Over the past two weeks, the contrast between two related "global" events has been salutary. The first was the World Tribunal on Iraq held in Istanbul; the second the G8 meeting in Scotland and the Make Poverty History campaign. Reading the papers and watching television in Britain, you would know nothing about the Istanbul meetings, which produced the most searing evidence to date of the greatest political scandal of modern times: the attack on a defenceless Iraq by America and Britain.
George W. Bush’s decision to unilaterally invade Iraq in March 2003 has placed a severe strain on the US military. The Army currently has almost half of its 32 combat brigades deployed there, with two more assigned to Afghanistan. This means that three-quarters of its forces are either committed to combat zones or recuperating from recent combat.
About 60,000 of the 140,000 troops in Iraq are activated reservists from National Guard or Reserve units. These “weekend warriors” have been involuntarily kept in the war zone an extra three to five months, despite promises that their tours would be limited to one year. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has used “stop loss” orders to keep about 50,000 GIs on active duty past their discharge or separation dates.
Members of the 42nd Military Police Company of the New York National Guard remember the place in Iraq where they were stationed as a hellhole. "The place was filthy; most of the windows were broken; dirt, grease, and bird droppings were everywhere," Sergeant Agustin Matos later recalled. "I wouldn't house a city prisoner in that place." There were also the frequent sandstorms, blowing dust right into the area where Matos and his fellow company members were based. Sergeant Hector Vega, a retired postal worker from the Bronx who had served in the National Guard for 27 years, said the smoke "was so thick, you could see it."
The fundamentalists’ landslide victory in Iran’s recent “free” elections disheartened Western observers. The CIA declared that the lopsided outcome points to a new era of repression by the country’s clerical regime. In blocking fair elections, clerical hard-liners drove dissent online, lighting up thousands of alternate channels of communication.
In Iran, the Internet is becoming the most successful way to work around oppression. It gives ordinary people access to real news and information. They can express their opinions freely and communicate with Iranians around the world.
In early February, the Bush administration announced plans for an Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance to oversee three agencies involved in the reconstruction of post-war Iraq: humanitarian relief, reconstruction and civil administration. Directed from the Pentagon, the head of the new office was to be Jay Garner, a retired general. Although the Pentagon would oversee reconstruction efforts, international groups and non-government organizations would not deal directly with the Defense Department. Instead, they would work with US Agency for International Development (USAID).
I would like to discuss a number of reservations that I have with policies that you seem to be promoting. First, it troubles me that you interpreted the events of September 11, 2001 as attacks on our “freedom.” This isn’t the obvious conclusion. The attacks were against the most prominent symbols of our corporate economic and military systems, and terrorist leaders said that they were opposed to our military aid to Israel. In attributing the attacks to our freedom, you have made it much more difficult for the US public to understand why so many people throughout the world hate us. Without a realistic understanding of the situation, it will be impossible to effectively stem the growth of anti-US feeling.