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Iraq Occupation Focus Newsletter

Iraq Occupation Focus
www.iraqoccupationfocus.org.uk
Newsletter No. 5
August 18, 2004

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US-UK offensive on Iraqi cities

As we go to press, the US has begun its onslaught on the centre of Najaf. The confrontation in the holy city is the result of the offensive launched by US-led occupying forces against Iraqi towns and cities on 5th August. Since then, hundreds of Iraqis have been killed, including many civilians. The occupying forces have assaulted densely populated areas with F16s, helicopter gunships and tanks, killing 75 in one attack on Kut and 50 in another on Samarra. Battles between insurgents and occupying forces have been fought not only in Najaf, but in Amara (where British troops killed twenty), Ramadi, Nasiriyah, Basra, Samarra, Kut, Sadr City and other parts of Baghdad.

Meanwhile US soldiers have also been using lethal force to supress an, as yet unexplained, “disturbance” by around 200 detainees in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. At least two prisoners were killed and others injured when soldiers fired on them earlier today.

The offensive against Najaf has been condemned by nearly all political, religious and civil society groups in Iraq. Huge peaceful protests uniting Sunni and Shia and involving hundreds of thousands of people have taken place in towns and cities across the country. Shamefully, these have been ignored by most of the British media, especially the BBC.

Reports of the current situation are confused, with some claiming that a peace deal has been agreed by Moqtada Sadr (see al-Jazeera story for update) - although it is unclear whether Allawi and the American occupiers will accept anything less than a crushing military defeat of Sadr.



Stop The Slaughter In Najaf – Troops Out of Iraq!

Picket at 10 Downing Street
Friday 20th August
5pm – 7pm

Called by the Stop the War coalition
www.stopwar.org.uk



Downing Street vigil

On Sunday 15 August, more than 100 people joined an emergency vigil opposite 10 Downing Street called at short notice by IOF and Voices in the Wilderness. Speakers included Jeremy Corbyn MP, Haifa Zangana, Munir Chalabi, Liz Davies and Justin Alexander of Jubilee Iraq. A message of support from US Military Familes Speak Out was read to the protesters: “The occupation of Iraq is wrong. There is no right way to do the wrong thing. On behalf of Military Families Speak Out and on behalf of our sons and daughters, I tell you that it is time for the occupation to end. Bring Them Home Now!”



Oil workers stop supplies

On 10 August, oil workers in the southern city of Nasiriyah announced the suspension of shipments of oil and related products to Baghdad in protest at the US assault on Najaf. “We stopped pumping in protest of the inhuman conduct of the interim government and its cooperation with the occupation forces to ransack the holy city of Najaf and insult the Shia, their symbols and holy places,” a statement by the oil workers said.



Attempt to silence media

On 15 August, journalists were ordered out of the besieged city of Najaf by the US-appointed interim government. “From now on this city is closed,” a senior police officer told correspondents, who face arrest if they decide to stay on. The Paris-based media organisation, Reporters Without Borders deplored the move. “This blackout on news from the city is completely unacceptable and is unprecedented in Iraq. The presence of journalists in Najaf is vital since the worst atrocities are always committed in the absence of independent witnesses.” If the journalists leave, any new attack would be covered only by correspondents “embedded” with US military units. Meanwhile, Iraqi journalist Mohammad Kazem was arrested when he made a live broadcast from a rooftop in Najaf.

On 7 August, Allawi’s government ordered the closure of Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad office for one month. The International Federation of Journalists criticized Allawi’s government over “unacceptable and illogical censorship that casts a shadow over hopes for a new era of press freedom.” As reported in IOF Newsletter No.4, the interim government has had Al-Jazeera in its sites for some time. It was closed for a month earlier this year by the occupying forces – which also bombed its offices and killed one of its reporters in the invasion in March 2003. The 24-hour satellite news channel has 40 million viewers and is recognised as the leading independent broadcaster in the region. An attempt by the US to use its Arabic proxy satellite station Al Hurra (“The Free One”), based in Virginia, to penetrate Arab markets is reported to have failed miserably.



‘37,000’ killed by US–UK

An Iraqi group says more than 37,000 Iraqi civilians were killed between the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003 and October 2003. The People’s Kifah, or Struggle Against Hegemony, movement said that it carried out a detailed survey of Iraqi civilian fatalities during September and October 2003. The deputy general secretary and spokesperson of the movement told Aljazeera.net: “We are 100% sure that 37,000 civilian deaths is a correct estimate. Our study is the result of two months of hard work which involved hundreds of Iraqi activists and academics.”



4th September – Fat Cat tour

Meet 12 noon at the Shell Centre, near Waterloo Stn.

A colourful, theatrical tour of corporate war profiteers’ offices in Central London. Discover which British oil giant has plans to establish a “material and enduring presence” in Iraq, which British bank is trying to claw back $100m of Saddams debt’s, and which British mercenary firm recently won a $293m contract to provide “security” in Iraq.

Supported by the D10 group, Iraq Occupation Focus, the London Hotel & Catering Branch of the GMB Union, No Sweat, Rhythms of Resistance, Surrey CodePink & Voices UK. See www.voices.netuxo.co.uk/corporate.html#fatcat for more info.



War crimes in Najaf

Najaf’s top health official told Associated Press that “ambulances are prevented from reaching the injured people by the clashing parties. Our staff are not able to reach their hospitals. We are paralyzed.” The Christian Science Monitor reported that doctors said US-led forces had taken over the city’s best-equipped hospital, turning it into a base of operations and making it off limits to civilians, a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Major David Holahan of the US Marines told AP “We’ve pretty much just been patrolling and flying helicopters all over the place, and when we see something bad, we blow it up.”



The death penalty, the Danes and the Brits

Iraq’s US-appointed interim government has reinstated the death penalty, which it has ruled can be applied to anyone engaging in ambushes, hijacking, kidnapping, attacks on infrastructure and “endangering national security.” The decision led the Danish contingent in Iraq to suspend handing over prisoners to British forces. (Some 500 Danish soldiers operate under British command in southern Iraq.) “We’re making a suspension so we don’t risk ending up having the Iraqi government executing someone who was originally detained by Danish troops,” said a Danish defence spokesman. A Danish Colonel told newspapers: “The British systematically placed blindfolds over their captives’ eyes for long periods, forcing them to adopt stressful positions, and had the right to shout right in their faces.”



“We secure the oil trade”

Email from a US soldier serving in Iraq: “I am a 21 year old soldier of the United States Army. When I enlisted into the Army, I was thinking that the benefits that it would offer my family. Now it seems the only benefit that my family would be likely to see is the 250,000 dollar (sorry, your husband is dead) pay. We continue to do our jobs day by day, not clear of our true mission... we secure the oil trade. Tell me, Bush, is the look of terror on my family’s face and the other thousands of soldiers lost worth a couple hundred gallons? We talk to the Iraqi people day by day, and they say, ‘No changes have been made, you are occupiers.’ ”



Useful resources

The 36th Voices in the Wilderness UK newsletter is now available on-line with news and analysis on the 28 June "handover" and its aftermath; Iraq's detainees; US conscientious objectors; Iraq’s humanitarian situation and US/UK repression. A new (free) anti-occupation campaign postcard and the latest Voices briefing (‘So long as you win’: The US Government and Iraq’s elections) are also available. See www.voicesuk.org



Justice for Iraq’s detainees

Speaking Tour by Peggy Gish, co-ordinator of the Christian Peacemaker Team's Iraq Project, 12 -22 November 2004.

The US continues to detain at least 5000 Iraqis and is creating a long-term detention facility at Camp Bucca, near the Kuwaiti border. The Christian Peacemaker Teams have been focussing on the welfare of detainees since June 2003 (see www.cpt.org/iraq/iraq.php). They are currently running an ‘Adopt a Detainee’ campaign, pairing up anti-war and human rights groups with detainees in Iraq. The co-ordinator of the CPT’s Iraq project, Peggy Gish – currently in Iraq, where she has spent 11 of the last 18 months – will be in Britain from 12-22 November and is eager to speak to local anti-war groups. Contact Voices in the Wilderness UK, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1. tel. 0845 458 2564, e-mail: voices@voicesuk.org, web: www.voicesuk.org.



IOF day conference on the occupation

Saturday, 4 December, 2004
central London

Participants will include Tariq Ali, US Military Families Speak Out, plus speakers from Iraq. Workshops on educational and campaigning themes. Put the date in your diary.



Next IOF monthly organising meeting

Tuesday, 14 September, 7:15 pm,
SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, central London
Room G50

Guest speaker: Justin Alexander of Jubilee Iraq (anti-debt campaign). Justin has just returned from Iraq.

All welcome.