Monday, May 19, 2008

IVAW Members Meet Iraq Ambassador, Discuss Restoring Iraqi Sovereignty

On May 17, 2008 three other members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and myself met with Iraqi ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie at the Iraqi Embassy open house. We got there just in time to get in line before they closed the gate. We started taking pictures with the plaque on the outside of the building when one of the embassy staff members, a gentleman in his mid thirties wearing a suit, approached us and offered to take our picture so we could all be in it.

I thanked him in Arabic and we started chatting. I told him about my time in Fallujah and asked him where he was from. He said Baghdad, and Mark Wilkerson asked him what was the last time he was there. He said he had been living in the US since 1982, the year I was born.

On the way in, we passed through a security checkpoint similar to the ones used at airports. I forgot that I was wearing steel-toe boots after taking my metallic personal effects out of my pockets, putting them on a little plastic tray, and stepping through the metal detector. The Iraqi man on the other side motioned me towards him and said, “No problem,” before waving me down with the wand. Having performed the same procedure without the courtesy of a wand on thousands of Iraqis, the irony was a kick in the nuts to say the least. We were now on sovereign Iraqi soil. Except for the sovereign part.

We were led into what seemed like a reception room with a handful of tourists where for thirty awkward seconds or so, we watched a video on a flat screen TV of an interview with two non-Arabs who seemed to be talking about Iraq. Then we were led back across the hall into another room that had a number of ancient artifacts and paintings on display.

There were also flat screen TVs around the room playing a sideshow that guided the viewer through the history of Iraq since at least its independence in 1932. While the first seventy years or so were pretty glossed over and left out a lot about the coup and the Iran-Iraq war, the recent history was much more thorough. As the slides changed, I eagerly awaited the timeline to get to 2004, to see the battles of Fallujah, or at least the handover of power, on June 28th, but both were noticeably absent.

While I was captivated by this sideshow, the other IVAW members were making their way around the room and meeting various staff members. Matthis Chiroux was particularly struck by the ancient artifacts on display; some were the recovered remains of collections that were looted after the invasion, most of which are still missing. One that caught his eye in particular was the statue of Entemena, a headless statue of a king from around 2400 bc that was excavated in Ur.

The statue has a very interesting history, even just since being dug up in the early 20th century by a joint expedition of the University of Pennsylvania and the British Museum. It was stolen during the looting of the Iraq National Museum in April of 2003. Ironically, it has been said that the statue may have originally came to Ur as a war trophy, since the inscription says it originally stood in Lagash. It was recovered in 2006 by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement wing of DHS, and is considered on of Interpol's most significant recoveries.

According to a press release from the Embassy of Iraq from June 25th, 2006 that was on the table there, “Maliki and Secretary for Homeland Security Michael Chertoff participated in a ceremony marking the repatriation of the diorite statue of Entemena to the Iraqi Government, at the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq.” As if to say, “we're sorry,” I guess.

Meanwhile, Kristofer Goldsmith was purchasing a book entitled History Begins At Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts In Recorded History from one of the embassy staffers. He was explaining to Kris how the proceeds from the book were going to raise awareness about artifacts that were looted during the invasion, and Kris was more than happy to support the cause.

Mark Wilkerson had already proceeded through the building and was downstairs checking out the two rooms that opened out onto the rear driveway, where a garage might have been. One of them was a souvenir shop and the other was a gallery with photos of various landmarks in Iraq like the Ruins of Ur and the Minaret at Samarra. There were also two pictures depicting Americans in Iraq. One was a photo of Petraeus sitting on a couch with an Iraqi in a suit and the other was an anonymous soldier smiling face to face with a little boy. I knew that Maliki would only send an ambassador who endorsed “his” platform, but it would be interesting to see with how much enthusiasm.

By then I had joined Kris and was talking with the staffer who sold him the book. He had left soon after the invasion and was very supportive of what we were doing, but was nervously quiet about it. Then the ambassador himself came in with his little entourage, which included a rather burly and surly Iraqi General with a mustache, who seemed to be a carbon copy of the half-dozen or so Iraqi generals that I met in Iraq.

The first thing the ambassador hit me with was something to the effect of, “We want to make sure that your comrades and all Americans who have sacrificed so much have not done so in vain.” I had to reply with the all too gory lawnmower metaphor to quickly deconstruct this dangerous emotional appeal. “If you're working on a lawnmower, and you get a couple fingers chopped off by the blade, would you ever think that you had to put your arm in up to the elbow so that your fingers weren't lost in vain?” We went back and forth for a while and I had a chance to explain the essence of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and communicate my reasons for being a member, before I let him take a nearly uninterrupted thirty minutes to explain his platform.

We discussed Iran for a while, and he mentioned the power vacuum and the susceptibility to Iranian influence. He explained to me the significance of Ahmadinejad visiting Baghdad and being welcomed, but not getting to visit certain religious sites, which as a Shi'ite guest to Iraq, is very significant. But he did acknowledge the contrast to President Bush's visits, which only happen in secrecy and under the cover of darkness. He described Iraq as a carcass, or piece of meat that a circling group of vultures were taking pieces out of. He was afraid that in a “power vacuum” Iran would be able to get a bigger piece of influence. The implication was that American protection was needed, but he recognized that American contractors have also become vultures pulling at the carcass.

I had two points I had to make when he was done, however, and he graciously gave me his attention. I explained that from my experience, I realized that a single Iraqi cop has more of an effect of creating rule of law, which is what Iraq really needs, in a small Iraqi town, than an entire platoon of Marines who can impose martial law, piss people off, and make targets of themselves. He enthusiastically agreed that the best way Americans could support Iraq was to help get more Iraqi security forces on the streets rather than doing the patrolling ourselves.

He had also mentioned the numerous mistakes made by L. Paul Bremmer, a man I had served under for the first half of my time in Iraq, until the handover of power on June 28th. I told him that I had met Bremmer, served under him, looked him in the eyes, and even had a chance to question him when he spoke at my college after I came back, and I did not believe that all of the mistakes were honest mistakes because of the obscene profit that is to be had from instability.

I also pointed out that the best way to prevent future “mistakes” was to keep Americans from being in a position to make them, and to keep American corporations from being able to tear off chunks of Iraqi flesh. He ended by saying, “There is a lot of truth in what you say. I wish you the best of luck.”

He shook all of our hands and introduced us to a son of one of the staffers who was missing his right index, middle, and ring fingers. Apparently, he had lost them because he voted in 2004. Kris had a moment when he said that he recognized him from Iraq from right before the elections, but as Kris's appearance has changed drastically since then, the recognition was not mutual, although the Iraqi was taken aback and unsure for a while. He was now enjoying life as a student at an American university.

He told us of a time when students at his university in Baghdad had been killed and Mahdi Militia members were taking things from their bodies, even rings from their fingers, when US soldiers came and chased them away. He was a strong advocate of an American presence patrolling the streets, but was under the impression that Iraqis could continue to patrol side by side with US patrols, and somehow the Iraqis would eventually take charge and be able to establish rule of law with US-style military patrols. Matthis took the opportunity to quote Ben Franklin, “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” The Iraqi said he did not want Americans there forever, but could not describe a way for a transition to occur.

By then the open house had been over for a couple of hours and we were the only ones left who did not seem to have some business being there. So we said our goodbyes and found ourselves in a very nice alley behind embassy row. We walked back down Massachusetts Avenue to spend the rest of the afternoon laying on the grass in Dupont Circle, talking politics and reflecting on our visit to the the not-so-sovereign piece of Iraqi territory in Washington, DC.


I have seen some silly shit in my 18 years in the Marine Corps. This comes close to taking the cake.

What I have sent you is a 14 page acknowledgement form that is being required of every Marine assigned to the II Marine Expeditionary Force to initial and sign. We are told that everyone needs to print and complete a paper copy of this form to be maintained by the unit's Safety Officer. There are more than 47,000 Marines and sailors in II MEF. LtGen Keith Stalder is currently the Commanding General.

I recognize that we do subject ourselves to some silly rules when we serve in the military, but this is over the top. They tell us this is about safety. The reality is that this is just a means to inflict punishment on Marines. It also serves a method to avoid paying for Marines' injuries if they should get hurt operating a motor vehicle.

Feel free to post this Safety Form around as you see fit. This will be a shining example of stupid shit that I will share with prospective applicants who think they want to be Marines. Until we get out of Iraq, I would like to see no one volunteer for military service.

Semper Fidelis,

Jeff ******

And something from Jacqueline:

Adam Kokesh Proudly Welcomes Fellow Marine Marcus "Tex" Whitfill to IVAW

I first met Marcus while trying out for the Marine Corps Rugby Team in 2005. We hit it off, but I haven't seen him since then, and most of our communication has been through his annoying facebook applications. About six months after we met, he left the Marines and started thinking. Five months later he wrote the blog post below for his myspace profile. For some reason, he waited until just today to show it to me, and I asked him if he was a member of IVAW yet. In our facebook chat, he said, "Should I be?" To which I replied, "you bet your ass you should be, you have not only a right, but a responsibility to speak out once you realize that not only did those Marines that have passed die for a lie, but that more die for a lie every day." Thanks to our secure server, he will soon be a member of IVAW. "Welcome to the struggle, brother."
Marcus' Theory On Our War
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I have been out of the Marines for 5 months now, and people always ask me what I think about this conflict that our country has got itself into. So I think I will share my thoughts on the subject.

First of all, I was in boot camp when 9/11 occurred. I could have been like you, walking around aimlessly, or in school. But i was in what some would call hell. Think of Marine Corps boot camp as a forced 3 month thought process, or for some, I can relate it to an extended wrestling practice.

My thoughts on that day weren't about lives lost or national emergency. They were selfish thoughts about how i could do this to myself. I joined for the college money; I didn't want to aim at anyone; or be aimed at for that matter. It was scary and exciting all at the same time. I saw people cry that day, but it wasn't about 9/11, it was a selfish and cowardly cry.

I came home to endless amounts of patriotism and it made me sick to my stomach. I like to think it was ludicrous that a country needed something like that to come together and rally around each other. The funny thing was that before I left in late June, my family, friends, and acquaintances had advised me that my decision to defend the country in return for an education was a bad one. When I got home on September 21st the same people treated me like a war hero. I don't know if it was the impending doom that I could have faced or that I was a crusader for their vindictive agenda. It was a weird time for me and I didn't even try to understand what had happened and ignored all media surrounding it. This was because I was under a rock that day and I could have never understood the fear that people felt that day.

I look at the conflicts that have occurred since and make this analysis:

Afghanistan wasn't the only country that was harboring terrorists and al-q. Several of my colleagues and eventually myself went on deployments all over southeast Asia as a pre-emptive strike against the Muslim religion as a whole. I don't know the exact figure but a lot of Muslims live in places like Singapore, due to religious profiling by our society and military leadership, we administered blanket coverage of all that is Muslim. This was because of the buzz term jihad. "If they are Muslim, then they have jihad in their hearts" I heard Bill Reilly say. The media expedited fear throughout the world.

I spent a fast two years in Japan with the fear of North Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines. I originally planned to only stay a year there, but the Iraq war started and they placed a hold on everybody in the USMC.

The Iraq war seemed to come on fast. Bush was very pressing with congress, almost to the point of being coercive. That really bothered me. Up to that point our country had been about 50/50 between neo-liberalism and neo-realism. We still had respect for the U.N and tried not to hop when they said no. Bush changed the regime in our country to a 85/15 between "n.r" and "n.l" leaning more towards the diplomacy of a bullet than the diplomacy of global sanction. I understand that we tried to sanction Iraq several times without any compliance. But did we need to undermine the authority of our global system?

Probably not, and here is why: France hates us, Spain has disdain for us, Russia disapproves, China is very careful about taking a stance but hasnt offered any support, and Saudi Arabia has us walking on eggshells. The only friend we have is the U.K. and its various territorial interests, i.e. Australia. The mob in the U.K. has placed enough pressure on blair for supporting us that he is going to resign though, so dont count on that for too much longer.

The bottom line is this: If you look at it objectively, if we weren't as hegemonic as we are and "representative democracy without religious influence" was somehow unpopular. If we had control of a large portion of one of the world's most consumed natural resource, and we had a leader who could be viewed as a complete "state"sman, or global system cowboy who worried about his own region. If we trying to build up our defenses to match the capabilities of our threats and were constantly hounded about it. What if somebody came into your backyard and thwarted your leader by force, and started to install a foreign system foregoing the "this is how we have always done it" mentality? Would you not see some dude in Parma firing up his combine and running over the "occupying force" What about american innovation when it came to improvised weapons? We have teenagers who can walk into schools and launch a full scale suicide mission on his/her fellow classmates. The only motivation behind those cases were the inability to fit in and being ostricized for it. Could you imagine what our citizens would do?

So to that situation I ask, why are we doing it to others? We are taking over by brute force and installing "a better way" to do business. A person of middle eastern descent predicted the future for me. Afghanistan and iraq are geographic neighbors to Iran, So militarily, that is a perfect situation for invasion. I hope this doesn't come to fruition, because that will mean i have to go back and support a cause i obviously do not believe in.

I hope you gained something from this and will think about supporting my brothers and sisters in arms. The policing actions of our neo-realism ideology need to stop, we lose credibility by trying to install democracy by force.

Have a nice day/evening/morning

A Message From A Friend of Mine in Iraq