the Disillusioned kid: April 2004
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Friday, April 30, 2004

I'm going to be famous!!! Apparently the Socialist Unity Network want to use my report from the Stop the War Coalition National Conference on their website. Honour and glory surely await!

Thursday, April 29, 2004

There's a lot going on, much of which merits thought, comment and (probably more importantly) action. Unfortunately as ever, I can only touch on a fraction of it...

The brutality of the Uzbek government and US/UK support for it should be an international scandal. Instead the matter is hardly ever talked about it, certainly not by our Glorious Leader. This article by A.J. Doherty looks at Karimov's vicious regime and Western support for it. Damning, I think.

Apparently the Iraqi Governing Council think that they can replace the country's 50 year old flag with a new one which apparently symbolises Islam and Iraq's 2 main rivers. Unsurprisingly those opposed to the occupation have started burnming them already. Reasons for the dislike of the new flag are various not least is its apparenmt imposition by the occupying forces or at least their proxies. Furthermore, as Rahul Mahajan points out, "with the exception of the yellow bar, these are the colors of the Israeli flag", a decision which can only encouirage the theory that the US invasion was part of some Israeli/Zionist/Jewish plot against the Arab world, an idea which unfortunately does seem to be gaining currency

Blair's levels of denial with regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict shouldn't be a surprise, but he was quoted in yesterday's Guardian as saying, "I do not think any discussion of that issue is right unless we balance the suffering of both sides." This is simply nonsensical. No one with any humanity denies the horror of suicide bombiongs targetted against civillians and the civillised world should condemn such acts, nonetheless these are occasional, intermittent attrocities which affect only limited numbers of the Israeli population. By contrast Palestinians live daily under a military occupation which steals their land, restricts their access to water, curtails their freedom and has crippled their economy. They risk being shot, often with live ammunition ,at demonstrations, even when these are peaceful and may have their homes demolished by Israeli bulldozers. What institutions they have are often targetted by the Israelis and their democratically elected leader is apparently on Sharon's hit-list. It would be possible to go on, but hardly constructive. In short it is clear that claims as to the equivalence of the two nations' situation are simply not credible. To claim otherwise is simply untrue as Blair surely knows.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

A brilliant article by Stephen Shalom deals with all the issues those of us opposed to the continuing US/UK occupation of Iraq should be concerned with: what should replace it?; what position should we take with regard to the "resistance"?; and what should we make of the June 30 "handover"?. His comments on the need for some international force during the transition to genuine sovereignty seem particularly incisive and express many of the things I have been trying to say for some time. Except better:
When the United States defeated the Iraqi armed forces in April 2003, law and order broke down leading to widespread looting (that the U.S. chose not to prevent). In subsequent months there were reports of widespread rapes and abuse of women and girls. This suggests that if U.S. troops withdrew, there would be serious security problems, even if there were no civil war. Of course, Iraqis are capable of providing their own security, but the institutions to allow them to do so in a non-partisan and professional manner do not yet exist. (The existing sectarian armed militias cannot be depended upon to disinterestedly protect the population.) In addition, although civil war is by no means inevitable, it is not beyond the realm of possibility. When the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan, the "international community" provided no security (or other) assistance, and the result was years of horrendous civil war, the human costs of which were so severe that many Afghans welcomed the stability ultimately enforced by the Taliban. Accordingly, some sort of international security presence is needed in Iraq during the transition before elections and the training of Iraqi police.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

According to the BBC, "Heavy fighting is taking place in the Iraqi town of Falluja for the second night running." A brief consideration of the same report reveals that nothing of the kind is occuring. Instead US forces are assaulting the city with planes and tanks from a safe distance as part of an action commanders are laughably describing as "defensive in nature". Meanwhile Colin Powell has asserted that Iraq will have to "give back" some power to the US after the "handover" on June 30. Orwell must be turning in his grave.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

A friend sent me this report from a BNP demo yesterday, sounds interesting. Good to see the fascists facing some resistance. Lets hope people can keep it up and beat the fuckers.


More than 100 people showed up for the Wickford demo, which is not bad for a local anti-fascist event. The good news is that most of these folks were actually from Essex, so we finally seem to be learning the lesson - gone are the bad old days when the ANL "parachuted" a couple of dozen Londoners into a BNP-contested seat and automatically declared a great victory!

There was a minor scuffle when a carload of BNP approached the demo and some of us tried to jump on the roof. The local coppers arrived in their "level two" public order gear to chase us away.

Methinks that next Friday's anti-Nazi demo in Berlin might be a bit more exciting!
Yesterday saw me attend the Stop the War Coalition National Council. This was advertised as a chance for affiliates and local groups to influence the policy of the coalition (not to be confused, as one delegate noted, with the so-called "coalition of the willing" which invaded Iraq) over the coming months. Although I have always been somewhat dubious about the coalition as an organisation and its lack of democracy, I thought I should go along to see what was going on and what they've got planned.

The event was held in Birmingham, which was a nice change from always having to go to London and meant I didn't have to get up so ridiculously early. Unfortunately they had to move the venue on the preceding Thursday, which caused some confusion, although this was useful for me. Their decision to start, for the benefit of those who went to the original venue, late meant that I missed nothing, despite arriving at Birmingham later than I had hoped before promptly getting lost.

The Council began with a discussion entitled "Iraq in Turmoil - Future Activities" which looked at the situation in the country under the US/UK occupation, the burdgeoning resistance and possible responses. Much of interest was said about the situation on the ground in Iraq, along with a lot I knew already. The fact that the US intends to install John Negroponte as their ambassador (and de facto governor?) in post "handover" Iraq, was of particular interest and it was suggested that activities should be carried out to make people aware of his very dubious past, particularly as Ambassador to Honduras from 1981-1985. There was also a suggestion that actions should be planned in response to any US attack on Najaf, in the style of those which came with the opening of the invasion last year.

One point which attracted considerable attention was the sham "handover" of sovereignty on June 30 and what actions we should take to make people aware of the truth of this. The discussion centered around whether there should be local, regional or national demonstrations and exactly when these should be (the 30th itself or on the preceding Saturday?). The feeling seemed to be that local demos would be better probably on June 30. I interjected on this point to make people aware that there was already a week of action planned around the "handover" and that we should try and avoid treading on other groups toes, so to speak.

There was also much discussion about the upcoming European Parliament Elections which the coalition wants to turn into a "referendum" on Blair's conduct over the war. Although some urged support for Respect, it was made clear that Stop the War is non-political and would support anyone opposing the war and occupation regardless of their political affiliations. Many groups are apparently considering organising hustings over the issue of the war, which could be a good idea, but will likely require regional co-operation given the huge size of European Parliament constituencies.

After this, we retired to lunch before returning for a discussion about "Civil Liberties and the Law". This considered the attack on civil liberties that had accompanied the "War on Terror" and also considered the "Proposed Legal Strategy for the SWC" which seeks to have those responsible for the invasion of Iraq indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The latter seemed to be the focus of the discussion with some disagreement about the likelihood of success, although it was agreed to adopt the strategy and give it a go.

Part way through this discussion Alan Simpson MP arrived (providing further evidence for my theory that he's following me around!) and spoke on the recent screen put around the public gallery in Parliament and the current political situation. As ever he was interesting and entertaining.

The final discussion was about "Organisation and membership drive" in which much was made of increasing the coalition's paid up membership. It was suggested that in the future only members would be allowed to attend, which would exclude yours truly. There was then a brief report about the upcoming European Social Forum in London, before the meeting came to and end and I made my way to the train station and home.

The event was not the most interesting moment of my life and I was struck by just how much many on the left seem to love the sound of their won voice. The extent to which this has influence the coalition's policy (decided ultimately by the steering committee), will become clear over the coming weeks and months, but I hold some hope that it will have an impact. One thing which I found particularly insightful was Andrew Murray's comment that we should not argue over whether troops are withdrawn within 3, 6 or 9 months, but that our demand should be for, at the very minimum, a timetable of withdrawal. I was also encouraged by the way the issue of Palestine was discussed. Much was made of the need to draw the links between the two occupations. This suggested to me that the issue would no longer simply be tacked on the bottom of coalition paraphenalia as if we have to con people into coming on an demonstration against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip. As with everything I have considered above, only time will tell.
Oooohhhh! I've received a reply to the letter I wrote to my MP about the situation in Iraq, criticising the conduct of the occupying forces and calling for their withdrawal. Let's see what he had to say...
Thank you very much for your faxed letter of 10th April which I am afraid I only received this morning.
Fair enuff. Apology accepted. His manners are clearly in order.
I share your concern about the deteriorating situation in Iraq - which has become even worse since you wrote your letter. I am very grateful for you drawing your views to my attention and I agree with you that it would be wonderful if the UN and other nations were prepared to send in a peacekeeping force...
Which wasn't really my point. Perhaps I didn't phrase it very well, but my focus was on the need to end the occupation which I emphasised "is not serving to maintain order and prevent a civil war as its supporters claim, but is actively (and perhaps consciously?) inflaming the situation" and could not bring peace and stability to the country by force of arms.
...but, at the moment, there are not many nations that seem particularly keen on taking this course of action.
Which is certainly true, but this merely reflects the fact that they do not want to participate in an illegal, immoral occupation as a proxy for the US. If the US and the UK were to end the occupation, this situation would very likely change.
I would hope that both the American President and Tony Blair will be doing all they can through the UN to try and get an international peacekeeping force in Iraq.
Again this isn't really the point. Bush and Blair shouldn't be doing "all they can through the UN to try and get an international peacekeeping force in Iraq" at all. They just need to get the hell out of there. The Iraqis with help from others not tainted by the occupation can sort out the rest.
However I fear it may be an impossibility...
As I mentioned above, without an end to the occupation, this may very well be the case. The solution then is obvious.
...but I am grateful for you drawing your views to my attention and I will obviously bear those in mind as, and when, this matter is raised in Parliament.
Quite what he means he will bear my views in mind is unclear, given that he neither really understands, nor agrees with them. As for the matter being raised in Parliament, it seems strange that if he accepts the matters importance he is not calling vigorously for the matter to be discussed, at length, but there you go.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

When I started this thing I had hoped to avoid the leftist tendency to go on and on about the situation in some far flung country and forget about oppression, exploitation and poverty closer to home. It'd be fair to conclude that I haven't been entirely succesful in this regard, but in an attempt to restore the balance I draw your attention to this article which examines New Labour's claims to be effectively tackling poverty, particularly that affecting children.

Drifting back towards international matters I also recommend this article by Uri Averny, former member of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and leader of the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom, which looks at the role of Hamas within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The strange world of "progressive" politics...

The bizarre and sometimes inexplicable campaigs which some lefties/liberals come up with never ceases to amaze me. I stumbled across an American campaign called Babes Against Bush, which is more or less what you'd expect given the description. Apparently they "figured that this was a good, fun way to make people aware of the damage George Bush is doing to America... Guys like hot girls. So maybe they wouldn't mind getting the message from us." An interesting approach certainly, although it doesn't say much about the successes of the womens' liberation movement that the basis on which they are hoping to succeed is not the strength of their arguments, but on the size of their tits, but there you go...

On a related note, this flash animation suggests that Bush might want to consider fighting back by having a go as a babe himself... Or not.
The suicide bombings which have struck British controlled Basra today seem to merit some comment. It is of course too early to tell anything for sure, but my first impressions are that these attacks are qualitatively different from the broadly popular uprisings which rage across much of the country. Those who carried out the attacks seemed to have little concern for the wellbeing of the Iraqi civilians who overwhelmingly became their victims and suggestions that they were Islamic extremists, possibly linked to Al Qaeda, hoping to stir up conflict between Sunni and Shia in order to make the country ungovernable do not seem unrealistic.

That said, claims as to the popularity of the British forces in the city should be taken with a pinch of salt. Times columnist and former Tory MP, Matthew Parris who recently visited Basra pointed out on Channel 5 News that despite the fact that the area had seen considerably less violence than other parts of Iraq, resentment of the occupation was nonetheless widespread. Indeed, he went so far as to suggest that it was universal. Vacuous platitudes about how great British forces are will not stop such incidences of 'individual terrorism', let alone the growing resistance to occupation.
I've written a letter to my MP about the Israeli land grab which I append below. Of course it's unlikely to have any effect, but as with any form of political action. Simply doing nothing guarantees that nothing will change.


Tuesday 20 April 2004

Dear Mr Simon Burns,

I am writing to express my concerns about recent developments with regard to the Israel-Palestinian peace process and more specifically the British response.

You are doubtless aware of the Sharon government's recently announced plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip parts of the West Bank. When expressed in terms of a withdrawal this seems an entirely reasonable, indeed positive development. Nonetheless the decision to retain control over various settlements is a much more dubious development.

This 'withdrawal' is more accurately described as a land grab and constitutes an attempt to legitimise the conquest of the territories by Israel in 1967. It also very clearly runs contrary to UN Resolution 242 passed in November 1967 which calls for the '[w]ithdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.'

During the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair made much of the importance of a just settlement to the conflict. It is obvious that this unilateral Israeli plan will not be accepted by the Palestinian people and may in fact mark the end of the peace process. Unless the UK makes clear its opposition to Israel's plans and takes steps to force Israel back to genuine negotiations the Arab world is likely to view British actions over the last year in this regard as little more than political opportunism.

It has been clear for sometime that the basis of a just, equitable, effective solution to the conflict lies in the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all the occupied territories and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state in their place. Any limited redrawing of the 'green line' must be negotiated and agreed by both sides. Allowing Israel to hold on to any part of the territories as a concession to the 'realities on the ground' is simply a reversion to the idea that might equals right, a situation which does not portend well for the future.

I urge you to call for British condemnation of the Israeli decision and to encourage moves towards a genuine, effective, just settlement acceptable to both sides.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

If anyone reads this and feels a burning urge to comment, I have a new email address for this thing. All together now... Oooooohhhh!.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Perhaps I should think about things before I post on this thing, but then what would be the fun in that? And besides as I far from sure anyone actually reads it, who cares?

Anyhow yesterday I mentioned that the US shift towards a UN role in Iraq could be seen as a victory for the "resistance" and as a broadly positive development. On reflection this might benefit from some clarification... So, here goes...

Firstly, the "resistance"...

When I use the term "reststance" I use it to include all those resisting/oposed to the occupation within Iraq, however this is expressed. I think it is important to understand that this, particularly in light of recent times, includes a huge variety of political opinions, some of which I feel some affinity with, some I oppose wholeheartedly. Nonetheless I believe that opposition to the continuing US/UK occupation is now the prevailing opinion among the Iraqi population. Polls show that this was the case prior to the Shia insurrection and Fallujah and we can safely assume in light of those and other events that this feeling is now only stronger.

The Worker Communist Party of Iraq have released a statement in which they describe the current conflict as a "war of terrorists":
In one side of this conflict there is America, terrorizing through its occupation and militarizing the whole society as well as bombarding through tanks and airplanes, and having armed solders. On the other side of this conflict there is political Islam and its forces, which are kidnapping people, carrying out suicide bombing, and killings that are terrorizing people of Iraq. Both sides of this conflict have held people's lives hostage and are driving the society into more chaos and bloodshed.
Similar concerns about the brutality of Sadr's supporters, Salam Pax even compared them to Saddam's secret police, the Mukhbarat. many of the other prominent sections engaged in resisting the occupation, particularly the armed groups, are also quite reactionary and include former Ba'athists and Islamic extermists (both foreign and domestic, although primarily the latter as far as it is possible to tell). Despite the concerns, it is important to understanc that these groups have only been strengthened by the brutality and incompetence of the occupying forces. The occupation cannot and will not stop the spread of these groups, ultimately only the Iraqi people can do that.

In this light, it seems to me, activists in the West should do what they can to support the developing progressive movements in Iraq such as the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, the Union of the Unemployed of Iraq and the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq, which I would also consider part of the "resistance", albeit less prominent. Support for such organisations coupled with opposition to the occupation present the best hope of a free, democratic, sovereign Iraq, at least in my opinion.

And now the UN...

There is considerable controversy within the anti-war movement as to the attitude which should be taken towards the UN. Many point out the fact that it is controlled by the US, the need for reform, and the risk of "Bluewash" if the UN is simply called in to sort out all the US's messes. Nonetheless I believe that the US policy shift towards the UN can be seen as broadly positive. This is primarily because it is a step away from the US's original plan in which they and they alone (even in some case to the exclusion of their otherwise entirely complicit British ally) would oversee the "handover". Such a situation would have seen an Iraq which although nominally free would have remained under de facto (and in some case very overt) US control. UN involvement makes it that much more difficult for the US to subvert the handover of sovereignty for its own ends.

Some activists argue that there is no need for the UN at all and the Iraqis should be left to look after themselves. Indeed, this is perhaps the ideal situation, but we do not live in an ideal world. The invasion and action of the occupying forces has seen the destruction and/or disbandment of much of the state infrastructure and it is likely that in the shirt run at least, some external force will be neccesary to assist Iraq in its transition to sovereignty, although one would hope this would be as limited as possible and removed as quickly as the situation allows. In the world today the only body in a position to do this with even the pretense of impartiality is the UN, possibly with a primarily Arab peacekeeping force.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

An awful lot of shit has been written over the last year about British policy towards Israel and particularly about Tony Blair's role in this regard. As part of his drive for the invasion of Iraq, Blair made much of the importance of a just settlement. Some even came to see him as something of an advocate for Palestinian statehood. His response to the Israel's plans for a "unilateral withdrawal" from the occupied territories (in fact more accurately described as a land-grab), demonstrates just how shallow this support was. For an illuminating assesment of British policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, check out this article by Mark Curtis.
The Bush-Blair conference yesterday in Washington saw a major shift in US policy towards UN involvement in the "handover" of Iraqi "sovereignty". As The Guardian notes, "Just two years ago, Mr Bush was warning the UN it would be "irrelevant" if the security council did not pass a resolution approving war with Iraq. Yesterday, in contrast, Mr Bush thanked the UN several times over"and "indicated that he is fully signed up to the plan being devised by Lakhdar Brahimi, the special United Nations envoy in Iraq". This plan would see prominent Iraqis form a government after the June 30 "handover" and could see national elections brought forward as early as January. Many commentators have attributed this shift in policy to Tony Blair and we will doubtless be told that it is a vindication of his close relationship with the President, however until a few days ago the PM seemed as committed to the US plan (such as it was) as anyone. It is also interesting to note that this decision to involve the UN has come after an upsurge in resistance against the occupation. It seems not unreasonable to conclude that this marks a major victory for the Iraqi "resistance" (a term I use in the widest sense) and suggests that there is hope that the Iraqis may yet gain genuine control over their own country.

The pair's statements regarding the unilateral Israeli land-grab (what is described in much of the media as an Israel withdrawal) are far less encouraging. According to The Times, "Mr Blair issued a clear endorsement of Israel's plan to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank." That the withdrawal is a sham which will alllow Israel to retain direct control of the areas it wants while leaving the others for a emasculated Palestinian "state" is apparently not a serious issue, indeed at worst it is a diversion from the "only realistic route" to a settlement; the "roadmap". One wonders how the world would have reacted had Hitler offered to "withdraw" from two-thirds of France, but retain control of Paris and other areas of use to Germany, as a concession to the "realities on the ground" and Churchill had "clearly endorsed" such an "initiative". The analogy is, of course, deeply flawed, but the issue is a real one.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

So Bush has sold out the Palestinians? No surprise there, then. But, wait, what does Tony Blair that great humanitarian and advocate of Palestinian statehood have to say? The usual bollocks apparently. Why don't we just paint a big target on the side of Canary Wharf and be done with it?

Intelligent, incisive analysis of our Glorious Leader's statements in this regard may follow... But don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Below is the text of the letter I sent to my MP about the situation in Iraq. If anyone actually reads this thing (I live in hope) I urge you to do the same. It may only have a limited effect, but if we do nothing then we guarantee that we will not change anything. So... What are you waiting for?


Saturday 10 April 2004

Dear Mr Simon Burns,

I am writing to express my concern about the deteriorating situation in Iraq and particularly about the conduct of the coalition.

The current Shia uprising is one of the clearest examples of coalition mismanagement serving to inflame tensions. Moqtada al-Sadr's hostility to the Americans and opposition to the occupation of Iraq has been well known for sometime, nonetheless, until last weekend this had not been expressed in actual violence. The trigger for the uprising was the decision by coalition authorities to ban his newspaper, al-Hawza, apparently because it claimed that a recent explosion had been caused not by a terrorist/resistance bomb but by a US helicpoter. This act was not only fundamentally undemocratic, but also inexplicable given the organ's fairly limited readership (around 10,000). This and the decision to arrest one of al-Sadr's senior aides led to protests. On Sunday US soldiers opened fire on one of these demonstrations (provoked either by stones thrown on gunfire). This left several dead and many injured and in response protesters seized several police stations. The situation has deteriorated from there.

While events in the Shia areas have attracted much of the media attention the situation in Fallujah may be even more serious. The town has come under attack in retaliation for the killings of four Americans last week, though it is hard to see how the response can be seen as proportional. The coalition has sought to take control of the city, apparently by any means neccesary, including the use of B52 bombers. Although it is difficult to get reliable figures, those on the ground put the death toll at around five hundred and to show for this the coalition has only gained control of about one fifth of the city and has yet to get to the main residential areas. The risk of a truly horrific bloodbath is very real.

Clearly I have only touched on the horror of what is currently unfolding in Iraq. It is difficult to get a clear picture and a thesis would hardly convey the reality. Nonetheless one thing is clear: The occupation is not serving to maintain order and prevent a civil war as its supporters claim, but is actively (and perhaps consciously?) inflaming the situation.

I urge you to call for an end to the Anglo-American occupation and for it to be replaced with a UN and/or Arab peacekeeping force with a more limited mandate to aid the transition to a sovereign Iraqi government. This seems the best chance for peace and stability in the country, which I believe it is now clear the US and the UK cannot bring by force of arms.
I'd be the first to admit that my coverage of the situation in Iraq has been of dubious quality. Fortunately there are people out there who do this sort of thing well. Several of them are currently doing so from on the ground in Iraq. I highly recommend that you check out the following:

Jo Wilding is a British activist who travelled to Iraq last year with Voices in the Wilderness, she has recently returned to the country and is blogging her experiences. Her dispatches are particularly poigniant for me because I met Jo last year at a meeting in Nottingham when she spoke on her experiences during the US/UK invasion of Iraq and even went for a drink with her afterwards.

Rahul Mahajan is an American author who is in Iraq until April 25th.

Naomi Klein is a Candaian activist and author, most famous for penning the now classic critique of brand culture, No Logo. Her analysis of the occupation has been exceptional and she has recently travelled to Iraq to report on the situation on the ground.

Dahr Jamail is the Baghdad correspondent of the newly established Newstandard, his Iraq Dispatches consciously set out to expose "the effects of warfare and military occupation on everyday Iraqis."

And no doubt there's more that I've forgotten or am simply unaware of.

Knowledge is power. Arm yourself!

Sunday, April 11, 2004

While Iraq is the story dominating the headlines, Afghanistan, long consigned to the dustbin of history by most of the mainstream media, remains a troubled country. Reports are emerging that forces loyal to Warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum invaded the northern province of Faryab on Wednesday. Dostum is currently at least nominally allied to American appointed Afgan leader Hamid Kharzai, although over the years he has changed sides in the coutry's various conflicts on numerous occasions and is accused of various, often quite serious, human rights abuses including the crushing of prisoners under tanks. Concerns are growing that the country may, once again, descend into civil war.
Plans are currently underway to introduce software patents in Europe. Efforts are also underway to resist this development.

Most software will become illegal to use in Europe if this dangerous directive is adopted without proper amending.

The European Commission and the Council of Ministers are covertly pushing for unlimited patentability of software, heavily lobbied by multinationals and patent lawyers. They are ignoring the democratically voted decision of the European Parliament from 24 september 2003, which has the support of more than 300.000 citizens, 2.000.000 SMEs, dozens of economists and scientists. There are calls for a webstrike in which sites will be closed down temporarily. I fully support this move, although I am not sure if it's possible with a blog and if it is how to go about doing it. Instead the best I can manage is this blurb (nicked shamelessly from Indymedia United Kollective's statement) and the banner below.

There will be a demonstration in the streets of Brussels on 14 April 2004.

NO to software patents - come to brussels on 14 april
I had hoped that the balance on this thing between domestic and foreign policy concerns would be somewhat more equal than it has been in practice. However the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground in Iraq means I keep coming back to that. The true horror of what is going on is slowly becoming apparent and references to a 'massacre' or 'bloodbath', which it would usually be tempting to dismiss as alarmist, have a horrible aura of truth about them.

Recommended Reading:
Sami Ramadani, 'They told them to go from day one', The Guardian, 9/4/04
Ben Granby, 'The Case Against A Military Solution to al-Sadr', Electronic Iraq, 9/4/04

Saturday, April 10, 2004


by Eman Ahmed Khammas, Director of International Occupation Watch Center,
International Occupation Watch Center
April 8th, 2004

Eman Ahmed Khammas
Director, International Occupation Watch Center
Occupied Baghdad

To the peoples of the world and their representatives at the United Nations:

The Iraqi people call for international solidarity as they resist attacks by
US-led Occupation Forces. It is clear that these attacks are designed to
terrorize entire populations of Iraqi towns and neighborhoods.

According to reports, in Fallujah alone, over three hundred Iraqis have been
killed and hundreds more injured since attacks began on Sunday, April 4.
There is fighting in Baghdad, particularly in the neighborhoods of Sadr,
Adaamiya, Shula, Yarmok, and the cities and towns of Fallujah, Ramadi,
Basrah, Nasiriya, Kerbala, Amarah, Kut, Kufa, Najaf, Diwaniya, Balad, and
Baquba. Residences, hospitals, mosques and ambulances trying to transport
the injured are being bombed and fired at by Occupation Forces’ guns and

Fallujah and Adaamiya are currently under siege, surrounded by Occupation
Forces, in contravention of the Geneva Convention that prohibits holding
civilian communities under siege. Hospitals do not have access to sufficient
medical aid, essential medicine and equipment or blood supplies. In
Fallujah, the hospitals have been surrounded by soldiers forcing doctors to
establish field hospitals in private homes. Blood donors are not allowed to
enter; consequently, mosques in both Baghdad and Falluja are collecting
blood for the injured. Water and electricity have been cut off for the past
several days.

In Sadr City US helicopters have fired rockets into residential areas
destroying homes. Although no curfew has officially been imposed, US
soldiers have made a practice of aiming tank fire on cars they find moving
through the streets after dark. On Tuesday night alone, at least 6 people
were killed in this way. US forces continue to occupy and surround all the
police stations and the Sadr municipal offices.

While these attacks have escalated sharply over the past week, they are in
no way a new phenomenon in occupied Iraq. The indiscriminate killing of
civilians and the refusal to provide people with security, electricity and
decent medical infrastructure have characterized the ‘freedom’ that
Occupation Authorities have brought to Iraq.

We call on the international community, civil society and the
anti-war/anti-occupation movements to respond to this US-led war of terror
with tangible displays of solidarity and support for Iraqi people facing
this gruesome manifestation of the occupation.

Please take to the streets to demand an end to the US-led aggression.
Organize protests in front of US consulates and embassies around the world
and demand: an immediate end to this massacre; an immediate end to the siege
of Iraqi cities and neighborhoods; immediate access to humanitarian and
medical aid organizations seeking to provide assistance to Iraqi people who
are living under attack; and an end to the occupation of our nation.

Cities in which demonstrations have already been organized include Milan,
Montreal, Tokyo, Istanbul, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington
D.C. and New York City.

To contact the International Occupation Watch Center in Baghdad, please call
001 914 360-9079 or 001 914 360-9080. You can also email

Iraq Solidarity Action Resist the Massacre in Falluga

Urgent information and appeal from Ewa Jasiewicz, who worked with Voices
in the Wilderness and Occupation Watch in Iraq, lived there for 8 months
(Basra and Baghdad) and in Palestine, mainly Jenin camp for 6 months,
speaks Arabic, and who got back from Iraq 2 months ago. She is in regular
contact with her friends in Basra and Baghdad.

I just spoke to friends in Baghdad - Paola Gaspiroli, Italian, from
Occupation watch and Bridges to Baghdad, Journalist Leigh Gordon,
England, (NUJ, Tribune, Mail on Sunday) and a Palestinian friend with
family in Falluja and friends in the Iraqi Islamic Party. Both he and
Leigh have been ferrying out the injured from Falluja to Baghdad for the
past three days. Ambulances have been barred from entry into the
blood-drenched city.

Here is their news, which they told me over the telephone tonight


There has been a massacre in Falluga. Falluga is under siege. 470 people
have been killed, and 1700 injured. There has been no ceasefire. They
(Americans) told people to leave, said they have 8 hours to leave and
people began to leave but they're trapped in the Desert. The Americans
have been bombing with B52s (Confirmed also by Leigh in an email three
days ago). Bridges to Baghdad are pulling out. We have flights booked out
of Amman. Tomorow a team will go to Sadr City to deliver medicines. 50
people have been killed there. ?? (Forgotten name) the 'elastic' shiekh
in Sadr City (I've met him, young, brilliant guy, describes himself as
'elastic' because he is so flexible when it comes to his interpretations
of Islam and moral conduct definitions etc, he's pretty liberal) he has
told me I should leave. He says that even he can't control his people.
Foreigners are going to be targeted. 6 new foreigners have been taken
hostage. Four of them are Italian security firm employees - they were
kidnapped from their car, which was found to be full of weapons, and
there were black uniforms. Baghdad was quiet today except for Abu Ghraib
(West Baghdad, where a vast prison is located and is bursting at the
seams with 12,000 prisoners) an American convoy was attacked there and 9
soldiers were injured and 27 were kidnapped. Thats right 27. None of the
newswires are reporting it though. And I heard this from (*name best not
to supply without permission). Its really really bad. They (Americans)
have been firing on Ambulances, snipers are following the ambulances,
they cannot get in.

Falluga, there are people in the Desert, they've left Falluga but they're
not being allowed into Baghdad, they're trapped in the Dessert, they're
like refugees, its terrible but the people, Iraqi people are giving all
they can; theyre bringing supplies, everybody is giving all their help
and support to Falluga.

I want to stay but I have to go, if I want to come back and be useful,
you know I think its best to leave, Bridges to Baghdad has decided this.
Its getting really dangerous for Italians. We feel like were being
targeted now. (Italy has a 2500+ force including Carabinieri occupying
Nassiriyah which has been subject to a number of resistance attacks
including the devastating attack on the Police station which claimed the
lives of 4 soldiers, one civilian, one documentary film maker, 12
Carabinieri police and 8 Iraqis).

() and Leigh have been great. Theyve been driving into Falluga and
bringing out people, going back and forth. They know whats going on,
really they have been great. They want more people to help them but we
couldnt from here. Its getting much much worse.

EWA: My friend whos been in Falluga today and for the past few days:

Weve been seeing it with our own eyes. People were told to leave Falluga
and now there are thousands trapped in the Desert. There is a 13 km long
convoy of people trying to reach Baghdad. The Americans are firing bombs,
everything, everything they have on them. They are firing on Families!
They are all children, old men and women in the dessert. Other Iraqi
people are trying to help them. In Falluga they (Americans) have been
bombing hospitals. Children are being evacuated to Baghdad. There is a
child now, a baby, he had 25 members of his family killed, hes in the
hospital and someone needs to be with him, why isnt anyone there to stay
with him, he just lost 25 from his family!??? The Americans are dropping
cluster bombs and new mortars, which jump 3-4 metres. They are bombing
from the air. There are people lying dead in the streets. They said
thered be a ceasefire and then they flew in, I saw them, and they began
to bomb. They are fighting back and they are fighting well in Falluga.
But we are expecting the big attack in 24-48 hours. It will be the main
attack. They will be taking the town street by street and searching and
attacking. They did this already in a village near-by, I forget the name,
but they will be doing this in Falluja. Please get help, get people to
protest, get them to go to the Embassies, get them out, get them to do
something. There is a massacre. And we need foreigners, the foreigners
can do something. We are having a protest, Jo (Jo Wilding and the others from her group are coming to the
American checkpoint tomorrow. We havent slept in 3 or 4 days. We need
attention. I have photos, film, weve given it to Al jazeera, Al Arabiya
but get it out too. Do everything you can. We are going back in tomorrow.

LEIGH GORDON: Its kicking off. Come by all means but me and (..)
probably wont be around. I mean theyre going to crazy. () is saying
for foreigners to come but its not safe. Sheikh . from Falluga said he
couldnt guarantee my safety. I mean its going to go crazy, I think
foreigners will start getting killed soon I mean people are going to
start getting desperate, when theyve seen their mother father, house,
cat, dog, everything bombed theyre going to start to attack. They
(Americans) have said this operations only going to last 5 days its
drawing to an end. They need to free up troops on other fronts breaking
out all over the country. Theyre going to go in for the kill. Theres no
way of guaranteeing anybodys safety. I think you can be useful but its
not like you can just not tell your mum and think youll be back in a
week. Were probably going to get killed tomorrow. Come, but we might not
be here.


What to Do

This is an appeal to the anti-war movement, to the peace movement,
eco-action movement, animal rights movement, anti-fascists, everybody
active, everybody who can respond, can call a demo, can organise a
protest, an office occupation, an embassy storming, a road blockade, mass
civil disobedience, industrial shut-down, work-place occupation,
solidarity work stoppage, blockade the US Embassy, Fairford Military Base
action campaign whats taking off at Fairford? Are B52s being deployed?
Shannon Peace Camp protestors are there new movements at Shannon? We
need to address this, we need to resist this. We become the solidarity
resistance in Iraq by taking action in our neighbourhoods and in our
cities. Print up a leaflet. Paint up a banner. Take to the streets. Only
a small group can make a change. Show people in Iraq that we are standing
by them. 700 more British troops have been flown in to quell the uprising
in the South. No Pasaran. Take to the embassies, the bases, the US
interests, the streets. - addresses of US Embassies in
London, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff - Campaign for the Accountability of
American Bases this site has a list of the locations of all the main US
air bases used in the UK - full list of arms companies.
BAE Systems, and Lockheed Martin have been principal supplies of weapons
of mass destruction for the war on Iraq - tips on
confronting arms companies by Campaign Against the Arms Trade


CONTACT DETAILS (couertsy of Voices UK)

[PLEASE NOTE: if you can only contact one person, make it your MP. This will
then get passed up the food chain and have the biggest impact. One imagines
that 'e-mails to Tony Blair' probably disappear (more or less) into the

** You can find an alphabetical list of MPs, including (where they have
them) their web-sites, e-mails etc... on-line at:

** If you know your postcode you can also fax your MP on-line using

** If you want to leave a message for Jack Straw, the main switchboard # at
the Foreign Office for general enquiries is 020 7008 1500.

** You can fax the Prime Minister on 020 7925 0918 or send him an e-mail via Alternatively you can write
to him at 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA

** You can phone the Defence Attache's Office at the US embassy by calling
(0207) 894 0745, fax it on 020 7894-0726 or e-mail According to the Embassy's web-site
( the DAO 'performs
representational functions on behalf of the Secretary of Defense, the
Secretaries of the Military Services, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chiefs
of the U.S. Military Services and the Commander of European Command. The
Defense & Naval Attaché at the American Embassy, London is Captain David L.
Wirt, USN.'

** Contact the MoD: a list of contacts is available on-line at You can write to them at Ministerial
Correspondence Unit, Ministry of Defence, Room 220, Old War Office,
Whitehall, London SW1A 2EU or e-mail them at
(including your postal address).

Voices UK Press Release

PRESS RELEASE Voices in the Wilderness UK [A]
10th April 2004
Contact 0845 458 2564 or 07791 486484


Sunday 11th April, 12 noon, Downing Street, London: British campaigning
organisation, Voices UK, delegations from which have visited Fallujah on
numerous occasions over the past six years [B], will be co-ordinating an
Easter Sunday protest outside Downing Street tomorrow, Sunday 11th
April, to condemn the current wave of killings and repression by US/UK
forces in Iraq. A banner will be displayed bearing the words 'US/UK:
Stop Killing Iraqis' along with images from Fallujah and photographs of
Iraqi civilians who have been killed by US/UK forces over the last year.
Over 50 similar protests are taking place across the US [C] and
solidarity activists in Iraq are also organizing a protest at a US

On Friday doctors at Fallujah's main hospital estimated that 280 Iraqis
had been killed - and at least 400 wounded - in fighting in the city
over the past week [D]. The dead apparently include 16 children and up
to eight women, killed when warplanes struck four houses late Tuesday
[E], and as many as forty people were killed when the US dropped two
500-pound bombs on a mosque compound [F]. Fallujah has been under siege
since last Monday and whilst an agreement has now apparently been
brokered to let women, children and the elderly leave the city, all men
of "military age" have been ordered to remain. Meanwhile British troops
have killed at least a dozen Iraqis in the southern city of Amara - in
one instance apparently 'opening fire on people nearby' the British
military headquarters when it came under anti-tank rocket fire [G].

Voices spokesperson Gabriel Carlyle said 'This Easter Sunday, as Tony
Blair suns himself in Bermuda, we'll be at the heart of the British
Government with a simple message for the US and Britain: stop killing
Iraqis. This callous indifference to the deaths of Iraqis must stop -
the 16 children killed last Tuesday could have been the same ones I
chatted with in Fallujah market place two years ago and their lives were
every bit as valuable as the lives of British children.

'On Friday Jack Straw had the audacity to claim that it 'was not the
Americans who cast the first stone ? in Fallujah' - apparently unaware
that the current resistance movement in Fallujah stems from the killing
by US forces of 13 unarmed demonstrators in April 2003 [H]. Not only is
the current policy - in the words of the pro-US Governing Council member
Adnan Pachachi - 'unacceptable and illegal' but it is also making
matters much, much worse. The repression and killings must stop.'

PHOTO OPPORTUNITY: 12 noon, opposite Downing Street
CONTACT: 0845 458 2564 or 07791 486484

- Milan Rai: author of War Plan Iraq and Regime Unchanged, who
travelled to Fallujah four times during 1998 - 2003
- Ewa Jasiewicz: recently returned from an eight month stay in Iraq,
during which time she worked with Occupation Watch
and Voices US and spent time
in both Sadr City and Amara)
- Haifa Zangana, UK-based Iraqi-born novelist and artist, former
political prisoner under the Ba'ath regime.
- Salih Ibrahim, Iraqi pathologist with relatives in Baghdad and Basra
who has spent the last 20 years here in the UK
- Gareth Evans and Gabriel Carlyle (Voices UK members who visited
Fallujah in May 2002)

[A] Voices in the Wilderness UK has been campaigning on Iraq for the
last six years. For more info. see
[B] In 1991 the RAF dropped a bomb on Fallujah marketplace killing an
estimated 200 civilians. Voices UK visited Fallujah market place - and
general hospital - on many occasions during its 11 sanctions-breaking
delegations to Iraq between 1998 and 2002.

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the toppling of the statue of Saddam in Firdos Square, Baghdad. The square saw no celebrations to mark the date, the square was under a US-imposed curfew, instead US soldiers removed posters of Moqtada al-Sadr from the bronze sculpture which has taken the fallen dictator's place. A metaphor of the situation in occupied Iraq perhaps?

More worrying are the events carrying on away from the cameras. Events in Fallujah for instance, which is the target of US vengeance following the murder and mutilation of four 'civillian' security personnel in the town last week. The severity of the situation is considerable. As Brian Dominick notes, despite the fact they've "only taken over an estimated 1/5 of the city -- an industrialized section with few residents -- they've already killed upwards of 500 civilians. What will happen when the Marines try to take the residential neighborhoods?" Clearly this freedom thing's shaping up to be a lot of fun!

If you should doubt the potential horrors of the situation this video clip taken from CNN speaks volumes.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

My own analysis of the 'al-Sadr insurrection' was influenced heavily by that of Empire Notes' Rahul Mahajan. He is currently in Iraq and a recent article analyses the upsurge in violence against the Anglo-American occupation. His thoughts on the causes of the insurrection are of particular import in the light of the typically useless coverage of the matter in the corporate media:
Whatever al-Sadr's views about democracy may be, Bush's claim that he started this violence to derail democracy is ridiculous. First of all, for all of al-Sadr's firebrand rhetoric, he and his followers had always stopped short of overt violence against the occupying forces. Second, the incident that precipitated this whole round of violence was the closing of his newspaper, al-Hawza, a blatantly undemocratic act. In fact, the paper was not closed for directly advocating violence, but simply for reporting one eyewitness claim that a supposed car bombing that killed numerous volunteers for the New Iraqi defense forces was actually done by plane (and therefore by the United States).
Where we go next remains to be seen.

In light of the Israeli assasination of Hamas's spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin has focused the attention of the world on the Islamic terrorist/resistance organisation and its role within the Palestinian liberation movement. This article culled from the Weekly Worker, details and analyses the history of the organisation, making clear the reasons for its success and also its wholy reactionary character.
Fellow blogger Michael Albert argues in a recent post that activists should not simply limit themselves to critical analysis of the economic and political systems they oppose, but should take a position one way or another on the reform/revolution debate and set out what alternatives, if any, they propose. This seems a fair enough proposition, so here goes nothing...

I believe strongly that capitalism as a system is fundamentally unjust, exploitative, oppressive, inegalitarian system and militates against many of the principles I hold dear (co-operation, solidarity, sustainablity etc.). Our ultimate aim in the long run must be to replace it. Indeed given the effects of the current economic system on the environment this may be come an increasingly pressing task. I am less clear on the exact form I believe a post-capitalist society should take. Further I think we should be careful about setting out blueprints in too much detail for fear that they become a dogma which ultimately prevents us achieving a free, just world. Nonetheless I believe that direct democracy and workers' control of the means of production are essential and debate about what forms this could take is to be encouraged.

In the past I often referred to myself as an anarchist, but I feel increasingly that this does not accurately describe where I am 'at' politically. Influenced by Ward Churchill's "I Am Indigenist" article among others I have come to see the importance of self-determination for oppressed nations and the so-called Fourth World (indigenous and native peoples) as a step towards a free (or at least freer) society. I would argue that the world consists of a 'network' of oppressions along lines of class, nation, race, gender, age, status etc. and that efforts to challenge any of these should be supported. "Revolutionary" change is desirable, not because reform is somehow not any good, but because revolutionary change represents a greater, more significant and hopefully more permanent, challenge to one or more forms of oppression.

As a add-on, I would also be dubious about suggesting that the same system can be applied globally, regardless of cultural and historical differences. Arguably this was one of the major flaws of Marxism. Instead the peoples of other nations must be free to decide on the form that their own societies will take and act to bring about the neccesary changes.
Reprinting someone else's article, might be cheating, but what the hey!

A powder keg that is about to explode
The Times
Giles Whittell,,7-1065098,00.html

Uzbekistan is a key ally of the US in the war against terror. Yet its leader's crushing of religious freedom may be creating the very fundamentalism that he dreads

“YOU LOOK at them,” says the old woman in the headscarf. “I don’t want to. I’ve seen them before.” This woman is 62 but looks much older. She sits at a low wooden table surrounded by cushions and dotted with bowls of sweets in bright wrappers. Across it she slides a small photo album with a cheerful but cruelly incongruous picture of two skiers on its cover. Inside the album are the last photographs taken of her oldest son. Most of them are too distressing to print, but one is particularly repulsive. It shows the body of a big, strong, naked man, prone and face down, with what looks like an angry purple birthmark covering his entire back.

The woman closes her eyes and explains how it got there. “He didn’t want to confess to praying five times a day because he didn’t consider it a crime, so they put long metal spikes in a canvas bag and beat him with it. Still he didn’t confess, so they attached electrodes to his abdomen. Still he didn’t confess, he didn’t die. So he was put into 25 litres of boiling water, in a bath. When his skin was off they poured disinfectant on him. They removed his fingernails and broke his nose and teeth. There was nowhere on his body that was not covered with bruising and signs of torture.”

His name was Muzafar Avazov. Hers is Fatima Mukhadirova. She is one of several thousand mothers whose sons and husbands have been taken from them for defying the authority of the flatly unrepentant Government of Uzbekistan — the most populous and perplexing country in former Soviet Central Asia and a “key ally” of the US in the global war on terror, which was shaken last week by two alleged suicide bombs and a six-hour gunfight between special forces and Islamist radicals.

Avazov’s crime was to have been linked to those radicals; specifically to the Hizb ut-Tahrir sect, which seeks to replace Uzbekistan with an Islamic caliphate under the Sharia Muslim legal system. Uzbek officials claim he died after a fight with a fellow inmate at the Jaslyq detention centre 1,300km (800 miles) north-west of Tashkent, but his mother received a different account in the form of four letters from other inmates who said he had been tortured to death — a view endorsed by Theo van Boven, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, after studying the pictures taken of Avazov’s body by his family immediately before his burial.

Mukhadirova is grindingly poor, but with the help of van Boven and others she has been able to publicise her son’s fate. As a result she was jailed, and as a result of that she found herself thrust suddenly into frontline geopolitics. Her own fate became a litmus test of Uzbekistan’s readiness to listen to international condemnation of its human rights record, and six weeks ago, hours before a US Government plane carrying Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, touched down in Tashkent, she was released.

To Rumsfeld, Uzbekistan is the country on Afghanistan’s northern border that helpfully leased a major military base to US forces for its conquest of the Taleban. To discerning travellers for the past six centuries it has been the land of Tamerlane; of silk and saffron and the finest oases between the Pamirs and the Caspian. It is also, in 2004, an astonishing preglasnost relic where democracy, free markets and religious tolerance are if anything more remote than in 1991, the year in which Islam Karimov, deftly but unopposed, promoted himself from General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Uzbek SSR to President of his own new, independent republic.

Karimov has an intense dislike of being judged by the criteria of the international human rights agenda. He would prefer to be left to enjoy a place at the top table of world leaders, to which he has been welcomed because of Uzbekistan’s strategic position at the heart of Central Asia. Since 9/11, with some equivocations, the US has obliged. For opening the Khanabad base to American forces in September 2001 Karimov was rewarded with a full-dress White House reception and US aid worth more than $200 million a year. Renewal of a significant chunk of that aid depends on a decision by the US Secretary of State on whether to certify that Uzbekistan is moving in the right direction on human rights. Colin Powell’s decision, due last month, has been postponed.

A failure to re-certify Uzbekistan would risk unravelling America’s entire Central Asian strategy, yet the alternative would trigger widespread derision. As Craig Murray, Britain’s Ambassador in Tashkent, told The Times last week: “No reasonable person could argue in good faith that there is any sign of improvement in the human rights situation. It’s still appalling.”

Murray’s critics in both Tashkent and London have accused him of drinking too much and conducting an affair with a 22-year-old Uzbek hairdresser, but on human rights, the evidence bears him out. Avazov died nearly two years ago, but arbitrary arrest and torture have continued unabated and assurances of human rights reforms have proved hollow.

Latifat Nabieva has discovered this to her cost. She was asleep with her husband on the night of January 8 this year when a detachment of ten police broke into their flat in southern Tashkent and started beating him where he lay. “They didn’t show us any papers. Four of the men laid into my husband for about 15 minutes until there was blood everywhere,” she says.

Sitting in the room where it happened, Nabieva says she next saw her husband two months later, at his trial. He told her the beating had continued till dawn after he had been taken from their flat to a basement cell at the local police station. She testified about the night of the arrest at the trial, “but no-one took any notice”. Her husband got seven years for “extremism, terrorism and fundamentalism” under articles 159 and 216 of a 1998 law on “Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations”. She insists he was not a member of any outlawed Islamic sect, nor a reader of banned literature.

His real sin, it seems, was to have three sons already in jail. His youngest, Faroukh, was arrested in April 2000 and given seven years in prison. His oldest, Forkhat, was taken from a bus on his way home in April last year. He got eight years. His middle son, Mirzorakhmat, was siezed at home ten days later and six months after that his mother visited him in the Jaslyq detention centre. He had been transferred there, he said, for refusing to plunge his hand into a bowl of excrement at his first prison in Navoi.

“It’s a humiliation they use to show who’s in charge,” Nabieva said. “But my son told them he was a Muslim who used his hands to eat.”

He said he had also been forced to breathe through a urine-soaked pad until he choked, and dropped on to a cement floor by four men from above head height — a manoeuvre known as “the bird”, contrived to break a person’s ribs.

I asked Nabieva why she thought her family had been singled out. “We haven’t been,” she said. “There are many families with five sons in jail. If I had ten they would have taken all ten.”

As it is, her three were all accused of membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir. They were not members, Nabieva said. “But they are now. They’ve all joined up in prison.”

Last week Uzbekistan experienced the worst violence in its short history as an independent country. More than 40 people were killed by bombs, machine guns and accidental explosions in Tashkent and Bukhara. Yet if you had been there as a tourist you could have missed the whole thing. Tashkent was sunny, warm and preternaturally quiet. Bodies and bomb debris were cleared away before bystanders could get close. Forensics experts didn’t stand a chance (and Uzbekistan does have some, trained in the US). Monday’s blasts made the evening news but Tuesday’s reprisals barely got a mention.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was blamed, but the truth is probably murkier, and on the streets President Karimov’s subjects kept their counsel. One of them, an ethnic Russian pausing for a smoke less than a mile from the scene of a gunfight that was said to have killed at least 16 people, shook with fear when I asked him what was going on.

This is the nature of Uzbekistan’s prized stability. It has defied woeful forecasts, issued as the Soviet Union collapsed, of fundamentalism overwhelming Russia’s soft Islamic underbelly. This in turn has allowed Karimov to trumpet Uzbekistan’s spooky calm as his greatest achievement. Washington has applauded him for it, but the alternative view is that he is setting himself up for an almighty explosion.

“What we’re seeing is the creation of fundamentalist and potentially violent opposition where it didn’t exist before,” one Western diplomat told me with eerie prescience; bombs started exploding hours later.

If he is right the next place to watch may be the Fergana Valley. This is one of the most fertile and potentially enchanting places on earth; Uzbekistan’s Eden. It is also an economic mess, and the only place in former Soviet Central Asia where Islam survived beyond state control throughout the Soviet experiment. Its biggest city, with an unemployment rate of about 60 per cent, is Andijan, and here an Uzbek human rights advocate told me bluntly that Karimov was sitting on a powder keg. “The powers that be are playing with fire,” he said. “If it goes on like this, one fine day people will simply pick up their weapons and go crazy.”

The following day we took a circuitous route to the house of Abduquddus Mirzoev, a round-faced man in his early thirties with a full beard and a considerable following among Andijan’s devouter Muslims. This is partly because he studied for four years in Medina; but mainly because until 1995 his father was the immensely popular imam of Andijan’s largest mosque, routinely preaching there to congregations of 10,000 and more. Then he disappeared.

“He was going to Moscow to attend an Islamic conference,” Abduqudduz says of his father. “People had warned him not to fly via Tashkent, and he didn’t want to, but there was no alternative. He reached Tashkent but never flew from there. The people meeting him in Moscow never saw him.”

Abduquddus says his father explicitly disavowed Hizb ut-Tahrir and vanished because of his popularity and his refusal to genuflect to Karimov in his sermons. He is also convinced that his father is still alive, which may be wishful thinking. What is clear is that he was kidnapped from the departure lounge of Tashkent airport by the SNB, successor to the Uzbek KGB, minutes before he was due to board Uzbekistan Airlines flight 668 on August 29, 1995. He was to be accompanied by a member of his congregation who knew Moscow well, Ramazan Matkarimov, but Matkarimov was kidnapped too. His brother, Adkhan, has reconstructed the scene from eyewitness accounts.

“We have friends who were also on the flight,” he says. “They went through check-in and security with my brother and the Imam, then they looked round for the Imam to pray with him and he was gone.”

Andijan’s magnificent Dzhumi Mosque was shut down soon after the kidnappings. Hundreds more mosques, built during a shortlived flowering of Islam in the Fergana Valley in the early 1990s, have also been closed. A handful remain open in each city for state-sanctioned Friday prayers, but to worship anywhere else is to risk torture and prison.

President Karimov’s morbid fear of religious fundamentalism is fashionable in the age of al-Qaeda but also deeply Soviet, and Sovietism preserved in aspic is Uzbekistan’s real problem. The country has not survived the past 12 years completely unchanged — Tashkent has its Sheraton; cell phone signals are impressive — but opposition parties are banned, all media is censored and Karimov’s delusions are beginning to rival those of his neighbour, President Saparmurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov of Turkmenistan. (In September Karimov’s historical and political writings will reportedly become the core of the Uzbek national curriculum.)

As for the economy, it makes Stalin’s five-year plans look nuanced and enlightened. Over the past two years Karimov has sealed his borders, slapped a 70 per cent tariff on all imports and shut down the bazaars. Soviet-era collective farms are unreformed and pay their workers the equivalent of $2 a month. Technically, private farming is allowed, but those who try it are told what to grow, whom to sell it to and at what price. Last month a Western researcher visited a “private” farm southwest of Tashkent whose “owner” had dared to sell his apples on the open market. He received a ten-year prison sentence while his neighbours were ordered to cut down his apple trees, and did so.

“Miserable poverty combined with a total lack of solidarity is producing a social vacuum,” this researcher said. “And it’s precisely this vacuum that militant Islam is filling.”

It is doing so with the help of martyrs like Muzafar Avazov, the grotesquely tortured son of Fatima Mukhadirova. It hardly needs saying that Mukhadirova’s other son has also been taken from her. 2004, she notes, has been declared Uzbekistan’s Year of Mercy and Kindness. Meanwhile the website for the US Embassy in Tashkent announces Washington’s grave concern about the deteriorating human rights situation — in Turkmenistan.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The current Shia uprising in Southern Iraq is perhaps one of the clearest examples of the incompetence of the so-called "coalition" and Paul Bremner the man who is currently running the country. The trigger for the event was the closing down of al-Hawza a daily newspaper allied with Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Both the cleric and the paper had been highly critical of the conduct of the occupying forces. Supporters of Sadr responded by organising numerous demonstrations. The "coalition" carried out several raids and arrested Mustafa al-Yaqubi, a senior aide to al-Sadr.

The shit really hit the fan on Sunday when "coalition" forces (provoked either by gunfire of stone-throwing) fired on a crowd of al-Sadr supporters. This left several dead and many injured and protesters seized several police stations. Although the more "moderate" (that is pro-"coalition") Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful man in the Iraqi Shia hierachy, has called, through a spokesman, on demonstrators not retaliate against occupying forces even if they face aggression, tensions remain high. (Although the Western media has emphasised al-Sistani's call for calm, he also asserted that "the demonstratorsÂ’ demands are legitimate," and that he condemnss acts waged by the occupation forces and pledges his support to the families of the victims").

Where this is likely to go next is unclear, but things are unlikely to calm down anytime soon. Al-Sadr has called on his supporters "not to resort to demonstrations, for they have become nothing but burned paper" and urged them "to resort to other measures, which you take in your own provinces" which has been interpreted by many as a call to arms. Furthermore, apparent plans to arrest the cleric are unlikely to calm tensions.

While not the most powerful of Shia clerics al-Sadr's influence is still considerable, particularly among poorer sections of the Shia community: Following the fall of the Ba'ath regime, Saddam city was renamed in his honour of Sadr's father who was murdered by the now toppled dictator; he also has his own militia, al-Mahdi Army, banned, butnonethelesss still a potentially serious threat to "coalition" forces. While he had been opposed to the occupation since it began, al-Sadr had previously, as Rahul Mahajan of Empire Notes points out, "been clear not to advocate violent resistance to his followers", as his statement above makes clear this is no longer the case. The "coalition" may come to regret the day they chose to pick a fight with Moqtada al-Sadr.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Much of the discourse relating to the US/UK occupation of Iraq has focused on the resistance and the consequences for the occupiers. Naomi Klein has been one of the notable exceptions providing a damning analysis of the neoliberal project pursued by the US and the likely effects on the Iraqi population. Currently in Iraq, her latest report is as incisive as ever.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Recent terrorisy attacks in Uzbekistan have forced the Central Asian Republic firmly into the spotlight of the global media. The severity of human rights abuses in the country have been impossible to ignore.

Islam Karimov was re-elected president of the country in January 2000 after elections in which, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) there was no democratic competition. He rose to power in the days of the USSR, where he learnt his trade, and the collapse of the old regime did not interrupt his rule. Human rights groups accuse the government of serious human rights abuses. Amnesty International reports the arbitrary detention of opposition political figures, human rights defenders, devout Muslims (often accused of being "Wahhabists") and homosexuals. Indeed there are over 6,000 political and religious prisoners in the country. Detainees are frequently the victim of torture and ill-treatment, including having bits of skin and flesh ripped off with pliers, having needles driven under their fingernails, being left to stand for a fortnight in freezing water or even being boiled to death.

Amnesty reports that "upon arrival at a prison camp suspected 'Wahhabists' or suspected members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir [one of the Islamic opposition parties] are separated from other prisoners and made to run between two lines of guards who beat them with truncheons as they pass". In August 2000, the Uzbek military rounded up and resettled thousands of Tajik inhabitants from mountain villages in the southern Surhandarynsk region near the border with Tajikistan, which they alleged had been infiltrated by Islamic militants. Amnesty reported that "the villages were set on fire and bombed, livestock were killed, houses and fields destroyed".

Remember, it was it was apparently because of atrocities not unlike these that NATO bombed Serbia, even the excuses are essentially the same with only the names of the "terrorist" groups changed. Nonetheless the West is not getting ready to attack Karimov and his government to show him the error of his ways. In fact US assistance to Uzbekistan has been extensive ($1bn since 1992) and has increased massively since September 11th. In 2002, it received $500 million, of which $79 million went to the police and intelligence services, who are responsible for most of the torture. The US claims that its engagement with Karimov will encourage him to respect human rights, however, as George Monbiot notes, "he recognises that the protection of the world's most powerful government permits him to do whatever he wants. Indeed, the US State Department now plays a major role in excusing his crimes."

Under legislation enacted by the US Congress in July 2002, the State Department was required to report to Congress on the progress of the Uzbek government for $45 million in additional aid to the country. This report listed the improvements had made, but was criticised by Human Rights Watch for exaggerating "Uzbekistan's human rights gains, evidently in order to maintain foreign assistance to that country's government." They alleged that, "In determining progress in these areas, the State Department listed a number of steps taken by Uzbekistan in response to U.S. concerns. Yet for each step cited, Uzbek authorities have adopted repressive measures that undermine its impact." "The State Department did not use this law as it was intended," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "We expected a proactive effort. All we got was a pro-forma report."

Earlier this year it appeared that concerns about the extent of human rights abuses in the country might cause it to lose its $100m (£55m) annual US aid. Reports suggested that come April the State Department was set to recommend that funds to Uzbekistan be stopped because there had been no progress towards ending police torture and other abuses. Nonetheless many believe that US expressions of support in the aftermath of this weeks attacks suggest that Karimov may get the aid regardless.

Britain's role in the whole affair and specifically that of Tony Blair, "the man who claims that human rights are so important that they justify going to war" (Monbiot) has been little more than contemptible. At the beginning of 2002 Uzbekistan was granted an open licence to import whatever weapons it wanted from the United Kingdom. There have also been moves to censure British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who has been highly critical Karimov's policy of torture and repression.

His comments led to him being recalled and accused of a string of alleged disciplinary offences and invited to resign. Among the charges were accusations of his backing an overstayer's visa application, womanising and drinking and driving an embassy Land Rover down some lakeside steps. Whitehall sources, however, claim that he has been reprimanded for "talking about the charges to embassy colleagues". Mr Murray came under so much pressure that he had to spend time in a psychiatric ward. According to a senior government source, this pressure was exerted at least in part "on the orders of No 10". The charges have subsequently been dropped and he has returned to his job, although he is not supposed to speak to journalists (a requirement he has already breached) and he is currently considering legal action the British Government.

Through the 1980's the West provided extensive support to Saddam Hussein and his regime including arms sales, intelligence, credit with few illusions as to his intentions. The consequences of that support for the population of Iraq, the region and indeed the wider world continue to be felt. It is tragic to think that our leaders are making the same 'mistakes' again. As if that wasn't bad enough, our support for Uzbekistan is hardly unique. It is not be difficult to find similar examples, of varying degrees of severity, from other countries whose leaders serve Western interests. Consider for instance, Pakistan's "President" Perez Musharraf whose support for the "War on Terror" endeared to him to Bush and Blair despite his thinly veiled contempt for democracy or Western support for the corrupt and autocratic Saudi royal family. Given this reality it is hard to take claims as to the moral basis of Western foreign policy seriously. We are forced to conclude that such claims are at best naïve and at worst a straightforward lie. Whichever, the consequences for the victims are very real, a matter which should be of no little concern to anyone who pays anything more than lip service to basic moral considerations.

See also;
Nick Cohen, 'Trouble in Tashkent', The Observer, 15/12/02
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