Iraq Occupation Focus
Newsletter No. 15
January 19, 2005
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The coalition of the unwilling: Governments pull out whilst soldiers refuse to serve
Ukraine to pull troops out of Iraq
Recent deaths among Ukrainian forces in Iraq have spurred the countrys politicians to hasten their departure from the US-led coalition. Their withdrawal is now scheduled to be completed by June.
Russian news agency Novosti (13th Jan) reports: The first major move of Ukraines new leadership and at the same time the last one of the previous authorities was to withdraw their soldiers from Iraq.
...Seven Ukrainian servicemen died when destroying an air bomb depot near Es Suweira in the province of Wasit ... Another wounded Ukrainian soldier died in a US military hospital in Baghdad. This was the 17th death the 1,640-strong Ukrainian troop contingent had suffered since Kiev joined the international peacekeeping coalition in Iraq.
Ukrainian prosecutors launched criminal proceedings to investigate the tragedy, while the outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, ordered the Interior Ministry and the Defense Ministry to start preparations for withdrawing Ukrainian peacekeepers from Iraq immediately. ... The withdrawal had earlier been scheduled to be completed by the end of 2005.
...And the Netherlands follows suit
Radio Free Europe (18th Jan) reports: This week, the Netherlands became the latest state to formally announce plans to call home its troops. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said yesterday that the Netherlands will pull its 1,350 soldiers out of Iraq on 15 March. The Netherlands joins a list of 14 other countries that have either announced plans to reduce or pull out their forces or have already done so...
Many of the nations once characterized as the New Europe are among those now announcing troop reductions. Last week, Ukraine said it plans to bring home its 1,600 troops in the first half of this year. In December, Poland said it would cuts its forces by nearly one-third, to 1,700 troops, by February. In November, Hungary said it would withdraw its 300 troops from Iraq by 31 March.
The reductions could leave the coalition in Iraq with just three countries with sizeable deployments apart from the United States and Britain. They are South Korea, with 3,600 troops; Italy, with 3,160 soldiers; and Poland, with the remaining 1,700 troops. Other allies that have said they will remain have from less than 1,000 to just a few dozen troops in the country. They range from Australia to Georgia to Kazakhstan.
U.S. soldiers desperate to avoid going to Iraq
Robert S. Finnegan of South East Asia News (11th Jan) reports: On Friday, January 7, 2005 Sergeant Kevin Benderman, stationed with the 2-7 Infantry Battalion at Ft. Stewart Georgia, refused an order from the Command Sergeant Major of his unit Samuel Coston to deploy to Iraq and requested a General Courts-Martial.
Benderman, 40 is a combat veteran, having served one tour in Iraq in 2003 during which a Captain in his command ordered soldiers from Bendermans outfit to fire on children throwing rocks at unit personnel. Having personally witnessed this and other illegal acts by military personnel during his tour, Benderman now says that under no circumstances will he participate further in the war in Iraq, a war Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan has labelled illegal.
In further developments this weekend, it has been confirmed that Specialist J.R. Burt and Specialist David Beals, also of 2-7 attempted suicide rather than deploy to Iraq, and an additional seventeen soldiers in 2-7 Infantry Battalion have gone AWOL for the same reason.
US deserters flee to Canada to avoid service in Iraq
The Telegraph (9th Jan) reports: American Army soldiers are deserting and fleeing to Canada rather than fight in Iraq, rekindling memories of the thousands of draft-dodgers who flooded north to avoid service in Vietnam.
An estimated 5,500 men and women have deserted since the invasion of Iraq, reflecting Washingtons growing problems with troop morale.
Jeffrey House, a Toronto-based lawyer, who represents some of the deserters. He said that at least 25 had reached Canada in recent months with the help of railroad organisations, and believed that the immigration board would back his clients.
TA reservist from London says he will refuse to serve in Iraq
The Guardian (19th Jan) reports: The first British soldier has come forward to urge mass refusal among the ranks to serve in Iraq, saying he would rather go to prison than accept a call-up to war.
Speaking ahead of a press conference [on Wednesday], Lance Corporal George Solomou, from the London regiment of the Territorial Army, said: I am not going to Iraq, point-blank. I am a conscientious objector to this war, and I am going to see how the army plays it from there. I would rather spend a year in prison than a minute in Iraq as part of an illegal war....
Mr Solomou describes an atmosphere of restlessness over Iraq in the increasingly deployed reservist TA, saying: I want to act as a beacon for other soldiers to come out and say they are against the war, or at least that they are not prepared to go. There are so many more soldiers out there who believe what I believe.
I have always wanted to be a soldier and I still want to be a soldier, he added. But I want to be used in the correct manner. We are not just pieces of flesh to be moved about on a chessboard.
Mr Solomou, 38, a worker for the emergency services in east London, said he had always opposed the war in Iraq, and had marched against it in February 2003 with a group of TA colleagues.
Prisoner abuse: Higher officials unlikely to be tried
LA Times (16th Jan) reports: The jail term meted out to Army Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr. for abuses at Abu Ghraib prison may prove to be the stiffest criminal punishment that emerges from the entire scandal, according to experts on military justice.
To some, the low-level Army reservist may look like the fall guy in a debacle that embarrassed the United States throughout the world and tainted the image of American forces in Iraq. Yet analysts said that for now, at least, it was doubtful that higher-level officials would be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of criminal wrongdoing at the Iraqi prison where Graner ran a notorious, late-night guard shift.
Iraqs power supply sinks to record low: US general
AFP (12th Jan) reports: Iraqs national electricity supply has fallen well below its level of before the 2003 invasion, a US army commander told reporters Wednesday.
Power plants now generate only 3,500-3,600 megawatts daily, far less than the 4,400 megawatts of electricity under Saddam Husseins rule on the eve of the invasion, said Major General Thomas Bostwick, commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Baquba: residents refuse loyalty oath despite inducements
The governor of Baquba sponsored a meeting on Tuesday in a bid to persuade suspected insurgents to sign an oath of non-violence. His efforts met with little success, according to Reuters (18th Jan), with attendees citing Midnight raids by U.S. and Iraqi forces that rudely awaken women and children ... arbitrary arrests and unemployment as reasons for refusing to renounce weapons.
One suspected fighter, Ahmed al-Obeidi, was quoted as saying I would have signed it if it said no attacks on Iraqi forces, but no attacks on U.S. forces when they are occupying the country?
As they aired their grievances to the governor, police chief and a senior Iraqi National Guard officer, armed U.S. troops lining the walls of the room looked on. American diplomats sat in the back and listened, the kind of scene that reinforces Iraqi suspicions that Washington is running the show in their country.
One day earlier, gunmen killed eight Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint near Baquba, whose governor, Abdallah al-Jibouri, said he had survived 14 assassination attempts. The violence prompted him to look for new ways of ending the bloodshed.
He said whoever signs gains amnesty, making them eligible for jobs in a grim town where thousands were left unemployed after Iraqs former U.S. occupation power disbanded the army.
The oath, printed in both Arabic and English, committed signatories not to participate in or support any attacks against Iraqi security forces, the government or U.S.-led troops. It demands they pledge not to support acts of violence or intimidation against voters during the Jan. 30 polls and not to speak against U.S.-led and Iraqi forces or the elections ...
This pledge commits you to not even speak against the Americans. I cannot sign it, said cleric Fouad Attiya, 40. If I call from my mosque for occupation forces to leave my country does that make me a terrorist? Is this the freedom and democracy they are bringing us?
U.S. lowers expectations for once-heralded Iraq vote
Reuters (16th Jan) reports: With fears for a low voter turnout among Sunni Arabs due to a boycott and insurgents intimidation, the [Bush] administration no longer touts the elections as a catalyst to spread democracy across the Arab world.
The insurgency is not going away as a result of this election. In fact, perhaps, the insurgents might become more emboldened, Colin Powell said.
Before the vote, the administration has definitely gone into damage-control mode, Stephen Zunes, a politics professor at the University of San Francisco said.
ACTIONS COMING UP
Candlelit protest outside US Embassy
Thursday 20th January, 5-6pm
Grosvenor Square, central London (nearest tubes: Bond St or Marble Arch).
The Stop the War Coalition and CND are organising a silent candlelit protest outside the US Embassy to mark the day of Bushs inauguration. Bruce Kent, Pat Arrowsmith, Rae Street, David Shayler, George Galloway, Kate Hudson, Lindsey German and others will be attending. There will be one hundred candles each representing one thousand Iraqi civilians killed since the invasion. Wear black if possible.
Students Against the War Teach-In: End the Occupation of Iraq Bring the troops home now
Wednesday 2nd February, 1-7pm
London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London. (Holborn tube).
Organised by Stop the War Coalition, Student CND and the Federation of Student Islamic Societies.
Speakers include: Mrs Ahmad, Anas Al-Tikriti, Chris Bambery, Victoria Brittain, Alex Callinicos, Nusrat Chagtai, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Mark Curtis, Ali Fadhil, George Galloway MP, Rose Gentle, Lindsey German, Peter Gowan, Kate Hudson, Dr Saloum Ismael, Greg Philo, Sami Ramadani, Yvonne Ridley, Steven Rose, Alex Salmond MP, Mark Steel, Dr Azzam Tamimi, Jenny Tonge MP, Haifa Zangana.
Registration begins at 1pm in Room H216 of the LSE. Opening session in Room D502 at 2pm. Entry £3.
For advance registration, call 07815 790 913.
Labour Against the War AGM: Ending the Occupation
Saturday 5th February; 10:30 4.30 pm
University of London Union, Malet Street, London WC1 (nearest Tube Goodge Street)
Chair: Alan Simpson MP. Speakers include: Michael Meacher MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Alice Mahon MP, Tony Benn, Christine Shawcroft (Labour Party NEC), Gerry Doherty (Gen.Sec. TSSA, in a personal capacity), Sami Ramadani (Iraqi exile, writer, teacher), Milan Rai (Voices in the Wilderness), Ewa Jasiewicz (journalist, activist, eyewitness). Other Iraqi eyewitnesses and labour movement speakers invited. Download registration form from: www.labouragainstthewar.org.uk
Mass Die-In in Parliament Square
Tuesday 15th February 2005, 4pm
The Stop the War Coalition has called for a mass die-in in Parliament Square (nearest tube: Westminster) as part of the Anti-war Day of Action on the anniversary of the largest demonstration in UK history. Supported by Muslim Association of Britain, CND and NUS. Download leaflet.
Winning entry from IOF poetry competition
Towards the end of 2004, Iraq Occupation Focus ran a poetry competition on the theme of war and occupation, in association with Red Pepper. the six prize-winning entries, selected by judge Adrian Mitchell, will be published in this newsletter. All winning and commended poems are also available on our website.
Everything I know about war,
I see in Shairahs face as she arrives
and kisses me one two three four five times,
this cheek, then that. Salaam Aleikum. How are you?
Im fine. Wrenched to this winter, widowed after two
decades of invasion, she gets here early
for the food white bread, tomatoes, chilli,
cheese, digestives, supermarket hummus,
or home-made halva, pistachios and spices,
a plate of Burmese noodles. Everything
I know is in the faces of these women
even when they smile, in their generosity,
in places language cannot reach. I see
fragments of their houses under fire
from bombers that are launched in Gloucestershire
above conservatories where people sip Darjeeling
out of willow-patterned china. Everything
I know about war, I know from the silence
after Marie cries Jai pas la force,
Jai pas le courage, when the lawyers letter
says she has no grounds to stay and must prepare
for deportation. Everything I know, I know
from sitting here with bags of baby-clothes,
from the Rwandan teenager whos too shy
to speak, from the corner where Shareem prays
white-lipped in Ramadan for the Home Office
to relent, for a letter or a half-promise.
Everything I know, I know from the survivors,
Our lives are over, its the children now who matter.
No, theres no official war in Yemen, just three guns
for every person, theres no war in Afghanistan,
no war in Algeria, no war in Congo,
but on the battleground of female bodies. No,
theres no war in Iraq, no war in Iran
where Azar has fled the politician-
husband who disabled her, but since gender
is not race, religion, nationality, member-
ship of a particular social group, or a political
opinion, she does not fit the bill.
Together we push war towards the edges,
for two hours drink tea in twenty languages,
distract the kids. But nothing rinses off
the memories Suleikas daughters locked
inside the engine-box because the man
she paid to bring them here insisted that
they had to be silent or die. Every-
thing I know remains when almost every-
one has left and Jedira whos eight
with butterflies face-painted on her cheeks, says
Can I stay, can I stay please and sweep the floor?
For safety and confidentiality, all names have been changed