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Is this liberation--or humiliation?

By Sharon Smith | April 18, 2003 | Page 7

ON APRIL 9, TV cameras captured the now famous scene of jubilant Iraqis helping U.S. Marines pull down a giant statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's Firdos Square. That scene--immediately claimed by the Bush administration as proof that its war on Iraq has "liberated" the Iraqi people--caused even some who oppose the war to wonder whether Iraqis might be better off now than under Saddam's brutal regime.

But just a few days after the toppling of Saddam's statue, a quite different gathering of Iraqis took place in Firdos square--this time to chant, "Down, down with America." This scene never made it onto American television news broadcasts.

Journalist Robert Fisk, reporting for the British Independent, witnessed the crowd of angry Iraqis "demanding a new Iraqi government 'for our protection and security and peace.'" In this instance, however, U.S. Marines lined up and pointed their guns at the Iraqis trying to exercise their newly acquired right to free speech.

The media was at full attention, though, when Gen. Vincent K. Brooks at Central Command held a press conference to assure the world that addressing Iraq's dire humanitarian crisis would be the U.S.'s highest priority. He showed slides of large shipments of food, medical supplies and water "regularly arriving in the region" soon to be transported to Iraq's "liberated" areas.

But tons of aid supplies still sat unloaded in the harbor at the southern port of Umm Qasr while its townspeople entered their fourth week of water and food shortages because the military has no coherent plan to deliver the supplies even for short distances.

After witnessing Kuwaiti relief workers throwing food out of a bus window at starving Iraqis, even war-mongering New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman admitted, "[T]his scene explained to me why, even here in the anti-Saddam Shia heartland, no one is giving U.S. troops a standing ovation."

And the U.S. conquerors did nothing to stop the mass looting and ethnic fighting that enveloped Iraq even while they continued to bomb and shoot Iraqi civilians indiscriminately, shedding more light on the actual priorities of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"At one intersection of the city, I saw U.S. Marine snipers on the rooftops of a high-rise building, scanning the streets for possible suicide bombers while a traffic jam of looters--two of them driving stolen double-decker buses crammed with refrigerators--blocked the highway beneath," reported Fisk from Baghdad.

Financial Times reporter Paul Eedle witnessed "soldiers of the U.S. 5th Marines open[ing] fire repeatedly, hitting unarmed men, women and children" last week. Baghdad streets were littered with the rotting corpses of Iraqis for days after its "liberation." "You do nothing to protect the city," a Baghdad man shouted at U.S. troops. "You just concentrate your strength on oil fields."

Indeed, the rebuilding of Iraq is proceeding in a much more orderly fashion than its destruction. Companies with direct ties to the Bush administration--including Halliburton, the company headed by Vice President Dick Cheney until 2000--are already lined up at the trough to secure multibillion-dollar contracts to repair Iraqi oil wells and rebuild infrastructure.

Yet Cheney kept a straight face last week while insisting, "We have no interest in the oil." He claims the U.S. has invaded Iraq for a higher purpose, as outlined in a January 30 speech: "We are defending both ourselves and the safety and survival of civilization itself."

The irony of this statement can only be fully appreciated amidst the wreckage of Iraq--the former Mesopotamia, the world's first human civilization, the site of the world's first cities and first written language.

U.S. troops refused to stop looters who pillaged and ransacked the National Museum of Iraq's entire collection of cultural artifacts--including some that have survived for longer than 5,000 years. "If a country's civilization is looted, as ours has been here, its history ends," a museum archeologist said angrily. "Please tell this to President Bush," he added. "Remind him that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation."

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