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WHAT WE THINK
Selling lies about "democracy" in Iraq

March 25, 2005 | Page 3

ON THE second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush promoted the new White House line: His war bestowed democracy on Iraq and the Middle East. "Today, we're seeing hopeful signs across the broader Middle East," Bush declared. "The victory of freedom in Iraq is strengthening a new ally in the war on terror, and inspiring democratic reformers from Beirut to Tehran."

Bush's hype has nothing to do with what's really happening in Iraq, much less any other part of the Middle East.

At first, the U.S. occupiers tried to prevent a one-person, one-vote election in Iraq. Washington only gave in when the Shia leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and hundreds of thousands of his followers threatened to make Iraq ungovernable unless the U.S. allowed a vote.

Once the U.S. decided that elections were inevitable, it tried to shape them to its advantage. The vote was held under the heel of a military occupation and curfew, with voters not even knowing who the candidates were in many cases.

The elections also had the effect of deepening existing religious and ethnic divides in the country—alienating the Sunni Muslim minority, elevating the minority Kurds in the north, and pitting both groups against the Shiite majority. Now, in the post-election period, the conflict is particularly explosive between Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs in the northern city of Kirkuk.

The new national assembly elected January 30 hasn't been able to form a government—disillusioning those who had any hopes about the new government's prospects.

But in any case, the new government won't have the power to decide most fundamental questions facing the country. That's because former U.S. overseer Paul Bremer pushed through a Transitional Administration Law that denies Iraqi self-determination. Iraq's constituent assembly must have a two-thirds majority to determine fundamental questions such as the control of Iraqi oil and the length of the U.S. occupation—guaranteeing that a pro-U.S. minority can block any move that Washington deems hostile.

U.S.-appointed judges and bureaucrats, meanwhile, occupy important positions in the governing agencies and the judiciary. The elections didn't affect them. Nor did the vote affect Bremer's decision to retain Saddam-era labor laws that outlaw independent unions.

Meanwhile, Bush's talk about democracy covers the outright criminality of occupation forces. Since last November, when the British journal Lancet estimated that more than 100,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation, the occupiers have killed thousands more.

The city of Falluja, once home to 300,000 people, is little more than a pile of rubble following the U.S. military onslaught, reportedly with napalm and chemical weapons. The prison torture and other abuses uncovered at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison last year have most certainly continued—and may have gotten worse.

A U.S. government investigation released recently concluded that at least 108 prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq have died in U.S. custody, "most of them violently…Roughly a quarter of those deaths have been investigated as possible abuse by U.S. personnel," according to the Associated Press.

Bush claims that the U.S. is teaching democracy. But the teacher is guilty of war crimes, torture and oppression. No one should fall for Washington's hot air about democracy.

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