the Disillusioned kid: February 2005
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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Open Letter to the Anti-Occupation Movement

(I wrote this article a few weeks back and sent it to the Nottingham Stop the War email discussion group. At the time it passed without interest, but in light of some recent interest, I've decided to post a slightly updated version here. Please take the time to send it for a spin in your mental microwave and see how it defrosts. Any thoughts in the comments section.)

It is becomingly increasingly clear to all but the most ideologically blinkered that the occupation of Iraq has been a disaster. The Lancet estimated that the death toll amongst Iraqis since the invasion was in the order of 100,000, perhaps higher. Amongst the occupying forces, the US has now lost more than 1,400 soldiers and the UK almost 90. This doesn’t even mention the hundreds of thousands who have been injured and rendered homeless or forced to flee from their homes. Despite all of this, the occupation continues at the time of writing and looks set to do so for the continuing future. If we are serious about bringing this state of affairs to an end we have a duty to consider the strategies we have been pursuing and if we find them lacking to institute a change in strategic direction. This easy is an attempt to suggest one possible such strategic direction in the hope of generating debate.

Prior to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 there was a massive level of anti-war activity, reaching its apotheosis in February of that year with 1.5 million people on the streets of London and millions more in simultaneous protests across the world. Activist and author Milan Rai suggests that the anti-war movement scared the government sufficiently that they seriously considered pulling British troops out of the planned invasion. Today, although the violence continues there is a far lower level of activity. The protests on March 19 this year will no doubt be large compared with those around other issues, but will have little if any effect on those in power and pass off largely unknown by the vast majority of the population. If we wish to influence the elites currently running the occupation than we must seek to raise the costs of that policy so that they exceed the benefits, something we are at the moment unable to do.

Those costs which have been imposed on the occupation have been almost exclusively at the hands of the armed insurgency. This is surely obvious to anybody, regardless of their opinions on some or all of the groups who have taken up arms against the occupation. It is worth noting here that the resistance is not a homogenous group as some insinuate, but rather an assortment of groups of groups with few if any links, some of whom are openly hostile to each other. The divided nature of this group will no doubt affect its effectiveness, particularly if some groups continue their apparent strategy of targeting Iraqis from other ethnic groups. Whether the insurgency can force the US out remains to be seen, but it is certainly not a given.

One of the most important elements in any strategy for the liberation of Iraq on the part of western activists is the development and dissemination of serious, useful analysis. In the run up to the war the Stop the War Coalition and many other groups focused on simplistic sloganeering which ensured a broad-based movement, but left people unprepared to deal with the radically different political situation which came with the consolidation of the occupation and the emergence of armed resistance. Unfortunately the Stop the War Coalition continues in this vein, limiting itself to demanding that the troops be brought home, but offering little on why this should happen. Fortunately other groups and individuals are moving in to fill this group, Iraq Occupation Focus and Rahul Mahajan being two who spring to mind.

Perhaps the most important task of activists at the present time is outreach. Polls suggest that a majority of the population broadly agree with us and my own experience in campaigning seems to back that up. Despite this our ability to attract and mobilise those people has been more limited. There are, of course, real questions about how we go about doing this. Public meetings are a potentially useful tool, but often attract those who are already converts to the cause. In my opinion, Nottingham Stop the War is on the right lines here, with a regular stall in the city’s Old Market Square on Saturday’s and a roving stall moving through the likes of Ilkeston, Mansfield and Kirby-in-Ashfield. These distribute flyers, allow activists to engage with normal people and also make their presence known to a potential audience of thousands. Nottingham Stop the War has also sought to develop its links with local trade unions with some success, an effort which could perhaps be extended to churches and religious groups, if not further.

On a more practical level, activists could, and in my opinion should, target firms profiting from the occupation. Voices UK organised an event along these protests during September last year. Dressing up as fat-cats and pigs they toured the offices of firms such as AMEC and Bechtel. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), few of these firms have much of a presence outside of London, but some, such as Shell and HSBC are virtually ubiquitous and easy to get at, while others such as AMEC are possibilities, but would require a little more research.

The tactics which could be employed in this regard are numerous and varied. No doubt pickets and protests would be utilised initially, but we should seek to use all means at our disposal. Easily organised letter writing campaigns to the company itself or local papers could potentially generate positive results. Boycotts are another possibility, but would probably have to be co-ordinated nationally. More militant tactics such as property destruction should not be dismissed and have been utilised with some success by animal liberation campaigners. We should seek to learn from such groups, but the negative publicity that they have attracted, arguably to the detriment of their cause, should also be borne in mind.

This approach should be coupled with the targeting of any and all representatives of the British state with particular emphasis on Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. This could include protests outside barracks and recruitments centres or against visiting government ministers, all of which has happened at one point or another in and around Nottingham. The question of recruitment is a particularly important one, with reports suggesting that there has been a major fall in army recruitment recently, apparently as a result of the chaos in Iraq. This is something we should seek to encourage as far as possible.

Another tactic which should not be forgotten is the targeting of pro-war MPs. This has been something which various groups have engaged in and should continue, regardless of the party from which they come. There is obviously much more which could be said here about the strategy to be followed by anti-war groups as we head towards a General Election. My own views on elections would stretch to an essay in themselves and so I will simply comment that we should seek to ensure the issue of the occupation is at the forefront during the campaign and I believe that there should be at least one and ideally a series of events, protests or stunts on the day of the election itself.

One issue which has largely been ignored by anti-occupation activists has been the question of whether or not we should support the trade unions emerging in Iraq. It is worth interjecting at this point that I reject the flawed analysis of many Trotskyists and fellow-travellers which seems to equate a tool for the defence of working class interests (i.e. trade unions) with a potential revolutionary agent (i.e. the working class in toto). Nevertheless economic exploitation of Iraqi resources lies at the heart of the occupiers’ project and unions are a potentially important source of resistance to this. Many union leaders have thrown their hat in with the occupation and I do not wish to suggest that we should support any organisation uncritically. No doubt there is a potential debate as to how far this support should go and this is a debate which must be had urgently.

Some have sought to set support for unions against support for the resistance. In my opinion this is a largely artificial, meaningless dichotomy flowing from mistaken analysis. Given that the resistance is a diverse assortment of groups with differing aims and sometimes violent divisions to suggest that we could or should support it as a whole strikes me as a silly proposition. More concretely there is a consequentialist case to be made for supporting trade unions. It is far from clear what we can actually do to “support” armed resistance movements in Iraq and it seems that such support amongst British activists doesn’t seem to go beyond vacuous rhetoric, which is meaningless to the Iraqi people and of no consequence to our leaders. By contrast there is the possibility of fundraising for Iraqi unions and for solidarising with them, particularly if and when they come under attack from the occupying forces (as has happened on a number of occasions).

No doubt there is a great deal which this essay misses out. I have merely sketched out the bare bones of an anti-occupation strategy and it is for the movement as a whole to fill in the details if they think it is accurate. If not (and no doubt there will be much that some or many will disagree with) then I urge people not to dismiss what I have written, but instead to engage with and improve upon it. The occupation is now almost two years old, Iraqis continue to die on a daily basis. Insofar as we have failed to prevent this state of affairs from continuing, their blood is on our hands. For their sakes, and for our own decency, we owe it to them to do better.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Prevention of Terrorism, my arse!

I'm on a whole host of email lists, among them the Justice Not Vengeance announcements list. Today they sent out an urgent action, from Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC), which some of you might care to participate in. They encourage people to participate in a lobby of MPs against the so-called Prevention of Terrorism Bill. You can do this in person and/or send them a letter. You may not all be able to do the former, but the latter is incredibly easy.

The ever useful is in the process of being updated to allow you to contact not only your MP, but also MEPs and councillors. The new site is available here. Despite this the old site is still available at the old url, so you've got a choice. Simply saunter along to either and follow the instructions. Either write a letter of your own, or use this one (a combination of CAMPACC's suggestion with my own thoughts) as a starting point and adapt, according to your prejudices:
I am writing to express my concern about the so-called Prevention of Terrorism Bill and to urge you to vote against it.

I am deeply concerned that the Bill is being rushed through the House with unseemly haste and without appropriate Parliamentary and public scrutiny.

The Bill proposes to remove the presumption of innocence, which until now has been the core principle of British justice, and vests the power with the Home Secretary to deprive a person of his/her liberty on the basis of suspicion rather than proof.

The Bill proposes closed retrospective judicial reviews where evidence obtained by secret intelligence will be used, possibly even where this has been obtained through torture by third parties. The system of closed sessions will also prevent the accused testing the case against him in any meaningful way.

I fear that the bill if implemented will lead to gross violations of human rights, erosion of civil liberties and miscarriage of justice.

There is no doubt that the threat from terrorism is real. This is hardly a new situation, however. Are we really at a greater threat now than we were at the height of "the Troubles"?

Furthermore, this is the third piece of anti-terrorism legislation in five years. If the previous two are ineffective, why should this one be any different?

Again, I urge you to vote against the Bill and look forward to your
If you want further info on the bill, check out Statewatch.

Make a point of thoroughly proof-reading your letter. I forgot to do this and managed to send of a letter claiming that "this is the third piece of anti-terrorism legislation in three years." Which isn't true. It's the third in five years (the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Anti-Terror, Crime and Security Act 2001 being the other two). Oops. The basic thrust of the argument is unaffected, however.

So... What are you waiting for?

What is the Matrix?

Via This (Profiteering) Gringo, I found my way to the Moral Politics, a site which uses a test to see where candidates fit on the Moral Matrix. It's not disimilar to the the Political Compass (which I've mentioned previously), but offers slightly different categories and is more US-centric. In case you're interested, my results came out thus:
Carter?! Geez!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Pointlessness and Property

From Time The Dreaded Enemy:
Texas Biscuit's game, via Bella by Barlight
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 3 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.
Sifting through the piles of crap on my desk, the first book I stumbled across was What Is Property? by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon which yielded this gem:
This discussion would, indeed, prove a well-nigh useless one, if our labours culminated in simply extending land-privilege and industrial monopoly ; in emancipating only a few hundred labourers out of the millions of proletaires. But this is also a misconception of our real thought and does but prove the general lack of intelligence and logic.

If the labourer, who adds to the value of a thing, has a right of property in it, he who maintains this value acquires the same right.
So there you go.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Don't Just (Not) Vote

I hate election campaigns. The inanity of self-obsessed careerists swaning around the country kissing babies, spouting nonsense and doing everything in their power to avoid the real issues makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon. This being the case, I am less than happy about the prospect of a General Election this year, which seems to put me at odds with many of my "comrades". Nobody knows when the election will be. Those in the know seem convinced that it'll take place on May 5 (which means another two and a half months of campaigning!). At the recent Stop the War Coalition National Council, however, Tony Benn suggested that the it might fall on March 17, thereby taking place before an anti-war rally on March 19 and public sector strikes on pensions on march 23.

Given my distaste for the whole spectacle I have no intention of dedicating much coverage to it here. I do however think it might be worth making a few comments about elections and voting generally, so that people understand where my disinterest stems from.

The label I use to identify my politics varies almost weekly, but I currently describe myself as a small 'a' anarchist (drawing my inspiration from this article). Whatever the exact term I have used, a strong affinity with anarchic ideas has been a constant. As such my thoughts on elections and everything which comes from them have been heavily influenced by various anarchist thinkers.

Anarchists are by definition anti-state. It follows that they reject the concept of elections, considering the institutions to which candidates are elected to be fundamentally illegitimate. They point out that even genuinely decent people entering the system will be unable to effect serious change and will be forced to compromise or be forced out. The Green Party's experiences in government in Germany, support this analysis. It can also be pointed out that nearly every progressive development brought about by Parliament (or indeed any legislative institution) has in fact been forced on them by movements beyond its wall (witness the successes of the suffragettes, the gay rights movements, the anti-hunting campaign etc.). On this basis, anarchists usually argue for a boycott of elections, calling instead for people to engage in direct action and mutual aid. (That said, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon did sit in the National Assembly in France, but the exception merely proves the rule.)

So far so good. It is obvious from the turn-out at recent elections that huge numbers of people have come to realise the truth of this analysis and given up on the whole charade. The problem of course is that many people don't vote because they can't be arsed and there is no way to distinguish them from those who don't vote on principle. A movement (anarchist or otherwise) which was in a position to call for a mass boycott of the election would allows us to surmount the problem. Unfortunately no such group exists in this country and many of the largest progressive groups are busy mobilising people to vote for this or that candidate (see e.g. George Galloway's Respect Coalition, which in truth is little more than an SWP front-group; the Green Party etc.).

This realisation that not voting is likely to be as irrelevant as voting seems to have been a factor in the organisation of the Don't Just (Not) Vote campaign around the elections in the States last year, which raised the slogan, " Like they say - if voting could change anything, it would be illegal! ...and that goes for not voting, too":
Elections in this country [and elsewhere - Dk] are the reddest of red herrings. Liberals have been so fixated on them as to forget most other means of applying power; losses in elections have demoralized and disempowered the Left in general. Anti-authoritarians, on the other hand, while claiming not to recognize the sovereignty of any officials, elected or not, have nonetheless developed their own mythology around voting, attributing to it the mystical power to "legitimize" authority figures thus elected. But it is not voting that gives power to politicians, just as it is not not-voting that could take it away from them; they have power because we place our power in their hands, because we fail to apply it deliberately ourselves.
All of which sounds very sensible.

You may by this point be a little confused as to exactly what I am advocating. Given the slightly muddled argument so far, this is understandable, but bear with me as I move towards a conclusion.

The arguments over whether or not to vote and if we do who to vote for will no doubt come to dominate leftist discourse over the coming weeks and months (a prospect I view with dread). The truth is that the whole thing is pretty irrelevant. Elections are in truth of little importance and provide far less influence on the machinations of the system than we are often told. What is important is not who you do or don't vote for on polling day. What's important is what you're doing in the time in between the quadrennial spectacles. (As an aside, I might vote at the forthcoming election, if only because I've never done so before. I can't help but feel I should try it on before I decide it doesn't fit.) As Don't Just (Not) Vote point out the key thing is to apply power oursleves, which means getting organised and giving the government a good kicking. It's been done before (see the examples above) and it can be done again.

I'll see you on the barricades!

Community Syndicalism

Regular readers will know that I periodically pontificate on the activities of the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA), which I think is doing much from which other lefties and radicals could learn from. This doesn't mean however that I support their activities uncritically, but I couch any criticisms with the proviso that I don't, as yet, have anything better to offer myself.

One of my major issues, is with their participation in elections. This is particularly true with regard to their fielding a candidate in Oxford East for the forthcoming General Election. Apparently my concerns are shared (albeit somewhat more strongly) by an Anarchist calling himself Anarcho. In an article for Anarchist journal Black Flag, Anarcho critiques the party's electoralism (read: participation in elections) and makes the case instead for what he calls "community syndicalism", an idea evoking the concept of anarcho-syndicalism (an Anarchist ideology which focused on the labour movement), which still has considerable currency within the Anarchist movement. Intriguingly the term is also reminiscent of one description of the IWCA as a "trade union for the community". The ideas Anarcho espouses are very interesting and his reference to real world examples are valuable as a demonstration of the plausibility of what he advocates. Nonetheless the whole debate (such as it is) is meaningless until people set about realising what he suggests.. Given the apparent weakness of the Anarchist movement in the UK at the present time, I have little faith that this will happen, but I don't discount the possibility and sincerely hope that I'm wrong.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Lazy Blogging Redux

My laziness continues and so here are some links to good stuff by other people, more motivated than I:

Nosemonkey at Europhobia has some interesting (if worrying) thoughts on North Korea's claims that it has a nuclear weapon.

Elsewhere 'Lenin' has a post on Darfur in which he makes the case for supporting the rebels against the Khartoum government. I'm not entirely sure I agree with everything he says (I may return to this in the future), but the debate he seeks to ignite is an important one in light of the human cost of the conflict in the region (and elsewhere in the country where similar dynamics are at play).

Ward Churchill is an American author and activist. He has written at some length about the genocide of indigenous people in North America, the repression of political movements in the States and US imperialism. Many of his views are distinctly controversial. His important (albeit not flawless) essay Pacifism as Pathology, for instance, argues that pacifism is a counter-revolutionary movement which actually protects the status quo it ostensibly opposes. In recent weeks he has been the target of attacks from the right-wing over an essay he wrote in the aftermath of September 11th. Whatever you think of his views, this is a flagrant assault on academic freedom and may well mark the first salvo in an all out attack on dissident academics in the US. This being the case I urge you to sign this petition.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Getting it on in the Real World

I haven't posted much of late, but for once I've got a good excuse. I've actually been out in the 'real world' doing stuff(!).

On Saturday I was shanghaied into going to the Stop the War Coalion National Conference, as a representative from Nottingham Stop the War. I didn't appreciate having to be to catch a train at 6.56am (I was barely aware there was a world at that time) and I had little hope that the event would be very interesting. To be fair, it wasn't as bad as I'd feared, although working through some 36 motions, interspersed by speeches (from such luminaries as Caroline Lucas MEP, George Galloway, Gary Solomou and Dr Azzam Tamimi) did start to wear me down, particularly when the whole thing dissolved into Monty Pyhton towards the end.

The following day I helped run the (not very excitingly titled) Peace Conference at Nottingham University organised by Nottingham Student Peace Movement (NSPM). Amazingly this was largely succesful. Some seventy people were there at the peak to hear talks from Alan Simpson MP, Dave Wills, Jon Simons, Ranjan Chaudhuri and many others. The event was split up into three sections: "what's oil got to do with it?" looking at oil and war in Iraq and beyond; "living in the shadow of the 'War on Terror'" examining the erosion of civil liberites and the rise of racism on the home front; and "what are we going to do about it?" which posited potential solutions to the world's various problems.

On Tuesday I was busy making trouble around Nottingham as part of the Stop the War Coalition's "day of disobedience". I took part in a Critical Mass organised by the newly formed Lenton Anarchist Forum (which I obviously have absolutely nothing to do with!) which sought to highlight the links between oil, war, environmental destruction and the hegemony of the car. Local photographer and activist Tash was along for the ride and took some photos, as did a member of NSPM. For those of you who don't know me personally, I'm the attractive one, looking cool. I even got to speak at the Stop the War rally at the end. Which was interesting given that there was a fin-fair going on at the same time.

And why haven't I posted since then? Now, that's a secret and has nothing to do with my being lazy. Honest.

Monday, February 14, 2005


Via The Killing Train, I found this interesting article (apparently written sometime ago) which posits the existence of a phenomenon the authors call 'activistism'. This seems to describe a propensity to engage in unreflective activism amongst many on the American left. For what it's worth I think at least some of what they say can also be applied in the UK, particularly to the Stop the War Coaition. Understandably the Coalition has sought to remain as broad as possible, however, at times this has been at the expense of producing useful analysis of what is going on, preferring instead to focus on sloganeering. Recently Iraq Occupation Focus have gone someway to correcting this.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Roll on the Republic...

Oh God! Another Royal Wedding! Kill me. Kill me now.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Theocracy or not theocracy? That is the question...

Juan Cole remains a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the situation in Iraq. Today he has a thoughtful post on the possibility of Iraq becoming a theocracy, a realistic possibility he suggests. This got me on to thinking about some things...

Much of the debate about "political Islam" is coloured by Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudices, whether these are conscious or not. To this end I think it is helpful to consider the point by means of an analogy with political Christianity. Already we should begin to see the hypocrisy. While "political Islam" is considered an issue worthy of considerable discussion, the idea of a Christian counterpart is rarely countenanced and certainly if it were it would never be reduced so crudely (at least not by anyone other than a Philistine such as myself!). Politicised forms of Christianity, of course, have been very diverse, ranging from the vaguely-Marxist liberation theologists through Martin Luther King and pacifist Quakers to the Christian Right currently asserting itself in the United States and beyond to fascistic white supremacist readings of the bible. "Political Islam" is no less reductionist a signifier and could encompass more or less progressive ideologies.

This is not to suggest that I support the idea of a theocratic state, nor that I think it is a desirable system for Iraq. I am a committed atheist (if such a thing is possible) and believe that we should seek to separate religion and power (whether wielded by the state or some other political institution). Religion (or lack of belief) is a personal choice and should be respected as such. Systems in which religions wield political influence will inevitably seek to impose their belief systems on those within their dominion as we are currently seeing in the States with efforts to have creationism, or the slightly more nuanced concept of "intelligent design" included in the science curriculum.

Conversely I reject the interpretation of secularism which has sought to ban the hijab in schools in France and Germany. While it is important that schools not indoctrinate their pupils with one religion or any other this should not impinge on the choices of their pupils. This is not to dismiss concerns that some muslim girls are forced to wear the hijab against their will. This is a thorny issue, but I remain convinced that it is a mistake to think that we can liberate such people through the imposition of state power. Such families are further likely to be unaffected by the new laws and can simply withdraw their children from the state education system. This will only result in a reduction in inter-cultural interaction, increasing the possibility of misunderstandings and conflict.

The truth, of course, is that my opinions on what is, or is not in the best interests of Iraq are likely to have little or no effect. The ultimate choice must be left up to the Iraqis, even if they make what I consider to be the wrong choice. One only has to look at the conduct of the occupation so far to see the likely consequences if we were to try and forestall theocracy in Iraq. The role of the US and UK in this must also be borne in mind. By destroying the Iraqi state apparatus they left the population with nothing to turn to but the default social institution of their society, the mosque. This coupled with the not inconsiderable successes of Islamic groups engaged in armed resistance has helped to create a climate where "political Islam", an idea which always had some degree of support (a fact Saddam realised and sought to exploit in his later years), has come to have considerable currency. A fact supported by the initial results from last Sunday's elections.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear.

Yeah right. (Thanks to Chri for the link.)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Who the Hell is Kilroy Anyway?

Perhaps I was wrong. He doesn't seem such a bad chap after all...

Dry Powder and death from 30,000 feet

This article, which came to me via the Student Friends of Chagos email list, suggests that aircraft based at the US military base on Diego Garcia could be used in an attack on Iran:
US air strikes on Iran would vastly exceed the scope of the 1981 Israeli attack on the Osirak nuclear center in Iraq, and would more resemble the opening days of the 2003 air campaign against Iraq. Using the full force of operational B-2 stealth bombers, staging from Diego Garcia or flying direct from the US, possibly supplemented by F-117 stealth fighters staging from al-Udeid in Qatar or some other location in theater, the two dozen suspect nuclear sites would be targeted.

Satellite imagery from Diego Garcia, taken after the tsunami that devastated parts of Asia on December 26, posted on GlobalSecurity's website, showed multiple aircraft, including nine B-1 bombers. Also, B-52s and B-2s from the continental US could be used. The US also has aircraft at Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Add that to the list of reasons why it should be shut down.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The New Great Game

According to the Moscow Times, Uzbek President Islam Karimov and his Kyrgyz counterpart Askar Akayev "vowed on Friday to resist attempts by the West to export a Ukrainian-style revolution to Central Asia":
"Some are dying to see that the way the elites in Georgia and Ukraine changed becomes a model to be emulated by other countries," Karimov, who tolerates no opposition, told parliament in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

"To those who still have not understood me, I want to issue a warning that everything should be on the basis of law and we will rein in those who move outside the framework of law," he said. "We have the necessary force for that."
In case anybody hasn't been paying attention, necessary force goes quite a bit further than a slap across the wrist as Samandar Umarov discovered to his cost.

Karimov's criticism of western leaders, with the implicit suggestion that they might seek to remove or destabilise his regime as they did in the Ukraine initially seems strange given his close links with Washington and London. However it is worth noting that Uzbekistan is also "diversifying its security interests" (to borrow a term from this article) and simultaneously moving closer to Russia and China.

This relationship reminds me of that between Saddam and the US during the 1980s, or at least the relationship as described by Kenneth R. Timmerman in The Death Lobby (Bantam Books, London, 1992). In this Timmerman details how the USSR had traditionally been Iraq's main arms supplier, but had put various restrictions on imports. Among these were requirements that only Soviet technicians repaired Russian built equipment in order that Iraqis could not learn how the technology worked. Additionally the Soviet Union had no qualms about cutting off arms shipments to Saddam when it served their interests as they did during a Kurdish uprising in 1974. Angered by these restrictions, Saddam sought arms deals with other powers, notably the US. The latter were only too happy to help, hoping to draw Iraq out of the Soviet orbit and that the country would serve as a counterbalance to Iranian radicalism. Unlike the USSR, the US put few restrictions on its imports. Fearing they would be forced out of this lucrative market and lose a valuable ally, the Russians ultimately reduced the restrictions on imports, giving Saddam more or less what he wanted.

No doubt there are many differences between the situation then and that now, there is no second superpower for a start, but the similarities are worrying. The geo-politics of the region are complex, but it is clear that Russia, China, the US and others wish to increase their influence in this strategically important region (which has, among other things, large oil deposits), while Karimov is perfectly content to play these countries against each other in order to maximise the benefit to his deeply kleptocratic regime. The losers in all of this, of course, are the Uzbek people.

Kilroy's back. Joy.

The perma-tanned, racist fuckwit's formed a new party and called it Veritas which is apparently latin for 'truth', something he claims to know a lot about. Some cynics have suggested that Vanitas might have been a more appropriate appelation. Shame on them.

After the Swingometer

Iraq has had it's first real election in over half a century. The turnout was amazing. "Unbelievable" even. This is clearly a renunciation of the tactics of the resistance by the Iraqi people. As a result whether you were for or against the war "is air", all that matters now is whether you "are for or against democracy in Iraq." Or so they say.

The truth of course is much less clear and it's worth bearing mind that we've heard this all before.

Real questions remain about election irregularities across the country, which has led to a series of protests in several northern Iraqi cities. As important as such issues are, the experience of the US shows that election fraud is apparently insufficient to prevent an election being deemed "democratic" by those who make such decisions. This being the case, it might be more productive to focus on the more practical problems the elections raise.

It is likely, as I suggested prior to the elections, that the turnout has been much higher in Shia and Kurdish than in Sunni areas, which will likely skew the makeup of the "transitional assembly" which is to emerge from the elections. Officials from the United Iraq Alliance list endorsed by senior Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani are already saying they expect to claim half of the 275 seats in the assembly.

There are very serious questions about whether Sunnis who make up around 20% of the population in Iraq will respect this body if it comes to be dominated by Shias. Sunnis already appear to make up a large part of the armed groups currently operating in the country and this is only likely to increase if they feel disenfranchised by the elections and the assembly.

More worrying is the threat of ethnic strife if Sunnis come to identify the Shia as collaborators with the occupation they oppose by virtue of their participation in the assembly. It is my opinion that the threat of a civil war between the Sunnis and Shia has generally been overstated, because it serves the interests of the occupiers, but I think it is a threat which is increasing.

In April last year Sunni and Shia areas rebelled simultaneously as Fallujah and followers of Moqtada al-Sadr fought the Americans, openly declaring their solidarity with each other. By the time of the second attack on Fallujah in November the Shia remained largely silent as the US drove thousands from their homes and laid waste to the city.

Deliberately sectarian attacks by a minority of groups engaged in armed struggle (most notable followers of Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi) have not helped this development, but US strategy, which has become increasingly cosy with the Shia. Immediately after the invasion US planners were concerned that a Shia dominated Iraq might move towards Iran, a real threat in their eyes. However as the situation descended into chaos they seem to have decided that a de facto alliance with the Shia and Sistani is their best hope of maintaining control over the country, the Sunnis be damned.

Ironically, as Juan Cole notes, many of the Shia parties who have done well out of the election have close links to Iran and few would welcome a permanent US presence in the country. Indeed "most Shiites who voted on Sunday thought they were voting for an end to US hegemony in their country." The occupiers may yet find that their new best friends are not as loyal as they had hoped.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Keeping up with Jones

Apparently Digby Jones isn't so pleased about the tone of the World Economic Forum, which has just taken place in Davos, Switzerland:
The head of Britain's leading employers' organisation launched an outspoken attack last night on the "hijacking" of the World Economic Forum in Davos by NGOs which wanted business to apologise for itself.


"Too many of the sessions have been an excuse to beat up on business, to say that business must do better," he said. "The pendulum is swinging too far in favour of the NGOs. The World Economic Forum is caving in to them. Davos has been hijacked by those who want business to apologise for itself."
Aw diddums.

For anyone who doesn't know, Digby Jones is the big cheese in the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which is essentially a bosses union and much more confident about fighting the class war than it's proletarian counterparts. As such I don't attach a great deal of credence to his views, but I do think they illustrate an important point on the debate about the merits (or otherwise) of "globalisation". (Parenthetical aside: I don't think globalisation is actually a very useful term, hence the quotation marks, but I use it here for simplicity's sake on the assumption that readers are capable of discerning what the hell I'm going on about.)

Prior to the "Battle of Seattle" in November 1999, when activists laid siege to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in the city, marking the emergence onto the world stage of the "anti-globalisation" movement (again a term of limited use, but of some propaganda value to those seeking to defend the institutions such activists oppose, a point to which I may return in the future), the discourse around "globalisation" was largely positive. There was a widely-held assumption (at least amongst elites) that "globalisation" was obviously a good thing, even inevitable. Since Seattle, the discourse has changed radically. The debate is now framed by those seeking to defend "globalisation" in terms of why it isn't bad, or why the activists are wrong.

To be sure, the "anti-globalisation" movement acheived only limited institutional changes, most of them almost entirely superficial. The shift in the debate, less understood and barely noticed, is by contrast a major victory. Jones' views demonstrate that there are efforts underway to reclaim the territory that has been lost, with some success, but the fact that poverty, climate change and the like have been moved to the top of the agenda at elite events like the WEF demonstrate the degree to which this shift has taken hold.

And if it pisses off the likes of Digby Jones, that's just a bonus!

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