When MRzine was launched on Bastille Day, July 14, 2005, Eduardo Galeano greeted it with the words: “Monthly Review in conquest of the air? Wasn’t it a private kingdom of weapons, toxics, and lies? Great news for all of us, humble terrestrians.”
Since then, MRzine has made important inroads into that iniquitous private kingdom with daily reports covering the main issues of our time—all from the standpoint of the independent socialist analysis identified, for more than half a century, with Monthly Review. MRzine has become the place on the Web for radicals to go for firsthand coverage and analysis of important contemporary events such as the recent demonstrations in France over changes in the labor law and the mass mobilization of immigrants and their supporters in the United States. And it has become a valuable repository for the thinking of radical trade unionists in the “Labor’s Corner” section. Consequently, the number of visitors to MRzine (and the MR Web site) has soared, reaching three-quarters of a million page views per month and climbing.
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Today there are constant reports in the U.S. media on the growth of “sectarian violence” in Iraq, which has now come to dominate the military as well as political context of the occupation. Carefully sidestepped in most such reports, however, is the fact that these horrific developments are to a large extent the result of the active U.S. promotion of death squads in that country. In danger of losing the war for control of Iraq, Washington turned, as it had in Central America in the 1980s (and as it is in Colombia today), to developing terrorist armies that would do the job for it. On January 8, 2005, Newsweek cracked the story that the U.S. military was considering initiating the “Salvadoran Option” whereby the United States would train, arm, and finance Iraqi death squads, drawn principally from the Shiite and Kurdish militias: irregular military forces whose job would be to terrorize the Sunni population as a means of undermining the support for the insurgency. Soon after, the Wall Street Journal in its February 23, 2005, issue reported that the United States was already working at forming government-based paramilitary units or militias in Iraq that would carry out these objectives.
The single most important of these paramilitary units, consisting of thousands of troops, the Wall Street Journal declared, was the Special Police Commandos formed in September 2004 by General Adnan Thavit, uncle to Iraq’s interim interior minister and a former Baathist military intelligence officer. “This was a horse to back,” in the words of U.S. General David Petraeus, in charge of training Iraqi forces. In hearings before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on February 16, 2005, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the Special Police Commandos were among the “forces that are going to have the greatest leverage on suppressing and eliminating the insurgency” (quoted in A. K. Gupta, “Unraveling Iraq’s Secret Militias,” Z Magazine Online, May 2005).
Fast forward to the present a year or so later. Two-thirds of the thousands of corpses stacked up in the morgue in Baghdad are said to have been tortured and killed execution style. Their deaths are attributed by human rights activists to paramilitaries under the control of Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, a member of the main Shiite ruling party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and a former leader of SCIRI’s Badr Brigade militia (Andrew Buncombe and Patrick Cockburn, “Iraq’s Death Squads,” The Independent, February 26, 2006). The Iraqi Interior Ministry exercises direct authority over the Police Commandos (formerly the Special Police Commandos—now operating as an irregular force within the National Police) and other paramilitary units. In its March 20, 2006, issue, Time magazine quoted U.S. authorities as declaring that the Police Commandos and other government-linked, Shiite-dominated, U.S.-trained militias are now “out of control,” kidnapping, torturing, executing, and committing mass atrocities in ways that give pause even to the U.S. occupying authorities. Former national security advisor for the Coalition Provisional Authority in occupied Iraq, David Gompert, recalls: “I remember saying, ‘If there is going to be a civil war, it’s going to be fought between Sunni insurgents and Shi’ite militias.’” Time cynically concludes: “And as long as Jabr is running the Interior Ministry and its police forces, there is little doubt which of the two [the insurgency or the Interior Ministry with its brutal militias] in such a conflict will have the law—and American training—on its side.” Meanwhile Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has pronounced that “the United States does not have responsibility” other than “to report it” for any atrocity committed by the Police Commandos and other U.S.-trained militias (Washington Post, December 4, 2005).
Under these circumstances, for the U.S. government and media to speak of mere “sectarian violence” in Iraq is to downplay the criminal role of the United States in creating and supporting the very death squads that are its main instigators. The U.S. empire has truly become, as we once called it here, an “Empire of Barbarism” (MR, December 2004)—one that must be opposed by all of those committed to humanity and justice.
The New York City Council has honored the socialist and anti-imperialist activist and poet Pedro Pietri—his work has appeared in MR and he was the author of the MR Press book, Puerto Rican Obituary—by renaming East Third Street between Avenues B and C Pedro Pietri Way. Pietri, who died of cancer, aged 59, in 2004, was a founder of the Young Lords Party, a radical community organization in the 1970s as well as the Nuyorican literary movement.
In addition, El Museo del Barrio (1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street in Manhattan) is presenting Between the Lines: Text as Image. An Homage to Lorenzo Homar and the Reverend Pedro Pietri. The exhibition focuses upon the Puerto Rican graphic tradition and the creation of art outside of mainstream production by bringing together the work of master printmaker Homar (1913–2004) with Pietri’s poetry and performance work, and features works by both artists that utilized language within their visual arts practices. Connections are made from Homar’s calligraphic images that honor poets and bookmaking to Pietri’s personal, political, and performance projects, which were inked to the revolutionary tradition of Puerto Rican artists over nearly a century.
In March, El Museo—founded in 1969 by educators, artists, and community activists—organized a special evening of remembrance of Pietri that included readings by poets and activists who were his contemporaries and a rendering of “Puerto Rican Obituary” (from the collection of the same name), his poem first read at the founding rally of the Young Lords in the same year. El Museo’s exhibition continues until September 10th.
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