News and opinions on situation in Iraq
28/08/04 Bush dishes up the pork, and makes Iraqi Olympic soccer team a political football by Edward Teague
 
Bush and his wife, Laura, visited Oregon for the second time on August 13th , Portland, in Washington County,  a small but well populated county, a battleground state with 1.9 million voters that Al Gore won by less than one percentage point in 2000. Ralph Nader made one of his strongest showings in Oregon, with 5 percent of the vote and he is still trying to get enough voters to sign to get on the ticket this time. At a rally of 2,000 invited guests at a school in the upscale Portland suburb of Beaverton, behind a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, and flanked by small businessmen, President Bush addressed a rally of 2,000 guests invited at 24 hours notice. Police officers with riot gear and batons were there in case of trouble as a mixed crowd of protesters and supporters swirled around outside.

Bush has a “special relationship” with Portland, as two years ago when he last showed his face, in the run-up to the Iraq War, to host a $2,000 a plate fund raiser to boost campaign funds for Oregon's Republican Sen. Gordon Smith. The streets were filled with some of the largest crowds of protesters in the city’s history. The streets were also filled with thousands of cops in full body armor and riot gear.

The result, dubbed “The Battle of Portland” by the city’s press, was ugly and captured on-camera, to let the world see how American democracy handles freedom within its own borders. There were the photos of grandmothers holding “No War” signs being choked by black-armored police officers with their nightsticks. Mothers with babies on their backs being drenched with dense clouds of pepper spray while students and citizens were clubbed to the ground for doing nothing more than trying—trying mind you—to exercise their Constitutional rights to free speech and assembly.

Many Bush opponents believe his Orwellian named “Healthy Forests Initiative” announced that day, and made law in December 2003 will do little to protect communities and homes from forest fires, instead says the Sierra Club, this so called initiative concentrates on decreasing public involvement, reducing environmental protection and increasing access to US National Forests and other federal lands for timber companies. The policy of thinning forests to reduce forest fire danger is a ploy to log old-growth timber. “The new policy is classic doublespeak,” said Kenneth Kreuschu, 24, of Cascadia Forest Alliance. “It has been shown time and again that more cutting leads to more fire. The new policy is a hoax.”

President Bush was, as is his habit, like Brer Rabbit laid low and said nuthin’ but no doubt , like his Dad who got rough treatment during the 1st Gulf War in Portland, had the gall to call Portland “Little Beirut” because of the student protests – generating a website www.littlebeirut.net/.

Needless to say, the people of “Little Beirut” haven’t forgotten, and neither, apparently, has Bush’s phalanx of handlers, because his visit last week was not announced until 24 hours before his plane landed. Just to make sure he didn’t run into any significant concentrations of the people who choose Oregon’s seven electoral votes.

Not far away on the same day in Portland Kerry, on his third visit to Oregon, addressed a Riverfront Park crowd of 50,000 described by the NYT as “one of the largest crowds of his campaign”.

Recent polls show Kerry pulling ahead of Bush in Oregon, breaking a dead heat that lasted for much of the spring and early summer. A July 23 poll of 600 likely voters by the American Research Group, shows Kerry 50 percent to 42 percent for Bush. The same group released a poll in May showing a tie at 45 percent. While many voters say the economy is their top concern Oregon has had the nation's highest unemployment rate for much of the last 18 months.

Earlier in the day, Bush had been handing out scraps from the Federal pork barrel, giving his backing for $15 million in proposed congressional appropriations to deepen a 100-mile shipping channel on the Columbia River — from Portland to the Pacific Ocean. “This is an important new step to enhance the vitality of this river,” Bush told about 300 guests at Terminal 6 of the Port of Portland. “Ever since Lewis and Clark came to the West, the federal government has recognized the importance of the Columbia River.” Well not too fast folks, Bush had originally rejected funding in his initial federal budget proposal in February.

Deepening the river has been a contentious issue in the region for years. Merchant carriers, farmers and ranchers have argued that the channel must be deepened to an average of 43 feet in order to accommodate newer ships. Bush's speech coincided with the announcement by “K” lines, one of the last remaining Asian container shipping lines serving Portland, that it would be leaving the market. The withdrawal leaves Portland with just one trans-Pacific container carrier the Shanjin line.

Plans for shippers to withdraw container traffic will involve lengthy overland or barge transit to Tacoma and other Californian ports which will add to costs of timber and agricultural produce.

Finally, in what he evidently considered a masterstroke of populism, the President attached himself to the Iraqi soccer team after its opening-game upset of Portugal. “The image of the Iraqi soccer team playing in this Olympics, it's fantastic, isn't it?” Bush said. “It wouldn't have been free if the United States had not acted.” The Iraqi soccer team feature with the same message in a new Republican campaign TV ad. Entitled Victory, the ad starts with footage of the 1972 Munich Olympics, during which 13 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists.

A nasal narrator overdubs “In 1972 there were 40 democracies in the world. Today: 120. Freedom is spreading throughout the world like a sunrise,” The flags of Afghanistan and Iraq are shown fluttering in the wind, to the exultant comment: “At this Olympics there will be two more free nations and two fewer terrorist regimes.” It fails of course to mention that the terrorist Taliban were negotiating with US companies for pipelines and were supported in their struggles against the Russians, and that the US and UK supported the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein, especially in the war with Iran, which they fuelled with weapons and left 1 million dead on the battlefield. Nor, does it mention the blindsiding by US Ambassador April Glaspie (We have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts), which allowed Saddam to think he could invade Kuwait and the US would not intervene. The ad, which has been running for just a week, has also been accused of illegal use of Olympic symbols. Only the US Olympic Committee (Usoc), or its sponsors and partners, are allowed to use the symbols in adverts under American copyright law. A Usoc spokesman has asked the Republican Campaign Committee for a copy of the Bush advert.

Iraq — the surprise team of the Olympics – lost to Morocco 2-1, but won Group D with a 2-1 record , with a stunning 4-2 win over Portugal and then went on to beat Australia in the quarter finals. But goalscorer and Iraqi sporting hero Iraqi midfielder 21 year old Salih Sadir says of  U.S. president George W. Bush, and his use of the Iraqi Olympic team in his  re-election campaign advertisements. “Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign,” Sadir told Sports Illustrated “He can find another way to advertise himself.” Sadir, used to be the star player for the professional soccer team in Najaf. In the city in which 20,000 fans used to fill the stadium and chant Sadir's name, U.S. and Iraqi forces have battled loyalists to rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr for the past two weeks. Najaf now lies in ruins after endless aerial Blitzkreigs  ”I want the violence and the war to go away from the city,” says Sadir,. “We don't want the Americans in our country. We want them to go away.”

Manajid, 22, is from  Fallujah. Coalition forces killed his cousin, Omar Jabbar al-Aziz, who was fighting as an insurgent, and several of his friends. In fact, Manajid says, if he were not playing soccer he would “for sure” be fighting as part of the resistance.

“I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists?” Manajid says. “Everyone [in Fallujah] has been labeled a terrorist. These are all lies. Fallujah people are some of the best people in Iraq.”

The Iraqis have no national stadium in Baghdad which was destroyed with surrounding facilities, destroyed in the US “liberation” and the national team is forced to make Jordan and Qatar their temporary base for home games. Indeed what remains of the stadium in the Baghdad suburb of Azadi is now a vast parking lot for US tanks, and military vehicles – such is their interest in Iraqi football development – although (former) Vice Consul, Lord Hi-Poo Bah Bremer was said to have earmarked $3-million for rebuilding Baghdad’s soccer/track and field stadium. The al-Somoud soccer stadium in Fallujah was used as a huge burial ground when the town was besieged by US and Coalition forces in April, because access to cemeteries, which are on the city's outskirts, was blocked. Anyway this homeless team, beat Australia on Saturday but were beaten by Italy who took the bronze medal. Italy's players wore black armbands in honour of journalist Enzo Baldoni, and Iraqi captain Abdul Wahab presented his counterpart Andrea Pirlo with a bouquet of flowers in a touching gesture before the game. Now the Games are over, though, Iraqi soccer coach and former player, 41 year old  Adnan Hamad (who replaced Bernd Stange the former East German coach from 1983 – 1988, who fled when foreigners were being kidnapped) says, they will have to return home to a place where they fear walking the streets. “The war is not secure,” says Hamad, “Many people hate America now. The Americans have lost many people around the world—and that is what is happening in America also.”

“On an individual level they have all faced difficult challenges getting to the start line,” said Mark Clark, the Scots Territorial officer and British adviser to the Iraqi contingent, in Athens last week.  The Times further reports Hamad dismissing the Bush ad’s claims, saying that “Iraq remained a country under occupation.”

“You cannot speak about a team that represents freedom. We do not have freedom in Iraq, we have an occupying force. This is one of our most miserable times,” Hamad said.

“Freedom is just a word for the media. We are living in hard times, under occupation.”

“My problems are not with the American people,” says Iraqi soccer coach 41 year old  Adnan Hamad. “They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything. The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the [national] stadium and there are shootings on the road?”

The Olympic football team has succeeded where an American occupying force of 130,000 has failed: in uniting all Iraqis — Sunnis, Shias, Kurds and Arabs. However the attempt to make the Iraqis not only a football team but a political football led to some strange official activities. On Monday, Iraqi athletes apparently had been ordered to keep quiet about the controversy. At a news conference by coach Hamad in the city of Thessaloniki, where Iraq lost yesterday to Paraguay — preventing it from playing for the gold medal — a FIFA official instructed reporters not to pose political questions.

Afterward, the leader of the Iraqi Olympic team, Tiras Odisho Anwaya, issued a plea to keep politics out of his game. “We don't want to bother with these things now,” he said. “We are trying to concentrate on the championship.” Another player added, “We cannot separate politics and sports.”

Indeed, keeping them apart is difficult. The U.S. Olympic Committee, U.S. State Department and other international donors paid to train, outfit and transport the Iraqi competitors. Iraqi athletes have expressed gratitude to the United States for removing Saddam and his son Uday (reported killed last year), who ran the nation's Olympic committee and ordered players beaten or imprisoned if their performances disappointed him – although their treatment fell far short of what Abu Ghraib prisoners have had to expect.

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