Saturday, November 12, 2005

More good news out of PDVSA 

Today any interesting piece of information came out regarding PDVSA. It seems that over the last 4 years PDVSA has reduced its debt by 5.6 BILLION dollars. In 2001 PDVSA's debt was almost $9 billion and it has now been reduced to about $3.4 billion This is clearly quite an accomplishment and obviously good news.

There are a couple of things to note along with this. The first question is why did an oil company like PDVSA, which earns billions of dollars and has very strong cash flow, ever have any debt in the first place? That is indeed a very good question. Of course many private oil companies such as Exxon-Mobil or British Petroleum have very large amounts of debt. But there is an obvious reason for that. They have to go out and buy the rights to whatever oil they intend to exploit. For those exploration and production rights to oil they generally pay billions of dollars which they later expect to earn back through the profits from oil sales. So for them going into debt makes sense.

But PDVSA doesn’t need to buy its oil rights. By virtue of it being the Venezuelan State oil company it is given access to Venezuela’s oil for free. Given that fact and given that it took over already existing oil facilities in 1976 when it was formed out of the nationalization of Exxon and Shell operations in Venezuela it had no reason to go into debt.

So why did it go into debt? Mainly as a result from the bad oil policies from the period prior to Chavez coming to power. First, the government wanted as much money from PDVSA as it could get. There is certainly nothing unreasonable about that. But PDVSA itself had other ideas. Its management wanted to aggressively expand oil production and turn itself into one of the largest, if not the largest, oil firms in the world.

The problem is that these two goals are mutually exclusive. For example if the government were to take the money that it needed from PDVSA than the oil company wouldn’t have the tens of billions of dollars it would need to expand oil production. Worse still, by expanding output and breaking OPEC production quotas PDVSA was helping to contribute to the collapse of oil prices which led to Venezuelan oil only selling for $8 a barrel in 1998 right before Chavez took office.

So with the government needing money, PDVSA needing more money for its expansion, and Venezuela getting less money from oil do to prices collapsing something had to give. Not everyone could get the money they wanted. The solution was for PDVSA to borrow a lot of the money it needed to expand its production. Needless to say, borrowing money to fund something, in this case expanded oil production, which only serves to reduce your oil revenues is not smart policy.

It was this disastrous oil policy that Chavez vowed to stop when he was campaigning for President in 1998. And upon assuming office he did stop it immediately, one of his first steps being the firing of Luis Guisti who was the President of PDVSA and chief proponent of the tremendous expansion of PDVSA. Not surprisingly, once Venezuela started respecting OPEC quotas under Chavez oil prices and revenues went up sharply. It is those increased revenues that have now enabled PDVSA to pay down the debt it should never have had in the first place.

Another thing that this paying down of the debt shows is how successful PDVSA has been in recovering from the opposition led oil “strike” of 2002/2003. As we saw previously, despite what opposition propagandists say, PDVSA did fully recover from the strike and did so rather rapidly. It is this rapid recovery that enabled them to have the funds not only to help pay for the governments social programs but also to pay down debt.

While the opposition deserves condemnation for the billions of dollars that they cost Venezuela the employees of PDVSA who stayed on the job and those who came out of retirement to help restart production deserve all the credit in the world. If not for their hard work the losses could have been even worse. Every time where hear more good news out of PDVSA, such as we are hearing today, which should keep their hard work under difficult circumstances in mind. They really are authentic Venezuelan heroes.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

You can't make this stuff up 

The other day a few opposition supporters decided to have a public birthday party for Carlos Ortega who is currently in jail. Who is Carlos Ortega and why is he in jail?

A little background. Carlos Ortega was up until a few years ago the head of the Venezuelan Federation of Workers (CTV) which is the largest “union” federation in Venezuela. I put the word union in quotation marks because the CTV isn’t really a union in the sense of looking out for the interests of working people. Rather is was a appendage of what was one of the largest and most corrupt political parties in Venezuela. Further, under Ortega it was very closely allied to the main business federation, Fedecamaras. In my previous post I talked about poodles – I think it would be quite accurate to refer to Ortega and the CTV as being the bosses poodle.

Now, Ortega didn’t wind up in jail just because he was a poodle to the business elite. Rather he is a serial violator of Venezuelan laws and has tried to overthrow the government on more than one occasion. For example, he was instrumental in bringing about the April 2002 coup against Chavez. It was he who stood in front of the crowd at the PDVSA headquarters and said “Lets go to Miraflores to take the tyrant out”. Not only was this sending people on an illegal march that had no permit it was deliberately sending them into a bloody slaughter. It is now known that the coup was planned in advance and most likely the violence of that day was intentionally brought about by the opposition too as a pretext for the coup (this just shows how unbalanced some opposition supporters are that they would celebrate the birthday of someone who intentionally tried to get them killed.)

Less than a year after that debacle Ortega tried to unseat Chavez again, this time co-leading a “strike” along side Fedecamaras. Day after day Ortega appeared on TV to assure the nation that Chavez would be leaving any day now. First it was we’ll be celebrating Christmas without Chavez (when that didn’t happen they actually decided to cancel Christmas – and no I’m not joking they really went on TV and said Christmas is cancelled). Next it was we’ll have New Years without Chavez. When New Years came and went and Chavez was still around the strike started to falter. But by the time it was all over the country had lost 14 or 15 billion dollars and the economy was in a full blown depression.

It was for these seditious acts that Ortega’s arrest was sought. Or course, not one to willingly face justice he went into hiding and then he fled to Costa Rica. After Costa Rica threw him out he snuck back into Venezuela where he was eventually captured in a bingo parlor.

So if the guy is a complete sell out of his unions members, has tried to overthrow the government twice, has intentionally gotten his own supporters killed, and has cost the country billions of dollars how could there still be people out there who would want to celebrate his birthday? Well, as hard as it is to believe they do exist. Have a look:

Here is the group of Ortega supporters holding up signs and his cake. It may seem like a small group but that’s the best the opposition can do these days.

The sign says “We demand his liberty”. On the bottom it indicates it is by the union of workers for the National Electoral Council (CNE)?!?!

Here is a close up of the cake which has written in the frosting “Happy Birthday Carlos”

Now while I wish all human beings the best on their birthday its hard to imagine wanting to celebrate this individuals birthday. But I guess there are all kinds in this world – even crazed and irrational opposition supporters. Fortunately for Venezuela there aren’t very many of them.

PS, it is probably out of line for me to say this but that certainly looks like a sad excuse for a cake. I guess that’s what happens when you have servants do all your cooking for you – you forget how to bake cakes.


Bush's hamster 

A little spat has developed between Venezuela's President Chavez and Mexico's President Vincente Fox. At last weeks Summit of the Americas Fox apparently noticed that his friend George Bush looked rather lonely and forlorn. So he decided to cheer him up a little bit by coming out and saying that not everyone in Latin America was in agreement with "burying" the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

Why did Fox do this? Who knows. Maybe he felt genuine pity for Bush. Then again maybe he was just doing some brown nosing in the hopes of getting a few hundred thousand Mexicans allowed to emmigrate up north so they don't have to stay in the hellish conditions in Mexico which Fox hasn't done much to ameliorate.

In any event, Chavez decided to fire back the other day and said that it was rather sad to see a Latin American president having to sink to the level of trying to be Bush's poodle. This has gotten a lot of press coverage as can be seen by this front page of one of Mexico's largest dailies:

Now, I really think President Chavez has mis-spoken here. There is simply no way that Vincente Fox is Bush's poodle. That job has long since been held by Tony Blair and it should be noted he has performed quite dutifully as Bush's poodle. So I think there isn't much chance of Fox edging Blair out for that role.

But a mascot to Bush Fox most definitely is. After all he doesn't bat an eye lid as his northern border is turned into a toxic waste dump and a workers hell. He doesn't seem to upset that Bush is allowing armed vigilantes to patroll the border and shoot Mexicans trying to cross it. And he is more than happy to have Mexican nationals join the empire's army and go die for it in Iraq. This is all stuff a good and loyal mascot would do.

So even if he can't be Bush's poodle he certianly is some kind of mascot. Bush's hamster, perhaps?


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Law? What law? 

One of the most common opposition complaints that you will come across is that there is supposedly no rule of law in Venezuela. How can we call Venezuela a democracy if there is no rule of law? How can we accept this government as legitimate if there is no rule of law? These are two common rhetorical questions posed by opposition supporters.

Now the question of whether there is rule of law in Venezuela is an involved topic and that isn’t what I’ll address in this post. But the question I want to pose is does the opposition really care about rule of law or is it something that it simply uses to make to score anti-Chavez propaganda points.

Now how are we going to figure out if the opposition itself really cares about the rule of law you ask? Well, the idea I have its lets look at whether they themselves obey the law. After all, if the rule of law is important to them then shouldn’t it follow they themselves actually obey the law? Sure sounds reasonable to me so lets have a look.

We don’t have to look very far to get answers. For example, several opposition supporters are wanted in connection with the assassination of the government prosecutor Danilo Anderson last year. Patricia Poleo ,a journalist, Nelson Mezerhane, a part owner of the Globovision TV network, are wanted by authorities as possible intellectual authors of Anderson’s murder. So have these members of the opposition who presumably care about the law turned themselves in to the authorities as they are supposed to? No. Right now these fugitivies are breaking the law by ignoring a warrant for their arrests. So I guess we can say these two members of the opposition aren’t big on obeying the law.

But maybe they are just an isolated case – a couple of bad apples amongst an otherwise law-abiding opposition. In thinking about it though I realized they were anything but an exception. For example, Carlos Ortega and Carlos Fernandez, the two leaders of the oil strike/sabotage of 02/03 were wanted by authorities to face charges in relation to that strike. Ortega never turned himself in and fled to Costa Rica. Apparently he didn’t respect Costa Rican laws any more than he did Venezuelan ones and they requested that he leave. He re-entered Venezuela illegally and lived as a fugitive (he actually attended the closing rally of the oppositions campaign to revoke Chavez and no one, out of hundreds of thousands of people, had him arrested) until he was captured in a bingo parlor. Carlos Fernandez was arrested but then let out of prison because of an alleged heart condition. He fled to Florida and hasn’t been seen since. Clearly these two opposition members are not model citizens.

And then there is Pedro Carmona of “dictator for a day” fame who fled to Colombia to avoid facing the Venezuelan justice system. So it does seem there are a lot of “bad apples” in the opposition. But maybe that’s just the leadership. Maybe your average member of the opposition IS law abiding and can’t be held responsible for what its unethical leadership does. After thinking about it for a minute though I realized that wasn’t the case. After all how did the “dictator for a day” get in power? Wasn’t it an ILLEGAL march by hundreds of thousands of opposition members who in spite of not having a permit decided to march to Miraflores (with completely innocuous intent though – even I am not such a cynic to think they were actually going there with the intent of throwing Chavez out of office).

I have to say this sure isn’t looking good for the opposition believing in the rule of law as we have clear examples here of both the oppositions leadership and rank and file openly and willing violating the law. And these are but a few of numerous potential examples such as the one on Intesa I wrote about a few months back. So clearly the opposition doesn’t really care about the law – they themselves violate it consistently and flagrantly. The only conclusion I can draw is that all the hot air that gets expended by them on this issue is just more of a seemingly endless stream of anti-Chavez propaganda. And if they want me to believe otherwise then they should show some adherence to the law and stop acting as common criminals as two of them are famously doing at this very moment.


The double standards just keep on coming. 

As we all know the primary justification for the U.S. invasion of Iraq was their supposed posession of weapons of mass destruction. As we also know, it turned out the U.S. government was lying about those weapons and that Iraq in fact did not have them.

Now, in a rather bitter irony, it turns out it is the U.S. military itself that has been using proscribed weapons in Iraq, among them white phosphorous and a chemical similar to napalm:

Italian state TV, Rai, has broadcast a documentary accusing the US military of using white phosphorus bombs against civilians in the Iraqi city of Falluja.
Rai says this amounts to the illegal use of chemical arms, though the bombs are considered incendiary devices.

Eyewitnesses and ex-US soldiers say the weapon was used in built-up areas in the insurgent-held city.

The US military denies this, but admits using white phosphorus bombs in Iraq to illuminate battlefields.


Jeff Englehart, described as a former US soldier who served in Falluja, tells of how he heard orders for white phosphorus to be deployed over military radio - and saw the results.

"Burned bodies, burned women, burned children; white phosphorus kills indiscriminately... When it makes contact with skin, then it's absolutely irreversible damage, burning flesh to the bone," he says.

Last December, the US state department issued a denial of what it called "widespread myths" about the use of illegal weapons in Falluja.

"Phosphorus shells are not outlawed. US forces have used them very sparingly in Falluja, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters," the US statement said.

However, the Rai film also alleges that Washington has systematically attempted to destroy filmed evidence of the alleged use of white phosphorus on civilians in Falluja.

And here is more on the napalm:

In the documentary called "Falluja: The Hidden Massacre", RAI also said U.S. forces used the Mark 77 firebomb.

It cited a letter it said came from British Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram, saying 30 MK 77 weapons were used on military targets in Iraq between March 31 and April 2, 2003.

"The only instance of MK 77 use during (Operation Iraqi Freedom) occurred in March/April 2003 when U.S. Marines employed several bombs against legitimate military targets," Keefe said.

He said the chemical composition of the MK 77 firebomb is different from that of napalm.

So we have accusation by U.S. troops that they used these weapons but official denials from higher up the chain of command. I'm sure the astute reader will know who is more likely to be telling the truth. And unfortunately this won't be the first time the U.S. has used these sorts of weapons. In Vietnam they used napalm and a very toxic defoliant called "agent orange" which wound up killing a lot of their own soldiers. In Kosovo they used cluster bombs against civilian targets. In all their recent wars they have used depleted uranium as a tank projectile. Lets also remember they are one of the few countries opposed to banning the use of land mines. And, as pointed out in the articles, the U.S. refused to sign the part of the Geneva convention that banned these inhumane weapons!

So once again we see the complete hypocracy of the U.S. Anyone accused by the U.S. of terrorism is dealth with immediately and often violently. Yet the U.S. itself harbours accused terrorists. The U.S. invades other countries because it thinks they have weapons they shouldn't have. Yet the U.S. itself used weapons that violate the Geneva Convention. The U.S. insists on the humane treatment of captured Americans yet uses torture on those it captures. The U.S. doesn't allow foreign interference in its political campeigns yet routinely meddles in others.

I could go on. But it is just too long and tiresome a list.


Monday, November 07, 2005

Bring 'em on 

In a setback for the Venezuelan opposition the European Union today signed an accord with the Venezuelan electoral council (C.N.E.) to observe the upcoming legislative elections on December 4th.

The opposition had tried desperately to prevent the European Union from sending observers. Back in May opposition lawyer Tulio Alvarez went to Europe to try to stop them from sending observers. Just last week opposition NGO SUMATE spent some of the money they get from the U.S. government making a tour of Europe to try to convince the members of the E.U. that there is no democracy in Venezuela.

The reason for not wanting observers is that the opposition knows it almost certainly will lose the elections. However, they just can't stomach Chavez in power and a legistlature in which his part has most of the seats. So their strategy is to try to delegitimize the government by saying the elections are fraudulent and don't mean anything. I suppose if you know you can't win a vote the next best thing is just to say the vote is rigged. With the presence of E.U. observers that now becomes much harder.

Jean Charles Fieher, the head of the EU mission, said the 150 observers will be arriving this week. He also said that they will have complete freedom and authority to go whereever they need to and to observe all parts of the electoral process. I just hope this person realizes what he is in for when he finds that the elections were free of fraud and that pro-Chavez candidates really did win. He might want to talk to Jimmy Carter and Cesar Gavira about what to expect.


“An embarrassing defeat” 

Its funny to read some of the spin some of Chavez’s opponents are trying around the recently concluded Hemispheric summit in Mar Del Plata Argentina. Somehow it is implied that the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas is still alive and kicking or that Chavez was put in his place by Mexico’s Vincente Fox, among other outlandish statements. Of course the reality is that Chavez successfully rallied other Latin Americans to avoid the imposition by the U.S. on its poorer neighbors of what would be highly unfavorable trade agreements.

Of course, when you avoid reading Venezuelan media or the right wing propaganda floating around on the internet it is possible to find very blunt accounts of what happened. Take for example what the most established business newspaper in the U.S., The Wall Street Journal, had to say:

Failed Summit Casts Shadow on Global Trade Talks

Mar Del Plata, Argentina – A failed summit of leaders of the Western Hemisphere dealt a blow to global trade liberalization and strengthened the influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a critic of the U.S. who favors protectionism and old style socialism.

The Bush administration had hoped to use the meeting of 34 heads of state to breath new life into negotiations on a long-stalled Free Trade Area of the Americas, a free-trade zone reaching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Instead, the meeting was so wracked by division that the diplomats drafting the final communique failed to reach agreement even on when to resume talks on the free-trade zone.

In handing Washington an embarrassing defeat, Venezuela was joined by the four countries of the Mercosur trading bloc, a customs union led by Brazil and Argentina and also including Paraguay and Uruguay. "We were five musketeers, kneeling, sword in hand,” to oppose the FTAA, Mr. Chavez said afterward. He condemned the U.S. free-trade model as a “perversion” that would unduly benefit the U.S., and instead pushed for closer trade ties among Latin American nations.

Mr. Chavez’s success at playing the spoiler role here reflects a harsh fact for the Bush administration: Washington can no longer have its way in setting the economic agenda in its own back yard or in a large part of the developing world. The rise of Mr. Chavez, and other more moderate leftist leaders in Latin America, reflects the disappointing results of the so-called Washington Consensus, a set of market-oriented policies like trade liberalization and privatization that the region and parts of Asia embraced during the 1990’s.


Mr. Chavez has become a beacon for those skeptical of the idea that free trade improves the lives of ordinary people, analysts said. “Chavez tapped into a discontent that has been brewing for some time,” said Charlene Barshefsky, who was trade representative under former President Clinton. “What he ignited was a combustible situation that was already smoldering.”


But the underlying strength of Mr. Chavez’s political position appeared to be reflected in the fact that many of the countries that nominally supported the U.S. position insisted that the views of Venezuela and Mercosur be accommodated in the final language. That appeared to be a direct rejection of Mr. Bush’s position.

“The man left beat-up.” Mr. Chavez, a former paratrooper, said of Mr. Bush. “Didn’t you see it?”

It could be said that defeating Bush’s agenda at this summit wasn’t that difficult. After all, anyone with eyes can see what a disaster the type of “free-trade” that Washington pushes is. Just take a look at what an ecological and human catastrophe the area around the Rio Grande is 10 years after the North American Free Trade Agreement was passed. And for all the misery created Mexico hasn’t even managed to progress economically. Add to that the complete debacle the “Washington Consensus” turned out to be throwing country after country into severe depressions and it is easy to see why if Chavez hadn’t shot down Bush as Mar del Plata someone else probably would have.

But having said that it does need to be recognized that Chavez not only resists the hegemony of the U.S., which Lula of Brazil and Kirchner of Argentina would have done anyway, he actually fights back against it. Chavez doesn’t just humor the gringos but then ignore their proposals as other more diplomatic leaders might do. Rather he tells them to their face that their proposals are no good and tells them to get lost.

Of course, this doesn’t go down well with the U.S. leadership which is accustomed to more submissive Latin American governments. It’s no wonder the U.S. is fine tuning its plans for getting rid of Chavez.

But Chavez’s foreign policy is now going from success to success. Anti-Venezuelan proposals at the O.A.S. were soundly defeated earlier this year. Rumsfeld and Rice have gotten no where trying to turn other Latin American governments against Venezuela. And now the U.S. is stung by this debacle. The significance of this is that the U.S. has been completely unable to isolate Venezuela and keep the “revolution” quarantined. Just the opposite has happened. Governments sympathetic to Venezuela are in place throughout Latin America with new ones on the horizon in Bolivia and Mexico. Three and a half years ago the Bushies were gleeful thinking they had gotten rid of Chavez. Now they are at a complete loss for how to stop him. That is quite a reversal of fortunes no matter the spin.


War criminals may apply 

The non-sense about the U.S. being in Iraq to make the world a better place just keeps moving further and further away from any kind of reality. Over the last couple of years as it has become clear that the U.S. is willing to let its soldiers torture people, shoot dead wounded insurgents, and otherwise act as if the Geneva Convention just didn't exit.

In the next logical step, given that they can't recruit their own war criminals fast enough, they have decided to start hiring them from other countries. Witness this:

Former Serb Red Berets in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Former Serbian "Red Berets" elites forces are now being employed as private security personnel in Baghdad.

About 30 former members of the Jedinica za Specijalne Operacije Special Operations Unit, better known as the JSO or Red Berets, have been working for private security contractors in Iraq for $8,000 a month.

Vecernje Novosti daily said the men were recruited through a security agency in Sarajevo in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina. A former JSO member based in Belgrade, who currently works for the Serbian National Security Council, recruited the men.

In March 2003 the Serbian government disbanded the Red Berets after occupying their headquarters in Vojvodina province. The Red Berets were former President Slobodan Milosevic's Ministry of the Interior elite troops.

The Serbians are providing security for oil fields, government offices and foreign companies. They guard German and English engineers working in Iraq, according Vecernje Novosti.

The Serbians join an increasing number of foreign former military personnel supplementing coalition forces in Iraq. Some media estimates put the number of private security personnel as high as 40,000.

Funny, while Milosevic is in the Hague his henchmen are being hired to do the dirty work in Iraq. I guess seeing as their own war criminal like Lynndie England were so unprofessional that they actually took pictures of what they were doing the U.S. decided they needed to hire some true professionals - you know, people who know how to be more descreet.

Whats more, while most Iraqis live in deplorable conditions and dont' get enough to eat they prefer to pay Serbs $8,000 a month rather than hire Iraqis. Goes to show that in spite of all their BS they do in fact realize that any armed Iraqi is a threat to them.

Lastly, the article says that there may be up to 40,000 private security personal (read mercenaries) in Iraq. So when you combine that with the U.S. upping its troop levels to 150,000 and add in troops from other countries you realize the armed force propping up the puppet regime is quite sizable. Wonder why they need so many people with guns to deal with an insurgency that is in its last throws?


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Talk about having messed up priorities 

Ultimas Noticias had a little article about the problems Venezuela is having upgrading and maintaining its F-16 fighter jets now that the U.S. is refusing to supply spare parts. But what was eye catching was they mentioned that the cost to purchase these airplanes from the United States back in 1983 was $624 million. Popping that into an inflation calculator that comes to almost $1.2 billion in today’s dollars!! $1.2 billion dollars for a bunch of expensive toys that have never really served any purpose and rendered no benefit to the country. And god only knows how much more they’ve spent on maintenance and operating costs for the F-16s over the years.

The Venezuelan opposition likes to complain about how much money Chavez is supposedly “wasting”. Yet when they were running the government and had an oil windfall they spent more than a billion dollars on unneeded fighter aircraft. With much less money than that the Chavez administration recently eradicated illiteracy in Venezuela.

And you think this kind of waste was some sort of aberration? Unfortunately it was anything but. For example in the 1970s the Venezuelan government bought a bunch of Italian frigates for its Navy. The cost was $600 million (popping that into the inflation calculator it comes to $2.1 billion in today’s dollars). And to add insult to injury it turned out $60 million was paid in kickbacks to Venezuelan officials including $40 million to the President’s mistress, Cecilia Matos (Ms. Matos’s kickback comes to $113 million in today’s dollars).

As we have seen the Chavez administration has used its oil windfall to address the long neglected problems such as poverty and illiteracy. Why didn’t the people who currently make up the Venezuelan opposition address these problems when they controlled the government and had an oil windfall of even larger proportions? Maybe, as these examples would seem to indicate, they just had other priorities.


Hearts and minds are irrelevant 

If I had a dollar for every time that the U.S. began some big new offensive to finish of the Iraqi insurgency I would be would be getting quite wealthy by now. Yet another such offensive has now begun. Of course the scores of previous offensives did nothing to put down the insurgency. Not even the destruction of entire cities such as Falluja. So the total lack of significance of the current one should come as no surprise.

Nevertheless, the news coverage of them is sometimes illuminating. It illuminates not by telling us things any perceptive person couldn’t have already surmised. Rather, it confirms those things which we already know but that the war apoligists go to great lengths to deny. Lets take the New York Times article on the current offensive as an example:

HUSAYBA, Iraq, Nov. 5 - Thousands of American and Iraqi troops laid siege on Saturday to this town near the Syrian border in one of the largest military assaults since American-led forces stormed the guerrilla stronghold of Falluja last year, Marine Corps officials said.

The sweep, aimed at shutting down the flow of foreign fighters along the Euphrates River, began early Saturday as 2,500 American troops and 1,000 Iraqi Army soldiers, all led by the Marines, cordoned off roads around Husayba before rolling into town in armored vehicles and marching in on foot.

Insurgents armed with Kalashnikovs opened fire down alleyways and from windows. Fighter jets streaked overhead, dropping 500-pound bombs. Explosions resounded throughout the day as the invading troops advanced house by house, searching each one.

By nightfall, the American-led forces had taken only several blocks in the town's western half and still had more than a mile to go before reaching the eastern edge. At least two Americans were wounded in combat. Marines began making camp in seized houses, while sporadic gunfire and mortar explosions could be heard in the streets.


In virtually all the previous offensives along the Euphrates River corridor, marines found that the insurgents had largely moved away by the time the Americans invaded the towns.

The operations took several weeks to plan, and commanders suspect that the guerrillas somehow received leaked information, subverting any chance of surprise. Often, marines kicked down doors along dusty streets to find that homes had been abandoned.


Even so, as they began the house-to-house searches, moving west to east like a croupier's rake, marines found empty rooms, with dishes washed and possessions carefully stored away, all awaiting the owners' return, as in other towns along the Euphrates that the Marines had invaded.

There had been an exodus of families during the past several weeks, officers said. It appeared that word of the offensive had leaked out in advance once again, or that insurgents had simply assumed that the Marines would strike Husayba because it had been the only major town along the Euphrates left untouched by the Americans in the recent offensives.

First off, we see what a sledgehammer approach the U.S. takes to this war. The have jets dropping bombs on cities and tanks firing at houses. This points out what a formidible opponent the insurgents are that U.S. troops are unwilling to engage them one on one but have to use air support even in built up areas in order to win. More importantly it certainly sounds like a military that long ago gave up worrying about killing innocents or alienating the local population . And of course, at the end of the article this is confirmed:

Yet they also acknowledge that it is as hard as ever for the Americans to win widespport among the people of Anbar. "It's a very primal fight," Colonel Davis said. "We don't do a lot of hearts and minds out here because it's irrelevant."

So any talk of the U.S. fighting to liberate or give freedom and democracy to the Iraqis is just propaganda. The U.S. is fighting to put the Iraqis down – nothing more, nothing less.


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