This week


What next for Lynton Crosby, campaign consultant and dog whistler? Credited with John Howard’s triumphant, win-at-any-cost election campaigns, he is now said to be the man who managed to wipe the smile off Tony Blair’s face. For the Howards, John and Michael, he worked in the areas of the public mind ruled by uncertainty, resentment and fear. One of his themes goes under the amorphous, infinitely protean and ambiguous heading of ‘trust’. Another has been the equally murky one of ‘foreigners’ or ‘outsiders’ – meaning immigrants, refugees, gypsies, travellers, international terrorists, etc.

Of course the Australian Labor Party would never dream of hiring such a Machiavel for their next campaign. But in the interests of policy differentiation, ‘moral clarity’ and spine reconstruction it might be a useful exercise for all members, including the leader, to ask themselves, ‘why not?’

At last Australia has an Iraqi horror story it can call its own. It began just hours after three men were charged with the capture and slaying of Margaret Hassan, the British-Iraqi head of Iraq operations for CARE International. Australian Douglas Wood, Californian resident, ‘working with the Iraqi military on reconstruction projects’, was abducted, and his captors demanded that US, Australian and British troops withdraw from Iraq. Alexander Downer was unwavering: ‘We won’t allow insurgents to decide our foreign policy,’ he said. It is unlikely that anyone, including Mr Wood and his closest relations and friends, believe that insurgents should. It’s a reasonable guess that facing this horror, they could do without the political grandstanding and usual deployment of platitudes. Or reprimands. When SBS anti-war journalist John Martinkus was taken captive last year and released after twenty-four hours the Foreign Minister was quick to criticize him for putting himself at risk.

Thanks to Peter Nicholson at the Australian

Thanks to Peter Nicholson at the Australian

By all accepted definitions an insurgent is one who rises up against the government or some established authority – those who followed George Washington into battle, those who fought in the French resistance, those who resisted Soviet oppression in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, those who would not leave Tiananmen Square, are just a few among countless historical examples. If only to distinguish Douglas Wood’s captors from people almost universally judged as heroes, and his own government from the tyrannies they gave their lives to overthrow, we might expect Mr Downer to use some other word. ‘Murderers’, perhaps, or ‘kidnappers’ or ‘criminals’. Why would you dignify them with ‘insurgents’? Jesus was an insurgent, wasn’t he?

The answer probably comes in two parts: first, because the Americans are using it, it’s the quasi official buzzword: second, because it suggests there is an authority to resist, a functioning government, a legitimate occupying force – and it has been judged more important to suggest this than to give a hoot about how you describe the people who want to throw you out.

This week, as well as capturing and threatening to kill Donald Wood, ‘insurgents’ attacked a funeral procession in Tal Afar and with a car bomb killed twenty five Iraqis and wounded fifty. Three children were killed and others were wounded in Baghdad. In Iraq more than 100 people have been killed and 200 wounded since Friday after the new government was finally sworn in. Pivotal ministerial posts remain to be filled – human rights and electricity supplies amongst them.

Sewerage, power and water supplies are still sporadic throughout the country, far worse now than they were before the war, despite massive expenditure by the US government which is now expected to inject a further $12 billion, and the massive profits starting to be declared by corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel who are charged with reconstructing those essential supplies.

Harder to discern are opportunities for profiteering in the education sector, leaving Iraq’s twenty universities and forty seven technical institutions and its hundreds of primary and secondary schools in total disarray. Some 84 per cent of Iraq’s institutions of higher education have been burnt, looted or destroyed – including the great tradition library ransacked during the war and now unable to function as an international research centre. More than fifty academics have been killed. Less than half the shattered infrastructure is being slowly rebuilt. Most qualified teachers have left.

Why does Iraq continue to present this battle torn, chaotic and impoverished face to the world? Why does it offer such an unconvincing model of democracy by force? Look no further than the insurgents. Put it all down to them.

And say a prayer for Donald Wood – sorry, it’s all we can do without having them decide our foreign policy.

Time to Repair Iraq’s Universities, Says Study by Abid Aslam, Common Dreams

More Deadly Bombings as Iraqis Debate Last Cabinet Posts by Sabrina Tavernise, 2 May, The New York Times

Power Grid In Iraq Far From Fixed, New Government Inherits Huge Task by Caryle Murphy and Bassam Sebti, 1 May, Washington Post

Baghdad is still reeling from the current surge in bloodshed over the weekend in which more than 17 bombs exploded, killing 50 people. At least five car bombs exploded in Baghdad Saturday. Global Beat

Making a killing: the big business of war by Doug Lorimer, 4 May, Green Left Weekly

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