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Occupation and resistance
Who will decide Iraq's future?

May 16, 2003 | Pages 6 and 7

IT'S OFFICIAL. The U.S. is an "occupying force" in Iraq--and there's no end in sight. With their draft resolution submitted to the United Nations' (UN) Security Council last week, the U.S. and Britain made it clear that they will be calling the shots in Iraq for at least a year.

And maybe longer. "Anyone who thinks they know how long it's going to take is fooling themselves," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blustered last week. "It's not knowable."

A month has passed since the fall of Saddam Hussein and his regime, and the ugly face of U.S. occupation is clearer than ever. ELIZABETH SCHULTE looks at the future of U.S.-occupied Iraq.

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U.S. CORPORATIONS like Bechtel and Halliburton have a lot to look forward to in the "new Iraq." But the people who live there have nothing but misery ahead.

A health disaster is already looming. In Basra, where residents depend on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers for drinking water, sewage contamination has resulted in children getting cholera and typhoid. Last weekend, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of a potential cholera epidemic.

Before the war even began, Iraqi hospitals didn't have the medicine and equipment they needed to function effectively, due to drastic economic sanctions imposed on the country more than 12 years ago. Today, the situation has grown far worse. Even a U.S. government official--Ruth Walkup, of the Department of Health and Human Services--had to admit to Britain's Guardian newspaper "that the very fragile system that worked [before the war] is getting ready to fall apart if it's not bolstered very quickly."

Last week, hundreds of Iraqi doctors, nurses and health care workers protested the U.S. appointment of Ali Shnan Al-Janabi, a senior member of Saddam's Baath Party, to be the new minister of health. The workers--most of whom haven't been paid in months--also demanded pay raises and a union.

Yet rather than make sure that the hospitals are open, the U.S. is opening up Iraq for big business. Earlier this week, hundreds of lawyers, consultants and business leaders came out to the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Atlanta to hear a presentation by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID is in charge of awarding contracts worth $1.5 billion to rebuild the health care system--and everyone wants a piece of the action. The contracts will be paid for from Iraqi oil revenues, which will be taken over by the U.S.

"This is very, very bad," Baghdad resident Bassen Al-Khoja told the British Independent. "We are in the same situation as we were with Saddam...[They] stole the oil money from the people, and we got nothing, and now the Americans and British are doing exactly the same. We are not going to see any benefit from it."

In addition to U.S. corporations, many of the same Iraqi businessmen who profited from the old regime are looking for a spot in the new one.

Saad Al-Janabi's family owns one of Iraq's largest construction companies, as well as textile mills, farms, a bank and an insurance company. After leaving Iraq in 1995, Al-Janabi returned less than two weeks after the government fell to put on daily get-togethers at his mansion among top Iraqi business leaders and leading U.S. officials. He hired James Whitley, a former Middle East expert at the CIA as a political consultant.

"Everyone is fighting over this cake now," Iraqi businessman Khalil Al-Bunnia told the New York Times.

These businessmen aren't the only remnants of the old regime. Police from the Baathist regime are being recruited to patrol the streets once again. In Karbala, Iraqi police are getting riot training from U.S. reservists--who got their training from the brutal cops of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Criminal trials have begun again in Iraq, and many of the same corrupt judges who presided under Saddam's government are again serving in criminal courts. "I have a case pending here," one man outside a Baghdad court told Reuters. "It's the same old faces."

U.S. hypocrisy on sanctions

FOR 12 long years, Iraq has suffered under crippling sanctions imposed by the United Nations (UN). Now, the U.S. government wants to end this terrible economic war on ordinary Iraqis--but not out of concern for the devastating impact.

The U.S. demanded the economic embargo after Saddam Hussein's regime invaded Kuwait in 1990. Since then, according to UN estimates, sanctions caused the deaths of at least half a million Iraqi children.

Activists campaigned for years to get the embargo lifted, but Washington insisted that it was necessary to stop Saddam Hussein. Now, in order to gain control over Iraq's oil, the Bush administration wants the sanctions ended immediately.

The gross hypocrisy of the U.S. government couldn't be clearer. The sanctions on Iraq couldn't be ended before, even though the cost was the lives of half a million children. But now that oil profits are at stake, Washington wants sanctions lifted as quickly as possible.

The right to resist

FROM CONSERVATIVE pundits to liberal commentators, the fear that Iraq will "sink into chaos" is one of the main justifications for the continued U.S. occupation.

This smacks of the "white man's burden" argument that the Great Powers used to rationalize their colonial adventures from Africa to the Caribbean a century ago. When Donald Rumsfeld appeared last week on Iraqi television to warn that "building a free society isn't easy--it requires hard work and sacrifice," he spoke like a "civilized" colonial conqueror explaining to the "natives" why occupation was for their own good.

Among opponents of the U.S. war, few people believe that Washington is in Iraq for the good of the Iraqi people. But a significant number of activists believe that a U.S. occupation is better than the alternative.

Their argument is wrong for several reasons. First of all, if chaos reigns in Iraq, the blame lies not with the Iraqi people, but with the conquering army that landed there. In the days after the government fell, the U.S. "liberators" stood by while Iraqi museums and government buildings were looted--but they guarded the Ministry of Oil building like a fortress. The U.S. isn't in Iraq to preserve the peace; it's there for a piece of the oil.

The Iraqi people should have the right to decide the future of their society--whatever form of government they choose. U.S. troops--or for that matter, UN "peacekeepers"--don't further that cause. They, in fact, hinder it.

The protests of thousands of angry Iraqis demanding that the U.S. get out are an expression of the seething anger at occupation--and show the potential for bringing real democracy to Iraq.

As British journalist Robert Fisk commented in mid-April: "It's easy for a reporter to predict doom, especially after a brutal war that lacked all international legitimacy. But catastrophe usually waits for optimists in the Middle East, especially for false optimists who invade oil-rich nations with ideological excuses and high-flown moral claims and accusations, such as weapons of mass destruction, which are still unproved. So I'll make an awful prediction. That America's war of 'liberation' is over. Iraq's war of liberation from the Americans is about to begin."

With the U.S. imposing its handpicked leaders on the new Iraq and handing out fat contracts to U.S. multinationals, the stage is set for a growing Iraqi opposition to Washington's imperial aims. That opposition deserves the support of anyone who opposed the U.S. war on Iraq. The people of Iraq should determine their own future--not the war makers in Washington.

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