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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Tell It Like It IS: Part Two

While I'm in the mood, here's another one for the tell it like it is list. I don't 'read' newspapers anymore (except maybe the FT and the electronic versions Bloomberg and Yahoo Business - if you can call them newspapers - just to track the day-to-day data) I glance down the google aggregator and latch onto what catches my eye. This is a sort of 'intuitive' component I guess. At the same time Google gives meta data to work from, since you can also use it to guage how large numbers of people are seeing things. Usually most of what you see there is 'clonic'. Then, just once in a while, a story hits the top of the pile which actually has something to say. Like this one from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Hussein's capture opens deep rifts

The tribal and religious divisions Saddam Hussein fostered during two decades in power erupted anew Tuesday, with southern Shiites continuing to celebrate his capture while supporters staged bloody ambushes of U.S. troops and Sunnis carried out violent protests.

In 24 years as president, Mr. Hussein, himself a Sunni, brutally repressed the country's Shia majority, assassinating top clerics and filling the country's prisons with their followers. His arrest has sparked outbreaks of unabashed joy in Shia areas, with parades still going on 48 hours after word first leaked that he had been caught.

The favour he showered on those who shared his tribal and religious roots seems to have bought Sunni loyalty as deep as the Shia enmity. As many as 19 people were killed in two days of violence, mostly in the so-called Sunni Triangle of towns around Baghdad, the area from where Mr. Hussein and his Baath Party sprang and which he later made the most affluent part of the country.

Incensed by pictures of a humiliated Mr. Hussein submitting to medical tests by a U.S. Army medic — and in some cases believing it was not actually the former dictator but a look-alike — residents confronted U.S. troops in the towns of Ramadi and Fallujah to the west of Baghdad, and Tikrit and Samarra to the north.

"This humiliation [of Mr. Hussein] has only made people angrier with the Americans," Baghdad resident Said Abu Mohammed said. "There will be more attacks, and more suicide bombings."

The U.S. military said a convoy came under attack near Samarra on Monday, and 11 people were killed as troops repelled what they called a "complex" ambush that began with a roadside bomb and was followed up with machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

Police and residents were contesting that version last night, however, saying just one Iraqi had been killed, and that the Americans were the only ones shooting, opening fire on a residential area in retaliation for the bombing. Neither side reported U.S. casualties.

Another bomb and grenade attack on U.S. troops in Khalyiyah resulted in the deaths of two insurgents after soldiers fired back at gunfire coming from a group of trucks.

Shortly after the Samarra ambush, U.S. troops, acting on a tip, arrested 73 suspected insurgents, including an alleged financier identified as Qais Hattam.

Tanks and helicopter gunships could be seen in the area of Fallujah and Ramadi yesterday afternoon, hours after U.S. soldiers opened fire on a pro-Hussein demonstration in Ramadi, killing at least three people.

A statement from the U.S. military said protesters fired repeatedly on troops, injuring one soldier. Television pictures aired last night by the British Broadcasting Corp. and several Arabic news stations, however, showed only bullets streaking through a crowd of Iraqis running away from the scene.

In Fallujah, crowds celebrated a rumour, started by an unknown source, that U.S. forces had captured someone who looked like their former president but was not Mr. Hussein himself.

U.S. troops moved in after demonstrators stormed a police station, and the troops reported one Iraqi killed. Police, however, said they removed two bodies. There was also a violent demonstration in support of the deposed dictator in the northern city of Mosul that resulted in the death of at least one policeman.

In Mr. Hussein's ancestral hometown of Tikrit, meanwhile, U.S. troops moved to break up another demonstration on his behalf after a bomb injured three U.S. soldiers. Troops warned they would use force to break up any future protests.

"They will not be allowed to go around kissing pictures of Saddam," said Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Russell, who commands a battalion of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit. He backed up the statement by deploying 30 Abrams battle tanks and 300 infantry soldiers in the centre of the city yesterday.

"We cannot hand out lollipops in this city," Col. Russell said. "It does not work here."

The scenes in the Sunni areas contrasted sharply with the celebrations in Shia parts of the country.

In the southern city of Basra, where Mr. Hussein mercilessly crushed a 1991 uprising against him, hundreds marched through the streets, still celebrating Mr. Hussein's arrest two days after U.S. soldiers found him hiding in a small pit behind a farmhouse near Tikrit.

"Death to Saddam," the crowd chanted. Many marchers waved newspaper photographs of a haggard-looking Mr. Hussein in U.S. captivity.

Baghdad Shiites also held a celebratory march yesterday.

"I'm so happy they got him," said Issam, a currency trader with a table on Paradise Square, where a statue of Mr. Hussein was famously toppled eight months ago after U.S. troops first entered the capital.

"Now we can finally stop talking about him. Now we can stop worrying about him."

My feeling is that this reporter has it so right. The big danger now is that of uncorking the bottle. People seem to forget what happened after the death of that other 'great dictator' Tito. Many have speculated over the intelligence quotient of GWB, I try not to do this. But collectively, what they are doing as an administration, seems to be the height of studpidity. All this reminds me so much of what I have been watching here in Spain over the last decade with the problem of Basque terrorism (and what I saw in the UK in the time of Ms Thatcher). You simply don't address the problems that give rise to terrorism by mounting a discourse directed at home consumption. This produces a feeling of humiliation, rage, and possibly a good deal more. This has been Aznar's 'folly' here in Spain. He has on every occasion sought to capitalise on ETA terrorism to gain political advantage. This makes the folks back in Madrid feel warm and comfortable inside, but also means that next year voters in the Basque region could actually vote for independence, something which would have been unthinkable when he came to power. Now it seems to me all this is about to repeat itself 'a lo grande' with the 'iraq problem' and US voters. I can't for the life of me understand why Hussein didn't meet with the same fate as Adolf Hitler or his own sons.

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