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Thursday, December 16, 2004

All Iraqis Want for X-mas is for the US to Get the Fuck Out

If you follow world events mainly by watching American cable news networks, then you're view of the world is narrow. This is especially true of the so-called War on Terror, which began as an effort to bring Osama bin Laden and his cohorts to justice and, that effort having failed, has become a crushing military attack on the people of Iraq.

Our government and the compliant media has framed the current conflict as a war against terrorists and insurgents who want to stop democracy from breeding and disrupt the scheduled January parliamentary elections in Iraq. This narrative is fueled by comments by US officials and the puppet government in Iraq, which the US handpicked and controls.

But when you hear the voices of these "insurgents," you get a radically different view of the conflict, one that the US government – for good reason – doesn't want you to hear.

Today, The Guardian newspaper published an article in which two insurgent commanders that revealed the true nature of the insurgency – it is a resistance against the US occupation of their country post-Saddam. Pure and simple. They are not terrorists, they are people who were average Iraqi citizens who are glad Saddam is gone but are eager for the US to leave, too.

The first commander interviewed identified himself "only as Abu Mojahed" and claimed to speak for three rebel groups united under the name "Haifa mujahideen".

Before the war he had been a labourer in Baghdad and was jailed four times under Saddam Hussein's regime because of his adherence to the Salafi creed of Sunni Islam, a strict and conservative belief. He would gather with friends for secret Salafi classes and discussions.

He did not fight when America invaded last year, but did not welcome the war either. "I didn't fight. I stayed at home. If you fight for Saddam and he wins, you are not winning. If America wins, you are not winning," he said. "They freed us from evil but they brought more evil to the country."

As the weeks passed, the clerics in the mosques instructed him and his friends to take up arms."We fight the Americans because they are non-believers and they are coming to fight Islam, calling us terrorists," he said.
While "Mojahed" has a strong belief in how Iraq should be ruled – under a strict brand if Islamic fundamentalism – the second commander interviewed is only concerned about getting the US out and rebuilding their nation on their own.

"We don't want them, thanks. We can rebuild our own country, we have a long and ancient history. All we are asking is for them to pull out."

This is only the latest such tale, but for the most part such notions do not percolate to the 24-hour news cycle in America. Harper's magazine had a revealing article earlier in June by Patrick Graham titled, "Beyond Fallujah," which chronicled the writer's year spent inside the resistance.

Graham's lengthy piece showed that most "anti-American forces" were average Iraqis who wanted the US to leave. They were not Saddam loyalists or foreign terrorists, although there are some such people in Iraq, just very few in number.

One of the men Graham focused on was Mohammed:

Mohammed’s reasons for joining the resistance were mixed. It was partly because of the civilians being killed, partly because he believed that the Koran required Muslims to fight non-Muslim occupiers. He worried that the Americans would hand power over to the Shia majority, who had suffered far more under the last regime than had the Sunnis and who would, he feared, take revenge. He said that like most “good Muslims” he hated Saddam, but he doubted that the United States had come to liberate Iraq. It had been a strategic war, he thought, designed to threaten Syria and Iran and to protect Israel. In the end, his opposition had much to do with the simple idea of occupation: he just didn’t like seeing foreign soldiers on his land. He was a bit of a Texan that way.

“When we see the U.S. soldiers in our cities with guns, it is a challenge to us. America wants to show its power, to be a cowboy. . . . Bush wants to win the next election—that is why he is lying to the American people saying that the resistance is Al Qaeda. . . . I don’t know a lot about political relations in the world, but if you look at history—Vietnam, Iraq itself, Egypt, and Algeria—countries always rebel against occupation. . . . The world must know that this is an honorable resistance and has nothing to do with the old regime. Even if Saddam Hussein dies we will continue to fight to throw out the American forces. We take our power from our history, not from one person.”
Graham also quoted a Sheikh as saying: “We are like a man with a razor in his throat. We can’t spit out the Americans, but we can’t swallow them either.”

There are several websites that daily track the resistance from the inside, and it is important to learn this point of view if we are to figure out an end to this mess. The concept of a US pull-out is another subject made tabboo by the US media, and the presidential election did not offer that as a point for debate. Both candidates made it clear that they shared the same belief – the US must crush the terrorists.

One useful site is Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches. Dahr is an American, born and raised in Texas, who spent his life traveling and writing as a freelance reporter. He saved money and moved to Baghdad to report on the war, "weary of the overall failure of the US media to accurately report on the realities of the war in Iraq for the Iraqi people and US soldiers," as he puts it.

There are many others. To really educate yourself on this conflict, you need to expand your media sources to include foreign media and Internet resources independent of the corporate, pro-government propaganda services that we call CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Butler's Money Talks

Count me as not-the-least-bit-surprised that shopping mall magnate Clark Butler was able to wrangle federal money for his planned expansion of Butler Plaza. It's how the system works – you give a lot of money to a candidate, the candidate gets elected, and you call in the favor.

Butler has given a lot of money to our Congressional representatives, at least enough to buy him this substantial favor, despite it being at odds with the County Commission's transportation plans.

Worse, Butler's needs – which boil down to new roads that will allow him to make millions in profit – apparently were more important to our reps in Washington, D.C., than were the priorities of local elected officials, because many of their requested transportation programs did not get funded.

Now it remains to be seen how the County Commission responds. At issue is Southwest 24th Avenue, a dirt road running from Southwest 34th Street west to Southwest 42nd Street, through a mostly undeveloped area. Several years ago, the county worked with citizens to develop a student village plan for this area, meaning student residences and road facilities that favored biking, walking and taking the bus to and from the UF campus.

Southwest 24th Avenue was to be a paved two-lane road. Butler later announced that he wanted to expand Butler Plaza to the north from its current location, into the same basic area planned for the student village.

Because of the size of his plans, he needs 24th Avenue to be a four-lane road, to guarantee to state transportation officials that there is enough road capacity to handle the additional traffic his project would generate.

Butler offered to personally subsidize part of the plan, but it still required the county to pay far more for the road project than planned, and it went against the student village concept for the area. The County Commission narrowly voted the four-land idea down.

The commission's composition has changed – Penny Wheat, who voted to tow-lane the road, retired and was replaced by Paula DeLaney, who, in her first speech as a commissioner, thanked Butler personally. Butler was standing in the back of the room, beaming like the Grinch before he stole the Who's Christmas.

It does not take a genius, does it? DeLaney has never shied away from approving development proposals and has shown little interest in managing growth. I cautioned many people who supported her in her recent campaign for the commission that she was talking a good talk but would quickly abandon their managed growth agenda as soon as it was expedient.

Let's see if she proves me wrong.