Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Madam Jane predicts: The Marines will be heroes in Iraq -- and in Berkeley!

Recently there have been several demonstrations and counter-demonstrations outside a Marine recruiting office in downtown Berkeley, California. Code Pink, an excellent progressive organization who usually has its heart in the right place, has been picketing the Marine office there, apparently because of the Marines' role in Iraq. But this time I have to say that Code Pink is wrong.

Counter-demonstrating against Code Pink has been a group who call themselves "A Gathering of Eagles," blindly claiming that Washington's policies in Iraq are spotless and above blame. And this group is also dead wrong.

Thankfully, however, Madam Jane has the correct information on the situation and is willing to tell all. Madam Jane has her crystal ball all warmed up and ready to go. Plus Madam Jane also has the extra added advantage of being right here, in Al Ambar province, inside Iraq, right now. But what do the cards say? Let's take a look.

Because the US military commanders in Iraq originally wanted to use "economy of force" in Al Ambar and concentrate mainly on the Baghdad area, the Marines got assigned the sole duty of taking over this province. So. Success or failure in this area can be solely attributed to -- or blamed upon -- the Marines' actions here and the reactions to these actions by the people of Anbar province.

Of course it's easy to look into the past and see what has happened back then. In the last few years, Ambar province has had extreme issues with violence and the major concern of the citizenry here has been with security, security, security.

As for the present? A great deal of progress has been made very recently toward making this place more secure. Even six months ago, not even the local citizens could safely walk down the streets of Hit (pronounced Heet), a city of 200,000, located in this western province. Yet the day before yesterday, I was out walking around Hit, chatting with the residents and playing with the kids -- although I do gotta confess that when I tried to hold a two-year-old girl in my arms, she DID burst into tears. And you can't just credit this all to the Marines. The local shieks have also played a big role as have the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi police -- people like Colonel Shab'an, the Lion of Al Ambar, who originally funded the local police force with his own money and won back his area from AQI, street by street and block by block. But the Marines are in the local heroes' corner and that really helps.

Are there still insurgents in Al Ambar? Yes. Is the area totally secured? No. But when I went to a hearing held by the governor the other day to find out what the concerns of the citizens of Hit were, the people were talking about getting schools repaired, getting water treatment plants up and running, getting sewage pipes laid, getting more access to the courts. Security, the end-all and be-all of the last governor's hearing, was now way down on the list.

Why is that? Because the Marines in Al Ambar are doing a great job. Period. Their mission here is to help the Iraqis become self-sufficient and then step back. And that is just what they are doing.

Madame Jane predicts that this mission will be successful -- if the Marines are allowed to continue to work as hard as they are doing now to MAKE it happen. Every day, I have watched Marines go out into the province and talk with the sheiks, the city council members, the mayors, the residents, etc. regarding the local people's rebuilding needs and how the Marines could best help the Iraqis to start, work on and complete these projects. You have NO idea. The Marines are doing everything they can to make Al Ambar more and better than just a failed province within a failed state.

Madam Jane predicts that both Code Pink and A Gathering of Eagles would be a lot more effective if they turned their energies toward Washington DC and place their picket lines there -- where the policy decisions are made -- and just leave the Marines alone to do their work. To quote one Marine, "When a gunner are aiming for a target and missing it, he needs to adjust his fire so as to hit the right target." And the same goes for these groups. They also need to hit the right target and adjust their fire.

The Marines here truly are working for peace. It really pains me to say that, but it's true. You have no idea how much I -- the ultimate progressive advocate of peace and non-violence -- would love to diss anything about what is going on in Iraq but, frankly, I have been very impressed by the Marines' grasp of the concept of winning battles by winning hearts and minds.

Now if only Washington DC would please take heed, take note and follow suit.

Code Pink, please back off from attacking the Marines. You have important battles to fight -- but this is not one of them. As another Marine here just told me, "Attacking the Marines here in Anbar would be the same as if a building contractor had sold you a faulty house and the pipes all leaked and a plumber came to fix the problem and then you yelled at HIM instead of the contractor." The Marines are the plumbers. They are working hard to fix the pipes. Stand back and give them room to work.

Madam Jane also predicts that "A Gathering of Eagles" would benefit greatly from a course in good manners. "Handsome is as handsome does."

Madam Jane's chrystal ball is showing a clear picture of how things really are in Ambar these days. And if anyone doesn't believe me, I challenge them to come out and see for themselves. And if no one believes me, send out the New York Times or Sixty Minutes instead. And talk with the unit commanders. Visit the forward operating bases. Chat with the mayors and the police captains and the school teachers and the sheiks and the kids. See for yourself.

PS: I have to confess, however, that my chrystal ball has failed me in one respect. As to the long-range future of Iraq, the darn thing has clouded up on me! I shake it and shake it, but nothing shows up. "What if the US pulled out of Iraq tomorrow," I ask -- and get nothing. "What if the US stays here for ten or twenty years and our country goes bankrupt trying to deal with Iraq?" It's blank. What is wrong with this ball? Is it because I bought it used at the flea market? Maybe.

"What if the US pulls out, leaves a vacuum and Iran moves in instead?" Wait! I'm seeing something! My chrystal ball just predicted that if Iran moves into Iraq then it will face the same situation that the neo-cons did when they leaped before they looked back in 2003 -- and then IRAN would be in the position of occupier and IRAN would be the one going bankrupt instead of us. How ironic is that?

Whoops. Madam Jane's chrystal ball has just faded and gone dark. Sorry about that. It's time for me to put it back under the bed. But do not dispair. Common sense is still available to all of us. And common sense tells us that the Marines in Anbar are on to something -- hearts and minds. And here's something else to think about: People -- be they Iraqis, American politicians, fundamentalist zealots or the Middle East mafia -- can't just go around killing everybody all the time. Greed, power and this insane eye-for-an-eye cycle sucks eggs bigtime because if everyone keeps this stuff up much longer, there will be NONE of us left.

PPS: A friend in the US military in Baghdad just got out his crystal ball too. Here's what he said that it says: "I have not yet been to the Anbar province, but I understand that the neighborhood watch groups there and civil-military projects that the Marines are conducting there are showing progress." See! His chrystal ball agrees!

"I must say, however, that when you claim 'the war is over if you want it,' you are grossly underestimating what GEN Petraeus stated in September when he said that security across Iraq is extremely inconsistent. In numerous parts of Iraq, namely south Baghdad, the fighting part of the war -- firefights, IEDs, etc -- is very much still alive. We are seeing it every day. In some neighborhoods, we cannot yet allow the civil affairs soldiers to do their work on the roads, schools, sewage until security reaches an acceptable level...which it has not. School has just recently started up again now that Ramadan is over. However, just a few weeks ago, the school/mosque complexes were used by insurgents in the neighborhood as locations from which to fight." His chrystal ball is located in Baghdad, BTW.

"The corruption issue goes deeper than we also like to acknowledge -- it has not really been acknowledged enough in the media. Every service -- trash collection, propane, electricity -- is in some way funding the terrorists. JAM reaps a cut in the Shia-controlled areas; AQI in the Sunni ones. The Iraqi Police are infested with JAM, and the people know it. Just a few days ago, an Iraqi Brig Gen was caught aiding in planning a rocket attack on a US base." Of course my friend also confesses that his crystal ball read this last information in Stars & Stripes.

"My point," my friend's crystal ball continued, "is that the insurgents are smarter than I think you give them credit for. They are not just shooting themselves in the foot. Both sides are trying to kill Americans in order to reduce and diminish our will to stay and fight and/or mediate. At the same time, the Sunni/Shia extremist fight mounts as the two sides try to control every facet of the infrastructure, and when we do leave, they will wage the much anticipated war to see who can be the next 'Saddam', only this time democracy will make it look almost legitimate. Oh, and I am forgetting to investigate what Iran and Saudi Arabia will do when the mediator -- America -- leaves...."

And then my friend's chrystal ball too went cloudy and he was forced to conclude, "You may be able to tell from what I've written that, after two months of daily interaction with the Iraqis...I am a bit frustrated at the reality of it all as well." Me too.

PPPS: Here's more crystal ball gazing from an experienced journalist friend: "Likewise, I wish the war would end too, but it is far from over. There may be small bubbles of coercive peace where a given faction or foreign firepower dominates, yet the Iraqis' numerous grievances far outweigh what any outsider can truly fathom -- never under-estimate factions and their desire for revenge."

Madam Jane agrees with that statement for sure. There are circles within circles and layers within layers to this whole "war" and within the whole Middle East itself that no one can even begin to understand -- let alone little me. No wonder my chrystal ball is on strike! And as I prepare to go up to Haditha for the next two days and then to proceed home through Kuwait, I am almost overwhelmed with just one burning question. "Does ANYONE -- either here, in the Middle East, or in Europe or America -- really understand what the freak is going on in Iraq?" Or what to do about it even if they did....