Iraq: hope from below

Submitted by Anon on 22 October, 2003 - 6:05

By Clive Bradley

Serious cracks are appearing in the Bush administration's handling of post-war Iraq. A new body, the Iraq Stabilization Group, has been set up under the leadership of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, which will take some of the power over the running of Iraq away from the Pentagon and the so-called Coalition Provisional Authority.
This is a reflection of the fact that things are not going well on the ground, and public opinion in the US is shifting against the occupation, and against Bush. Time magazine (28 September) asked "So what went wrong?", pointing out that Bush's claim that the war was over on 1 May was entirely false. The war drags on.

Bush, like Blair, faces increasing criticism over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. The suggestion that Saddam Hussein possessed such weapons (never mind was able to use them "within 45 minutes" as the British parliament was told), seems to have been a bare-faced lie-a "bureaucratic reason" to justify war, as US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it.

So far not a single WMD has been found-and even the small phial of toxin which was believed to be the basis for one turned out not to be. All of which is highly embarrassing for the American and British governments. In fact, part of their argument for war had been that Saddam intended to create WMD, which he had possessed in the past, and the Kay report on them confirms that this was his intention. But the war-mongers over-egged their case, and now it is rebounding on them.

Bush wants Congressional approval for a whopping $87 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq, most of it for military purposes. Government agency the Office of Management and Budget had estimated, prior to the war, that it would cost a paltry $50 to $60 million. Bush now faces a rock and a hard place: spend the money needed to restore order and perhaps some prosperity to Iraq-at US taxpayers' expense; or watch the situation degenerate further. Both of these options are close to disastrous in the run-up to a presidential election.

Iraq remains a country in chaos. The Governing Council, a body which appears surreally disconnected from the people it supposedly represents, is attempting to draft a constitution-but unlikely to finish doing so within the six months given to it by US Secretary of State Colin Powell. And on the ground-a report from Occupation Watch gives some of the flavour:

"In Al-Thawra (now Al-Sadr) district [of Baghdad] of three million inhabitants, mostly farmers who immigrated to the capital over the last 50 years, four or five families live in a house measuring an average of 200 square metres. Most of them are among the newly unemployed, widows, and disabled. The majority are ex-prisoners of war or ex-soldiers released from service because the Iraqi army was dissolved after the war. Many families are homeless or squatting in public, deserted buildings or schools. The schools squatted by families in deprived areas are inadequate buildings, basically large barracks, without any furniture. Eighteen families (120 individuals) with no running water and no private sanitation inhabit a school in section 37 of Al-Thawra.

"Section 76 practically floats over a sewage lake. Some families live in the garbage. These places became key centers of organised crime. The religious parties succeeded in reducing the number of thefts, but there are other uncontrolled crimes like the stealing of electric cables and the melting of these cable in open smelting areas, a process that emits black thick smoke and further contaminates the environment.

"From big diesel and gasoline tankers, people sell openly in the black market. Given the lack of security, legitimate economic activity has been thwarted, prices have gone up, and gangs have been easily transformed into crime syndicates."

According to the latest figures, nearly 8,000 people have died since the war started in March. Some estimates put the number of deaths per month-now-at over 700. (Robert Fisk in The Independent claimed 1,000). Most of these are the result of murders, rather than repression. But the occupation forces-the British in the south, and the US in the central area-are becoming increasingly unpopular. One report comments: "At best Iraqis think that the US has completely botched their responsibilities and at worst they think the US has been intentionally fomenting chaos and insecurity in Iraq. No one that I talked with thought that the US should stay for more than a few months..." (John Farrell, Voices in the Wilderness).

In the north, the story seems somewhat different, with-in the former areas of the Kurdish enclave, and also in the large towns of Mosul and Kirkuk-a much smaller US military presence, and where relations between occupiers and occupied seem calmer.

Some forms of local democracy, rooted in the communities themselves, seem to be forming-alongside such organisations as the Union of the Unemployed-and independent of the mosques or organised Islamist groups. Information on them is scarce to non-existent, but there are, apparently, regular reports on Iranian radio about them. These grass-roots democratic bodies are a sign of hope. It is to be hoped, too, that trade union organisation begins to develop. These movements of the Iraqi people "from below" should be the focus of solidarity in Britain and Europe.

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