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"Terrorism" or oppostion to occupation?
Behind the bombings in Iraq

September 5, 2003 | Pages 6 and 7

NICOLE COLSON looks at the resistance to occupation in Iraq--and the real source of the deadly attacks across the country.

"AMERICA CONSIDERS itself the superpower of the world, but here, it is powerless to keep any semblance of order." That's what Baghdad schoolteacher Khawla Ahmed told the Los Angeles Times last week, following a series of deadly bombings last month that struck the Jordanian embassy, United Nations (UN) headquarters in Baghdad and a Shiite mosque in Najaf.

The UN bombing was a particularly stark indication of the failure of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. It was the worst attack ever on a UN civilian installation, killing 23 people and injuring more than 100. With the pictures of the carnage broadcast around the world, people wanted to know why the bombing happened.

They got no help at all from the U.S. corporate media--which portrayed the attack as the act of "Saddam loyalists" lashing out at a "peaceful" UN that was trying to help the people of Iraq. This about an institution that has almost entirely endorsed more than a decade of U.S. warfare on Iraq, both military and economic. After enduring this barbarism, no ordinary Iraqi could possibly view the UN as "peaceful."

From 1990 until a few months ago, the UN was the administrator of economic sanctions against Iraq--the strictest in history. By the UN's own admission, sanctions killed more than 500,000 children--and reduced what had been one of the most economically advanced societies of the Middle East to one of the poorest countries in the world. In health care, Iraqis were denied a wide range of medicines and medical equipment--including vaccines, cancer-treating drugs, incubators and cardiac machines--because these items had supposed "dual uses" for military purposes.

In a chilling twist on this fact, the media reported that medical treatment for victims of the UN bombing was difficult--in large part because of the ruin of Iraqi hospitals due to sanctions. Baghdad's largest facility, Yarmouk Hospital, has only one working ambulance--because spare auto parts were banned under "dual use" prohibitions.

Other banned items included spare parts and chemicals for water and sanitation, electricity, transportation, communications and oil installations. As a result, the country's basic infrastructure remains in a shambles 13 years after it was destroyed in the carpet-bombing of the 1991 Gulf War.

Nor do Iraqis have any reason to believe that the UN has suddenly become dedicated to protecting their rights. UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in the attack, may have inspired particular hatred for his role in helping to manage the occupation.

"Vieira de Mello's UN mission was to collaborate with [U.S. overseer L. Paul] Bremer, and directed toward creating an advisory junta that would provide a fig leaf for U.S. colonial control," says left-wing writer James Petras. "In effect, de Mello organized a powerless collection of self-appointed elites who had no credibility in Iraq or legitimacy among the Iraqi populace to serve as window dressing for U.S. colonial rule."

This is why most Iraqis see the UN and the U.S. military as two faces of a single colonial occupation. "Within hours of the explosion," commented antiwar journalist Robert Fisk, "we were being told that this was an attack on a 'soft target', a blow against the UN itself. True, it was a 'soft' target, although the machine-gun nest on the roof of the UN building might have suggested that even the international body was militarizing itself. True, too, it was a shattering assault on the UN as an institution.

"But in reality, yesterday's attack was against the United States. For it proves that no foreign organization--no NGO, no humanitarian organization, no investor, no businessman--can expect to be safe under America's occupation rule."

The point was driven home again on August 29, when a car bomb exploded at a Shiite mosque in Najaf, killing 125 people--including Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, an Islamic cleric who had advocated working with the U.S. U.S. officials immediately claimed that the UN and mosque bombings were the work of "terrorists" slipping over the border into Iraq from countries like Syria and Iran. As if the U.S. military occupation made it more likely that al-Qaeda would make its base in Iraq!

But while the Bush administration would like to dismiss all resistance to the U.S. in Iraq as the work of "terrorists" and "Saddam loyalists," this clearly isn't the case. The majority of attacks on U.S. troops and military installations since the war have taken place in the so-called "Sunni triangle"--the area around Baghdad that is home to the country's Sunni Muslim minority and was the base for Saddam's government.

But an increasing number are coming in Shiite areas in southern Iraq, as well as other regions. According to an estimate cited by left-wing writer Tariq Ali, as many as 40 religious and nationalist groupings in Iraq are engaged in acts of violence to drive the U.S. out of the country.

The misery and suffering that fuels Iraqi resistance to the occupation shows no sign of getting better. Unemployment remains above 60 percent, food prices have more than doubled since the end of the war, and there has been little progress in restoring electricity, water and sewage systems. "Day after day, there is something terrible in our lives," Raed Ramadani, a shoe salesman at an open-air market in central Baghdad, told the Washington Post. "We thought the Americans were capable of so much, and now we see they are stumbling like drunkards."

In the face of this nightmare, the Bush administration's claim that it is confronting "international terrorism" in Iraq is especially cruel. However terrible the casualties from the suicide bombings, there can be no comparison with the systematic and overwhelming violence carried out by the U.S. government in its two wars and more than a decade of economic sanctions.

Iraqis are right to resist the occupation--and they deserve the support of the international antiwar movement. It is up to Iraqis--not the U.S. government, and not the United Nations--to determine their own future. Ordinary people in the U.S. and around the world who hate the tyranny of the U.S. in Iraq need to build a movement that challenges the idea that Washington ever has the right to wage war and occupy countries.

The Bush administration may be determined to wage its war on the world. But the arrogance of its occupation of Iraq will continue to stoke outrage--both abroad and at home--that can fuel an opposition strong enough to stop the U.S. war machine.

Why you shouldn't back UN peacekeeping

FACED WITH the undeniable reality that the U.S. occupation of Iraq has become a humanitarian disaster, some opponents of Washington's invasion are now saying that the United Nations (UN) should take over. For many, the UN seems to be a neutral, international body whose only interest is to bring peace, humanitarian aid and democracy around the world. But there are good reasons why people who live in the countries where the UN has intervened--especially in Iraq--see the organization very differently.

The UN gave its full stamp of approval to the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq led by the U.S.--and it administered the even more deadly economic sanctions against the country for the last decade. Imposed in 1990 after Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait, the sanctions continued after the war, supposedly to put pressure on the Iraqi government. The blockade shredded the Iraqi economy--with its once modern health care and education systems--and heaped terrible suffering on the Iraq people.

More than half a million children died as a result of the sanctions, falling victim to completely treatable diseases and conditions like diarrhea. Banned items not only included medical equipment that was considered to have a dual military use, but chlorine, which is used to purify water.

What little revenue that Iraq was allowed to make through the limited production of oil under the UN's oil-for-food program was partly spent on providing "reparations" to the wealthy oil kingdom of Kuwait. That was, of course, until the U.S. became Iraq's official, UN-approved occupiers a few months ago. Then, the UN lifted its sanctions on Iraq--to open the way for Western investment.

The list of UN failures doesn't end with Iraq. It includes the war-torn countries that were ignored by UN peacekeepers--such as Rwanda, where use of the word "genocide" to describe the killing of more than 500,000 people in 1994 was discouraged under the instructions of the U.S. to avoid intervention.

And the list includes countries that wish they had been ignored--like Somalia, where some 10,000 were left dead by the time "peacekeeping" came to an end in the early 1990s.

Supporters of a UN solution in Iraq say that the problem is the UN hasn't been allowed to exercise its independence from the U.S. But that's like saying that George W. Bush would be a smart guy, if only he weren't so dumb.

The UN's relationship with the U.S. and other Western powers is built into its very makeup, from its beginning after the Second World War. When the other powerful UN member states oppose U.S. interests, the UN is generally deadlocked.

And when the UN doesn't provide a useful cover for U.S. interests, Washington flouts it completely. John Bolton, an undersecretary of State and one of the Bush administration's leading hawks, made this clear a few years after the first Gulf War. "When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow," Bolton said. "When it suits our interest to do so, we will do so. When it does not suit our interests, we will not."

A UN occupation is no solution. Iraqis must decide their future for themselves.

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