Archive for the ‘Iraq’ category

American War and Iraqi People

28 October, 2010


The Iraq War in Context

Paul Rogers, October 2010


Internal US military logs on the Iraq War released by Wikileaks on 22 October have raised numerous issues about coalition behaviour, including attacks on civilians, as well as collusion in covering up the abuse and killing of prisoners. The document releases also show that coalition forces kept numerous records of civilian casualties while claiming that “We do not do body counts”. On this issue, a full analysis of the vast number of records will take many months, but extensive work already undertaken by Iraq Body Count – a partner organisation of ORG – shows that the logs contain details of at least 15,000 civilian deaths not previously recorded. Adding the new information to the careful monitoring carried out by IBC since the war started, indicates that around 150,000 violent deaths related to the conflict have been recorded since the war began, with 122,000 of them being civilian.

While the majority of all the civilian deaths resulted from insurgent action or because of the extensive inter-communal conflict that developed after the initial occupation, some tens of thousands stemmed from coalition military action. Furthermore, once Iraq had been occupied by US and other coalition forces, those forces were legally responsible for maintaining order in what was now an occupied territory. This they failed to do.

If lessons are to be learnt from the Iraq War, among the key questions are, why were so many civilians killed by coalition forces, and why were the coalition forces unable to contain the rapidly developing insurgency? There is enough information available to provide answers to these questions, but much of the analysis has to relate to events unfolding right at the start of the war.


Although it is commonly believed that the cause of the problems faced by the Coalition forces in Iraq was a lack of post-war planning, in reality there was a very clear vision of what would happen once the Saddam Hussein regime had been terminated. The occupation was to be run from the Pentagon, rather than the State Department, a Coalition Provisional Authority would be established that was directly responsible to the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and all the old Iraqi government ministries would initially be headed by coalition personnel. By June 2003, three months after the invasion, Paul Bremmer had been appointed Head of the CPA and there was then a clear expectation of how Iraq would develop. This would be on full free market lines, the aim being to have a pro-western administration established in Baghdad that would oversee the privatisation of nationalised industries and the opening up of Iraq to foreign investment with a flat-rate tax system and a minimum of financial regulation.

Iraq would thus develop into a model free market economy that might be followed, in due course, across the region. The Department of Defense also looked to establish four large permanent military bases, ensuring long-term Iraqi security while constraining any of Iran’s regional ambitions. Given the extent of the Persian Gulf oil reserves – over 60% of world totals – this would be particularly valuable in relation to long-term US security interests. All of these ambitions were predicated on an easy overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime and on the presumption that such radical change would be widely welcomed by the Iraqis.

It is also essential to remember that regime termination in Iraq was seen within the US military as a direct response to 9/11 . In his January 2002 State of the Union address President George W Bush had extended the concept of the war on terror against al-Qaida to encompass an “axis of evil” of states supporting terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction, with Iraq the most immediate threat. The war started within 18 months of 9/11, and the US Army and Marines entering Iraq saw it entirely in this context. To them, any opposition to what they saw as the fully justified response to the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon was not viewed as resistance to occupation but as terrorism.


Right from the start of the war on 20 March 2003, these presumptions were turned on their head. By the time the US forces had occupied Baghdad, just three weeks later, military units right across southern Iraq were facing serious opposition from large numbers of irregular Iraqi forces. The first suicide bomb attack on a US unit happened in the second week of the war, and so great was the threat to the crucial supply lines through from Kuwait to Baghdad that the equivalent of three Army brigades were diverted to protect the supply lines. This was approximately 30% of all the available combat troops and represented a completely different dynamic to that anticipated by the planners.

Almost from the start, there were incidents of US forces facing paramilitary attacks and responding with heavy use of firepower, resulting in civilian deaths and injuries. This was little reported at the time, in the near-euphoria of an apparently easy dismantling of the regime. However, the practice of embedding journalists with military units did mean that some accounts surfaced at a very early stage, even if largely ignored by analysts at the time. In one incident, within a few hours of a Marines advance into Baghdad, the International Herald Tribune published one example:

Caught in the crossfire, according to a chilling account by an Associated Press reporter, were a number of pedestrians, including an old man with a cane, looking confused. When he failed to heed three warning shots by the Marines, they killed him. A red van and an orange-and-white taxi were also riddled with bullets after they failed to heed warning shots.

As the war progressed over the next year, the US Army and Marines Corps found themselves facing a very heavily embedded insurgency fighting in a largely urban environment. This was almost entirely unexpected and was being faced by forces primarily trained for conventional combat rather than urban counter-insurgency.

Moreover, the attitude of the US forces was affected by the nature of the casualties. In conventional warfare during the Vietnam era, a very large proportion of seriously injured troops died on the battlefield. For every soldier killed, three might survive with serious injuries. By the time of the Iraq War, huge improvements in battlefield medicine, rapid casualty evacuation and body armour meant that far more seriously injured troops survived. They often did so, though, with appalling injuries, especially to the face, throat and groin, and with the loss of limbs. Young soldiers and Marines therefore saw many of their comrades affected in this way, and the psychological impact was great.

Moreover, they saw the people inflicting these deaths and terrible injuries as terrorists opposing an entirely justified operation by a country that had suffered a massive attack on its own civilians. As a consequence, and as the war developed during 2003 and 2004, it became more and more common for US forces to rely heavily on one of their few military advantages over the insurgents – their overwhelming firepower whether delivered by artillery, multiple rocket launchers, helicopter gun-ships or strike aircraft.

Some scattered evidence of this trend emerged slowly, usually through reports from embedded journalists, but the full impact was scarcely recognised in the United States or Western Europe. One incident which illustrates the nature of the conflict was reported on 15 April 2004 by a foreign correspondent with the Washington Post, Pamela Constable. She was attached to a Marines unit operating in the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad. The city was becoming a centre of the insurgency and on one occasion a supply convoy was edging towards a Marines post on the edge of the US-controlled area of the city when it was attacked, some of the vehicles becoming isolated within a built-up area. A large rescue column was organised, with tanks and strike aircraft in support, and this fought a three-hour battle with insurgents before the Marines in the original convoy could withdraw safely, albeit with some injuries.

At least 20 insurgents were reported killed when the conflict finally ended at dusk but the rescue operation was seen as a success. A local US commander was quoted in the Washington Post article:

“This is a story about heroes. It shows the tenacity of the Marines and their fierce loyalty to each other. They were absolutely unwilling to leave their brother Marines behind.”

The level of resistance experienced by the Marine supply convoy was far greater than expected and what then happened is highly significant. To quote the Washington Post again:

“Just before dawn, Wednesday… AC-130 Spectre gun-ships launched a devastating punitive raid over a six-block area around where the convoy was attacked, firing dozens of artillery shells that shook the city and lit up the sky. Marine officials said the area was virtually destroyed and that no further insurgent activity has been seen there.”

The AC-130 is a development of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules which has side-mounted machine guns and a powerful 105mm howitzer. The plane circles a target area firing the weapons with considerable accuracy at a designated target area. The howitzer, in particular, has a devastating effect, capable of firing 200 high explosive shells in a matter of minutes. The attack on the Fallujah neighbourhood, several hours after the ambush, was the equivalent of destroying a small town and was, as the Post reported, a punitive raid. The human impact on that part of the city, especially on the families living there, was not reported.

This incident in Fallujah was one of the few that came to light at the time, another being an incident near the city of Baquba later in 2004. There, a US Army unit was engaged in a bitter fire-fight with insurgents, eventually overcoming opposition but only with great difficulty. The angered soldiers killed some insurgents and then strapped their bodies to the bonnets of the jeeps, like hunting trophies, and paraded them through the city, an embedded journalist reporting on the sullen crowd that witnessed this. To the soldiers this was an action that spoke of their deep frustration at this protracted opposition from men regarded as terrorists. For the local people it added further to their opposition to occupation.

The Fallujah and Baquba incidents are two of the few examples reported at the time but many more have since been identified, some of them in the documents just released. They confirm an overall picture of the sheer anger and bitterness experienced by so many American military units, faced with an insurgency that was entirely unexpected and for which they were largely untrained.


Seeking to understand the behaviour of the coalition forces – especially the troops on the ground – is in no way an attempt to justify it. Indeed many of the actions may well amount to war crimes. What it does try to do, though, is to put it in context. What happened in Fallujah and Baquba, and what was repeated many times across Iraq, was a consequence of the original decision to go to war. This, in turn, was a core part of the Bush administration’s determination to extend the conflict against al-Qaida to a much wider conflict against an axis of evil.

This was a political decision taken by those at the core of the Bush administration and it is there that responsibility finally lies. The recent revelations confirm in some detail what was already widely suspected and lend further support to the case for a fundamental reappraisal of the entire war. More generally, and in relation to civilian casualties, they offer support for a movement within significant elements of international civil society that is beginning to attract attention. This is based on the argument that any party that embarks on a war should report in detail on the people it kills and injuries and on the circumstances of those actions. It may take years for such an apparently straightforward task to be widely accepted but, if it eventually is, then a much more accurate understanding of the true costs of war might become possible.


Paul Rogers is Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford and Global Security Consultant to Oxford Research Group (ORG). His international security monthly briefings are available from the ORG website at, where visitors can sign-up to receive them via email each month.



John Pilger on Wars and ‘Wars of Perception’

12 July, 2010

“The Charge of the Media Brigade”

By John Pilger

ON LINE Opinion: Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate

First published in New Statesman on 8 July 2010.

The TV anchorwoman was conducting a split screen interview with a journalist who had volunteered to be a witness at the first execution of a man on death row in Utah for 25 years. “He had a choice,” said the journalist, “lethal injection or firing squad”. “Wow!” said the anchorwoman. Cue a blizzard of commercials for fast food, teeth whitener, stomach stapling, the new Cadillac. This was followed by the war in Afghanistan presented by a correspondent sweating in a flak jacket. “Hey, it’s hot,” he said on the split screen. “Take care,” said the anchorwoman. “Coming up” was a reality show in which the camera watched a man serving solitary confinement in a prison’s “hell hole”.

The next morning I arrived at the Pentagon for an interview with one of President Obama’s senior war-making officials. There was a long walk along shiny corridors hung with pictures of generals and admirals festooned in ribbons. The interview room was purpose-built. It was blue and arctic cold, and windowless and featureless except for a flag and two chairs: props to create the illusion of a place of authority. The last time I was in a room like this in the Pentagon a colonel called Hum stopped my interview with another war-making official when I asked why so many innocent civilians were being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then it was in the thousands; now it is more than a million. “Stop tape!” he ordered.

This time there was no Colonel Hum, merely a polite dismissal of soldiers’ testimony that it was a “common occurrence” that troops were ordered to “kill every mother fucker”. The Pentagon, says the Associated Press, spends $4.7 billion on public relations: that is, winning the hearts and minds not of recalcitrant Afghan tribesmen but of Americans. This is known as “information dominance” and PR people are “information warriors”.

American imperial power flows through a media culture to which the word imperial is anathema. To broach it is heresy. Colonial campaigns are really “wars of perception”, wrote the present commander, General David Petraeus, in which the media popularises the terms and conditions. “Narrative” is the accredited word because it is post-modern and bereft of context and truth. The narrative of Iraq is that the war is won, and the narrative of Afghanistan is that it is a “good war”. That neither is true is beside the point. They promote a “grand narrative” of a constant threat and the need for permanent war. “We are living in a world of cascading and intertwined threats,” wrote the celebrated New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, “that have the potential to turn our country upside down at any moment”.

Friedman supports an attack on Iran, whose independence is intolerable. This is the psychopathic vanity of great power which Martin Luther King described as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”. He was then shot dead.

The psychopathic is applauded across popular, corporate culture, from the TV death watch of a man choosing a firing squad over lethal injection to the Oscar winning Hurt Locker and a new acclaimed war documentary Restrepo. Directors of both films deny and dignify the violence of invasion as “apolitical”. And yet behind the cartoon façade is serious purpose. The US is engaged militarily in 75 countries. There are some 900 US military bases across the world, many at the gateways to the sources of fossil fuels.

But there is a problem. Most Americans are opposed to these wars and to the billions of dollars spent on them. That their brainwashing so often fails is America’s greatest virtue. This is frequently due to courageous mavericks, especially those who emerge from the centrifuge of power. In 1971, military analyst Daniel Ellsberg leaked documents known as the Pentagon Papers which put the lie to almost everything two presidents had claimed about Vietnam. Many of these insiders are not even renegades. I have a section in my address book filled with the names of former officers of the CIA, who have spoken out. They have no equivalent in Britain.

In 1993, C. Philip Liechty, the CIA operations officer in Jakarta at the time of Indonesia’s murderous invasion of East Timor, described to me how President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had given the dictator Suharto “a green light” and secretly supplied the arms and logistics he needed. As the first reports of massacres arrived at his desk, he began to turn. “It was wrong,” he said. “I felt badly.”

Melvin Goodman is now a scholar at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. He was in the CIA more than 40 years and rose to be a senior Soviet analyst. When we met the other day, he described the conduct of the cold war as a series of gross exaggerations of Soviet “aggressiveness” that wilfully ignored the intelligence that the Soviets were committed to avoid nuclear war at all costs. Declassified official files on both sides of the Atlantic support this view. “What mattered to the hardliners in Washington,” he said, “was how a perceived threat could be exploited”. The present secretary of defence, Robert Gates, as deputy director of the CIA in the 1980s, had constantly hyped the “Soviet menace” and is, says Goodman, doing the same today “on Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran”.

Little has changed. In America, in 1939, W.H. Auden wrote:

As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives […]
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong

The ‘Military-Academic Complex’ and US Government Policy

29 June, 2010

Michael Flynn, “The Surge of Ideas” (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, June 24, 2010)

Michael Flynn from the Institute for Policy Studies writes this week about the influence of the ‘military-academic complex’, and how key American military officers have used independent think tanks to influence the US government’s policies on Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Flynn, “In recent years there has been a tendency for like-minded think tanks and military officers to jointly pursue policy objectives, sometimes in direct conflict with the stated preferences of the president and his advisers. According to some observers, this trend raises questions about the appropriate role of both military officers, who are part of a chain of command, and think tanks, which present themselves as ‘non-partisan’ appraisers of public policy”.

Flynn relates how earlier this year General David Petraeus, who will now head American operations in Afghanistan in place of General Stanley McChrystal, spoke about US involvement in the Middle East at an event in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Institute for the Study of War. At the event Petraeus praised the think tank for their contribution to a report entitled ‘Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq’, which he referred to as a “study and analysis that did indeed have a strategic impact unlike that of any other study or analysis that I can think of”. This report was central to building public support for America’s ‘surge’ of troops into Iraq in 2007, which increased the US military presence by 30,000 soldiers. Petraeus said the think tank had provided, “the rationale for the additional forces that were required [and] described how they might be used in Iraq … I think it played a very significant role in helping to shape the intellectual concepts and indeed, in helping to shape the ultimate policy decision that was made”.

While it is no surprise that the private academic world of think tanks can have a significant impact lobbying the government for certain policies, it may be of more concern that the US military plays an active role in assisting them. Brian Katulis from the Center for American Progress points out that as the commander in Iraq, Petraeus supported the work of journalists like Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack with military-sponsored tours of the nation, hand-picking them because he knew they favoured the ‘surge’ policy. By giving these analysts unrivalled access to sites and personnel Petraeus turned them into media ‘experts’, in comparison to whom the critics of the surge policy appeared to be outsiders who could be ignored. As Foreign Policy blogger Laura Rozen wrote last year, Petraeus’ promotion of the Iraq surge was part of “the Petraeus team’s famous counterinsurgency doctrine: In the campaign to win hearts and minds, don’t forget the home front”.

The recently-removed Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed U.S. forces in Afghanistan until the recent controversy surrounding an article in Rolling Stone magazine, also waged a public relations campaign against the new Obama administration. During 2009 McChrystal manoeuvred to promote his preferred counter-insurgency plan despite resistance from President Obama, using a ‘strategic assessment’ team including: the Kagans from the Institute for the Study of War, Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institution. Flynn writes that “these civilian experts … began appearing on major media outlets promoting ideas largely in line with General McChrystal’s, defending his decision to publicly contradict the administration in a speech, or pushing an optimistic view of the Afghan situation”. They also ran a series of public events at which Petraeus and other high-ranking military officials could present their perspectives on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These ‘objective experts’ and ‘non-partisan forums’ were all part of a campaign by the military to influence public discussion, and ultimately put additional pressure on the country’s elected leadership to give-in to military demands.

Also part of this military-academic complex is the practice of policy groups recruiting retired officers to their advisory boards, many of whom simultaneously take up defence industry jobs (completing the military-industrial-academic complex triangle). “As the New York Times reported in 2008, some of these retired officers—like Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, a CSP advisor, and Gen. Barry McCaffery, a former board member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq—have developed reputations as ‘impartial’ experts, appearing on TV news programs while surreptitiously receiving talking points from the Pentagon”. As the Democratic Party have always struggled to be taken seriously on national security issues, some say that many Democrats have over-compensated by taking non-critical and even hawkish positions in regards to the military, thus even lessening the amount of government constraint over the military hierarchy.

While most would agree that a government should listen to what its military has to say, two points that should be clear are that: in the end the elected, civilian government is who should make the final decisions; and the military should not be able to collude with independent lobbyists in the public arena to deceptively influence discussions on government policy, and to even undermine a government’s electoral support. As there are also rumours that General Petraeus may be planning to run for the US presidency in the not too distant future, the degree to which his actions and decisions are already part of a long election campaign must be considered. The United States rails against regimes overseas in which the military is a dominant political force – perhaps this issue also requires greater attention at home.

America’s War Costs Hit $1 Trillion

31 May, 2010

A statement on America’s wars by the Congresswoman for Illinois, Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

“What Have we Bought for $1 Trillion?”

28 May 2010

Rep. Jan Schakowsky

Congresswoman from Illinois

As of 10:06 on Sunday, May 30th, we will have spent $1 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A trillion dollars is a baffling amount of money. If you write it out, use twelve zeros. Even after serving in Congress for over a decade, I, like most Americans, still have a hard time wrapping my head around sums like this.

This month, we mark the seventh anniversary of President Bush’s declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq, yet five American soldiers have been killed there in May alone. Iraqis went to the polls nearly three months ago, but the political system remains so fractured that no party has been able to piece together a coalition. There are some indications that sectarian violence is again on the rise.

The only clear winner of the Iraq war is Iran. Their mortal enemy, Saddam Hussein, was taken out and fellow Shiites are in charge. Iran has been emboldened to the point of threatening the stability of the region and the world with its growing nuclear capability.

And then there’s Afghanistan, which, after nearly a decade of war, represents the longest continuous U.S. military engagement ever. Even the non-partisan Congressional Research Service recently declared the situation in Afghanistan as a “deteriorating security situation and no comprehensive political outcome yet in sight.” And the U.S. military just suffered its 1,000th casualty in Afghanistan on Friday.

So the real question is: What have we bought for $1 trillion? Are we safer? As our troops and treasure are still locked down in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorists are training, recruiting and organizing in Somalia, Yemen and dozens of other places around the globe. While it appears that we have made significant progress in weakening Al Qaeda’s network, we have increasing concerns about homegrown terrorists.

Isn’t it time to invest in a different strategy? I have been doing a lot of thinking about the nexus between the low status of women and the presence of instability, violence and terrorism. It is simply a fact that the countries in which women are least empowered are the most violent. Could it be that policy-makers and defense experts have overlooked a tool that is staring us right in the face? It’s in the eyes of women — sometimes masked by a burqa, sometimes scarred with acid, sometimes tear stained from the grief of losing a husband or child to war. It’s these women who are often fiercely determined to stop the killing and provide a secure environment for their families. Does it even make sense for half of the human race to play only a minor role in countries now plagued by war and violence?

The data indisputably prove the case that when investments are made in women, communities are more stable, healthier, and less violent. The principle tools, which just happen to be far less expensive than the weapons and manpower of war, are the education of girls and economic empowerment of women.

We already have some positive experience that we can build upon. Where the U.S. military and our NATO allies have made a conscious effort to reach out to local women in a culturally sensitive way, they have seen the benefits of utilizing the unique abilities of these women. A Canadian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar met regularly with local women leaders who notified NATO of local corruption and security threats and also conveyed their priorities for improving life in their communities. The U.S. marines have found that using Female Engagement Teams to establish dialogue and collaboration with Afghan women has helped to build rapport between Americans and Afghans, as well as providing critical intelligence that might otherwise have been missed.

On Sunday we hit the $1 trillion mark, but on Memorial Day we will honor all those men and women who gave their lives to fight for this country. This includes the over 5,000 men and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Even in difficult economic times, this is by far the most devastating cost of all: the lives we have lost in these two conflicts.

This weekend, I hope all Americans will take the opportunity to consider the cost of ongoing war. We simply cannot afford to continue pouring American blood and treasure into conflicts that will never be solved by a total dependence on military force. We should look to the women to provide the cost-effective, powerful force for peace.

Mercenary Leader’s Speech Revealed

5 May, 2010

“Secret Erik Prince Tape Exposed”

Jeremy Scahill

May 3, 2010

Erik Prince, the reclusive owner of the Blackwater empire, rarely gives public speeches and when he does he attempts to ban journalists from attending and forbids recording or videotaping of his remarks. On May 5, that is exactly what Prince is trying to do when he speaks at DeVos Fieldhouse as the keynote speaker for the “Tulip Time Festival” in his hometown of Holland, Michigan. He told the event’s organizers no news reporting could be done on his speech and they consented to the ban. Journalists and media associations in Michigan are protesting this attempt to bar reporting on his remarks.

Despite Prince’s attempts to shield his speeches from public scrutiny, The Nation magazine has obtained an audio recording of a recent, private speech delivered by Prince to a friendly audience. The speech, which Prince attempted to keep from public consumption, provides a stunning glimpse into his views and future plans and reveals details of previously undisclosed activities of Blackwater. The people of the United States have a right to media coverage of events featuring the owner of a company that generates 90% of its revenue from the United States government.

In the speech, Prince proposed that the US government deploy armed private contractors to fight “terrorists” in Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia, specifically to target Iranian influence. He expressed disdain for the Geneva Convention and described Blackwater’s secretive operations at four Forward Operating Bases he controls in Afghanistan. He called those fighting the US in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan “barbarians” who “crawled out of the sewer.” Prince also revealed details of a July 2009 operation he claims Blackwater forces coordinated in Afghanistan to take down a narcotrafficking facility, saying that Blackwater “call[ed] in multiple air strikes,” blowing up the facility. Prince boasted that his forces had carried out the “largest hashish bust in counter-narcotics history.” He characterized the work of some NATO countries’ forces in Afghanistan as ineffectual, suggesting that some coalition nations “should just pack it in and go home.” Prince spoke of Blackwater working in Pakistan, which appears to contradict the official, public Blackwater and US government line that Blackwater is not in Pakistan.

Prince also claimed that a Blackwater operative took down the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W Bush in Baghdad and criticized the Secret Service for being “flat-footed.” He bragged that Blackwater forces “beat the Louisiana National Guard to the scene” during Katrina and claimed that lawsuits, “tens of millions of dollars in lawyer bills” and political attacks prevented him from deploying a humanitarian ship that could have responded to the earthquake in Haiti or the tsunami that hit Indonesia.

Several times during the speech, Prince appeared to demean Afghans his company is training in Afghanistan, saying Blackwater had to teach them “Intro to Toilet Use” and to do jumping jacks. At the same time, he bragged that US generals told him the Afghans Blackwater trains “are the most effective fighting force in Afghanistan.” Prince also revealed that he is writing a book, scheduled to be released this fall.

The speech was delivered January 14 at the University of Michigan in front of an audience of entrepreneurs, ROTC commanders and cadets, businesspeople and military veterans. The speech was titled “Overcoming Adversity: Leadership at the Tip of the Spear” and was sponsored by the Young Presidents’ Association (YPO), a business networking association primarily made up of corporate executives. “Ripped from the headlines and described by Vanity Fair magazine, as a Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier and Spy, Erik Prince brings all that and more to our exclusive YPO speaking engagement,” read the event’s program, also obtained by The Nation. It proclaimed that Prince’s speech was an “amazing don’t miss opportunity from a man who has ‘been there and done that’ with a group of Cadets and Midshipmen who are months away from serving on the ‘tip of the spear.'” Here are some of the highlights from Erik Prince’s speech:

Read the whole article here at The Nation:

War: Not so bad after all – Report

8 February, 2010

“Human Security Report Project: The Shrinking Costs of War”

A new study by the Canadian ‘Human Security Report’, from the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University, claims that death rates in modern armed conflicts is actually falling. Their new paper, ‘The Shrinking Costs of War’, highlights that wartime mortality from disease and malnutrition, as well as war-inflicted injuries, has been drastically reduced by a number of factors.

Human Security Report argues that in poor countries affected by war, violent deaths are only a small percentage of the total number of conflict-related fatalities, with most deaths caused by war-exacerbated disease and malnutrition. Over the last four decades global health interventions during peacetime have been highly effective at reducing the factors that sustain disease; and dramatic increases have occurred in the level and effectiveness of humanitarian assistance during conflicts. ‘Indirect deaths’ in conflicts have attracted much more attention in recent years, and in areas like Darfur and the Congo NGOs have estimated massive death tolls from war-created conditions. Part of the ‘Shrinking Costs’ report is a challenge to these estimates, with claims that their methodology results in death tolls up to 3 times too large (though in the case of the Congo their revised death toll is still almost 2 million people).

The most counterintuitive finding of the report is that mortality rates actually go down during war! The Human Security Report researchers examined under-five mortality rates in 18 sub-Saharan African nations between 1970 and 2007, finding that statistically, child mortality declined during warfare in 80 percent of the countries studied. These results are mirrored by a 2008 World Bank study claiming that both adult and infant mortality rates decline during wartime.

How can this be the case? Unfortunately, this has to do with the often ‘fire-fighting’- style emergency focus of health interventions. Much of the improvement in global child mortality has resulted from programmes like immunisation against disease, and immunisations by international agencies often increase dramatically once a war has broken out. In the Congo, immunisation for diseases like measles, diphtheria and tetanus stood at around 20 percent at the beginning of the war in 1998, and had increased to almost 80 percent by 2007. Human Security Report Project Director, Professor Andrew Mack, says that “There has been a more than three-fold increase in the level of humanitarian assistance per displaced person since the end of the Cold War. It has become more effective and saved countless lives”. Immunisation in peacetime also leads to dramatically reduced risks of death during conflict.

But, The Shrinking Costs of War report argues that the most important factor in declining wartime mortality has been the changing nature of warfare, from wars fought with mass armies to the more ‘low-intensity insurgencies’ fought by lightly-armed rebel groups. While these rebels are often known for savage attacks against civilians, the conflicts kill relatively few people. This conflict is also more localised, with a recent study finding that on average only about 10 percent of a country-at-war is affected by serious violence.

So, all-in-all, wars in the 21st Century cause 90 percent-fewer violent deaths than the average war in the 1950s, and indirect war deaths have declined even more due to better health interventions. “No one, of course, is suggesting that war is good for people’s health,” says Professor Mack, “But the reality is that the death toll in most of today’s wars is too small to reverse the steady decline in peacetime mortality that developing countries have been experiencing for more than thirty years”.

I have no personal insight into the methodology of this study, and so will look out with interest to see whether the results are challenged. Regardless of whether they are correct, the death tolls from modern conflicts still number in the many millions, including both combatants and civilians. Recent reports have also shown correlations between lack of development and warfare, and pressure on resources and warfare. Of course, for the most-developed countries, nuclear weapons and high-tech armies have catastrophically increased the costs (and thus lowered the frequency) of wars against each other; while technology and public opinion has turned wars like Afghanistan into a series of raids and targeted assassinations, rather than wars of occupation. This all allows the prediction that much of the developing world is still most vulnerable to internal and inter-state conflict, and that this conflict is likely to increase if environmental exhaustion (either due to climate change, or other processes such as deforestation and desertification, pollution of water sources, and over-fishing and hunting) continues. The glimmer of hope from this study is perhaps that if health standards are increasing, despite war, then the knock-on effects of health – more productive and better-educated populations – may help global progress towards more prosperous and stable societies.

Kooky Christian Stories: ‘Firearms of Christ’; ‘Solar-Powered Bibles for Haiti’.

19 January, 2010

“U.S. Military Weapons Inscribed With Secret ‘Jesus’ Bible Codes”

ABC News America reports this week that telescopic sights for high-powered US Army rifles are imprinted with coded references to New Testament Bible passages. These sights are being used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and for the training of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers. The Michigan-based company Trijicon, which is contracted to provide up to 800,000 sights to the US Marine Corps, confirmed that it adds the biblical codes to the sights sold to the U.S. military and that they “have always been there”. Trijicon claims there is nothing wrong or illegal with the practice, and that those opposing the inscriptions are “not Christian”.

The religious citations include references like “2COR4:6” (Second Corinthians 4:6 of the New Testament), which reads: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. JN8:12 (John 8:12) reads: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”. And other imprints make references to the books of Revelation, Matthew and John.

U.S. military rules prohibit the proselytizing of any religion in Iraq or Afghanistan, mindful of potential criticisms that America is on a religious ‘Crusade’, and say they were unaware of the markings. They are now discussing what steps to take. Meanwhile, representatives of the ‘Military Religious Freedom Foundation’, which aims to “preserve the separation of church and state in the military”, says that Trijicon’s campaign “violates the Constitution, it violates a number of federal laws”. They also claim that US officers have called the weapons “spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ”, while addressing troops.

Records show that Trijicon had more than $100 million in government contracts in 2008, and won a new $33 million Pentagon contract in 2009. This demonstrates the vast resources that are at the disposal of far-right-wing evangelical forces in the United States, and their continuing power within the American government and military; as well as pointing towards their willingness to violate the separation of church and state unapologetically, and the sometimes bizarre ways in which they seek to spread their influence.

“Solar-powered Bibles sent to Haiti”

And while international aid agencies are focusing on bringing life-sustaining materials to the victims of Haiti’s earthquake, US evangelicals are sending Bibles: solar-powered Bibles… Yes, solar-powered broadcasting Bibles, that are programmed to play the scriptures out-loud in Haitian Creole.

The ‘Faith Comes By Hearing’ organisation has already sent 600 of the devices to Haiti saying that the high-tech Bible, which they call the ‘Proclaimer’, delivers “digital quality” audio for “poor and illiterate people”. Apparently, the audio-Bible will bring the, “hope and comfort that comes from knowing God has not forgotten them through this tragedy”.

One can judge for themselves whether this is the best usage of resources to care for the victims of the natural disaster/long-running socio-economic calamity in Haiti.