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U.S. blames bombings on al-Qaeda
Is Iraq headed for a civil war?

March 12, 2004 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON reports on the latest round of violence in U.S.-occupied Iraq.

THE COORDINATED bombings and mortar attacks in the Iraqi cities of Karbala and Baghdad March 2 have cast a spotlight on the crisis of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. At least 100 and as many as 300 people were killed in the attacks, which targeted Iraq's Shiite Muslims--who are the majority of the population, but were oppressed under Saddam Hussein's regime.

The attacks came as tens of thousands of Shiites gathered to mark Ashura, the highest holy day of the Shiite religious calendar--and as the Iraqi Governing Council handpicked by the U.S. was getting ready to sign an interim constitution. The Bush administration lost no time in pointing the finger at "foreign terrorists"--in this case, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who supposedly fought with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

But Washington's "evidence"--a supposed letter from al-Zarqawi to al-Qaeda leaders detailing a strategy of attacks on Shiites to derail any handover of power from U.S. occupation authorities--is suspect. At least one resistance group in Iraq reportedly circulated a statement in Fallujah saying that al-Zarqawi isn't even alive anymore.

As Asia Times writer Pepe Escobar commented, "How did Iraq slide in 24 hours from adopting a draft constitution that could pave the way for democracy into a state where civil war is a definite step closer? Simple. Blame it on al-Qaeda. It's the easy way out."

The other chief suspect, according to the U.S., is former Baathists and radical Sunni Muslims intent on undermining U.S. authority and destabilizing the occupation. "If the Americans can succeed in creating a new Iraqi government or in cooperation with Iraqi politicians," Professor Juan Cole said on PBS's Jim Lehrer Hour, "then the Americans from this point of view have won, and so the attempt is to prevent any such smooth transition."

But the argument doesn't really hold water, says Independent journalist Robert Fisk. "If a violent Sunni movement wished to evict the Americans from Iraq--and there is indeed a resistance movement fighting very cruelly to do just that--why would it want to turn the Shia population of Iraq, 60 percent of Iraqis, against them?" Fisk wrote. "The last thing such a resistance would want is to have the majority of Iraqis against it."

In all the media speculation about the "who," no one is talking about the "why." Washington's claims about bringing democracy and liberation to the Iraqi people has been a transparent fraud since before the war began. But the Bush administration's smugness is all the more difficult for Iraqis to bear on the eve of the anniversary of the invasion.

While the Bush administration prepares a show trial for Saddam Hussein, vast numbers of ordinary Iraqis find themselves denied democracy and suffering daily humiliations or worse under Washington's heel. According to New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman, U.S. forces are still conducting daily raids throughout Iraq, forcing their way into Iraqi homes and sometimes detaining entire families.

"Iraq has a new generation of missing men," wrote Gettleman last week. "But instead of ending up in mass graves or at the bottom of the Tigris River, as they often did during the rule of Saddam Hussein, they are detained somewhere in American jails." Last month, 17 U.S. enlisted men and officers were suspended after it was discovered that prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison were kicked in the head, choked and put in cold, wet rooms for days at a time. "Iraq has turned into one big Guantánamo," Adil Allami, a lawyer with the Human Rights Organization of Iraq, told the New York Times.

Washington's response? "It's not nice to be occupied," U.S. overseer Paul Bremer told Fox News last week. "I might add as an aside, it's not very nice to be an occupier, either." Because of arrogance like this, the March 2 bombings in Karbala and Baghdad prompted an outpouring of rage at the U.S. occupiers--with thousands of mourners in Karbala chanting, "No, no America! No, no terrorism!"

In the days and weeks ahead, the Bush gang will try to use these attacks as a way to justify continued occupation. What's more, Washington has done its best to get an agreement with Iraqi Shiite leader Ali al-Sistani to drop his demand for democratic elections--even asking the United Nations (UN) for help in negotiating with Sistani.

But when the Iraqi Governing Council--after numerous delays and last-minute maneuvering--signed the interim constitution earlier this week, Sistani issued a statement criticizing it as undemocratic and illegitimate. As Sheikh Raed al-Kazemi, a Shia cleric, told Britian's Independent last week, "If the two sides fight, it's the Americans who benefit to find an excuse to stay in Iraq."

No one should be fooled by Washington's warnings about a civil war in Iraq. With a military and economic war that has lasted close to a decade and a half, the U.S. government has proved that it couldn't care less about the fate of ordinary Iraqis.

The Bush White House is looking for ways to justify its continued control over Iraq--whether openly through occupation, or behind the scenes through a handpicked government of stooges. Our movement in opposition to U.S. militarism must insist that only the Iraqi people--not the U.S., and not the UN--have the right to determine the fate of their country.

Iraq's sham constitution

"THE FIRST stone on which a new, free and democratic Iraq will be built." That was how one member of the Iraqi Governing Council described the signing of the country's new interim constitution as Socialist Worker went to press.

But it almost didn't happen. Last week, hundreds had gathered in Baghdad to witness the signing ceremony--only to be kept waiting until midnight, when the Coalition Provisional Authority announced that the deal had fallen through.

For the U.S., the interim constitution is a key component of keeping to a timeline of supposedly transferring power to Iraqis by July 1. This timing will allow the administration to claim during the presidential campaign that it removed the U.S. from a quagmire in Iraq. But the "transition" is designed to make sure Washington keeps control of Iraq.

The latest embarrassment for the administration came when five Shiite members of the Iraqi Governing Council--including main U.S. lackey Ahmed Chalabi--balked at signing the constitution, reportedly because of the opposition of Shiite leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Sistani especially objected to provisions that would allow the minority Kurds or Sunni Muslims to thwart a permanent constitution that was too heavily weighted in favor of Shiites.

Behind the scenes, the U.S. worked frantically to cut a deal--and finally won reluctant approval from the full council. But even as the governing council was signing the document at a Monday ceremony, Sistani issued a statement critical of the constitution.

The U.S. won approval for the constitution because it skirts many of the most contentious issues--such as the composition of the interim government that will take charge on June 30 and the mechanism for future elections. Kurds in northern Iraq will continue with self-government, but the exact boundaries of the Kurdish region will only be determined by a future elected government.

The issue of women's rights--once advanced as a justification for Washington's intervention in the Middle East--also got short shrift. The interim constitution sets aside 25 percent of seats in a future elected assembly for women--down from the original 40 percent--but this number is merely a goal.

Taken together, these unanswered questions set the stage for an even more explosive political crisis to come. As if to prove the point, Bremer was forced to scramble for a bunker just before the ceremony--when insurgents fired mortars at nearby police stations.

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