Iraq: Bootprints of Empire

Revolutionary Worker #1197, May 4, 2003, posted at

It was one of those carefully planned propaganda pictures. On April 16, when commanding General Tommy Franks entered Baghdad for the first time, photographers were brought in to film his high command smoking cigars, all sprawled out along a long table in Baghdad's Abu Ghurayb North Palace--in the inner sanctum of the old government.

The intended message: War has brought new rulers to this land.

To drive that point home, in the foreground of the photos you could see the muddy bootprints and plastic garbage across the polished palace floor.

Meanwhile as U.S. and British troops seized key locations in city after city, the mouthpieces of empire insisted this was "a liberation not an occupation." Over and over it is said that Iraqi people will soon be running their own country (and their own oil). And that the troops would leave soon.

When the New York Times reported that senior U.S. officials were planning to take over four permanent military bases in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld denounced the report as premature, claiming such decisions had not been made. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has a joke that they didn't bring M*A*S*H* to Iraq but brought M*A*H*T*S*F (meaning: "Marines Are Here To Stay Forever'').

When UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told U.S. forces to follow international treaties governing "occupying powers," U.S. officials denounced him for daring to use that forbidden "O- word."

Under the Boots of a Colonial Conqueror

Meanwhile, on the ground in Iraq, the war of conquest is creating a brutal military occupation. The U.S. military commanders now rule Iraq through force, and the new occupying power clearly intends to shape the future politics and economics of this region at the point of a gun.

In Mosul, a city of almost one million in northern Iraq, the old government was overthrown on April 11, before U.S. forces arrived. Four days later, a unit of 130 Marines rolled into the city's main square to raise their flag and take over the governor's office. Meanwhile outside, Mishaan Jabouri, a notoriously corrupt figure, lectured the gathered crowd about embracing the American takeover.

The sight of the U.S. flag over their city was the last straw. "It really fired people up and things turned nasty real fast," said one Marine. The crowd started stoning this collaborator Jabouri and torched his car. The U.S. Marines opened fire with a heavy machine gun into the crowd--dozens fell. 17 people died and over 100 were wounded. The next day, U.S. troops again fired into a crowd from rooftops, killing at least another four people. This occupation is adding new casualties to the thousands killed during the U.S. invasion.

In the days following these confrontations, the people in Mosul increasingly engaged U.S. troops in firefights--including the People's Mujahideen Organization, an Iranian exile group with thousands of fighters who are opposed to the Islamist government of Iran. Then, on April 22, 5,000 U.S. soldiers poured into central Mosul in tanks and armed trucks in a massive show of force--taking over the city.

Meanwhile, the main coverage in the U.S. press played down the U.S. massacres--and highlighted scenes of U.S. generals being embraced and praised by pro-U.S. Kurdish militia in the area.

Puppet Picking Time

Iraq today is ruled by Lt. General Jay Garner, a "retired" officer with a long history of imperialist and colonial service. Garner started his career as a district senior adviser in the notorious "strategic hamlet program" in Vietnam, where Vietnamese civilians were imprisoned behind barbed wire to prevent them from supporting the national liberation struggle against the U.S.

Garner is also rather infamous for statements describing the Israeli occupation in Palestinian communities as "restrained."

Official America must have reached deep into its past to find a title for its colonial governor of Iraq. Lt. Gen. Jay Garner is now being described as the "Overseer" of Iraq.

Garner is creating a new government out of U.S. military figures and experts flown into Iraq-- including 150 exiled Iraqi technocrats to head up and work in key ministries. But the U.S. military is having trouble finding significant political forces with a social base inside the country willing to form a government under U.S. domination.

In his first attempt at "government building," on April 15, Massah Garner met with aspiring Iraqi collaborators behind a wall of U.S. tanks on Tallil airbase.

The Pentagon organized flights in from Qatar for members of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a corrupt and highly discredited Iraqi exile group of CIA agents.

The main current active political party in Iraq, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, refused to participate in this Tallil meeting. Zalmay Khalilzad, a U.S. special envoy (and former oil company consultant), lectured the 80 hand-picked "future leaders" there saying: "We want you to establish your own democratic system based on Iraqi traditions and values."

Meanwhile 20,000 demonstrators marched through nearby Nasariya, chanting "No to occupation!" and "No, no Saddam! No, no U.S.!"

A few days later, on April 21, Garner met with about 60 hand-picked members of the old Iraqi elite in Baghdad. Garner referred to this media event as an American-style "town meeting"--but the Iraqi participants whispered to the press that it felt a bit more dictatorial to them. One said, "They sent a soldier with a message to my house yesterday and told me I had to be here at 10 a.m. That's all I know." The U.S. officials presented a "13-point statement" to the group, a blueprint for a future puppet government. The U.S. press announced that the group had "endorsed" this plan.

On Shaky Ground

"Now Free to Protest, Iraqis Complain About Americans."

New York Times headline, April 16

"I finished with the army because I hated Saddam. But I am prepared to take part in a jihad now against our American occupiers. I know dozens of people who feel the same way."

Rashid Mutanar Rahim, veteran of the Iraqi army

"So you think you're tough? We're tougher than you. You've got a gun but we're the ones with brains. Go home, man, and take your gun with you."

Iraqi man shouting, in English, through barbed wireat U.S. soldiers in Baghdad

The Arbaiin pilgrimage of the Shia Muslims was a sobering moment for the U.S. occupation and for its supporters. It quickly became clear, as over a million pilgrims came to Karbala in April, that huge sections of the Iraqi people deeply want the U.S. occupiers to leave, and deeply reject the idea of a U.S.-imposed government. Over and over, thousands of people poured through the streets of Karbala, entwining their religious rituals with anti-U.S. demands.

"The people are stronger than tyrants," one banner read. "No to imperialism, no to Israel, no to America, no to Saddam," another slogan said.

At the same time, both protests and open firefights have continued from one end of Iraq to the other. Some reports that made it into the world press:

In the camps where Iraqi prisoners are held outside Um Qasr, there has reportedly been intense and nonstop resistance--often with rocks and bottles filled with sand. Maj. Joel Droba of the 13th Psychological Operations battalion, in charge of interrogations, told the press, "Pretty much every day there is a riot."

The British government flew in their favorite Shia cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoie from exile in London--and he was supposed to meet a formerly pro-Saddam cleric Haider al-Kadar on April 10, as reporters were helicoptered in to portray them as "future leaders" of Iraq. When al-Khoei urged the crowd in the Najaf mosque to cooperate with U.S. troops, there was pandemonium. Within minutes, the two had been hacked to death by the crowd.

In Basra, British forces designated a former brigadier general in Saddam's army to lead an "interim council" for the city. When his name became known, riots broke loose.

In Baghdad on April 18, 50,000 Shia and Sunnis took to the streets together in a show of unity, chanting "No to Bush, no to Saddam, yes to Islam," and "Leave our country, we want peace."

On April 26, the massive American ammo dump ignited in Zafaraniyah, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Baghdad, setting off massive explosions. Local hospital officials say that at least seven civilians were killed and 20 wounded. "I have seen many people crying and I have seen many houses destroyed," said Ali Jawid, another resident. "There were many explosions, many shards of missiles hit the buildings." As U.S. troops rushed to the scene, they came under fire from the people of the neighborhood.

"This is the responsibility of the U.S. Army because we told them this is a civilian area," one man said. Afterwards, six coffins of those killed were driven through the streets of Zafaraniyah as people chanted "Down with America!"

Underlying these events is a clear problem for the invaders: The U.S. expected to rule Iraq through parts of the old government and military (their war planners reportedly called it: giving that structure a "head transplant"). One commentator wrote: "In effect, the U.S. plan envisions allowing limited Iraqi self-government with American troops stationed nearby, serving in a role similar to Latin American militaries, which set parameters for civilian governments." But they did not succeed in getting any parts of that apparatus to come over. They have been mobilizing remnants of the old (and hated) Iraqi police, but otherwise have few forces at hand to build a new colonial administration.

The pro-U.S. political groups that the U.S. Pentagon has flown in from exile, especially Iraqi National Congress (INC), are notoriously corrupt and isolated. INC head Chalabi faces a prison term for bank fraud in Jordan and is widely ridiculed as an obvious U.S. puppet.

There are reports of a rapid blossoming of many new party headquarters in Baghdad--as diverse oppositional forces emerge from the underground.

But, for now, the main organized political forces with visible political support are grouped around the Kurdish nationalist parties in the north, and the conservative Islamic mosque networks in the south.

The Saddam Hussein government killed progressive opposition forces as it consolidated power-- initially with help from CIA lists of suspected communists. Now the U.S. has battered down Saddam's Baathist forces. What has emerged as almost the only organized forces left in much of Iraq are the networks based on the Muslim mosques, which are often associated with reactionary, Islamist political forces.

Representatives of the Hawza, the Shia religious body based in Najaf, is said to be co-ordinating the takeover of the administration of towns and cities by clerics. One member, Abbas Nahidi, said: "The Hawza believe there should be elections so people can decide who should govern us. We want an Islamic state. We do not want to be ruled by any foreign powers including the United States."

So the U.S. is facing the dilemma of having dispersed the former ruling forces, but not being able to rely on the opposition forces that have emerged. And that means that the U.S. and its troops will feel pulled more and more deeply into the direct rule of Iraq--and will find itself a target of the people's discontent.

If Kurdish nationalist forces gain power in northern cities, this would spread sentiments for independence among Kurds oppressed within Turkey. If Muslim fundamentalist forces gain power in the large southern regions of Iraq, it is expected to increase the influence of the Iranian government in Iraq and in the region. Both of these developments would work against strengthening U.S. control in this region.

As the U.S. sent thousands of its troops into Mosul, their officers openly said their goal was to move their own allies, the Kurdish militias, out of the city. And while the U.S. talked about establishing "representative democracy," the U.S. government announced that its generals would pick the next government, and it would not allow Iraq's people to empower any forces opposed to U.S. occupation.

Faced with these developments, Donald Rumsfeld, the American CEO of war, told the Associated Press (April 24): "How would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country? The answer is: `That isn't going to happen.'" An unnamed "senior administration official" was quoted saying, "We want to find more moderate clerics and move them into positions of influence." After Rumsfeld's statement, Iraqi people were pointing out the obvious contradiction: Kassem al-Sa'adi, a 41-year-old merchant, asked a Western reporter in Baghdad. "If it is a democracy, why are they allowed to make the rules?"

On April 24, Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of ground forces in Iraq, issued a proclamation saying, "The coalition alone retains absolute authority within Iraq." General Whitley advised: "Nobody has authority unless General McKiernan says so. If we say you run the railroad, you run the railroad." Both generals made it clear: anyone defying the occupiers would be seized at gunpoint.

This has increasingly caused U.S. troops to directly confront the emerging new, provisional local governments in major centers like Najaf, Saddam City and Kut.

In the city of Kut, with 300,000 inhabitants near the Iranian border, local Shia Islamist forces gathered thousands of people to town meetings that set up a local city government. The Marines demanded that this local government dissolve, threatened to arrest the mayor, and raided the town for weapons. The New York Times reported from Kut, "U.S. convoys have been loudly jeered. Waving Marines have been greeted with angry glares and thumbs-down signs." When the Marines arrested a prominent cleric, hundreds of people converged on a contingent of Marines (who they believed were looting medical supplies). The troops took aim at the people. Helicopters flew in and threatened the crowd.

After a tense stand-off, hundreds of young men regrouped on a local bridge over the Tigris River, trapping several Marine trucks for about a half-hour. The crowd shouted: "Go home! Go home!" One sign said: "No to imposed administration. Yes to local administration."

Facing opposition from sections of the people, the U.S. government is already starting to demonize any resistance: It reports armed resistance as "foreign terrorists and diehard Saddam supporters." And it has reported political resistance as Iranian agents crossing the border.

U.S. Marines have been sent to seal off the border with Iran, to prevent the thousands of Iraqi political exiles there from returning home.

Meanwhile White House spokesman Ari Fleischer gets a special George Orwell award for saying, "We've made clear to Iran that we would oppose any outside interference in Iraq's road to democracy." Let's get this clear: U.S. forces have crossed the world, conquered Iraq, worked to impose some loyal puppets, but proclaims it is against "outside interference"?

The invasion and occupation are still only a few weeks old. But this much is clear: The U.S. has swaggered in as an arrogant conquering power. It is coming through the population to find wannabe collaborators willing to serve its domination. And meanwhile, it is moving its troops and generals into positions of power--confronting the masses of Iraqi people with brutality.

Millions of people in the U.S. hear every day that this is "liberation," and that the U.S. is eagerly doing "nation building" and planning to "leave as soon as we have helped get this country back on its feet." It is extremely important that they get a true picture of what is being done in Iraq in their name--and that people here in the U.S. join in raising the demand of so many Iraqis: "Occupiers Out!"

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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