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Wed, 30 Apr 2003

Why the unrest in Iraq?

The Times has an interesting story:

THE revolt of Basra began when a printed notice was pinned to the front gate of the former presidential palace, now the headquarters of the Desert Rats.

The British Army was slashing its rates of pay for locally hired staff "due to circumstances beyond our control", it announced.

The wages of skilled workers were to be cut to $22 (£13.80) a month, those of the unskilled to $10. Graduates and trained professionals, who had been working as translators and drivers for about £1.30 a day, found themselves being paid 50p or less. The effect was immediate: less than three weeks after liberating Iraq's second-largest city, the British forces had a strike on their hands.

The pay was being cut to conform with standards imposed across Iraq by the United States. "This is cruelty," Vahan Gregor, a civil engineer who used to have his own company, said. "The rate is not even enough to pay for the lift into work. A packet of decent cigarettes costs more than a day's pay. A packet of nappies is one month! Is this fair? Even under Saddam, it was better than this."

"I am so disappointed with the British," Ahmed Ali, a former geography teacher who has been working for the UK force, said. "If you make an agreement, you should keep to it -- not reduce pay after one week. Mr Bush talked so much about freedom and how we would live in great conditions after the war. Well, that was all bullshit."

So we should be surprised they're out on the streets demonstrating?

[ Link ] [ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 17:27 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Bush to bin Laden: "You Win"

Y'know, I swore off anything remotely approximating warblogging a while ago, because it wasn't doing my digestion or my sanity any good. But I just can't ignore the latest pieces of news -- the third Bloody Sunday like incident in Iraq in three days (US army troops fire on and kill demonstrators -- they say they were being shot at, demonstrators deny it), and Rumsfeld announcing that US troops are to be withdrawn from Saudi Arabia.

Why can't I ignore it? Well, here's a recap on the situation:

Soviet Union invades Afghanistan.
USA funds mujaheddin fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan, providing money and weapons. Osama bin Laden receives CIA funds. ObL views Soviet occupation as offense against Islam.
CIA drops funding for ObL.
Iraq invades Kuwait. US troops move into Saudi Arabia.
Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida group entrench in Afghanistan, campaign to get US troops out of the Islamic holy sites -- notably Saudi Arabia. ObL promises to turn America into a living nightmare by terrorism.
'Nuff said.
USA PATRIOT Act passed.
USA kicks Taliban out of Kabul, occupies city, declares regime change in Afghanistan.
USA gets increasingly heavy with Iraq, culminating in invasion and regime change.
US government announces surrender to Osama bin Laden.

Yes, I said "surrender". Rumsfeld has just announced that he's basically giving Osama bin Laden what he said all along that he wanted -- a US withdrawl from Saudi Arabia.

(Meanwhile, the USA PATRIOT act has ushered in a reign of domestic paranoia and police statedom unprecedented in the US since the 1950's, or even the 1917-19 red scare.)

And as for the situation in Iraq (and especially Falujah) ...

All I can say is, troops with automatic weapons and crowd control do not mix. It doesn't matter whether Iraqis with guns started shooting, or whether it was a massacre of unarmed civilians. What matters is that a ton of bystanders were shot and killed or injured.

There's a very precise analogy here, in case you're wondering what those troops from the 82nd Airborn did: Bloody Sunday, January 30th, 1972. And it's enough to send shudders down the spine of anyone who remembers the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The situation in NI leading up to Bloody Sunday has eerie resonances with Iraq in the wake of the Ba'athist regime. In both cases, central rule by an authoritarian party representing a minority of the population has just been replaced by direct rule from over the water. The two ethnic groups are divided along religious sectarian lines, and the larger group is poorer and has been effectively sidelined politically for 30 years. They want their say, and they get out on the street and demonstrate because the local Hard Men aren't in charge any more.

What happened in Northern Ireland on September 30th left a dark stain on British history -- the public enquiries are still going on today, trying to establish the truth about just why 2 Para were sent in with live ammunition. Some of the soldiers say they were fired on by an IRA member. Witnesses on the demonstration deny this, and say the troops just opened fire on the crowd. Whatever, 14 civilians died and many were injured -- and it was the single event that generated the wave of enlistment in the Provisional IRA and started the radicalization of the republican movement in Northern Ireland.

I watch the current US leadership and I'm simply aghast at their handling of the situation in Iraq, post-invasion. It should have been glaringly obvious that there'd be looting, a breakdown of civil order, and unrest. It should have been equally bloody clear that there'd be a lot of political upheaval. So where were the military police? Where were the water canon and baton rounds and riot gear that could have dispersed the crowd without killing?

But that's not all. By withdrawing troops from Saudi Arabia, Rumsfeld has just given bin Laden what he wanted. Leaving aside the pros and cons of the US basing troops there (which, as it happens, I'm opposed to), the timing could barely be worse. It's a bizarre mess. I can just see the scene in Rumsfeld's office: "I've got a plan, boss. How about we give the terrorists who attacked us exactly what they want, while shitting on the Iraqi civilian majority in a way guaranteed to generate a new terrorist insurgency?" "I like it, Joe-Bob, let's do it!"

The mind, she boggles.

[ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 16:51 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

They don't make 'em like this any more (luckily)

Over on rec.arts.sf.written they're discussing cover blurbs of yore. A cover blurb is what happens after you slave your guts out for, oh, half an hour at least, extruding deathless prose by the kilogram. If you're lucky, what goes on the cover is tasteful, a minor work of art in its own right, and doesn't give away the plot. If you're unlucky a bored (or maybe malicious) marketing hack glances at the first page, then comes up with something like this:

Women are writing SCIENCE-FICTION!


Women are closer to the primitive than men. They are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They possess a buried memory of humankind's obscure and ancient past which can emerge to uniquely color and flavor a novel.

Such a women is Margarget St. Clair, author of this novel. Such a novel is this, SIGN OF THE LABRYS, the story of a doomed world of the future, saved by recourse to ageless, immemorial rites...


I cringe in sympathy for Margaret St.Clair, whose novel Sign of the Labrys got saddled with this back cover blurb by someone at Bantam in 1963. (Thanks to Per C. Jorgensen for unearthing this brilliantly polished coprolite.)

Anyone got anything comparable to draw to my attention?

[ Discuss blurbs ]

posted at: 16:19 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

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