The world press on Iraq

Guardian: Relief groups have been told they must be an "arm of the U.S. government" in Iraq.


Compiled by Laura McClure
June 25, 2003 11:42PM (UTC)

United Kingdom, Patrick Cockburn in the Independent

As temperatures reached a scorching 45C (113F) in Baghdad last week people in al-Thawra, a sprawling working-class slum, unearthed hidden rifles and threatened to kill the manager of the local electrical sub-station if he did not resume power supplies.

Advertisement:

"Some had guns and others threw stones at us, but I told them this was just a sub-station and we aren't receiving any electricity," said Bassim Arman, the harassed-looking manager...

Electricity is vital to life in the Iraqi capital where the temperature can soar as high as 60C (140F) at the height of summer. Without it there is no air-conditioning, no refrigerators to prevent food rotting and no light in a city terrified by looters. The failure to get the electrical system working has become a symbol for Iraqis in the capital of the general failure of the American occupation to provide living conditions even at the miserable level they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein.

Asked about Baghdad's lack of electricity at an air-conditioned press conference, Paul Bremer, the American head of the occupation authority, looking cool in a dark suit and quiet purple tie, simply asserted that, with a few exceptions, Baghdad was now receiving 20 hours of electricity a day. "It simply isn't true," said one Iraqi, shaking his head in disbelief after listening to Mr. Bremer. "Everybody in Baghdad knows it."

Even the few Iraqis who have joined the Coalition Provisional Authority under Mr. Bremer -- which operates out of Saddam Hussein's heavily fortified Republican Palace in the centre of the capital -- describe the American officials administering Iraq as "living in an air-conditioned fantasy world"...

Only 15 minutes' walk from Mr. Bremer's office Shamsedin Mansour, a poor shopkeeper in an alleyway off al-Rashid street, gave a bleak picture of how he and his neighbours live. "We have had no electricity for six days," he said. "Many of our people are suffering from heart problems because of the heat. We live with as many as 42 people in a house and do not have the money to buy even a small generator. Without light at night it is easy for gangs of thieves with guns to take over the streets, and the shooting keeps us awake. If we try to protect ourselves with arms, the Americans arrest us."

Hong Kong, Jim Lobe in Asia Times

Advertisement:

The "Q" word -- for quagmire -- has made it back into mainstream-media discourse as the impression grows that U.S. troops may be facing a guerrilla war, rather than isolated "pockets of resistance" of die-hard Ba'athists.

Some officers on the ground have complained before television cameras that they are far too thinly spread to impose order over such a large country, particularly when it appears that, at least in some parts at least, the natives do not particularly appreciate the presence of U.S. troops, and a well-armed and tenacious few are trying to kill them. What's more, they are succeeding, and at an accelerating rate; in the past couple of weeks -- that is, six weeks after Bush declared the war won, they have killed an average of about one U.S. soldier every two days and wounded several more...

Advertisement:

"The army is getting bogged down in a morale-numbing fourth generation war in Iraq that is now taking on some appearances of the Palestinian intifada," noted one recent comment on an all-military website, Defense and the National Interest, while another on the same site predicted that the Pentagon's plans for rotating new units into occupation duty could well "melt down" the army's personnel system within the year.

And then there was this little-noticed headline that appeared in USA Today based on a Senate hearing in which Wolfowitz had testified, "US troops may be in Iraq for 10 Years: defense officials reportedly seek up to $54 billion a year." Wolfowitz, who before the war had ridiculed Shinseki's estimates, now agreed that a US withdrawal was not in prospect...

The question that comes to mind is, what is going on? Despite the radical trajectory on which [hawks] have taken U.S. foreign policy since September 11, the complacency, especially among Democrats, has been truly remarkable, and much of the "opposition" still isn't reading, or at least absorbing, what the foreign policy ideologues behind Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz write or say, for that matter.

Advertisement:

"This fourth World War, I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us," Woolsey said in the third week of the war, as Rumsfeld was locating the WMD between Baghdad and Tikrit. "As we move toward a new Middle East over the years, and, I think, over the decades to come ... we will make a lot of people very nervous."

They're succeeding.

United Kingdom, Naomi Klein in the Guardian

Advertisement:

Before launching any new foreign adventures, the Bush gang has some homeland housekeeping to take care of: it is going to sweep up those pesky non-governmental organisations that are helping to turn world opinion against U.S. bombs and brands.

On May 21 in Washington, Andrew Natsios, the head of USAID, gave a speech blasting U.S. NGOs for failing to play a role many of them didn't realise they had been assigned: doing public relations for the U.S. government. According to InterAction, the network of 160 relief and development NGOs, Natsios was "irritated" that starving and sick Iraqi and Afghan children didn't realise that their food and vaccines were coming to them courtesy of George Bush. From now on, NGOs had to do a better job of linking their humanitarian assistance to U.S. foreign policy and making it clear that they are "an arm of the U.S. government". If they didn't, InterAction reported, "Natsios threatened to personally tear up their contracts and find new partners."

For aid workers, there are even more strings attached to U.S. dollars. USAID told several NGOs that have been awarded humanitarian contracts that they cannot speak to the media -- all requests from reporters must go through Washington. Mary McClymont, CEO of InterAction, calls the demands "unprecedented" and says: "It looks like the NGOs aren't independent and can't speak for themselves about what they see and think."

Many humanitarian leaders are shocked to hear their work described as "an arm" of government -- most see themselves as independent (that would be the "non-governmental" part of the name). The best NGOs are loyal to their causes, not to countries, and they aren't afraid to blow the whistle on their own governments. Think of Médecins Sans Frontières [Doctors Without Borders] standing up to the White House and the European Union over AIDS drug patents, or Human Rights Watch's campaign against the death penalty in the U.S.

Advertisement:

Natsios embraced this independence in his previous job as vice president of World Vision. During the North Korean famine, Natsios didn't hesitate to blast his own government for withholding food aid, calling the Clinton administration's response "too slow" and its claim that politics was not a factor "total nonsense".

Don't expect candour like that from the aid groups Natsios now oversees in Iraq. These days, NGOs are supposed to do nothing more than quietly pass out care packages with a big "brought to you by the U.S." logo attached -- in public-private partnerships with Bechtel and Halliburton, of course.

India, Prem Shankar Jha in Outlook India

America has the largest number of universities in the world. They churn out the largest number of PhDs, and win the lion's share of the Nobel prizes every year. The departments of commerce, state and defence, and the Congress, have an awesome number of specialised aides on their staff. Yet, when it comes to decision-making, especially in international affairs, America displays a lack of understanding and foresight that would make any third world government feel distinctly at home in its company.

Advertisement:

Iraq is a case in point.

During Saddam Hussein's reign, despite 12 years of sanctions, Iraqis had power, an abundant supply of gasoline, and thanks in part to the U.N.'s oil for food programme, enough to eat. The streets were safe, the salaries assured, and the currency, although depreciated, was stable. Schools and colleges were open, and girls attended them as freely as boys. There was not a hint of Islamic fundamentalism and the State, for all its oppressiveness, was unflinchingly secular. In short, though Saddam's folly and the U.N. sanctions dragged Iraq down from first-world affluence to third-world poverty, Iraqis still had a functioning state. Above all, the system of financial circulation, the lifeblood of a market economy, was intact. People received their salaries and spent them. This created demand and income for others. The marketplace, in short, flourished.

All this is now 'history'. The queues for gasoline, even in Baghdad, are often three miles long; the waiting period 8-24 hours. Power supply is intermittent, more off than on. All the 158 government buildings in Baghdad have been looted bare, along with all the hospitals and thousands of private homes. The looting and destruction of the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, which rivals what the Taliban did to Bamiyan, is of course in a class by itself. The schools are closed. But what does that matter? After all, it is the summer vacation. Something will be rigged up before September. But what about public safety? Well, in the last week of May there were 70 murders -- 10 a day!

But aren't these only the pains of transition? After all, a hated regime has been thrown out. It will take some time to get another in its place, especially a democratic one. Right? Wrong. First this collapse was not inevitable. Second, there is no certainty that the U.S. will be able to set things right and usher in the much promised democracy.

Advertisement:

The collapse occurred because the Americans did not know how to run a city, much less an occupied country...

Instead of reassuring people that their jobs were safe, that they should come as usual to collect newspapers, they announced the Ba'ath party 'activists' would not be welcome, that up to 3,000 or 4,000 of their top echelons would be arrested as potential war criminals. In a country where the Ba'ath party had for 35 years been the only avenue to power, this spelt the end of the bureaucracy. The police were similarly the 'hated police of a despot'. End of police. Till three weeks ago the U.S. authorities were running Baghdad with a mere 8,000 policemen...

As for democracy, it soon became clear that the U.S. wanted its own brand. When it realised that the Iraqis had other ideas, it quickly lost interest. It seems not to have occurred to anyone that democracies are not imposed from top -- witness Afghanistan -- but built from below, witness the U.S.

Egypt, Rasha Saad in Al-Ahram Weekly

Advertisement:

The future of Iraqi women, who constitute almost 55 percent of the population, is proving to be a vague one. The sight of Iraqi women walking in the streets of Baghdad is now rare, as is the sight of a woman behind the steering wheel of a car. Thousands of Iraqis have prevented their daughters from returning to schools and universities. Others allow them to attend, but accompany them to the institutions which are guarded by armed security personnel. With some fatwas having been issued by Islamist clergymen decreeing that women should don the hijab, those women courageous enough to want to return to work are unsure of how to proceed out of fear of retribution...

Hanaa Edward has just returned to her homeland after almost 20 years of self-imposed exile. Having been a member of the Iraqi Women's Association and the International Women's Union, she is particularly interested in women's rights.

According to Edward, women suffered a lot during Saddam's rule...

She explains that in 1990 Saddam issued a decree permitting "honour killing" of women. "Any man was allowed to kill his mother, sister, daughter or aunt, even distant relatives. Saddam encouraged violence against women in particular," she said.

Saddam also ordered the execution of Iraqi women accused of being prostitutes. According to Edward, many women were executed under this charge, women whose only crime was that of being political activists. One of the best-known cases is the execution of Najat Mohamed Haydar, an obstetrician who was known for her opposition to the regime ... Edward also charged the Ba'ath regime with forcing women into prostitution for the purposes of spying.

During the reign of Saddam, apparently, many social decrees were issued to the detriment of women's rights. In the aftermath of the Iraq-Iran war, for instance, a man was allowed to divorce his wife without paying compensation, and men were also allowed to marry several wives without consulting current spouses.

Edward is looking for a new start, ensuring women receive their fair share of power. "This is the right time to address women's rights. I give this priority over other political issues. It should not be subject to negotiation."

United Arab Emirates, Abdul Hamid Ahmad in the Gulf News

When Paul Bremer was named civilian governor of Iraq, he was defined as an expert in combating terrorism. Was Washington reading the future when it gave him the post so that it would be prepared for the days to come?

Those days have now come. Perhaps America will call it terrorism against its forces while others, including ... some ... Iraqis, will consider it resistance against the Americans...

We can even say this resistance is the Americans' own creation since the so-called remnants of Saddam and the Baath Party have discarded their weapons and fled because they do not want to fight.

America's first provocative act was its decision to disband the army, the defence and information ministries and other institutions that provided jobs to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who now find themselves jobless. They have not even been given any promise of jobs or help. And neither have families received these promises.

The move was followed by a decision to ban all Baathists from all jobs or involvement in politics. This means the Americans have, in fact, recruited hundreds of thousands of soldiers, Baathists and others against their own forces. What do the Americans expect from people who see their decisions as oppression and acts of hostility?...

The American occupation forces are, in fact, making great progress in inciting and strengthening such a resistance. The scorpion of the resistance is now in every hole, biting them every day. It is in the process of breeding into many scorpions stalking the Americans throughout Iraq.


Compiled by Laura McClure

MORE FROM Compiled by Laura McClure



Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •