Riverbend to leave Iraq


After much discussion Riverbend's family is joining the ranks of refugees fleeing Iraq:

"Since last summer, we had been discussing it more and more. It was only a matter of time before what began as a suggestion- a last case scenario- soon took on solidity and developed into a plan. For the last couple of months, it has only been a matter of logistics. Plane or car? Jordan or Syria? Will we all leave together as a family? Or will it be only my brother and I at first?

After Jordan or Syria- where then? Obviously, either of those countries is going to be a transit to something else. They are both overflowing with Iraqi refugees, and every single Iraqi living in either country is complaining of the fact that work is difficult to come by, and getting a residency is even more difficult. There is also the little problem of being turned back at the border. Thousands of Iraqis aren't being let into Syria or Jordan- and there are no definite criteria for entry, the decision is based on the whim of the border patrol guard checking your passport.

An airplane isn't necessarily safer, as the trip to Baghdad International Airport is in itself risky and travelers are just as likely to be refused permission to enter the country (Syria and Jordan) if they arrive by airplane. And if you're wondering why Syria or Jordan, because they are the only two countries that will let Iraqis in without a visa. Following up visa issues with the few functioning embassies or consulates in Baghdad is next to impossible.

So we've been busy. Busy trying to decide what part of our lives to leave behind. Which memories are dispensable? We, like many Iraqis, are not the classic refugees- the ones with only the clothes on their backs and no choice. We are choosing to leave because the other option is simply a continuation of what has been one long nightmare- stay and wait and try to survive.

On the one hand, I know that leaving the country and starting a new life somewhere else- as yet unknown- is such a huge thing that it should dwarf every trivial concern. The funny thing is that it’s the trivial that seems to occupy our lives. We discuss whether to take photo albums or leave them behind. Can I bring along a stuffed animal I've had since the age of four? Is there room for E.'s guitar? What clothes do we take? Summer clothes? The winter clothes too? What about my books? What about the CDs, the baby pictures?

The problem is that we don't even know if we'll ever see this stuff again. We don't know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends… And to what?

It's difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain."

ISG: History Repeating

In London as in Washington... Gordon's big problem is Iraq, and when cornered New Labour ask themselves "What would George do?".

We're getting our own Iraq Study Group. Really. Gordon has invited Pantsdown Paddy and Jeremy Greenstock to figure a way to get us out of this mess that Tony got us into - with the active support of Gordon.

Somehow I don't think they'll try the 'surge' idea.

A History Lesson


On April 4th 1967, Dr Martin Luther King Jr announced his opposition to the Vietnam war in his sermon A Time to Break Silence

You can read the speech in the link, but it is far better to listen to the great man.

Spinning the Lancet, Redux.


Richard Horton writing in Comment is Free gives his response to the BBC's uncovering of the lies and spin that came out of our Government upon publication the Lancet figures for deaths in Iraq.

Immediately after publication, the prime minister's official spokesman said that The Lancet's study "was not one we believe to be anywhere near accurate". The foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that the Lancet figures were "extrapolated" and a "leap". President Bush said: "I don't consider it a credible report".

Scientists at the UK's Department for International Development thought differently. They concluded that the study's methods were "tried and tested". Indeed, the Hopkins approach would likely lead to an "underestimation of mortality".

The Ministry of Defence's chief scientific advisor said the research was "robust", close to "best practice", and "balanced". He recommended "caution in publicly criticising the study".

When these recommendations went to the prime minister's advisers, they were horrified. One person briefing Tony Blair wrote: "are we really sure that the report is likely to be right? That is certainly what the brief implies?" A Foreign Office official was forced to conclude that the government "should not be rubbishing The Lancet".

The prime minister's adviser finally gave in. He wrote: "the survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones".

How would the government respond?

Would it welcome the Hopkins study as an important contribution to understanding the military threat to Iraqi civilians? Would it ask for urgent independent verification? Would it invite the Iraqi government to upgrade civilian security?

Of course, our government did none of these things. Tony Blair was advised to say: "the overriding message is that there are no accurate or reliable figures of deaths in Iraq".

His official spokesman went further and rejected the Hopkins report entirely. It was a shameful and cowardly dissembling by a Labour - yes, by a Labour - prime minister.

Credit has to go to the BBC for uncovering this, but where has the 'story gone' - and why was it kept so quiet for the 'Unhappy Aniversary' of the Liberation of those dead lucky Iraqis?

The BBC ran the story online on Monday the 26th of March, after 'Iraq Week', after the Question Time Iraq Special and all those Newsnight segments on the cost of the war.

Yet the BBC tell us they received the information on 14 March 2007 - Twelve days before they broadcast it.

- Wouldn't all that debate and discussion that took place on the BBC throughout "Iraq Week", in the 12 days between receiving the information and publishing it have been better framed against the context of what appears to be the most accurate estimate of civillian deaths in Iraq?

- Isn't the obvious parallel between the spinning of the Lancet Report and the spinning  of what the government was being told by it's own experts about the intelligence on WMD [as opposed to what they told us] worth pursuing?  One is, after all, the consequence of the other...

- Shouldn't the relevant Government Ministers be hounded untill they come before parliament, or on camera to account for the discrepancy between what their own experts were telling them about the validity of the Lancet study, and the lies and spin they fed us?

It would appear not. 

More from medialens on 'Burying the Lancet' here and here.
[via anon, in the comments on the previous post.]

Blair And Bush Hit By Friendly Fire


Poor old Tony (and poor old Dubya).  Having bravely come out back in October 2006 pooh-poohing the estimate of 655,000 excess deaths since the Iraq invasion claimed in the Lancet report [PDF] (a pooh-poohing echoed wildly by the insanosphere over in the US) it must come as something of a shock to be on the receiving end of some friendly fire from the MOD today:

[T]he Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser said the survey's methods were "close to best practice" and the study design was "robust".  source

Well, so far what we know - only a few people ever disagreed with that and they were discredited, insane or (usually) both.  Talking of which, here's the Prime Minister's Official Smokescreen from just after publication (12/10/2006).

more important was the view of the Iraqi government, which, as recently as October, had said that the Lancet report numbers method was far from the correct. The Iraqi health ministry was the place to get the relevant figures. The problem with this was that they were using an extrapolation technique, from a relatively small sample, from an area of Iraq which was not representative of the country as a whole. We had questioned that technique from the beginning and we continued to do so. The Lancet figure was a greater order of magnitude than of any other figure. It was not one we believed to be anywhere near accurate.  source

In short, a strong case of cognitive dissonance, given that the BBC's FoIA request now reveals that they were being told internally that the method was sound *at the time* (well, the day after, on the 13th).  We know Blair and the other inmates of the Fuhrerbunker are unscientific - the faith schools/evolution argument and the technical/engineering illiteracy over ID cards and NHS IT give it away - but this is cast-iron proof - one of the tests of good scientists is not discarding eye-opening results merely because to do so risks having your eyes opened.  Sadly, our Prime Minister is happy to lead the country with his eyes firmly shut to the consequences of his criminal folly.

Other bloggage:
Lenin's Tomb
New Uber-Blogger Craig Murray

Unhappy Anniversary


It shouldn't have escaped anyone's attention that this is the fourth anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq. The media has been full of it with an abundance of special editions of various programs looking back on the last four years and debating the consequences of the invasion, the latest edition of Question Time is a good example (video here for a short time). From all this, one message comes out loud and clear and that is that the general consensus is that the Iraq war is a complete and utter disaster and going from bad to worse. The apologists for and supporters of the war look more ludicrous every day as they desperately search for signs of 'progress' or ways to spin the daily litany of bad news into evidence of a 'turning point'. Even the old line that by removing a brutal dictator some sort of improvement has been made is being exposed as rubbish as more and more Iraqis say they felt better off and safer under Saddam Hussein.

There is a change in the air since the earlier days of the war as more people recognise how bad things are and start to re-examine the falsehoods that dragged us into this quagmire. For example, BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson has belatedly discovered "New" doubts over Iraq intelligence. There is nothing new about these doubts at all, just further evidence in support of the fact that intelligence was manipulated and misused to make the case for a pre-planned war. A quick visit to The Downing St Memo website, and a look at the series of leaked memos that provide an insight into the decision making process that lead up to war would have given him ample evidence that the intelligence described by Tony Blair as "extensive, detailed and authoritative" was anything but, evidence that Simpson neglects to mention. He could have made far more of the now infamous Downing Street memo which clearly shows that the 'intelligence' was interpreted to fit the policy. John Simpson also derides the lack of coverage of Lord Butler's comments last month in which he accused Tony Blair of being "disingenuous" in the way he used intelligence, and reports MP Michael Mates "surprise" at the lack of "killing questions" when the Butler Inquiry reported back in 2004. Fair enough, but we can't ignore the irony of the BBC's World Affairs Editor complaining about the media failing to pick up on these things.

Another example of the change in the air is Michael Meacher MP, in his rather pathetic attempt to challenge Gordon Brown for the Labour Party leadership, calling his support for the Iraq war "The biggest political mistake of my life" despite voting against an inquiry into the war as well as voting for the war itself. And then we have Peter Hain the Northern Ireland Secretary in his bid to become deputy leader of the Labour Party telling us that "The neo-con mission has failed" despite voting with the government at every opportunity. The more of a disaster the war turns out to be, the more people who were in a position to help prevent it try to distance themselves from the mess.

Like Bush, Tony Blair is in complete denial about the chaos he has spread and resolutely refuses to acknowledge any responsibility at all preferring to blame both the 'intelligence' and the terrorists (who weren't there before the invasion), in fact anyone but himself. He couldn't even bring himself to attend the only Parliamentary debate about Iraq since 2004 despite saying how much he looked forward to debating the role of our armed services only a week earlier.

And yet no one in any position of authority or influence is calling for the the ringmaster of this circus to be held to account. The only people forced to resign over this debacle have been the journalist Andrew Gilligham for telling the truth and the Director General of the BBC for defending him. The obvious question is: how does Blair get away with this? The simple answer is because we let him. By "we" I mean voters, the Labour Party, the 'opposition' and the media who in any other circumstances would be loudly demanding for heads to roll.

Since 2003 there have been 3488 coalition fatalities and 23,417 American wounded (and those figures don't include contractors). There are no accurate figures for the numbers of Iraqi dead and wounded but the Lancet's estimate of 655,000 made last October doesn't seem widely off the mark. And still the carnage continues and worsens with no end to it in sight.

Not only has chaos been spread across the Middle East with new wars being planned, but the threat of terrorism (both real and imagined) in Britain and elsewhere has increased and is being used as an excuse to curtail long-held civil liberties. People's faith in Government and politics, as well as the media is at an all time low. As Blair touts democracy as a reason for bombing civilians, our own democracy is seen as more of a sham. These are the legacies of the last four years of the Iraq war. I'll leave the final words to Riverbend who seems to sum up the situation in Iraq brilliantly in this post of hers from last December.

You know your country is in trouble when:

  1. The UN has to open a special branch just to keep track of the chaos and bloodshed, UNAMI.
  2. Abovementioned branch cannot be run from your country.
  3. The politicians who worked to put your country in this sorry state can no longer be found inside of, or anywhere near, its borders.
  4. The only thing the US and Iran can agree about is the deteriorating state of your nation.
  5. An 8-year war and 13-year blockade are looking like the country's 'Golden Years'.
  6. Your country is purportedly 'selling' 2 million barrels of oil a day, but you are standing in line for 4 hours for black market gasoline for the generator.
  7. For every 5 hours of no electricity, you get one hour of public electricity and then the government announces it's going to cut back on providing that hour.
  8. Politicians who supported the war spend tv time debating whether it is 'sectarian bloodshed' or 'civil war'.
  9. People consider themselves lucky if they can actually identify the corpse of the relative that's been missing for two weeks.

Read the rest.

Saudi Arabia And The Proxy War In Iraq


Much has been made of Iran's alleged supplying of weapons and bombs to Shi'ite factions in Iraq. Far less has been made of Saudi Arabia's apparent role in supplying weapons and funding to Sunni insurgents. And yet, as Saudi Arabia threatened to do, and as has been stated by the Iraq Study Group as well as by journalist, Seymour Hersh, this appears to be the case.

Mike McConnell, the new director of national intelligence, said there are funds coming from Saudi Arabia, an ostensible U.S. ally, to help Sunni insurgents in Iraq, while Iran is supporting the Shiite militias there.

McConnell's testimony undergirds U.S. concerns that the Iraq civil war could turn into a direct Saudi-Iranian confrontation, with American military forces caught between warring combatants for Islam's two dominant strains.

Separately, Brian Jenkins, a military expert with Rand Corp., a national security and foreign policy research organization, said: "What we already are seeing in Iraq is an emerging proxy war between Saudi-backed Sunnis and Iranian-backed Shia."

So we seem to have a proxy war taking place that involves three of the biggest oil producers on the planet. It wouldn't take much for this proxy war to escalate into the feared regional conflict that has been widely talked about. Needless to say Saudi Arabia's involvement in the Iraq quagmire is embarrassing for Bush who would prefer to blame Syria for supplying the Sunnis. Admission of the Saudi involvement had to be wrung out out of Mike McConnell by Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Levin asked McConnell during a committee hearing about the source of support for Sunni insurgents in Iraq.

McConnell replied: "There is some flow to the Sunni side in terms of funding and weapons and recruits."

Levin continued: "And what countries are those weapons coming from?"

McConnell: "Weapons could come from a variety of countries. Syria probably is one of the major places."

Levin: "What countries other than Syria could either weapons or funding for the Sunni insurgents come from?"

McConnell: The U.S. lacks "clear evidence that it's definitely coming from any one particular government. But there are indications that it could be a variety of countries around Iraq and also from private donors …"

Levin, interjecting: "What other countries besides Syria? You said that there's evidence that weapons or money for weapons is coming from a number of countries. The one you singled was Syria, but what other countries?"

McConnell: "What I was attempting to say is donors from countries around the area. One would be inside Saudi Arabia, as an example."

Just like the Iranian government, the Saudi government is denying any involvement in supplying the insurgents. Yet strangely, there are no US aircraft carriers threatening the kingdom, no sabre rattling at the UN and no Saudi diplomats have been kidnapped by the Americans. The kingdom seems to be able to do anything it wants with impunity, whether its torturing British citizens or being involved in corruption with BAE or even having known links to al Qaeda.

But Steven Simon, a senior member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, said Saudi funding of the Sunni insurgency "is one of those things that we dare not speak its name."

"There is a renewed desire to protect the U.S.-Saudi bilateral relationship," Simon said in an interview. "So you don't want to draw public attention to things they are doing that many observers might regard as counter to American interests."

Yes, quite.

The Warden of Fallouja


Mike Carlson served as the officer in charge of the Camp Fallouja Regional Detention Facility from March 2006 to October.

Taking charge of a detention center in Iraq? Here's what you need to remember.

An excellent short article. Via Metafilter

Tony's Closest Friends Rejoin the Reality-Based Community


Endgame. The days must be passing very slowly for Tony and it gets lonelier and lonelier at the top and he brought it upon himself. After hubris comes nemesis and the vultures are circling.

His closest allies are now openly saying what we all know to be true; Tony's legacy is Iraq. He played with the neo-con fire and got burned, taking his nation with him. Whatever happens in British politics we must change the system that allows one delusional man to drag us all into war.

Previously Britain has been famously reluctant to fight, whenever war was on the horizon we talked up the prospects for peace, but in Iraq, when peace was on the horizon we conjoured up the inevitability of war, the glory of a swift victory. It wasn't so much of saying 'we'll all be home by Christmas',  more 'it'll all be over by Easter'.

We will pay the price of this hubris for decades. That's Blair's legacy. Dragging the nations reputation into the mud. He can also claim to be the most corrupt government we've seen for a century.

Robert Harris nails it, calling Tony an "anxious Jeeves around a rather Texan Bertie Wooster". Yo Blair!

The Return of the Dodgy Dossier


The dossier that just won't go away. New Statesman journalist, Chris Ames, has been digging very seriously and the latest issue has the results of his investigation and his hopes for the imminent release of the first draft, something that is expected to demolish claims that the 45 minute part was in from the beginning and show that the document was indeed 'sexed up'. Chris is right, this is an important day for truth seekers, not only because of the new site examining the document in incredible detail, sourced detail.

Help Get Tony Blair into the Top 10 Now!


Via Stop the War Coalition:

Thousands of protestors on yesterday's magnificent TROOPS OUT / NO TRIDENT demonstration used their mobile phones to buy the Tony Blair spoof record WAR – WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR.

We need your help. Join the many thousands who have already bought WAR – WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? and we can get it into the Top 10. Buying the record is extremely simple. There are two methods:

If you have a mobile phone, all you have to do is text PEACE1 to 78789. This will charge £1.50 to your mobile phone bill and you will immediately get a text message explaining how you will receive WAR – WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

To buy the record online, go to and follow the instructions for downloading WAR – WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

For just £1.50 you can get a prime minister into the charts with a song for peace, but of course we want to do more than embarrass Tony Blair. We want his warmongering in Iraq and Afghanistan to end immediately. We want to help stop plans to attack Iran. We think Tony Blair should be held accountable for war crimes. Getting the spoof Blair record into the Top 10 can play a part in publicising the anti-war message, which represents the view of the majority in this country who oppose the Bush-Blair wars.

Please buy WAR – WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? now and encourage as many people as you can to do the same.

1) Mobile Phone text message PEACE1 to 78789
2) Download at

How Many People Were In Trafalgar Square On Saturday?


Simple enough question, I should have thought, but as usual the police and STWC organisers are vastly at odds.  Let's throw some facts on the table:

Police, according to BBC:

Metropolitan Police put the figure at 10,000.

While the same source on the STWC:

Some 60,000 joined the march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, according to organisers.

Which differs from STWC's website:

UP TO 100,000 marchers joined the Troops Out/No Trident demonstration on 24 February, calling for all occupying troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, no replacement of Britain’s nuclear weapons system and no attack on Iran.

Meanwhile the Met, having cranked up the random number generator, told the Independent (and Observer):

The Metropolitan Police put the number at between 2,000 and 3,000.

At Lenin's Tomb the man himself claims (in comments)

Anyone knows that Trafalgar Square when it's full contains 60,000 people, and that's the old Trafalgar square before the paved over the bloody road at the top. And today it was not only full but overflowing

Rachel, who was there, says in her comments:

I reckon c. 35,000, so poo to Sky.

Whlle Davide's report on Nether-World estimates

I guessed (and this is just a guess) between 40,000 and 50,000 people turned up

All of which proves not a lot, except that it's extremely unwise to trust the police figures, which in statistical terms go in the discard pile. Let's expand the data set a bit - the Square isn't used solely for anti-war marches, and there have been two other large crowd events in the last couple of years that received wide coverage - the first is the 6/7/2005 2012 Olympics Award:

Seconds after London was proclaimed the Olympics winner the crowds that had packed into every inch of Trafalgar Square were sprayed with confetti.

 The second is the Ashes celebration in September 2005.

The tens of thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square cheered highlights of the exhilarating summer series and interviews with each member of the victorious squad before a rendition of 'Jerusalem' rounded the presentation off.

[Note the photos, particularly of Michael Vaughan in front of a frankly enormous crowd]

and additionally

England's players joyously belt out the hymn Jerusalem one more time along with an estimated 100,000 well-wishers

 while the Scotsman has

TRAFALGAR Square was transformed into a land fit for heroes yesterday as more than 30,000 gathered to toast the England cricket team's victory in the Ashes Tests.


Now, the Square is 110x110 metres, according to the GLA.  That's 12100 square metres.  Now, I reckon you can get four people in per square metre, which brings us up to a notional maximum capacity of, broadly, 50,000.  10,000 people would make the square look decidedly empty - if your commuter train came into the station 20% full you'd be well happy.  From the photos I can see, the area is not 20% full, it's more like 80%, which would put 40,000 people in the square alone when Davide was taking his photos, not counting those still on the march.

So, what have we established?  A large turnout for the Square itself is 30,000 to 50,000 people.  More people were outside the square.  I reckon we can conservatively estimate the turnout to be 50,000+, or sixteen times what the Met Police told the country's leading non-conservative Sunday broadsheets.  Mind you, since their own website of forthcoming events doesn't mention the 24th February demo, perhaps they forgot.

Anti-War March Liveblogging *UPDATED* *UPDATED*


With one thing and another (mainly my missus being in bed with a hangover and me having the childminding job) I didn't get down for 12pm at Hyde Park Corner.  However, I've just spoken to Davide Simonetti ( who's met up with Rachel) and he's just, 2 hours after arriving, started moving.  This is big, people.  Murdoch's minions at Sky News are still reporting 'hundreds' demonstrating, so we'll be hoping to refute that.  We'll try and get some pictures sent up here to the orbiting Star Wars Blairwatch mission HQ and I'll put them up as the afternoon goes on.  At least until the rugby starts.

UPDATE - Rachel has sent me two photos which after some Bluetoothing and an application of the GIMP, are below:

Glowing skeletons and a man in a mask

What Sky News calls 'several hundred people'

15:08 (if Rachel stops sending me new photos!)

*UPDATE by Davide

I just thought I'd post a couple of videos which I've put up on YouTube. One is George Galloway speaking, the other is Mark Thomas. For more photos (some at a higher resolution), visit my Flickr site. You can see the BBC coverage of the protest here. For what it's worth, I estimated the turnout at somewhere between 40 and 50 thousand people (based on previous demos rather than maths). I heard that the police are saying that 10,000 people turned up and that the organisers are claiming 60,000. Bit of a discrepancy as usual.

Mark Thomas

You can see the video of George Galloway . Special thanks to Rachel for being such a star with the photos when I was having difficulties with my camera phone, and for being such good company.

Stop The War Demonstration - London Saturday 24 February


For more details see the Stop The War Coalition website.