"No one wants to talk about Falluja,"

It seems so long ago that the destruction of Falluja was hailed as the turning point that would lead to peace in Iraq.

Of course that was about three turning points ago.

But it is important that we on the anti-war left remember what was done to the city, and now, at last an independent journalist has managed to gain entry into the cirt and report what it is like now.

"We Regard Falluja As a Large Prison"

Eight months after the second invasion of Falluja, there is hardly a street that does not still feature a building pulverized during the assault. I had not been in the city since last July, when I was escorted out by three cars of mujahedeen — that's when things were still relatively nice — and though I had expected it, the destruction was still shocking.

The dome of one mosque I had previously used as a landmark was completely missing, large holes had been blown in others. Houses have been pancaked, it is hard to find a fa├žade without the mark of at least small arms fire. As many as 80 percent of the city's 300,000-plus residents have returned, but the city has by no means returned to normal. On Sunday, the police were hard at work adding razor wire and new concrete blast barriers to the already sprawling fortifications around their main station in the center of town while US and Iraqi army patrols traversed the main street, the Iraqis firing their rifles in the air to clear traffic. Small arms chattered in the distance, followed by a response from a larger gun. The tension is palpable. Curfew begins at 10 p.m. but low-level fighting continues.

"They are killing one or two of us everyday," says an Iraqi soldier at one of the checkpoints into the city, a claim confirmed by local doctors.


Back at the hospital, Ahmed says he expects the fighting to continue. "Even civilian people will change to be fighters," he says. "We regard Falluja as a large prison." (People in Falluja will not talk directly about fighting, though all indications are that the new attacks are homegrown.)

The Iraqi army in Falluja, who don't mind telling a journalist that they are all from cities in the south, don't seem particularly thrilled to be here. (When the USA tried recruiting Fallujis to fight in Falluja, they turned their guns on the US or turned them over to the guerillas.)

"Falluja — death," says one of them, drawing a finger across his throat, a motion that I would like to go one day in Iraq without seeing someone make.


I approach some of the Marines on a base inside the city, to try and find out what life is like for them. They say there is no one at the base who can speak on the record, but I pause for a minute and chat, not terribly excited about walking back outside into the thick dust and, potentially, a line of fire. They ask why I have come, I am the first journalist they have seen in four months.

"No one wants to talk about Falluja," says one of the Marines.

The next time you hear or read one of pro-war chums witter on about libertating Iraq, remind them of Falluja, remind them of what continues to be done in their name.

The Day Satire Died

Things going wrong? just change the brand

Tom Lehrer famously said that satire died the day Henry Kissinger won a Nobel peace prize, but today may have topped it.

The press today is full of articles such as this one about the Bush administration's decision to change the name of the global War on Terror to the "the global struggle against violent extremism"

Much ink is shed over what a smart move this is,

"The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, senior administration and military officials said Monday."


"Administration and Pentagon officials say the revamped campaign has grown out of meetings of President Bush's senior national security advisers that began in January, and it reflects the evolution in Mr. Bush's own thinking nearly four years after the Sept. 11 attacks."

Now that all sounds fine and dandy, here it is, the new strategy (and god knows they need one) and who can disagree that violent extremism is a bad thing (especially when compared to it's polar opposite peaceful moderation)

However there appears to be one little point thet the gentlemen of the press to missed, except for Fred Kaplan in Slate

Fred points out that the original acronym for the Global War on terror (GWOT or G-WOT) is a bit of a mouthful, a bit negative a bit you know, out of date, yesterdays news. However the super-duper new acronym you get with a simple name change to the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism is GSAVE or even better G-SAVE! Don't you just feel better about it already, G-SAVE!, who could argue with that?

This great new branding, as national security adviser Stephen Hadley puts it is caused by a "need to dispute both the gloomy vision and offer a positive alternative." Save the world, not go to war with it.

So it comes to this, Iraq is a disaster area, the Taliban are back in Afghanistan and the world is less safe from terrorist attacks than it has ever been. but we have a snappy new acronym (SNA) so all is well.

Pass the sick bag Doris.

Right-Wing talking points on the London Execution

Lets see how many we can spot over the next few days:


Urgent Release For All Press

Talking Points for man mistakenly killed by UK police. The following
points should be emphasised in your reports:

* The dead man is to be referred to as the "suspect" and never the "victim". The intent of these talking points is to cast suspicision onto the dead man and direct any criticism away from the police.

* He was not Caucasian. Preferably he was of Asian or Arab appearance.

* Do not just mention that he was (mistakenly) taken for a suicide bomber, but describe suicide bombings in detail. Especially the aftermath. The intention should be to frighten the reader.

* Remind the reader what would (never say "might") have happened if the suspect "had" been a suicide bomber and the police had "not" shot him. Exaggerate.

* Imply that he had a rucksack of the same colour, size, and design as preferred by real suicide bombers.

* Blame the terrorists for his death and be sympathetic towards the police at all times.

* When describing the man use imagary drawn only from the CCTV pictures of the alleged bombers. Conjour up the image of a suicide bomber.

* Mention but do not discuss his innocence. Mention it only when necessary.

* Belittle the suspect. Describe him in negative terms as poorly dressed, unshaven, and nervous, but also as a physically intimidating man, burly, agile, fit, dangerous.

* It should not be written that he "failed" to obey police as failure may be construed as meaning that there was some other possible reason for his not stoping than presumed guilt. Avoid passive associations by describing his actions only with action words commonly associated with guilt such as "refused" or "resisted".

* Give conflicting eye-witness accounts of the actual moments of the shooting so as to protect officers.

* One witness thought he saw a "bomb-belt" on the suspect. Quote this witness extensively and as often as possible. Offer no speculation or implication that he may have been mistaken (which of course he was), or hired to say just that. Use his observation as if it was the sworn testimony of an expert in suicide bombings requiring no further comment.

* The police allegedly began following the suspect after he left an apartment in the same block in which another apartment was under surveillance. Use this in such a way as to connect him to the alleged bombers (by describing the apartment block as a "house", for example). Do not speculate that the police may have followed the wrong man.

* Bury the information that the real bombers are still on the loose by mentioning some vague arrests but do not give details as those arrested in the early days of such crises invariably turn out to be innocent.

* Avoid mention of the suspect's family (especially if it turns out he had a wife and kids) but report in depth on how sorry the police are. Use words like "regret" and "tragic".

* Assert that the way in which the suspect "dived or fell to ground" was cause for suspicion in itself. Never connect this to the simultaneous shouting by armed police for every one to "get down" as this may contradict prior assertions that he refused to obey the police.

* Report it as if "the regulations" required the police to shoot him.

* Report that there will be an internal enquiry as if this is a magnanimous police gesture as opposed to mere routine. Report on the process but not the substance of the enquiry, and phrase process descriptions in terms of thoroughness, accountability, and above all sufficiency. Avoid mention of previous police-shootings that have resulted in public enquiries.

* Don't mention the war.

* Generate debate on the circumstances in which the police *should* shoot to kill, and avoid moral or legal issues. Frame the debate in terms of terrorism only and dismiss mistaken-identity arguments as left-wing or liberal.

* If the suspect turns out to be non-muslim you should still continue to question muslim clerics on matters related to terrorism.

* If the suspect does turn out to be muslim connect muslim sympathy or sorrow over his death with radical extremism.

* Use the tiniest flaw in the suspect's character (drugs, fare-dodging, infidelity, etc) as ultimate justification. For example, "If he hadn't have been deaf, he would have heard the police and still be alive today..."

* Utterly groundless speculation is allowed to be presented as fact only when it results in a positive image for HMG.

* Do not attempt in any way to ascertain the identity of the shooter, or what specific unit or intelligence service he is connected to.

All other topics, speculation, criticisms of the police, or discussions, are forbidden.

The Ever Changing Story

The New York Times has out together an interesting piece on the ever changing stories coming out of the Met re the London bombs here (Registration required but it is free)

Most disgracefully of all of course is the case of Jean Charles de Menezes who after being executed by the police was then fingered as "directly linked" to the investigation.

But as the NYT points out it's not the first, or even the third, time police have had to back away from information they had confidently announced.

On the afternoon of the attacks, the police gave a precise but inaccurate account of when the bombs exploded. They said 26 minutes separated the first explosion on a subway train from the third and final explosion.

At two consecutive news conferences, senior police officials inaccurately reported that the first bomb exploded at 8:51 a.m., on a train near Liverpool Street station, on the edge of the city's financial district. They said the second bomb exploded five minutes later, at 8:56 a.m., on a train at Russell Square station. And the third, they said, hit a train at 9:17 a.m. as it approached Edgware Road.

On the evening of July 8, cellphone video aired by the BBC showed that the bomb at Edgware Road had exploded at 8:51 a.m. - not at 9:17 a.m., as the police had said.

On July 9, the police acknowledged their mistake and revealed that the bombs had exploded within 50 seconds of each other


One of the most important questions, in the early days, was whether the attacks were launched by suicide bombers. If true, it would be a first in the history of Western Europe.

But for several days, the police denied repeated questions by reporters about whether the bombers had died in the attacks. It was not until July 12 that the police said they had identified the bombers, but did not release their names. Though their identities emerged gradually from other sources in the ensuing days, two days later, the police said only two suspected bombers had been formally identified. On July 15, Scotland Yard identified the four bombers who had died in the attacks.

The police have still steadfastly avoided calling the men suicide bombers,
possibly because of a live theory inside Scotland Yard that the men were duped into carrying the bombs on board the trains.

There was also much interest in the makeup of the bombs, as it is one of the most important forensic clues that investigators have to help them solve a case. On July 9, two days after the bombings, the Metropolitan Police made a preliminary conclusion that the bombs were of "military grade." They passed the information on to their counterparts in Europe and the United States, and some news organizations reported it.

But within days, Scotland Yard determined that the bombs were powerful but crude, homemade explosive devices made with TATP, a mixture of widely available chemicals, including acetone, hydrogen peroxide and mineral acid.

On Friday night, the police arrested two men held under the Terrorism Act, a development that they said was "promising." One senior police official said one of the suspects might be one of the would-be suicide bombers who had attempted to carry out Thursday's attacks.

But by late Saturday evening, police officials gloomily cautioned reporters that the two men may not be the would-be suicide bombers after all.

Why does all this matter? well given the hysteria around the press and interweb, with every new rumour or story being pontificated on I think it's important that we treat everything we hear with scepticism, as it is almost certainly going to be corrected later.

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