Month: December 2003

Be Careful What You Eat

In the days following the discovery of mad cow disease in Washington State, the US cattle industry has been hard at work calming Americans’ fears that we’ve been eating tainted meat. Our weak regulatory agencies–the Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture–are telling us that they’re doing a good job of protecting us from the ravages of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Here’s a little dose of reality for anyone and everyone who wants to know if they’ve eaten tainted meat.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Washington State. It was a family farm: about 100 cows and an equal number of young livestock that ranged in age from newborn calves to two-year-old heifers ready to give birth to their first calves and enter the milk herd. About 120 cows was the maximum for us. We simply couldn’t milk more animals in a day; there was only so much time, and we had only so much energy. We used some mechanization, but we still had the ability to give the cows a certain amount of individual care, to help the ones that were sick, and to adjust the milking process for cows who needed special attention.

What made this particularly important is that my parents were career dairy farmers. Mom didn’t have a secretarial job in town and Dad didn’t hire out to do contract work just so we could make ends meet. My parents made the business work for them from the 1960s through the mid-1980s, while they raised a family. By the time they sold the farm, however, there were fewer and fewer families able to make a living on a dairy farm. They were being displaced by large, commercial, highly mechanized, corporate dairy farms.

The cow that tested positive for BSE came from a large corporate farm in Mabton, Washington. The farm has 4,000 animals. Our local newspaper here in Seattle ran a front-page photo of the feed lot on this farm. It was a filthy hole–a far cry from the loafing sheds and green, productive fields we had on our farm when I was growing up.

To milk 4,000 cows every day, twice a day, a farm like that has to turn the animals into cogs in a machine. There’s no individual attention. The animals are hooked up to milking machines with timers on them. After about four minutes, the machines turn off and fall on the floor, and that’s it. Forget the fact that, depending on the animal, cows need anywhere from 2 minutes to 15 minutes to give all their milk. If a cow finishes in 2 minutes, the machine stays on and the animal suffers–or she kicks it off, which gets her added to the list of animals headed for the slaughterhouse. If a cow needs more time, forget it, she suffers, gives less milk, under-performs, and goes on the list of animals headed for the slaughterhouse.

Back in the 1980s, I remember my parents’ shock after reading that, on average, cows live only an average of 2 years on commercial, corporate farms. We were appalled at the thought that big farms were sending their young, 4-year-old cows to the butcher. In our minds, that was a failure. Cows don’t even reach their full growth until they’re 5 years old, when they hit their prime and give the most milk. The waste is simply unimaginable. And we understood that cows can get sick and have a bad year, and so we gave our animals a second chance. On our farm, cows often lived 10 or 15 years and, in the case of two or three really stubborn ones, they lived nearly 20 years.

Now, it takes about 5-7 years for symptoms of BSE–bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as “Mad Cow Disease”–to appear in an infected cow. If, however, most corporate dairy farms are sending their abused, used-up, broken-down cows off to the slaughterhouse at younger and younger ages, before they reach the key five-year mark, then no amount of testing is going to make the meat supply safe. A ban on butchering downer cows–animals that stagger, can’t walk, or exhibit other signs of BSE-will make no difference, either. And holding sick animals in quarantine while they’re being tested won’t work, not unless we want to quarantine and test all young cattle sent to slaughter or ban all animals younger than five years old.

“Experts” like to remind us that there have been no confirmed cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (the human form of spongiform encephalopathy) in the United States. That’s technically true, but in practice, it’s a lie. Every year, 300 new cases of CJD are diagnosed in the US. It’s a diagnosis of elimination. After a person comes down with the symptoms, he or she is tested for a variety of neurological disorders. When those come up negative and the disease begins to progress rapidly, the diagnosis becomes CJD. Few of these cases are ever confirmed, because the best way to test for it is by removing brain tissue and examining it under a microscope after the patient has already died. Autopsies are seldom performed for two simple reasons: it’s expensive to do, and the fear of catching the disease from infected brain tissue–even in the sterile, controlled environment of a hospital or laboratory–is too great to risk cutting open the brain case of a person who’s already dead.

We’re supposed to rest easy with assurances that the brain and spinal cord of the Mabton cow were “ripped” out of the cow’s carcass in the slaughterhouse by an inefficient machine that often doesn’t recover all the neurological tissue. The machine routinely leaves behind spinal cord tissue to be ground into hamburger, sausage, and other products for human consumption, and the USDA admits that to be the case. One-third of the hamburger, lunch meat, sausage, and processed ground meat made from after the brain and spinal cord have been mechanically removed from carcasses contains spinal cord tissue in it.

But “muscle cuts” are supposed to be safe, they tell us. Steaks and roasts are supposedly free of any traces of BSE. Yet a man in Britain recently died from CJD, which he contracted from a blood transfusion. Tell me, then, if it’s in the British human blood supply, why wouldn’t it be in the blood of infected cattle, and therefore in “muscle cuts” like steaks and roasts? Freeze-dried cow blood is sprayed into the artificial milk corporate feed lots give young calves, so as to boost its protein content. The four-year-old Mabton cow almost certainly contracted SSE during this stage of her young life.

Cooking, which kills e coli, doesn’t do a damn thing for BSE. It’s not a bacteria or virus; it’s a prion, a very simple, extremely durable protein that can’t be killed by freezing or extreme heat. Researchers have put prions into autoclaves to try and kill them, but they survived. So the slaughterhouse process of rendering down miscellaneous parts of the cow–a process that involves extreme heat–isn’t enough to kill prions. When the USDA tells us that the brain and spinal cord of the Mabton cow were rendered down for use in cosmetics or feed for pigs, chickens, and pets, they’re just not telling us that the prions may still enter the human food chain–a little further down the line than we expected.

We’re supposed to believe that pigs don’t get mad cow disease. But pigs, particularly pigs on enormous corporate hog farms, have an even shorter life span than cows do.

And then there are chickens. Here’s a nightmare for you, particularly for any vegetarians and vegans reading this article. Experts say that chickens’ digestive tracts can’t absorb prions, and the prions pass right through into their manure. But organic farms often use fertilizer made with chicken manure, and many organic packaged fertilizers for home gardens have chicken manure in them. Remember that the next time you let your toddler play in the garden, or the next time you juice a carrot without scrubbing it first.

The experts will tell you I’m being overly alarmist. They point to the regulations, to the fact that companies were banned from grinding up cattle tissue and putting it in cattle feed way back in 1997, so everything’s just fine now. Downer cows are tested, meat can be recalled, the safeguards are all in place.

Don’t bet on it. First of all, BSE emerged in the British cattle population in the 1980s. The US cattle industry resisted any ban on putting cattle parts into cattle feed for well over a decade, which has raised the risk of BSE infection here in the US. The Mabton cow, it turns out, was born just before the ban went into place in 1997.

Post-1997, the USDA was put in charge of inspecting feed mills to make sure they comply with the ban, but its enforcement powers have been gutted by successive budget cuts and by employing people with close ties to the very agribusiness companies they’re supposed to regulate. For example, one feed mill here in Washington State–the one my parents used 20 years ago–has been cited for multiple safety violations by the USDA, from 1989 through 2002. Each time, the company has received a slap on the wrist for violations that range from a lack of proper paperwork to allowing prohibited animal parts into cattle feed. And it’s not alone. Our local Friends of the Earth chapter says that as many as a dozen other feed mills here in Washington State have been caught violating safety laws, but the USDA is not releasing any details about what those violations were.

Meanwhile, the Mabton cow’s carcass passed through the system, was processed for food, sent to distributors and grocery stores, and was almost certainly cooked and eaten before the results of its BSE tests were completed and announced to the public. That’s how our mechanized, inhuman, corporate, non-regulated food supply system works.

Got Saddam, But Not Much Else

Saddam is in custody, but the war’s not over yet. The US faces several important hurdles in bringing the war to an end and extricating US troops from a seemingly endless fracas.

The most critical problem involves the ceaseless guerrilla attacks. According to a series of interviews with Iraqi guerrillas conducted by the French Press Agency, the guerrillas are composed of three main groups, only one of which supports Saddam Hussein. Of the other two groups one is Iraqi Islamists, who are fighting to drive the infidel Americans from Iraq’s holy places. The third group is composed of nationalists–disaffected, anti-Saddam, former Baath party members and other pan-Arabists–who are fighting a war of liberation. And, unsurprisingly, these groups often coordinate their attacks, to devastating effect.

Nor is it safe to assume that the pro-Saddam faction is now beheaded. US military officers said that, when they pulled Saddam Hussein out of his hole in the ground, he had no radio or other communications equipment. Clearly, he wasn’t coordinating any attacks, issuing any orders, or in charge of any guerrilla movements.

The main value of having Saddam in custody is that it removes a symbol, a source of inspiration for a sizable contingent of the guerrillas. But to hope that this will bring an immediate end to the war is to forget how adaptable human loyalties are. If Saddam Hussein has not been directing guerrilla attacks, someone else surely has, and that person or group of people command as much or more loyalty than Saddam ever has. In the end, a figurehead is merely a figurehead; the people who do the practical work–who have the face-to-face contact and provide the weapons and money–are the ones who command the loyalty of their troops. And not all the guerrillas look to Saddam for inspiration–not when there are plenty of other reasons to rebel in Iraq these days.

Take, for example, US military tactics in the Sunni triangle, which have increasingly mirrored failed Israeli military tactics in the Occupied Territories. This past week, both US military planners and Israeli sources have told the press that, yes, US military officers have studied Israeli tactics in the West Bank. And they are now applying those lessons in Iraq.

Such tactics include: destroying buildings suspected of being guerrilla hideouts, bulldozing the homes of suspected guerrillas and their family members, arresting the relatives of suspected guerrillas and/or people who may have information about the guerrillas, and surrounding entire villages with razor wire, forcing the occupants to pass through a single checkpoint in order to come and go. If people can’t make it back through crowded checkpoints before curfew, they have to spend the night in the desert. At these checkpoints, Iraqis must show ID cards issued by the US military and printed only in English. Humiliated Iraqis are drawing clear parallels to the Palestinian situation, and that should be a warning sign for the US military. Unfortunately, it’s going unheeded.

Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman, the man in charge of surrounding the village of Abu Hishma with razor wire, told the New York Times, “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people we are here to help them.” A sign posted on the wire fence reads “This fence is here for your protection. Do not approach or try to cross or you will be shot.”

One of the “heavy doses of fear and violence” that the US military is currently employing is the use of assassination squads, modeled on the same squads the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have used in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The US military’s new Task Force 121 is being trained by the IDF at Fort Bragg to carry out assassinations of suspected guerrilla leaders. The Guardian newspaper of London recently noted that US special forces teams are already operating inside Syria in an attempt to kill “foreign jihadists” before they cross the border, raising questions of “who is a jihadist and how do we define that?” and “how do we know who’s planning to cross the border?”–not to mention the ultimate question of the legality of assassination under international law.

At least one of those questions can be answered. A principle planner behind Task Force 121 is Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin who, in October, told an Oregon church congregation that the US is a “Christian army” at war with Satan. Such fanatics will stretch the definition of “foreign jihadists” to cover whomever they wish to target. And such brutal tactics will be as successful in Iraq as they’ve been in the Occupied Territories, where assassinations have led to ever more militant attacks against Israeli troops and civilians.

On the “money for projects” end, the Bush administration has failed miserably so far. The major donor’s conference in October brought large pledges, but few of them have been honored because of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq and the ongoing, world-wide economic slump. The bulk of the money for reconstruction in Iraq will come from the US–money that is swiftly disappearing into the pockets of US corporations, like Halliburton, which was recently excoriated for an overpriced contract to ship gasoline into a country that holds the world’s second largest oil reserves.

The rest of the funds will come from the World Bank and the IMF in the form of loans. But, before those funds can be released, the US has to negotiate with Iraq’s pre-war debtors to forgive massive loans left over from the Saddam era. In typically brilliant fashion, the Pentagon issued a directive last week that bars French, German, and Russian corporations from bidding on contracts for reconstruction in Iraq. Well, guess who owns most of Iraq’s pre-war debt? European nations and Russia, that’s who. Vladimir Putin, offended by the Pentagon’s action, last week adamantly refused to forgive some $8 billion of Iraq’s Saddam-era debt.

Failed military tactics, failed financial policies–it’s all in a day’s work for the Bush administration. Finding Saddam Hussein certainly won’t make up for incompetence at the top.

Sources for this article include: “Iraqi resistance deeply divided over Saddam Hussein’s role,” Agence France Presse, 12/8/03; “Tough New Tactics by U.S. Tighten Grip on Iraq Towns,” Dexter Filkins, The New York Times, 12/6/03; “U.S. Adopts New Tactics in Iraq Guerrilla War,” Charles Aldinger, Reuters, 12/8/03; “Israel trains US assassination squads in Iraq,” Julian Borger, The Guardian, 12/9/03,,3858,4815008-103681,00.html; “US Eyeing Israeli Tactics for Iraq Insurgents,” Dan Williams, Reuters, 12/9/03; “High Payments to Halliburton for Fuel in Iraq,” Don Van Natta Jr., NYT, 12/10/03; “Fueling Anger in Iraq: Sabotage Exacerbates Petroleum Shortages,” Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, 12/9/03,; “After Attack, S. Korean Engineers Quit Iraq,” Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, 12/7/03; “Iraq delays hand Cheney firm $1bn,” Oliver Morgan, The Observer, 12/7/03,,6903,1101341,00.html; and “Funds for Iraq Are Far Short of Pledges, Figures Show,” Steven R. Weisman, NYT, 12/7/03.

Musical Chairs at City Hall

In City Hall politics, nothing is as much fun as watching and speculating on the annual game of musical chairs: City Council committee assignments.

In January, Jan Drago will take over as City Council President from Peter Steinbrueck, hoping to usher in an era of less friction with Mayor Greg Nickels and the downtown Chamber of Commerce. Having served as City Council President during her first term back in 1996, you’d think it would be time for someone else to take that role–maybe Richard Conlin or Richard McIver–but you’d be wrong. No one can crack the whip like Jan. Or wants to.

Other assignments are just as interesting. Peter Steinbrueck picked up the chair of the Land Use and Planning committee, which will be deeply involved in two of the mayor’s pet projects this coming year: the South Lake Union development and the Northgate Mall development. A recent agreement on South Lake Union approved by the City Council gave Paul Allen’s Vulcan Ventures everything it asked for and largely ignored the concerns of neighborhood groups and low income housing advocates.

Likewise, last week’s City Council decisions on the Northgate Mall development made major concessions to Lorig Associates and Simon Properties Group, while tossing bread crumbs to the neighborhood groups and local environmentalists who want to see, among other things, a more pedestrian-friendly environment to replace the endless sea of concrete at Northgate, and the eventual daylighting of Thornton Creek, which currently runs through a drain pipe beneath the south mall parking lot. We’ll see whether the City, including Steinbrueck’s Land Use and Planning committee, will act on the vague promises made in these agreements, and actually listen to the advice of neighborhood groups in the overall design of the Northgate development. Of course, it could be worse: Jim Compton might have won this committee assignment.

Instead, Compton was shuffled over to the committee that oversees Seattle Public Utilities, which makes me wonder what Margaret Pageler was doing over there for the past year that now so obviously requires Compton’s vigilance. Anyone check the quality of our drinking water lately? What about the logging ban in the Cedar River Watershed? Perhaps this is the burnout committee–the place worn-out, embattled councilmembers go to take a rest before they decide to either opt for a real committee assignment or retire for good.

Richard Conlin, the main architect of the Northgate Development plan, is sliding into the chairmanship of the Transportation committee. In addition to shepherding through major transportation changes around Northgate while the developers try to run amok, Conlin will be dealing with Mayor Nickels’ wacky sidewalk development program, the proposed streetcar for South Lake Union, and major improvements to the Mercer Street corridor. And there’s the interface with Sound Transit in all its dismal aspects, plus planning for the new Monorail–all of which points to this as being one of the busiest committees in 2004.

Until you look at Licata’s assignment. Happily, he managed to capture the chairmanship of the Public Safety committee. How that happened is anyone’s guess. Perhaps now that union negotiations with the Police Guild are well underway, the rest of the council and the mayor are assuming that Nick won’t be able to do much damage. Maybe they think he’ll be so swamped holding public hearings on police misconduct complaints that he’ll have little time for anything else. Probably they’re throwing the whole police accountability issue in his lap to distract his attention from Mayor Nickels’ major development schemes.

If so, then they made a major mistake in assigning David Della the Parks and Neighborhoods committee. Della, who ran his campaign on a detailed platform of how to reform City Light, is certainly ready to turn his critical focus on something, having been denied the committee that actually oversees City Light. Becoming the go-to guy for unhappy neighborhood activists seems tailor made for him. Nick Licata’s past experience in the post makes Licata a natural mentor for Della and is guaranteed to keep him involved.

The other council committee assignments are much less exciting. Richard McIvar won the Finance and Budget committee, while newcomer Tom Rassmussen has the Housing, Human Services, and Health committee. Rassmussen’s experience as an advocate for senior citizens makes him a natural for human services and health, but it’ll be interesting to see how he interacts with low income housing activists. Will he show himself to be a downtown, pro-business, Nickels puppet? Will he opt for Richard Conlin’s teflon-coated “win-win-win” mantra? Or will he turn out to have a heart and conscience after all? We’ll see.

Last, and most certainly least, is the horrible news of Jean Godden’s appointment to head the Energy and Environmental Committee, which oversees City Light. Given that she had to go somewhere, we could only hope that they would dump her someplace innocuous, like the Public Utilities committee. Instead, the Energy committee is one of the most contentious, difficult assignments possible.

City Light has been under fire for running up a $1.7 billion debt during the recent California energy crisis, then passing it on to ratepayers in the form of four steep rate increases in 2001. Then Mayor Nickels, after unsuccessfully attempting to defend former Superintendent Gary Zarker, came along and nominated Jorge Carrasco to be the new head of City Light. Carrasco has no experience whatsoever with electrical utilities, the electrical market, or running an agency deeply in debt. Granted, Carrasco has great qualifications as an uncompromising environmentalist, but that was when he ran a public water utility. He and Godden, together, should be dumped into Seattle Public Utilities, not the ailing City Light. The combination of Godden and Carrasco–if he’s confirmed by the City Council–will be like the blind leading the blind. Or the moron leading the clueless.

Next year will be interesting and entertaining, if not exactly fun. Get out your bullhorns.

It’s Time for Elections, George

The Iraqi Governing Council in recent weeks has faced the threat of extinction and, unfortunately, won a reprieve from the Bush administration.

Two weeks ago, the US viceroy in Iraq, Paul Bremer, was called to Washington on very short notice to consult with the Bush administration over the continuing disaster in Iraq–most particularly what should be done about the Governing Council, which has become a source of contempt from both Iraqis and the US military.

The Council has done nothing for the Iraqi populace. It meets three times a week, makes no decisions, and has no power. The power rests with the US authority, and Iraqis know this. If the power goes out, they go the Americans. If a relative is arrested, they appeal to the Americans. If they need permits, jobs, or help, the Governing Council is less than useless.

About the only business the Council can conduct is nepotism. Its members–particularly the former exiles on the Council–have spent their time in office winning political appointments and profitable business contracts for friends, relatives, and business associates. While these members have spent their time traveling abroad or networking for personal gain, they’ve missed more Council meetings than they attended. Meanwhile, there’s been little oversight of the cabinet ministers and damn little money available to get their offices outfitted and running.

Even worse, the Governing Council was nowhere near making a decision on a timetable or process for setting up a new government. A deadline for drafting the timetable, as required by UN resolution, was fast approaching, and the factions on the Council were at absolute deadlock. And, surprise, the Governing Council had every reason not to move forward: setting up a new government would mean they’d put themselves out of business–and a highly profitable business it is, too.

After his emergency meeting in Washington DC, Paul Bremer flew back to Iraq and laid down the law, telling the Governing Council what the timetable and process for a new Iraqi government will be. The US will draft an interim constitution by February. An interim legislature will be chosen in May, its representatives selected by town and regional councils. The US will then turn over the running of the Iraqi government completely to the interim legislature in June. Elections and a legitimate constitution will follow at some undefined time in the future, perhaps in a couple of years. Maybe. If the security situation improves.

In the meantime many Iraqis are uncomfortable with the selection process for the interim legislature. The town and regional councils, of course, are all made up of people chosen by the US military. One media commentator said that this selection process amounts to a job security program for the members of the Governing Council, since their cousins, business partners, associates, and party members all staff the majority of the town councils–except in the Sunni triangle, where unpopular mayors are assassinated or run out of town.

So far, the two leading Shiite clerics in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, have both refused to back this plan, insisting that Iraqis must be allowed elect the members of the new legislature. Certainly their experience with the Governing Council is a strong argument for supporting elections as soon as possible.

But that puts the US in a bind. The Shiites are our main allies in Iraq and they make up about 60% of the population, but they have strong religious ties to Iran, which George Bush has declared a member of the “Axis of Evil.” If the Bush administration allows a vote, the Shiites are likely to win a majority of the legislature and may–I say “may,” because nothing is absolutely certain–align themselves with the fundamentalist government of Iran. Yet, without the promise of elections, the Shiites might decide we’re not their allies after all. And the dicey “security situation” in Iraq could worse very quickly.

The Bush administration needs to make up its mind: either hold elections in good faith and mollify an increasingly angry Iraqi populace or continue a useless effort to control an ultimately uncontrollable situation. It’s time to ditch the Governing Council and walk our talk about free and fair elections. If Iraq’s new government decides to ally itself with Iran, well, then Bush & Co. can just learn to practice a little diplomacy, for a change.

Iraq: More Dangerous Every Day

Is the “security situation” in Iraq improving? The best clue may be George Bush’s two-hour, top-secret visit to Iraq on Thanksgiving Day, in which he never left the heavily fortified grounds of the Baghdad International Airport.

Bush was not the first official to visit Iraq in recent weeks. Paul Wolfowitz was the target of missiles launched at the Al Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad where he recently secretly spent the night. Only two days before Bush’s photo op, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, on another secret overnight stay in Baghdad, was awakened in the dead of night by another barrage of incoming missiles.

It’s a miracle that Bush’s plane even landed. Jordanian commercial planes that flew aid groups and journalists in and out of Baghdad have now ceased serving the airport. Just a few days before Bush’s visit, the only commercial plane that was still making regular flights into Baghdad, a daily DHL plane delivering packages, was hit by two shoulder fired missiles on takeoff and had to turn back to make an emergency landing. This, at an airport that was operationally ready for full commercial air traffic back in July. It now has no commercial traffic. [Editor’s note: DHL cargo flights to Iraq resumed on Tuesday, Dec. 2nd, but Jordanian planes have not resumed passenger flights.]

The US media is emphasizing the US military’s ongoing preemptive strikes against the Iraqi guerrillas: Operation Iron Hammer and Operations Ivy Cyclone I and II. We see and read about mortars fired into vacant fields, orchards bombed because guerrillas might hide behind trees, and farmhouses evacuated and demolished, uprooting families in a form of collective punishment forbidden by the Geneva Convention. US forces shoot up an abandoned dye factory in Baghdad over several days, while puzzled residents watch, wondering where the guerrillas are and why no weapons cache has been found.

Pentagon spokesmen go on TV and declare that the security situation in Iraq has improved and that attacks on US soldiers have fallen off sharply. But evidence on the ground suggests otherwise.

Take, for example, George Bush’s quick dash in and out of Baghdad International Airport. If security is getting better, why couldn’t he hop a Humvee into Baghdad and stay the night with Paul Bremer? Well, there’s the little problem of unexploded roadside bombs and rocket propelled grenades, which continue to kill US troops on an almost daily basis. Seventy-nine US troops have died in November, more than died in the previous two months added together. There’s also those continuing, pesky nighttime mortar and missile attacks against US military installations all over the country, even in Baghdad, where donkeys have been drafted into the guerrilla movement.

Oh, and car bombs. So many cars and trucks have exploded in Iraq that the media has now lost count. Every week it’s at least two or three more. The recent favorite target is the Iraqi police–last week in Baquba and Khan Bani Saad, car bombs exploded outside police stations, killing 18 people (including two young children) and wounding over 50. The Bush administration hopes to build a 100,000-man Iraqi police force to take over security patrols from US troops, but only 10,000 men are currently in training, and hundreds of new policemen are quitting their jobs because of the violence. Iraqi police complain that they lack decent equipment^Teven police cars–necessary to do their jobs, and their stations lack any barriers that would keep suspicious cars away. Losing their ranking officers is also a blow: last week guerrillas assassinated the police chief of Latifiyah, a town near Baghdad, and killed a police colonel in Mosul who controls the force responsible for guarding Iraq’s oil infrastructure.

Speaking of oil, guerrillas are still regularly sabotaging oil and gas pipelines, undermining Iraq’s export income and the iffy–and very necessary–flow of fuel oil for domestic consumption. Two were set ablaze last week. On Thanksgiving Day, Baghdad suffered a blackout, an all-too-common occurrence these days. It wasn’t until Friday that Baghdad residents were able to turn on their TV sets and see that George Bush had paid a visit. Not that he had talked to any Iraqis–unless you count a couple of US-appointed members of the Governing Council. Most Iraqis don’t.

Finally, we get news that US military divisions stationed in the Sunni triangle have not seen any decrease in attacks against them. Maybe erecting an enormous barbed-wire fence around the entire town of Tikrit–effectively turning it into a concentration camp–could be part of the problem. Certainly the entire Arab world has made comparisons with the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, a failed program that’s earned criticism from Israeli generals and members of Ariel Sharon’s own government. That’s the spirit, George. Do something that’s guaranteed to make things worse!

Like a secret visit to Iraq, engineered entirely for the TV cameras back home.

Sources for further reading:

“Bush Visit to Iraq Becomes Talk of Baghdad,” Niko Price, Associated Press, 11/28/03; “Army Is Planning for 100,000 G.I.’s in Iraq Till 2006,” Eric Schmitt, The New York Times, 11/21/03; “U.S. Military Return to War Tactics,” Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Daniel Williams,” Washington Post, 11/21/03,; “Rights group questions house demolitions in Iraq, Pentagon denies collective punishment,” Agence France Presse, 11/21/03; “Attacks Target Iraq Hotels, Oil Ministry,” Niko Price, AP, 11/21/03; “US forces hail success of Baghdad operation,” Charles Clover and Peter Spiegel, Financial Times, 11/21/03; “U.S. razes houses of suspected Iraqi insurgents,” CNN, 11/19/03; “Americans turn Tikrit into Iraq’s own West Bank,” Phil Reeves, The Independent, 11/18/03,; “American Copter In Collision Was Chasing Gunman,” Daniel Williams, WP, 11/17/03,; “Large Explosions Are Heard in Baghdad,” Hamza Hendawi, AP, 11/25/03; “Bombers kill 14 in Iraq; Missile Hits Civilian Plance,” Ian Fisher and Dexter Filkins, NYT, 11/22/03; “3 G.I.’s Are Killed in Iraq, Including 2 With Slashed Throats,” Ian Fisher and Dexter Filkins, NYT, 11/23/03; “Rash of incidents hit Iraq’s pipeline network,” AFP, 11/17/03; “Major Pipeline in Iraq Ablaze,” Associated Press, 11/26/03; and “Shift seen in target of Iraqi guerrillas,” Colin Nickerson, Boston Globe, 11/26/03.

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