Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed May 21, 2003 5:39 pm 
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A Mass of Contradictions

The first thing to keep remembering is that the suffering in Iraq isn't over and isn't going to be over for a long time to come. The latest report is that 1,700 civilians were killed and 8,000 wounded in Baghdad alone during the US invasion. The website Iraqbodycount gives a range of from 4,065 to 5,225 civilian deaths for the whole country. The number of Iraqi military losses would of course be much higher than that. But such lists are only the tip of the iceberg since, as we know, even before the massive new damage to the Iraqi infrastructure, the wholesale destruction of housing and government buildings, the desecration of a whole cultural heritage and more, children (half the population still) were already dying by the hundreds every month due to medical emergencies caused by the US- and UK-imposed UN sanctions (which have yet to be lifted). The point is that after the deaths in Iraq, there is a fall-out among the living. The whole country was held hostage to the sanctions. Now 'collateral damage' has shattered and continues to traumatize many more Iraqi lives. The suffering doesn't stop when the bombs stop falling and the deaths don't stop either.

The immediate aftermath of the end of the invasion was the outbreak of chaos and unchecked looting and destruction carried out by lawless individuals and gangs who were allowed to run wild. Given the wanton destruction that continues to confine people to what remains of their homes, Bush's nation builders don't have much to work with. The people are begging for security because it isn't safe for them to go outside. They would rather that security be provided by Iraqis, but they just want security. But the American soldiers, however well meaning they may be, lack the forces or the training to provide it.

Nor do the American overseers seem, even with General Garner replaced, clear about their task. One problem they can't seem to solve is the issue of the Baath Party under whose banner Saddam ruled. Since the invasion, prominent Baath Party officials have been appointed by the Americans to head ministries, but meanwhile it's rumored that Baath leaders are being systematically assassinated and government recruits are to be asked to sign statements "renouncing" the Baath Party. Clearly there is a dilemma here: the Baath Party runs too deep in Iraq's history to be thoroughly purged now. Does the US, relying on a small band of unpopular, out of touch exiles, know how to choose a new leadership? How can such a leadership be free of the "taint" of Baathism? And why should the occupiers choose a leadership anyway? Can you hand-pick 'democratic leaders'?

Full of contradictions as it is, the occupation presents an appearance of being both brutal and tentative. Plans, schedules and "leaders" or governors are juggled constantly, policies are reversed from day to day. Will the hand-over of Iraqi authority to the Iraqis come in a month, six months, or be postponed indefinitely? Nobody knows. To protect themselves from the requirements of international law, the occupying forces claim that they are not an occupation. Mr. Bush proclaims theatrically, in a staged publicity event wearing military dress, that the war is over, while adding that it is only a battle in an endless War on Terrorism: the war is over; the war is never over. Meanwhile in Iraq the occupiers are brutal when they should present a more positive image. US troops use snipers to kill demonstrators and continue, in augmented numbers, to maintain a hostile stance toward Iraqi citizens. Anti-American feeling has understandably grown since the end of the bombing.

The latest anti-occupation demonstration among many (the most notorious one being in Falluja April 30, when US troops killed 14 and wounded 70) was of 10,000 in Baghdad May 19, with the increased numbers due to a coalition of religious and secular elements. This time US snipers on rooftops kept watch over Shiite organizers armed with AK-47's but the march, including some supporters of the Ayatollah Khomeini, saw no casualties. Even 10,000 was a small number considering the publicized discontentment in the country with the continued absence of public services or any degree of organization and solvency that would allow people to return to work. Many feel that the US invasion destroyed not only Saddam's regime, but their lives and futures as well. Hostility against the US troops runs high because they are continuing to hurt people and are not maintaining order. It is not so much a question of whether Iraqis will begin attacking Americans, but of when, and whether a full-scale revolt will develop. And then no doubt the response in Iraq will mirror the scene of another occupation it already mimics: the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

What success is there in the War on Terror? Big success on the other side: an increase in terrorism, in Saudi Arabia, in Morocco, suicide bombers again, al-Qaeda strengthened, Bin Laden apparently calling for another September 11th. As many have warned, America's bellicose policies have only strengthened terrorism of the same stripe that was seen on that infamous date. Saddam never had anything to do with all that and neither did the suffering Iraqi people.

The American drift toward repression at home compounds the absurdity of pretending to impose 'democracy' by force. John Ashcroft uses the Patriot Act to remove civil rights. Bush poses as the blatantly military leader of an endless war waged by the most heavily armed nation in history with the largest prison population. And the public approves. A prominent spokesman against war and veteran journalist who has covered many of them, New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, is shouted down by an angry crowd at the graduation ceremony of a class of 400 at Rockford College in Illinois for expressing his thesis that war is an addiction that the US leaders are hooked on. It seems likely that the election-fixing mechanisms in place in Florida and the Supreme Court will be made nationwide and the second Bush's reelection will be insured. The propaganda machine is in place already but is about to be strengthened. While Colin Powell botches his role as America's international diplomat in the Middle East and caves in to his jingoistic Commander in Chief, his son, Michael Powell, proposes as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission a plan for further media consolidation. Given all these circumstances and more, the US is in no fit condition to spread 'democracy,' even if democracy were something that could be imposed by others, which it clearly is not and never was, as US history itself demonstrates.

Footnote: One piece of qualified good news is that the original reports of the museum looting and library destruction in Baghdad were exaggerated. According to a National Coalition for History Update for May 7, 2003 (Vol. 9, No. 20), it is now believed that the vast majority of the antiquities feared stolen or destroyed in Baghdad are actually in fact safe because they were placed in protected repositories before the invasion. The number of items missing is still unknown, however, and it still may be that particularly valuable items were lost.

Published in The Baltimore Chrnoicle

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