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Apr 01, 2008

Iraq Civil War - #5: And, Not To Mention The Green Zone



Even for the shortest of trips within the secured zone, such as those to meet with Iraqi members of parliament, the American security agents order armored personnel carriers. Each trip becomes a small convoy, with one vehicle driving ahead and another following behind as "back-up." The entire convoy stops whenever there is an alarm. Passengers who try to get out are immediately pulled back into the vehicle.

Errant projectiles that land outside the restricted area, in the Red Zone, offer the only evidence of where the missiles strike and how much damage they cause. By late Friday evening, the Shiite attacks had already claimed the lives of close to 60 Iraqis. But when it comes to losses in the Green Zone, detailed information is rarely provided. So far the deaths of only two US citizens have been confirmed. Nevertheless, the heavy clouds of smoke above Baghdad's high-security tract suggest that there must have been more direct hits. It's as if the insurgents wanted to transform the district into a black zone.

-- Dieter Bednarz, Spiegel

I try to document what I see. But there is less to see. First the hospitals and morgues became off limits for journalists, then the car bomb scenes, next the wounded Americans, then the Iraqi detainees, then memorials for the U.S. dead, U.S. equipment damaged in battle. The visual evidence of war shrinks.

-- Photographer Michael Kamber, in Iraq for The New York Times

I find it telling that the bombardment of the Green Zone has not only drawn little media attention during the recent siege, but has mostly been depicted from long distance, typically very long distance.  You can make an argument that the scene, given the large plumes of smoke, could be best represented from miles away.  I'm sure the military would insist that a closer view threatened security.

On the other hand, could you imagine the freakout here at home if Western photojournalists were actually allowed to shoot inside and had even indirectly documented the deaths of the American civilians that took place there in the past few days?

Baghdad's Green Zone Under Attack (Spiegel)
Inside the Green Zone  (historical piece from TIME)
Missing ‘the Big Story,’ but Not the Story (Michael Kamber/NYT - Baghdad Bureau blog)

The BAG's Iraq Civil War posts in one place

(image 1:  Randy Fabi/Reuters. U.S. embassy compound/Green Zone. Baghdad. March 27, 2008. image 2 Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud/Reuters. Same. March 23, 2008. via Yahoo News)


Springtime and plumes of smoke dot the landscape like dandelion blooms, our wind-sown harvest. Why is the smoke so black? They're not burning our oil are they? They better not — that stuff is valuable.

~ oil-filled trenches burning around Baghdad in 2003 ?

I'd like to see the scene in Google Earth. Black smoke drifting with the winds.

These pictures above have no sense of place or time - not to mention victim or perpetrator identification.

There's nothing to see.

ref : “The visual evidence of war shrinks.

a War Photographer often begins his journey by seeking to answer the question, “Why We Fight”. To do this she explores the distinction between "who they are, that we are fighting," and "who we are ~ that we would fight them." The successful ‘war photograph’ from either combatant's POV almost always carries with it this conceit : that there exists a distinction between US and THEM, implicit being a struggle between GOOD and EVIL causes.

otoh, imho the successful ‘war photographer’ discovers that warfare from any POV reveals an unreasonable madness that causes only a distinction between Survivors and Casualties.

The interesting question about IRAQ is not "Why We Fight" but, "Why Are We Not Fighting?"

the vast majority of American KIA+WIA casualties remain the result of being blown up by booby-traps, or indirect-fire by ambush attack; the vast majority of American survivors are hunkered-down in defensive, large and mini- GreenZones : Where is Warfare, there? And if The Mission is not ‘to occupy’, then who, besides ourselves are we succeeding in defending? We do not even count their KIA+WIA, and MIA displaced persons ~ as if to do so would be for us to concede that real ‘Warfare’ may exist for them, if not for us, Over There.

Americans are told that their troops, Over There are defending them, Over Here : the entire premise of the ‘War On Terror’ has so far been manifested as this ‘Defense Against Terror’, realized as a suspension of our Civil Rights Over Here, and their Law and Order, Over There.

i submit, Mr. Kamber, the radical notion that The visual evidence of war shrinks, is truth.

. . .that this War = perpetual defense is as ephemeral and contrived as any WAR = PEACE Orwellian construct. imho, the purpose of ‘IRAQ’ is found in the War Powers Act realpolitik: the enabling of a Unitary Executive; the sustaining of a War Economy. That there is no real Warfaire, Over There, is why we must fight against this ‘new kind of War’ on US, Over Here.

good stuff, MG
it got me thinking about what a creative shutter bug, not having to grub the table,
might do about this so called war on terror.

'Over Here': she might focus her camera on;

~ corporations recording private conversations
~ militarizing of the police, growing the swat squads
~ privatizing of armies and intelligence gathering
~ mandating free speech zones and ethnic profiling
~ proliferating of, no fly lists, library searching, data collecting
~ photographing planes and the places of extraordinary renditions
~ documenting the blanked out lines in tracts which defined our rights prior to 911
~ this is my short list

M. Gonzo writes:

"a War Photographer often begins his journey by seeking to answer the question, “Why We Fight”." (sic)

"Often"? Gee, do they really? And how many war photographers have you talked to while they were on the job about what they do and think while they are on the job?

The reason I have trouble with your setup, M. Gonzo, is I have some small amount of experience in photographing human misery. Now, while I have never photographed your actual, kill-anything-that-moves rootin' tootin' war, I did work as a photojournalist for major national news outlets for many years and covered a few riots along the way, including the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the riots in Chicago and Watts, etc., and I never once asked that question of myself, even hypothetically.

I did think along the lines of, Geez, that's a lot of destruction, and that guy looks pretty f**ked up, let's see if I can get it in the frame, expose correctly and in focus, I hope there's still film in the camera and don't forget to duck.

I hate to break it to you, M. Gonzo, but most news photographers I know are realists. It's part of the job description. We also know that's there's nothing but POV. That's why the viewfinder is called a 'frame' and why the US photographers in Iraq are 'embedded.'

We know "why we fight": some shitbrained politician somewhere made another idiotic decision that had the crap hitting the proverbial fan assembly. They sent in the Marines because most politicians could care less about dead people, unless they're in a tight district and the dead Marine might have a living, breathing mother who might possibly vote against him, or her.

A good photographer - unless he's a propagandist or a psychopath - doesn't make distinctions between "us" and "them"; we don't photograph philosophy, we photograph people at their most ignorant and stupid moments, which is at the same time their greatest depths of tragedy, and we know it.

Do us all a favor next time and skip the dimestore Dostoevsky; you're in way over your head.

And get yourself a Chicago Manual of Style. Please.

ouch. well... THAT hurt :-(

ref : “I have some small amount of experience in photographing human misery.

to be sure, sir ~ you are as well adept at creating misery, where before your arrival it did not exist.

MG, :-) days are here again, for if you ~

'stay where your AT, i'll come where your TO'

- extracted from a manual of Nova Scotia speak.

Unmentioned by our corporate US media, there is nevertheless a rumor that our Baghdad embassy personnel were all given orders to evacuate and relocate somewhere outside the Green Zone. Anyone able to confirm this?

crossref : “TomGram: 12 Reasons to Get Out of Iraq

Mr. Engelhardt begins his essay by posing to the reader this rhetorical question: “Can there be any question that, since the invasion of 2003, Iraq has been unraveling? And while it is obvious, to friend and foe alike that the country of ‘IRAQ’ has descended into the hellish chaos of an ‘Iraq-not’ battleground terroir since the American inavasion and occupation ~ the author fails, imho to provide us with any coherent rationale for and/or means to this end: Get Out of Iraq.

...nor, imho does Mr. Engelhardt for that matter make any case for the Americans to actually begin to occupy fully and responsibly, and i daresay, un-ashamedly ~ this place (for in truth the Americans "occupy" only their isolated, surrounded little GreenZone lilly pads; and are as much "War Tourists", flâneur spectators: If not impotent, then largely irrelevant, save nuisance and humiliation, to the lives of most Iraqis).

American Occupation officials and military officers in IRAQ seldom ‘lead’ any meaningful process of ‘change’ themselves ~ The Mission appears for all intents and purposes to be to sustain themselves in this meaningless expression of "an American presence" ~ the purpose for doing so remains ‘indecipherable’ insofar as any rational foreign policy or military purpose: Over There.

For all their professional capabilities, our troops are almost always a step behind; ie., a "Quick Reaction Force"; or worse, we are simply "hunkered down" prisoners within the walls of our own cultural reflection narcissus in this foreign place ~ living not "in IRAQ", but in these peculiar GreenZone artifacts, Potemkin Village visions of suburban-like Americana bases; fighting (who? = the Iraqis, with whom we make no effort to either govern well, or live among) only from a defensive posture, with the conceit implicit that: "it is we, the American forces, who are the perpetual victims of all these violent forces wholly beyond our control."

iow, Mr. Engelhardt does not ask, or answer, as the director Frank Capra did in his classic WWII film "Why We Fight", what is in my opinion the more relevant question for historians: “Why Are We Not Fighting? or even ‘occupying IRAQ’, responsibly ...where, i suggest any exploration thereof one finds the most compelling reasons for the USA to end its expenditure of $12 billion USD / month and 1,000 KIA + 10,000 WIA / year ritual sacrifice.

Because, if there is no rational policy or military purpose found: Over There, in IRAQ ~ then we (and Mr. Engelhardt) should be instead looking Over Here, in America ~ for answers. fwiw, it appears to this writer that ‘IRAQ’ provides, not useful military bases ~ but a useful legal basis for War Powers apparent ~ i suggest for the political vision of "a new kind of Government" Unitary Executive, rather than "a new kind of War"; and as well the wholly economic agenda, albeit an immoral rationale ~ to sustain the military-industrial cause célèbre of a War Economy.

A majority of the American electorate decided, by a margin of 3:2, two years ago: (1) that they did not want to live under "a new kind of government", and (2) that they find no ‘pursuit of happiness’ agenda for them apparent in their participation in an old, coldwar-like "war economy". And THAT, the will of the American people, Over Here ~ is the only reason necessary and sufficient for our political and military leaders to end the anguish of our own, post-9/11 trauma expression of self-destructive madness, Over There.

crossref : “the Pentagon said that the Iraqi Army needed to be 390,000 strong. Now it says Iraq needs 646,000 troops... successfully battle ‘the insurgency’.

Upon reading this my first thought was, “Does this new statement of force requirement mean that American military leaders believe that ‘the insurgency’ in IRAQ is growing stronger-?

My second thought was, “What the hell is this, ‘the insurgency’ in IRAQ ~ that requires over half-a-million troops to quell?

the insurgency: “The Iraqi insurgency is composed of groups using armed resistance against the US-led Coalition that is currently in Iraq; These groups may also oppose the newly created Iraqi government; The fighting appears both as a resistance to the USA led ‘coalition’, as well as a Civil War in Iraq between diverse [ethnic/religious, tribal or criminal=‘al-Qaeda’, etc.] groups in the population.

So, ‘the insurgency’ is a resistance movement of Iraqi peoples fighting against the U.S. occupation of ‘IRAQ’. Our ambition, then, is to recruit, train and equip 500,000+ Iraqi people to fight against (a growing number apparent; a perpetual resistance to foreign occupation, by nature inherent) other Iraqi people fighting against American Occupation Forces. Further, how 500,000+ Iraqi people (under any flag, be it some notion of nation, ‘IRAQ’, or any organized militia) could fight against other Iraqi peoples ~ without this being the very definition of Civil War, itself ~ would indeed be a novel historical precedent {grin}

One cannot help but respond: “if there was no American Occupation of IRAQ, there would be no resistance, nor any escalation of Iraqi Army force requirement to counter ‘the insurgency’ = anti-occupation guerilla movement, whatsoever. For all intents and purposes, the Pentagon's policy appears to be: (1) to sustain the U.S. occupation of IRAQ in perpetuity; and, (2) by doing so, accept the irony of Iraqi -v- Iraqi violence escalation = de facto ‘Civil War’ this policy assures.

fwiw, There is a weird method within this madness ~ note that various nations in the Middle East (or for that matter, Latin America, etc.) do strive to suck into their military forces large numbers of unemployed, otherwise likely to be troublesome male youths ~ to "contain" a population of many dis-enfranchised peoples under the control of a ‘Unitary Executive’, and as well for the benefit of those privileged few who profit from the ‘War Economy’ percent of GNP required for this purpose. In reality, this may be the Pentagon's agenda for their presumption of an insurgency ‘War apparent’, Over There; which, imho is entirely in sync with what many U.S. citizens believe to be our own government's agenda ~ that has nothing in reality, in particular to do with ‘IRAQ’, per se ~ rather: ‘The War apparent’ implies the necessity for extra-ordinary executive ‘War Powers’ to occupy us in meaningless endeavour in perpetuity, Over Here.

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