"We talked about Iraq, how Iraq is changing for the better, how people are beginning to realize the blessings of a free and peaceful society" — such statements from US President George Bush started looking increasingly surreal for even the most fervent supporters of the Iraq invasion long before the war had seen out its first anniversary.
This claim by Bush, however, was not made during the initial heady days of "mission accomplished", but during a June 12 media event with right-wing Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Even by the obscene underestimation of media and official reports, as collated by the Iraq Body Count project, at least 84,389 Iraqis have died since the March 20, 2003 US-led invasion. Among the most recent deaths to receive at least the dubious dignity of being recognised by a government or military spokesperson, or a sentence or two in the corporate media, were eight Iraqis in Sadr City.
The eight Iraqis reaped the "blessings" sowed by Bush's war policy in the form of an air strike by US helicopters. Sadr City is a predominantly Shiite slum suburb of Baghdad that has been a hotbed of anti-occupation resistance, mostly led by the movement of rebel Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr.
The real toll of the occupation is without a doubt far higher than the Iraq Body Count's tally: there is little doubt that more than a million Iraqis have lost their life, directly through armed conflict and "indirectly" through the scourge of hunger, disease and other byproducts of an occupation that has wreaked havoc on the country's infrastructure and social fabric.
The "changes for the better" as a result of the continuing occupation of their country continue to elude a large number of Iraqis, who have expressed their opposition to the
occupation through a new round of mass demonstrations. On May 30, thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in a number of locations, including Kut, Nasiriyah, Najaf and Sadr City.
Seemingly ignorant of the "blessings of a free peaceful society" courtesy of the White House, protesters chanted "No, no to America! No, no to the occupation!" The demonstrators — "followers of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr", reported to the Washington Post — opposed a treaty that would help give the continuing US-led occupation a new legal fig leaf.
The Post noted that the "proposed long-term security pact with the United States would provide a legal framework for U.S. troops to remain in Iraq after Dec. 31, when their UN mandate expires".
A June 10 Post report noted: "High-level negotiations over the future role of the U.S. military in Iraq have turned into an increasingly acrimonious public debate, with Iraqi politicians denouncing what they say are U.S. demands to maintain nearly 60 bases in their country indefinitely."
The paper quoted one politician — Sami al Askari, who is "close"to Iraqi PM Nouri al Maliki and serves on the parliament's foreign relations committee — as saying: "The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq."
The Post reported that failing to reach agreement that formally authorised the US occupation would be a "strategic setback" for the White House "which says that such a presence is essential to promoting stability'", and that unless an arrangement is reached with the Iraqi parliament, or an extension of the UN mandate for the occupation is received, US troops will have "no legal basis to remain in Iraq".
A June 8 New York Times article noted that the "proposed security agreement would cover the status of American troops in Iraq, control of Iraqi airspace and immunity for security contractors".
Iraqi opposition has not stilted public confidence by US officials that an agreement will be signed. "We're confident it can be achieved, and by the end of July deadline", said the State Department's David Satterfield — the department's top adviser on Iraq — according to a June 6 Associated Press report. "Satterfield bristled at suggestions by another senior U.S. official that it was 'very possible' Washington may have to extend the existing UN mandate", AP reported.
According to Patrick Cockburn, in a June 12 article in the British Independent, the Iraqi reaction to "US demands for the long-term use of military bases and other rights has been so furious that Washington is now offering limited concessions in the negotiations". However, Cockburn added: "In practice, there is less to the American 'concessions' than would first appear. For example, the US is lowering the number of bases it wants from 58 to 'the low dozens' and says it is willing to compromise on legal immunity for foreign contractors according to information leaked to this reporter.
"But the US currently only maintains about 30 large bases in Iraq, some the size of small cities; the rest are 'forward operating bases."