OPINION:

Remote Control “Democracy” in Iraq

by Chris Knipp

“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.”
The first thing to keep in mind 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, from The Independent in the UK, is that 1,700 civilians were killed and 8,000 wounded in Baghdad alone during the U.S. invasion. The website “Iraq Body Count” (iraqbodycount.net) at press time gave a range of from 5,334 to 6,942 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.

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 gangs and individuals 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. People are begging for security because it isn’t safe for them to go outside. The American soldiers, however well-meaning they may be, lack the forces or the training to provide it.

Nor do the American overseers—even with General Jay Garner replaced—seem clear about their task. One problem they can’t seem to solve is the issue of the Ba’ath Party under whose banner Saddam ruled. Since the invasion, prominent Ba’ath Party officials have been appointed by the Americans to head ministries. Meanwhile it’s rumored that Ba’ath leaders are being systematically assassinated and government recruits are to be asked to sign statements “renouncing” the Ba’ath Party.

Clearly there is a dilemma here: the Ba’ath 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 former exiles, know how to choose a new leadership? How can such a leadership be free of the “taint” of Ba’athism? And why should the occupiers choose a leadership anyway? Can you hand-pick ‘democratic leaders’?

Full of contradictions as it is, the occupation presents the 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 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 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.

As a result, the latest anti-occupation demonstration among many (the most notorious one being in Falluja, April 30, when U.S. troops killed 14 and wounded 70) drew people 10,000-strong into the streets of Baghdad on May 19, the escalating numbers courtesy of 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, was thankfully bloodless.

Ten thousand was a small number, however, considering the publicized discontent in the country over the continued absence of public services or any degree of organization and solvency that would allow people to return to work.

According to a USA Today story (“Hostility toward U.S. Troops is Running High,” March 7), many feel that the US invasion destroyed not only Hussein’s regime, but their lives and futures as well. It is not so much a question whether Iraqis will begin attacking Americans, but when, and whether a full-scale revolt will develop. And then, no doubt, the response in Iraq will mirror the scene of another occupation: 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, suicide bombers again in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, 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 seen on that infamous day. Saddam, it is practically certain, never had anything to do with the 9-11 attacks, and neither did the suffering Iraqi people.

The American drift towards repression at home compounds the absurdity of pretending to impose ‘democracy’ by force and manage it by remote control. John Ashcroft uses the PATRIOT Act to remove civil rights. Draft-dodger 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.

It seems likely that the election-fixing mechanisms in place in Florida and the Supreme Court will be made nationwide and Bush’s second re-election will be assured. The propaganda machine is already in place 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 were apparently exaggerated. According to the National Coalition for History’s May 7 Update (Vol. 9, No. 20), it is now believed that the vast majority of the antiquities feared stolen or destroyed 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.)


Chris Knipp is an artist and sometime soldier, Arabist, teacher, and long-distance runner. He grew up in Baltimore and has lived in New York, Cairo, Rabat, and San Francisco. Visit his website at chrisknipp.com



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This story was published on June 4, 2003.