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Naomi Klein

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About Naomi Klein

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  1. Elections in Iraq were never going to be peaceful, but they did not need to be an all-out war on voters either. Mr Allawi's Rocket the Vote campaign is the direct result of a disastrous decision made one year ago. On November 11 2003, Paul Bremer, then chief US envoy to Iraq, flew to Washington to meet George Bush. The two men were concerned that if they kept their promise to hold elections in Iraq within the coming months, the country would fall into the hands of insufficiently pro-American forces. That would defeat the purpose of the invasion, and it would threaten President Bush's re-election chances. At that meeting, a revised plan was hatched: elections would be delayed for more than a year, and in the meantime, Iraq's first "sovereign" government would be hand-picked by Washington. The plan would allow Mr Bush to claim progress on the campaign trail, while keeping Iraq safely under US control. In the US, Mr Bush's claim that "freedom is on the march" served its purpose, but in Iraq, the plan led directly to the carnage we see today. Mr Bush likes to paint the forces opposed to the US presence in Iraq as enemies of democracy. In fact, much of the uprising can be traced directly to decisions made in Washington to stifle, repress, delay, manipulate and otherwise thwart the democratic aspirations of the Iraqi people. Yes, democracy has genuine opponents in Iraq, but before George Bush and Paul Bremer decided to break their central promise to hand over power to an elected Iraqi government, these forces were isolated and contained. That changed when Mr Bremer returned to Baghdad and tried to convince Iraqis that they weren't yet ready for democracy. Mr Bremer argued that the country was too insecure to hold elections, and besides, there were no voter rolls. Few were convinced. In January 2004, 100,000 Iraqis peacefully took to the streets of Baghdad, and 30,000 more did so in Basra. Their chant was "Yes, yes elections. No, no selections." At the time, many argued that Iraq was safe enough to have elections and pointed out that the lists from the Saddam-era oil-for-food programme could serve as voter rolls. But Mr Bremer wouldn't budge and the UN - scandalously and fatefully - backed him up. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Hussain al-Shahristani, chairman of the standing committee of the Iraqi National Academy of Science (who was imprisoned under Saddam Hussein for 10 years), accurately predicted what would happen next. "Elections will be held in Iraq, sooner or later," he wrote. "The sooner they are held, and a truly democratic Iraq is established, the fewer Iraqi and American lives will be lost." Ten months and thousands of lost Iraqi and American lives later, elections are scheduled to take place with part of the country in the grip of yet another invasion and much of the rest of it under martial law. As for the voter rolls, the Allawi government is planning to use the oil-for-food lists, just as was suggested and dismissed a year ago. So it turns out that all of the excuses were lies: if elections can be held now, they most certainly could have been held a year ago, when the country was vastly calmer. But that would have denied Washington the chance to install a puppet regime in Iraq, and possibly would have prevented George Bush from winning a second term. Is it any wonder that Iraqis are sceptical of the version of democracy being delivered to them by US troops, or that elections have come to be seen not as tools of liberation but as weapons of war? First, Iraq's promised elections were sacrificed in the interest of George Bush's re-election hopes; next, the siege of Falluja itself was crassly shackled to these same interests. The fighter planes didn't even wait an hour after George Bush finished his acceptance speech to begin the air attack on Falluja. The city was bombed at least six times through the next day and night. With voting safely over in the US, Falluja could be destroyed in the name of its own upcoming elections. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Colum...1350305,00.html
  2. Escape routes have been sealed off, homes are being demolished, and an emergency health clinic has been razed - all in the name of preparing the city for January elections. In a letter to United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, the US-appointed Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi explained that the all-out attack was required "to safeguard lives, elections and democracy in Iraq." With all the millions spent on "democracy-building" and "civil society" in Iraq, it has come to this: if you can survive attack by the world's only superpower, you get to cast a ballot. Fallujans are going to vote, goddammit, even if they all have to die first. And make no mistake: it is Fallujans who are under the gun. "The enemy has got a face. He's called Satan. He lives in Falluja," marine Lt Col Gareth Brandl told the BBC. Well, at least he admitted that some of the fighters actually live in Falluja, unlike Donald Rumsfeld, who would have us believe that they are all from Syria and Jordan. And since US army vehicles are blaring recordings forbidding all men between the ages of 15 and 50 from leaving the city, it would suggest that there are at least a few Iraqis among what CNN now obediently describes as the "anti-Iraqi forces". In another demonstration of their commitment to freedom, the first goal of the US soldiers in Falluja was to ambush the city's main hospital. Why? Apparently because it was the source of the "rumours" about high civilian casualties the last time US troops laid siege to Falluja, sparking outrage in Iraq and across the Arab world. "It's a centre of propaganda," an unnamed senior American officer told the New York Times. Without doctors to count the dead, the outrage would presumably be muted - except that, of course, the attacks on hospitals have sparked their own outrage, further jeopardising the legitimacy of the upcoming elections. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Colum...1350305,00.html
  3. When Simona Torretta returned to Baghdad in March 2003, in the midst of the "shock and awe" aerial bombardment, her Iraqi friends greeted her by telling her she was nuts. "They were just so surprised to see me. They said, 'Why are you coming here? Go back to Italy. Are you crazy?'" But Torretta didn't go back. She stayed throughout the invasion, continuing the humanitarian work she began in 1996, when she first visited Iraq with her anti-sanctions NGO, A Bridge to Baghdad. When Baghdad fell, Torretta again opted to stay, this time to bring medicine and water to Iraqis suffering under occupation. Even after resistance fighters began targeting foreigners, and most foreign journalists and aid workers fled, Torretta again returned. "I cannot stay in Italy," the 29-year-old told a documentary film-maker. Today, Torretta's life is in danger, along with the lives of her fellow Italian aid worker Simona Pari, and their Iraqi colleagues Raad Ali Abdul Azziz and Mahnouz Bassam. Eight days ago, the four were snatched at gunpoint from their home/office in Baghdad and have not been heard from since. In the absence of direct communication from their abductors, political controversy swirls round the incident. Proponents of the war are using it to paint peaceniks as naive, blithely supporting a resistance that answers international solidarity with kidnappings and beheadings. Meanwhile, a growing number of Islamic leaders are hinting that the raid on A Bridge to Baghdad was not the work of mujahideen, but of foreign intelligence agencies out to discredit the resistance. Nothing about this kidnapping fits the pattern of other abductions. Most are opportunistic attacks on treacherous stretches of road. Torretta and her colleagues were coldly hunted down in their home. And while mujahideen in Iraq scrupulously hide their identities, making sure to wrap their faces in scarves, these kidnappers were bare-faced and clean-shaven, some in business suits. One assailant was addressed by the others as "sir". Kidnap victims have overwhelmingly been men, yet three of these four are women. Witnesses say the gunmen questioned staff in the building until the Simonas were identified by name, and that Mahnouz Bassam, an Iraqi woman, was dragged screaming by her headscarf, a shocking religious transgression for an attack supposedly carried out in the name of Islam. Most extraordinary was the size of the operation: rather than the usual three or four fighters, 20 armed men pulled up to the house in broad daylight, seemingly unconcerned about being caught. Only blocks from the heavily patrolled Green Zone, the whole operation went off with no interference from Iraqi police or US military - although Newsweek reported that "about 15 minutes afterwards, an American Humvee convoy passed hardly a block away". And then there were the weapons. The attackers were armed with AK-47s, shotguns, pistols with silencers and stun guns - hardly the mujahideen's standard-issue rusty Kalashnikovs. Strangest of all is this detail: witnesses said that several attackers wore Iraqi National Guard uniforms and identified themselves as working for Ayad Allawi, the interim prime minister. An Iraqi government spokesperson denied that Allawi's office was involved. But Sabah Kadhim, a spokesperson for the interior ministry, conceded that the kidnappers "were wearing military uniforms and flak jackets". So was this a kidnapping by the resistance or a covert police operation? Or was it something worse: a revival of Saddam's mukhabarat disappearances, when agents would arrest enemies of the regime, never to be heard from again? Who could have pulled off such a coordinated operation - and who stands to benefit from an attack on this anti-war NGO? On Monday, the Italian press began reporting on one possible answer. Sheikh Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi, from Iraq's leading Sunni cleric organisation, told reporters in Baghdad that he received a visit from Torretta and Pari the day before the kidnap. "They were scared," the cleric said. "They told me that someone threatened them." Asked who was behind the threats, al-Kubaisi replied: "We suspect some foreign intelligence." Blaming unpopular resistance attacks on CIA or Mossad conspiracies is idle chatter in Baghdad, but coming from Kubaisi, the claim carries unusual weight; he has ties with a range of resistance groups and has brokered the release of several hostages. Kubaisi's allegations have been widely reported in Arab media, as well as in Italy, but have been absent from the English-language press. Western journalists are loath to talk about spies for fear of being labelled conspiracy theorists. But spies and covert operations are not a conspiracy in Iraq; they are a daily reality. According to CIA deputy director James L Pavitt, "Baghdad is home to the largest CIA station since the Vietnam war", with 500 to 600 agents on the ground. Allawi himself is a lifelong spook who has worked with MI6, the CIA and the mukhabarat, specialising in removing enemies of the regime. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1305523,00.html
  4. The zealots in Bush's White House are neither insane nor stupid nor particularly shady. Rather, they openly serve the interests of the corporations that put them in office with bloody-minded efficiency. Their boldness stems not from the fact that they are a new breed of zealot but that the old breed finds itself in a newly unconstrained political climate. We know this, yet there is something about George Bush's combination of ignorance, piety and swagger that triggers a condition in progressives I've come to think of as Bush Blindness. When it strikes, it causes us to lose sight of everything we know about politics, economics and history and to focus exclusively on the admittedly odd personalities of the people in the White House. Other side-effects include delighting in psychologists' diagnoses of Bush's warped relationship with his father and brisk sales of Bush "dum gum" - $1.25. This madness has to stop, and the fastest way of doing that is to elect John Kerry, not because he will be different but because in most key areas - Iraq, the "war on drugs", Israel/Palestine, free trade, corporate taxes - he will be just as bad. The main difference will be that as Kerry pursues these brutal policies, he will come off as intelligent, sane and blissfully dull. That's why I've joined the Anybody But Bush camp: only with a bore such as Kerry at the helm will we finally be able to put an end to the presidential pathologising and focus on the issues again. Of course, most progressives are already solidly in the Anybody But Bush camp, convinced that now is not the time to point out the similarities between the two corporate-controlled parties. I disagree. We need to face up to those disappointing similarities, and then we need to ask ourselves whether we have a better chance of fighting a corporate agenda pushed by Kerry or by Bush. I have no illusions that the left will have "access" to a Kerry/Edwards White House. But it's worth remembering that it was under Bill Clinton that the progressive movements in the west began to turn our attention to systems again: corporate globalisation, even - gasp - capitalism and colonialism. We began to understand modern empire not as the purview of a single nation, no matter how powerful, but a global system of interlocking states, international institutions and corporations, an understanding that allowed us to build global networks in response, from the World Social Forum to Indymedia. Innocuous leaders who spout liberal platitudes while slashing welfare and privatising the planet push us to better identify those systems and to build movements agile and intelligent enough to confront them. With Mr Dum Gum out of the White House, progressives will have to get smart again, and that can only be good. Some argue that Bush's extremism actually has a progressive effect because it unites the world against the US empire. But a world united against the United States isn't necessarily united against imperialism. Despite their rhetoric, France and Russia opposed the invasion of Iraq because it threatened their own plans to control Iraq's oil. With Kerry in power, European leaders will no longer be able to hide their imperial designs behind easy Bush-bashing, a development already forecast in Kerry's odious Iraq policy. Kerry argues that we need to give "our friends and allies ... a meaningful voice and role in Iraqi affairs", including "fair access to the multibillion-dollar reconstruction contracts. It also means letting them be a part of putting Iraq's profitable oil industry back together." Yes, that's right: Iraq's problems will be solved with more foreign invaders, with France and Germany given a greater "voice" and a bigger share of the spoils of war. No mention is made of Iraqis, and their right to a "meaningful voice" in the running of their own country, let alone of their right to control their oil or to get a piece of the reconstruction. Under a Kerry government, the comforting illusion of a world united against imperial aggression will drop away, exposing the jockeying for power that is the true face of modern empire. We'll also have to let go of the archaic idea that toppling a single man, or a Romanesque "empire", will solve all, or indeed any, of our problems. Yes, it will make for more complicated politics, but it has the added benefit of being true. With Bush out of the picture, we lose the galvanising enemy, but we get to take on the actual policies that are transforming all of our countries. The other day, I was ranting to a friend about Kerry's vicious support for the apartheid wall in Israel, his gratuitous attacks on Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and his abysmal record on free trade. "Yeah," he agreed sadly. "But at least he believes in evolution." So do I - the much-needed evolution of our progressive movements. And that won't happen until we put away the fridge magnets and Bush gags and get serious. And that will only happen once we get rid of the distraction-in-chief. So Anybody But Bush. And then let's get back to work. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1272403,00.html
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