Great Moments in International Diplomacy:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: "Mr. Bush, tear down this wall!"
U.S. President George W. Bush: "Pound sand, raghead!"
That just about covers the developments of the past 24 hours, from Maliki's bold declaration that he had ordered a halt to the American construction of a wall around the recalcitrant Adhamiya district of Baghdad to the American response: an announcement in the Washington Post that American forces are going to build not one but at least ten "gated communities" across the city.
The announcement of this plan (which we noted here last week and followed up here) is of course in direct contradiction to what the Pentagon asserted just a few days ago: that the Adhamiya wall was a one-time special project, and certainly not an integral part of the vaunted "surge" strategy. "Dividing up the entire city with barriers is not part of the plan," Lt. Col. Christopher Garver told the Independent after Robert Fisk had rumbled the scheme. But now, lo and behold, Bush brass have told the Beltway's house organ, the Post, that the encasement of Iraqi citizens in walled ghettos under armed guard is "part of the two-month-old U.S. and Iraqi counterinsurgency plan to calm sectarian strife."
Thus the Pentagon gives the lie to its own lie that it was peddling a week ago. No doubt we will soon find that this figure of 10 open-air prisons is itself a lie, and that the Bushists are actually constructing up to 30 such neighborhood concentration camps, as called for in the plans that Fisk uncovered.
What will life be like in these "gated communities," as the Pentagon, with its customary dry wit, calls the ghettos? Residents will be fingerprinted and submitted to "biometric scanning" as the basis for identity papers which they will be forced to display to the armed guards stationed at the few exit points from the ghetto. In some of the ghettos, there are proposals being considered to force residents to wear "identification badges." No word yet on whether these insignia will be in the form of, say, a yellow crescent, or perhaps some further discernment to separate Sunni from Shiite in the great ethnic cleansing and enclosing that Bush has embarked upon in Baghdad.
The Post story is breathtaking in the open acceptance of this brutal and highly illegal new plan -- not only on the part of U.S. military officers, but also by the paper itself, which simply adopts the Pentagon's Orwellian tag of "gated communities" and uses it throughout the piece, without quotes. The phrase is used over and over, repeatedly invoking the peaceful image of a prosperous American suburb, with its wide lawns, well-tended houses and gently rolling streets nestled safely and securely behind tasteful brick walls. This alternate reality -- or surreality, rather -- has already infected the troops being ordered to carry out this war crime: "They've been doing it in Florida, and the old people seem to like it," joked the platoon's leader, Sgt. 1st Class Charles Schmitt, 37.
What yoks! Schmitt's remark came while his men were working -- "under cover of darkness" -- to place six-foot slabs of heavy concrete around the Ghazaliyah district. "Tanks and Humvees provided security for the cranes and forklifts being used to build what would be the neighborhood's lone civilian checkpoint," says the Post's embedded report. Yes, it's just like Miami Beach, all right -- a place where they might still have some memories of a previous application of this "counterinsurgency" tactic by a foreign occupation power. (See picture at right.)
The story is also remarkable for the disturbing degree of infantilization it reveals among the soldiers and officers taking part in the imprisoning of Baghdad. Here's 1st Lt. Sean Henley's analysis of the situation in Ghazaliyah, according to the Post: "If we keep the bad guys out, then we win." Here's Sgt. 1st Class Tom Revette's take on how the "surge" has reduced the number of civilian corpses found on Ghazaliyah's streets every morning. Instead of piles of bodies it's "just onesies and twosies."
Then we hear from Capt. Darren Fowler, who is eager to begin the forced biometric scanning of the area's residents, not only to catch Henley's "bad guys," but also to build up a neighborhood census -- "something counterinsurgency experts say is an essential step in tracking population movements," the Post dutifully reminds us. For as we all know, "tracking population movements" is an essential part of any "liberation." How on earth can you liberate someone if you don't have their biodata compiled and a record of their movements? What's more, the intrusive physical cataloging of the liberated Iraqis "will also let soldiers compare the fingerprints of people who enter with fingerprints collected during operations," we're told.
And this will be extra neat, says Fowler, because "we can pull fingerprints off all the bad stuff they handle and run it through the database. The soldiers' favorite show to watch is CSI. We actually get some techniques from them."
So there you have it. While picking up onesies and twosies of dead bodies from the streets every morning, the guardians of the ghetto can herd residents through a single checkpoint, make sure they have the right eyes assigned to them by the database and are not "bad guys" doing "bad stuff," then maybe stick a Q-tip in their mouths for a DNA swab or spray them with that stuff that shows blood under blacklight, just like they do on that made-up show on TV where glamorous gals and dudical dudes dig around in corpses, cracking wise and flashing cleavage between commercials for luxury cars and hemorrhoid cream.
Of course, that's about the same level of insight and sophistication that the Post's own war cheerleader Fred Hiatt brings to his dry heavings on the editorial page, so it's not surprising to see it highlighted in the story. No doubt there are many, many American soldiers in Iraq who realize they are not playing tiddlywinks in a TV show, but none of these are quoted by the Post. Instead, the only dissenting voice is given to an Iraqi soldier, Maj. Hathem Faek Salman, who receives Capt. Fowler's good news about the ghetto with the surly ingratitude we've come to expect from these ignorant barbarians who don't appreciate being liberated to death by good guys doing good stuff like they do on TV:
"This is not a good plan," Salman, 40, had said before the meeting. "If my region were closed by these barriers, I would hate the army, because I would feel like I was in a big jail. . . . If you want to make the area secure and safe, it is not with barriers. We have to win the trust of the people."
Oh come on, Major Salman! If you don't like the show, just change the channel! Anyway, this plan is not about winning the trust of your people or providing them with security and stability, since it will obviously do none of those things. It's about bringing the death count numbers down a little bit in order to gull the rubes back home and keep the war -- and the war profiteering -- going on a bit longer.
UPDATE: The lies surrounding the Bush ghetto plan for Baghdad are flying fast and furious, careening into each other as they fly around the media echo chamber. This morning, the Washington Post, in the story referenced above, reported the forthright statment by Brig. Gen. John F. Campbell -- deputy commander of American forces in Baghdad -- that "at least 10 Baghdad neighborhoods are slated to become or already are gated communities." The story, by Karin Brulliard -- who was obviously embedded with U.S. forces and reported only what she saw and heard from American officials or in their company at American-led meetings -- also gave copious details about the methods to be used in dividing and controlling the population of Baghdad, and reported, as noted above, that the ghetto-building plan was "part of the two-month-old U.S. and Iraqi counterinsurgency plan to calm sectarian strife."
Now, about eight hours or so after the WP story appeared, we have the New York Times relaying some panicky PR backpedaling from Bush brass spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, a well-pedigreed mouthpiece who spent some time in the first Bush White House after stints in the magnificent feat of arms that was the Conquest of Panama and the free-range turkey shoot of the first Gulf War. Caldwell issued a written statement denying that the U.S. military has "a new strategy of building walls or creating 'gated communities,'" reported the Times (which had the good sense to use quotes around the morally hideous "gated communities" term, and mentioned it only once in the story).
The hook of the story is the announcement by Bush's satrap in the Babylonian colony, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, that goodness gracious granny me, the United States will certainly not build a "gated community" in Adhamiya, if Prime MinisterMaliki does not wish it to. This followed mass protests across the political, sectarian and ethnic spectrum in Iraq after the Adhamiya story got out. Yet, as the Post reported earlier, the building of ghettos goes on apace in the city, with Brig. Gen. Campbell noting that some neighborhoods "already are gated communities." (Emphasis added.)
So which story that the Bush Pentagon has doled out in the last few days is closest to the truth? That the U.S. is not building walled-up ghettos in Baghdad? That the U.S. was building only one ghetto in Baghdad, in Adhamiya, but now promises, really and truly, to stop? That the U.S. is only building a handful of ghettos in Baghdad? That the U.S. is building or has already built at least 10 ghettos in Baghdad? That the U.S. is planning to build ghettos in up to 30 of the city's districts, as the Independent reported last week? That the building of ghettos in Baghdad is not part of the surge strategy? That the building of ghettos is an integral part of the surge strategy?
Perhaps this could be job one for Bush's new "war czar" (if he ever finds someone willing to drink that poison chalice): sorting out the overproduction in the Pentagon propaganda department, and try to get them to stay with one bogus story for, say, at least a week before trotting out the next one.