There’s recently been much debate when US/UK forces will leave Iraq.

As Britain [reduces troop levels by 10%](http://politics.guardian.co.uk/iraq/story/0,,1730436,00.html), Bush has been talkingabout

“the goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006″

Regarding Britain, the Telegraph has two articles – [one](http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/03/05/wirq05.xml) saying all British soldiers will be out of Iraq in one year, [the other](http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/03/08/wirq108.xml) backpedalling to a figure of two years.

And the parade of politicians pushing one timetable or another continues – Karl Rove [restating](http://www.onnnews.com/Global/story.asp?S=4619856) that “the administration will not pull American troops out of Iraq until victory is won”. [Senator Biden](http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060312/ap_on_go_co/us_iraq_2;_ylt=AvJUtweMyZFvM1TcJWOI3AoUewgF;_ylu=X3oDMTA2ZGZwam4yBHNlYwNmYw–) wanting them out after the summer

This debate isn’t going to stop, but there isn’t much to be gained from following every twist and turn.

But if ground troops are removed, how will the West maintian its influence in Iraq?

Back in December, Seymour Hersh wrote a [long article for the New Yorker](http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/051205fa_fact), claiming that it would be through increased use of airpower.

Hersh is already being proved right – a [news report yesterday](http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/special_packages/iraq/14098141.htm) says that

“daily bombing runs and jet-missile launches have increased by more than 50% in the past five months, compared with the same period last year”

This is something that should concern us. That’s not only becase, as the [Lancet mortality figures](http://www.jhsph.edu/Refugee/Front%20Page%20News/Document%20Links/Mortality_Lancet%20final.pdf) showed in 2004, helicopter gunships leave many civilian casualties. It’s also because there is an entire public debate which is missing the point – withdrawing ground troops is not the same as reducing Western influence over Iraq

Civil wars and human rights: somebody else’s problem

Rumsfeld: the US won’t intervene to stop a civil war in Iraq – they’re going to leave it to the Iraqi government. This means allowing a civil war to happen – if it comes to civil war all the Iraqi military and police forces will be torn apart into the militias that are really running them. The Iraqi military can’t stop a civil war, because it is going to be the battleground.

This isn’t in the official PDF of his testimony [here](http://appropriations.senate.gov/hearmarkups/record.cfm?id=252399), so presumably it was in answer to questions.

What that PDF


include is a particularly blatant statement that Rumsfeld doesn’t want to get human rights or democratisation get in the way of what he sees as the US national interest.

It is also important that we not complicate efforts to build useful relationships with nations that can aid in our defense. In the past, there has been a tendency to cut off military-to-military relationships when a particular government did something we did not approve of. This happened some years ago with respect to our relations with both Indonesia and Pakistan — two of the largest and most important Muslim countries in the world, and today, valuable allies in the War on Terror.

Why did they cut off those relationships? In Pakistan, it was because they were developing nuclear weapons technology – technology which was then transferred to Iran and North Korea. In Indonesia, it was because the government was in the process of killing more than 100,000 people in East Timor.

So Rumsfeld’s message is: feel free to build nukes or murder your citizens – the US won’t let it stand in the way of military cooperation.

Statues defaced in Turkmenistan

You try to protest against one of the nastiest governments in the world, putting your life at incredible risk, trying to slowly build some kind of resistance – and nobody notices, except for the government you’re fighting against. That’s what’s just happened in Turkmenistan, according to [the website of an anti-government group](http://www.tm-iskra.org/news2006/news2006-22.htm) (RUS):

On 17 February, somebody removed the hand holding the [Ruhnama](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rukhnama) from a statue of President Niyazov, in ‘Turkmenbashi Square’ in the city of Mary. Another statue in the region had a bucket of shit thrown on it, and in Ashkhabad somebody has gone as far as scattering leaflets calling for the overthrow of the government

Pretty good going – but costly. The reaction has involved investigations, mass detentions, troops moved into Ashkhabad, and the arrest of two unfortunate souls.

[found via [Turkmenistan.neweurasia.net](http://turkmenistan.neweurasia.net/)]

Ruhnama mugs

You probably all know that the president of Turkmenistan has formed his own religion, has forced the entire country to follow it, and has written a holy book called the ‘Ruhnama’. But had you seen the merchandise?

And if that isn’t enough for you, there’s the quiz.I wish I had a paid account, so I could test you all on the basic questions that all Turkmen children are supposed to know. Like:

3. Turkmanbashy attended Polytechnic Institute in Leningrad

A.) true

B.) false

8. If a horse which can gallop when it is fat can also gallop when it is thin, it is a good horse

A.) true

B.) false

10. Can ants united defeat a tiger or a lion?

A.) true

B.) false

18. The Türkmens spread throughout the world during which age?

A.) First

B.) Second

C.) Third

D.) Fourth

Movable Type

After far, far too much wrangling, I’m pretty much done with the rejigging of this site. In brief: WordPress is enticing, but for some reason hellishly buggy with my setup. Movable Type gives me scary-looking licenses to accept at every turn, feels like a lumbering corporate monster, and lacks any kind of grace – but it works. Works, that is, apart from when you want to import old posts from somewhere else. A few comments are gone, but I can live with that.


  1. I’ll no longer be updating the old blog on Blogsome. It’s a good service, but I needed something that I could integrate with the other bits and pieces here, and that I could customise. Not being able to add in custom themes and plugins was a big downside with Blogsome, even if it made total sense in terms of security and stability
  2. I have started up a little side-blog, so I have somewhere to put things that don’t deserve a full post to themselves. When things drop off the front page sidebar here, you’ll be able to find them

  3. Also for things that don’t deserve a full post, I’ve put recent links from [my del.icio.us page](http://del.icio.us/oedipa) on the left. Del.icio.us is something I’ve found continually useful over the past year, and I find my links there more interesting than most of what I’ve actually blogged.
  4. I’m going to look for a way to get my rough notes back up here, possibly as a wiki. There’s some useful stuff there amidst the dross.
  5. I’ll try to resist the tempation to fiddle and tweak, but it is


    tempting. I’m sure there’ll be trendy things appearing and vanishing from the sidebars every now and again, and perhaps I’ll even adjust things so they work better. You never know.

airships over moscow

I want to see a photograph of this – Moscow police are going to start using airships to monitor traffic.

It’s a hard life being a journalist

A decent enough human-interest piece on the difficulties of being a female journalist in Iran. But it’s spoilt by the introduction:

Women living and working in Iran, particularly those working for the foreign media, are finding all kinds of difficulties strewn in their path, writes Frances Harrison

Is she (or whoever wrote that sentence) really claiming that female journalists have a harder time than other women in Iran? The article itself shows how she managed to use her status as a journalist to get past sexist restrictions, by threatening not to report things she wasn’t allowed to see.

The Washington Post has had

The Washington Post has had a clutch of good articles on Iraq recently.

On the aftermath of the destruction of the mosque in Samarra, the US claims that the problems are over. , as do (mostly unnamed) “Iraqi politicians and Western diplomats“. Good news, except that these aren’t really people I trust to tell me how well things are going in Iraq. And 1300 deaths isn’t something you can ignore this easily. At least there is something on the human effects of the curfew

And then there’s a worrying article, titled “An End to the Soft Sell By the British in Basra“. The gist is that over time the British are losing their “softly softly” approach (softness being strictly relative in the first place). But it’s the incidental comments that are disturbing: the murder rate in Basra has doubled since November, the military are leaving their bases less and less, the police forces are little more than a cover for sectarian militias.

Finally, 1/3 of US veterans of Iraq have reported mental problems. That’s a huge number, especially considering the likelihood that a good few will be suffering but not willing to see a psychiatrist.