[Talk delivered July 22, 2004 to Roslindale Neighbors for Peace and Justice]
After invading Iraq, the leader of the conquering army proclaimed:
“Our armies do not come in your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators … I am commanded to invite you to participate in the management of your own civil affairs.”
Was this George Bush, Tony Blair, Paul Bremer, or Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez? No, it was conquering British General Stanley Maude, in 1917.1,2
This was after Iraq was conquered, during the First World War.
Soon, thereafter, their hopes for independence betrayed, the Iraqis launched a rebellion. The British used their superior weaponry to suppress it, including the new poison gas, recommended by T. E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia.3 Winston Churchill commented:
“I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas… I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.”3
Approximately 450 British troops died while suppressing the rebellion. While then, as now, no one counted Iraqi deaths, estimates range from 8,000 to 10,000.1
Forty-seven year old Winston Churchill was appointed to come up with a solution. A ruler was found. He wasn't Iraqi, but from Saudi Arabia, but that didn't matter. Prince Faisal became a British-appointed king. A regime was set up with the minority Sunni religious group dominant and the majority Shiites kept largely powerless.
After a 40 years, the British lost control. But the Americans retained influence, helping the Ba'ath party attain — including young Saddam Hussein — attain power and giving them lists of thousands of Iraqis, communists and others, to be assassinated.4
We Americans may choose to ignore history, but Iraqis absorb these facts with their mother's milk.
Fast forward. The US and Britain invade Iraq based on trumped up charges, as we now are all aware, but at the time, only those who read independent reporting knew.
Looting sweeps the country. The US does nothing to stop it. US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld likens the chaotic situation in Iraq to post-revolutionary America.5 Rumors and eyewitness accounts abound that at least some US troops encouraged looters.6, 7 Much of the Iraqi infrastructure is destroyed. Most government buildings are destroyed, with the exception of the Planning Ministry (with its intelligence files) and the Oil Ministry, which the US saw fit to protect.8, 9
While Americans are warily welcomed in parts of postwar Iraq, in others, they are not viewed so positively. April 28, 2003. 15 people are shot and killed by American troops in Falluja, who claimed they were fired upon. A reporter from the British paper the Independent examines the building the US troops were in and find no signs of bullet holes that could have come from the crowd outside.10 The US press ignores this. A few days later, more Fallujans are shot by US troops.11 Sheik Talid Alesawi, a Sunni cleric says: “We understood freedom by making demonstrations. But the shooting that greeted us was not freedom. Are there two types of freedom, one for you and one for us?”11
The Iraqi summer arrives. Temperatures often get to 120F, sometimes 140. Much of the country has electricity for only a few hours a day, so Iraqis get little relief from air conditioning.12 Many take to the traditional method of sleeping on the roof.13 Sometimes they get killed by US troops who can't distinguish 12-year old children from insurgents.14
US companies get billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts, but the electricity doesn't flow. It never consistently gets up to prewar levels, which were already low, due to over a decade of US-inspired UN sanctions.15 In oil rich Iraq, lines for gasoline stretch miles and take many hours to navigate.
Crime sweeps Iraq. Murders, kidnapping abound. The Baghdad morgue fills up with hundreds of corpses of murdered Iraqis each week. The occupation authorities resolutely respond, by banning reporters from entering hospitals or mortuaries without permission, which they refuse to give.16, 17 No one knows how many Iraqis have died or are dying. British reporter Robert Fisk estimates nearly a 1,000 people a week are dying from crime, American errors, the settling of feuds, and other reasons.18 In September, 2003, Fisk estimates the death toll under occupation as at least 10,000, but nobody knows for sure.18 The Ministry of Health starts to count civilians killed during the war, but they are ordered by their so-called Iraqi Governing Council and the US occupation authorities to stop counting.19
Many Iraqis are afraid to leave their homes. Women, in particular, no longer feel safe to leave their homes unaccompanied.20 Many teen-age girls spend most of the next year seldom leaving home. [Imagine your daughters forced to stay home for a year. And Iraqi houses are, of course, smaller than most American ones.]
Iraq is a very family-oriented society. People typically travel to visit their varied family members. But, in liberated Iraq, travel on a highway is an extremely dangerous activity. Criminals, referred to as Ali Babas, roam the highways. Over 150,000 American and other foreign troops do little to make the roads safe. In fact, the resistance is setting IED –- Improvised Explosive Devices –- along the roads, to bomb American tanks and armed personnel carriers. The Americans take to moving in convoys, often slow-moving. Iraqi drivers who try and pass these convoys frequently find themselves shot, or even crushed, by confused, terrified, American troops.21 Others die in other “accidental” US shootings.22-25
The new US rulers of Iraq live in a special area, called the Green Zone, centered on one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces. Staff and consultants are largely chosen for their political affiliations and have little expertise in Iraq history or culture.26, 27 As the Washington Post reported: “[M]ost CPA hiring was done by the White House and Pentagon personnel offices, with posts going to people with connections to the Bush administration or the Republican Party. The job of reorganizing Baghdad's stock exchange, which has not reopened, was given in September to a 24-year-old who had sought a job at the White House.”15 There are few Arabic speakers. Soon, it is too dangerous for most Americans to venture outside the Green Zone. Why would they want to, anyway? It has US stores and fast food joints selling chicken nuggets and ribs.28 In a Muslim country, where many view drinking as a sin, the Green Zone has bars for each agency involved in the occupation.29 The CIA has its own bar, so its agents aren't inconvenienced by leaving the Green Zone for Iraq. As many Iraqis turn to Islam for comfort and support in tough times, American women in the Green Zone jog in their shorts and sports bras.30 If the occupiers want a taste of local color, they can always go to the market and buy Middle Eastern knives and swords.28 An American officer says of the occupation officials “Our soldiers call them the League of Frightened Gentlemen.”31
And those US troops, many of whom had never been to another US state, are now in a foreign country. They can't speak the language. The army had only about 70 Arabic translators in total32 and at most 1,300 active duty soldiers could speak any Arabic.33 Unlike when the US army went into Germany, Japan, or Korea, when they invaded Iraq, they did NOT create any crash course to train Arabic translators. Over and over again, confused messages at checkpoints lead to Iraqi deaths.23, 34, 35
US officials disband the Iraqi army, an army that largely didn't fight the American invaders, throwing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis out of work with the stroke of a pen.36 In a country with a state-dominated economy, tens of thousands of members of the ruling party are forbidden from working for the state, becoming essentially unemployable.37
A bunch of exiles, many out of the country for 30 years, are flown in and appointed to a so-called Iraqi Governing Council, but are given no power. Among them is Ahmed Chalabi, a convicted felon in Jordan, whom the US Pentagon expected would become ruler of Iraq. His private militia is flown in by US planes.38 He assumes, without US objection, personal control of files on hundreds of thousands of former Ba'athists, allowing him to settle old scores39 and gain influence through using them for blackmail.40 Chalabi's relatives are appointed to many positions in the new society. They start businesses, making money off reconstruction efforts. His nephew is appointed to be in charge of prosecuting deposed President Saddam Hussein. Iraqis start routinely referring to the “Governing Council' as the “Puppet Council”. Many members of this Council spend most of their time traveling out of the country and never bring their families back to Iraq. US administrator Paul Bremer complains that at least half of them are out of the country at any given time and often only four or five show up for meetings.41 When the Council was disbanded in June, 2004, many members immediately flew back into exile, having no further interest in the “new Iraq.”
The Iraqi woman blogger, Riverbend, described the Council thus42:
“Of course they're outside of the country — many of them don't have ties in it. They have to visit their families and businesses in Europe and North America. For some of them, it sometimes seems like the 'Governing Council' is something of an interesting hobby — a nice little diversion in the monthly routine: golf on Saturdays, a movie with the family in London on Fridays, a massage at the spa on Tuesdays, and, oh yes — nation-building for 5 minutes with Bremer on the Xth of each month.
“People here never see them. Most live in guarded compounds and one never knows what country they are currently in. For example, Chalabi is presently missing. I haven't seen him on the news for… I don't know how long. If anyone has seen him, please send an email — I'm dying to know what he's up to.
“I can imagine Bremer preparing for a meeting with the pioneers of Iraqi democracy, the pillars of liberty … the Iraqi Puppet Council. He strides in with his chic suit, flowing hair and polished shoes (the yellow nation-building boots are only for press conferences and photo shoots in Iraqi provinces). He is all anticipation and eagerness: today will be the day. *This* meeting will be the productive meeting which will make headlines.
“He strides into the lavish room, Italian heels clicking on the marble floor — there will be 25 faces today. Twenty-five pairs of adoring eyes will follow him around the room. Twenty-five pairs of eager ears will strain to hear his words of wisdom. Twenty-five faces will light up with… but where are the 25? He stops in the middle of the room, heart sinking, ire rising in leaps and bounds. Why are there only 5 unsure faces? Did he have the schedule wrong? Was this the wrong conference room?!
“And Bremer roars and rages — where are the Puppets? Where are the marionettes?! How dare they miss yet another meeting! But they all have their reasons, Mr. Bremer: Talbani is suffering from indigestion after an ample meal last night; Iyad Allawi is scheduled for a pedicure in Switzerland this afternoon; Al-Hakim is jetting around making covert threats to the Gulf countries, and Chalabi says he's not attending meetings anymore, he's left the country and will be back when it's time for the elections…”
The resistance picks up steam. Surprisingly, the birthplace of civilization, the home of Babylon and Nineveh, is not thrilled about being occupied by foreign troops, from another continent, of a different religion, who do not speak their language, who fail to improve life for Iraqis, who seem especially interested in Iraq's oil and strategic importance. The Americans fight back, setting up huge concrete walls around the former dictator's palaces, where they set up camp. Houses are raided in the middle of the night by US troops who can only yell a few words. Women and children are handcuffed and held at gunpoint. Thousands of people, mostly, but not all, men, are taken away, many to the former dictator's Abu Ghraib prison and torture center. Rumors spread that the Americans are themselves torturing prisoners, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Women prisoners smuggle out a letter asking the resistance to bomb the prison and kill them all because of the shame they feel after being raped.43 Detained male children are odomized and this treatment is videotaped.44-46
Meanwhile, thousands of Iraqi families who's members were arrested or just disappeared, search for their loved ones, usually in vain. The United States, with all its high tech supercomputers, doesn't bother to keep useable, accessible records of those they detain.47, 48 What few lists do exist are in English, not Arabic and are full of errors. When people are released, days, weeks, or months after being detained, in many cases after never having even been questioned,48 they are frequently just dumped on the streets outside the prison, in some cases in their underwear. American intelligence officials tell the International Committee of the Red Cross that 70%-90% of detainees are completely innocent.49
The occupying force talks of bringing democracy to Iraq. They describe how this democracy will become a beacon for the Middle East. Yet, a Governing Council primarily of exiles with few roots in the country is appointed by the occupiers. Local elections are, in many cases, scheduled, then cancelled.50, 51 Mayors and governors, often former Iraqi military officers, are appointed. In some cases these appointees are from different parts of the country and are known to be corrupt and/or brutal.
In the fall of 2003, the Iraqi Ministry of Planning develops a proposal to create a registry of voters within 10 months.52 The US authorities veto the idea and, reportedly, never even tell the “Governing Council” of the proposal. A UN team says elections could be organized within 6 months.52 Later, when revered Shia religious leader Ali Sistani calls for elections, the US rulers say these are impossible because there is no electoral roll. When, after 15 months of direct rule, the US cedes nominal sovereignty to a new Iraqi government, no progress has been made toward creating an electoral role. Not even a plan has been formulated.
The occupation authority, called the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) despite the fact that the US rulers even ignore the opinions of their British “Coalition partners,” says its only purpose is to create a free Iraq and return sovereignty. They deny plans for any permanent occupation, though US generals keep on upping the length of time US troops will “have to stay” in Iraq. Meanwhile, 4, or is it 14, permanent military bases are being constructed.53, 54 Very few articles have occurred in the mainstream US press on the construction of these permanent bases. To replace a prewar army of perhaps 400,000, which fought a many years war with neighboring Iran, the US proposes to create, over a number of years, a new Iraqi army of 35,000. This new army will have no tanks, no heavy artillery55, no air force to defend a country that is surrounded by countries -– Iraq, Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia -– with whom there has either been recent conflict or who have territorial or other conflicts with Iraq. Iraqis wonder how a lightly armed army of 35,000 is supposed to defend their country, were the Americans ever to leave. The first US ruler of Iraq, Jay Garner, compares the US presence in Iraq to the century-long US presence in the Philippines:
“Noting how establishing U.S. naval bases in the Philippines in the early 1900s allowed the United States to maintain a 'great presence in the Pacific.' Garner said. 'To me that's what Iraq is for the next few decades. We ought to have something there … that gives us great presence in the Middle East. I think that's going to be necessary.'”56
While unemployment figures are hard to come by, estimates put Iraqi unemployment at between 40% and 60%, with a recent survey putting it at 70%.57 At the time of the occupation, most large businesses were state-owned. The US “Administrator” of Iraq makes a priority of privatizing the economy, removing tariffs and implementing a flat tax that the Republican ideologues can't get the US to accept:
“'The highest individual and corporate income tax rates for 2004 and subsequent years shall not exceed 15 percent.' Paul Bremer wrote in Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 37, October, 2003.”58
And, as he was getting ready to depart Iraq, in June, 2004, Bremer told the Washington Post that:
“[a]mong his biggest accomplishments … were the lowering of Iraq's tax rate, the liberalization of foreign-investment laws and the reduction of import duties.”15
As a result of these measures, Iraq is flooded with cheap consumer goods from abroad, hurting local industry.
April, 2004. Four American “contractors” [really mercenaries] are brutally killed in Falluja. The US decides to exact retribution and destroy resistance in the town. They lay siege, set up snipers who claim to only target rebels,59 but actually shoot at anything that moves.60 British law student Jo Wilding, who helped bring a circus to Iraq to brighten Iraqi children's lives decided to go into a Falluja under siege:
“I'll spare you the whole decision making process, the questions we all asked ourselves and each other, and you can spare me the accusations of madness, but what it came down to was this: if I don't do it, who will?…”
She describes what she sees:
“Snipers are causing not just carnage but also the paralysis of the ambulance and evacuation services. The biggest hospital after the main one was bombed is in US territory and cut off from the clinic by snipers. The ambulance has been repaired four times after bullet damage. Bodies are lying in the streets because no one can go to collect them without being shot.”
She gets personal experience:
“We stop, turn off the siren, keep the blue light flashing, wait, eyes on the silhouettes of men in US marine uniforms on the corners of the buildings. Several shots come. We duck, get as low as possible and I can see tiny red lights whipping past the window, past my head. Some, it's hard to tell, are hitting the ambulance. I start singing. What else do you do when someone's shooting at you? A tyre bursts with an enormous noise and a jerk of the vehicle.
She witnesses the effects of the humane fighting touted by the American military:
“I am outraged. We are trying to get to a woman who is giving birth without any medical attention, without electricity, in a city under siege, in a clearly marked ambulance, and you are shooting at us. How dare you?…
“We take off the blue gowns as the sky starts exploding somewhere beyond the building opposite. Minutes later a car roars up to the clinic. I can hear him screaming before I can see that there is no skin left on his body. He is burnt from head to foot. For sure there is nothing they can do. He will die of dehydration within a few days.
“Another man is pulled from the car onto a stretcher. Cluster bombs, they say, although it is not clear whether they mean one or both of them. We set off walking to Mr Yasser's house, waiting at each corner for someone to check the street before we cross. A ball of fire falls from a plane, splits into smaller balls of bright white lights. I think they are cluster bombs, because cluster bombs are in the front of my mind, but they vanish, just magnesium flares, incredibly bright and short-lived, giving a flash picture of the town from above.”60
The US arrests a close aide of Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia leader who is extremely popular among the millions of poor Shia living in the Baghdad slum known as Sadr City in honor of his father, martyred by Saddam Hussein. US authorities announce they will get him, living or dead. Their Iraq agents in the Ministry of Justice print posters saying that Sadr was killed while resisting arrest and post some on walls in Sadr City,61 but then fail to capture him as he launches an insurrection and proclaims solidarity with the Falluja rebels. Thousands of Iraqis die in the next weeks, but the strongest power in the history of the world fails to suppress either the Falluja or al-Sadr insurrections, though US troops kill over 700 civilians in Falluja, who are buried in sports fields. US military leaders brag of killing over 1,000 of al-Sadr's militia members, mostly poor Shia youth from Baghdad slums.62, 63
In a poll of Iraqis in six cities conducted for the US/CPA in May 2004,64 67% of Iraqis say they Strongly Support (32%) or Somewhat Support (35%) al-Sadr, making him the second most supported person in Iraq, only behind the 70% support expressed for Ali Sistani. Iyad Allawi, the man the US imposed as the Prime Minister of the “sovereign” Iraqi government was Supported by 23% (5% Strongly Support) in that poll, with 61% of those surveyed saying they Somewhat (21%) or Strongly (40%) Opposed him. The man who would soon be appointed President was so revered he wasn't even listed among the 14 top figures included in the survey.
In that same poll 11% expressed a Fair Amount or a Great Deal (2%) of confidence in the US Coalition Provisional Authority, with 85% having Not Much (11%) or None Confidence (78%) in the institution that had ruled them for over a year. Only 28% expressed a Fair Amount or a Great Deal of Confidence in the US-chosen Governing Council, with 66% having Not Much or None (55%). 81% answered No Confidence in the Coalition Forces that were fighting the insurgency, killing people at roadblocks, invading homes in the middle of the night, and holding thousands of Iraqis prisoners in Abu Ghraib and other hell holes.
Then, on June 28, 2004, in a secret ceremony, the CPA, with its 11% confidence, handed “sovereignty” to the new government it had hand-picked, largely from the Governing Council with its 28% confidence, thus undermining a months-long process by UN official Lakhdar Brahimi, leading Brahimi to say of US Administrator Paul Bremer: “”Bremer is the dictator of Iraq.” he said. “He has the money. He has the signature.”65
Of course, “sovereignty” doesn't mean control. US troops are free to act as they please, without any effective control by Iraqi authorities. In one of his last acts, Paul Bremer granted them total immunity for any actions, including torturing prisoners, they commit in the “sovereign” Iraq. He also granted immunity to private contractors while they are working in Iraq.66, 67
And the new government doesn't control the economy, regulate the media, or have many of the other powers sovereign governments usually have.
As the Wall Street Journal reported:
“As Washington prepares to hand over power, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer and other officials are quietly building institutions that will give the U.S. powerful levers for influencing nearly every important decision the interim government will make. In a series of edicts issued earlier this spring, Mr. Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority created new commissions that effectively take away virtually all of the powers once held by several ministries. The CPA also … put in place a pair of watchdog institutions that will serve as checks on individual ministries and allow for continued U.S. oversight. Meanwhile, the CPA reiterated that coalition advisers will remain in virtually all remaining ministries after the handover…
“The authority to license Iraq's television stations, sanction newspapers and regulate cell phone companies was recently transferred to a commission whose members were selected by Washington. The commissioners' five-year terms stretch far beyond the planned 18-month tenure of the interim Iraqi government that will assume sovereignty on June 30.”68
Or as the New York Times summed up the matter:
“Top aides to Mr. Bremer have said in recent days that the American troops will act as the most important guarantor of American influence. In addition, they said, the $18.4 billion voted for Iraqi reconstruction last fall by the United States Congress — including more than $2 billion for the new Iraqi forces — will give the Americans a decisive voice.”69
And who is this new Iraqi government that the US imposed? The man with the power, or whatever power Iraqis are to be allowed, is Iyad Allawi, a man of whom the BBC said:
“he has the advantage … of being equally mistrusted by everyone in Iraq's multifarious population.”70
He boasts of having taken money from over a dozen intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the British MI6. He helped Saddam Hussein get into power, and acted as a spy on anti-Saddam Iraqi exiles in Europe; there are reports that he killed some of these dissidents. After a break with Saddam, he started working for the CIA, among others. He is evidently a terrorist, using a strict definition of this much-misused term. The New York Times reported that the CIA got him to conduct a bombing campaign in Iraq in the 1990's.71 About this campaign the article comments:
“One former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was based in the region, Robert Baer, recalled that a bombing during that period 'blew up a school bus; schoolchildren were killed.' Mr. Baer, a critic of the Iraq war, said he did not recall which resistance group might have set off that bomb.”
As I was preparing this talk last week, the July 17 Sydney Morning Herald of Australia reported further evidence of what type of man the US forced upon Iraq. The article is entitled: “Allawi shot prisoners in cold blood: witnesses.”72 A few excerpts:
“Iyad Allawi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, pulled a pistol and executed as many as six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station, just days before Washington handed control of the country to his interim government, according to two people who allege they witnessed the killings.
“They say the prisoners — handcuffed and blindfolded — were lined up against a wall in a courtyard adjacent to the maximum-security cell block in which they were held at the Al-Amariyah security centre, in the city's south-western suburbs…
“But the informants told the Herald that Dr Allawi shot each young man in the head as about a dozen Iraqi policemen and four Americans from the Prime Minister's personal security team watched in stunned silence.
“Iraq's Interior Minister, Falah al-Naqib, is said to have looked on and congratulated him when the job was done. Mr al-Naqib's office has issued a verbal denial…
“The prisoners were against the wall and we were standing in the courtyard when the Interior Minister said that he would like to kill them all on the spot. Allawi said that they deserved worse than death – but then he pulled the pistol from his belt and started shooting them…
“There is much debate and rumour in Baghdad about the Prime Minister's capacity for brutality, but this is the first time eyewitness accounts have been obtained…
“Neither witness could give a specific date for the killings. But their accounts narrowed the time frame to on or around the third weekend in June — about a week before the rushed handover of power in Iraq and more than three weeks after Dr Allawi was named as the interim Prime Minister…
“One witness justified the shootings as an unintended act of mercy: 'They were happy to die because they had already been beaten by the police for two to eight hours a day to make them talk.'…
“The Herald has established that as many as 30 people, including the victims. May have been in the courtyard. One of the witnesses said there were five or six civilian-clad American security men in a convoy of five or six late model four-wheel-drive vehicles that was shepherding Dr Allawi's entourage on the day. The US military and Dr Allawi's office refused to respond to questions about the composition of his security team. It is understood that the core of his protection unit is drawn from the US Special Forces units (emphasis added)…
“The two witnesses were independently and separately found by the Herald. Neither approached the newspaper. They were interviewed on different days in a private home in Baghdad, without being told the other had spoken. A condition of the co-operation of each man was that no personal information would be published… The witnesses were not paid for the interviews.”
To conclude, imagine yourself an Iraqi. You've suffered terribly under a ruthless dictator. The Americans invade your country under false pretenses. They promise democracy but don't organize elections. They appoint exiles to rule you, exiles who spend most of their time out of the country and the rest in a few highly protected areas. The occupiers break into your homes in the middle of the night and arrest your men, who then disappear, with no accountability. They shoot Iraqis at roadblocks and from convoys. They declare war on the second most popular man in the country, announcing his death in advance. They open the economy to US corporations and give them sweetheart contracts, ignoring local business. Then they write hundreds of laws and establish commissions limiting any future government. They build permanent military bases on your soil. Then they turn your country over to a former associate of Saddam Hussein, also a former CIA agent, known for his ruthless brutality. Imagine that was your country. hat would you do?
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Stephen Soldz (mailto:email@example.com) is psychoanalyst and a faculty member at the Institute for the Study of Violence of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is a member of Roslindale Neighbors for Peace and Justice and founder of Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice, and maintains the Iraq Occupation and Resistance Report web page.