The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Tommy Franks' Belgian nightmare: the fog just starting to lift

Mastery of the material is a long way off: but some points of interest have already emerged from several hours' cold towel work with the texts [1] since my piece of yesterday.

As I mentioned in the previous piece, there are three key legislative steps in considering whether a case can be brought under the 1993 law:
  1. the general principle of universal competence;

  2. the circumstances where the filter applies;

  3. application of the filter.

The provisions of Step 2 are these:
1) l'infraction n'a pas été commise sur le territoire du Royaume;

2) l'auteur présumé n'est pas belge;

3) l'auteur présumé ne se trouve pas sur le territoire du Royaume; et

4) la victime n'est pas belge ou ne réside pas en Belgique depuis au moins trois ans.

Note that each one of the conditions must be satisfied for the filter to come into play. No filter, and the case can be prosecuted like any robbery or murder in a Brussels street [2].

Now, just stopping there and thinking of poor old Tommy Franks once more:

During the debate in the Chambre des représentants on April 1 2003 [3], the question was asked [4] whether the residence condition in Step 2 had to be fulfilled at the time of the alleged crime; the Minister of Justice, Marc Verwilghen, confirmed that
Au moment des faits, les conditions légales doivent être remplies.

Have we got relief for Tommy right there? These Iraqis that lawyer Jan Fermon has got together to launch his suit - had they all been resident in Belgium for three years prior to the incidents they're complaining about?

If they had been so resident, then the filter doesn't apply, and the case could be prosecuted in Belgium like any other crime.

Suppose none of them were so resident. All that does is to make it certain (I think...) that the filter will apply. And (as I raised in my earlier piece) it's on the operation of the filter that my main query arises.

There's another point, though.

During the April 1 debate, one of the Vlaams Blok MPs asked what would happen if an Iraqi who passed the three-year residence test made a complaint against George Bush arising out of the war? The guy who moved the amendment embodying the provision we're talking about (Hugo Covilliers) replied (p38) that
...le procureur fédéral...examinera si le même délit peut par exemple être jugé aux Etats-Unis. Dans l'affirmative - et c'est assurément le cas pour les USA - l'affaire sera transmise. Le plaignant devra alors effectuer les démarches sur place. La Belgique ne contrôlera pas.

Now, far be it from me...but I think that must be wrong: if the complainant has a three-years residence in Belgium, the filter cannot apply! You need all four of the conditions in Step 2 to be satisfied - and we're supposing that the residence condition is negatived.

In that case, we're thrown back on the general rule of universal competence. And the provisions in the rest of the new Art 7 allowing for the case to be passed over to other jurisdictions don't apply.

(That's the whole point of the filter - it's designed to weed out cases without a connection to Belgium. If the complainant is a three-year resident of the country, that supplies the connection!)

But there's a further point wrapped up in that answer: it's supposed that the Belgian authorities will hand over the case to the ICC or to a third country (ie, in this case, the US) whether or not that jurisdiction mounts a prosecution.

Covilliers made a comparison (p45) with extradition:
La grande différence avec l'extradition est la suivante: en cas de renvoi, l'autre pays n'a pas introduit de demande dans ce sens. le renvoi est décidé dans la mesure où la Belgique estime que l'autre pays dispose d'un système juridique correct....Il n'y a aucune garantie de poursuites.

So, in theory, if a complaint was filed against Franks, the procureur fédéral - the official to whom the legislation delegates the task - could decide to pass the case over to the US authorities, in the certain knowledge that they would take no action against him!

The implications? That the legal position is enormously more complicated than the media reports might suggest, and a lot more work is needed before Franks' (or anyone else's) liability to action arising out of the war becomes clear.

However, I've found nothing to date to shake the main point of my earlier piece: that there is no provision in the revised law to allow the Belgian government to squelch any complaint for political reasons - the equivalent of the common law nolle prosequi.

There is a complete disconnect between the repeated warnings in committee of diplomatic embarrassments for Belgium arising from the law and the amendments actually passed. In particular, the Vlaams Blok put forward an amendment which would have killed any complaint where (broadly) none of the Step 2 tests were satisfied. It made no progress.

[Despite a widespread assumption, I can find nothing to say that the legislation has in fact passed into law. For instance, the text of the 1993 law on the Cour de Cassation site does not include any amendments later than 1999.

And the Senate dossier on the bill, at the bottom of the page under Etat du dossier has the final entry
Commission: Justice Envoyé en commission
The Chamber's dossier says that the bill was passed by the Senate on April 5.]

  1. Round which I'll give a guided tour - just as soon as I'm a bit less hazy on how they all fit together!

  2. Though, administratively, no doubt such cases would be handled by a designated office.

  3. Held after noon, just to be on the safe side, no doubt!

  4. It's around a 1.5MB file - p59.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Santorum and media ethics

The usual blogosphere suspects have been all over Rick Santorum and his infamous AP interview of April 7. (I seem to remember those suspects - or a Lott of them - getting quite excited at the turn of the year over the prospect of straight-shooting Santorum getting Senate Majority Leader's job.)

Even for those not grinding axes, the interview - the relevant parts set out in extenso here - is well worth reading.

You'll note that, in the transcript, the interviewer - with touching modesty, for one responsible for such a journalistic coup - is merely called AP.

Now, an editorial in today's WaPo draws my attention to the fact that the interviewer is not without political connections (but not to the piece in its own damned paper of the previous day which gives the details!).

The modest AP is no less than Lara Jakes Jordan, wife of Jim Jordan, campaign manager for John Kerry. (One of the zillion Dem aspirants to the White House.) Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) was in high dudgeon.

So, is the interview with Santorum a masterpiece of journalistic entrapment [1]? No evidence in the text that it was - quite the contrary.

Then, why do I get the feeling of having been ever so slightly duped? It's not that the information is relevant to the appreciation of the story - it's the fact that AP decided not to volunteer the information up front. Despite the fact that they knew that it would be of interest to the readers of the piece.

We know that news media are suppressing information all the time, to maximise their agendas within the limit space available: when we catch them at it, it naturally makes us ask, What else are they hiding?

  1. Some may recall the scene in North West Frontier when Herbert Lom tries to tempt the little Indian prince to put his hand in fast-spinning wheel of the water engine.


Tommy Franks war crimes trial in Belgium? Didn't they kill that law already?

If it's war crimes, it must be Belgium [1].

Last time time we were chomping on freedom fries and mayo, back on April 3, I was suggesting (following hoopla to that effect in the press) that the potential for using the Belgian extraterritorial war crimes law to indict celebrity criminals for political effect had been severely cut back by a new amendment just then being finalised in the Belgian parliament.

In a note, I said
The precise conditions are laid down in the new Article 7 §4 of the Loi de 16 juin 1993 (as substituted by Art 5 of the amending law) - if I'm reading it right!
I'm now tending to think that I wasn't.

The pretext of revisiting the point is this piece in yesterday's Washington Times to the effect that
Iraqi civilians are preparing a complaint to present in court in Belgium accusing allied commander Gen. Tommy Franks and other U.S. military officials of war crimes in Iraq.

Clearly, the case is thoroughly political; the lawyer/impresario, Jan Fermon, rather gives the game away by saying
The plaintiffs sought to file the complaint with the recently inaugurated ICC, but "since the United States did not ratify the treaty to join the institution, we felt compelled to go to a court in Belgium," he said.

Everyone knows the US hasn't signed up to the ICC - so why seek to file a complaint there? Grandstanding.

Now, there's nothing for it but to try to understand the Belgian legislation.

Once bitten and all that, I'm not proposing to go nap on an interpretation right now. But I've taken a shufti - at the parliamentary committee reports, this time, as well as the law - and the signs are not good.

The idea as explained in the media when the amending law was passed early this month was that it would introduce a filter into the process whereby cases first came to court. When a case like the Franks one (the case in the public eye at the time was that against Ariel Sharon and others arising out of Sabra-Chatila) came along, the filter - as I understood it - would allow the Belgian government to stop it from ever getting to the stage when arrest warrants might be issued, and foreign governments correspondingly irate.

One problem was that the filter amendment (and other changes to the law - mostly designed to coordinate with the ICC) were apparently done in a tearing hurry to get the amending law passed within the then current parliamentary session. From a skim of the documentation, the discussion in committee (bizarrely given in oratio obliqua) was fractious, and gave less than total confidence that the amendments made (especially the filter amendment) would do what the government said was necessary.

Reading the provision (new Article 7 on p12 of the amending law (PDF)) again, I don't think that it does what we were led to believe it was supposed to do.

The general rule (Art 7 §1 ¶1) [2] is that the Belgian courts have jurisdiction over the specified international crimes regardless of where/when/by whom/against whom they were committed; Art 7 §1 ¶2 says that when (to paraphrase) the alleged crime and criminal are out of the jurisdiction and the alleged victim isn't Belgian, the filter in ¶3 comes into operation. ¶3 specifies four cases where the case will not be proceeded with. The first three look uncontroversial to me (and irrelevant to the Franks problem).

And then there's the fourth: ¶3(d) looks from an initial glance as if it might be the Sharon clause - authorising the Belgian Foreign Ministry to cover its blushes by the equivalent of getting the Attorney-General to enter a nolle prosequi. But I don't think that paragraph works that way at all. It says that a case will not be proceeded with if
des circonstances concrètes de l'affaire, il ressort que, dans l'intérêt d'une bonne administration de la justice et dans le respect des obligations internationales de la Belgique, cette affaire devrait être portée soit devant les juridictions internationales, soit devant la juridiction du lieu où les faits ont été commis, soit devant la juridiction de l'État dont l'auteur est resortissant ou celle du lieu où il peut être trouvé, et pour autant que cette juridiction est compétente, indépendante, impartiale et équitable.

So, getting back to the present case, suppose that the complainants alleged that Tommy Franks authorised bombing the bejasus out of some civilian building, so as to fall under one of the manifold heads of crimes that the Belgian law covers. Could the Belgian Foreign Minister ring up Powell and tell him that he'd see to it that the case was squelched?

No. What ¶3(d) is about isn't squelching cases, but redirecting them. It's a sort of triage system - designed to see that cases are dealt with in the most appropriate jurisdiction. And the rest of Art 7 deals with the procedure whereby the triage is effected - with the ICC (§2) or one or other of the states concerned (location of crime or suspect, or nationality of suspect (§3 and §4)).

But - and here clearly a longer and cooler look at the text and the other materials is necessary - there seems nothing in Art 7 to enable the Belgian government just to drop the Franks case or any other. Only if Franks was going to be tried elsewhere - it seems to be saying - would the filter allow the Belgian government to wash its hands of the matter.

During the committee discussion, some sort of provision directly allowing that sort of interference was suggested but not pursued - though the Minister of Justice was present.

That's as far as I've got: hopefully, a fuller treatment, references, etc, in the next day or two. Meanwhile, anyone who's the least concerned should give Belgium a miss...

  1. The quality of the movie - and the allusion - match that of the legislation, I'm finding!

  2. There doesn't seem to be a sign for alinéa or paragraph; nor is the handy Anglo-Saxon device of brackets used - that I can tell. I'm quite happy to waive any IPR in using the pilcrow if the Belgians want to adopt it! (I think they probably use the abbreviation al, which I suspect is less fuss on the keyboard, but useless unless you know the French word.


Just before I let the subject simmer: the filter, be it noted does not apply where the alleged perpetrator comes within the Belgian jurisdiction.

All other things being equal, therefore, if Tommy Franks were to fly into Brussels for a NATO meeting, there is nothing in the amendments under consideration to stop a zealous Báltasar Garzón type of investigating magistrate from arresting him on the spot! (Does he have some form of immunity when on NATO business?)

Monday, April 28, 2003

The Amazing Disappearing Mayor of Kut - and the mullahs who never went away

The last time we left Kut (on April 24), one Sayed Abbas [1], the local SCIRI representative, was in occupation of the 'town hall', surrounded by hundreds of armed men and a general nuisance to the USM force occupying the area.

Reports continued to come out of Abbas resisting USM calls for him to vacate the premises (a Guardian piece of April 25, a Toronto Star piece of the same date).

And then, all of a sudden, he was out - apparently (Reuters April 27) during the night of April 25/26, he and his men left the town hall compound without a fight (AP April 26 says USM had previously given him a ten point ultimatum), and he went into hiding well away from the city.

What happened to his armed men is not made clear - no indication that the Marines sought to part them from their weapons, at least! It's hard to believe that the withdrawal of Abbas is anything other than tactical - the Sh'ites (SCIRI and the Iranians) have had a bit of publicity, and pulled Uncle Sam's beard.

But the political asymmetrical battle being waged by Shi'ite leaders dictates that it's the Yanks who should be seen as being in charge: they want to see the Garner & Co clearly fail. On the other hand, they want to accrue de facto control of the levers of power - and their existing status as clergy makes them handily placed to do so. So - as this reprint of an LA Times piece (April 28) says - they eschew titles like mayor, but prepare to govern.

A NY Times piece of April 26 refers to a fatwa
issued in Iran and distributed to Shiite mullahs in Iraq [calling] on them "to seize the first possible opportunity to fill the power vacuum in the administration of Iraqi cities."

[The fatwa] issued on April 8 by Kadhem al-Husseini al-Haeri, an Iraqi-born cleric based in the Iranian holy city of Qum...says that Shiite leaders have to "seize as many positions as possible to impose a fait accompli for any coming government......People have to be taught not to collapse morally before the means used by the Great Satan if it stays in Iraq......It will try to spread moral decay, incite lust by allowing easy access to stimulating satellite channels and spread debauchery to weaken people's faith."

Following that order, Shiite mullahs in the holy city of Najaf have been dispensing money and appointing clerics to administer several key Iraqi cities, Shiite leaders said. Those clerics, in turn, are appointing officials to run everything from civil defense militias to post offices.

"We are in control of all of Iraq, especially central and southern Iraq, not only Baghdad," said Sadeq Abu Jafaar, an aide to Sheik Muhammad al-Fartusi, the cleric charged by Mr. Haeri with the administration of eastern Baghdad.

They clearly talk a good game. The Times is rightly as cautious of Shi'ite bullshit as the American variety:
It is unclear how much control the mullahs really have outside Baghdad and the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Even in Baghdad, their presence is thin and scattered, restricted predominantly to Shiite neighborhoods. Many of Iraq's Shiites say they are wary of the Islamic strictures the clerics would like to impose.

And there is the small matter of the split between the more moderate elements of Iraqi Shia and the radicals led by Sheikh Moqtadda al-Sadr who allegedly murdered Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei in Najaf a few weeks ago [2].

And Sadr is Haeri's representative on Earth (or in Iraq, at least), according to the Times piece:
On April 7, the day American troops effectively toppled Mr. Hussein's government by seizing its main seats of power in Baghdad, Mr. Haeri sent a handwritten letter to the holy Iraqi city of Najaf, appointing Moktada al-Sadr as his deputy in Iraq.

In the signed letter, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Haeri wrote that, "We hereby inform you that Mr. Moktada al-Sadr is our deputy and representative in all fatwa affairs....His position is my position."

But the daily accruing evidence of the shambolic state of the US occupation tends to the conclusion that Iraqi Shias (60-65% of the population) may shortly not need much persuading that the mullahs, officially or unofficially - and divided though they may be, could do a better job.

  1. Aka Said Abbas and Abbas Abu Ragef.

  2. Work back from April 22 piece on Sheikh Muhammad al-Fartusi.


The Iran general strike: still no second source

Last Friday (April 25) I took a look at the startling story in the NY Sun that a general strike in Iran had been called for July 9.

At that stage, the Sun was the only rag carrying the story; and, in examining those namechecked in the story, I sought to encourage caution in accepting it at face value.

I've checked again: and whilst (from a glance at the Google search on iran "general strike" "july 9") a couple of dozen bloggers seem to have picked it up, an unscientific sample of the pieces did not come up with a single source other than the Sun piece [1]. The lack of a second source confirmed by the fact that the same search on the Google news page yields nada.

Now, the fact that no other news organisation has yet confirmed the Sun story doesn't necessarily mean it's a crock. But, naturally, the longer it goes without confirmation, the more dubious it becomes (and it hardly starts from a position of rock-solid credibility!).

Will it go the way of the mythical Iraqi Republican Group (April archives passim) ? I'll be keeping an eye on how things turn out..,

  1. The NRO and Best of the Web similarly cite the Sun article in splendid isolation.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Ronald Reagan's peasants' revolt

Say it ain't so, Joe! On the one hand, the darling of the neocons, the icon of anti-communism and enemy of all things revolutionary. On the other hand, a whole bunch of Nicaraguan peasants occupying farms - just as if they were in Zimbabwe.

How can they possibly be connected?

An outfit called Resistencia Nicaragüense sounds like a bunch of Reds. But, no: those were the anti-Red Contras at the bottom of all that Ollie North strife back in the 80s.

And now, according to this piece from today's La Prensa of Managua, former Contras are supporting workers who are occupying more than ten estates (fincas) in the department of Matagalpa alone [1].

The truth of the matter is, as ever, hard to gauge: in some cases, the pretext for the land seizures is that the workers have not been paid for some time. Mortgages on some fincas have apparently been foreclosed by the banks - if we're talking about coffee plantations (I'm working on limited data here!), it's hardly surprising that there's not money about, giving the notoriously weak state of the arabica market right now (this Fortune piece from December 2002).

But the very idea that all this communistic activity should be aided and abetted by guys who were the allies against the Red Menace of the current Guiding Light of US foreign policy - the man namechecked in the title of the Genesis of the Neocon Bible, Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy - just seemed an irony worth celebrating.

  1. North-east of Managua: map here; also (while the URLs are to hand) this map from 1857 - (William Walker filibuster era); this map of eastern Nicaragua; and this relief map.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Colombia-Nicaragua territorial dispute - US steps in

I mentioned yesterday that tempers were shortening over an area of Colombian territory claimed by Nicaragua.

The breaking news (April 25 1810 EDT [1]) is that the US Ambassador in Managua has denied that USG had tried to dissuade the US companies bidding for oil exploration licences from pursuing their bids - which, being translated from diplom-ese, is the equivalent of giving the bids Uncle Sam's seal of approval:
descartó hacer sugerencias a las empresas estadounidenses de abstenerse de participar en las licitaciones, porque "están licitando zonas que no están dentro de las aguas en disputa, por eso no tiene caso hacer un llamado."

(My understanding had been that the blocks concerned were in disputed waters. My bad, evidently.)

The Nicaraguan foreign minister Norman Caldera was turning a diplomatic Nelson's eye to the Colombian onslaught:
Lo que el presidente Uribe dijo "es que no van a permitir exploraciones en aguas colombianas, pero como nadie está haciendo exploración en aguas colombianas sino en nicaragüenses, entonces no hay conflicto".
Studied disingenuity of a high order [2]!

So what exactly is the area disputed? The fullest statement of the Nicaraguan claim (and it's not very full) is the application to the International Court of Justice dated December 6 2001.

In the first instance, it's
the islands and keys of San Andres and Providencia
which lie around 12°-15°N 80°-82°W - around halfway between Panama and Jamaica and on the same latitude as Nicaragua (in the bottom left of this map). This territory was granted to Colombia by the Barcenas-Esguerra Treaty signed in Managua on 24 March 1928 .

But the paydirt comes with the 200 mile economic zone around these islands recognised by the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. In principle, whichever nation owns the islands owns the zone.

Nicaragua says that the 1928 treaty is invalid because the country was under US occupation when it was signed; and in any case denies that the 44 sq km of land in question should carry with it an economic zone of 50,000 sq km.

Colombia has in the past (when only fishing has been an issue) been able to enforce a de facto demarcation line at the 82nd meridian. (The oil exploration licenses for which the US companies are currently bidding are apparently west of that meridian - hence the US Ambassador's statement.)

The ICJ determined that the full Nicaraguan case would have to be filed by April 28 2003 - not long to wait; the Colombians will have till June 28 2004 to reply. (Jarndyce v Jarndyce was traffic court in comparison to the ICJ...)

The dispute is complicated by the existence of a further treaty between Colombia and Honduras (the Tratado Ramírez-López [2]): no copy online, that I can find, but the Tiempo article says
Colombia asegura que sus fronteras marítimas en el Mar Caribe están al oriente del meridiano 82, lo que fue reconocido por Honduras en 1999 mediante el Tratado Ramírez López que Managua desconoce porque, asegura, le cercena 130.000 kilómetros cuadrados de su plataforma continental en el mar Caribe.

Quite how an agreement with a third country can affect Nicaragua's rights one way or the other isn't clear.

More on this to come, I fancy.

  1. Colombia is GMT -6, and no daylight saving time - apparently. As is Nicaragua - Venezuela is GMT -4 all year.

  2. The Vice President José Rizo Castellón was being less diplomatic: according to a piece [UPDATE]in La Prensa of Managua, he characterised Uribe's threat to send in the Navy as a mugging:
    un atropello con lujo de violencia

  3. The history is evidently convoluted, and I haven't looked at it yet. These links are captured for posterity (!): this page on various Nicaraguan foreign disputes, this Nicaraguan timeline, and this 1999 decision of the Colombian Corte Constitucional approving the Treaty. This decision of the same court on a Colombia-Jamaica territorial treaty may be relevant. And there may be something in the articles listed here from the Nicaraguan site Confidencial. And a listing of various documents on the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry site.

Free translation: atropello is more like barging through, without any notion of theft. [The VOX site is the best Spanish dictionary I've found online.]

There's a copy of the treaty at the start of the Corte Constitucional decision.


The link I'd somehow left off. But don't bother - the page has disappeared from the La Prensa site, perhaps too quickly even for it to have been cached by Google. Fortunately, it was still in my cache (so far as I can tell, there's nothing else of value in the piece).

There is new piece on the site which takes the story forward: the headline says
Aclarada guerra virtual de Uribe
But I'm not so sure.

This story implies that the Colombian Foreign Minister now accepts that the blocks for which the US companies are bidding are within the area accepted by all parties as definitively Nicaraguan waters:
Según la agencia EFE, la ministra colombiana de Relaciones Exteriores, Carolina Barco, declaró a los periodistas en la ciudad de Cartagena (norte) que el Gobierno nicaragüense le aclaró la situación.

“El embajador de Nicaragua (Manuel Salvador Abaunza), con quien me reuní, así me lo dijo explícitamente, y me mostró unos mapas, por lo que eso ya quedó claro”, señalo la canciller Barco.

But it doesn't actually say what is claro! That her President has made a fool of himself? Or that the Nicaraguans are thieving sons of bitches? She's just a gofer: so I'm betting on the latter!

(This is the page dealing with the bidding process on the site of the Instituto Nicaragüense de Energía, the government agency responsible for handling it. It includes a map (PDF) of the area, showing the blocks and latitude markings - some blocks on offer in the Caribbean Sea are to the west of the 82nd meridian, some to the east. There's no information on the site (that I could see) on individual bids.)

The results of the bidding are apparently to be released on May 2: more to come on this, I fancy.

Friday, April 25, 2003

US gives Kurds effective carte blanche to winkle out Arabs

When is ethnic cleansing not ethnic cleansing? When carried out by Uncle Sam's Glorious Allies, of course.

No one does revenge like the Kurds - though usually, their history being what it is, it's usually practised on other Kurds.

This time, it's the Arabs who are getting it in the neck. And US troops are, generally, doing squat to stop it happening.

Their excuse is that there are too few of them in northern Iraq to do anything: in Kirkuk,
Soldiers from the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade moved into an Arab neighborhood in the southeastern part of the city in recent days to guard against evictions. But their commander says they are stretched too thin and got started too late to prevent many of the seizures.

That was the strategy, of course, following the Turks' refusal of deployment rights: let the Kurds do the fighting, with just US special forces and air support. Though I'm not sure, based on the effectiveness of US policing further south, whether even the numbers originally planned for northern Iraq would have been much use in stopping cleansing activities.

Some Kurdish leaders are unapologetic:
Kemal Kerkuki, a senior Kurdish official here, said a committee would be formed at some point to look into providing compensation for Arabs who were leaving the city. But, he added, it would be better if they left as soon as possible, since many Kurds were impatiently waiting to recover their property.

Their argument is simple: to the victor the spoils. When it comes to ethnic cleansing, Saddam started it - it was still going on as late as this February, apparently. He took Kurdish-owned real estate and gave it to Arabs; the regime has changed, and the new bosses naturally favour their own people. And they're only taking back what was taken from Kurds in the first place.

Others - more attuned to the sensitive souls of Western voters - qualify their objectives. The PUK 'Prime Minister of Kurdistan' Barham Salih (in a piece originally in the WSJ of April 22) says
Justice demands that we reverse ethnic cleansing....In the wake of liberation, there have been regrettable episodes in which individuals have taken the law into their hands in an attempt to redress Arabization. All reversals of ethnic cleansing must be conducted lawfully: Iraqis have had enough of violence and summary justice....We must not tolerate abuses.

How many abusive evictions of Arabs have been stopped by the peshmerga since the Saddam regime was ousted [1]? How many evictions of Arabs have taken place following the application of due process?

Strangely enough, there seems to be no information online on either question!

Human Rights Watch drew attention to the abuses on April 15 calling on the US, as the occupying power, to fulfil its obligations under the Geneva Conventions (my piece on April 5)

Reichsprotektor Jay Garner has at least addressed the issue (Guardian April 24):
[he] held out the promise yesterday of a Bosnia-style commission to resolve disputes between Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans displaced in northern Iraq during Saddam Hussein's regime.

He said that a commission to "arbitrate what is just and fair" would help to reverse "years of ethnic cleansing" of Kurds and other minorities around the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.

The piece says that
...details of the proposed commission remain vague.

No kidding..

[There is still no OHRA site on the DOD site or anywhere else that I can see. Garner is namechecked once on the DOD news page right now.]

Jalal Talabani, whose Patriotic Union of Kurdistan was accused of driving Arabs from their homes, said that the return of displaced people in the north was an "absolute right", but that it must be done "in a regular way, not in chaos".

Trial first, confiscation afterwards - he's really got that rule of law thing down...

As ever, asymmetries rule: right now, the Kurds can get away with winkling out the Arabs providing they don't make too much hoopla of it; US power is both too crude and too sparse to set the bar for intervention at a level much lower than mass murder. Eventually, the Yanks will go home - Good God! is it New Hampshire already? - and the Kurds will be able to let rip.

But, give it a generation or two, and the Arabs will be in charge again - and revenge, served very cold, will no doubt follow. As I've pointed out before, they waited centuries before they were able to throw the hated Turk out of their lands - in point of fact, they had to wait for the British to come! They have the patience of a saint. A case of having to...

  1. According to this piece,
    armed men...spray-paint the word girow, Kurdish for taken, on homes they have occupied.
    It wouldn't do for a Arab home to be liberated twice...


The Colombia-Venezuela war will not take place

With apologies to Jean Giraudoux...[1]

I raised the question of a potential confrontation on April 16. Colombian ministers had been accusing the Venezuelans of aiding the FARC in border regions, which the Venezuelans strenuously denied.

Which meant that the long-planned summit meeting on Wednesday (April 23) between the two presidents could have been incendiary - infringements of sovereignty, insults to national honour, Latin tempers: could war be far off?

Back in the real world, there was just a deal of squirming with embarrassment. There never was going to be any confrontation, let alone anything that might conceivably have led to war.

It's wag the dog without the need to hire a producer: all the action happens in the back of beyond; the FARC and the AUC paramilitaries provide the cast and crew (perhaps with a little help from the Venezuelan Air Force); and Chavez and Uribe can play the parts of Castro and - Pinochet Lite? - for the benefit of their respective home crowds. Who thereby are distracted from the fact that both countries' economies, and much else, are in the toilet.

The Bogata El Tiempo of yesterday has a straight piece on the summit, under the headline
Los presidentes de Colombia y Venezuela se comprometieron a impulsar el comercio binacional

The main concern of the article is not the prospect of imminent mobilisation but the funds of Colombian exporters blocked by the Venezuelan authorities.

The Caracas El Universal piece is altogether more playful. It figures the visit as a boxing match: Uribe won Round 1 with gifts of a poncho and a leather pouch (to take his exporters cash back with him - geddit?); Chavez Round 2 by dragging Uribe off against his will to show him the local countryside in the presidential helicopter; and Round 3 was a draw: Chavez agreed to keep the FARC out of Venezuelan territory, and Uribe to can the megaphone diplomacy. The first promised to do something he can't do; and the second something (I'm pretty sure) he won't do!

Uribe likes the wag the dog ploy so much, he's opened up a second front: he's threatening to use the Colombian Navy to stop the Nicaraguans exploring for oil in what he says are Colombian waters. Vessels are already patrolling the disputed area (of 130,000 square kilometres) in the Caribbean Sea.

The dispute - currently before the International Court of Justice - relates to a 1928 treaty between the two countries on which Colombia is relying.
El gobierno de Managua alega que ese tratado no es válido, porque cuando fue firmado el país estaba intervenido por Estados Unidos.

And, of course, Calvin Coolidge, Silent Cal to his friends (if any), had followed in the large and destructive footsteps of Jim Crow fanatic Saint Woodrow Wilson in invading Nicaragua in 1926 [2] - the previous US occupation having finished only in 1925!

And, lest you think that the US connection is purely historical, the Tiempo piece points out that Nicaragua have already invited bids for exploration rights; and
Las empresas estadounidenses interesadas serían MKJ Exploration International, Great House, Arkansas Petroleum Company e Infinity Inc.

Even the infinitesimally small likelihood of seeing the Seventh Fleet having to square up against the naval might of Colombia on account of last century's Monroe meddling somehow brings a smile to the lips....

  1. I (supposedly) read La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu for an exam at school; and utterly failed to understand it! But dim memories suggest that it may be a piece for our time....

  2. More here , here and here.


Iran general strike: fact or fantasy?

It certainly seems like a neocon's wet dream: without a Yankee shot fired or man lost, the odious regime in Tehran brought to ruin by mass action of the Iranians themselves, who promptly enjoy a surfeit of pluralism, free speech and open markets.

And the date to diarise: July 9 2003.

The Nostradamus offering this vision: one Adam Daifallah [1] in a piece dated April 24 in the NY Sun [2].

Now, I'm no expert on Iranian politics: but the last time I looked - on March 3 - the reformers - the supporters of the constitutionally gelded President Khatami - had just lost a bunch of local elections, and were not in the best shape.

The Sun says
...opponents of the Iranian regime have called a general strike [for July 9] that they hope will expand to topple the government there and bring freedom and democracy to the Iranian people.

And these opponents are
profreedom student groups.

Such as? No further information given. But evidently they must exist because, the piece tells us,
The July 9 strike is also putting Washington on the spot, as policymakers scramble to decide how the American government should respond.

And how likely is that? One can, to start with, look at those namechecked in the piece.

Pride of place goes to
Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late shah of Iran, [who] has been in touch with student organizers and is lending his support to the event.

Pahlavi, to judge from a somewhat polemical piece by John Stanton dated April 22, occupies much the same place in necons' affections as Ahmed Chalabi. Apparently, during a meeting on Capitol Hill, he was
called "Your Majesty" by the representatives and staffers.

Now, I must confess that, before reading the piece, I'd no idea there was such a thing as a living ex-Crown Prince of Iran. So, naturally, I did a little mooching around the net to see what sort of guy he might be.

Seems like a personable chap - a women's magazine-style interview from February 2002 - whose only demand is that the Iranian people have a chance to decide their form of government - constitutional monarchy or whatever - in a free referendum (Middle East Intelligence Bulletin interview November 2001).

Quite how, in his view, this referendum might come about is less than clear. In the MEIB piece, he talks about a third force in Iran:
the politically active generation of young Iranians in search of deliverance from obscurantism and backwardness.
Evidently they have some organisation since (he says)
I take particular heart in the fact that the "third force" has adopted my campaign's call for a national referendum as a remedy to the country's political stalemate and a process for nonviolent change.

Them and whose army? No one's:
Any kind of foreign military action against my country will immediately galvanize Iranians against it, myself included, and would therefore neutralize a political movement which plays a pivotal role in bringing about democratic change in Iran.

The third force idea is not Pahlavi's alone: this piece from October 2002 by dissident Qasem Sho’leh Sa’di, currently in Iranian custody [3] talks about the notion (but fails to namecheck Pahlavi!).

On the man himself, a 2001 piece from the The Iranian site [4] says that
No politician or political group outside Iran can have a major impact on what goes on inside...Reza Pahlavi...does not have an organized base inside Iran.
Given a choice, there's absolutely no doubt that the people would choose a democratic republic rather than the restoration of the monarchy.

The message: as a pretender to the Peacock Throne, he stands no chance; as plain Mr Pahlavi, who knows?

As the Great White Hope of the neocons, he appears to leave something to be desired.

And what about the others namechecked in the Sun piece?

It mentions
California-based Iranian broadcaster, Paris Saffari
as saying that
Iranians are calling in to talk about the event every day on her radio program.

There is no record of the name on Google. How popular can her show be?

And then it quotes
Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi
- who ranks five items on Google - most of them 404s! Her father, Siamak Pourzand, is currently in an Iranian jail somewhere.

Then there's Sen Sam Brownback (R-KS) - who certainly seems to take an interest in all things Central Asian [5]. Quite how close to the USG neocons Brownback is my researches don't reveal (like Pahlavi, the Sun piece is the first to make him register with me!)

But the Sun says he
championed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998.
And a piece from February 7 in the National Review by Mohammad Parvin (who heads the Mission for Establishing Human Rights in Iran), lambasting the conciliatory attitude to the current Iranian government of certain American surrender monkeys as an impediment to regime change in Iran, mentions with approval the Iran resolution Brownback is sponsoring [6].

Brownback is also proposing an amendment [7] to an appropriations bill giving $50m to State (some mistake surely?) to aid activists within Iran.

(And - Moran alert! -
[a] spokeswoman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee told UPI her organization supports the amendment.
Comment superfluous, I fancy.)

A last name to conjure with in the Sun piece is Rob Sobhani. Another guy with an interest in Caspian oil - he's Azerbaijani by birth, apparently - and another third force opponent of having truck with Khatami [8].

No doubt all these people know a thousand times more about Iran than I do. My question is, though, How could this truly epoch-making event - the July 9 2003 D-Day for the mullahs in Tehran - have entirely escaped the attention of the rest of the world's media. Including some outfits with somewhat greater resources, longer track record and more prestige than the New York Sun?

  1. Who immediately gets a black mark for a personal site with nothing on but an invitation to buy his book!

  2. A neocon happy hunting-ground, part owned by Conrad Black - an interesting piece on the rag.

  3. I think - curiously, the name registers on regular Google but not on the news page. He was arrested on February 24.

  4. No idea what its ideological baggage is - immediate impression is not one of fanaticism on any particular side.

  5. Mention of the words Caspian and oil here would, I'm sure, be totally inappropriate. In 1996, he defeated Sheila Frahm who'd been appointed to fill Bob Dole's seat.

  6. I've complained before about big media not using bill numbers. Parvin does - but the numbers for the 107th Congress! The correct numbers for the current Congress are these: Ney's resolution is HRes 59; Lantos's is HRes 140; Brownback's are SRes 81 and 82 - which look identical, but can't be: the latter is 9 characters longer!

  7. Not yet on THOMAS.

  8. Sobhani ran for the US Senate twice in Maryland - last time in 2000 he lost in the Republican primary to a guy (Paul Rappaport) who was predictably (surely?) marmelised by four-term incumbent Paul Sarbanes. Lesson for Pahlavi there, I suspect... Needless to say, Sobhani has his detractors.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Here's a flash: White House supports Powell...

When we left the big match yesterday, that Metternich de nos jours, Newton Leroy Gingrich, had just unloaded a stockyard-ful of manure on the head of the Secretary of State (in his AEI speech delivered on Tuesday).

And the response? A piece in today's NY Times reminded me of the famous barn-raising scene in Witness - a community selflessly coming together to aid a neighbour in need.

The Gingrich speech, it says
was seen at the White House as an attack on the president, not an attack on Powell

Bush's view was not vouchsafed; but he
is said by Republican politicians to have little love for Mr. Gingrich, going back to Mr. Gingrich's savage attack against Mr. Bush's father for raising taxes, a step that ignited the wrath of conservatives generally.

Filial avenger is something of a specialty of the President's, of course, as Ann Richards and one Saddam Hussein can confirm. But with Gingrich - the motive sounds just a tad forced.

Meanwhile, Powell finds he has friends at the Pentagon:
a Pentagon spokesman said that to the best of his knowledge, no one at the Defense Department had seen Mr. Gingrich's speech or was familiar with its content ahead of time.
No DOD grassy knoll action here, then: Newt was a lone gunman.

Ari Fleischer had already weighed in on Powell's side in his briefing on Tuesday (April 22):
...that is exactly why this President has been so successful in his conduct of foreign policy. He believes in diplomacy; he applies diplomacy. Secretary Powell is an able, able diplomat. And that is the President's approach. And it's been a proven and successful approach.

Powell plays his part well - but it's the President's show. Thus, on Syria (Gingrich goes completely troppo about the upcoming Powell visit to Damascus)
The United States has diplomatic relations with Syria, and we intend to use those diplomatic relations to good purposes, to further America's goals in the region. And that's where the President will press diplomacy to support the President's policies.

And the Times piece has administration officials saying that
...Bush had cleared the Powell announcement and that both Mr. Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, had advocated toning down the criticism of Syria.

Moreover, it just so happened that Powell and Rumsfeld did lunch yesterday. Which they do regularly - but, even so...

And so it seems that all Gingrich has succeeded in doing is getting State, the DOD and the White House to have a (metaphorical) group hug. The policy differences and the feelings behind them are real enough: nothing of substance has been changed by Gingrich's intervention, that I can see. But the momentary coming together would be valuable in itself.

Which makes me wonder whether Gingrich was set up in some way? Egged on by some well-placed neocon - DDS Paul Wolfowitz, say - to provide a temporary casus pacis to allow for post-war regrouping within USG?


Who's in charge in Kut?

As I mentioned in my piece on April 17, in a move whose very preemptiveness USG could not but heartily applaud, a Shi'ite cleric called Sayed Abbas took over what is (I suspect misleadingly) called the town hall or city hall by UK and US media respectively, and proclaimed himself to be in charge.

This was news to the US Marine contingent (Task Force Tarawa, under Brig Gen Rich Natonski) who were under the strong impression that they were running the show (though Natonski was making efforts to establish relations with alternative local leaders with a view to making good their effective control and gaining some legitimacy for their presence).

The pantomime of the April 19 meeting of Natonski with his tribal supporters is shown on a BBC Newsnight report from last night [1] and described in this AP piece also from April 19. (In accordance with the general USM freezeout policy, poor old Abbas was made to walk more or less alone through a cordon of Marine ordnance and, AP says
he was not at the main table but sat toward the rear of the room.
The tribals were happy to tell the BBC man that they'd no idea who Abbas was!)

And who might Natonski's interlocutors have been? The BBC had some local Shi'ites suggesting that they were ex-supporters of the regime who had done very nicely from the connection. And the AP piece says one of them, Mubarak Ali az-Zubaidy,
offered to build a golden statue of President Bush to thank him for freeing the Iraqi people.

Some dots are harder to resist connecting than others!

Of course, the relation between the colonial power and native leaders has always been a key one: on the one hand, there can be the sort of hands-off relationship embodied in the doctrine of indirect rule with which Nigerian administrator Lord Lugard is associated; on the other, the leaders may be merely for local colour - their job to smile unfeasibly broadly at the cameras and make effusive protestations of love for their masters. What were known in Algeria under the French as les béni-oui-oui.

Meanwhile, the NY Times seems to have got an interview with Abbas (piece of April 19). The journo notes of Abbas (with a touch of the faux-naif) that
he immediately declared himself the elected mayor of the city, though no election seems to have taken place.

Abbas, according to the Times, is a SCIRI man, and is clearly relishing his role, holding court at the town hall with SCIRI and Dawa supporters in attendance:
"I have been chosen by God," the cleric said, and his room of robed and turbaned supporters grunted with approval. "Before I was a simple man. But now I have responsibilities. I am a good man with a pure history, a shining history. This is seen through my deeds and acts."

Meanwhile USM Col Ron Johnson says
Abbas is a clown, but he remains a concern to us.
Natonski on camera came across as I Am the Law - whilst his man is whistling Dixie...

There has been some action on site -
American soldiers stormed the city hall compound earlier this week and removed a cache of semiautomatic rifles.

But a WaPo piece of April 23 says that the Marines
still have not dared enter the mayor's office.

It's an interesting compare and contrast with the Times piece - for instance, it says the numbers of supporters-cum-bodyguard in the town hall compound [2] number several hundred; and has Abbas denying he's a member of SCIRI [3].

There is friction with Abbas over the use by the USM Civil Affairs Unit of Ba'athists to help get essential services going. (The CAU are for the moment successful in ignoring Abbas, it seems.) And a confrontation with Abbas supporters at a medical warehouse where Marines were taking supplies. The mob inflamed - shades of the Fartusi incident - by the arrest of a cleric caught with a rifle [4].

And the answer to the original question? It looks to me that the Marines have effective control in a military sense; but, as during the war, there's a play between two sets of asymmetries: firepower against will-power, patience and turf. Abbas, no doubt, is thoroughly expendable; but the fact is that the average resident of Kut [5] would expect to be in Kut in five years time; whereas Natonski's guys would not.

Either Fate or SCIRI seems to have decided to make Abbas's reign in Kut an experiment in what passes for in those parts for local democracy. I'll be keeping an eye on how it goes.

  1. Streamed here until around 1730 EDT today - the item starts around 17:45 in.

  2. It's clearly not like any town hall I've ever seen!

  3. There's a puzzle about the name it gives the top man - Sayed Abbas Fadhil. Where did this last name come from? It looks like a common enough Arab name - but I can trace no other article on Abbas (and there have evidently been a good number) where he is called by it.

  4. Also, a bridge over the Tigris was blocked by a mob for several hours.

  5. A man from Tikrit is a Tikriti - one from Kut is not a Kuti...

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

State v DOD: Rumble in the Jungle or WWF?

Now I've regularly maintained that any resemblance between this blog and genuine journalism is purely coincidental [1]. But I've certainly experienced the hard-to-resist pull to make what may in fact be a series of barely related coincidences into a story for the purpose of producing a piece that hangs together. (Still working on it...)

The danger is that one applies a narrative template to a bunch of facts that are just lying around, and make a story where none actually exists [2]; or take a complex, inconclusive narrative, and straighten the curves - goose it up, cut out the inconsistencies, make the white hats Persil white, etc, etc.

When it comes to the war currently supposed to be going on between the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom - this WaPo piece from yesterday goes into loving detail - I somehow sense that someone has been up to a little curve-straightening.

I'm not suggesting that there isn't rivalry (to use a polite word) between State and the DOD. There is a not-so-fine tradition of warfare between US agencies operating in the field of foreign relations: between the FBI and the CIA, for instance; between various branches of the armed services after World War 2; between State and Defense over policy towards the new People's Republic of China; under Carter, Secretary Cyrus Vance and NSA Zbigniew Brzezinski warred on each other [3].

And, beyond these noted instances, all bureaucracies battle within themselves, virtually as a condition of existence.

So one is moved to ask (for starters), are the disputes really any more than average? And how come Yesterday's Man Newt Gingrich, the guy who thought shutting down the government was a vote-winner - and who is no longer any sort of legislator, can get the august WaPo going by unloading on State (as he did in a speech yesterday)?

Gingrich has not, so far as I'm aware, been in the vanguard of the War Party. He's on the Defense Policy Board; but in a CNN piece from August 2002 on the workings of the DPB, he rates only one mention. And his listing at AEI (where he's a Senior Fellow) says that he
researches health care, information technology, the military, and politics.
Foreign affairs not a top priority, it seems [4]. The Post says
Gingrich...since resigning as speaker in 1999 has tried to forge a prominent role for himself in the Republican Party on defense and national security issues...
Try is the operative word, I take it.

So why give his complaint house room? Connect-the-dots answer: because he was merely the Fedex guy, and message came SWALK from Rummy. Gingrich apparently denied this; but then rather blew his credibility by suggesting that
he was not trying to criticize Powell.

It's what the guys at State apparently call a Rummy-gram, then? I wonder. It's not as if Rummy generally needs others to make his acerbic side-swipes for him - Tony Blair can vouch for that [5].

And, if Rummy wanted a third party to lob a missile or two into Powell's garden, wouldn't he choose someone with more standing in foreign affairs than Gingrich to do it?

I suspect, in fact, that, in Rummy's mind, now would not be the moment for missiles: in victory, magnanimity, as the War Party's great hero once said. Powell having screwed up in a major way, the last thing Rummy wants to do is give him the chance of drumming up a sympathy vote. Res ipsa loquitur works for Rummy so much better, surely?

And wouldn't Bush, flushed with victory, be a tad miffed to see the underlings' squabblings spoil his rolling ticker-tape parade?

My guess: Gingrich is not lying (about not being a Rummy-gram, that is): it's his gift to the Project, all his own work. He's doing his bit for the cause.

And what of Gingrich's speech itself? Scarcely a work of Edward Everett proportions - just 1,500 words - and very much the better for it.

On State Department performance, he has an open goal at which to aim. He lets his slip show, perhaps, in his singling out for a tongue-lashing of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs - in which he identifies a
propensity for appeasing dictators and propping up corrupt regimes.

Not to mention that the first two of the four points on which, he says,
the State Department is back at work pursuing policies that will clearly throw away all the fruits of hard won victory
concern Syria and the Palestinians [6].

Strangely enough, the president who appointed the head of the Bureau (and his superiors at State, too) was called Bush, not Assad; but, then, William Joseph Burns is a career diplomat, and not an ideologue. Frankly not equipped to battle the arabists - worse, as a former ambassador to Jordan and Arabic-speaker, he's one of them!

This piece dating from 1995 by Donald Neff tells a rather different story: long before the current neocon-friendly regime, the Arabists had been winkled out of the Bureau, it seems. Even during the presidency of that noted philosemite (not!) Richard Nixon. In the Clinton era, they had gone pretty well completely. I surmise from reading the piece that Neff is sympathetic to the Arabists' (sez him) lost cause. One is merely balancing prejudices in setting his view against Gingrich's.

Is Gingrich the new foreign policy big hitter in town? Perhaps I should come back to that speech...

  1. This should be known as the Rasputin Clause - but isn't, so far as I can tell.

  2. The problem was first made explicit (to little me, at least) in a radio programme on the BBC a few years ago (no transcripts or streaming online, natch!). Google produces some potentially interesting items on "narrative template", including this piece on murdered Dutch pol Pim Fortuyn, this lecture on the noxious effect of the NT in science, and this listings page on narrative psychology.

  3. This looks an interesting piece on the history of presidents and the decision to use military force.

  4. When I saw here the headline
    I started to rethink. For three seconds until I checked the date: this was Speaker Gingrich attacking the Great Fornicator back in '98....

  5. Was it really March 12 when I dealt with Rummy's don't need Britain briefing?

  6. Gingrich is a Baptist - just as the speech isn't a Rummy-gram, it is not, I'm sure, any other sort of gram, either.

It had entirely escaped me that the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs was where Dick Cheney's daughter, Elizabeth L Cheney has found a billet - just chanced on my piece of December 5 2002. This is a listing of BNEA personnel (including Cheney fille. A TAP piece from December 16 2002 says she's
in charge of Middle East economic policy, including oil.
Which I'm sure is nowhere as bad as it looks. Because she's bound to be one of those dictator-loving Arabists that Gingrich was railing about....

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Fartusi - a Shi'ite to watch? Uncle Sam is...

The Shi'ites are revolting - or, rather, gathering in numbers to give their revolt-muscles a little exercise. It's a design classic of today's TV news: vast crowds [1], inventive demo-ware, angry (the words incomprehensible, the sentiment crystal clear) vox pops, a 30 second blast of The Other for the Western hack's package for the nightly news.

An experience of the Mass. Being no friend of the Mass myself, I try pull out some names to hang onto. And an interesting one right now is Sheikh Muhammad al-Fartusi [2].

According to this (undated) AFP wire Fartusi was one of six arrested by US forces
at Al-Dura checkpoint, 25 kilometres (10 miles) south of Baghdad as they were returning from Karbala.

The report had the USA spokesman unable to confirm the arrests or the reason for them.

The inevitable demo took place in Baghdad on Monday; the suggestion is (Toronto Star April 22) that Fartusi is close to the Jimaat-i-Sadr-Thani headed by Sheikh Moqtadda al-Sadr - the group responsible (supposedly) for the murder of Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei [3]. An excellent connect-the-dots reason for the Yanks to pick Fartusi up, then [4].

On the other hand, Fartusi is, according to this BBC piece from today
the representative in Baghdad of the powerful Hawza council of Ulema, based in Najaf.
(The Ulema are the Shi'ite clergy, I think).

The Star refers to him as
self-styled head of security in Saddam City.
Perhaps another reason for the arrests was to give a warning to the Shia not to set up governmental structures unauthorised by the occupation forces. (Good luck with that...)

Does Fartusi have an organisation to go with the fancy title he's given himself? Answer came there none - not for the moment, at least.

Needless to say, Fartusi has been released, to the loud satisfaction of the mob. There is no sign of any US statement on the arrest.

On the face of it, a minor humiliation for the colonial power, mint teas all round for the ayatollahs. And Fartusi has got himself noticed. By Uncle Sam and me, for two...

  1. With or without the benefit of creative camera work and editing.

  2. The transliteration from Arabic is a bitch. I've seen the guy's name also spelt Mohammed Fartusi and Mohammed Fartousi. Goes with the territory. Fartusi is (I'm pretty sure) derived from Fartus - only reference I can see is to the Fartus Marshes - no sniggering at the back...

  3. My earlier pieces on April 14 and April 16 have more detail.

  4. The Star piece says that the crowd
    believed [Fartusi] to have been arrested by American forces [on Monday] around noon.
    [In fact, the arrest seems to have taken place on Sunday - the article is timed, but the sub didn't pick up the treacherous word yesterday.]


Iraq: oil may be a simpler job than water

Over the past few weeks, I've made a start on looking at some tricky areas for the post-war in Iraq: the debt situation (also here), the legal status and the oil industry.

But it seems to this extremely lay man that water may be trickier than any of these to sort out. For the moment, all I'll do is to identify some useful-looking online materials. Time enough to opine when I've a slightly better grasp (some grasp would be nice) of the detail.

There is, of course the immediate problem of supplying water for domestic use. But far more intractable are the political and legal issues relating to Iraq's entitlement to water and relations with the states which lie upstream.

The source of the great Iraqi rivers, Tigris and Euphrates, is in Turkey. Unsurprisingly, the Turks have long coveted the power and irrigation that damming the rivers could provide; and the ongoing GAP [1] plan calls for the building of a total of 22 dams and 19 hydro stations across the Turkish portion of the Tigris-Euphrates system.

Needless to say, this work has been the cause of disputes with both Iraq and Syria.

The online materials - apart from the Arizona paper just cited - generally seem to be from the Turkish side: this paper from 2000 on Turkey's Approach to Utilization of Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; a further paper on the subject (with stats 'demonstrating' the unreasonableness of Iraqi claims on T-E water); this 1997 American University paper has what looks like useful background.

This National Defense University thesis (PDF) (from 2000 or 2001, to judge from the references) examines the GAP in the context of Turkish security policy.

On the relevant international law, there seem to be a variety of sources: the purpose of the 1997 UN Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses [2] appears to be to give a framework for negotiating treaties between nations through which particular rivers run: Article 5 tells states to
utilize an international watercourse in an equitable and reasonable manner.
Can you say Pangloss?This piece on the Convention's application to Tigris-Euphrates may or may not turn out to have something useful to say. The first couple of chapters in this extract (PDF) from a book on hydropolitics look interesting on the Convention and earlier development of the law on the subject.

This article (PDF) from 1996 looks at the legal treatment of Jordan River water in the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, and its implications for similar cases. This article (also PDF) from 2001 looks at The Customary International Law of Transboundary Fresh Waters. This site seems to specialise in the subject.

The long-term water problem is not wholly international, however. There is a notion abroad, according to this piece from the Newhouse News Service (new one on me [3]), that the marshes of the South, notoriously drained by Saddam after the abortive Shia uprising of 1991, should be reflooded. At the moment, it just looks like a couple of kooks and an out-there NGO with a white man's plan for the Noble Savages to return to their Ur-existence (as it were) [4]. There is, rather importantly, no indication that the marsh Arabs would actually want to return to the marsh even if it were flooded. And, of course, the water that was once in the marshes is now used for something else.

Politically, though, the idea could be incendiary - just the ticket for a Shi'ite firebrand like Sheikh Moqtadda al-Sadr, leader of the group who supposedly killed British-based cleric Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei.

Now for the hard part...

  1. Which I think are its initials in Turkish, rather than Grand Anatolian Project.

  2. The site has a whole lot more water-related documentation that may be handy.

  3. Slight loss of credibility in that the story is datelined c2003 - and I've complained about wire stories not being timed! Or it may just be a crappy copyright sign. Either way...

  4. They even call their project Eden Again - which I'm prepared to give the benefit of the doubt and call humour, rather than hubris.

Monday, April 21, 2003

An aspect of lynching you may not have appreciated...

Strange that a still photo can often be more powerful than a video clip of the same event[1], a short letter more than a long essay.

And the serendipity of the blog earns its place alongside more august forms of expression - as with this piece from the excellent Regions of Mind of Geitner Simmons.

His piece is about changing standards of brutality [2]; and he quotes a piece about lynching. A topic which well illustrates the theme: the modalities changing over time, under the influence of external forces - less of the county fair hoopla, more of the drive-by [3].

But his example was completely new to me: a story from Edward Ayer's The Promise of the New South. A white boy experiencing his first lynching at a picnic, back in 1896; but through the medium of a phonograph record at a sideshow [4]! (That damned Edison again!)

The idea that such a notorious activity should be celebrated for the benefit of an appreciative Southern audience shouldn't, I suppose, come as a terrible shock. But I'd really like to know more about the whole business. (There's nothing online that I could see - but I can't say I'm surprised.) The combination of barbaric action and new technology - especially in a backward, poor and inward-looking region - excites the interest. How were these records made and sold? How were they used? Or, perhaps, this recording was part of a fad that never caught on.

How, as a cultural phenomenon, do these recordings fit in with the Thomas Dixon Klan novels - The Leopard's Spots was published in Collier's in 1898, apparently - and their cinematic incarnation in DW Griffith's Birth of a Nation? What about the rapaciously commercial second version of the Ku Klux Klan founded on Stone Mountain, GA on Thanksgiving Day 1915 by 'Colonel' William Joseph Simmons [5]?

Perhaps Trent Lott and his fellow cavaliers would like to sponsor some research into this unfamiliar area of pioneering Southern achievement in the entertainment sector....

  1. The Vietnam war examples that spring to mind for comparison are the napalmed Kim Phuc on June 8, 1972 , and South Vietnamese police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting the Vietcong suspect in the head on February 1 1968.

  2. My (un)favourite example is Topsy, the elephant electrocuted at Luna Park on Coney Island on January 4 1903 by Thomas Edison. I really don't want to think too much about that!

  3. Some years ago, I read chunks of Fitzhugh Brundage's Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930, which I recall had a lot of useful analysis on the subject.

  4. I can't imagine that, so early in the age of acoustic recording, this was a real murder!

  5. Details extracted from my well-thumbed The Aspirin Age (p117-8) - can the time for a visit to Konklave at Kokomo be far off?


US bases in Iraq: kidding or what?

The NY Times said on Sunday that
American military officials
were talking about
maintaining perhaps four bases in Iraq that could be used in the future: one at the international airport just outside Baghdad; another at Tallil, near Nasiriya in the south; the third at an isolated airstrip called H-1 in the western desert, along the old oil pipeline that runs to Jordan; and the last at the Bashur air field in the Kurdish north.

And now Donald Rumsfeld has denied it - kinda [1]:
I have never, that I can recall, heard the subject of a permanent base in Iraq discussed in any meeting...The likelihood of it seems to me to be so low that it does not surprise me that it's never been discussed in my presence to my knowledge.

Why do I say it's low? Well, we've got all kinds of options and opportunities in that part of the world to locate forces. It's not like we need a new place.

We have plenty of friends and plenty of ability to work with them, and have locations for things that help to contribute to stability in the region

Rummy will never use one sentence where five will do: even Mr Reuter picks up that this is a non-denial denial.

And why not? Despite the sterling service done by all those embeds, it never hurts to screw around with the media, to show them who's boss. Colonel Mutt and Secretary Jeff.

Not that the idea is facially absurd: now that Pandora's Mideast Box has been opened, who knows what will emerge? It makes all sorts of connect-the-dots sense: what with the Saudi generally loathing the bases in their country (or feeling they have to show as much to their own mob); and having US troops snuggling up against the Syrian and Iranian frontiers might bring them over to Uncle Sam's way of thinking without the need to fire a shot. Who's not loving that?

USA Today, of all people, poop the party a little with a piece from Sunday about how US military thinking is still stuck to an extent in the Cold War. Manpower was slashed to yield the peace dividend (my piece of March 18). Trouble is, the peace dividend, it seems, is getting spent not on the like health and education - or tax cuts - but on absurdly expensive new kit for the US military.

Defence contractors spend a few millions on political contributions, and get back billions in defence sales (are those contracts still cost-plus?). And woe betide an administration that cuts a contract that leads to plant closures in some Congressman's district...

When it comes to putting pressure on the Saudis to play nice, perhaps all it takes is a few strips of tarmac in Iraq. A Guantanamo-style lease would be fun - watching the Arabs do what they do so well: ululate, gesticulate and go off in all directions.

But the real questions of US strategy towards Iraq and its neighbours don't come down to structuring real estate deals. The bases, I suggest, are a red herring. Something to distract the hacks for a moment or two whilst the DOD get to grips with rather more pressing problems - like watering their millions of awkward new charges.

  1. Bizarrely, there are no transcripts on the DOD page since April 17: did they give the entire Pentagon a holiday for Easter?


Surprise, surprise! The Ba'athists are coming...

Put yourself in Tommy Franks' shoes: nothing is working, the Shi'ites are massed on to the street yelling Yankee Go Home, your guys are not cut out for nation-building: who you gonna call?

Mind you, according to the London Daily Telegraph of April 12, the Brits got there early with their appointment as Gauleiter of Basra of Muzahim Mustafa Kanan al-Tamimi, Ba'ath party member and former Iraqi general.

The spokesman in Doha said
Not everyone in the Ba'ath Party is necessarily that bad.

Which is true: occupiers can't be choosers. (Though a number of the good people of Basra had a small riot in their new boss's honour just the same.) The guy is chief of a leading tribe in the area; he knows how to get things working again. No brainer.

And today's Guardian piece says it's happening all over.

All sorts of government employees - including police - are welcome back in post, Ba'ath Party membership or not.

Haji Talat, the boss of Adhamiya, with direct charge for 4,000 households
is happy to turn his coat and work for Uncle Sam:
I haven't hurt anyone, and the people love me.

Local Ba'ath Party bosses (or mukhtars) like Talat, it says,
...dispensed marriage licences, pressganged locals into militias, and organised parades in honour of Saddam. They also winnowed out potential neighbourhood traitors, destroying the lives of the millions who fell foul of the regime.

The bull point for the Ba'athists may, in the longer term, be their relative secularity; Bush may, for the moment, be happy to say, in response to demonstrations like those of last Friday (as he did yesterday) that
Freedom is beautiful and when people are free they express their opinions.

But he would clearly be foolish to discard an existing power structure operating independently of the religious authorities in Iraq.

It seems that debaathification might well stop with the pack of cards.

I've been trying to keep track of the multifarious Iraqi personages in the news: the Guardian piece quotes a Baghdad University professor, Wamidh Nadhmi, whose name [1] has cropped up before in pieces I've flagged up. Today's piece says that Nadhmi
is trying to organise a new political grouping.

And - for those interested - the latest news of the mysterious Iraqi Republican Group (as mentioned last here on April 16) is: there is no news. No fresh material at all. Definitely not a surprise...

  1. In various spellings, natch.


George Norris: neglected Nebraskan of nobility...

A few days ago, whilst war raged, I mentioned the durable [1] and once famous [2] Cornhusker State Federal legislator.

One or two facts about Norris:

From John Gunther's Inside USA, I find [3] the suggestion (p254) that Nebraska's unique contribution to the US political process [4], the unicameral legislature [5], was largely the responsibility of Norris - he'd got the idea, it says, from seeing so many of the bills he supported getting killed or butchered in Senate committees!

And Norris was an enthusiast for flood control (and public power) during the 20s (p733), in effect, godfather to the Tennessee Valley Authority. His hobby-horse was the nitrates plant and the Wilson Dam at Muscle Shoals, AL, on the Tennessee River. A World War 1 project, peace saw the part-completed plant mothballed and the half-built dam sold to the Alabama Power Co.

Norris sponsored two bills to bring the complex into public ownership; both passed the Congress but were vetoed, one by Calvin Coolidge, the other by Herbert Hoover.

[Left field fact #1: the bills were sponsored in the House by none other than arch nigger-, Jew- and Commie-baiter, John Rankin (D:MS-1)!]

Drew Pearson's Washington Merry-Go-Round has a whole chapter (pp184-216) on the Sons of the Wild Jackass, the Western insurgents that were a sort of legislative coelacanth: a bunch of Mr Smiths who gave a hint of what politics without parties might have been like: chaotic, ill-disciplined, ineffectual. Much wasted effort on inessentials, a pathological inability to compromise - and the occasional touch of brilliance. (They apparently did good work on the Smoot-Hawley tariff - mentioned here last month - but some
weak-kneed, "log-rolling" Democrats
let them down, and the tariff passed, of course.)

On Norris, it points out (p186) that, during his time in the House, Norris was one of those that broke the power of Speaker Joseph Cannon (Uncle Joe to his friends) by denying the Speaker membership of the Rules Committee, thus [6] leaving committee appointment in the hands of the party caucuses.

[Left field fact #2: Cannon's predecessor as Speaker, David Henderson (R:IA-3) declined his party's nomination for the seat in September 1902. The reasons were long a mystery; but this piece (PDF) reveals that Henderson had been sharing his bed with a lobbyess (!), who (woman scorned?) he had learned had got the goods on him - whether the liaison or something else isn't clear.]

Norris the man is described (p214) as of the saddest and noblest characters in American history.

He and Mrs Norris are described (p216) as passing their vacations
in the quiet and peace of the forest.
And his favourite book was Cyrano de Bergerac!

Unfortunately, Gunther gives nothing on the 1942 election; Norris had (in circumstances I'm not clear about) run for reelection in 1936 as an Independent Republican - and ran, and lost, in 1942 also as an independent. He therefore was spared the indignity - as suffered, for instance, by fellow Jackasses Burton K Wheeler (D-MT) and Gerald Nye (R-ND) - of losing his seat at the primary stage (Wheeler and Nye in 1946 and 1944 respectively).

  1. The most? In the House from 1903-13 (58th-62nd Congresses); 1913-1943 in the Senate.

  2. William Jennings Bryan is the only other famous political name from Nebraska that comes to mind. Other online stuff on Norris here, here and here (PDF).

  3. I'm not suggesting that these matters are new to anyone but little me!

  4. Hostage to fortune!

  5. Google gives 62,000 items for unicameral, 8,000 for nebraska unicameral....

  6. I'm hazy on the mechanics - nothing useful online, that I've found to date.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

US military aid to Colombia: more thoughts, more sources

On April 16, I made a slow and halting start on getting to grips with the geopolitics of Colombia (with special reference to the US and its ornery neighbour Venezuela).

Only very slightly daunted by the vertical learning-curve (ha!), I've been doing some of the skimming and skipping that passes for research round here.

Some points have crossed my mind (no pretensions at originality - or anything else - here) which I'll note for (possible) future reference.

But first, a note of some basic sources (all PDF):
  • The CIA Factbook page on Colombia.

  • The RAND Report (which I mentioned in the earlier piece) looks well worth the download time (it's the maps that cost the bytes, I reckon).

  • There are three CRS Reports worth having:

    • A report [1] (updated to July 5 2001) on the passage of the Plan Colombia legislation through the US Congress.

    • A general survey (to February 12 2001) on Colombia and US policy options towards the country.

    • A short report on then President-elect Uribe (June 14 2002) and the likely shape of his administration and its policies.

  • A report from 2000 from a CFR Task Force (headed by Brent Scowcroft and Candidate Sen Bob Graham, no less) is worth having.

  • A paper from the National Defense University has a useful few pages on Colombia's history of strife back to independence.

The points (in no particular order) are these:
  1. A major theme is the extent to which the need of USG, in presenting aid packages for Congressional approval, to major on anti-narcotic activity occurs at the expense of a more balanced range of objectives. (Legislators are scared of looking weak on drugs, but have no electoral reason to support a dubious Latin regime of which their electors know little that's accurate, and like even less.) The fact may well be that, even if they got not one more cent from drugs, the guerillas could survive for years on extortion and their investments.

  2. Among the institutional factors, Colombia is handicapped by a system of one-term presidencies: as in Mexico, the Colombian president is elected as a lame-duck (for four years, rather than Mexico's six). In Mexico, this was historically because the presidency was a tool of the PRI, its legitimacy (such as it was) being that of the party, not the man in office.

  3. For a country fighting what is, in effect, a war of national survival [2], Colombia spends a pitifully small amount of its GDP on defence - around $3bn in 2001 [3]. There are around 20,000 guerillas (FARC [4] and ENL [5]); my understanding is that it takes around a 20:1 ratio to beat that sort of insurgency. Uribe's election programme apparently included a pledge to establish a million-man militia: has this been set in train yet? The CIA page puts the number of men fit for military service at over 7m!

  4. The FARC may well resemble Al Qaeda in having no objectives on the basis of which any government could negotiate. The February 2001 CRS report includes (p41) a list of demands made by FARC back in 1999 that might generously be classed as social and economic reforms. Quite what they actually would have settled for then (or might do now) is open to question.

  5. The National Defense University piece shows a history of recurrent civil war in the country. The long period of (almost) unbroken democracy that many pieces are careful to praise the Colombians for seems to have coexisted for stretches (as recently) with a heavy toll of violence and lack of government authority.

  6. On the other hand, the Colombia government was able to make peace with the M19 group in 1990.

Enough for now...

  1. Go here and Find on RL30541.

  2. How else could one describe a state of affairs when a large chunk (at times up to 40%) of its land surface is outside the control of the national government?

  3. The CIA page puts that at around 3% of GDP - but says that PPP-adjusted GDP for 2001 was around $255bn - tiny arithmetic problem! Israel, to pick a name at random, spent nearly 9% of GDP on defence.

  4. No site that I can see.

  5. Last updated in early 2002!

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