Washington's new boss in Iraq gives the order...
By Eric Ruder | May 23, 2003 | Page 12
U.S. SOLDIERS in Baghdad have been issued new "rules of engagement": Shoot looters on sight.
The new policy is supposed to help restore "law and order" to Iraq's capital, according to U.S. officials. Soldiers will "start shooting a few looters so that the word gets around," one told a reporter anonymously.
The new rule is the brainchild of Paul Bremer, Washington's newly appointed colonial overseer of Iraq. And Bremer followed up his "shoot to kill" order with another stunning announcement--that the U.S. and Britain "have indefinitely put off their plan to allow Iraqi opposition forces to form a national assembly and an interim government," the New York Times reported.
Though U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad denied it, the twin announcements seemed designed to send a clear message. We're in control, and we won't tolerate any resistance.
But even mainstream newspapers had to wonder about the wisdom of this new "muscular" approach. "Imposing measures that call for the possible killing of young, unemployed or desperate Iraqis for looting appears to carry a certain level of risk because of the volatile sentiments in the streets here," reported the New York Times. "Gas lines snake through neighborhoods, garbage piles up, and the increasing heat frequently provides combustion for short tempers, which are not uncommonly directed at the American presence here."
Since the end of the war, doctors in Baghdad say that they daily see 10 times as many victims of gunshot wounds dying at their hospitals than before the invasion--and in many cases, say families of the victims, U.S. soldiers were the shooters. Bremer, on the other hand, is quick to blame the violence on Baghdad's "criminal element."
After all the U.S. talk about "liberating" Iraqis from the torture and imprisonment that they suffered under the regime of Saddam Hussein, it's a cruel irony that Bremer's "top priority" is now reopening Iraq's jails and imprisoning "lawbreakers." Referring to the 100,000 prisoners released by Saddam in October, Bremer said, "It's time those people are put back in jail."
What's more, Amnesty International has documented a pattern of abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. and British soldiers. The tortures include beatings and electroshock--the very human rights abuses that the U.S. accused the former government of committing.
For example, Muhammad Al-Tamimi says that he was picked up off a street in Basra, treated roughly, denied water, struck in the head and kicked in the ribs. Then British troops took his money. Eventually, he was released and given a slip of paper that read, "There was no evidence to support an assertion that he had committed a belligerent act against coalition forces." As Amnesty International researcher Kathleen Cavanaugh pointed out, "The American and British publics would be justifiably outraged if their prisoners of war were treated this way."
For many Iraqis, there's a growing anger at the devastation caused by the U.S. war--and the slow pace of reconstruction. "Saddam was brutal and cruel," said Suha Abdel-Hamid, a wealthy housewife. "He suffocated us, but at least he restored electricity and normality after the 1991 war. What are the Americans waiting for?"
As Othman, a taxi driver waiting in a line at a gas station, put it to one reporter: "Under Saddam, we lived in fear. Now we live in terror from crime, and we live in poverty."
New overlord of Iraq
IT'S AN open secret that the Pentagon "hawks" and State Department "diplomats" have a running feud over the best way to proceed with the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Enter Paul Bremer, appointed last week by George W. Bush as Iraq's new overseer.
As a 23-year veteran of the State Department, many counted his selection as a sign that the "moderate" views of Secretary of State Colin Powell were gaining influence in U.S. policy towards Iraq. But the truth is that Bremer also has close ties to the neoconservatives like Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz who are in charge at the Pentagon.
As the congressionally appointed chair of the National Commission on Terrorism in 2000, Bremer called for eliminating CIA guidelines limiting the recruitment of sources with records of human rights abuses. Days after the September 11 attacks, Bremer wrote that "our retribution must move beyond the limp-wristed attacks of the past decade, actions that seemed designed to 'signal' our seriousness to the terrorists without inflicting real damage." "This time the terrorists and their supporters must be crushed," Bremer added. "But we must avoid a mindless search for an international 'consensus' for our actions." Later in the month, Bremer said, "We're in for a major war [in Iraq] one way or the other."
In the 1970s, Bremer was an aide to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger when Kissinger helped to engineer the overthrow of Salvador Allende, Chile's democratically elected president. After retiring from the State Department, Bremer spent 11 years with Kissinger Associates, a global consulting firm run by Kissinger himself. In the late 1980s, Kissinger's firm faced a congressional investigation for setting up shady deals with an Italian bank to funnel $4 billion to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq--which at the time was receiving firm U.S. support in its war on Iran.
In truth, the dispute between the Pentagon and the State Department isn't a struggle over the merits of empire building--only how best to go about it. And Bremer's brand of iron-fisted diplomacy with a smile happens to fit the bill--for now.