On the same day — March 12 — that PM Kevin Rudd was talking turkey (or literally: wheat) with Iraq's puppet prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, Muntadhar al Zaidi, who became famous after throwing shoes at US President George Bush, was sentenced to three years' jail.
What a topsy-turvy world we live in where a courageous journalist (a sadly rare breed) gets three years, while Bush, the war criminal himself — shameless about his responsibility for more than a million deaths — is rewarded with a retirement pension of almost $200,000 per year!
But then again the Iraq war from the beginning was steeped in injustice and reeking of hypocrisy. In the last year and a half, the new governments of Kevin Rudd and now Barrack Obama have made much of their promises to withdraw some "combat troops" from Iraq.
Yet the bulk of US forces will remain in Iraq until late 2010 — and a "transitional" force of some 50,000 US soldiers will remain even longer. That's significantly more than the number of military "advisors" the US deployed in the early years of the Vietnam War (the US Military Assistance Advisory initially Group involved less than 1000 people).
In the new "democratic" Iraq, Iraqis will never be allowed to choose a government that poses a serious threat to US interests in the country or in the Middle East as a whole.
While our rulers would have us focus our attention elsewhere, the war is continuing — and the country remains in a dire situation. One small example of this was on February 16, when a group of teenage Iraqis playing football hit an unexploded shell or rocket and were obliterated.
The number of Iraqi refugees has grown to close to 5 million, according to the UN High Commission on Regugees. Although many of these had been displaced prior to 2003, the majority have became refugees after the US-led invasion.
And the war goes on. On February 24, for example, the US Defence Department released the names of three soldiers killed during a firefight with Iraqi guerrillas. Of course, much of the war remains hidden thanks to the new records being set by the US employing "private security contractors" — mercenaries.
On August 27, 2008, USA Today reported that, "This year, spending on contractors, who protect diplomats, civilian facilities and supply convoys, is projected to exceed $1.2 billion, according to federal contract and budget data ... Most of that bill — about $1 billion — is State Department spending, which is up 13% over 2007. The remaining $200 million covers Pentagon contracts."
Despite many twists and turns in the policies of the imperialist powers, there is one thread of consistency when it comes to Iraq: Iraqi lives don't count for shit as far as our rulers are concerned. That's as true now, when we're told the war is all but over, as it was in the days when Saddam Hussein ruled the country and gassed Iranians and Kurds with the support of the West.
Back in happier times when the US/UN sanctions regime had only managed to kill a few hundred thousand Iraqi kids, Bill Clinton's secretary of state, Madeline Albright, remarked in a famous exchange that the carnage caused by the barbaric siege had been worth it. This callous disregard for Iraqi lives has gone hand-in-hand with the West's focus on the big prize at stake in Iraq: oil.
Contrast this approach to the sentiment that motivated al Zaidi's shoe throwing: he could not stand idly by as he "had the feeling that the blood of innocent people was dropping on my feet during the time that [Bush] was smiling".
When Rudd met Maliki he promised to increase Australia's $165 million "aid" budget to Iraq. This includes Australia's contribution to "security". It is a small price to pay for a projected 200% increase in Australian wheat exports to Iraq and the possibility of joining the plundering of the country's oil resources.
Genuine freedom and national sovereignty remain a distant prospect for Iraq, and the country's infrastructure is still devastated. That's why Iraq needs a different kind of support: solidarity, including ongoing anti-war demonstrations.