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Iraq Occupation Focus Newsletter

Iraq Occupation Focus
Newsletter No. 4
August 1, 2004

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Violence spirals in occupied Iraq

A horrific suicide bombing in Baquba, 65km north of Baghdad, killed at least 70 people on Wednesday, 28 July. This was the most deadly in a wave of bombings, mortar attacks, battles, skirmishes, missile strikes and killings that have racked the country in the last week. On Thursday, 29 July, thirteen 13 Iraqis were killed and others injured after US air strikes destroyed civilian homes. Al-Jazeera reports: “Dr Salim Ibrahim at Falluja General Hospital estimated on Friday that 13 Iraqis were killed in the town west of Baghdad. Ibrahim told the Associated Press he could not give an exact count of the dead, because many of their bodies had been torn apart in the bombings.”

Meanwhile, in Al-Suwayrah in the south, thirty-five resistance fighters and seven Iraqi policemen were killed in a gun battle. In Mosul, insurgents bombed an airfield. In Basra, gunmen fired on five women cleaners working for US company Bechtel. In Ramadi, west of Baghdad, insurgents and occupation forces fight nearly daily gun-battles. In Samarra, people are fleeing as the US prepares an offensive to re-establish control over the battle-torn city. There have been attacks on occupying forces and on Iraqis working for them in Kirkuk, Mosul, Tikrit, Baquba, Samarra, Balad, Khaldiya, Fallujah, Iskandariyah and elsewhere. In Baghdad, a senior interior ministry official and an official at Mahmudiya hospital were assassinated. Mortar shells rained down on the ‘green zone’ where the occupation authorities are stationed. According to the Associated Press, “Baghdad has experienced almost day-to-day attacks since 28 June when the US transferred power to an Iraqi interim authority.” Meanwhile, roadside bombs continue to claim lives across the country.

Iraq’s ‘National Conference’ postponed

The ‘national conference’ advertised as a major first step in building democracy in Iraq was scheduled for the end of July but at the last minute it was postponed till mid-August, Al-Jazeera reports (29 July): “One of the main criticisms has been that the conference would not be representative. Jamal Benomar, UN representative sent to help coordinate the event, says not enough is being done to make the gathering as inclusive as possible... The Association of Muslim Scholars, Iraq’s highest Sunni religious authority, has said it will not participate, and another key Sunni party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, has also decided to keep away, calling the conference ‘fixed’. Muqtada al-Sadr is also not sending representatives ... With large chunks of the country’s polity intending to stay away, some say the conference could become part of a subterfuge for those currently in power to share Iraq’s political spoils. The UN was in favour of postponing the conference all along as it felt more time was needed to select delegates and ensure the conference was as representative as possible.” The conference was supposed to select a 100-member National Council to serve as a check on the interim government until the January elections.

‘Democracy’ in Najaf?

Voters in Najaf charged that the process of electing delegates to the national conference was rigged, according to Agence France Presse. Polls were held to choose 20 delegates from 960 nominees. “If this is supposed to be a taste of democracy for people then it is going to leave a very bad taste in their mouths and make them mistrustful of any similar efforts in the future,” said Geith Shubar, editor of the monthly Holy Najaf magazine. Shubar said he was only made aware of the event on the day the polls were held. “At first, guards would not let me in even after I showed them an invitation which I had to attend the caucus telling me the voting is over and that there were no more ballots. Then when I was finally let in, there was no candidate list, so I just put down names of 20 people whom I thought might be on the list”. “The whole thing is flawed from the go,” said Sheikh Ali al-Sumeisim, spokesman for firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr. “We decided to boycott it despite pressure from Islamic parties and others and some minority voices inside our camp to take part.”

Slogan banned in Boston

Democracy Now reports from the Democratic convention in Boston: As Teresa Heinz Kerry spoke from the rostrum, on the floor of the convention Medea Benjamin from Global Exchange and CodePink unfurled a pink banner that read “End the Occupation of Iraq.” Within moments, police were called in to remove her and she was dragged off the convention floor and thrown out of the Fleet Center.

Iraq Occupation Focus public meeting:
Organising UK and US Unions Against War and Occupation

Special guest: Gene Bruskin, Co-Convenor of US Labor Against the War. Welcomed by Greg Tucker, RMT, and Jeremy Corbyn MP
Plus: Images from USLAW’s Iraq fact-finding mission

Thursday 5 August, 7pm
Friends Meeting House
173 Euston Road, London
(opposite Euston Station)
All welcome (suggested donation: £2)

Leaflet for 5th August meeting with Gene Bruskin [PDF, 68KB]

US Labor Against the War has more than 80 affiliated national and local unions, regional labour bodies, labour antiwar committees, and allied labour organizations representing more than three million US workers.

USLAW’s Gene Bruskin is visiting the UK from August 4-7 in order to meet with anti-war trade union leaders and activists. Contact Gene Bruskin USLAW or Ewa Jasiewicz

Download PDF of leaflet for public meeting [72KB].

Kidnapping wave

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported (27 July): “A new wave of kidnappings has sent shock waves through the diplomatic and business communities in Baghdad, virtually shutting down most embassies and thwarting Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s efforts to drum up international support for his fledgling government. Citizens from at least 20 nations have been seized by kidnappers in recent months. About 60 people have been held, and at least three beheaded. Among those kidnapped are Pakistani, Kenyan, Indian, Jordanian and Egyptian truck drivers, as well as a heavily guarded Egyptian diplomat, Foreign envoys were clearly shaken by the kidnapping. Even though their embassies are protected by concrete walls in upscale neighborhoods, diplomats were hesitant even to respond to reporters’ questions. More armed guards and armored vehicles were visible. The embassies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates were shuttered. At the German Embassy, no Germans were available for comment. An Iraqi guard, who was relaying media requests by radio to the embassy staff behind locked doors, offered his observations. ‘They are now terrified,’ said the guard, who identified himself only as Raed. ‘They receive no guests, not even journalists. They’ve started to suspect everybody. Their movements are restricted to a minimum.’ ”

US casualties mount in July

Nearly as many US soldiers lost their lives in Iraq in the first half of July as in all of June, even as Iraqi insurgents seem to have shifted focus from attacking US targets to aiming instead at Iraqi security forces and government officials, according to the Boston Globe. “Since the June 28 handover, the coalition forces have averaged more than two deaths a day, among the highest rate of losses since the war began 15 months ago.... this month marks an upsurge in the pace and sophistication of the attacks against US and coalition troops... By mid-July, more than 10,000 coalition soldiers had been wounded.... ‘We are having a bad month in the war,’ said John Pike, a military specialist at in Alexandria, Va. ‘Until the Iraqi security forces are properly organized, trained, and equipped, the US is going to continue to have significant exposure. That is going to be true for another year or two.’ ”

“Wolfowitz is even dirtier”

US soldiers in Ramadi have begun to question openly their mission and their leaders, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer . “Instead of neighborhood patrols, the convoys that leave the bases in Ramadi these days are on their way to guard main roads and the government building downtown. There are also observations posts throughout the city, where soldiers sit and watch, waiting for something to happen. To carry food from one base to the next in Ramadi, a matter of a few blocks, takes four vehicles – armored Humvees and trucks – all with .50-caliber machine guns mounted on top. ‘I don’t have any idea of what we’re trying to do out here. I don’t know what the (goal) is, and I don’t think our commanders do either,’ said Staff Sergeant AJ Dean. ‘I feel deceived personally. I don’t trust anything Rumsfeld says, and I think Wolfowitz is even dirtier.’ ”

Sunni leaders press insurgents to fight US forces, not Iraqis

The Boston Globe reports (24 July) that religious, tribal and political leaders in the Sunni heartland are encouraging Iraqi insurgents to fight on, but to focus on attacking US troops and stop killing Iraqi civilians and security forces. Two clerics, four clan leaders, and a leading politician said in recent interviews that the domestic national resistance has split with a separate movement of what they called terrorists. The leaders defined as terrorists those foreign and Iraqi fighters responsible for suicide bombings and attacks on civilians and Iraqi security services, tactics that they said alienate the Iraqi public and unnecessarily provoke the United States. “The effective resistance to drive out the occupation is the one which coordinates its power against the occupier exclusively and avoids all civilians – Muslim and non-Muslim, Arab and non-Arab,” Sheik Ahmad Abed al-Gafoor al-Samarrae said after a Friday-morning sermon earlier this month in which he exhorted Iraqis to unite against the US occupation.

Allawi attacks media freedom

According to the Financial Times (27 July), Iyad Allawi, Iraq’s US-appointed prime minister, has established a new committee to impose restrictions on the media. Ibrahim Janabi, appointed to head the new Higher Media Commission, told the FT that new restrictions – known as “red lines” – had yet to be finalised, but would include a ban on unwarranted criticism of the prime minister. He singled out last Friday’s sermon by Moqtada al-Sadr, who mocked Allawi as America’s “tail”. Outlets that broadcast the sermon could be banned, he said ... The measures come amid growing government nervousness that Arab satellite channels are giving publicity to Iraq’s rebel groups. Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, denounced al-Jazeera, which has broadcast video recordings from insurgents. “In a difficult security situation, we need them all to co-operate, even the private sector. It’s for national security,” said Janabi, a former Iraqi intelligence officer who for a decade served as Allawi’s eyes and ears in neighbouring Jordan, but has never worked as a journalist. “The red lines must be very clear. Whenever we find someone endangering national security, we will give notes to our legal committee that they are breaking the rules,” he said. Noting that al-Jazeera broadcast part of Mr Sadr’s anti-Allawi sermon, he warned: “If they do it again, we will give them two weeks to correct the policy, and after that we will tell them sorry we need to close your office.” Opposition politicians also attacked the new body, saying that Mr Allawi had established committees for oil and security, as well as the media, in a bid to get total control of the state machinery.

Saddam’s secret police rebuild their network

Secret policemen who helped Saddam Hussein spy on his people are being allowed to join the country’s revived intelligence service by prime minister Iyad Allawi, according to the Sunday Times (25 July). Sources in Baghdad say the word has gone out that former bosses of the once-dreaded Mukhabarat service are welcome to return to work ... The resurrection of the Mukhabarat in two separate buildings in the American-protected Green Zone in Baghdad is well under way. Hundreds of junior to mid-level officers of the old regime have already reported for duty, and there are signs that the organisation, officially known as the General Security Directorate, is up to its old tricks. “There is a network of informants stretching all over the country,” said a source in the agency. “Taxi drivers, shop sellers and businessmen – they are all sending us information. Some of it we pass to the Americans. Some of it we keep for ourselves.”

Paying the Price: The Mounting Costs of the Iraq War

A report by Phyllis Bennis and the IPS Iraq Task Force (Institute for Policy Studies and Foreign Policy in Focus) catalogues the costs of the invasion and occupation. It covers human, economic and environmental costs. A few facts from the report:

  • A March 2004 army survey found 52 percent of US soldiers reporting low morale, and three-fourths reporting they were poorly led by their officers.
  • The Pentagon estimates that U.S. and British forces used 1,100 to 2,200 tons of weaponry made from the toxic and radioactive metal (including depleted uranium) during the March 2003 bombing campaign.
  • Only 1 percent of Iraq’s workforce of 7 million is involved in reconstruction projects.
  • UNICEF estimates that more than 200 schools were destroyed in the conflict and thousands more were looted in the chaos following the fall of Saddam Hussein. Largely because of security concerns, school attendance in April 2004 was well below pre-war levels.
  • The $151.1 billion spent by the U.S. government on the war could have cut world hunger in half and covered HIV/AIDS medicine, childhood immunization and clean water and sanitation needs of the developing world for more than two years.

Unemployment at 70%

Al-Jazeera reports: “A study by the college of economics at Baghdad University has found that the unemployment rate in Iraq is 70% and is likely to get worse, with security deteriorating and reconstruction faltering. Private employment agencies are cropping up across the country, promising jobs in Libya and Arab Gulf states. Long queues of Iraqis can be seen every morning outside agency offices, carrying their CVs and the $50 application fee.... Ala al-Qaisi, 56, a father of three who fought in the Iran-Iraq war, expressed disappointment with the fact that all the jobs in Iraq seemed to be in the hands of the US authorities. ‘I cannot accept a job with the US authorities or a company which supplies them. I care about my image in the eyes of my children. After defending Iraq for eight years, how can I accept work with a country that is militarily occupying the country I fought for?’ ”

Occupiers fail audits

On 15 July, the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, charged by the UN with overseeing Iraq’s oil revenues, released an audit that revealed inadequate financial controls and in particular lack of information on large non-competitive contracts, including those awarded to Halliburton. It also cited concerns about the failure to track how much oil is being produced in Iraq. Christian Aid said the audit confirmed the urgent concerns raised in their report Fuelling Suspicion: the Coalition and Iraq’s oil billions.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports (30 July): “A comprehensive examination of the US-led agency that oversaw the rebuilding of Iraq has triggered at least 27 criminal investigations and produced evidence of millions of dollars’ worth of fraud, waste and abuse, according to a report by the Coalition Provisional Authority’s inspector general... More than $600 million in cash from Iraqi oil money was spent with insufficient controls. Senior US officials manipulated or misspent contract money. Millions of dollars’ worth of equipment could not be located, the report said.”

For updates on Iraq’s oil production, see Iraq Pipeline Watch.

The Assassination of Iraqi Intellectuals

The International Coalition of Academics Against Occupation (ICAAO) is a global movement of university professors, college educators, teachers and intellectuals. “The media have overlooked the escalating assassination of Iraqi academics, intellectuals, and lecturers,” says ICAAO. “According to the Iraqi Union of University Lecturers, more than 250 college professors have been targets of assassination since the end of April, 2003. Whoever may be carrying out these assassinations, the US and its allies bear an international responsibility under the 4th article of the Geneva Convention to protect civilians living under occupation. According to Union of Iraqi Lecturers, if ‘the stream of assassinations’ continues Iraqi Colleges and Universities will be left without a qualified teaching staff.”

Discussion: Elections

Iraq Occupation Focus seeks to promote open and informed discussion on the many difficult questions facing those of us campaigning to end the occupation – among them the issues raised by the elections promised for January 2005. The views presented below represent only those of the individual or group indicated. We welcome further views and comment on this issue.

The timetable endorsed by the UN is: elections to National Assembly at end of January, 2005; new constitution voted on in referendum in August 2005; direct elections for new government in December 2005.

In Arab Media Watch, 11 July, Munir Chalabi writes: “In order to bring an end to occupation and the suffering of the Iraqi people, and to reunite all sectors of Iraqi society, free elections supervised by international/UN bodies are necessary. Only this way can the Iraqi people decide their future, secure democracy and prevent the return of a new dictatorship similar to Saddam’s regime. That is why the representatives of the truly Iraqi armed resistance, together with other patriotic and religious movements, should hold political negotiations to ensure the success of free elections, to keep Iraq united, to end the occupation and to defeat the hidden agendas of the occupying forces and terrorist organisations...”

Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation report (12 July) that efforts are underway to form a broad united front that can effectively campaign for free democratic elections in Iraq...In a statement on 9 July, Sheikh Abdul Mahdi Al-Karballai, Ayotalla Sistani’s representative in Karballa, called for “preparing the grounds for free local elections in Iraq that can manage local affairs without depending on promises that the Iraqi people do not believe”. He called for “formation of broad national reconciliation government” in preparations for elections and for “popular participation to guarantee the will of the people.”

Said Aburish, a former advisor to the Iraqi government and author of Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge says: “Authoritarianism has not left Iraq for good. The Americans will throw their weight behind interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in the next elections – they will interfere with the elections and ensure that a pro-American stays in power. Authoritarian regimes do not happen overnight, they start off as democracies and then are hijacked by those who claim they need greater powers to help the people. That is what I predict will happen in Iraq.”

The Christian Science Monitor reports: “With so much emphasis on first controlling violence, some Iraq specialists worry that elections are getting short shrift. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has sent mixed signals recently saying that elections might take place as soon as November, but then indicating they might have to be postponed beyond the outside date of the United Nations stipulated date of January 2005. Starting elections earlier in secure regions would be a way to convince Iraqis that their fledgling democracy is not a sham, some experts say... ‘The problem with saying there will be national elections [held on the same day] is that you are essentially telling that part of the country opposed to them that they can stop them,’ says Andrew Apostolou, an Iraq specialist at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington. ‘If we insist on national elections, we are potentially giving a veto to the terrorists.’ ... [others] experts say ... staggered elections could foment divisiveness. ‘Voting first in peaceful regions will signify that the country is not united,’ says Faleh Jabar, an Iraqi analyst at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. ‘With conditions as delicate as they are, that could be disastrous.’ Mr. Jabar believes elections will probably have to be postponed beyond the January deadline.... ”

Next Iraq Occupation Focus Organising meeting:
Tuesday, 10th August
[venue to be confirmed]
All welcome

Guest speaker on women’s rights in Iraq. Followed by planning future activities, including our day-conference on the occupation, scheduled for central London on 20 November.