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WHAT WE THINK
Washington makes it clear who will call the shots in Iraq
Puppets and their masters

April 25, 2003 | Page 3

CHAOS REIGNED in Baghdad and other cities--but the U.S. government didn't lift a finger to stop it. The Bush administration had other business last week--making it clear that Washington will call the shots in Iraq for decades to come, and threatening more wars against newly trumped-up enemies. "We're only going to give as much authority to the Iraqis as we're comfortable with," one U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal.

There will be Iraqi front men, of course. Amazingly, thanks to his friends in the Pentagon, Ahmed Chalabi could be top dog--a convicted embezzler who until this month hadn't set foot in Iraq for 45 years, far longer than the majority of Iraqis have been alive.

But whatever face is put on the new government, it's obvious that Washington--and Washington alone--is in charge. As if to underline the point, the Bush administration awarded the first contract for the "reconstruction" of Iraq last week--to rebuild power plants, sewage treatment facilities and other infrastructure that the U.S. government "un-constructed," with massive bombardments in two wars and a decade of devastating economic sanctions.

The winner of the American-only bidding process? Bechtel, the California-based multinational with millions invested in Republican Party politicians--and a list of former-government-officials-turned-corporate-executives-and-lobbyists that even includes George Bush Sr., who got a helping hand when he lost his job in 1992.

Halliburton, the oil services company that Dick Cheney ran until he took over as the power behind the Bush throne in 2000, already has its hooks in Iraq--with a contract to put out oil well fires and reconstruct Iraqi oilfields.

This war profiteering was so blatant that it even drew mild criticism from U.S. media puppets like the New York Times. But the Bush administration doesn't care.

Likewise, the U.S. is resisting all suggestions that the United Nations (UN) should play any significant role in postwar Iraq--setting the stage for a battle with European powers who want to use the UN to maneuver their way into the postwar carve-up.

Before the war, the Bush gang demanded that Saddam Hussein allow UN inspectors unimpeded access to search for weapons of mass destruction. After the war, UN inspectors have been barred from returning to Iraq, in favor of an Anglo-American team handpicked by none other than Iraq's new rulers.

The White House wants nothing less than a new colony--though it won't use that term. What other way to describe the long-term "defense relationship" that will be demanded of whatever regime emerges in Iraq, according to the New York Times?

The U.S. wants permanent rights to use four military bases in Iraq--a strategic foothold that will massively increase the U.S. military presence in the Middle East. The message that this plan sent to governments in Syria and Iran would have been crystal clear even if Bush administration officials hadn't threatened military action against these two countries.

An outright war may not be in the cards right away. But the Bush gang is already turning up the economic pressure, cutting off the flow of Iraqi oil to Syria. And U.S. officials are floating the idea of pre-emptive strikes targeting officials from the former Iraqi government "known to have fled" to Syria.

Even short of an invasion, no one should doubt that these countries are in the crosshairs of U.S. imperialism. And whatever the timeline, no one should doubt that Washington's warlords are prepared for another war--in Syria, in Iran, or someplace else entirely.

But the arrogant hawks of the Bush administration seem totally ignorant of a basic political fact--that oppression breeds resistance. "[A]ll across Baghdad, you hear the same thing," wrote British journalist Robert Fisk, "from Shia Muslim clerics to Sunni businessmen, that the Americans have come only for oil, and that soon--very soon--a guerrilla resistance must start."

This same spirit is already taking shape across the Middle East. And antiwar activists in the U.S. now need to respond to new challenges. "The U.S. antiwar movement has not yet reached the level of its peak in the Vietnam years, but it has already distinguished itself by reaching a mass scale, in spite of the trauma of September 11 and the Bush administration's exploitation of that trauma," wrote left-wing French author Gilbert Achcar.

"Carefully selected images of the so-called 'liberation' of Iraq and the Pentagon's scripted scenes have impressed many opponents of the war. But each passing day shows how right the antiwar movement was…As Washington bogs down in a country that cannot be hidden from the world--unlike Afghanistan, more chaotic today than ever--the antiwar movement will be able to rise to new heights."

For antiwar activists today, the task is to build organizations and networks that can hold together through the "downs" of the movement--in preparation for the "ups" that are certain to come.

We should be proud of what we've accomplished so far--an international antiwar movement of unprecedented size. And we look forward to the struggles ahead to stop the U.S. war machine.

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