IRAQ: US defers 'democracy', intensifies repression

Issue 

BY ROHAN PEARCE

"For us, the war is still going on", a US soldier in the town of Samarra, north of Baghdad, told the London Financial Times on May 30. He showed the FT's correspondent the impact marks from mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) that had been fired at US troops. Over the previous week, at least five soldiers had been injured in the town.

The attacks on the occupation forces in Samarra have escalated since US troops killed at least three Iraqi civilians — aged 12, 13 and 22 — during a wedding celebration on May 26. Later, a 16-year-old Iraqi wounded in the attack died in hospital. Two days later, two Iraqi children were decapitated by US gunfire at a checkpoint near the town. Their father had been rushing to get home before the US-imposed 11pm curfew.

The situation in Samarra isn't unique — throughout Iraq there have been daily attacks on US soldiers since US President George Bush's May 1 announcement that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended".

According to the June 10 Washington Post, at least 39 US troops have been killed by Iraqis since the capture of Baghdad on April 9. Washington has tried to blame the deaths solely on "Baathist elements". However, the fact that the attacks are so widespread, and in many cases have been preceded by provocations by US forces, makes this doubtful.

In early June alone, attacks on US forces included:

  • June 5: In Fallujah one soldier was killed and five wounded after an RPG or mortar attack. In Baghdad, two soldiers were shot.

  • June 6: US patrol was shot at with small arms and an RPG in Fallujah.

  • June 7: US troops were ambushed near Tikrit by Iraqis using small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. One soldier was killed and four were injured.

  • June 8: Gunmen shot and killed a US soldier at a checkpoint in Al Qaim. A New York Times article on the incident reported that, in Baghdad: "Over the last eight days, unknown men attacked an American patrol with hand grenades and small arms in Adhamiya, an American military policemen [sic] was shot in the chest in the Sadr City neighborhood [a Shiite-dominated part of the city], and a grenade was thrown into an American humvee in the Mansoor district. Military officials also said there were two grenade attacks in the capital."

  • June 10: One US paratrooper was killed, and another injured, after an RPG attack in southwest Baghdad.

  • June 12: A US Apache attack helicopter was shot down in western Iraq.

While most of the attacks on US forces have occurred in areas with a Sunni majority — followers of the strand of Islam which provided the social base for Saddam Hussein's regime — Shiite areas have seen signs of discontent with US/British-rule. For example, in the southern city of Basra, 2000 Shiite Muslims protested against the British occupation forces, according to a June 7 BBC report. Protesters chanted "No to Tony Blair, no to Satan". One of the protesters' banners read: "Where is freedom when the governor is a foreigner and the council is unelected?"

The BBC reported that a petition calling for "Iraqi national committees to be allowed to ensure law and order in Basra province" and the revocation of UN Security Council Resolution 1483, which recognised Britain and the US as occupying powers in the country, was presented to British troops. Hundreds of lawyers staged another demonstration demanding that the Baathist judges in the city, reinstated by British troops, be sacked.

The response of Washington to the continuing Iraqi opposition to the occupation has been two-fold — defer "democracy" until it can guarantee a stable, pro-US regime, and step up repression.

A June 7 report in the Washington Times reported on a press conference held by the Coalition Provisional Authority — the US-British body run by Paul Bremer, the task of which is to rule Iraq.

"If we had an electoral process now, it would be in a climate that would not be as secure as we like... If you have a free and open democratic process in an undeveloped political climate like we have here, it will be dominated by the extremes of the Iraqi political figures", stated a CPA representative.

Instead, the CPA intends to convene a "constitutional convention" by mid-July and select an "advisory council" of Iraqis. A spokesperson for the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), believed to be one of the largest Shiite-based political organisations in Iraq, told journalists: "We are concerned that the participants of the [constitutional convention] are to be chosen by the coalition, not the Iraqis themselves. We would like to see the Iraqi administration selected by Iraqis, and we believe we have this mandate from the UN Security Council." He said that SCIRI "can't be part of an appointed administration".

In the biggest escalation of repression by the occupation forces, on June 9, 4000 US troops, backed by helicopter gunships, jet fighters and patrol boats, cordoned off a 75-kilometre area around the Tigris river towns of Thuluya and Balad, 70km north of Baghdad, and began house-to-house searches for "subversive elements" and weapons.

Lieutenant-General David McKiernan, the commander of US ground forces in Iraq, refused to say how many Iraqis had died in the offensive, code-named Operation Peninsula Strike, but he told reporters it had been carried out with "great lethality".

According to a June 13 Associated Press report, in Thuluya: "With helicopters whirring overhead and tanks offering cover, [US troops] kicked down doors and pulled out residents... Troops rounded up hundreds of people for questioning, although most young people were freed within hours...

"In a mourner's tent on a side street of the mostly shuttered town, Abid Ali Jassem al Juburi, a former general in Saddam's army, said he was grieving for his brother and cousin who died early in the US operation. 'My brother was beaten, hit in the face and was killed', he said, adding that US troops took away medicine his family was bringing for a cousin who had suffered a heart attack 'and smashed it under their feet'."

The US troops "destroyed all our furniture, all our belongings", another resident told AP.

According to the June 13 British Guardian: "Senior [US] generals now admit that the resistance they describe as 'bad guys' are becoming increasingly sophisticated. US soldiers on the ground have spoken of the accuracy and skill of their attackers. Most are armed with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, as well as handguns and assault rifles. Some attacks appear to be coordinated with signalling flares."

McKiernan told reporters: "Iraq is still a combat zone." Of the US Army's 10 divisions, five — some 180,000 troops — are now involved in the occupation of Iraq or supporting it.

From Green Left Weekly, June 18, 2003.

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