Saturday, September 24, 2005

Ant-colony democracy

New revelations about prisoner abuse in Iraq have surfaced. Beatings, including the smashing of bones, were "routine" for the 82nd Airborne Division, stationed at Camp Mercury, near Falluja. The torture was committed at times to gain information, at other times simply "for amusement." But the American troops showed what must be considered exemplary restraint: the "persons under control," or PUCs, as they were known, were not killed. "We kept it to broken arms and legs," said an unidentified sergeant.

It is to the credit of one Captain Ian Fishback, who was stonewalled by his superiors for seventeen months as he tried to report these savageries, that a criminal inquiry is now taking place.

Meanwhile, back in Basra, British occupation forces helping to "reconstruct" Iraq freed two of their soldiers who had been arrested by Iraqi authorities, by bulldozing a police station and killing two Iraqis in a subsequent confrontation. The Governor of Basra called the destruction of the police station "barbaric." The soldiers, in Arab dress, were apparently apprehended in a vehicle loaded with explosives and weapons, after they failed to stop at a checkpoint, and then opened fire on Iraqi police who approached them, killing one and wounding another.

A warrant has now been issued by an Iraqi judge for the two men. A British military spokesman said there was "no legal basis" for the issuing of such a warrant.

An advisor to the Prime Minister of Iraq denounced the British actions: "It is a very unfortunate development that the British forces should try to release their forces the way it happened."

Now Ayatollah Mohammed Yaqubi, leader of one of Basra Province’s largest political parties, has told his supporters to reject the draft Iraqi Constitution in next month's referendum. This has apparently "shocked British diplomats."

When I was a child, I was fascinated with ant-colonies, and even assembled a few of them. You did this by finding one in the wild, uprooting it, grabbing up as many of the little critters as you could, hoping you'd snagged the queen, and throwing them all into a glass-sided case where you could watch them re-group and re-organize. Neat. And if they tried to escape, you simply flicked them back in. Once in a while you'd play around with the tunnels they made, so you could watch them build new ones. The poor insects probably thought they were still running things.

Well, you know where I'm going with this, so I won't draw out the obvious parallels. The war in Iraq rages on, as the Iraqi version of the Continental Congress process is carefully guided and controlled, but seems to be falling apart anyway. Women won't do well out of the Constitution, and that's if the thing passes in a few weeks. Meanwhile, a Washington-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has reported that very few of the insurgents in Iraq are foreign (4-10%) and that Saudi fighters trying to join the insurgency "were not militants before the Iraq war....[instead, they were] radicalized almost exclusively by the coalition invasion."

Note to parents: discourage your kids from messing about with insects. It could have consequences. Buy 'em a dog instead.

UPDATE (September 25). The British commander who authorized the destruction of the police station, Brig. John Lorimer, has refused to apologize. "The message this action has sent to terrorists around the world is that they cannot expect to take British soldiers hostage and get away with it," he said. Thus even the official forces of law and order in Iraq, the soldier ants if you like, are conveniently defined as "terrorists" when they get in the way of those who are really in charge.

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