Mar 30, 2008


The sieges of Basra and Sadr City By Bill Van Auken 29 March 2008

US fighter planes and helicopter gunships struck the southern Iraqi city of Basra and the teaming slums of Baghdad’s Sadr City with bombs and missiles Friday as the offensive launched by Iraqi puppet troops against the Mahdi Army, the Shia militia loyal to Muqtada al Sadr, faltered badly.

These air attacks, carried out in densely populated cities, represent another war crime in the five-year-old campaign of aggression and colonial-style occupation carried out by Washington in pursuit of US strategic interests in the region. Fighting raged for a fourth straight day Friday, with US helicopters firing Hellfire missiles into Sadr City, a vast and impoverished area of Baghdad that is home to some 2 million people. US military sources said the attack killed four “terrorists.” Film from the area, however, showed dead and wounded children and there were reports that attacks caused dozens of civilian casualties. The night before, US and British fighter planes bombed neighborhoods in Basra, the port city in southern Iraq, with a population of 1.5 million.

The US military reported Friday morning that American troops had fought running battles with Iraqi militiamen across six neighborhoods of Baghdad the day before. The Pentagon claimed that US forces killed 42 people in the fighting in the Iraqi capital, labeling all of the dead as “terrorists.”

According to some Iraqi estimates, the dead in Basra alone now number over 400, with hundreds more wounded. Fighting is also raging across much of Iraq, with fierce battles reported in Kut, Hilla, Amara, Kirkuk, and Baquba. US sources put the death toll Friday at 170.
American occupation forces have clearly stepped up their role in the crackdown, as Iraqi puppet forces have failed to achieve their objectives. In Basra, some 30,000 Iraqi troops and police have apparently been unable to wrest control from the Mahdi Army over at least three quarters of the city.

While Maliki had initially given a 72-hour ultimatum for the Sadrists in Basra to lay down their arms, he extended it Friday until April 8. The date coincides with scheduled testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, the US military commander in Iraq, and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker to Congress on proposals for continued troop deployments in the occupied country. The eruption of fighting has already led to speculation that Petraeus and the administration may well call for a suspension of the withdrawals that were to have reduced US forces to 140,000—still above the “pre-surge” levels—by this summer.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, the Washington Post reported: “US forces in armored vehicles battled Mahdi Army fighters Thursday in Sadr City, the vast Shiite stronghold in eastern Baghdad, as an offensive to quell party-backed militias entered its third day. Iraqi army and police units appeared to be largely holding to the outskirts of the area as American troops took the lead in the fighting. “Four US Stryker armored vehicles were seen in Sadr City by a Washington Post correspondent, one of them engaging Mahdi Army militiamen with heavy fire. The din of American weapons, along with the Mahdi Army’s AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, was heard through much of the day. US helicopters and drones buzzed overhead.”

Baghdad, like Basra before it, has been placed under a 24-hour curfew that began Thursday night and will run at least until Sunday morning. The effect is to turn the city’s streets into a free-fire zone for occupation troops and their Iraqi puppet allies.

Speaking at the White House Friday, President George W. Bush called the bloody clashes a “defining moment in the history of a free Iraq” that demonstrated the Iraqi regime’s commitment to “even-handed justice” and Maliki’s “leadership.” The American president added: “There’s going to be violence. And that’s sad. But this situation needed to be dealt with, and it’s now being dealt with — just like we’re dealing with the situation up in Mosul.” Referring to Maliki, Bush declared: “This was his decision. It was his military planning. It was his causing the troops to go from point A to point B. And it’s exactly what a lot of folks here in America were wondering whether or not Iraq would even be able to do in the first place.”

There is no reason to believe the official story coming out of the White House and the Pentagon that the sieges being laid to Basra and Sadr City are the result of some independent decision made by the Maliki regime. Whatever differences may exist over the timing or execution of this operation, it has clearly been carried out to fulfill definite US objectives. The operation comes barely one week after Vice President Dick Cheney’s surprise visit to Baghdad for talks that centered on provincial elections scheduled for October, the future of Iraq’s oil industry and plans for the continued and long-term occupation of Iraq by US forces.

The bloodbath that is now being carried out is in all likelihood the practical outcome of these discussions. While claiming that Maliki is upholding the rule of law against “gangs, militias and outlaws,” Washington has deliberately instigated what amounts to a civil war between rival political factions and militias within Iraq’s majority Shia population in order to advance its own predatory interests in the country. The crackdown has not been launched against militias in general, but at Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Its aim is to severely weaken the Sadrists to the benefit of their political rivals, Maliki’s Dawa party and its principal government ally, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), led by Shia cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose own militia, the Badr Brigade, is well represented in the government’s security forces.

In an analysis prepared last November, the International Crisis Group described the conflict between the Shia factions as taking “the form of a class struggle between the Shiite merchant elite of Baghdad and the holy cities, represented by ISCI (as well, religiously, by [Grand Ayatollah] Sistani), and the Shiite urban underclass,” which is the principal base of support for the movement led by Sadr.

The determination to suppress the Sadrist movement is driven in part by the electoral calendar. Those now holding power in the Maliki government—who have little in the way of mass support—fear that the Sadrists could sweep provincial elections set for October. It is worth recalling that the last major urban siege conducted in Iraq—the razing of the predominantly Sunni city of Fallujah in November of 2004 in which thousands of Iraqi civilians died—was also carried out in preparation for US-organized elections scheduled three months later. The US interest in this conflict is clear. While the Sadrists have repeatedly demanded the withdrawal of US forces, Maliki’s Dawa Party and the ISCI have made clear that they are prepared to support an indefinite occupation.

While the ISCI supports the carving out of an autonomous Shia region in the south in order to lay hold of the region’s oil wealth—it includes 60 percent of the country’s known reserves—the Sadrists have rejected regionalism in favor of a centralized federal government. To realize their objectives, the ISCI must oust the Sadrists and other rivals from positions of control in Basra and elsewhere.

As the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, “The battle for Basra marks the latest clash over the region’s biggest source of wealth: its oil reserves, comprising 9.5% of the world’s total.” The Journal reported that during his recent visit, Cheney “held one-on-one meetings with Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders in Iraq to speed passage of a law opening Iraq’s enormous petroleum reserves to more efficient production by global oil companies.”

While the passage of a national law opening Iraq’s oil wealth to foreign exploitation has been held up, the Journal noted, “Kurdish officials in Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern enclave have passed an oil law of their own and are signing deals with foreign firms without waiting for permission from Baghdad.” Washington may well be seeking to forge similar relations in the south of Iraq, with even larger oil reserves, and would certainly be prepared to spill considerable amounts of blood to secure such a prize.

Those who point to the eruption of violence in Iraq as a manifestation of the “failure of the surge” are missing the point. The Bush administration has deliberately provoked this violence in pursuit of the objective that has driven the Iraq intervention from its outset: the cementing of semi-colonial US control over the country and its oil wealth.

US actions have compelled the Sadrist movement to renounce, at least in practice, the cease-fire that it initiated last August. This began not just with this week’s military offensive, but with a prolonged campaign by US occupation forces, the Maliki government and the Badr Brigade to use the cease-fire as a cover for arresting and killing thousands of Sadrists. It is this campaign that produced the so-called “rogue” elements that have fought back, providing a pretext for intensifying the repression.

These actions, however, have only underscored the failure of five years of American occupation to either install a reliable puppet regime or quell the resistance of the Iraqi people. The US military’s sealing off of Sadr City, the air and ground attacks against the Mahdi Army militia and the imposition of the round-the-clock curfew have all failed to halt the mortar and rocket attacks on the heavily fortified Green Zone, which was hit more than 20 times on Friday, with the US Embassy compound, the United Nations offices and the offices an Iraqi vice president all suffering direct hits.

The principal result of the US strategy is the unleashing of barbarism against millions of people living in two major cities—Baghdad and Basra. Residents of Basra told the BBC Friday that the level of violence being inflicted on the city is the worst in memory, surpassing even that of the repression carried out by the Iraqi military against the 1991 Shia uprising that followed Iraq’s defeat in the first Persian Gulf War. It should be recalled that one of the pretexts incessantly repeated by the Bush administration for its 2003 invasion was that Saddam Hussein had “killed his own people.” But now, with ample backing from the US military, Washington’s Iraqi puppet Maliki is doing the same thing. Aside from those killed and wounded, the entire population has been locked in their homes under conditions of rising early summer heat and dwindling water and food supplies. Both electricity and water supplies have been cut off to Basra.

“This is a catastrophe that could lead to a huge problem as we are entering summer and, of course, if it continues like this, it will lead to waterborne diseases including diarrhea,” Mahdi al-Tamimi, head of the Basra’s Human Rights Office told the United Nations news agency, IRIN. “All aspects of life have been paralyzed with the closure of schools, government offices and markets due to clashes that have forced people indoors with not enough food as there was no prior notice for this operation.”

“The humanitarian situation is getting worse by the minute — not the hour or the day — due to clashes taking place in the streets; as a result, the humanitarian effort has been severely hampered and paralyzed,” Salih Hmoud, head of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society’s office in Basra, told IRIN on Thursday.

Lack of clean water has led to outbreaks of diarrhea in Basra. “Some of these people with diarrhea have somehow managed to defy the curfew and reach nearby hospitals on foot but the majority is still in their houses,” said Hmoud. “This is very dangerous because they can die if they are not treated.”

Reporting on Baghdad, Patrick Cockburn of the British Independent noted that Sadr City’s two million residents have been encircled by the US military and ordered to stay indoors. He quoted a Sadr City resident named Mohammed, who said, “We are trapped in our homes with no water or electricity since yesterday. We can’t bathe our children or wash our clothes.” Temperatures in both Baghdad and Basra have risen into the upper 90s (30s Celsius).

Both Maliki (who has vowed to “fight until the end”) and US military sources have indicated that the sieges being waged against Basra and Sadr City have only just begun. The strategy of “clearing” the crowded slum neighborhoods will take many more days if not weeks of combat. It threatens a bloodbath that could easily eclipse the one that was inflicted upon Fallujah more than three years ago.

Shiite Leader Al-Sadr Defies Iraq Gov't

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Saturday, March 29, 2008 BAGHDAD

Anti-American Shiite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers Saturday to defy government orders to surrender their weapons, as U.S. jets struck Shiite extremists near Basra to bolster a faltering Iraqi offensive against gunmen in the city.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged he may have miscalculated by failing to foresee the strong backlash that his offensive, which began Tuesday, provoked in areas of Baghdad and other cities where Shiite militias wield power. Government television said the round-the-clock curfew imposed two days ago on the capital and due to expire Sunday would be extended indefinitely. Gunfire and explosions were heard late Saturday in Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

The U.S. Embassy tightened its security measures, ordering all staff to use armored vehicles for all travel in the Green Zone and to sleep in reinforced buildings until further notice after six days of rocket and mortar attacks that left two Americans dead.

Despite the mounting crisis, al-Maliki, himself a Shiite, vowed to remain in Basra until government forces wrest control from militias, including the Mahdi Army. He called the fight for control of Basra "a decisive and final battle."

British ground troops, who controlled the city until handing it over to the Iraqis last December, also joined the battle for Basra, firing artillery Saturday for the first time in support of Iraqi forces.

Iraqi authorities have given Basra extremists until April 8 to surrender heavy and medium weapons after an initial 72-hour ultimatum to hand them over was widely ignored.
But a defiant al-Sadr called on his followers Saturday to ignore the order, saying that his Mahdi Army would turn in its weapons only to a government that can "get the occupier out of Iraq," referring to the Americans. The order was made public by Haidar al-Jabiri, a member of the influential political commission of the Sadrist movement. Al-Sadr, in an interview aired Saturday by Al-Jazeera television, said his Mahdi Army was capable of "liberating Iraq" and maintained al-Maliki's government was as "distant" from the people as Saddam Hussein's.

Residents of Basra contacted by telephone said Mahdi militiamen were manning checkpoints Saturday in their neighborhood strongholds. The sound of intermittent mortar and machine gun fire rang out across the city, as the military headquarters at a downtown hotel came under repeated fire. An Iraqi army battalion commander and two of his bodyguards were killed Saturday night by a roadside bomb in central Basra, military spokesman Col. Karim al-Zaidi said.

The fight for Basra is crucial for al-Maliki, who flew to Basra earlier this week and is staking his credibility on gaining control of Iraq's second-largest city, which has essentially been held by armed groups for nearly three years. In a speech Saturday to tribal leaders in Basra, al-Maliki promised to "stand up to these gangs" not only in the south but throughout Iraq. Iraqi officials and their American partners have long insisted that the crackdown was not directed at al-Sadr's movement but against criminals and renegade factions - some of whom are allegedly tied to Iran. Al-Maliki told tribal leaders that the offensive in Basra "was only to deal with these gangs" - some of which he said "are worse than al-Qaida." Without mentioning the Sadrists by name, al-Maliki said he was "surprised to see that party emerge with all the weapons available to it and strike at everything - institutions, people, departments, police stations and the army."

Al-Sadr's followers have accused rival Shiite parties in the national government of trying to crush their movement before provincial elections this fall. The young cleric's lieutenants had warned repeatedly that any move to dislodge them from Basra would provoke bloodshed.

But al-Maliki's comments appeared to reinforce suspicions that his government failed to foresee the backlash, including a sharp upsurge in violence throughout the Shiite south and shelling of the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, the nerve center of the Iraqi leadership and the U.S. mission. Two American soldiers were killed Saturday when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in mostly Shiite east Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

The growing turmoil threatens to undermine White House efforts to convince a skeptical Congress and the American public that the Iraqis are making progress toward managing their own security without the presence of U.S. troops.

With the Shiite militiamen defiant, a group of police in Sadr City abandoned their posts and handed over their weapons to al-Sadr's local office. Police forces in Baghdad are believed to be heavily influenced or infiltrated by Mahdi militiamen. "We can't fight our brothers in the Mahdi Army, so we came here to submit our weapons," one policeman said on condition of anonymity for security reasons. He said about 40 policemen had defected to the Mahdi Army. The figure could not be confirmed, but AP Television News footage showed about a dozen uniformed police, their faces covered with masks to shield their identity, being met by Sheik Salman al-Feraiji, al-Sadr's chief representative in Sadr City. Al-Feraiji greeted each policeman and gave them a copy of the Quran and an olive branch as they handed over their guns and ammunition.

On Saturday, Iraqi officials said they had received a phone call from Tahseen Sheikhly, the high-profile civilian spokesman for the Baghdad security operation, who was seized by gunmen two days earlier from at his home in a Shiite area of the capital.

An Iraqi-owned satellite television station, Sharqiya, broadcast what it said was a tape of the conversation, in which a man identifying himself as Sheikhly said he was being held "with a group of officers" at an unknown location.

"Our release depends on the withdrawal of al-Maliki from Basra and the easing of the military operations against the Sadrists in all provinces," he said. "We appeal to the prime minister and the Iraqi government to work with the Sadrist movement, which represents the popular base of society."

Bombings, exchanges of fire and other violent incidents have been reported in Karbala, Hillah, Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Kut and other cities throughout the Shiite south. In Basra, U.S. jets dropped two precision-guided bombs at midday Saturday on a suspected militia stronghold at Qarmat Ali north of the city, British military spokesman Maj. Tom Holloway said. "My understanding was that this was a building that had people who were shooting back at Iraqi ground forces," Holloway said.

Iraqi police said that earlier in the day a U.S. warplane strafed a house and killed eight civilians, including two women and one child. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release the information. The U.S. military had no immediate comment on the report and it was not possible to independently verify it.

Iraq's Health Ministry, which is close to the Sadrist movement, on Saturday reported at least 75 civilians have been killed and at least 500 others injured in a week of clashes and airstrikes in Sadr City and other eastern Baghdad neighborhoods.

The U.S. military sharply disputes the claims, having said that most of those killed were militia members.

Mar 29, 2008

"Take what you want and pay for it," says God.

The group of dons who met regularly in the nineteen fifties in the pub just before the Woodstock/Banbury Road fork called the Eagle and Child [or the Bird and Baby] had rather a large body of work to their credit.

JRR Tolkien has the Lord of the Rings, CS Lewis all the Narnia books, and Dorothy Sayers has all the Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels, to name only a few. They were certainly a group, in the sense that through their contacts with each other they slowly evolved a view held by all, although the group included Roman Catholics, like Tolkien, and a large variety of Protestants.

Of particular note is the Pelican edition of Dante's Divine Comedy by Dorothy Sayers, where she approaches the notion of instantaneous self judgement - derived through Aristotle's application of Plato's principles through Aquinas and Dante. By committing a sin, you were rendering a judgement on yourself, and the instruments of your punishment, or reward, would always be fashioned by yourself, and the judgement executed instantaneously, by yourself on yourself. Ye pays yer money, and ye takes yer choice. "Take what you want and pay for it, says God," goes the Spanish proverb. Become what you want and pay for that, too. Neat, huh?

Mar 28, 2008

Ante room to the presidency

The British got used to putting the rebel leader in prison, known as the ante room to the presidency, and then dealing with him post independence as leader of his country. By those old models the leader has already been obvious for years, to wit, Muqtada Al-Sadr, the self declared "sword of Ali Al-Sistani." Ali Al-Sistani refused ever to meet with Paul Bremer or acknowledge his existence. The US can not follow the British method, obviously, since as is now pretty clear their intention was always to control, in fact to own, the Iraqi oil fields, and freedom and democracy had zero to do with it.

Note: - First reports from the spanking new 3,000-personnel US Embassy-to-be say that choking black smoke came from all the power cables when they threw the switch to turn it on. Serve them right for contracting Halliburton.

The current US Embassy pad inside the green zone is largely occupied by bums on seats, people sent there to hold the fort without any very clear idea what they’re supposed to do. Long time since I heard a better description of a rotten apple ready to fall.

June 26, 2007

The Mystery of American Foreign Policy

Synopsis: Why are we propping up the pro-Iranian Maliki faction in Iraq?
Source: Antiwar Published: March 28, 2008 Author: Justin Raimondo

The recent increase in fighting around Basra, which is rapidly spreading to Baghdad, has the punditariat in a lather. Their sacred Surge has turned into a mere splurge – of resources, lives, and misplaced hope. Well, I could have told you that, and, indeed, I did. But never mind the chattering classes, their delusions of American omnipotence, and my own unfortunate penchant for self-congratulation. What's really fascinating about this story is how it underscores the central mystery of our Iraq war policy: why in the name of all that's holy are we supporting the pro-Iranian parties and factions in the Iraqi government, whilst Our Glorious Leader is coupling Tehran and al-Qaeda as "twin" evils to be fought and defeated in Iraq?

We have placed our chips on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose party, Da'wa (Islamic Call), in alliance with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), now known as ISCI, was one of the few Iraqi resistance groups to refuse all U.S. aid in the run-up to the invasion, and wasn't all that cooperative as the occupation regime was established. Together with their partners in government, the Da'wa Party, SCIRI/ISCI took refuge in Iran during the Ba'athist era and received military aid and training from Iran's Revolutionary Guards. The extension of Iranian influence into Iraq was a direct consequence of the Iraq war, and the recent visit of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Baghdad has underscored this and provided plenty of grist for those who are pointing at the so-called Shia Crescent with alarm.

It wasn't supposed to turn out like this. The original plan of the neocons was to install Ahmed Chalabi, their own personal Iraqi puppet, but that soon fell through – and Chalabi, it turned out, had strong links to Iranian intelligence agencies. Accused of divulging American secrets to Tehran, Chalabi had his Iraq headquarters raided by Iraqi and U.S. personnel. Unfortunately, the horse was already out of the barn.

In any case, what the neocons – who knew (and know) nothing about Iraq or the Middle East – didn't anticipate was the awakening of the Shi'ite giant, whose rising took the form of Iranian-born Shi'ite religious leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shi'ite version of the pope. It was he who scuttled the neocon-devised "caucus" system, which would have convoked assemblies of handpicked U.S. stooges in the provinces, who would, in turn have elected a national constituent assembly, with the result easily manipulated by Washington's expert ventriloquists. Sistani called his followers out into the streets, and that's when things really started to veer out of Washington's control.

When Chalabi's shenanigans were exposed to the light of day, and his extensive interactions with the Iranians were revealed, a theory was floated by several in the intelligence community that we were basically suckered into the Iraq war by its chief beneficiaries, the Iranians. Using their chief asset, the double agent Chalabi, they and their neocon allies fed us ersatz "intelligence" via the various Iraqi "defectors" rounded up by the Iraqi National Congress and paraded across the front page of the New York Times by Judith Miller and her editors.

"One of the most sophisticated and successful intelligence operations in history" is how one intelligence officer described the run-up to the invasion of Iraq to a Newsday reporter. Looked at this way, U.S. policy in Iraq begins to make a kind of twisted, Bizarro World sense.

From the very beginning, U.S. policymakers were determined to go after militant Shi'ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the son of a prominent cleric, whose Mahdi Army is the only significant indigenous opposition to the pro-Iranian militias and the Tehran-influenced central government. Sadr is critical of both the U.S. and the Iranians, and, as such, represents a direct threat to the occupation and the Iraqi status quo. U.S. efforts to paint the Sadrists as tools of Tehran backfired for lack of evidence, and are, in any case, counterintuitive – as Sadr is an ardent Iraqi nationalist who decries the country's breakup and opposes all foreign influence.

The consolidation of a strong Iraqi state is the last thing the Americans want, for that would threaten their occupation and lead to their swift exit from the country. It is also in the Iranian interest to keep Iraq divided and stop the nationalist Sadr and his brutal militia from taking power in Baghdad. And, as Robert Parry points out, another factor played a key role in tricking us into war: "Israeli governments have long made a high priority out of forging alliances with countries like Iran on the periphery of the Arab world to divert Arab antipathy that otherwise could be concentrated on Israel. Plus, Israel and Iran had an important enemy in common: Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Both Israel and Iran had a lot to gain by convincing the United States to remove their hated adversary."

As Parry notes – and professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt showed in their trailblazing book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy – the neoconservatives, strategically positioned inside the national security bureaucracy, and the Lobby pushed this agenda, touted Chalabi, and relentlessly campaigned for war with Iraq. Parry's review of the long-standing ties between the Israelis and the Iranians is quite educational, and it explains a lot about what is happening in Iraq today – and, perhaps, what will happen tomorrow.

I think I pretty much summed up here the scenario that is now unfolding:
"I have to laugh when I hear criticisms from the Democrats and the growing number of antiwar Republicans in Congress who complain that we don't belong in Iraq any longer because, you know, it's a civil war. This is largely seen as an unintended consequence of the American invasion – but what if it was intended?

"It would, after all, make perfect Bizarro 'sense.' If, instead of trying to build a stable, democratic Iraq, you're trying to wreak as much destruction as possible and turn Arab against Arab, Muslim against Muslim, and the Kurds against everyone else, then the invasion and occupation of Iraq was the right thing to do."

That was last May, when the Surge was being hailed as the solution to all our problems in Iraq, and it's little wonder that this strategy is now being pronounced a failure. What you have to understand, dear reader, is that, in the Bizarro World alternate universe we seemed to have slipped into, failure is success.

At the end of John McCain's Hundred-Year War, when whoever is president declares "victory" and hightails it out of Iraq, some subversive soul will remind us of King Pyrrhus' lament: "Another such victory over the Roman, and we are undone."

Mar 28, 2008 - Muqtada cuts free - By Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - The escalation of fighting between Mahdi Army militiamen and their Shi'ite rivals, which could mark the end of Muqtada al-Sadr's self-imposed ceasefire, also exposes General David Petraeus' strategy for controlling Muqtada's forces as a failure.

Petraeus reacted immediately to Sunday's rocket attacks on the Green Zone by blaming them on Iran. He told the BBC the rockets were "Iranian provided, Iranian-made rockets", and that they were launched by groups that were funded and trained by the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Petraeus said this was "in complete violation of promises made by President [Mahmud] Ahmadinejad and other most senior Iranian leaders to their Iraqi counterparts".

Petraeus statement was clearly intended to divert attention from a development that threatens one of the two main pillars of the administration's claim of progress in Iraq - the willingness of Muqtada to restrain the Mahdi Army, even in the face of systematic raids on its leadership by the US military and its Iraqi allies.

The rocket attacks appear to have been one of several actions by the Mahdi Army to warn the United States and the Iraqi government to halt their systematic raids aimed at driving the Sadrists out of key Shi'ite centers in the south. They were followed almost immediately by Mahdi Army clashes with rival Shi'ite militiamen in Basra, Sadr City and Kut and a call for a nationwide general strike to demand the release of Sadrist detainees.

Even more pointed was a strong warning from Muqtada aide Abdul-Hadi al-Mohammedawi to the United States as well as to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), whose Badr Organization militiamen, in the uniforms of Iraqi security forces, have targeted the Madhi Army throughout the south. "They don't seem to realize that the Sadrist trend is like a volcano," he told worshippers Friday in Kufa. "If it explodes, it will crush their rotten heads."

The signs that the Madhi Army will no longer remain passive mark a major defeat for the US military command's strategy aimed at weakening the Mahdi Army.

When he took command in Iraq in early 2007, Petraeus recognized that the US occupation forces could not afford to wage a full-fledged campaign against the Mahdi Army as a whole. Instead it adopted a strategy of dividing the Sadrist movement.

Petraeus and the ground commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, hoped that there were leaders in the Sadrist movement who would be willing to give up further military resistance and accept the US occupation and the existing government.

For months, the command tried to generate a "dialogue" with "moderates" in the Sadrist camp. It issued a series of statements hailing Muqtada's willingness to change the purpose of his movement. Most recently, on January 17, Odierno said, "I believe he is trying to move forward with more of a religious organization and get away from a militia type-supported organization." But he admitted, "That could change."

Meanwhile, Petraeus targeted selected elements of the Mahdi Army in raids in Sadr City and the Shi'ite south, portraying its targets as "criminals" and "rogue elements" which had broken away from Muqtada and were armed, trained and financed by Iran. Odierno suggested in his January 17 press briefing that such renegade groups were causing "the majority of the violence".

But the "moderate" Sadrists who would be willing to make a deal with the US never materialized. Last July, a US commander in Baghdad claimed that Sadrist representatives had initiated "indirect" talks with the US military. But in January, Odierno would say only that they had been meeting with "local leaders" in Sadr City, not with representatives of the Sadrist movement.

The Mahdi Army's blunt warnings of military countermeasures followed months of raids against Muqtada's political-military organization by both US forces and the Badr Organization. According to a senior Sadrist parliamentarian, between 2,000 and 2,500 Mahdi Army militiamen had been detained since Muqtada declared a ceasefire last August.

The raids have been aimed at weakening the Madhi Army's political hold on Shi'ite cities in anticipation of eventual provincial elections.

During 2007 there were signs of strong support for Muqtada in Najaf, Basra and Karbala, as Sudarsan Raghavan reported in the Washington Post last December. In Najaf, portraits of Muqtada and his father, grand ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein's security forces in 1999, had "mushroomed defiantly in the streets".
Muqtada's image had also been "pervasive" in Karbala, according to Raghavan, until security forces loyal to the ISCI arrested more than 400 of Muqtada's followers in an obvious effort to destroy its organization in the city.

For months Muqtada had refrained from authorizing a full-fledged response to such attacks on his forces. But on Tuesday an officer at Muqtada's headquarters in Najaf said the Mahdi Army should be prepared to "strike the occupiers" as well as the Badr Organization.

Revealing the contradictions built into the US position in Iraq, even as it was blaming Iran for the alleged renegade units of the Mahdi Army, the US was using the Badr Organization, the military arm of the ISCI, to carry out raids against the Mahdi Army. The Badr Organization and the ISCI had always been and remained the most pro-Iranian political-military forces in Iraq, having been established, trained and funded by the IRGC from Shi'ite exiles in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war.

It was the ISCI leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim who had invited two IRGC officers to be his guests in December 2006, apparently to discuss military assistance to the Badr Organization. The Iranian officials were seized in the home of Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the Badr Organization and detained by the US military. The George W Bush administration continued throughout 2007 to cite those Iranian visitors as evidence of the IRGC's illicit intervention in Iraq.

But the Badr Organization had become the indispensable element of the Iraqi government's security forces, who could be counted on to oppose the Mahdi Army in the south. And in a further ironic twist, it was the leaders of the ISCI and of the Nuri al-Maliki government, which depended on Iranian support, who insisted last summer and autumn that the US should credit Iran with having prevailed on Muqtada to agree to a ceasefire. The close collaboration of the US command with these pro-Iranian groups against Muqtada appears to be the main reason for the State Department's endorsement of that argument last December.

The Petraeus assertion that the rocket attacks on the Green Zone were Iranian-inspired strongly implied that Iran is still providing arms to Shi'ite militias. However, Odierno told a press briefing in mid-January, "We are not sure if they're still importing [sic] weapons into Iraq."

That admission came only after many months in which US officers in the border provinces were unable to find any evidence of arms coming across the border from Iran.

Those officers also found no trace of the alleged presence of the IRGC personnel in Iraq. Last November, the French weekly news magazine Le Point quoted Major Scott A Pettigrew, the military intelligence chief in Diyala province on the Iranian border, as saying, "I have never seen any activity or presence of the Quds Force. I see nothing here that resembles a proxy war with Iran."

Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006. (Inter Press Service)

Mar 23, 2008

Two cheeks

As the home mortgage industry continued to reel in January, 2008 from the Countrywide Financial Corp. debacle, a federal bankruptcy judge learned that the company, in at least one case (with others suspected), had not only backdated crucial documents but fabricated them altogether and then told the judge the company was merely trying to be "efficient." A court had approved the recasting of a client's debt to Countrywide in March 2007, closing the case, but the next month, Countrywide "discovered" a way to get extra money and thus created three letters supposedly sent to that client before March 2007. However, Countrywide later acknowledged that the letters were actually written after March 2007 but that making up documents was merely "an efficient way to convey" information. [New York Times, 1-8-08]

M. Sarkozy, the French press has noted, is a sayan [helper], that is, an agent of the Israeli Mossad security services, planted ready for action when required.

As might be expected, therefore, he is an extreme hardliner, especially on Iran, but also making a virtue of his contempt for the immigrant populations in France, especially those around Paris, equal to the Israeli contempt for the Palestinians. They are, frankly, scum, as Sarkozy has said many times. The publicity given his marriage, divorce, and girl friends have earned him the title “President Bling Bling” in the French press, and recent election results in France have removed many of his party from control of local areas. He is currently scheduled to meet with Mr. Brown, the UK leader, to coordinate nuclear reactor production and other matters.

Mr. Brown’s earlier undertakings to reduce British forces in the Basra region of Iraq and hand over to local authorities - how long can he resist US demands for a surge in Basra? - have now been reversed, in favor of a US style “surge” of troops into the area. It is not entirely clear, however,

1. That he will have the luck that the US surge had, of coinciding with a six month cease fire declared by Moqtada Al Sadr’s Mahdi army;
2. That Basra may be as easily controlled as Baghdad, since it is not divided into neat segments by huge concrete walls as Baghdad is; and
3. That the UK treasury can afford the $10 per day paid to the Sunnis for their alliance even if it can manage to hand out the free weapons and ammunition they are receiving.

To borrow the description of Mr. George Galloway, Respect MP for Bethnal Green in London, “Brown and Blair are two cheeks of the same arse.”

Zero interest exists in whether the UK current hero is better or worse than the US current military hero. Calling in air strikes on the hapless Afghans is about as difficult and heroic as calling a waiter for more drinks in a night club, his real expertise, and the last useful act of the US hero, who bought himself out by doing a propaganda video for the Viet Cong, was “Hollowed Out,” of the early nineties, which is now thrown to the winds in favor of complete evisceration of the hollowed out military. Easy come, easy go.

The official Bush/McCain policy being followed in Iraq appears to be to abandon the troops there, at a rough cost of one thousand lives a year, and about $9 billion a month, which should throw Mr. Schickelgruber’s abandonment of the troops at Stalingrad into the shade. All current efforts are concentrated on the program to invade and occupy Iran to seize their oil as was done in the case of Iraq. The obvious lack of troops means that aerial bombardment and destruction is the only option left as long as there is no military draft.

For the hopelessly naïve: The question “What is the proper function of the president of the United States in presiding over the country” was answered in a refreshing fashion by the campaign representative of Senator Clinton at the United Jewish Communities conference, reported in the Washington Post.

Mr. Obama’s campaign rep asserted that “he needn't have a "Likud view" -- that of Israel's right-wing party -- to be pro-Israel. [He] explained that Obama wanted to see a "plurality of views.” This produced silence in the room.

To that, Lewis (representative of Senator Clinton’s campaign) retorted: "The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel. It is not up to us to pick and choose from among the political parties." The audience members applauded.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” said Lewis Sinclair and so the paid hacks like Mr. Hitchens of Vanity Fair can continue to assert that “Islam has many doors, but no exits. You cannot leave. This is regarded as non-negotiable by every Muslim cleric I have talked to.” That Indonesia, the country with the largest number of Moslems on earth, has a law that anyone can switch from any religion, including Islam, to any other religion as many times as they like, - usually to marry someone of that religion – means that Mr. Hitchens is either too ignorant or too dishonest to be any kind of expert.

A word on Buddhism. It is impossible to imagine the effect of having grown up to teenage years without ever seeing or hearing about any thing dead, or sick, or imperfect, or the shock of coming into “the real world.” The Buddha does not strike one as a very bright guy compared to, say, Thomas Aquinas. The main reaction to any of his really illuminating statements is to clutch one’s forehead and say “My God! He’s right! It’s obvious! How come I never noticed that?” The answer is that like everybody else you didn’t start with an ingrained experience of normality, but got dropped straight into this sewer where you spend the rest of your days. A reasonable example is his instruction to spend a year without opening your mouth, just doing your chores. At the end of the year, said the blessed Siddhartha, “You will know that there is nothing to ask, and there is no one to answer.” Indeed.

By January 20, 2009 it should be obvious that it doesn’t matter which of the fifteen clowns in the year long carnival wins. (Ron Paul might have salvaged something, but the party machines will block him without effort.) America will progress to becoming a regional super power with some global reach.

By the end of this century eighty per cent of humanity will be dead. Southern Europe will look like the Sahara starting with Spain, so will Australia, and much of London will be under water.

So much can be made out with a pretty high probability with lots of leisure, the excellent media access in the US, and rubbing available brain cells together, depending heavily on the real bright guys around and what they’ve dug up. Best available advice: “Enjoy yourself while you can”

Below is the “Sober assessment” of December 2007. No reason to change a word of it.

What would be a sober assessment at this end of 2007?

Starting at the top, folks living in the USA will become accustomed to floods, mudslides, and being up to their whatevers in their own sewage. It is much too late even to make a dent in the climate changes rushing down on us in the next fifty years. The end of summer Arctic sea ice, predicted by our experts for 2040, was in fact complete before the end of 2007.

Next one down, the USA is bankrupt, its credit cards are all maxed out, and it survives because in the immortal words of one commentator, “It is not in the interest of China or Russia that the value of the dollar should be zero,” the possibility already raised long ago by Ron Paul. The Chinese feel, by their own official announcement at Hu Jin Tao’s global press conference this year, “A responsibility for stability,” and a global meltdown from a zero value dollar does not promote stability. Whatever the current value of the US dollar is, we may have the Chinese to thank for that.

In particular, the policy of making life unbearable in people’s home countries is what produces the floods of migrants the west is no longer wealthy enough to support. (The current mass mechanized slaughter policy is too much hard work, believe me, as demonstrated the last time they tried it. You end up doing nothing else.) The vast sums being paid over by sovereign wealth funds, especially in Singapore and the UAE (United Arab Emirates, the Gulf states like Qattar and Dubai) are not to be mistaken for friendly loans. Both the above are merchants with many thousand years experience and not in philanthropy.

The USA certainly has some nasty weapons in stock, like the microwave unit that can bring huge crowds to their knees screaming in pain, but like the Indonesian army they are for internal control. In any state-to-state army-air force-navy conflict, like the Indonesian army, they would have no alternative but surrender. This was demonstrated in typical oriental style by the Chinese Song class submarine that got silently into easy firing range of the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk in November as also by the Chinese knocking out one of their own low orbiting satellites. (Low orbiting satellites are what control the smart bombs and paraphernalia. Without them the navy has blind and deaf hunks of metal.)

The Americans appear to consider their troops as disposable as toilet paper, and will be forced to continue their headlong production of aircraft carriers simply because no congressman can afford the massive unemployment resulting if the production line for ships in his district is halted. These floating coffins will almost certainly continue to be produced.

The Iranian premier’s speech at the UN was skillfully aborted by our “news media” who played Farsi and English at full blast, making both inaudible, but Mr. Ahmedinajad’s speculation that “the age of nuclear weapons has passed” may be the most intelligent statement of the year. With Old Uncle Tom Cobley an’ all having nukes, as now, who can actually afford to start firing them? Probably no one.

It is impossible to imagine Donald Rumsfeld’s Aspartame deal happening in China. He had to “call in all his markers,” so many people in the FDA and elsewhere would have been aware how dangerous removing the FDA ban must have been. Poisoning the entire population with an excitotoxin? The Minister of Health recently executed by the Chinese never dreamt of anything on this scale, nor could he have started to do so in that society. That Rumsfeld remains unhanged reveals the bunch of wimps he’s poisoning.

Oddly enough, the importance of the US military has increased as their real strength bled away, like some ‘Heart shall be keener as our strength lessens’ saga, illustrated by Admiral Fallon’s reference to General Petraeus as an “asskissing little chickenshit.” The military have become our best bulwark, the only remaining one, against the crazies. Jack Murtha has been kept out of top positions by the party machine, but those people are still around, and by now they are our best hope, though only politically, and only for the danger of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction, kindly reincarnated.) Even they can not stop the rampaging Blackwater mercenaries being deployed here or anywhere else.

Pretty sober assessment, wouldn’t you say?

Mar 21, 2008

Amitabha, the pure light

Amitabha, the Unbounded Light

Buddha said: "There are five meditations. The first meditation is the meditation of love in which thou must so adjust thy heart that thou longest for the weal and welfare of all beings, including the happiness of thine enemies.

"The second meditation is the meditation of pity, in which thou thinkest of all beings in distress, vividly representing in thine imagination their sorrows and anxieties so as to arouse a deep compassion for them in thy soul.

"The third meditation is the meditation of joy in which thou thinkest of the prosperity of others and rejoicest with their rejoicings.

"The fourth meditation is the meditation on impurity, in which thou considerest the evil consequences of corruption, the effects of wrongs and evils. How trivial is often the pleasure of the moment and how fatal are its consequences!

"The fifth meditation is the meditation on serenity, in which thou risest above love and hate, tyranny and thraldom, wealth and want, and regardest thine own fate with impartial calmness and perfect tranquility.”

Mar 19, 2008

The West versus Iran

News & Opinion (General) Topic: International Affairs Synopsis: A Simple Story of Good vs. Evil?
Source: Anti - War Published: March 17, 2008 Author: Karel Beckman

It does not take much expertise to understand that the current tightness of the oil market is in large part due to the situation in Iran and Iraq. As is well-known, Iran and Iraq have the highest proven oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia. Iran also has the highest proven natural gas reserves after Russia. But oil and gas production in both countries remains far behind their capacities. The case of Iraq is too well-known to require elaboration. But Iran also produces much less oil and gas than it could. The main reasons are the U.S.-led sanctions regime and the international economic boycott of Iran.

The consequences for the Iranian energy industry have been devastating. As the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) observes [.pdf], Iran's oil production has declined from 6 million barrels per day (BPD) of crude oil in 1974 to 3.8 million BPD in 2006. "Iran's oil fields need structural upgrades including enhanced oil recovery (EOR) efforts such as natural gas injection," states the EIA. "Iran's fields have a natural annual decline rate estimated at 8 percent onshore and 10 percent offshore, while current Iranian recovery rates are 24-27 percent, 10 percent less than the world average. It is estimated that 400,000-500,000 bbl/d of crude production is lost annually due to reservoir damage and decreases in existing oil deposits." The Iranian government aims to boost its oil production to 5 million BPD, but the EIA does not believe a production increase will happen at least through 2012. As the agency notes, to increase its production, "Iran will need foreign help." In natural gas the situation is in many ways even worse. More than 60 percent of Iranian proven natural gas reserves have not been developed. Iran hardly exports any gas at all.

Of course, the Iranian government also bears responsibility for the abject state of the oil industry. Since hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, investment conditions for private foreign companies have worsened. The Iranian policy of keeping out Western companies is, in fact, the mirror image of the Western policy of sanctions. Both policies seriously hamper Iranian economic development. To break this deadlock, what the West needs to do is to stop treating Iran as its worst enemy, put an end to sanctions, and instead encourage business and political relations as much as possible. That way the position of the hardliners inside Iran would be undermined and the prospects for peace and stability in the Middle East would be greatly enhanced.

Ending Tyranny

Such a policy of "détente" is exactly the opposite of current Western policy toward Iran. Although the threat of U.S. military action has receded, the American government remains on a collision course with Iran. It has repeatedly said that "nothing is off the table." The Democratic opposition in Congress fully supports this confrontation policy, as does the EU. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has even upped the ante recently by saying that the U.S.-Iranian "standoff" is "the world's greatest crisis" and that the world is confronted with a "catastrophic alternative: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran."

The U.S. and Europe continue to insist that Iran end its uranium enrichment program, which they claim is part of an Iranian plan to develop an atomic bomb. They have persuaded the Security Council of the United Nations to join in this demand. Iran refuses to give up enrichment. The fact is that Iran is acting within its rights. It is entitled under the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue enrichment of uranium. The NPT requires that member countries cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose task it is to see to it that their nuclear projects are used for peaceful purposes only. Iran does so, and the IAEA has repeatedly stated that it has found no evidence that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. There is thus no legal basis for instituting sanctions against Iran, as the Security Council has done – let alone for tightening these sanctions or taking military action against Iran.

Indeed, it is not Iran but rather the U.S. that is acting in violation of the NPT. The treaty requires the owners of nuclear weapons to assist the other signatories in developing their own peaceful nuclear energy programs. In fact, the U.S. is boycotting Iran and is supporting three countries – India, Pakistan, and Israel – that have developed atomic bombs while opting out of the NPT. These three countries surround Iran. The NPT also requires the U.S. and other signatories to reduce their nuclear arsenals. Instead, the Bush administration is modernizing and expanding the American nuclear arsenal. As of the year 2000, the U.S. nuclear arsenal comprised 5,400 multiple-megaton warheads atop intercontinental ballistic missiles, 1,750 nuclear bombs and cruise missiles ready to be launched from B-2 and B-52 bombers, a further 1,670 "tactical" nuclear weapons, plus some 10,000 nuclear warheads stored in bunkers (Chalmers Johnson, Sorrows of Empire, 2004, p. 64).

Many argue that Iran is a special case. It is not considered a "normal" country, because it is supposedly run by a bunch of mad, fanatical mullahs who would not hesitate dropping an atomic bomb if they had one. This image of Iran is apparent in the rhetoric employed by Western leaders. Bush has said that "Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere" and that Iran is "the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism." Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, has claimed that Iran is "the greatest enemy of peace in the world." In a speech he made in several Gulf countries, Blair said that the world is engaged "in a monumental struggle between those who believe in democracy and moderation, and forces of reaction and extremism." In this epic contest, Iran is ideological enemy number one, Blair stated. Public opinion in Western countries largely seems to have accepted this view of the Iranian regime as evil, irrational, and unpredictable.

World Peace

How "evil" is Iran really? Although Tony Blair does not acknowledge it, Iran is a democracy, of sorts, whereas the Gulf states that are supported militarily and politically by the U.S. and the UK, not to mention Saudi Arabia, are not. Iran is hardly a perfect democracy; its unelected clergy are in many ways the ones who rule the country. The Iranian government also frequently tramples on human rights: it violates freedom of speech, imprisons people for their views, and does not allow many social freedoms that we take for granted. Such evils should be opposed, of course. But the same can be said of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and China, yet those countries escape being labeled part of the "axis of evil." Iranians also have the freedom to move in and out of their country and interact with people abroad, with not too many restrictions. For these reasons alone, Iran can by no stretch of the imagination be called a totalitarian country.
More to the point is that Iran cannot credibly be called a threat to "world peace." The Iranian regime has never invaded another country, initiated a war, or tried to impose its rule by military means on other nations. It is equally false to claim, as President Bush has done, that Iran "is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism." Iran has always opposed al-Qaeda, it does not sponsor terrorist acts in Western countries, and it has never supported the Taliban, even though Bush has claimed that it does. Iran does support Hezbollah and Hamas, but these are groups that fight against what they believe to be the repressive policies of Israel.

Military-Industrial Complex

Conversely, we may ask, how "good" is the United States really? Is the U.S. a force for "moderation and democracy" in the world? Unfortunately, the historical record does not bear this out. Since the end of World War Two, the U.S. has supported dozens of murderous dictators both financially and militarily: for example, Joseph Mobutu of Zaire, Augusto Pinochet of Chili, Suharto of Indonesia, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, the shah of Iran, Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua, Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, and dictatorships in Greece, Portugal, Pakistan, Egypt, and many other countries. In 1954 the CIA sabotaged the elected government in Guatemala. The U.S. invaded Panama in 1989, killing 3,000 to 4,000 civilians. It trained and supported death squads in El Salvador. It supported the Taliban, brought the Ba'ath Party to power in Iraq, and sold material for chemical weapons to the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Why has U.S. foreign policy been so much at odds with the high-minded moral ideals touted by its leaders? In my view, this must be ascribed to the fact that within the U.S. a huge military-industrial-bureaucratic complex has come into existence over the last decades, fed by hundreds of billions of dollars in military spending, which has created a policy dynamic of its own, based on its own financial and political interests rather than on any "democratic" ideals. This complex has seriously corrupted the American political system, the one having become so intertwined with the other that its ruling elites effortlessly job-hop back and forth. To give one example, as former CIA officer Philip Giraldi pointed out last year, "at least 43 former employees, board members, or advisers for defense contractors are currently serving or have recently served in policy-making positions in the Bush administration." To mention just a few examples, former undersecretary of defense and World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz worked as a consultant for Northrop Grumman, maker of the B2 bomber and other weapon systems; Gordon England, former secretary of the Navy, was executive vice president at General Dynamics, producer of the Abrams tank and the Trident submarine; former secretary of state Colin Powell served on the board of Gulfstream Aerospace, a weapons supplier to Kuwait and other Gulf states; Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, sat on the board of arms producer Lockheed; and Powell A. Moore, former assistant secretary of defense, was vice president for legislative affairs at Lockheed. American military contractors not only fund politicians on a grand scale, they also give financial support to universities, research institutions, and the media. In many cases they own television networks, film studios, newspapers, and so on. When similar connections are observed in Russia, Western commentators are quick to point out the "corruption" of the Russian system, but they ignore the same situation in the U.S.

The U.S. military-industrial-bureaucratic complex is not confined to the borders of the United States. As historian Chalmers Johnson has documented, the U.S. has over the last decades created a worldwide "empire of military bases." "Not including the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts," Johnson writes, "we now station over half a million U.S. troops, spies, contractors, dependents, and others on military bases located in more than 130 countries, many of them presided over by dictatorial regimes that have given their citizens no say in the decision to let us in." The U.S. seems to have fallen into the trap that former U.S. president and Army Gen. Dwight Eisenhower warned of in his famous, prophetic farewell speech in 1961, in which he coined the term "military-industrial complex." Eisenhower warned that the U.S. "must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence … by the military-industrial complex."

Coup D'Etat

When it comes to Iran, the U.S. and the UK have never shown any interest in supporting "freedom" and "democracy." Since the start of the century, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now BP, had an exclusive concession to Iranian oil. In 1947, Iranian oil workers went on strike against the atrocious conditions under which they had to work (no vacation, no sick leave, no disability compensation, no electricity, no running water). The British broke the strike by force, leaving dozens of strikers dead. The Iranian parliament then called for the renegotiation of the concession – a proposal promoted by the highly popular politician Mohammed Mossadegh. As the company resisted tooth and nail and tensions rose, the Iranian parliament in 1951 approved a new proposal by Mossadegh, who was soon elected prime minister by the parliament, to nationalize the oil assets. The shah, Reza Pahlavi, felt he had no choice but to sign the bill into law. The British reacted by organizing a boycott of Western oil companies against Iran, which led to a severe economic crisis. Then, Britain, with the encouragement of elderly statesman Winston Churchill, engineered a coup d'etat against Mossadegh in 1952, which failed. At that time Iran was still looking for support from the United States, where Mossadegh was a highly popular figure. (In 1951 Mossadegh had been declared "Man of the Year" by Time magazine!) When Eisenhower became president in 1952, the British managed to convince the Americans to support them. In a joint British-American coup organized by the CIA in 1953, Mossadegh was ousted and jailed. The exiled Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was brought back to Iran. He immediately went on to brutally repress his political opponents, sentencing hundreds of Mossadegh's supporters to death. As oil historian and Eni strategist Leonardo Maugeri observes in his new book, The Age of Oil, "A dictatorial regime then replaced the only democratic and – paradoxically – Western-oriented experience Iran would ever know."
For the next 25 years the U.S. faithfully supported the regime of the shah, who was no force for "democracy and moderation." The shah's Savak, notes British Middle Eastern expert and veteran journalist Robert Fisk, was the most notorious and murderous secret police force in the Middle East – "its torture chambers among the Middle East's most terrible institutions." None of this mattered to the U.S. and other Western countries, since the shah, as Fisk notes, was "the guardian of our oil – during his regime, international oil companies exported 24 billion barrels of oil out of Iran." U.S. support for the shah was so strong that "a permanent secret U.S. mission was attached to Savak headquarters," where the tortures took place. Ironically, in view of the current nuclear conflict with Iran, the U.S. in those days did its best to push nuclear power stations upon the shah. The shah's nuclear ambitions were aborted only when the Iranian people rose up against his regime in 1979.

The story of American wrongs against Iran does not end there. A year after the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Iran. The Reagan administration decided immediately "to do whatever was necessary and legal" to prevent Iraq from losing the war. The U.S. gave $5.5 billion in "loans" to Saddam to buy arms. Shipments from the U.S. and other Western countries to Iraq included bacterial cultures to make weapons-grade anthrax (The Sorrows of Empire, pp. 223-224). In 1984, the president's special Middle East envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, visited Baghdad to show his support for Saddam. When Saddam carried out his infamous mass murder of the Kurds in Halabja on March 16, 1988, with Western-supplied chemical weapons, the American government incredibly put the blame on Iran (see A Poisonous Affair by Joost Hiltermann). The Iranians by that time had complained to the UN Security Council many times about the use of chemical weapons by Iraq against Iranian troops, but the Council did not see fit to condemn Saddam.

Rebellious Province

The current conflict – the U.S.-Iranian standoff, as Sarkozy has it – cannot be understood without reference to this historical context. On the one hand, Iran is what it is today in large part as a result of Western policies: the Iranian people turned to radical Islam as a liberating force because the so-called forces for moderation and democracy supported the tyranny of the shah; they turned to socialism and state intervention as the result of abuses and exploitation by Western oil companies.

On the other hand, the U.S. singles out Iran as a "force of evil" not because it has, in fact, such an evil regime, but because Iran refuses to subject itself to American military, political, and economic interests – because it resists America's striving for world hegemony. With a bit of exaggeration Iran might be called a rebellious province of the U.S. global empire. As a Shi'ite, Persian nation, Iran is also of course a threat to the regional hegemony of America's most important ally, Saudi Arabia, and the other Arab Gulf states.

Clearly there is no moral or historical justification for the current U.S. and Western policy of confrontation toward Iran. What is more, it is counterproductive. It favors the hard-liners and extremists inside Iran and makes it difficult for pro-Western voices to be heard. What should be done is to reverse this policy. The EU in particular should take the lead in ending all sanctions against Iran and welcoming that country back into the international community. This would give moderate forces inside Iran a great boost. Then, who knows? "Regime change" might come about after all – peacefully, and by the Iranian people's own choice. The threat of nuclear war would disappear, and the world would be a safer, better place – with more oil and gas to boot.

Reprinted courtesy of the European Energy Review.

Mar 18, 2008

Faith in numbers

"Every dead man is to every other dead man a cousin," said ibn Sina according to tradition when he lay dying by an unknown grave on his southward journey home and asked to be buried there.

According to the Edgar Wallace thriller “The Thirteen Just Men,” a Hebrew tradition says there are thirteen just men in the world at any one time, never more or less. None of them know that’s what they are, and if one of them should find out, he immediately dies and some one else replaces him.

Alan Greenspan's suggestion, that obligations should be debited in the budget when they are incurred, and not, as currently, when they fall due for payment, is a fairly obvious piece of prudence. What family budget would survive having every utility bill arrive as an unexpected shock, rather than being allowed for as and when electricity and the telephone are being used? The net result of adopting Mr. Greenspan's obvious suggestion, however, would be to more than double the budget deficit currently projected.

It is a pity we cannot adopt some of the Emperor Caligula's little money-raising devices. Caligula used to issue mandatory invitations to the wealthiest men in Rome to attend auctions where some of his personal effects were sold. Since he had already proclaimed himself a god, a low bid for his old socks and other memorabilia was sacrilege as well as a personal slight to the imperial person, and the tactless bidder would find his life become suddenly and painfully difficult.

Not that we need to encourage more delusions of grandeur. The problem is that internal transfers of funds have no effect at all on the external debt. Tax breaks for the poverty-stricken will be money spent on steaks and electronic gadgets and trips to Disneyworld, yes, whereas the wealthy can only eat one steak at a time, have more electronic gadgets than they can handle, and wouldn't be caught dead in Disneyworld, but none of this has much effect on the external debt, the fact that the country as a whole, the nation in its relations with other nations, is spending more than it takes in.

What can be done has already been done. The frozen funds of the Iraqi government have been seized, because Saddam is an evil man, it has been made clear that Iraqi oil will pay for the rebuilding of the rubble in Iraq, and plans are in train to have other nations, through the UN, be allowed also to help make good the destruction of Iraqi cities, and I would guess pay for the armaments that destroyed them, without being allowed any control over what actually happens in Iraq. That's the plan, anyhow. What more could be done to get the costs down?

Two methods to deal with the external deficit exist: 1. Print more money to cover the difference, the Bernanke approach, which will produce galloping inflation, so that eventually you must stuff your tote bag with $100 bills to get your double cheeseburger from the Golden Arches, or 2. Borrow the difference from outside the country by having foreigners buy Treasury Bonds, US stocks, or bring money into the US for any other reason.

The stock market has meanwhile been heavily supported by the Plunge Prevention Team, responsible for surreptitious government purchase of stocks to prevent panic, a technique imitated from the Japanese which fails to take account of the difficulties this has caused Japan. One day future historians will come across warehouses full of Cisco and Global Crossing stock purchased by the US Treasury in much the same way as mass graves are discovered in the Balkans. The irony is that if a genuinely free and open market were permitted, the level of the stockmarket would be some 20 to 30 per cent lower than it is now, but the outside world might well find a number of stocks worth buying.

If the countries determined that oil prices shall in future be denominated in currencies other than dollars get their way, the dollar will certainly fall very heavily, and the resulting cheap dollar, cheap stocks, and the natural inventiveness of US manufacturers, not to mention their marketing skills, would probably have US products outselling any others, the US stock market would be a natural magnet for foreign capital, and the whole problem would not exist. The longer you delay, however, the higher the cost, as Japan has found, which I regard as another demonstration of the relentless operation of divine justice.

Divine justice is in practice subject to human interpretation, however. One of my favorite pieces of Americana is the presidential candidate back in the mists of history, who certainly, while lost in the wilds with his companions, had to resort to cannibalism to survive on the long trek back to civilization. In the bitter personal attacks that accompanied his bid for the presidency this was never raised, however. What occupied his opponents was the possibility that he was a closet Catholic! Marvellous. Absolutely marvellous.

Similar to the Catholics are the Shia, with the little red flags fluttering over their graves in Bahrain like Tibetan prayer flags. "Ya Hussein, ya Hussein," they chant as they beat themselves with chains till the blood runs down, like a medieval penitentiary procession, in memory of the appointed successor to the prophet treacherously murdered. They've been doing it for about 1400 years. They never forget and they never forgive.

It's the Shi'ites in the south that stopped the fantasies in their tracks. The Sunni are more the Protestants, more sober and boring, with the Hanafi rite people running Saudi Arabia definitely towards the Puritan end of the spectrum, and they regard the Shi'ites with endless suspicion. "Shi'ites will piss in your tea, they'll do anything," one Saudi prince is quoted as saying. The Sunnis have the same kind of suspicion of sober men for the colorful rituals of the Shia that the Protestants often have of the Catholic church. "They must be up to something."

No normal human being can take in the legend of the thirteen just men quoted above without wondering, in the darkness behind their eyes, whether they might be one of those thirteen, and thus getting jogged into acting justly a few times more than they might otherwise have done. The tradition is a practical device to encourage just action, if nothing more, and so perhaps all these financial details are not very important. Justice is justice, however, even in finance, indeed especially in finance.

If bird flu is the second of the four horsemen coming over the horizon, perhaps dying together is the only way left to get the essential brotherhood through some of our thick skulls.


Mar 17, 2008

Two versions of mirage

MoD accused of propaganda in Iraq worksheets for schools

Polly Curtis, education editor Friday March 14, 2008 Guardian,,2265284,00.html

The Ministry of Defence has been accused of supplying "misleading propaganda" to schools and attempting to recruit pupils into the army. The children's secretary, Ed Balls, has written to officials in the MoD asking them to investigate teachers' claims that their worksheets for 16- to 18-year-olds provide a one-sided view on the war in Iraq.

The National Union of Teachers said the MoD was "unethically" targeting recruitment materials at schools in disadvantaged areas. Steve Sinnott, the union's general secretary, said: "It is propaganda, it does not present a balanced position.

"When you are dealing with something as controversial as Iraq and different events which led up to the invasion, teachers are under an enormous duty to present material which is balanced."

One worksheet supplied by the MoD and designed by a private marketing company, Kids Connections, describes the UK force's efforts in Iraq as mainly targeted at "helping the Iraqis to rebuild their country after the conflict and years of neglect". It describes the work the armed forces have done in security and reconstruction, and notes the 2005 democratic elections. But union officials said it failed to mention the US-led invasion, Iraqi civilian deaths and the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found.

The NUT will debate the issue at its annual conference in Manchester next week. Teachers are regularly sent model lesson plans, worksheets and other teaching materials by government departments, charities and private companies, but these are required by law to give a balanced political view. A report by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust in January highlighted websites set up by the MoD targeted at 12- to 17-year-olds, but noted that some recruitment tactics targeted children as young as seven. "Children are introduced to the potential benefits of a forces career, but not to its risks," the report said.

The union wrote to Balls in October expressing concern over the materials. Balls in turn promised to take the issue up with MoD officials.

A motion to be discussed at the NUT conference would, if passed, commit the union to "actively opposing military recruitment activities in schools across England and Wales". The Educational Institute of Scotland has already opposed military recruitment in Scotland.

The MoD said in a statement: "The ... programme is a set of web-based resources whose use is completely voluntary. We have consulted widely with teachers and students during the development of these products and feedback from schools has been extremely encouraging. They are designed to support teachers in delivering a whole range of subjects across the national curriculum and its equivalents in Scotland and Wales. We are happy to engage with the NUT to discuss further." © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008
Monday-Wednesday, March 17-19, 2008


When I saw the first photos of Baghdad being bombed during the "shock and awe" phase of the illegal 2003 attack against Iraq, I was saddened. For millennia, the city had endured wars, occupations, plundering, natural disasters, and liberations. This time, however, it was different. I knew Baghdad would be changed in a despicable way that would take decades of recovery to become the city it once was.

Baghdad is the city where commerce was developed for humankind thousands of years ago. It offered a monetary system long before other cultures. Science flourished in the Baghdad of 5,000 years ago. For instance, archaeologists have discovered star charts from that era showing Jupiter with four moons. No human being has eyesight keen enough to see one of Jupiter’s moons without a telescope. The scientists of the day invented the telescope, only to see it re-invented by Galileo more than four thousand years later.

Archaeologists have also uncovered the use of electricity in Baghdad 5,000 years ago. The objects generated electricity to use in plating gold coins. The Chinese at this time also used crude forms of electricity. So much for Benjamin Franklin.
Arts and sports flourished in ancient Baghdad. In fact, the oldest artifact depicting wrestling was discovered at Kayafaje, near Baghdad, by a team of archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania in 1938. Archaeologists have concluded that the cast bronze figurine was created by the Sumerian culture of the time and has been judged to be over 5,000 years old. Many people think that ancient Greece developed wrestling, but this finding shows it was popular in Iraq thousands of years prior to the Greek’s participation in the sport.

During the Dark Ages of Europe, when all scientific thought was eliminated for centuries, Baghdad continued to excel in science and engineering. When the Dark Ages finally broke and Europe once again began to exercise science, it looked to Baghdad.

Kingdoms, authoritarian regimes and republics have come and gone in Baghdad, but it still was the jewel of Arab cities. Iran bombed Baghdad during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, yet Baghdad bounced back. In 1991, the city was under constant bombardment by U.S. forces and the infrastructure was destroyed, all to be repaired within weeks of the cessation of hostilities. A 13-year-embargo caused the degradation of many buildings and facilities in Baghdad from 1990-2003, yet it still was the jewel of Arab cities. Despite the sanctions, tourists went to Baghdad and the city hosted international business exhibitions. It was a little ragged around the edges, yet it was still Baghdad.

Thousands of years of prestige came to a halt in April 2003. When American troops entered Baghdad, they went into a city that had been mercilessly bombed and attacked. However, it was the introduction of the troops that degraded and changed the city forever.

Within weeks, concrete barriers were erected to protect the invaders. Today, they are all over Baghdad and make the Berlin Wall pale in comparison. These walls separate families, neighborhoods, businesses and friends. U.S. military vehicles abound. Checkpoints that Iraqi citizens have to encounter for hours at a time are common.

Never, under any Iraqi leadership, had Baghdad suffered the ongoing violence that occurs daily in the city. Kidnapping is now a major industry. The kidnappers have set standard prices for their wares: a couple of hundred dollars for a kidnapped person from a poor family to a few thousand dollars for one from a middle or upper class family. Kidnapping was unheard of under the previous regimes in Baghdad.

The city is laden with holes and rubble from military confrontations. The Iraqi resistance can claim responsibility for a small amount of damage, but the overwhelming majority of destruction comes from U.S. forces who use modern, large weapons in a disproportionate manner in fighting the freedom fighters. American officials as well as their stooge Iraqi appointees can not leave their highly-walled compounds for fear of death. Not one would last minutes on the streets of Baghdad. They live in another world.

I can’t imagine a western city, such as London or Paris or New York having to live under such conditions after years of notoriety as leading cultural metropolises. I can’t imagine an enemy with so little regard to culture to allow that to happen. Even in Nazi-occupied Paris of World War II nothing occurred to match the demise of Baghdad. German soldiers and Parisian inhabitants co-existed, albeit not on friendly terms. The Germans did not think of leveling the city or cordoning it off into segregated areas. It may have been occupied by an outside force, but it was still Paris.

Baghdad today is a basket case. I have spoken to or written to various Baghdad residents, past and present, to get their assessment. Some are unrepentant Ba’athists; some opposed the Saddam Hussein regime; and some were neutral, going on with life and considering whatever government in power to be the ruling entity.

They all agreed on one aspect, however: the loss of the city of Baghdad. They all agreed that this was different. They all agreed that Baghdad’s psyche, not just buildings and utilities, was ruined this time. There was a morose feeling with all that was never apparent before. Kids are being killed in crossfire. Civilians are being killed by trigger-happy U.S. soldiers. Nobody is safe and the public is now showing a degree of numbness to the situation. Many people now walk in dangerous areas without thinking about danger. They assume that if they get killed, so be it. They have no say in the matter.
There is little to be happy about today in Baghdad. Citizens are used to having little or no electricity. They are used to learning a neighbor’s family member(s) have been killed by U.S. fire while walking on the street or sitting on a rooftop. They are used to the squalor that was never a part of Baghdad. They are used to the ever-growing problem of hard drug use in Baghdad. They are used to the massive concrete barriers in their city. They do not accept these things, but they are used to them because they can do nothing to stop the rot.

It is sad to see that there is one occurrence that brings happiness and joy to Baghdad residents: the killing or maiming of American troops. Decent human beings have been turned into bloodthirsty creatures who dance with glee over burning U.S. bodies and vehicles. These are the same people who, before March 2003, would have been aghast at their current actions. These are formerly law-abiding and hard-working citizens. Today, they are people mostly without jobs and totally without hope. An attack on U.S. forces is all they have to look forward to in life. When you see the delighted looks on their faces, one would not be remiss in thinking that Iraq had just won the World Cup. Or an Iraqi had just won a Nobel Peace Prize. Or an Iraqi had just found a cure for cancer. These public showings of happiness are not indications of any positive event to which human beings pay homage. They are for the destruction of other human beings.

Baghdad cries today. It has been defeated. It was destroyed by the real forces of evil in this world — bigotry, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, greed and deceit — not those entities whom the U.S. president has designated as evil. Bush throws around the word "evil" with ease and frequency, but he is the number one practitioner of evil in the world. No one else comes close.

Mar 16, 2008



The last time that the USA forced a smaller and weaker country into a fight in order to acquire its territory was the Mexican War, which resulted in the acquisition of Texas, where, after the US had acquired it, slavery could be practiced, which it could not as long as the territory was part of Mexico. That the US now has a very large, legal and illegal, Mexican population and has been forced into becoming a two language country, English and Spanish, may be regarded as an example of the relentless operation of divine justice, as it would be by my mentor in these matters, Mr. Dante Alighieri, of Florence, Italy.

Mr. Henry David Thoreau, of Walden Pond, protested vigorously against this war, as did Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Mr. Thoreau spent some time in the lockup for his opposition and his account of these events so inspired Mahatma ("Great Soul") Ghandi, of India, that he translated it, and made it the basis of his campaign of civil disobedience in opposition to British rule in India, which eventually succeeded and produced an independent India.

Both these series of events are American, meaning they are part of American history. That any one of us may exercise our individual free will and choose one of them as "truly American," or the path that America should follow, is neither here nor there. Both are American, if that word is to have any meaning at all.

Both sides, when they come to the table, are not so much about to arrange a modus vivendi (way of living) between the two, as ready to negotiate a surrender to their views since these are clearly established facts. "This is the way America operated in the past, and this therefore is the American way." You are right, my son. "This also is how America acted in the past, and this is how we should act now." You are also right, my son.

British patriots, I have no doubt, prefer to think about the battle of Agincourt, as presented in Shakespeare's Henry V, than about the capture, trial, and burning alive of St. Joan of Arc in the same war as presented in Bernard Shaw's play. (Both were set books in my high school, so the credit belongs to whatever bureaucrat was in charge of the curriculum. The emotional rush produced by the prospect of smashing in the heads of the enemy is hardly new, characterized by Homer as "Ares, hated by gods and men." We have advanced our methodology from bronze swords to stealth bombers and smart bombs, but our psychology appears to have advanced not a millimetre since the Trojan War.) That should tell us more about the pitfalls of patriotism than about the country involved, or the people holding the views. "The old lie," says Wilfred Owen in WWI, "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. (It is a sweet and noble thing to die for one's country.)" Well, common sense suggests that dying is sort of final, and means one's bolt is shot, the one dying may not have intended that, and also sweet and noble, and considerably more useful, may be living for one's country, or for a whole range of other reasons. I wonder if the military might give all of us some peace and quiet to do that?
Sun, 30 Mar 2003

Mar 14, 2008

Some little known facts about women

World wide women comprise about half the human population.

They put in about two thirds of the working hours, receive about ten per cent of the wages and salaries, and own less than one per cent of the property.

Women have a small fleshy orifice in their bodies – called “the Rose” by the troubadours – which is the center of most thought and feeling about them. It is difficult to imagine anyone declaring henceforth worthless a horse or a cow because someone had stuck a finger in their ear, but this is exactly how many people in the world go on about women.

The muscle that pushes the baby out of the womb is the strongest in any human body, not surpassed by any muscle in the body of the strongest male body builder.

“Women, money, and land are the three things men fight about,” say the Hindus.

“No one owns the earth. She is too old. She owns us. From her we come, and to her we return,” say the Africans.

Humans can not survive without the earth. The earth can survive very well without humans.

Mar 13, 2008

Killing the unborn

“Things are in the saddle and ride mankind” – Walt Whitman

"In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule." F. Nietzsche

“The first thing politicians do to hide their mismanagement is inflate the currency; the second thing they do is go to war.” Ernest Hemingway

“I don’t know what weapons will be used in World War Three, but World War Four will be fought with sticks and stones.” – Albert Einstein

When the Dalai Lama stated that yes, he agreed, wearing animal furs just fuelled the extinction of animals, huge rubbish piles immediately appeared of enormous winter fur coats, thrown away by some of the poorest people in the world, living in some of the coldest climates. Who is a leader? That is not a decision of the leader. It is a decision of the followers.

Two highly charged emotional issues are regularly used to distract attention from more pressing problems. One is homosexuality and what rights and liberties to give it. The other is abortion.

The latter is a thinly disguised campaign for male ownership of every one and everything, usually pointed out in Islamic societies, but by no means confined to them. – (We have the same bunch over here in the States claiming exactly the same thing.) This secondary issue has been shanghaied into service against stem cell research, on the grounds that harvesting stem cells requires the murder of a fetus, even if that fetus is a blastocyst in a petri dish which would be discarded together with many thousands like it.

The nonsensical nature of this claim was demonstrated over a year ago when scientists in the UK successfully harvested stem cells from an umbilical cord, which is particularly rich in stem cells, and used it to grow a new liver, which was successfully implanted. It received no publicity in the US, since it would bring an end to the entire controversy.

What is really in dispute here is whether women have the same rights of ownership over their own bodies as men do over their bodies, with a powerful selection of men disputing that right. Indeed for many men even the right to have or not have sex must always be reserved to the male half of the pair, and it took along time for the concept of marital rape to be accepted. That implicit “ownership” that men claim over the bodies of women becomes extended to the right to decide for women whether abortion is allowed or not, and finally, to decide what can and can not be done with the umbilical and after birth of a healthy child to a healthy mother. The woman owns nothing, not even her own body.

“Who will provide the grand design
What is yours and what is mine?
There is no more new frontier
We have got to make it here.” Eagles – The Last Resort.

Mar 6, 2008

The star

"This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius," as everyone knows, a new world order is beginning, or has just begun, or will very soon begin. What does this mean, exactly?

Imagine, if you will, a broad ribbon down the centre of the night sky, a broad highway of stars conceptually marked out, arching from horizon to horizon, and now imagine further this broad ribbon of night sky marked off laterally in segments, each segment identified by the constellation of stars in it.

This is the Zodiac, and it is a calendar, basically no different from the January, February, March calendar, or any of the dozens of other calendars in use around the world. The usefulness of the Zodiac, once you know what to look for, is that you do not need to go out and buy a calendar, or own a watch, or do any calculations, or ask anyone anything. All you need do is consult this large cosmic watch ticking away above your head. Constellation so-and-so exactly overhead, or just on the horizon? Aha, it must be month so-and-so.

In addition to being a very handy cosmic watch, marked out in as many months as you like, depending on how big or how small you make the segments, and always coming back to where it started after a year, there is also a second, much, much slower movement, which you will only notice after very long and very, very careful study. Viewed from the earth, the cosmic watch, your broad ribbon of constellations, does not come back exactly to where it was a year ago. It has in fact moved along a bit, about 1/2,000 of a segment, and if you keep watching for many centuries, and keep very accurate records, you will notice that each constellation is slowly but continually shifting over into the segment, the space, occupied by the constellation before it, which is itself, of course, also shifting along, very slowly, into the space occupied by the constellation before that, and so on. The time it takes for each constellation to move over completely into the space formerly occupied by the constellation next to it, about 2,000 years, is known as a Great Year. If you cut up your ribbon into smaller pieces, say 20 instead of twelve, then each month would be shorter, and each Great Year would be shorter. If you used fewer, larger pieces, say 5 or 6 instead of 12, then each month would be longer, and each Great Year also longer than 2,000 years, but in the form in which we know the Zodiac, divided laterally into 12 pieces, each month is about 30 days, and each Great Year about 2,000 years.

This is really even more useful, because, providing you made a careful record of the exact date you started counting, say the reign of a certain king, and exactly where the constellations were then, your cosmic watch can tell you, at a glance, not only which month it is of this year, but also how many blocks of 2,000 years have passed since you started counting, by how many spaces each constellation has moved backwards. The earth's axis, you see, the line from North to South Pole around which the earth spins, is not quite vertical; it's very slightly out of line. This produces a mechanical effect which scientists, with their love of clear and simple explanations, call "the precession of the equinoxes," and it is not really the constellations which are moving slightly, it is really the tilt of the earth which is increasing slightly each year, but for the purposes of making a calendar, we can ignore this as a quibble. Each Great Year is given the name of one of the constellations, the constellation occupying space number one, - what was space number one when you started counting - and so, around this time, the Great Year of Aquarius is beginning, and it will last, like all the others, for about 2,000 years.

The popular story, as it may be studied in any large supermarket in the world around mid December, is as follows: Wise men from the East arrived in Bethlehem, which they had reached by following one particular star, and knew which house to go to because the star stood directly over that house. Unfortunately, unless your entire journey is over a flat, open plain, which Palestine is not, following a star in the literal physical sense will bring you up against a brick wall, or over the edge of a cliff, soon after you start, and, even worse, which house the star is standing directly over depends entirely on where you are standing. Move a few metres to the left or right, and the star is standing over a quite different house. Go out one night and try it. As it stands the story is a monument to human credulity rather than human intelligence.

So what is that little story about, if anything?

The wise men from the East were, everyone agrees, certainly Chaldeans, since the priests of Chaldea, around what is now Iraq, were famous throughout the ancient world for their knowledge of the stars, for the accuracy of their records, and for the sheer length of time they had kept those records. When Abraham passed through one of their great cities, Ur of the Chaldees, they had already been at it for a long time. Following a star probably does not mean clambering over the walls of people’s back gardens and falling into their outhouses in a muddied, breathless, and increasingly hopeless attempt to walk in a straight line behind one particular star, therefore. It means, probably, in the language in which it was originally written, before translation into Greek, then into Latin, and then into English, something like: "They knew exactly when to arrive, and they knew exactly where to go, even to the very house, from their study of the stars."

The Great Year which is just beginning about now is Aquarius, and the Great Year which is just ending, and which began about 2,000 years ago, is the Fish, or the Fishes, Pisces, 1 A.D. to 2,000 A.D. The Great Year before that, around 2,000 B.C. to 1 A.D., was Aries, the Ram, or the Lamb, and the one before that, 4,000 B.C. to 2,000 B.C. was Taurus, the Bull.

Now we come to this strange idea that each Great Year has a kind of history typical to it, and quite different from the history of other Great Years, that each Great Year has a certain world order characterizing it as, one might say, summer and winter have quite different typical events and activities, as do spring and fall. The modern "New Age" Aquarians do not find this idea strange at all, apparently. They simply proclaim that the new age of Aquarius will be one of harmony and understanding, peace and love and cooperation, and leave it at that, without any attempt to explain why the next bit of history should be so different from the last. The Chaldeans, oddly enough, thought much the same thing. How well did the Chaldean calculations work out?

Rather well, actually. Any half competent historian would have no difficulty at all in showing that the single most powerful force in the history of the last 2,000 years was Christianity, and Christianity did, after all, as even nonbelievers would admit, originate from that particular man, born in that place, at that exact time, to whom the Chaldeans came to pay special and peculiar reverence the moment he was born. If you do not have even a half competent historian handy, try for a few moments imagining the history of almost any location on earth without Christianity. Not even remotely the same history, is it?

Early Christians regularly identified themselves by the rough drawing of the Fish, for which the standard explanation is that the Greek (conveniently ignoring the fact that the early Christians spoke Aramaic, not Greek) word for fish, IX0YS, if split into its five letters, makes the initial letters of the Greek phrase, Iesus Xristos Theou Hwion Sauter (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour), and it may be a new idea to the reader that these early Christians were not playing crossword puzzle games in Greek, as usually suggested, but proclaiming themselves to be "New Age" Pisceans, in exactly the same spirit as "New Age" Aquarians do today. Perhaps even the origin of eating fish on a Friday, (Freya's day, Venus day, love-day) was quite different from what we have been told.

Christianity dominates the Great Year of the Fish and the beginning of Christianity meant the death of the Lamb, the Ram, Aries, hence the phrase “Blood of the Lamb.” Does the legend of the Golden Fleece have a connection here? Red, red gold, and red, red wine, and red, red blood. The Lamb is a domestic animal, and 'Aries' is cognate with 'Ares', god of war, so was the 'typical' history of 2,000 B.C. to 1 A.D. the history of settled agricultural communities, territorial warfare, and the war-dance?

The period 4,000 B.C. to 2,000 B.C. was the Great Year of Taurus the Bull, the horned God, still called by its devotees the old religion, most dramatically illustrated by the bull-headed Minotaur and the bull-dancers of Crete, by Apis the sacred bull in Egypt, by the El Bull of Baal in Palestine, land of the Falastini, the Philistines, and kept alive even today by the eerie, powerful ritual of the bull fight in Spain. When did a massive earthquake and tidal wave destroy completely the great Cretan civilization, which honored the Bull? About 2,000 B.C. (Well, 1600 BC, actually, but this is "fuzzy", user friendly history.) Was the 'typical' history of 4,000 B.C. to 2,000 B.C. perhaps that of nomadic cattle herders, and hunters of wild horned cattle, and the hunting-dance?

There is an ancient tradition that the Zodiac originally had 10 months, later expanded to 12 months by adding two new months to Virgo, the maiden. One of the new months was Scorpio, traditionally called the House of Death, but which has in it the secret of rebirth. The other was Libra, the Scales, traditionally called the House of Friendship, or Reconciliation.

"When dealing with early pre-history," says Cornford in his Introduction to Attic Comedy, "it is useless to ask for documentary proof, which does not exist. A high degree of probability is the best we can hope for." Just so. On the subject of whether the Zodiac originally had 10 months, expanded to 12 by adding the Scorpion and the Scales to the Virgin I have nothing useful to say: I was not there, or if I was I can't remember it, but tingles of recognition start when I hear "A virgin shall conceive and bear a child..., and this child, by his death and resurrection will reconcile God with man, and man with man." Are we all talking about the same thing?

Modesty is not my strongest suit, perhaps, but nevertheless I cannot believe I am the first, or the only person, by a long way, to have noticed the strangely exact correlation between the calendar of the wise men, who knew when and where to search by "following the stars," and the life of the man they sought, whose birth signaled the death of the Lamb, and whose followers, "Fishers of Men," proclaimed a new world order, set against the Homed One, twitching his tail and stamping his cloven hoof.

What have we here, my masters? A conspiracy of silence by the scholars? A further illustration of the principles of Dr Goebbels, that whether a thing is true or not is unimportant, even whether it is clear and obvious nonsense is unimportant; if you just repeat it often enough, everyone will believe it passionately? That I will be the only member of the crowds in the supermarket, come mid December, to notice that which house the star stands over depends on where the observer is standing? Surely not.