A New Chapter in the Republican Administration's Brutalizing of Iraqi People
by Michael Birmingham
May 16, 2003
"This dinner is pre-cooked." Ahmed, an Iraqi engineer volunteered his view on what level of involvement Iraqis would be given by the U.S. in determining their future. He likened the choice to the one his mother used to give him on his returning from school. He would be asked what he wanted for dinner, but the finished product was already cooked in the kitchen. Ahmed believes that whatever Iraqis want and are asked, their future government has been pre-cooked by George Bush. He now only wants to get enough money and an opportunity to bring his family out of Iraq, before things get much worse as he believes they will.
Things are bad enough right now. Stories are coming with increasing regularity of the terrible price being paid by Iraqis for the complete lawlessness rampant in the country. There are many stories of women being dragged away in cars at gunpoint. One while with her husband in a car in central Baghdad, another woman from a tight-knit village. A young woman in broad daylight from one of Baghdad's busier squares, and two young women from their homes. These are only the stories that I have personally been told. On more than one occasion when I have asked if these incidents had been covered by media, I was told that there are stories everywhere, who'd cover them all?
People are afraid to send their children to school. Afraid, that even if they drive them, they cannot be sure to be able to protect them in the car. Afraid that there will not be adequate security in the schools.
One friend told me that in his daughter's school parents had organized amongst themselves to protect it while the children are there. They had been assured that the U.S. army would be driving past all schools in the zone during school hours. Of course, most telephones aren't working and even if one lives in those areas where you can call locally, there is no emergency number to call. Alternatively, if the soldiers just happened to be passing at the moment some terrible incident was happening they either know Arabic nor have interpreter. Would they go with someone who approached speaking excitedly to them in Arabic? Of course not. Various soldiers have anyway regularly told me that they are under orders not to intervene "to let Iraqis sort things out themselves."
Up until the day the U.S. came and "liberated" the journalists in the Palestine Hotel, the Iraqi police force could be seen on street corners all over the city. They vanished in an instant and the intervening month has seen complete lawlessness. For a city with five million people, suddenly to have no police at all - it already had all of its prisons emptied by the government last October - the violent chaos can be no surprise.
The media reports there are now some police back on the streets. Indeed, a few are to be seen occasionally standing in clusters, pretty well the only people in Iraq that cannot carry guns. Last week, in Mahmoudiya, just outside Baghdad, I stopped at a small market as a friend bought cigarettes. A twelve year-old boy was wandering by with a pistol stuck down the front of his shorts. He said he was selling it, and hoped that it would only be used by the new owner as a decoration.
A jaunt around Baghdad in the evenings, in itself a perilous activity, and you can easily find people selling Kalasnikovs on the pavement. They are cheaper than the handguns, which people often prefer as they can be more easily concealed. Some women say that they will not go to the supermarket without a handgun in their purse. Businesses open only on the basis of having a Kalasnikov close to hand. A friend driving home from work a couple of days ago watched as a man was dragged from his car and murdered on the ground in one of Baghdad's main streets in broad daylight. Others I know have seen their neighbours murdered and have no idea why.
It's a safe bet, that in this environment the unarmed and uncoordinated Iraqi police will refrain from intervening in anything. Ahmed is of a mind that all of this is part of the pre-cooked Bush plan for Iraq. Have a strong and well-educated people weakened and damaged anyway possible.
It is hard to argue with the idea that the disorder was well planned, and something that the U.S. government is more than happy with. Were they not happy, we would surely have seen efforts to intervene. Just as tellingly, it is exactly the kind of policy that many in this administration have prescribed for Iraq for years.
During the 1980's, the current Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was in Baghdad doing business with Saddam. He was not there talking about human rights, but as a Presidential envoy, signifying that Saddam was our man. From then until now nothing has been done to promote human rights within Saddam's Iraq. The Reagan government was officially committed to a policy that kept the Iran-Iraq war going for the entire eight year duration that Reagan was in power - Vice President Dick Cheney was at the time a Republican Senator with considerable foreign policy power.
The new U.S. head for Iraq Paul Bremer, was the roving ambassador for counter terrorism between 1986 and 1989. (Just the right time to be around for some of the most heinous crimes committed in Latin America as part of the U.S. government's counter terrorism policy.) His former boss, and close colleague Henry Kissinger was the one who summed up the then Iran-Iraq policy most clearly: "I hope they kill each other." One million people did die.
The Gulf War, with its deliberate devastation of Iraqi society's life sustaining infrastructure, was undertaken by Bush's dad, with Cheney as Defence Secretary. To this day, Iraqi children die in large numbers as a result of the 1991 US and coalition targeting of the population's water supply. The sanctions policy, also brought in by Bush the elder, was used for over 12 years, punishing ordinary Iraqis while it left the regime unscathed. The sanctions policy on Iraq might well meet the legal definition of genocide were we to live in a world where the U.S. president was subject to international law.
Then there was the treacherous decision to turn a blind eye to the mass murder of those Iraqis who rebelled against Saddam in 1991. This policy was justified by Richard Haas, a senior middle east Republican policy advisor at the time, on the basis that they wanted a change of leadership, not regime. This desire to keep the repressive Ba'ath regime in power, while replacing the no-longer presentable Saddam was the driving policy until the "Shock and Awe" missiles started dropping on the March 20th, 2003. The last communication to the Iraqi regime was: "if Saddam and his sons leave, we won't attack."
Would the same individuals who have never flinched at the barbarity which their policies brought to Iraq, be capable of deliberately ensuring terrifyingly violent lawlessness? It cannot be but a rhetorical question.
The Iran-Iraq war seemed to many of these same Republicans a good vehicle to support. Eight years is a lot of time to be hearing stories of considerable amounts of bloodshed. A lot of time in which it was decided to continue to support neither Iran nor Iraq, just the continuation of the war. We know that throughout the 12 years of sanctions reports of massive death amongst children under five left these people unmoved in their enthusiasm for the policy.
How many reports of murder, kidnapping, and a society terrorized and traumatized could these people sit through? How many reports about the humanitarian catastrophe that their war is setting in train will they be able to stomach?As many as it takes to meet whatever self-interested agenda they are following.
The issue for the other five billion of us is how much longer we are going to sit back and watch. If we continue to fail to do what we can to stop the U.S. government from slaughtering Iraqis and trampling on their rights we are also responsible. What pathetic excuse is it for us to say now, we are just hoping that this time it will be different. Lets go out on a limb. It won't be. The U.S. administration does not care about the lives of Iraqi people.
Human rights and justice do not come through naivety or passivity. They must be fought for. If we want a world that is not governed by the callous violence of the most powerful, this is a time and an issue for which to wage that struggle.
Michael Birmingham is an affordable housing advocate from Dublin, Ireland. He is currently in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team, a group of international peaceworkers pledging to remain in Iraq through US bombing and occupation, in order to be a voice for the Iraqi people in the West. The Iraq Peace Team can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org