occupation regime in Iraq
Many Shiites, other Iraqis
demand ‘U.S. forces out!’
U.S. troops detain men during April 14 patrol in Baghdad. "You are the masters today," said cleric Ahmed al-Kubeisi, speaking at April 18 congregation of thousands in the Iraqi capital, which turned into a march against U.S. occupation. "But I warn you against thinking of staying."
BY PATRICK O’NEILL
After hammering home their one-sided military victory over the armed forces of the Saddam Hussein regime, and consolidating their hold on the country’s oil fields, U.S. forces are putting in place an occupation government. Some of the key U.S. officials in the planned administration are already in Iraq, while U.S. dollars have replaced the national currency and infantry units have begun taking the place of Marines in Baghdad.
The "civilian" administrator appointed by Washington, retired lieutenant general Jay Garner, set off on a victory tour on April 21 in a heavily armored caravan. "We will be here as long as it takes," he told reporters in Baghdad.
Garner ran the Pentagon’s operations in northern Iraq following the Gulf War in 1991 and established ties with the leaderships of the major Kurdish organizations. In a visit to Kurdish areas on April 22, he was welcomed by Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
Garner received a more muted reception in Baghdad, however. Disappointed U.S. officials had hoped that "the new civilian administrator, whom many see as a modern-day viceroy, would be greeted with obvious warmth," reported the New York Times.
No crowds gathered to welcome the general. Instead, 2,000 members of the Shiite community rallied in the central square, holding banners that read, "no to colonialism." Over the past couple of weeks protests have been organized in several cities demanding U.S. and British withdrawal. They have occurred amid wider social unrest fueled by anger at shortages of food and power, and at the human toll of the imperialist assault.
U.S. commanders have moved to reconfigure their forces for a long-term stay. Aircraft carriers and Stealth bombers have been deployed elsewhere and Patriot Missile batteries in Israel have been packed up, but the occupation force on the ground has been fortified rather than weakened.
The 20,000 Marines in Baghdad are moving south, replaced in the capital by Army units, which have heavier armor. Some 120,000 U.S. ground troops are now stationed on Iraqi soil, backed up by British forces in the south.
In preparation for a longer-term occupation, the U.S. State Department has begun recruiting some 1,000 U.S. cops to "advise and train an Iraqi police force," said department spokeswoman Julie Shinnick. Information Radio, a new radio station established by the occupation forces, has announced an 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew in Baghdad.
"I, for one, think that Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrates a new American way of war," exulted Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers was referring to the relatively low casualty count that marked the offensive. The U.S. Central Command lists a total to date of 125 U.S. soldiers dead and three missing, along with 31 British deaths--about half the total "allied" casualties during the Gulf War.
The Iraqi dead are uncounted but far more numerous, especially among troops hit by the relentless bombing attacks. Many "were buried in unmarked graves while others are still covered by piles of rubble," reported the Associated Press.
After revelations that dozens of civilians had been mowed down and hundreds wounded in U.S. bombing attacks on Al-Hillah, a city some 60 miles southwest of Baghdad, the U.S. command acknowledged for the first time that its bombers were spraying cluster bombs onto their targets.
Cluster bombs’ power to wound and kill gives them "a very bad reputation" said Colin King, a researcher for Jane’s Defense Weekly. Since a high proportion of the bomblets do not explode immediately, "Iraqi civilians will be paying the price with their lives and limbs for many years," said Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch.
Anger over civilian casualties has helped draw thousands to demonstrations in several cities.
Opposition has also found expression through other channels. Reporters have noted the widespread opposition to military occupation among the hundreds of thousands of Shiites who have joined a pilgrimage to the city of Karbala. The observance, which has traditionally become a forum for political debate and protest, had been banned by the Saddam Hussein government, which persecuted the Shiite Muslim majority.
"The Americans are not our enemy, but they are not our friend," a 29-year-old man told journalists. "We want an Islamic state and we need to see that the Americans intend to leave our country."
In Kut, a city 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, Shiite Muslim cleric Sayed Abbas has pronounced himself mayor and called for resistance to the U.S. "dividers." Abbas is a local leader of the Iran-linked Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. U.S. Special Forces in Kut "say they considered killing Mr. Abbas but have since thought better of it," reported the New York Times April 19. "He remains a concern to us," said one officer.
In the largest demonstration in Baghdad to date, thousands of Iraqi working people from both the Shiite and Sunni factions of the Muslim religion gathered at Baghdad’s Abu Hanafi Mosque on April 18. The Sunni center was hung with a banner reading, "No to America...no to sectarianism, one Islamic state."
‘We know why they are here’
"The United States is the enemy of mankind, we all know why they are here," cleric Ahmed al-Kubeisy told the crowd. He was referring to the country’s oil wealth. After hearing speeches, the held a protest in the city streets.
Muhammad Zobeidi, who has proclaimed himself governor of Baghdad with the backing of U.S. forces, said on the same day that "I invite all U.S. companies to come here to work in Baghdad and make business in this country." Iraq is "the first country in oil," he claimed.
Despite Zobeidi’s claims to have established "an executive committee to run Baghdad," reporters say that basic services, including hospitals, public transport, and garbage collection, are being organized out of the mosques. This is especially true in poorer neighborhoods, observers say.
Zobeidi spoke at an April 18 news conference for the Iraq National Congress (INC), an exile opposition group that has received millions of dollars in U.S. government funding, and its leader Ahmed Chalabi. The INC boasts a militia numbering hundreds of fighters, trained by U.S. officers in Hungary and Iraq. Chalabi’s headquarters in Baghdad’s richest neighborhood is guarded by U.S. Special Forces equipped with Bradley fighting vehicles.
Chalabi left Iraq in 1958, after the revolution that brought down the imperialist-backed monarchy. His reputation has been further sullied by accusations of involvement in the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from a Jordanian bank. The money’s disappearance more than a decade ago bankrupted many small investors.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has so far failed to turn up any stores of chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, undercutting a central pretext for the war.
"Ferreting it out is going to take some time," said one U.S. defense official, announcing that 1,000 "experts" will embark on a renewed hunt.
White House officials have also accused Syria of stockpiling chemical weapons, and of providing refuge for Iraqi Baathist Party officials fleeing the invasion. With statements by the Syrian government that it has sealed its border and that Iraqis without visas would be turned away, U.S. president George Bush declared April 20 that "they’re getting the message.
"I’m confident the Syrian government has heard us and I believe it when they say they want to cooperate with us," he said.
Four days earlier, Iranian president Mohammad Khatami had said that "we will defend Syria but it doesn’t mean we will engage in military confrontation." Khatami also stated that his government would not "recognize any administration other than an all-Iraqi government.
"We are not seeking tensions or confrontation with anybody," said the Iranian leader. Washington, which has carried out a campaign of aggression against Iran since the 1979 revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah, has accused Tehran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
On April 17 the New York Times reported that U.S. planes had bombed the bases of the Mujahedeen Khalq, an Iranian opposition group in northern Iraq. Benefiting from its ties to Baghdad, the Mujahedeen has built a force of thousands of fighters equipped with tanks and artillery, and has carried out many cross-border attacks on Iran.
As the imperialist military offensive was scaled down, the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance that Garner heads took a number of steps to restore production in the Iraqi oil industry well before his arrival and triumphal tour. U.S. officers have been meeting regularly with Iraqi oil administrators "to discuss the logistics of restarting refineries and power plants," reported the Wall Street Journal on April 22. The big-business daily added, "U.S. military commanders likely will be making--or postponing--all high-level oil-related decisions for the time being."
Washington’s moves to restart the open-market trade in Iraqi oil, and its domination of the postwar occupation, have ratcheted up tensions with Paris and other imperialist rivals.
A proposal by U.S. president George Bush for the UN Security Council to begin lifting economic sanctions on Iraq has proved controversial. The end result of the proposal would be for the country’s oil to be traded on the open market.
Paris initially opposed the move outright. On April 22 UN ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere changed tack, saying: "We could suspend the sanctions and adjust the oil for food program with an idea of its phasing out." Sanctions should be lifted only if Iraq is given the all-clear by UN weapons inspectors, he said.
French capitalists were among the largest beneficiaries of contracts with Baghdad under the oil for food program--the name for the sanctions as modified in 1996.
Opponents of the war and occupation have also included the German government. On April 19 Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said, "I deeply regret there were exaggerated comments" against Washington’s course, including "from cabinet members of my previous government."
Despite such conciliatory talk, however, Washington has shown no sign of breaking the U.S. firms’ monopoly on major "reconstruction" contracts. "The idea that we would throw contracts to the French or the Russians to get them to go along--I mean, come on," said one official.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has awarded the first major deal for construction work to Bechtel, the giant San Francisco-based company. The prime contracts for work on the country’s infrastructure, transportation, telecommunications, electricity, and food industries will go "to American companies," reported the Wall Street Journal, a fact that has "provoked bitterness overseas."
Racing to sell U.S. wheat
Potential losers include imperialist powers that lined up alongside Washington in the recent war. The Journal noted that the Bush administration is "racing to get Iraqis eating U.S. wheat again" after losing domination of the country’s market to Australian producers in the 1990s.
There is no hint that other powers will get any representation in the government now being rapidly assembled in Iraq. Serving alongside Garner will be John Abizaid, an Arabic-speaking lieutenant general in the U.S. armed forces. Central Command head Gen. Thomas Franks will remain in overall military charge.
The Pentagon has announced plans to divide Iraq into three sectors--north, center and south--which are in their majority Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite, respectively.
These developments have sparked discussion among cadets at New York’s West Point officers’ academy. "I might have to go over there and basically be mayor of a town," said 22-year-old Mary Tobin. "That is a mission I never imagined."
"How long until the ‘Yankee go home!’ signs come out? How long until the liberated attack the liberators?" asked Andrew Salmo, 21.