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The Current Khartoum Government

The MCA was egregiously behind schedule long before his appointment. Although the president promised to make money available to eligible countries within a year of MCA's unveiling in March 2002, it took Bush nearly that long just to submit draft legislation to Congress. Almost another year passed before the program was signed into law. Applegarth only came on the scene in February 2004, and, since then, his organization has had to rethink the whole tradition of U.S. foreign aid so that it rewards countries that are "ruling justly, investing in their people, and establishing economic freedom."

The July 9 inauguration of a new Sudanese "government of national unity" (GNU) has appropriately received a good deal of news coverage. The GNU represents the culmination of an arduous peace process going back almost a decade and the formal end to war in southern Sudan, perhaps the most destructive conflict since World War II. As many as 2.5 million people have died since war in the south resumed in 1983--and likely over 4 million if we consider the earlier phase of the civil war (1955-1972). Some 5 million people were displaced--Sudan has the world's largest population of internally displaced persons-- and southern Sudan was utterly devastated.

John Garang, leader of the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, has been inaugurated as first vice president in the GNU, and the assumption in many quarters is that Garang--as someone long sympathetic to the cause of Sudan's marginalized peoples--will use his new position to help end genocide in Darfur. This assumption is not only facile, but it expediently ignores the genocidal past of the National Islamic Front (NIF), which retains key powers in the GNU: the presidency, a guaranteed majority in the national assembly, ministerial posts, and--critically--control of the army and security forces.

The NIF, which has attempted to rename itself the innocuous "National Congress Party," is essentially unchanged since it seized power from a democratically elected government in a 1989 military coup, deliberately aborting Sudan's most promising peace process since independence in 1956. With the exception of Islamist ideologue Hassan Al Turabi--the mastermind of the 1989 coup who split with his former allies and is no longer part of the government--the same brutal men still control the NIF today. Field Marshal Omer El Bashir retains the presidency, and Ali Osman Taha--arguably the most powerful man in Sudan--serves as vice president and controls the terrifyingly efficient security services. Nafie Ali Nafie, Gutbi Al Mahdi, and other longtime members of the NIF serve in various advisory capacities. And Major General Saleh Abdallah Gosh, recently flown to Washington by the CIA, is head of the Mukhabarat (Sudan's intelligence and security service), even as he is among those members of the NIF whose names were referred to at the International Criminal Court in the Hague for crimes against humanity in Darfur.

These are the men who settled on a genocidal response to the insurgency movements that emerged in Darfur in early 2003. But the NIF's history of genocide goes back much further than the current catastrophe in that western province. Animated by a radical Islamism and a sense of Arab racial superiority, the movement engaged in genocide almost from the time it seized power. In August of last year, seasoned Sudan watcher Alex de Waal of the British group Justice Africa wrote for the London Review of Books what remains one of the best overviews of the Darfur crisis. In the piece, he observed that genocide in Darfur:

is not the genocidal campaign of a government at the height of its ideological hubris.... This is the routine cruelty of a security cabal, its humanity withered by years in power: it is genocide by force of habit.

In fact, as de Waal noted in his piece, the Sudanese regime has resorted to genocide at least twice before. As part of a ghastly jihad, the NIF brought suffering and destruction to the Nuba Mountains, a culturally distinct part of the southern Kordofan province in northern Sudan that was politically allied with southern Sudan. It conducted relentless military assaults on civilians and enforced a humanitarian aid embargo that lasted for more than a decade.

The same men ordered the scorched-earth clearances of the oil regions in southern Sudan to provide security for the operations of international oil companies. The systematic civilian destruction in the oil regions (primarily in the Upper Nile province) has been chronicled by many international human rights groups. The actions of oil companies from Canada, Sweden, Austria, China, Malaysia, and India--directly supporting the NIF regime--constitute one of the most shameful episodes in the long and terrible history of resource extraction in Africa.

The result of these policies was that, between 1989 and 2002, many hundreds of thousands of Sudanese were either killed or displaced. As in Darfur, the NIF regime settled upon a deliberate policy of human destruction, targeting ethnically African populations that had rebelled against, or were victims of, decades of political and economic marginalization.

Eric Reeves, a professor of English language and literature at Smith College, has written extensively on Sudan.

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By Eric Reeves