Is this what they mean by freedom ?” asked Zaidan Khalaf Mohammed on Tuesday after the US 82nd Airborne Division had killed his brother and two other family members in Sichir, central Iraq, in an air and ground assault on their one-storey home. The Americans had come, he said, “like terrorists”, while US forces claimed they had only attacked when they came under fire. No evidence was offered and none found.
These killings are after all merely the latest in a string of bloody “mistakes” by US occupation forces, including the repeated shooting of demonstrators, murderous attacks on carloads of civilians at roadblocks and this month’s massacre of members of the US-controlled Iraqi police force. In most countries, any of these incidents would have provoked a national or even an international outcry. But in occupied Iraq, US officials feel under no pressure to offer more than the most desultory explanation for the destruction of expendable Iraqi lives.
Six months after the launch of the invasion, it has become ever clearer that the war was not only a crime of aggression, but a gigantic political blunder for those who ordered it and who are only now beginning to grasp the scale of the political price they may have to pay. While George Bush has squandered his post-September 11 popularity, raising the spectre of electoral defeat next year as American revulsion grows at the cost in blood and dollars, Tony Blair’s leadership has been fatally undermined by the deception and subterfuge used to cajole Britain into a war it didn’t, and once again doesn’t, support.
Every key calculation the pair made – from the response of the UN to the number of troops needed and the likely level of popular support and resistance in Iraq – has proven faulty.
Whatever the formal outcome of the Hutton inquiry and the displacement activity of the government’s row with the BBC over an early-morning radio broadcast, it has unquestionably confirmed that Alastair Campbell and other Downing Street officials did strain every nerve to create the false impression of a chemical and biological weapons threat from Iraq, a threat that it is increasingly obvious did not exist.
Even more damagingly, the inquiry has revealed Blair’s reckless dismissal of the February warning by the joint intelligence committee that an attack on Iraq would increase the threat of terrorism.
Combined with the failure to find any weapons, the admission by the former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix that he now believes Iraq long ago destroyed them and the discrediting of a litany of propaganda ploys (links with al-Qaida, the forged Niger uranium documents, the 45-minute weapons launch claim), Hutton has helped to strip the last vestige of possible legal cover from the aggression and shift opinion against the war.
So has the chaos and resistance on the ground in Iraq, where guerrilla attacks on US soldiers are running at a dozen a day and US casualties are now over 300 dead and 1,500 wounded. Latest estimates of Iraqi civilian war deaths are close to 10,000, while in the security vacuum hundreds more are now being being killed every week, a point driven home by yesterday’s bomb attacks in Baghdad and Mosul. In Baghdad alone, there has been a 25-fold increase in gun-related killings since the invasion, from 20 to more than 500 last month.
Paul Bremer, the head of the US occupation authority, insists “there is enormous gratitude for what we have done”, and the dwindling band of cheerleaders for war have seized on contradictory and questionable Baghdad opinion surveys conducted by western pollsters to back the claim.
But it is not the story told by US defence department officials, who last week conceded that hostility to the occupation and support for armed resistance was growing and spreading well beyond Iraq’s Sunni heartlands. Hence George Bush’s humiliating return to the UN this week. But any attempt to prettify US-led colonial rule in Iraq in the colours of the UN (already the target of armed attacks) is no more likely to work than the League of Nations mandate Britain secured in Iraq in the 1920s. As then, the US and Britain insist in true colonial style that Iraqis “are not ready” to rule themselves, and the hostility to President Chirac’s demand for an early transfer of sovereignty confirms that the US will willingly hand over power only once it is confident of controlling the political outcome.
The real meaning of US promises of freedom and democracy was spelled out this week by two decisions of the US-appointed, and increasingly discredited, Iraqi Governing Council. The first was to put the entire economy, except oil, up for sale to foreign capital, combined with a sweeping free-market shock therapy programme, pre-empting the decisions of any elected Iraqi government. The second was to impose restrictions on the Arabic satellite TV stations al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya for their reports on the resistance to the occupation.
The reality is that the occupation offers no route to democracy, which is unlikely to favour US interests. What is needed is a political decision to end the occupation, a timetable for early withdrawal and the temporary replacement of the invading armies with an acceptable security force, perhaps provided by the Arab League, while free elections are held for a constituent assembly under UN auspices.
But none of that is likely to happen unless the US, the UK and their allies find the burden of occupation greater than that of withdrawal. Unpalatable though it may be, it is the Iraqi resistance that has transformed the balance of power over Iraq in the past six months, as it has frustrated US efforts to impose its will on the country and the US public has begun to grasp the price of military rule over another people.
By demonstrating the potential costs of pre-emptive invasion, the resistance has also reduced the threat of US attacks against other potential targets, such as Iran, North Korea, Syria and Cuba. Bush, Blair and the newly cowed BBC absurdly describe those defending their own country as “terrorists” – as all colonialist and occupation forces have done – and accuse them of being “Saddam loyalists”.
In fact, the evidence suggests a much more varied political make-up, but if Bush and Blair have managed to achieve a partial rehabilitation of Ba’athism in Iraq they have only themselves to blame.
There is now a popular majority in Britain against the war and the occupation. Blair has repeatedly emphasised his personal judgment in the decision to join Bush’s war – and that judgment has been shown to be fatally flawed. Iraq has become the crucible of global politics and the testbed for the US drive to global domination. It is in the interests of the security of us all that there is now a political reckoning at home and in the US for that aggression.
“Other News” is a personal initiative seeking to provide information that should be in the media but is not, because of commercial criteria. It welcomes contributions from everybody. Work areas include information on global issues, north-sutrh relations, gobernability of globalization. The “Other News” motto is a phrase which appeared on the wall of Barcelonaâ€™s old Customs Office, at the beginning of 2003:â€?What walls utter, media keeps silentâ€?. Roberto Savio