Thursday, September 07, 2006



Absolutely predictable"
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Jeff Severns Guntzel, Electronic Iraq
31 August 2006

Americans are turning against the war in Iraq. Politicians, especially those currently running for office, are talking a slightly tougher anti-war, or at least anti-this-war talk. "Many of these folks are sincere and they're patriotic but they could be - they could not be more wrong," President Bush said today. "If America were to pull out before Iraq could defend itself, the consequences would be absolutely predictable, and absolutely disastrous."

There is disaster now of course. The news today is that 200 people have been killed in violence in Iraq between Sunday and Wednesday. The "rash of violence" as the New York Times called it today (I would have chosen word other than "rash" - there is ceaseless bloodletting in Iraq, not itching) followed closely the boasting of American and Iraqi officials that their "Operation Forward Together," a massive security operation launched in Baghdad in June, had drastically reduced violence in the capital.

It seems - until that success turned to various levels of bluster.The only "absolutely" safe prediction, at this point, seems to be this: Iraqis, when a prominent member of your government or ours appears on television to speak of missions accomplished and movements "forward" and "together," lock your doors and pull your shades.

Sadly, however, such measures - the locking of doors and the pulling of shades - do not guarantee safety in today's Iraq. Behind those locked doors and darkened windows there is often no electricity and when there is water it is not always free of the things that send you ill to the hospital.And at home or at the hospital, you cannot really feel safe from the militias - in uniform and out of uniform - who can find you at either place.

Consider these two stories published this week:The first, "Hospitals are no refuge as abductions of Sunnis rise," the Washington Post's Amit R. Paley, writes:
In a city with few real refuges from sectarian violence - not government offices, not military bases, not even mosques - one place always emerged as a haven: a hospital.So Mounthir Abbas Saud, whose right arm and jaw were ripped off when a car bomb exploded six months ago, must have thought the worst was over when he arrived at Ibn al-Nafis Hospital, a major medical center here.Instead, it had just begun. A few days into his recovery at the facility, armed Shi'ite Muslim militiamen dragged the 43-year-old Sunni mason down the hallway floor, snapping intravenous needles and a breathing tube out of his body, and later riddled his body with bullets, family members said.

In Baghdad these days, not even the hospitals are safe. In growing numbers, sick and wounded Sunnis have been abducted from public hospitals operated by Iraq's Shi'ite-run Health Ministry and later killed, according to patients, families of victims, doctors, and government officials.As a result, more and more Iraqis are avoiding hospitals, making it even harder to preserve life in a city where death is seemingly everywhere. Gunshot victims are now being treated by nurses in makeshift emergency rooms set up in homes. Women giving birth are smuggled out of Baghdad and into clinics in safer provinces.

In most cases, family members and hospital workers said, the motive for the abductions appeared to be nothing more than religious affiliation. Because public hospitals here are controlled by Shi'ites, the killings have raised questions about whether hospital staff have allowed Shi'ite death squads into their facilities to slaughter Sunni Arabs."We would prefer now to die instead of going to the hospitals," said Abu Nasr, 25, a Sunni cousin of Saud and former security guard from al-Madaan, a Baghdad suburb. "I will never go back to one. Never. The hospitals have become killing fields."

Three Health Ministry officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being killed for discussing such topics publicly, confirmed that Shi'ite militias have targeted Sunnis inside hospitals. Adel Muhsin Abdullah, the ministry's inspector general, said his investigations into complaints of hospital abductions have yielded no conclusive evidence. "But I don't deny that it may have happened," he said.

The second story, which looks inside "Operation Forward Together," throws out a rather stunning statistic and then moves right along:"So far, the U.S. military says, American and Iraqi forces have searched more than 33,000 buildings, including 25 mosques. But the yield has been relatively small." The "yield" has been, again, according to the U.S. military, 70 suspects and 700 weapons. 33,000 buildings. Stop there. Surely many of those buildings were homes.

That is as many as 30,000 doors knocked down and as many as 30,000 families terrified and furious - likely a vengeful kind of fury. The Americans aren't known for their polite knocks. Visits from the Iraqi army can be as bad or worse. When we look at the dips and the surges in violence and at the success and failure of operations, where on the scale do we place the living-room-fury in Iraq? The fury of families engaged in nothing more than the daily struggle of maneuvering life under military occupation and in the midst of incredible violence - interrupted by doors kicked in and loved ones screamed at and rounded up at gunpoint and in their nightclothes.

What does that fury become? Does it waste civilians in a marketplace or American soldiers in a Humvee or does it just waste the furious? The answer is "absolutely predictable": it does all of these things.

Jeff Severns Guntzel, a journalist based in New York City, is co-founder and editor of Electronic Iraq. From 1998-2003, Guntzel made frequent visits to Iraq as co-coordinator of Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign to end the economic sanctions against Iraq. Guntzel returned to Iraq as a journalist immediately after the invasion. He was last in the Middle East in January 2006 to report on Iraqis fleeing the war and the demise of Ariel Sharon’s political career. Recent articles on Electronic Iraq
War Every Day (eIraq Blog): "It reminds me of a place that no longer exists" ( 6 September 2006)
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