From A World to Win News Service

Better or Worse? Iraq a Year On

Revolutionary Worker #1235, April 4, 2004, posted at

We received the following from A World to Win News Service.

March 22, 2004. A World to Win News Service."Maybe we didn't find any weapons of mass destruction, but we got rid of a really terrible dictator." A year after the war started, now that the "weapons of mass destruction" that served as the original pretext have vanished, this is the official line, from Bush to Blair and including some people who like to think themselves morally superior to the world's most hated man and his lapdog. There is no more truth to it than their now- discredited lies that Saddam threatened New York and London with mushroom clouds.

"One Big Guantánamo"

The prisons that Saddam himself, for whatever opportunist reason, emptied before the U.S. invasion, are now filling up again. The U.S.-led occupation forces are holding more than 10,000 men and boys in custody, along with several hundred women. Their ages run from 11 to 76, according to a military database disclosed in The New York Times (March 7). The list itself is secret. Very few of these captives have been charged with anything specific. None have lawyers. Most are denied contact with the outside world.

"Many families still have no idea where their men are," the newspaper wrote. "Often they were led away in the middle of the night, with bags over their heads and no explanation. Many people have said that when they asked soldiers where their family members were being taken, they were told to shut up. Several men recently released from American jails in Iraq have said they were kicked in the head, choked and put in cold, wet rooms for days at a time. The American authorities declined to comment on the charges."

The daily describes Abu Ghraib prison, a symbol of the worst of the Saddam regime and now a major U.S. facility, as "a nucleus of despair. Every day crowds of women in black shrouds jam the front gates, squinting up at the guard towers, clutching worn pieces of paper, pleading with guards to see their missing men. `Move! Move! Move!' an American sergeant shouted at them on a recent day."

"Iraq has been turned into one big Guantánamo," an Iraqi human rights lawyer commented bitterly. "Nothing has changed," people outside Abu Ghraib told a UK antiwar activist currently writing a Web page from Iraq ( "The Americans are the same as Saddam."

In the last week photos of American guards torturing, beating, and sexually abusing Abu Ghraib prisoners have surfaced. Following complaints from within the ranks of U.S. soldiers, the military was recently obliged to relieve 17 military police and officers of their duties, although there has been no further punishment so far. (Many U.S. MPs are reservists who are cops in civilian life as well.) Similar practices by British troops came to light in February when a young man they beat and "bagged" (in this case, suffocated to death) turned out to be the son of a current high-ranking Iraqi army officer. Survivors say such treatment is common practice.

How the People Live and Die

The occupiers throw around a lot of money, mainly for their own purposes and also to buy off some people (family members of people they get caught killing are given cash handouts). For the first time in 13 years, Iraq's economy is no longer being strangled by a U.S.-led blockade. So for some people, business is better.

More electricity is being generated in the country now, because the occupiers need electricity to run the oil wells and save their troops from having to patrol in the dark. Some schools the U.S. bombed have been patched and painted. But when the UK activist toured Sadr City, Afdhalia and Diyala--three large poor neighborhoods in Baghdad--she couldn't find a single school with a working toilet or intact windows. In the so-called Sunni Triangle north and west of the capital, some schools are empty because the occupiers have arrested every single teacher.

There is a third less clean drinking water available than before the war. This means that many people, especially the poor, are drinking water that will make them sick or kill them. Although some hospitals have been rebuilt, common, desperately needed medications are still unavailable for ordinary people.

Iraq once had the best medical system in the Middle East. Now it has one of the world's highest infant mortality rates. Out of every 1,000 children born, 108 die within their first year, two and a half times more than before the blockade began. By comparison, this is about 20 times higher than most of Western Europe and almost twice as high as India and Bangladesh.

The chief resident of Iskan children's hospital in Baghdad told the Washington Post March 5, "The most important thing for Americans is their interest: the Ministry of Oil. That is where the money is going. They don't give medical supplies or oxygen any thought." Even basic cleaning supplies are scarce. A security guard told the reporter that twice during the last few months doctors at that hospital were attacked by families of babies who died because they were denied things like incubators.

A country's infant mortality rate is one of the most obvious ways that numbers reveal the unnecessary suffering of the people. Clean water to prevent diarrhea and simple antibiotics to cure it can cut deaths drastically. Iraq's infant mortality rate is one of the surest signs of the degree to which the occupation treats Iraqi lives as cheap.

The Mounting War Dead

This situation that Bush and Blair feel so good about came at the price of 8,769- 10,618 civilian deaths during the last year, according to the academic organisation Iraq Body Count. An official at the Iraqi Interior Ministry told The New York Times March 18 that the U.S.-led occupation forces have killed about 500 Iraqi civilians over the last year. The director of the Human Rights Organization of Iraq said that more than 400 families have filed reports of wrongful deaths at the hands of U.S. soldiers.

In February 2003, Rumsfeld predicted that the war the U.S. was about to launch "could take six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." Long after the capture of Saddam Hussein, U.S. troops are still being killed at an average rate of one or two a day, along with other "coalition" forces and their "civilian" henchmen of all nationalities. The U.S. and its allies had lost 672 soldiers as of March 18.

Which Iraqis Are on Top?

"To understand how Baghdad feels one year after the fall of Saddam Hussein, you need only climb its class ladder," a BBC reporter said March 18. "The higher you go, the better it looks." Sadr City, a Baghdad slum of more than two million mostly Shia people repressed under the old regime, is no different today. The main difference, she concluded, is that while some people hoped that after the downfall of Saddam things would be different, that feeling has evaporated. But in the wealthy Mansour district, once empty store shelves are now overflowing with electronic goods, fashionable clothing, and other luxury items.

It is ironic that despite all their bragging about bringing "democracy" to Iraq, the U.S. has insisted that any elections are impossible for the next year or two at least, even though Saddam was able to hold them regularly. But with or without elections, there is nothing democratic about the Iraqi society and regime the U.S. is trying to consolidate.

After next June, the Iraqi Governing Council is to be handed formal authority. The members of this rag-tag gang of clerics and sheiks, U.S.-style wealthy businessmen-politicians, and Kurdish leaders on the CIA payroll were all picked by the occupiers on the basis of their willingness to follow U.S. orders. The Kurdish leaders have subordinated Kurdish self-determination to U.S. interests. Shia figures like al-Sistani want to establish a pro-U.S. version of Iran's medieval Islamic Republic. Then there are the remnants of Saddam's regime. How could these men bring about any kind of democratic future for Iraq, no matter how the U.S. finally decides to organize them?

Obviously the post-June "sovereign" government will be a puppet regime. But more than that, the composition of the Governing Council shows that the American strategy to ensure long-term U.S. control over Iraq is to ally itself with the country's most backward social forces: landowners and tribal and clan tyrants whose authority is based on the most repressive relations in Iraqi society, and capitalists whose future lies not in the country's development but in becoming the U.S.'s junior partners. These are more or less the same classes on which Saddam's regime was based, with only minor variations in terms of the interests of the people.

That is why it is not surprising that the army and police forces of the "new Iraq" are largely made up of men and especially officers from the "old Iraq." "Many generals" from the old regime were sworn in to the new Iraqi army in a ceremony held by the U.S. 101st Airborne Division and organized by a committee of retired Iraqi generals in January, according to UK Independent correspondent Patrick Cockburn. Of the 15,249 Iraqi police enrolled as of March 12, 12,422 were members of the old and justly hated police corps. Bush and Blair pretended to be liberating the Iraqi people from these enforcers of oppression, but instead they are recruiting them. The difference from a year ago is that now these men are just auxiliaries to the real armed power in Iraq: the U.S. and the UK and their allies.

Iraq's Future

The "handover" to an Iraqi prime minister doesn't mean that the occupation will end after June 30. Plans call for an American four-star general to be in command, assisted by an American three-star general and a British deputy. In short, the "new" Iraq" is worse than the old one in at least one very important way. Now, instead of just being up against Saddam Hussein and what he represented, the people of Iraq have the weight of the world's mightiest power and its allies pressing them down.