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Iraq's nightmare grows worse under the U.S. occupation
"People can only take so much"

By Eric Ruder | June 10, 2005 | Page 12

A SAVAGE crackdown in Baghdad carried out by the U.S. military and its Iraqi allies has stoked fear and added to the suffering of the people U.S. officials regularly claim to be "liberating."

Operation Lightning--a huge operation involving 40,000 Iraqi troops and 10,000 U.S. soldiers--was supposed to round up resistance fighters and "pacify" the capital and surrounding areas.

Instead, the Pentagon's heavy-handed tactics have infuriated residents--creating new reservoirs of support for those actively opposing the U.S. occupation. Already, U.S. military sweeps have sucked up more than 1,000 Iraqis. "I appeal to every official here in Iraq to stop humiliating people and end the raiding campaign," declared Iyal al-Ezzi, leader of the predominantly Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party. "During this operation, they arrest our sons for the simple fact of being Sunni."

Even official Iraqi spokespeople conceded that troops may have looted cash and valuables from the homes they raided.

A staggering number of Iraqis have been swept up in U.S. military offensives, thrown in detention and held without charges for months at a time--only to be released with no explanation. An Iraqi human rights group made up of medical experts estimates that some 60,000 Iraqis now languish in detention facilities throughout the country, according to a report by independent journalist Dahr Jamail.

One doctor in the group explained that only 17,000 detainees have been registered by the U.S.--meaning that the families of the others don't know where they are or what charges, if any, they face. "Of course this only pushes people more toward the resistance, because people are eventually left desperate enough to begin fighting the Americans," one doctor told Jamail. "People can only take so much."

U.S. officials had heralded the drop in the number of American military casualties immediately following Iraq's January 30 elections as a sign of stability. But in May, the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq grew to the highest level in half a year, and the pace of attacks on U.S. troops has doubled since April. More than 600 Iraqis and 80 GIs were killed in a sharp increase in suicide bombings, and increasingly sophisticated resistance attacks.

For Iraqis, the elections never offered any relief from the lack of jobs, electricity, clean drinking water and access to health care.

Now, the new Iraqi government is poised to make matters worse--with a proposal for massive cuts in public-sector employment, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. "Many government ministries can carry out their duties with only about 40-60 percent of employees," said Laith Kubba, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari.

Public-sector employment accounts for half of all jobs in the country, so these cuts would be another devastating blow to Iraqis struggling to survive. So why would a government that is desperately trying to gain legitimacy carry out such a deeply unpopular move? According to the Los Angeles Times, "Iraq is obligated to reduce public spending under a debt-reduction scheme sponsored by the International Monetary Fund."

None of this stopped Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from declaring in late May that Iraq's insurgency had reached "a kind of peak." But even the administration's boosters can't ignore the implications of recent developments.

"The reality is we have discovered, despite all our propaganda, that we are facing a very tough, resilient and smart adversary," said Daniel Goure, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute. "I think we are in there at least for the next five years in significant numbers." And Goure's five-year prediction is if things go well.

But there are further problems ahead for the U.S. Iraq's January elections were supposed to empower a 55-member parliamentary commission to draw up a new constitution by August 15, which must be voted on by October 15, prior to new parliamentary elections on December 15.

With only 11 weeks to go before the draft should be completed, the U.S. is rushing the representatives of the various political parties, ethnic groups and religious sects to reach an agreement.

Missing the deadline for a new constitution would force the U.S. to begin the entire process over again. But rushing through an agreement could backfire--especially considering the controversial issues that must be decided, including whether Iraq's legal system will be secular, sharia-based or a hybrid system; how to guarantee rights for the minority Sunnis and Kurds in a Shiite-dominated system; the territorial status of the disputed city of Kirkuk; the sharing of natural resources; and many others.

In contrast to Rice's rosy predictions, "in the more somber assessment of others in the administration, the U.S. has long lost its grip on Iraq's political process," wrote the Financial Times. "'We are losing control,' said one veteran Arabist in the administration who requested anonymity."

Every day the U.S. remains the occupier only plunges more Iraqis into misery and strengthens the forces of resistance. The U.S. should get out now--and let Iraqis determine their own future.

Foreign workers strike at a U.S. camp

FOREIGN WORKERS at a U.S. military camp in Iraq went on strike against rotten working conditions at the end of May, according to press reports.

The workers are from the Philippines and are based at Camp Cooke, north of Baghdad. They work for a sub-contractor for the U.S. company Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of the politically connected Halliburton with millions of dollars in contracts with the Pentagon to run non-combat operations.

KBR employs numerous foreign workers in its Iraq operations. An estimated 6,000 come from the Philippines alone.

According to news reports, the strike started over delayed wage payments, inadequate food and poor accommodations. Workers returned to the job after officials of the Philippines embassy negotiated on their behalf.

"This shows the disdainful attitude of U.S. companies towards overseas Filipino workers, who already are among the lowest-paid expatriate workers in Iraq," Connie Bragas-Regalado, head of a migrant workers' group in the Philippines, told the Sun Star newspaper in Manila. "[T]hese U.S. companies routinely violate workers contracts and are very exploitative in nature."

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