Friday, August 29, 2003

Iraq Under Occupation 

The bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad last week has refocused attention on the fact that 4 months after major combat was declared finished, this war is by no means over.

Iraq under occupation is a bloody mess, with mounting civilian casualties and deaths, no functioning infrastructure and a growing resistance movement that threatens to force the US out. The men who took the world to war, George Bush and Tony Blair are still frantically searching for their infamous weapons of mass destruction and are both looking increasingly haggard and vulnerable in front of their electorates, yet our own government has yet to face the music over their lies and half-truths in the run up to war.

Much of the following is compiled from the Occupation Watch website, a recent International Crisis Centre report on Iraq, a US Labor Against the War report on the privatization of Iraq, Iraq Body Count and other sources. It exposes the reality of life in �liberated� Iraq and shows why we must continue to build a resistance movement at home where our own government continues to support this brutal occupation. Now is a good time for people to get stuck in and build for the September 27th demonstration. On S27, over a dozen countries in Europe and a number of major cities in the US will hold national demonstrations against the occupations of Iraq & Palestine.


Yesterday (Tuesday 26th), the toll of US troops killed in postwar Iraq officially surpassed the number during the media �war�. As resistance to the occupation mounts amongst ordinary Iraqis, the major political divide in Iraq today is not between Sunni and Shia, nor between Arab and Kurds, but between those who believe that the occupiers must go and a minority of Iraqis who are doing well out of the occupation.

The US administration is beginning to panic about the level of forces needed to �stabilise� Iraq. Already there is an international force of 170,000, of which 148,000 are US forces (others from the UK, Bulgaria, Poland, India and elsewhere). Military experts however have estimated that up to half a million troops may be needed in the coming months. The US is desperately trying to extend the international �coalition� and has already begun a covert campaign to recruit and train agent with the once-dreaded Iraqi intelligence service to help identify resistance to US occupation.

Democracy � who governs Iraq today?

Iraq today is ruled by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), and the virtually powerless puppet Interim Governing Council (IGC). Real power lies with the CPA which is run by Paul Bremer. It has taken over Saddam Hussein�s Jumhirriya Palace and is just as inaccessible as the former dictator. Despite spending $1 billion a week in Iraq, the US & its CPA still have not managed to provide basic services, such as water and electricity.

The IGC sprang into action in early July. Its creation was an attempt to deflect local criticism of the US/UK occupation and create the myth that power was actually devolving to the Iraqi people. In reality, the council is made up of 25 members handpicked by the US and, as such, lacks credibility in the eyes of ordinary Iraqis. These include Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress who has more support in the Pentagon than in Iraq. IGC membership rigidly adheres to Iraq�s sectarian and ethnic demographics, hereby making these issues the fundamental organising principles of government for the first time in Iraq�s history.

The council provoked widespread criticism when it abolished all former national holidays and declared April 9 (the day Baghdad fell) as Iraq�s national day. They were forced to retreat when thousands demonstrated in Baghdad on July 14th, the anniversary of the 1958 coup that toppled the monarchy. A commission has been set up to draft a new Iraqi constitution and being work on future elections. However, according to the International Crisis Centre report, elections are unlikely to happen for at least 2 years. Full details available from www.occupationwatch.org.

Civilian Casualties

The Iraq Body Count database has reported 7,798 Iraqi civilian deaths and at least 20,000 Iraqi civilian injuries to August 7th. This picture suggests that a full account of all those who were killed and injured may never be known. Despite causing this untold suffering, the US administration has said that the families of those killed or injured by US forces will not receive any compensation unless they submit clear-cut evidence of wrong-doing by the US military. This policy rules out payment to families of those murdered by US soldiers at checkpoints and incidents after May 1st when Bush declared major combat cessations. So far, some 1,168 families have received compensation claims totaling $262,263. This averages out at an insulting $224 for the loss of injury of a loved one! Increasingly payments are being made to local communities instead of families as the US sees this as a way to avoid revenge attacks on its forces.

US troops have repeatedly shot into crowds of demonstrators and continue to open fire on cars at checkpoints. On August 9th, a heavily pregnant Anwar abd al-Kerim escaped a checkpoint in the Tunisian quarter of Baghdad with her 8-year old daughter Merwet, after US soldiers sent a stream of bullets into their car. Her husband and 3 other children were killed. Soldiers at the checkpoint refused to let her take her child to the hospital. Merwet died at the hospital later that night. Doctors said that she would have survived if taken to hospital sooner. Horrific incidents like this are an almost daily occurrence in Iraq.

Millions of Iraq adults and children are at risk from unexploded cluster bombs which litter the cities and countryside. Landmine experts estimate some 10,000 separate cluster bombs could be lying in cities, on farmland and on the main roads around the country. Furthermore, cancer-causing depleted uranium contained in the armour-piercing shells used by the US and British contaminates Iraq. Up to 5 times more DU weapons were used in this war than the 1991 Gulf War, which we now know has led to a massive increase in cancers and birth defects in Iraq.

Human Rights

Over 3,000 Iraqi prisoners are being held in a brutal detention centre, known as Camp Cropper, on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport. Only the International Red Cross is permitted inside � and they have been forbidden to describe what they see. However, some of them have broken ranks to tell Amnesty International of the shocking conditions is which Iraqis are kept.

Prisoners in Camp Cropper are being held in contravention of the Geneva Convention. They have not been permitted to see their lawyers and are being held in conditions which Curt Goering, Deputy Director of Amnesty International has described as �tantamount to torture and gross abuse of human rights�. Despite being overwhelmingly Muslim, the detainees are forced to eat pork, sit in painful positions and keep their heads covered with a sack. Every day more prisoners are crowded into the broiling, dusty compound. Surrounded by 10-foot-high razor wire, they live in tents that are little protection against the blistering sun. They sleep 80 to a tent on wafer-thin mats. Each prisoner has a long-handled shovel to dig his own toilet. Some are too old or weak to dig the ordered depth of three feet. Others find they have excavated pits already used.

In addition, many Iraqis have accused the occupiers of insufficient cultural sensitivity. Coalition raids of mosques and confiscation of zakat (alms) has fuelled anger. The use of police dogs � viewed by Muslims as sources of impurity � has provoked protests. Physical searches by male soldiers of women and the storming of their women�s bedrooms in raids without giving them the chance to cover themselves has been described by Iraqis as dreadful breaches of local norms and sinful transgressions of Islamic law. US soldiers have also been accused of stealing money and jewellery during weapons searches. Meanwhile, more than 130,000 people in Iraq displaced from previous wars continue to live in tent camps, in sweltering heat, their existence virtually ignored by the CPA.

Freedom of Speech

Unemployment in Iraq now stands at 60-70%. Many thousands more will be laid off as private corporations are invited in to run former state industries. Hundreds of unemployed Iraqis have staged demonstrations at the CPA HQ recently. On 2nd August, 55 members of the Iraqi Union of the Unemployed were arrested after participating in a 5-day sit in over the treatment of the unemployed. They were released after protests by groups such as US Labor Against the War and the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions. In a report on the demonstration, Caoimhe Butterly currently in Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness described how US soldiers called the demonstrators �thieves� and brutally tried to break up the protest.

Privatisation � the corporate invasion of Iraq

US Labor Against the War has just produced an excellent report on the privatization of Iraq. The report describes how Iraqis, before the Saddam Hussein regime came to power, had a long history of workplace organization and struggle. They lament the fact that companies invited in to take part in the �restructuring� or Iraq have little or no record of union recognition. On the contrary, if Iraqi post offices pasted posters of corporate criminals, then most of the firms identified in this report would be prominently displayed. However, the authors recognize the stirrings that are already taking place amongst workers in Iraq, demonstrations against the selection of corrupt managers, resistance to the occupations and demands for decent services and wages, and call on the international labour movement to unite in resistance to this unjust occupation. Below are just a few of the examples available from the report.

Halliburton (& subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root) � Awarded a 2-year contract to fight oil fires in Iraq with a value of $7 billion. The contract includes pumping and distributing Iraqi oil. Also have a 5-year $37 million contract for building permanent holding cells for illegally held detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a 10-year exclusive contract to supply logistics to the US Army worldwide and a cost-reimbursable contract valued in excess of $100 million for the construction of a new US Embassy in Kabul.

Former CEO Dick Cheney is the current US vice president, while at the helm he sold $73 million worth of oil equipment and services to Iraq (under Hussein!!). Only 10 of its 530 US sites have workers under union contract.

Bechtel Inc � Awarded the �plum� of postwar contracts � rebuilding power plants, electrical grids, water and sewage systems, airport facilities, and rebuilding the port of Umm Qasr (the one which fell to US forces about 15 times!). George Shultz (secretary of State under Regan) was company president for 8 years. He sent Donald Rumsfeld (current Defence Secretary) to Iraq in 1983 to lobby, unsuccessfully, for an Iraqi-Jordan pipeline that Bechtel would build. Bechtel is largely non-union and was involved in the construction of a petro-chemical plants for the Hussein regime just 4 months after the gassing of the Kurds at Halabja. One of the top 10 water privatisers in the world. It sued Bolivia for $25 million in lost profits after the Bolivian people prevented a hike in water prices. Listed for 730 incidents of hazardous waste spills on the US�s Environment Protection Agency�s database.

DynCorp � awarded a multi-million dollar contract to advise the Iraqis on setting up law enforcement. Estimates it will recoup up to $50 million for the first year of the contract. Board member General Michael Carns served as chief administrative aide to Colin Powell during the first Bush administration. DynCorp has 88 aircraft and 307 employees involved in Plan Colombia with planes flying regular defoliation missions over coca crops. Employees recently involved in a prostitution ring scandal in Bosnia as well as drug running between Colombia and Florida.

Resistance � in Iraq, amongst US soldiers and across the world

Resistance in Iraq is taking many forms � not all of it armed resistance. Hundreds continue to demonstrate against the treatment of the unemployed, while thousands have gathered in angry demonstrations at the protracted electricity, gas and water shortages, at the sell-off of their country and at the occupation itself.

As mentioned above, more US soldiers have no been killed in the �post-war� period than during the initial bombing campaign. Attacks on US forces are taking place at an average of 10-25 per day. Contrary to US propaganda, fewer than a third of Iraqis believe that the armed attacks on coalition forces are attributable for former Ba�athists. More and more, the dividing line in Iraq is not religious or tribal, but a line between those who support the occupation and those who do not. Comparisons have been made to the 1920 revolt against the British Empire (who had ended the Ottoman domination of Iraq but reneged on all promises to let Iraqis run their own affairs).

CENTCOM commander, John Abizaid, was forced to acknowledge recently that US forces were facing what increasingly bore the hallmarks of systematic guerilla warfare. The spectre of Vietnam is beginning to haunt the US administration as it prepares for election. The soldiers themselves are already questioning why they are there. A website Bring them Home Now has been set up by US military personnel and family member to oppose the occupation of Iraq and to demand that the troops are immediately brought home. There is widespread anger at Bush�s decision to cut �danger pay� and family separation allowances that serving personnel receive. Groups like Military Families Speak Out are springing up all over America.

Meanwhile across the world activists are preparing for the next international day of action on September 27th. In over a dozen European cities and several major cities in the States large demonstrations are being organized.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

What Next For Cuba 

Cuba, for the current US Administration, is an easy target [and certainly if an article such as This, written by a former CIA Agent - an account of how the US infiltrates "civil society" to overthrow governments - has any credibility], a country even more devastated by forty years of trade embargos and US-provoked terrorism than was the case with sanction-weakened Iraq before last March. It has an - essentially - token military and its weapons are largely obsolete; and we have seen that, since the Vietnam War, the US concentrates on invading largely defenceless nations (Panama, Nicaragua, Grenada, etc) to secure a rapid-fire "victory" (or so it thought until Iraq, now a new Vietnam). So, unlike Iran (the US has opted instead for covert internal destabilisation tactics there), a vast country which has one of the biggest armies in the world, or Syria, which most Americans have never even heard of, or North Korea, one of the most heavily armed countries in the world (an army of millions plus WMDs it would likely deploy), Cuba's the one, should Bush and his hawks desire a convenient distraction from the local horrors of the domestic economy and the encroachment of US civil liberties in the run-up to 2004's presidential election. And, should it come to pass, they'll get away with it, once again. Because there is no longer anyone - in a leveraged position of power - to successfully challenge them ... [at least, not yet, anyway].

Must make some serious attempt to visit this country before it becomes yet another giant shopping mall ...

Flatpanel [consumer sanitised] Po Mo Image Aesthetics 

I [mistakenly] conjectured it might constitute a difference that would actually make a difference.

After imagining myself waking lazily onto an unhurried world, and then doing so anyway, I was recently, though once again, suddenly astounded by the [bargain-basement] realisation that, yeah, the world recession is indeed set to sink in even further its well-travelled, pock-marked teeth more deeply into a politically anesthesised sleep-walking consumer public: a local consumer-durable electronics store here in Dublin recently advertised a 20 inch slimline flatpanel TV reduced from euro 2,500 to just euro 300. So I irresistibly snapped it up, subsequently adding further to my knee-jerk bargain-consumerist discount-arbitrage zeal by eagerly hanging it up on a wall where a framed print of a Picasso smoker proudly, enigmatically had formerly haunted that same little space.

The experience was uncanny, and was yet even more disturbing when I "clicked" on the DVD of Tarkovsky's Solaris, a nostalgic favorite from my teen years, suddenly hyperfastidiously replacing the sanctified dead time of still-time/slow-time [ hey Mark at K-punk there's quite a few other directors I'd add to the Kubrick/Marker/Tarkovsky hyperstillness "genre" here: Angelopoulos, Kiarostami, Malick, Bresson, Resnais, and Antonioni, for starters, eh?] domestic artefacts - paintings, photographs, prints - their quotidian (re)fascination succumbing to, being supplanted by, a moving-image high-tech [alienating] simulation of similar aesthetic needs.

No. The experiment failed, spectacularly [and in spite of all those dream-land TV ads promising otherwise, their fundamental - commodifying - psychic cause]; Picasso is now back in business... [the flatpanel (This Is - definitely - Not A Pipe) now re-relegated back to the restrictive space(s) of the Computer/TV hyper-realised domessy nexus].

God knows what might have happened if instead it had been Soderburgh's "version" ...

... and next [I'm just going to have to address our creepingly pervasive - covert - culture of calculated cleverness, hereabouts tomorrow. And what the existential, ontological, political fuck is a Blog, anyway?].