political Theater on Message
By Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies, 8 April 2008

A critical review of the four themes advocated by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in their testimony before Congress. The themes should be understood as a continued framework for occupation.

Iran is the Problem in Iraq
The "Surge" Stopped the Violence
Keep the Troops in Iraq
Support the $110 billion Supplemental Funding Bill for Iraq War

* Also Distributed as UFPJ Talking Points #57: Petraeus-Crocker hearings target Iran, justify the "surge," and defend permanent occupation.

Petraeus, Iraq and the Lebanon Analogy

Juan Cole expands the scope of the hearings and asks what reconciliation might look like if the US Military was not supporting one side. Following an analogy with Lebanon, he suggests that maybe the US in Iraq is not the little boy with his finger in the dyke. Maybe we are workers with jackhammers instructed to make the hole in the dyke much more huge.

Managing Chaos – The Iraqi Refugees of Jordan and Syria and Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq. Senators Kennedy, Biden Release Report On Iraqi Refugees


April 8, 2008

“[The] findings suggest a startling lack of American leadership in a crisis that much of the international community considers a result of our intervention in Iraq. Acknowledging that the war in Iraq has resulted in one of the greatest humanitarian crises of the post-Cold War era is a bitter pill to swallow. Ensuring that this refugee population receives the humanitarian treatment and dignity that it deserves requires American leadership of a kind not seen to this point.

We believe that more must be done by the United States to deal with this crisis. An appropriate action by President Bush at this time would be to appoint a senior official in the White House to coordinate our overall policy on the Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. As President Ford stated in appointing the late Julia Taft to be Director of the Interagency Task Force on Indochina Refugees, our country’s response to the refugee crisis caused by the Vietnam War was “a reaffirmation of American awareness of the roots and ideals of our society.”


Recommendation number two on funding gives you a sense to what degree the US Government has failed to provide any meaningful support to international agencies and States supporting Iraqi refugees.

The United States should fund fifty percent of all United Nations’ and other international organizations’ appeals for Iraqi refugees, internally displaced persons, and for other vulnerable Iraqis.

· In 2008, a 50% commitment would amount to approximately $500 million, somewhat less than one-half of one percent of the costs of annual U.S. military operations in Iraq.[25] Providing this level of assistance on an ongoing basis would match our resources with our moral obligation to assist those suffering and relieve the burden on host governments.

Click here for the report.
AFSC Page in the Iraqi Refugee Crisis

Costs of War
Zia Mian, Foreign Policy in Focus

Excerpt : The Iraq war has broken the Bush presidency, cost the Republicans control of Congress, and may lose them the White House. The growing sentiment among Americans that the United States should mind its own business and not try to manage the affairs of the rest of the world may be enough to restrain future leaders from a similar illegal assault on another nation.

But we have been here before. It is worth remembering that thirty years ago many believed the painful lessons of the Vietnam War and American defeat would restrain American interventions overseas. But it took right-wing politicians, led notably by Ronald Reagan, barely five years to begin rallying the public to overturn the “Vietnam Syndrome” and demand that America show it had “the means and the determination to prevail.” They prevailed. The challenge after Iraq will be to make sure this does not happen again.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Linked: Petraeu's Testimony | Muqtada al-Sadr

Patrick Cockburn, Petraeus's Ghost
Tom Engelhardt, Tomgram 8 April 2008

On the first day of testimony in Washington, Tom Engelhardt has made available the last chapter of a new book on Muqtada al-Sadr just published by Patrick Cockburn.


Riding the Tiger: Muqtada al-Sadr and the American Dilemma in Iraq
By Patrick Cockburn

Muqtada al-Sadr is the most important and surprising figure to emerge in Iraq since the U.S. invasion. He is the Messianic leader of the religious and political movement of the impoverished Shia underclass whose lives were ruined by a quarter of a century of war, repression, and sanctions.

From the moment he unexpectedly appeared in the dying days of Saddam Hussein's regime, U.S. emissaries and Iraqi politicians underestimated him. So far from being the "firebrand cleric" as the Western media often described him, he often proved astute and cautious in leading his followers.

During the battle for Najaf with U.S. Marines in 2004, the U.S. "surge" of 2007, and the escalating war with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, he generally sought compromise rather than confrontation. So far from being the inexperienced young man whom his critics portrayed -- when he first appeared they denigrated him as a zatut (an "ignorant child," in Iraqi dialect) -- he was a highly experienced political operator who had worked in his father's office in Najaf since he was a teenager. He also had around him activist clerics, of his own age or younger, who had hands-on experience under Saddam of street politics within the Shia community. His grasp of what ordinary Iraqis felt was to prove far surer than that of the politicians isolated in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

A Kleptocracy Comparable to the Congo

Mass movements led by Messianic leaders have a history of flaring up unexpectedly and then subsiding into insignificance. This could have happened to Muqtada and the Sadrists but did not, because their political and religious platform had a continuous appeal for the Shia masses. From the moment Saddam was overthrown, Muqtada rarely deviated from his open opposition to the U.S. occupation, even when a majority of the Shia community was prepared to cooperate with the occupiers.

As the years passed, however, disillusion with the occupation grew among the Shia until, by September 2007, an opinion poll showed that 73% of Shia thought that the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq made the security situation worse, and 55% believed their departure would make a Shia-Sunni civil war less likely. The U.S. government, Iraqi politicians, and the Western media habitually failed to recognize the extent to which hostility to the occupation drove Iraqi politics and, in the eyes of Iraqis, delegitimized the leaders associated with it.

All governments in Baghdad failed after 2003. Almost no Iraqis supported Saddam Hussein as U.S. troops advanced on Baghdad. Even his supposedly loyal Special Republican Guard units dissolved and went home. Iraqis were deeply conscious that their country sat on some of the world's largest oil reserves, but Saddam Hussein's Inspector Clouseau-like ability to make catastrophic errors in peace and war had reduced the people to a state in which their children were stunted because they did not get enough to eat.

The primal rage of the dispossessed in Iraq against the powers-that-be exploded in the looting of Baghdad when the old regime fell, and the same fury possessed Muqtada's early supporters. Had life become easier in Shia Iraq in the coming years, this might have undermined the Sadrist movement. Instead, people saw their living standards plummet as provision of food rations, clean water, and electricity faltered. Saddam's officials were corrupt enough, but the new government cowering in the Green Zone rapidly turned into a kleptocracy comparable to Nigeria or the Congo. Muqtada sensed the loathing with which the government was regarded, and dodged in and out of government, enjoying some of the fruits of power while denouncing those who held it.

Muqtada's political intelligence is undoubted, but the personality of this highly secretive man is difficult to pin down. While his father and elder brothers lived he was in their shadow; after they were assassinated in 1999 he had every reason to stress his lack of ability or ambition in order to give the mukhabarat [Saddam Hussein's secret police] less reason to kill him. As the son and son-in-law of two of Saddam Hussein's most dangerous opponents, he was a prime suspect and his every move was watched.

When Saddam fell, Muqtada stepped forward to claim his forbears' political inheritance and consciously associated himself with them on every possible occasion. Posters showed Muqtada alongside Sadr I and Sadr II [Muqtada's father-in-law and father, both assassinated by Saddam] against a background of the Iraqi flag. There was more here than a leader exploiting his connection to a revered or respected parent. Muqtada persistently emphasized the Sadrist ideological legacy: puritanical Shia Islam mixed with anti-imperialism and populism.

Riding the Tiger of the Sadrist Movement

The first time I thought seriously about Muqtada was a grim day in April 2003 when I heard that he was being accused of killing a friend of mine, Sayyid Majid al-Khoei, that intelligent and able man with whom I had often discussed the future of Iraq. Whatever the involvement of Muqtada himself, which is a matter of dispute, the involvement of the Sadrist supporters in the lynching is proven and was the start of a pattern that was to repeat itself over the years.

Muqtada was always a man riding a tiger, sometimes presiding over, sometimes controlling the mass movement he nominally led. His words and actions were often far apart. He appealed for Shia unity with the Sunni against the occupation, yet after the bombing of the Shia shrine in Samarra in February 2006, he was seen as an ogre by the Sunni, orchestrating the pogroms against them and failing to restrain the death squads of the Mehdi Army. The excuse that it was "rogue elements" among his militiamen who were carrying out this slaughter is not convincing, because the butchery was too extensive and too well organized to be the work of only marginal elements. But the Sadrists and the Shia in general could argue that it was not they who had originally taken the offensive against the Sunni, and the Shia community endured massacres at the hands of al-Qaeda for several years before their patience ran out.

Muqtada had repeatedly demanded that Sunni political and religious leaders unequivocally condemn al-Qaeda in Iraq's horrific attacks on Shia civilians if he was to cooperate with them against the occupation. They did not do so, and this was a shortsighted failure on their part, since the Shia, who outnumbered the Sunni Arabs three to one in Iraq, controlled the police and much of the army. Their retaliation, when it came, was bound to be devastating. Muqtada was criticized for not doing more, but neither he, nor anybody else could have stopped the killing at the height of the battle for Baghdad in 2006. The Sunni and Shia communities were both terrified, and each mercilessly retaliated for the latest atrocity against their community. "We try to punish those who carry out evil deeds in the name of the Mehdi Army," says Hussein Ali, the former Mehdi Army leader. "But there are a lot of Shia regions that are not easy to control and we ourselves, speaking frankly, are sometimes frightened by these great masses of people."

American officials and journalists seldom showed much understanding of Muqtada, even after [U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority head] Paul Bremer's disastrous attempt to crush him [in 2004]. There were persistent attempts to marginalize him or keep him out of government instead of trying to expand the Iraqi government's narrow support base to include the Sadrists. The first two elected Shia prime ministers, Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Nouri al-Maliki, came under intense pressure from Washington to sever or limit their connection with Muqtada. But government officials were not alone in being perplexed by the young cleric. In a lengthy article on him published in its December 4, 2006, issue, Newsweek admitted that "Muqtada al-Sadr may end up deciding America's fate in Iraq." But the best the magazine could do to assist its readers in understanding Muqtada was to suggest that they should "think of him as a young Mafia don."

Of course, Muqtada was the complete opposite to the type of Iraqi leader who proponents of the war in Washington had suggested would take over from Saddam Hussein. Instead of the smooth, dark-suited, English-speaking exiles who the White House had hoped would turn Iraq into a compliant U.S. ally, Muqtada looked too much like a younger version of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Muqtada epitomized the central dilemma of the United States in Iraq, which it has never resolved. The problem was that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his Sunni regime was bound to be followed by elections that would produce a government dominated by the Shia allied to the Kurds. It soon became evident that the Shia parties that were going to triumph in any election would be Islamic parties, and some would have close links to Iran.

The Arab Sunni states were aghast at the sight of Iran's defeat in the Iran-Iraq war being reversed, and spoke of a menacing "Shia axis" developing in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. Much of this was ignorance and paranoia on the part of the Arab leaders. Had the Iranians been tempted to make Iraq a client state they would have found the country as prickly a place for Iranians as it was to be for Americans. It was the U.S. attempt to create an anti-Iranian Iraq that was to play into Iranian hands and produce the very situation that Washington was trying to avoid.

The more Washington threatened air strikes on Iran because of its nuclear program, the more the Iranians sought to make sure that it had the potential to strike back at American forces in Iraq. Before he was executed, Sadr I believed that he had been let down by Iran; Sadr II had bad relations with Tehran; and at first Muqtada denounced his Shia opponents in SCIRI and the Marji'iyyah as being Iranian stooges. But American pressure meant that the Sadrists had to look to Iran for help, and in a military confrontation the Mehdi Army saw Iran as an essential source of weapons and military expertise.

The New Iraqi Political Landscape

On reappearing after his four-month disappearance in May 2007, Muqtada called for a united front of Sunni and Shia and identified the U.S. occupation and al-Qaeda in Iraq as the enemies of both communities. The call was probably sincere, but it was also too late. Baghdad was now largely a Shia city, and people were too frightened to go back to their old homes. The U.S. "surge" had contributed to the sharp drop in sectarian killings, but it was also true that the Shia had won and there were few mixed areas left.

The U.S. commander General David Petraeus claimed that security was improving, but only a trickle of Iraqis who had fled their homes were returning. Muqtada was the one Shia leader capable of uniting with the Sunni on a nationalist platform, but the Sunni Arabs of Iraq had never accepted that their rule had ended. If Sunni and Shia could not live on the same street, they could hardly share a common identity.

The political and military landscape of Iraq changed in 2007 as the Sunni population turned on al-Qaeda. This started before the "surge," but it was still an important development. Al-Qaeda's massive suicide bombs targeting civilians had been the main fuel for Shia-Sunni sectarian warfare since 2003. The Sunni Arabs and many of the insurgent groups had turned against al-Qaeda after it tried to monopolize power within the Sunni community at the end of 2006 by declaring the Islamic State of Iraq. Crucial in the change was al-Qaeda's attempt to draft one son from every Sunni family into its ranks. Sunni with lowly jobs with the government such as garbage collectors were killed.

By the fall of 2007 the U.S. military command in Baghdad was trumpeting successes over al-Qaeda, saying it had been largely eliminated in Anbar, Baghdad, and Diyala. But the Sunni Arab fighters, by now armed and paid for by the United States, did not owe their prime loyalty to the Iraqi government. Muqtada might speak of new opportunities for pan-Iraqi opposition to the U.S. occupation, but many anti-al-Qaeda Sunni fighters had quite different ideas. They wanted to reverse the Shia victory in the 2006 battle of Baghdad.

A new breed of American-supported Sunni warlords was emerging. One of them, Abu Abed, is a former member of the insurgent Islamic Army. He operates in the Amariya district of west Baghdad, where he is a commander of the U.S.-backed Amariya Knights, whom the U.S. calls Concerned Citizens. His stated objectives show that the rise of the new Sunni militias may mark only a new stage in a sectarian civil war. "Amariya is just the beginning," says Abu Abed. "After we finish with al-Qaida here, we will turn towards our main enemy, the Shia militias. I will liberate Jihad [the mixed Sunni-Shia area near Amariya taken over by the Mehdi Army], then Saadiya and the whole of west Baghdad."

The al-Sadr family has an extraordinary record of resistance to Saddam Hussein, for which they paid a heavy price. One of the gravest errors in Iraq by the United States was to try to marginalize Muqtada and his movement. Had he been part of the political process from the beginning, the chances of creating a peaceful, prosperous Iraq would have been greater.
In any real accommodation between Shia and Sunni, the Sadrists must play a central role. Muqtada probably represented his constituency of millions of poor Shia better than anybody else could have done. But he never wholly controlled his own movement, and never created as well-disciplined a force as Hezbollah in Lebanon. None of his ambitions for reconciliation with the Sunni could take wing unless the Mehdi Army ceased to be identified with death squads and sectarian cleansing.

The war in Iraq has gone on longer than World War I and, while violence diminished in the second half of 2007, nothing has been resolved. The differences between Shia and Sunni, the disputes within the respective communities, and the antagonism against the U.S. occupation are all as great as ever. The only way the Sadrists and the Mehdi Army could create confidence among the Sunni that Muqtada meant what he said when he called for unity, would be for them to be taken back voluntarily into the areas in Baghdad and elsewhere from which they have been driven. But there is no sign of this happening. The disintegration of Iraq has probably gone too far for the country to exist as anything more than a loose federation.

Patrick Cockburn is the Iraq correspondent for The Independent in London. He has visited Iraq countless times since 1977 and was recipient of the 2004 Martha Gellhorn Prize for war reporting as well as the 2006 James Cameron Memorial Award. His book The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq, was short-listed for a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2007. This essay is the last chapter in his new book, Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq, just published by Scribner.