Suffering in “post-surge” Iraq

September 10, 2008

Paul Heideman cuts through the propaganda about the successes of the U.S. occupation.

IT WAS with great fanfare that U.S. officials recently announced the handover of security in Iraq's Anbar province--the home to Falluja and where the insurgency was once at its fiercest--to the Iraqi army.

The New York Times' Dexter Filkins (as obsequious a mouthpiece as the Bush regime could ask for) waxed delusional about the situation, writing that "the arrangements in Anbar seem immune to those strains" that are threatening the peace in other parts of Iraq. He continued, "Perhaps because the province is almost entirely Sunni, there are no sectarian tensions to speak of."

Unfortunately, Filkins' reporting is utterly typical of a press that has (again!) swallowed the Bush administration's lies about what is going on Iraq. Every drop in violence is chalked up as a victory for the occupiers, regardless of its causes or implications. Indeed, if Bush hadn't been burned once before in declaring "Mission Accomplished," he would surely be tempted to do so now.

The administration's propaganda surge has not only captured the media, but the Bush's "opposition" in the Democratic Party. Thus, in his first appearance on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor, Barack Obama agreed with the blowhard host that the Bush's surge in combat troops had "succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."

An Iraqi boy comes out of his home to meet U.S. soldiers conducting a cordon and search operation in Sadr City
An Iraqi boy comes out of his home to meet U.S. soldiers conducting a cordon and search operation in Sadr City (James Gordon)

Unfortunately, the disorientation goes beyond the Democrats--it extends to parts of the antiwar movement. If people don't have an understanding of the destruction that the U.S.-led occupation is still subjecting Iraq to, protesting the war seems a lot less urgent.

THE FIRST thing to recognize about "post-surge" Iraq is that, despite sunny news reports, people's lives remain shattered. A poll by a British news agency earlier this year revealed that one in four residents of Iraq (and nearly every other person in Baghdad) had a family member who had been murdered. Recent drops in sectarian fighting don't take away the fact that the U.S. has unleashed savage levels of violence in Iraq.

Likewise, the slowdown in ethnic strife also didn't alleviate the judgment of the Iraqi Red Cross/Red Crescent earlier this year, when it declared that "the humanitarian situation in most of the country remains among the most critical in the world," and that Iraq's health care system is "now in worse shape than ever."

What else to read

Michael Schwartz's new book War Without End: The Iraq Debacle in Context provides a thorough analysis of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and demolishes the myths used to sell the U.S. public the idea of an endless "war on terror."

For daily news updates and analysis of Iraq, see the Electronic Iraq Web site. Juan Cole's blog Informed Comment is a valuable source of information and analysis.

Independent journalist Dahr Jamail's Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq describes his time in Iraq reporting the other side of the story.

The crucial book on Iraq for antiwar activists is Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, published in an updated paperback edition with a foreword by Howard Zinn.

Iraq's 18 provinces average 15 hours of electricity a day, a potentially deadly situation for hospital patients. Poverty also remains the norm for many Iraqis, with families using up to a third of their monthly income to buy drinking water.

Though it's true that sectarian violence has declined, the occupation forces remain a brutal presence in the lives of Iraqis, a fact highlighted by the U.S. military's recent "mistaken" killing of six Iraqi security personnel.

Four million Iraqis remain displaced and, contrary to administration stories of returning families, that number isn't changing much.

The number of internally displaced people (those forced to flee their homes, but remaining in Iraq) reached a peak of about 2.3 million one year ago. According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, as of the end of May 2008, that number had dropped to about 2.1 million--a decrease of 5 percent over eight months. At that rate, it will only take 15 years for the internally displaced to return to their homes!

Internally displaced people account for only half of Iraqi refugees. The rest have been forced to flee the country altogether.

In Lebanon, a country with a large population of Iraqi refugees, Human Rights Watch just reported an epidemic of deaths among migrant domestic workers, with at least one dying every week from unnatural causes--a disturbing prospect for refugees trying to eke out a living.

There is also good reason to believe that the Bush administration is putting pressure on the Iraqi government to limit the information on instability in Iraq that reaches the media.

A recent article by Dahr Jamail and Ahmed Ali showed how, in Diyala province, kidnappings of Sunni residents are going unreported by the local government. One tribal leader told reporters that at least 10 people from his tribe have been abducted recently, the but police were reporting no kidnappings in the last four months.

Government censorship has been of the more blatant variety. The vice-governor of Babil province recently banned journalists and media workers from covering a march by protesting municipal workers.

IRAQ'S POLITICAL situation also shows signs of instability. Last month, the Iraqi parliament ended its session unable to reach a deal over provincial elections originally scheduled to take place in October.

The crucial issue behind the stalemate is the question of who will control Kirkuk--an oil-rich northern city that Iraqi Kurds are attempting to bring under their control. The ruling class Shia parties of Iraq, led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, are resisting this. The conflict between these ruling Shia parties and the Kurds is an ominous sign for Washington, as these two groups have been the twin pillars of Iraqi political support for the occupation.

Even more potentially explosive are recent moves by the Iraqi government against the Sunni Awakening Councils (which are essentially former insurgents now on the U.S. payroll).

While some have called for the merging of the councils into the Iraqi security forces, the government itself has declared that no more than 15 percent of the 100,000 former insurgents will be allowed to join. The few who are allowed will be forced to accept low-level positions as foot soldiers or police officers.

Beyond discriminating against the councils, there are also reports of Nuri al-Maliki's government arresting Awakening Council leaders and confiscating their weapons.

Last month, Battalion 36 of the Iraqi army, known as "the dirty group," was involved in operations in many of the central Iraqi provinces in which prominent Sunni tribal leaders and Awakening Council leaders were arrested. In several cases, these arrests led to violence between government troops and council members (both supposedly U.S. allies). Such clashes reveal the potential that still exists for open conflict.

The antiwar movement still has a case to make against the occupation of Iraq--and in a presidential election where both candidates agree that "victory" in Iraq is the goal, it's more important than ever for opponents of war and occupation to put forward the argument that the U.S. has only made the lives of Iraqis worse.

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