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"This is what you call freedom?"

April 18, 2003 | Page 5

ELIZABETH SCHULTE and NICOLE COLSON look at U.S. plans for the occupation of Iraq.

"THE NIGHTMARE that Saddam Hussein has brought to your nation will soon be over," George W. Bush announced over Iraqi airwaves April 11. Meanwhile, the nightmare that Bush has in store for Iraq was well under way--care of the U.S. military.

"Bush and Co." read the barrel of the Abrams tank manned by 22-year-old gunner Cpl. Jeff Mager stationed near the Baghdad airport. Mager was guarding an expressway when he saw a Toyota sedan coming down the road on the morning of April 7. In an instant, two Iraqi civilians--Wadhar and Bashar Handi, who were driving to their family home a few miles away--learned what American "liberation" looks like when they were blown to bits.

"We wanted freedom, we wanted democracy, and this is what we got," said Ali Rashid Handi, pointing at his dead brothers. "Is this what you Americans call freedom?" And when "freedom" isn't demonstrated in immediate death and destruction, it's the slow misery and humiliation of the occupation to come.

Few Iraqis could have seen or heard Bush's TV address--since electricity no longer exists in many parts of the country. Thirsty people begging U.S. soldiers for water are a common sight on the streets of Iraq. So are desperate doctors trying to care for the injured and dying, without necessary medical supplies.

Dr. Moafaq Gorea, director of Saddam Hospital, told Tim Judah of Scotland's Sunday Herald that he is working with just one-third of his staff. "I think the Americans wanted this chaos to start and to increase so that we would have to ask them to protect us," Gorea said.

Last week, report after report described widespread looting in Baghdad, as U.S. soldiers looked on. Of course, there are exceptions. Abdul Malik, whose cousins were killed by U.S. soldiers, told the New York Times that U.S. troops made no attempt to protect any government building from looters--except the Ministry of Oil.

Meanwhile, Britain's Financial Times reported that in Hay Al Ansar, on the outskirts of Najaf, residents were being terrorized by a local militia group. The Iraqi Coalition of National Unity had appeared, riding on U.S. Special Forces vehicles. "They steal and steal," Abu Zeinab told reporter Charles Clover. "They threaten us, saying: 'We are with the Americans, you can do nothing to us.'"

And they dare to call this liberation. "The blood, destruction, continuous bombing," said Baghdad University faculty member Wamid Nadmi, "these will be remembered by the Iraqis and will make it very, very difficult for the Americans to rule directly or indirectly. The U.S.-British alliance has lost the war politically," he concluded, "even if they come to a successful military conclusion."

Meet the new boss

THE GROUP in charge of setting up a new "democracy" in Iraq reads like a Pentagon Who's Who list.

Retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner--apparently now known to friends as the "sheriff of Baghdad"--is in charge of the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq. A close, personal friend of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, Garner is on leave from his day job--president of SY Coleman, the defense firm that makes Patriot missiles. SY Coleman was awarded a $1 billion contract this year to provide logistics support to U.S. Special Forces.

If there's any question about how Garner will carry out the occupation, it's worth noting that he once praised the Israel Defense Forces for "remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leadership of the Palestinian Authority."

Ready to make a fortune

HERE ARE a few of the well-connected businesses that stand to make a fortune from the reconstruction of Iraq:

Stevedoring Services of America won a $4.8 million contract to manage Iraq's strategic port, Umm Qasr. A renowned union-buster, the company's president, John Hemingway, has made numerous personal donations to Republican Party candidates.

Bechtel is in the running for $900 million in contracts in post-war Iraq. George Shultz, the secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, is Bechtel's former CEO and still sits on its board of directors. Retired Gen. Jack Sheehan is a senior vice president. He also sits on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. In the 1980s, Bechtel sought to build an oil pipeline through Iraq, with Rumsfeld working as an intermediary to Saddam Hussein.

International Resources Group won a $7 million contract to establish a humanitarian aid program in Iraq. Four of the company's vice presidents and half of the firm's technical staff have held senior posts with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government department that hands out reconstruction contracts.

Halliburton was the first company to be awarded an Iraqi reconstruction contract by the Pentagon. Its subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) was hired to cap burning oil wells. The Army Corps of Engineers awarded the $7 billion contract to Dick Cheney's former oil business without competitive bidding--thanks to federal laws allowing negotiations to take place in secret in the interests of "national security." KBR is also one of two contractors selected to dispose of weapons of mass destruction--if any are ever found.

Unending war in Afghanistan

ANYONE THINKING that the U.S. "liberation" of Iraq will benefit ordinary Iraqis should remember Afghanistan. While the Bush gang begins setting up shop in Iraq, ordinary Afghans are still living in what can only be described as a war zone. Even the U.S. State Department was recently forced to admit that "the ability of Afghan authorities to maintain order and ensure security is limited."

Over the past several weeks, fighting has intensified in Afghanistan--with the Taliban reviving its operations in the southern part of the country, and rival warlords continuing to plunder the rest. And last week, 11 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, were killed when a U.S. bomb "missed" its target and landed on a house--instead of its intended target, a group of men who were attacking a checkpoint on the Pakistani border.

But that's only the latest U.S. attack. In late March, U.S. bases in the eastern part of the country were attacked by rebel troops in the towns of Gardez and Shkin--and the U.S. responded with heavy bombing.

Posters supposedly written by Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar have begun appearing in eastern Afghanistan, renewing his call for a war against U.S. troops and Afghans working with them. In response, U.S. forces and Afghan militias have begun conducting sweeps to hunt down anti-government forces.

Earlier this month, the U.S. military mounted an intense air campaign near southern Afghanistan's Tor Ghar Mountains after 40 rebel troops opened fire on a U.S. Special Forces unit and an Afghan militia force. U.S. Special Forces called in air support--and a stunning 35,000 pounds of bombs were dropped during the night.

If the U.S. thinks it can bomb Afghanistan into submission, so far the plan seems to be backfiring. Every new onslaught fuels more anger and desperation.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has all but abandoned the country when it comes to aid. Not a single dime of money was requested for Afghanistan in this year's budget proposal. (Although Congress later stepped in to find a pitiful $300 million.) And the paltry $1 billion in international aid that has come in has vanished into the pockets of the county's new rulers.

As Scotland's Sunday Herald reported: "Afghans in Kabul remain skeptical about the promises President Bush is making to Iraqis, the same promises he made to them of democracy, human rights and reconstruction…Afghans find it difficult to understand where the aid money has gone, except perhaps in Kabul where they can see large numbers of white Land Cruisers, hikes in property prices and new restaurants."

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