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Wed, 18 Jun 2003

Empire coming down

Some other snippets from The Guardian today. First, a background piece by Luke Harding in Khost, Afghanistan. It turns out that the Taliban are still around, and US heavy-handedness is a helping rebuild their support:

UN officials have watched the behaviour of the US forces in Afghanistan with increasing dismay, and say that it is frequently reckless. "This doesn't help us at all," one said. "The people are basically pro-America. They want US forces to be here. But American soldiers are not very culturally sensitive. It's hardly surprising that Afghans get angry when the Americans turn up and kick their doors in."

Bacha Khan said: "The Taliban are getting stronger and stronger. This is because US troops are misbehaving. I want my bodyguard's killer brought to justice. I'd also like my son back."

Meanwhile the same heavy handedness is winning friends and influencing people in Baghdad. US Administrator Paul Bremer dissolved the Iraqi military, security forces, and information ministry last month. Which is all very well, but in a country of 24 million people it rendered 400,000 men -- most of them heavily armed -- unemployed and without a source of income. Some of them began demonstrating yesterday because they'd lost their jobs, and things got very heated. They heated up some more when US soldiers shot and killed two Iraqis (according to AP -- a US army spokesman told CNN that two Iraqis were slightly injured but nobody was killed). Whatever the truth, making people unemployed then shooting at them when they demonstrate is really going to send the right message: "we're your friends, we're here to help you, now GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES AND SPREAD 'EM ..."

Meanwhile a sniper shot and killed a US soldier on patrol in Baghdad. And there are reports of car bombs and land mines going off overnight. I don't have a precise figure in front of me but that's -- what? -- forty US troops killed in Iraq since Dubya declared the war was over? And what looks like a large-scale resistance movement getting off the ground, fuelled by the resentment of ordinary men who've been shat on by the heavy-handed occupation?

Oh, and Salam Pax has some interesting news from the university, about how Hawza, the shi'ite religious party, is working on building support down at ground level. Watch this stuff -- what happens on campuses today determines the shape of society a generation down the line.

I wonder if the US administration realises just how familiar this behaviour all looks to anyone with a nodding acquaintance with the history of anti-Nazi resistance movements in occupied Europe sixty years ago. (But I forgot: they can't lose because they're the good guys. And they know they're the good guys because the President told them so.)

posted at: 12:23 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Dust settling, museums

Today's Guardian contains a summary of what happened to Baghdad's museums by Eleanor Robson, council member of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq and a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. It makes for grim reading. Far from a mere 33 pieces being destroyed, very serious damage has been inflicted that will take years to even begin to repair.

The Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs lost 600-700 manuscripts in a malicious fire and more than 1,000 were stolen. The House of Wisdom and the Iraqi Academy of Sciences were also looted. The National Library was burned to the ground and most of its 12 million books are assumed to have been incinerated. In the galleries of Mosul Museum, cuneiform tablets were stolen and smashed. The ancient cities of Nineveh, Nimrud, and Hatra lost major sculpture to looting. The situation is far worse in the south. Some 15-20 large archaeological sites, mostly ancient Sumerian cities, were comprehensively pillaged by armed gangs.

The destruction isn't as complete as originally reported, but it's worth considering what a disaster of this magnitude in, say, the UK would entail. Imagine London bombed. The V&A trashed, the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels looted, the British Library complex on Euston Road burned (along with all those annoying old bits of paper like the original draft of Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible, and so on), the Natural History Museum used as a defensive fortification and shelled. (Goodbye, Apollo 10.) Discovering afterwards that, say, only 33 of the primary exhibits on one floor of one of the museums were lost because the rest had been moved to secure storage wouldn't exactly be anything to crow about ... and triumphalist assertions that this indicated there was nothing to worry about would be treated with the contempt they'd deserve, because the Brits are honourable westerners and not Persons of Heads of Rag.

(Yes, I'm angry about the endemic anti-Arab racism that this whole sorry business has dragged front-and-centre in the west's media. This region was the cradle of human civilization and dismissing it simply because of the behaviour of the most recent government on the scene deserves the odium due to the wilfully ignorant, for whom we usually reserve the appellation "barbarians".)

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posted at: 12:06 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry


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