Iraq Under the U.S. Thumb

Recent Articles by Naomi Kline

Iraq Under the U.S. Thumb
The White House Wants to Make the Iraqis Seem to Be Out of Control, Incapable of Governing Without US Direction”

….On March 19, an anti-occupation march designed as a show of unity between Sunni and Shia Muslims was much smaller than organizers had hoped, and no wonder: Less than three weeks ago, 70 people were killed in a horrific attack on the same Shia mosque where demonstrators were meant to gather. To underscore the threat, U.S. occupation chief Paul Bremer chose the day of the planned protests to predict that more such major attacks were likely “when you have masses of Shia together.” Those who dared to show up despite the warnings glanced around nervously, while men armed with Kalashnikovs lined the streets and rooftops, looking for signs of trouble…..

…It now looks almost certain that Iraq’s first “sovereign” government will be created by a process even less democratic than the abandoned caucus system: The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council will simply be expanded in size.

This body is so discredited here that it is called the “governed council,” but widespread objections have so far been drowned out by the nightly attacks.

Mr. Bremer has also managed to use the terrorist attacks to make sure that Iraq’s next government will be able to do nothing but implement his orders. Earlier this month, his plan to push through an interim constitution seemed doomed, with several members of the Governing Council refusing to sign the contentious document. But after the devastating attacks on Shia religious sites on March 2, Iraqi leaders came under pressure to sign the document as a show of national unity and stability.

The interim constitution, signed two weeks ago, states that, “The laws, regulations, orders, and directives issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority . . . shall remain in force.” The laws include Mr. Bremer’s Order 39, which drastically changes Iraq’s previous constitution to allow foreign companies to own 100 per cent of Iraqi assets (except in natural resources), and to take 100 per cent of their profits out of the country, paving the way for massive privatizations.

Defying Mr. Bremer’s orders won’t be an option after the “handover.” The interim constitution clearly states that the only way these laws can be changed is by a three-fourths vote by the Iraqi transitional government. According to the same constitution, that body won’t exist until elections are held in early 2005.

In other words, on June 30, the occupation won’t end, it will simply be outsourced to a group of hand-picked Iraqi politicians with no democratic mandate or sovereign power. With its new Iraqi face, the government will be free from the ugly perception that Iraq’s national assets are being auctioned off by foreigners, not to mention being unencumbered by input from Iraqi voters who might have ideas of their own. ….

The U.S. is Sabotaging Stability in Iraq

….make no mistake: This is not the “civil war” that Washington has been predicting will break out between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Rather, it is a war provoked by the U.S. occupation authority and waged by its forces against the growing number of Shiites who support Muqtada al-Sadr…..

….The trouble began when Mr. Bremer closed down Mr. al-Sadr’s newspaper last week, sparking a wave of peaceful demonstrations. On Saturday, Mr. Bremer raised the stakes further by sending coalition forces to surround Mr. al-Sadr’s house near Najaf and arrest his communications officer.

Predictably, the arrest sparked immediate demonstrations in Baghdad, which the Iraqi army responded to by opening fire and allegedly killing three people. It was these deaths that provoked yesterday’s bloody demonstrations.

At the end of the day on Sunday, Mr. al-Sadr issued a statement calling on his supporters to stop staging demonstrations “because your enemy prefers terrorism and detests that way of expressing opinion” and instead urged them to employ unnamed “other ways” to resist the occupation, a statement many interpret as a call to arms.

On the surface, this chain of events is mystifying. With the so-called Sunni triangle in flames after the gruesome Fallujah attacks, why is Mr. Bremer pushing the comparatively calm Shia south into battle? Here’s one possible answer: Washington has given up on its plans to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, and is now creating the chaos it needs to declare the handover impossible.

A continued occupation will be bad news for George Bush on the campaign trail, but not as bad as if the handover happens and the country erupts, an increasingly likely scenario given the widespread rejection of the legitimacy of the interim constitution and the U.S.-appointed government.

It’s a plan that might make sense in meetings in Washington, but here in Baghdad it looks like pure madness. By sending the new Iraqi army to fire on the people it is supposed to be protecting, Mr. Bremer has destroyed what slim hope it had of gaining credibility with an already highly mistrustful population. On Sunday, before storming the unarmed demonstrators, the soldiers could be seen pulling on ski masks, so they wouldn’t be recognized when they returned to their neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Mr. al-Sadr is having his hero status amplified by the hour. …

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