Huge demonstrations shake Iraq
By Nicole Colson | January 23, 2004 | Page 12
THE U.S. occupation of Iraq is unraveling--faster than Washington can spin lies to justify it. In Basra last week, 30,000 Shiites took to the streets. Another 100,000 turned out in Baghdad January 19, chanting "Yes, yes to elections! No, no to occupation!"
The protest came weeks after walkouts and threats of strikes by workers at power and oil industry plants--and just a day after the Iraqi resistance set off a massive bomb at the headquarters of the occupation authority. The growing pressure forced Washington to run to the United Nations (UN) to look for political cover for the occupation.
During the invasion, Washington celebrated a handful of Iraqis--with the aid of U.S. troops and a Bradley tank--pulling down a statue of Saddam Hussein. Now, more and more Iraqis are demanding real democracy--not the sham that the U.S. has delivered.
The Bush administration and their henchmen in Iraq say that direct elections are simply not "practical." So while the U.S. is under pressure to hand over control of the country to an Iraqi government in July, the Bush administration is determined that Iraqis will have no real say in who governs them.
Washington wants the new government to be chosen in meetings held in 18 provinces across the country by representatives hand-picked by the U.S. Washington is rejecting calls for elections in large part out of fear that leaders of the Shiite majority in Iraq--much of which looks to Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani for leadership--would win office at the head of an Islamist government.
No wonder Shiites are angry over being ignored. During Friday prayers in the holy city of Karbala, al-Sistani's representative, Sheikh Abdul Mahdi, said, "In the next few days, we will see protests, strikes and maybe clashes with the occupation troops if they insist on their colonialist scheme and on designing Iraq's policy according to their own interests."
Having failed to cut a deal with Shiite leaders, the U.S. is now looking for a UN fig leaf in the hopes that it will confer "legitimacy" on the occupation. That's what sent U.S. overseer Paul Bremer scurrying back from Iraq last week to plead for backing from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The U.S. may even be willing to lift a ban on French and Russian companies bidding for contracts in Iraq as an incentive for these key members of the UN Security Council to shoulder some of the burdens of the occupation. But UN involvement won't alter U.S. control--which means that Iraqis will still face daily humiliations and brutality.
The occupation will continue to generate armed resistance--which could be seen when a car bomb ripped through a checkpoint at the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad January 18, killing at least 24 people and wounding more than 60, mostly Iraqis, including many who worked for the CPA.
Riadh Jamal Haider, one of the wounded, was taken to Yarmouk hospital with a chest wound. But ask Riadh's brother who was to blame for the bombing, and his answer is the U.S. government.
"Please tell me exactly what the Americans are doing here," he shouted at reporters. "They ruined everything, and now they are just standing here, unable to do anything. All these civilians are dying, and young people have no support--that's why they work at these jobs. If the Americans can't do anything, let them leave this country."
This latest attack is a sign that while Saddam Hussein may have been captured, the hatred of the U.S. occupation of Iraq shows no signs of disappearing. Attacks on the coalition still average 17 per day. In a grim milestone, the death toll among U.S. soldiers in Iraq since the war began reached 500 over the weekend--when a bomb exploded under a U.S. armored vehicle in Tikrit.
Resistance is taking the form not only of armed struggle, but of strikes and protests as well. When the CPA announced in December that it would be cutting the wages of workers in state-owned companies--after already dismantling the system of subsidies that Iraqi workers depended on under Saddam Hussein--workers fought back.
Workers at the Southern Oil Company in Basra threatened a walkout and even an occupation of their factory. Their wages were soon restored. Earlier this month, electricity workers in Najbeeya, Haatha, Khor Zubair and She'iba staged protests and walkouts over their long hours and low wages.
According to Ewa Jasiewicz, of the Occupation Watch Center in Iraq, Najbeeya workers "visited Basra's governor, Wael Abdul Lahtif, and informed him of their resolution on the CPA wage scale: 'If our wages are not corrected we will stop all the signs of life here, we will shut down all the electricity in Basra.'"
Samir Hanoon, a negotiator and vice president of the Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions, said anger was running high among Iraqi workers under the thumb of U.S. occupation. "Us unionists hope that this strike can be conducted safely and by the law," Hanoon said. "If we cannot win through legal procedures, if there is no positive result for our demands, we will take actions: riots, protests, demonstrations and total shutdowns."
"We realize that there may be some sacrifices but we are ready to accept these for the sake of our demands," he told Jasiewicz. "Our real problem now is with the CPA, with Bremer." We need to support the Iraqi resistance--and demand an end to occupation now.