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Tal Afar; war crimes in Bush’s dystopia

"The strategy that worked so well in Tal Afar did not emerge overnight -- it came only after much trial and error. It took time to understand and adjust to the brutality of the enemy in Iraq. Yet the strategy is working." George Bush 3-20-06

By Mike Whitney

03/22/06 "
ICH"-- -- Bush’s March 20 speech to the City Club of Cleveland was the most derisory string of lies in modern-day oratory. Aside from the dreary repetition of terror-related slogans that appear with mind-numbing frequency, Bush droned on for a good ten minutes about America’s great success in Tal Afar.

Huh?

If that sounds obscure, it’s because it was intended to be. Independent media has been banned from Tal Afar throughout the conflict so accounts of the massive carnage and devastation have been sketchy at best. This allows the prevaricator-and-chief to simply make up the facts as he goes along; a talent for which Bush has shown amazing aptitude. If Tal Afar is the idyllic, democratic utopia Bush boasts about, then open the city to “unembedded” journalists who can confirm what he says and provide us with the details. That, of course, will never happen because along with the stories of brutality and slaughter, journalists are bound to find trace-elements of the chemical weapons that were used on the civilian population. Proof of war crimes and illegal weapons-use would undoubtedly throw a wrench in Bush’s Pollyanna fairytale.

The siege of Tal Afar was recently celebrated on CBS’ 60 Minutes in a segment called “Tal Afar: Al Qaida’s Town”; a thoroughly absurd piece of Pentagon-inspired propaganda intended to shore up flagging support for Bush’s war. Like Bush’s speech, 60 Minutes devoted considerable energy to revising the city’s’ recent history and creating an upbeat story of benign occupation. The real story of Tal Afar, however, is quite different than the bubbly narrative conveyed by Bush or his acolytes at “TV’s most popular news-magazine”.

According to Bush, Tal Afar had been taken over by Al Qaida “terrorists”, although he fails to explain how a few hundred fighters took control of a city of 200,000. Then, the terrorists did what terrorists always do in Bush-world…they terrorized people.

Bush says: “The savagery of the terrorists is hard for Americans to imagine. They enforced their rule through fear and intimidation…In one grim incident; the terrorists kidnapped a young boy from the hospital and killed him.” (There’s no record of this incident) “And then they booby-trapped his body, he was blown up. (Never happened) “These weren’t random acts of violence; these were deliberate and highly-organized attempts to maintain control through intimidation. In Tal Afar, the terrorists had schools for kidnapping and beheading.” (Schools for beheading?) “And they sent a clear message to the citizens of the city: Anyone who opposes their reign of terror will be murdered.” (absurd)

Bush goes on: “The terrorists were deliberately firing mortars into playgrounds and soccer fields filled with children” (nonsense) “Communities became armed enclaves. If you were in part of Tal Afar that was not considered friendly, the terrorists cut off your basic services like electricity and water.” (The US military destroyed the water and power lines prior to the siege)

Finally, Bush leans towards his audience and in an ominous-sounding whisper says, “In one cache of weapons we found an axe inscribed with the names of the victims the terrorists had beheaded.” (outrageous)

Patting himself on the back, Bush adds cheerily, “The operation accomplished all this while protecting innocent civilians and inflicting minimal damage on the city.”

The real story of Tal Afar is significantly different than Bush’s deluded account and considerably more tragic.

The siege of Tal Afar began on September 2, 2005. It was the largest military offensive since the assault on Falluja a year earlier. In 2004 the US military attempted to take over the city but was rebuffed by heavy fighting. After that, the guerilla movement inside the city intensified expecting a future attack.

A US officer told the Washington Post, “The September operation basically made people angry, which the insurgents were able to take advantage of. It had the opposite effect as intended. We created a power-vacuum and they filled it”

Approximately, 5,000 American and Iraqi troops sealed off the city, enclosing it behind a massive wall of sand with military checkpoints. Then the city’s people were forcefully evacuated leaving them to fend for themselves. The Red Cross was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the exodus and was unable to provide shelter, water, or food for many of those who fled. Regrettably, thousands of people chose to stay and withstand the withering assault rather than expose themselves to the Shiite death squads from the Interior Ministry who were operating in conjunction with the American forces. The city was then relentlessly pounded for more than a week by Abrams tanks, F-16s, helicopter gun-ships, and heavy artillery. At least four mosques were bombed and the Sarai area was hammered persistently with 500 and 1000 lb bombs. The Iraqi newspaper Azzaman reported, “Eyewitnesses spoke of ‘scores of casualties due to indiscriminate bombing”.

The entire operation was conducted in relative secrecy because the people in the United States were more focused on the unfolding Katrina tragedy.

The siege was executed according to the normal protocols; massive destruction of personal property, leveling areas where resistance appeared, snipers picking off anything that moves on the city streets, and the routine rounding up of anyone who seems at all suspicious.

“Thousands of Tal Afar residents were trapped inside Sarai by the cordon of tanks and barbed wire that was flung up around the district to prevent resistance fighters from escaping.” (James Cogan WSWS)

“Significant parts of Tal Afar are reported to be in ruin. Electricity and phone services have been cut off and hospitals are breaking down. The Iraqi human rights Center issued an urgent appeal t the Iraqi government to stop the assault and allow rescue teams to access the area to deliver food, water and medical supplies.” (James Cogan WSWS)

“Islam online.net” reported that “Residents of Tal Afar have sent out an SOS to the international community to interfere with the continuing bombing of their devastated city, revealing a terrible humanitarian crisis.”

“The Americans are bombing the city with chemical weapons”, one unidentified man said, adding that other residents are complaining of suffocation and other health problems related to exposure to US ordinance.

The report is consistent with evidence of banned weapons that were used in an earlier attack on Falluja.

The idea that Tal Afar was an Al Qaida stronghold was a ridiculous public relations scam to conceal the operation’s real objectives. The siege was clearly designed as part of a broader “scotched-earth” policy directed at Sunni cities. That’s explains why “not one foreign fighter was captured in the siege despite claims that the city was a haven for foreign terrorists.” (Linda Heard)

Colonel Greg Reilly admitted as much to Al Jazeera saying that the resistance “went into hiding, avoiding us. That’s why there’s no fighting. They are not putting up a fight.”

Unfortunately, the Pentagon’s de-facto news blackout kept this story from receiving any serious attention in the press.

Local Iraqi journalist, Nasir Ali, summarized the goals of the siege saying, “Every time the US Army and Iraqi government want to destroy a specific city they claim it hosts Arab fighters and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.”

Ali is correct, but there is a more sinister motive as well, the deliberate “preemptive” purging of Sunnis to roll back the mounting pressure from the resistance. The attack on Tal Afar was not a battle with terrorists but a clear attempt at ethnic cleansing.

Following the siege the Red Crescent reported that “170 people from Tal Afar had been made sick from “inhaling gases” and “curious poisons”; another indication that proscribed weapons were used on civilians.

James Cogan reports that, “The US led offensive has left hundreds of homes, shops, offices and mosques severely damaged. US and Iraqi troops have now rampaged through every home in Tal Afar searching for surviving insurgents or weapons caches. When residents are able to return to their houses, they will find their doors and widows kicked in, their furniture smashed, and their personal effects ruined or looted.”

Summarizing: Tal Afar was forcefully evacuated, ruthlessly bombarded, brazenly captured and laid to waste….but no sign of Al Qaida? As Colonel Reilly said, “They went into hiding”.

Right.

Jonathan Finer clarified what really took place in Tal Afar in a Washington Post article:

“Tal Afar was 70% Sunni Turkmen and 30% Shiite Turkmen. The Sunni Turkmen had thrown in with Saddam, and more recently to radical Islam. The Shiite Turkmen lived in fear of their lives.

So Kurds and Shiite are beating up on Sunni Turkmen allies of Sunnis Arabs. …It’s mainly about punishing the Sunni Turkmen for allying with the Sunni Arab guerrillas.”

So, the US role in this bloody farce was to aid and abet the forces that were involved in promoting sectarian violence and civil war; that much is crystal clear. None of this has anything to do with Bush’s endless palavering about Al Qaida. Tel Afar was about “ethnic-payback” pure and simple; a strategy that fits seamlessly with the broader aims of the occupation to crush the indigenous resistance and to “divide and conquer”.

The widely-respected Council of Nineveh issued a statement from the Brussels Tribunal that was ignored in the western media but is worth reiterating here:

“The truth of what is happening in Tal Afar of the extreme use of force and the use of internationally forbidden weapons of poison gases, cluster, microwave, and napalm bombs, we demand that autopsies be carried out on the corpses of our sons who fell in the barbaric aggression to verify the inhuman practices carried out by the American forces and the (Iraqi) militias that participated in the massacre of Tal Afar.”

“The massacre of Tal Afar”?

That doesn’t sound much like Bush’s flowery rhetoric about “children playing on the streets and shops reopening”, does it?

And, it doesn’t coincide very well with the president’s version of ‘fighting bloodthirsty terrorists’ and their “hateful ideology” or “spreading liberty and democracy” to the people of Tal Afar.

What took place in Tal Afar was a massive, protracted war crime engineered by the White House, executed by the Pentagon, and papered over by the collaborative-press. The rest is just the delusional ravings of a maniac.

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