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From atrocities to routine humiliation
Nightmare in occupied Iraq

August 22, 2003 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON reports on the terrible reality of Washington's brutal occupation of Iraq.

"WHY ARE you taking my son?" That was the desperate question that Abdullah Ghani asked U.S. soldiers as they abducted his 11-year-old son Sufian. Sufian was snatched, along with his uncle and a neighbor, as they drove home to a Baghdad suburb one evening in June.

U.S. soldiers believed that Sufian's uncle had shot at them, so they stopped the car and made the three passengers--including the boy--lie face down on the ground for three hours. Then, Sufian and the two adults had hoods put over their heads and their hands bound with plastic handcuffs. And they were shipped off to a U.S. detention center.

"Don't worry," a U.S. sergeant told Sufian's father. "As he's a child, we'll send him back in a couple of days. But Sufian wound up in the now notorious Camp Cropper prison near Baghdad's airport.

What were conditions like for the 11-year-old? Another boy detained in the same camp recently described it to Britain's Guardian newspaper: "We were in a tent for 150 people. We only got [six and a half gallons] of water a day for everyone, which means about a cupful per person, in temperatures of over [100 degrees]. There was a small ditch in the open for a toilet, which meant you were naked in front of everybody. There was no shower. We slept on the sand."

After eight terrible days, Sufian was transported to a detention center for women and juveniles. But the nightmare wasn't over. When Sufian's father brought an order for Sufian's release issued by a U.S.-approved Iraqi judge, he was told by military police that orders from Iraqi judges had no legal authority. In all, the 11-year-old spent 24 days imprisoned by the U.S. before he was finally released.

This is what passes for "democracy" in U.S.-occupied Iraq. Yet in some ways, Sufian was one of the lucky ones. He could have ended up like Haded abd al-Kerim, a 13-year-old girl who was shot to death by U.S. troops--along with her father and two older siblings--because her parents' car was stopped at a checkpoint in Baghdad when the soldiers guarding it panicked at the sound of nearby gunfire.

Or Sufian could have been like the 12-year-old boy that U.S. troops shot in the face last week during a demonstration in Sadr City, a slum in northeast Baghdad. The demonstration was provoked when a U.S. Blackhawk helicopter tried to tear down an Islamic banner from the top of a telecommunications tower.

Thousands of angry residents poured into the streets in protest--and U.S. troops opened fire on the crowd, killing at least one person and wounding several more. The whole incident was so outrageous that even the U.S. military--which almost never admits an error--was forced to apologize. "What occurred was a mistake and was not directed against the people of Sadr City," said Lt. Col. Christopher Hoffman in a letter distributed to residents.

But it wasn't a "mistake." Like the string of atrocities and routine humiliations that Iraqis have suffered since their "liberation," it was a direct consequence of an occupation that has nothing to do with "democracy" or "freedom"--and everything to do with U.S. imperial domination and the theft of Iraqi oil.

A look at the Bush administration's latest report on Iraq--sickeningly mis-titled "100 Days Toward Security and Freedom"--shows the nearly delusional gap between White House rhetoric about Iraq and the reality on the ground. "Major strides" are being made in security, economic stability and growth, and democracy, the report claims.

The list of supposed accomplishments is long: Oil production is up, electricity is being distributed "more equitably," the water system is functioning at pre-war levels, health services are recovering, and the Iraqi Interim Council is now governing.

But the truth is entirely different:

-- Rolling blackouts occur daily in most of Iraq--leaving some cities with power for as little as two hours a day in temperatures that routinely rise above 115 degrees. And routine outages can be expected for years to come.

-- Water supplies are uneven--and usually not safe to drink since sewage treatment plants aren't functioning properly due to the blackouts. Last weekend, a major water pipeline in northern Baghdad burst, flooding several streets and yet again cutting off water supplies to much of the capital.

-- According to Independent journalist Robert Fisk, oil production actually fell in July and August--because of electricity shortages interfering with pumping.

-- As for hospitals, Washington has decided that the rebuilding of Iraq's health care system will be a direct boon to U.S. corporations. Abt Associates, a U.S. corporation, recently won a $43.8 million contract to "assist in stabilizing and strengthening the health system in post-conflict Iraq." The company apparently declared that medical equipment must meet U.S. technical standards, so all new hospital equipment must come from the U.S--with the profits going straight into the pockets of U.S. companies.

"The biggest problems have been airbrushed out of the White House report," the New York Times admitted, "making it read more like a Bush campaign flier than a realistic accounting to the American people."

Meanwhile, the White House's pre-war promises that Iraq's oil would be used solely for the benefit of Iraqis and the reconstruction of Iraq have been proven an outright lie. In late May, George Bush signed an executive order granting U.S. oil companies operating in Iraq complete immunity from future financial liability--even if it could be proved that they had committed human rights violations or damaged the environment in Iraq.

The order is so broad that the operator of an oil tanker that ran aground and spilled its load would be immune from all legal sanctions anywhere in the world--as long as the tanker was hauling oil pumped out of the ground in Iraq. "As written, the executive order appears to cancel the rule of law for the oil industry or anyone else who gets possession or control of Iraqi oil, or anything of value related to Iraqi oil," Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, told the Los Angeles Times.

Washington's imperial arrogance will only continue to provoke outrage among ordinary Iraqis. And that outrage will continue to spill over, as it did recently in the southern city of Basra.

With temperatures soaring to 125 degrees, electricity had been on for just four out of the previous 24 hours in Basra, and cooking gas was in such short supply that residents were forced to begin cutting down date palms for fuel. Anger boiled over into the streets, with residents throwing chunks of concrete and burning tires at British troops, who fired back on the crowds.

"They did not give us what they promised, and we have had enough of waiting," a 19-year-old student told Reuters. The Iraqi resistance to occupation--both in spontaneous demonstrations and armed guerrillas attacks--is growing. U.S. officials still try to put the blame on the supposed "remnants" of Saddam Hussein's regime.

But the truth is that the colonial occupation of Iraq is producing--as it inevitably had to--an anti-colonial opposition. As British Lt. Col. Jorge Mendonca told the New York Times, "You can see the frustration on the streets. I have the ability to sustain public order, but I'm not sure for how long."

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