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Robert Fisk: Iraq isn't working

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  • Imran
      Iraq isn t working There is a veneer of normality about life in the new Iraq. But America s failure to deliver on its promises has triggered a spiral of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31, 2003
      Iraq isn't working

      There is a veneer of normality about life in the new Iraq. But America's
      failure to deliver on its promises has triggered a spiral of murderous
      anarchy that threatens to become an epic tragedy

      By Robert Fisk

      31 July 2003

      Paul Bremer's taste in clothes symbolises "the new Iraq" very well. He wears
      a business suit and combat boots. As the proconsul of Iraq, you might have
      thought he'd have more taste. But he is a famous "antiterrorism" expert who
      is supposed to be rebuilding the country with a vast army of international
      companies - most of them American, of course - and creating the first
      democracy in the Arab world. Since he seems to be a total failure at the
      "antiterrorist" game - 50 American soldiers killed in Iraq since President
      George Bush declared the war over is not exactly a blazing success - it is
      only fair to record that he is making a mess of the "reconstruction" bit as

      In theory, the news is all great. Oil production is up to one million
      barrels a day; Baghdad airport is preparing to re-open; every university in
      Iraq is functioning again; the health services are recovering rapidly; and
      mobile phones have made their first appearance in Baghdad. There's an Iraqi
      Interim Council up and hobbling.

      But there's a kind of looking-glass fantasy to all these announcements from
      the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the weasel-worded title with
      which the American-led occupation powers cloak their decidedly undemocratic
      and right-wing credentials. Take the oil production figures.
      Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, the US commander in Iraq, even chose to
      use these statistics in his "great day for Iraq" press conference last week,
      the one in which he triumphantly announced that 200 soldiers in Mosul had
      killed the sons of Saddam rather than take them prisoner. But Lt-Gen Sanchez
      was talking rubbish. Although oil production was indeed standing at 900,000
      barrels per day in June (albeit 100,000bpd less than the Sanchez version),
      it fell this month to 750,000. The drop was caused by power cuts - which are
      going to continue for much of the year - and export smuggling. The result?
      Iraq, with the world's second-highest reserves of oil, is now importing fuel
      from other oil-producing countries to meet domestic demands.

      Then comes Baghdad airport. Sure, it's going to re-open. But it just happens
      that the airport, with its huge American military base and brutal US prison
      camp, comes under nightly grenade and mortar attack. No major airline would
      dream of flying its aircraft into the facility in these circumstances. So
      weird things are happening. The Iraqis are told, for example, that the first
      flights will be run by "Transcontinental Airlines" (a name oddly similar to
      the CIA's transport airline in Vietnam), which is reported to be a
      subsidiary of "US Airlines" and the only flight will be between Baghdad and
      - wait for it - the old East Berlin airport of Schönefeld. A British outfit
      calling itself "Mayhill Aviation" has printed advertisements in the Iraqi
      press saying that it intends to fly a Boeing 747 once a week from Gatwick to
      Basra, a route which suggests that it is going to be British military
      personnel and their families who end up using the plane.

      Open universities are good news. And few would blame Bremer for summarily
      firing the 436 professors who were members of the Baath party. In the same
      vein, the CPA annulled the academic system whereby student party members
      would automatically receive higher grades. This is real de-Baathification.
      But then it turned out that there wouldn't be enough qualified professors to
      go round. Quite a number of the 436 were party men in name only and received
      their degrees at foreign universities. So at Mustansiriyah University, for
      example, the very same purged professors were re-hired after filling out
      forms routinely denouncing the Baath party. Bremer seems to have a habit of
      reversing his own decisions; having triumphantly announced that he'd sacked
      the entire Iraqi army, he was humiliatingly forced to put them back on
      rations in case they all decided to attack US soldiers in Iraq.

      Health services? Well, yes, the new Iraqi health service is being encouraged
      to rehabilitate the country's hospitals and clinics. But a mysterious
      American company called Abt Associates has turned up in Baghdad to give
      "Ministry of Health Technical Assistance" support to the US Agency for
      International Development (USAid) and "rapid response grants to address
      health needs in-country". It has decreed that all medical equipment must
      accord with US technical standards and modifications - which means that all
      new hospital equipment must come from America, not from Europe.

      And then there's the mobile phones. Just over a week ago, my roaming
      Lebanese cellular pinged into life at midnight and, after a few hours of
      scrambled voice communication, picked up mobile companies in Kuwait, Qatar
      and Bahrain (depending on where you happened to be in Baghdad). Less than a
      week later, however, the Americans ordered the system shut down because the
      Bahrain operating company, by opening its service so early, was supposedly
      not giving other bidders a fair chance at the contract. Those other
      companies are largely American.

      Of course, Iraqis protest at much of this. They protest in the streets,
      especially against the aggressive American military raids, and they protest
      in the press. Much good does it do them. When ex-Iraqi soldiers demonstrated
      outside Bremer's office at the former Presidential Palace, US troops shot
      two of them dead. When Falujah residents staged a protest as long ago as
      April, the American military shot 16 dead. Another 11 were later gunned down
      in Mosul. During two demonstrations against the presence of US troops near
      the shrine of Imam Hussein at Karbala last weekend, US soldiers shot dead
      another three. "What a wonderful thing it is to speak your own minds,"
      Lt-Gen Sanchez said of the demonstrations in Iraq last week. Maybe he was
      exhibiting a black sense of humour.

      All this might be incomprehensible if one forgot that the whole illegal
      Iraqi invasion had been hatched up by a bunch of right-wing and pro-Israeli
      ideologues in Washington, and that Bremer - though not a member of their
      group - fits squarely into the same bracket. Hence Paul Wolfowitz, one of
      the prime instigators of this war - he was among the loudest to beat the
      drum over the weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist - is now trying
      to deflect attention from his disastrous advice to the US administration by
      attacking the media, in particular that pesky, uncontrollable channel,
      Al-Jazeera. Its reports, he now meretriciously claims, amount to "incitement
      to violence" - knowing full well, of course, that Bremer has officially made
      "incitement to violence" an excuse to close down any newspaper or TV station
      he doesn't like.

      Indeed, newspapers that have offended the Americans have been raided by US
      troops in the same way that the Americans have conducted raids on the
      offices of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose
      leader, Ayatollah Mohammed al-Hakim, is a member of the famous Interim
      Council - not exactly a bright way to keep a prominent Shia cleric on board.
      But the council itself is already the subject of much humour in Baghdad, not
      least because its first acts included the purchase of cars for all its
      members; a decision to work out of a former presidential palace; and - this
      the lunatic brainchild of the Pentagon-supported and convicted fraudster
      Ahmed Chalabi - the declaring of a national holiday every 9 April to honour
      Iraq's "liberation" from Saddam.

      This sounds fine in America and Britain. What could be more natural than
      celebrating the end of the Beast of Baghdad? But Iraqis, a proud people who
      have resisted centuries of invasions, realised that their new public holiday
      would mark the first day of their country's foreign occupation.

      "From its very first decision," an Iraqi journalist told me with contempt,
      "the Interim Council de-legitimised itself." And so there has begun to grow
      the faint but sinister shadow of a different kind of "democracy" for Iraq,
      one in which a new ruler will have to use a paternalistic rule - moderation
      mixed with autocracy, à la Ataturk - to govern Iraq and allow the Americans
      to go home. Inevitably, it has been one of the American commentators from
      the same failed lunatic right as Wolfowitz - Daniel Pipes of the Middle East
      Forum think tank, which promotes American interests in the region - to
      express this in its most chilling form. He now argues that
      "democratic-minded autocrats can guide [Iraq] to full democracy better than
      snap elections". What Iraq needs, he says, is "a democratically-minded [sic]
      strongman who has real authority", who would be "politically moderate" but
      "operationally tough" (sic again).

      Of course, it's difficult to resist a cynical smile at such double
      standards, although their meaning is frightening enough. What does
      "operationally tough" mean, other than secret policemen, interrogation rooms
      and torturers to keep the people in order - which is exactly what Saddam set
      up when he took power, supported as he was at the time by the US and
      Britain? What does "strongman" mean other than a total reversal of the
      promise of "democracy" which Bush and Tony Blair made to the Iraqi people?

      Democracies are not led by autocrats, and autocrats are not led by anyone
      but themselves. The Pipes version of the strongman democracy, by the way,
      involves the withdrawal of American troops to "military bases away from
      population centres" where they "serve as the military partner of the new
      government [sic], guaranteeing its ultimate security..." In other words, US
      forces would hide in the desert to avoid further casualties unless it was
      necessary to storm back to Baghdad to get rid of the "strongman" if he
      failed to obey American orders.

      But today Bremer is the strongman, and under his rule US troops are losing
      hearts and minds by the bucketful with each new, blundering and often
      useless raid against the civilians of Iraq. Still obsessed with capturing -
      or, rather, killing - Saddam, they are destroying any residual affection for
      them among the population. On a recent operation in the town of Dhuluaya,
      for example, two innocent men were killed and the Americans' Iraqi informer
      - originally paraded before those he was to betray in a hood to keep his
      identity secret - was executed by his own father. The enterprising newspaper
      Iraq Today found that the "intelligence" officers of the 4th Infantry
      Division even left behind mug shots, aerial reconnaissance photographs and
      secret operational documents - complete with target houses and briefing
      notes - at the scene. The paper, in the true tradition of journalism,
      gleefully published the lot, including the comment of the father of Sabah
      Salem Kerbul, the young informer who worked for the Americans during
      "Operation Peninsula Strike". He shot his son first in the foot and then in
      the head. "I have killed him," he said. "But he is still a part of my

      Indeed, anarchic violence is now being embedded in Iraqi society in a way it
      never was under the genocidal Saddam. Scarcely a day goes by when I do not
      encounter the evidence of this in my daily reporting work in Baghdad.
      Visiting the Yarmouk hospital in Baghdad on Monday to seek the identity of
      civilians killed by American troops in Mansur the previous day, I came
      across four bodies lying out in the yard beside the building in the 50C
      heat. All had been shot. No one knew their identities. They were all young,
      save one who might have been a middle-aged man, with a hole in his sock.
      Three days earlier, on a visit to a local supermarket, I noticed that the
      woman cashier was wearing black. Yes, she said, because her brother had been
      murdered a week earlier. No one knew why.

      In a conversation with my driver's father - who runs a photocopying shop
      near Bremer's palace headquarters - a young man suddenly launched into
      praise for Saddam Hussein. When I asked him why, he said that his father's
      new car had just been stolen by armed men. Trying to contact an ex-prisoner
      illegally held by the Americans at his home in a slum suburb of Baghdad, I
      drove to the mukhtar's house to find the correct address. The mukhtar is the
      local mayor. But I was greeted by a group of long-faced relatives who told
      me that I could not speak to the mukhtar - because he had been assassinated
      the previous night.

      So if this is my experience in just the past four days, how many murders and
      thefts are occurring across Baghdad - or, indeed, across Iraq? Only two days
      ago, for example, five men accused of selling alcohol were reportedly
      murdered in Basra. Again, there was no publicity, no official statement, no
      death toll from the CPA. Only a few days ago, I sat in the conference hall
      that the occupation authorities use for their daily press briefings, follies
      that are used to condemn "irresponsible reporting", but which record only a
      fraction of the violence of the previous 24 hours - violence which, of
      course, is well known to the authorities.

      And there was a disturbing moment when Charles Heatley, the British
      spokesman from the Foreign Office, appointed by Tony Blair at the behest of
      Alastair Campbell, talked about the reports of abduction and rape in Iraq.
      He acknowledged that there had been some cases, but then - I enjoyed the
      beautiful way in which he tried to destroy any journalistic interest in this
      terrible subject - talked about the number of "rumours" that turned out to
      be untrue when checked out. But this is not the experience of The
      Independent, which in just one day recently discovered the identity of one
      young woman who had been kidnapped, raped and then freed - only to attempt
      suicide three times at her home. Another family gave the paper a photograph
      of their abducted daughter in the hope that it might be printed in the Iraqi

      Why don't the occupation authorities realise that Iraq cannot be "spun"?
      This country is living a tragedy of epic proportions, and now - after its
      descent into hell under Saddam - we are doomed to suffer its contagion. By
      our hubris and by our lies and by our fantasies - including the fantasies of
      Tony Blair - we are descending into the pit.

      For the people of Iraq, the next stage in their long suffering is under way.
      For us, a new colonial humiliation, the like of which may well end the
      careers of George Bush and Tony Blair, is coming. Of far more consequence is
      that it is likely to end many innocent lives as well.
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