Washington's colonial occupation sparks resistance
July 18, 2003 | Page 6
"FOR THE first time in decades, Iraqis are truly free." So claimed L. Paul Bremer, the U.S.-appointed overseer of Iraq, in the New York Times last week. But Bremer's words are a lie. Ordinary Iraqis are paying a brutal price every day under the U.S. occupation. NICOLE COLSON shows how the reality of Iraq today exposes the Bush administration's rhetoric about "liberation."
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UNDER THE heading "Liberation Update," the White House's Web site shows a picture of a U.S. soldier standing alongside a smiling Iraqi child. Underneath, the message reads: "News reports today paint a vivid picture of joy and relief inside Iraq. American and coalition troops are being welcomed by smiling Iraqis."
What a sick joke. Three months after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, the Iraqi economy remains in ruins, with about four out of five Iraqis without work.
Electricity still hasn't been restored--in fact, production of electrical power is going down, not up. And clean water is hard to come by--at a time when midday temperatures routinely hit more than 110 degrees. At the same time, attacks on U.S. troops are increasing--with, according to Gen. Tommy Franks, between 10 and 25 happening every day.
Of course, the White House is trying to "spin" the situation. "We are facing some of the problems brought on by our very success in the war--in particular, our ability to use speed to pre-empt many of the actions that we were afraid Saddam might take," Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith explained, in his best bureaucrat doublespeak during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "War, like life in general, always involves tradeoffs. It is not right to assume that any current problems in Iraq can be attributed to poor planning."
Forget "poor planning." What about the fact that the war and all its brutality was based on lies?
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FOR ORDINARY Iraqis, the U.S. war on Iraq continues to take a terrible toll. For all the talk about "reconstruction," U.S. forces--and the U.S. companies like Bechtel that were awarded huge postwar contracts for reconstruction--have done next to nothing to restore essential services.
The amount of available clean water and electricity in Baghdad and some other parts of the country, for example, is still lower now than before the invasion in March--and is expected to drop in the coming weeks. Raw sewage continues to pour into the Tigris River that runs through the country and many of its major cities.
Baghdad doesn't have a single functioning sewage treatment plant--because of the damage caused by years of U.S. bombing and United Nations-imposed sanctions. "They can take our oil, but at least they should let us have electricity and water," Tha'ar Abdul Qader, a worker at the Central Teaching Hospital for Children in Baghdad told journalist Patrick Cockburn.
A 15-minute walk from where Paul Bremer--the U.S.-appointed overlord of Iraq--has set up shop in a luxurious, air-conditioned presidential palace, shopkeeper Shamsedin Mansour told Cockburn: "We have had no electricity for six days. Many of our people are suffering from heart problems because of the heat. We live with as many as 42 people in a house and do not have the money to buy even a small generator. Without light at night, it is easy for gangs of thieves with guns to take over the streets, and the shooting keeps us awake. If we try to protect ourselves with arms, the Americans arrest us."
U.S. troops continue to sweep through major cities--conducting raids to disarm Iraqi civilians and round up what the Pentagon claims are "Saddam loyalists." In Operation Ivy Serpent--the latest U.S. sweep carried out last weekend--U.S. troops killed at least four Iraqis and arrested another 50 people.
U.S. officials in charge of policing Iraq don't even try to hide their contempt for ordinary citizens. Take Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who is now in charge of security in Iraq. His nickname is the "Baghdad Terminator."
Kerik recently dismissed Iraqi complaints about the lack of security in the streets with a sneer. "Okay, they are complaining," he told Britain's Telegraph newspaper, "but I guess after 30 years of repression, of keeping their mouths shut, they enjoy verbalizing their feelings. I can handle that." As one British official complained to the Financial Times, "The Americans need to learn that civil policing is not about 'kicking ass.'"
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BACK IN April, George W. Bush told the Iraqi people that "Coalition forces will help maintain law and order, so that Iraqis can live in security...We will help you build a peaceful and representative government that protects the rights of all citizens. And then our military forces will leave." It was all lies.
Even as a U.S.-appointed, 25-member governing council of Iraqis held its inaugural meeting July 13, ultimate control over Iraq--including veto power over the council's decisions--still rests with Paul Bremer. But it's not as if the council is likely to disagree with Bremer. Who's on it? Men like U.S. puppet Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an embezzler who hadn't set foot inside Iraq for 45 years until April, and Wael Abdul-Latif, the U.S.-appointed governor of the oil-rich southern city of Basra.
In fact, democracy doesn't seem to be a concern for the U.S. anywhere in Iraq. Occupation officials have arbitrarily installed all sorts of people--including many officials of the former Baathist Party regime--to control local areas.
Now they are becoming increasingly unpopular with the population. Last week, for example, Ali Kammouna--the U.S.-appointed governor of the city of Karbala--was forced to resign after allegations of financial improprieties. Earlier, the governor of Najaf was arrested by U.S. forces after he was accused of corruption and kidnapping.
No wonder ordinary people in Iraq hate the U.S. And with every new raid and every new killing of Iraqi civilians, that hatred will grow. In Falluja last week, more than 100 members of the new U.S.-trained police force protested in the streets, threatening to resign unless U.S. forces left town--after they were attacked overnight by anti-U.S. guerrillas.
The chaos caused by the U.S. in Iraq isn't coming cheap, either. The military occupation alone--without any reconstruction aid--costs $1 billion a week, double the original estimate that the administration released in April.
And while the war itself may have been quick, the occupation will drag on for years--as even administration officials now admit. Since Bush declared major combat over on May 1, 31 U.S. soldiers have been killed and dozens more have been wounded in mortar, grenade and small arms attacks.
But according to Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon's chief financial officer, U.S. troops are downright eager to keep fighting in Iraq. "The people on the ground really seem to want to stay there," he told the Washington Post last week in an eye-popping assessment. "Even the people I visited in hospital, their number one objective is to get back into theater. People sign up to do just what they're doing."
Maybe Zakhein missed talking to the soldier whose letter to Congress was recently reported on in the Christian Science Monitor."The way we have been treated and the continuous lies told to our families back home has devastated us all," the soldier wrote.
As the occupation drags on with no end in sight, more ordinary soldiers will question why they remain in Iraq, risking their lives to inflict a brutal occupation in the name of U.S. oil and empire. Soldiers like Sgt. David J. Borell. In June, while on duty at an Army airfield, an Iraqi father approached Borell, pleading for help for his three children, who had been severely burned when they set fire to a bag of explosive powder left over from the war.
Borell called for help, but the Army medics who arrived refused to treat the suffering children--because their injuries were not life threatening and not directly caused by U.S. troops. "I have never seen in almost 14 years of Army experience anything that callous," Borell told an Associated Press reporter. "What would it have cost to treat these children? A few dollars perhaps. Some investment of time and resources. I cannot imagine the heartlessness required to look into the eyes of a child in horrid pain and suffering and, with medical resources only a brief trip up the road, ignore their plight as though they are insignificant...After today, I wonder if I will still be able to carry the title 'soldier' with any pride at all."
No one should feel any pride in how Washington has laid waste to Iraq. And as the occupation continues, the U.S. will only inflict more horror on a country already torn to shreds by U.S. sanctions and bombs. We have to build the fight to end this brutal occupation.