Thursday, April 29, 2004

"Mutiny in Iraq"

Naomi Klein reports in The Nation:

Can we please stop calling it a quagmire? The United States isn't mired in a bog or a marsh in Iraq (quagmire's literal meaning); it is free-falling off a cliff. The only question now is: Who will follow the Bush clan off this precipice, and who will refuse to jump?

More and more are, thankfully, choosing the second option. The last month of inflammatory US aggression in Iraq has inspired what can only be described as a mutiny: Waves of soldiers, workers and politicians under the command of the US occupation authority are suddenly refusing to follow orders and abandoning their posts. First Spain announced it would withdraw its troops, then Honduras, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Kazakhstan. South Korean and Bulgarian troops were pulled back to their bases, while New Zealand is withdrawing its engineers. El Salvador, Norway, the Netherlands and Thailand will likely be next.

And then there are the mutinous members of the US-controlled Iraqi army. Since the latest wave of fighting began, they've been donating their weapons to resistance fighters in the South and refusing to fight in Falluja, saying that they didn't join the army to kill other Iraqis. By late April, Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the 1st Armored Division, was reporting that "about 40 percent [of Iraqi security officers] walked off the job because of intimidation. And about 10 percent actually worked against us."

And it's not just Iraq's soldiers who have been deserting the occupation. Four ministers of the Iraqi Governing Council have resigned their posts in protest. Half the Iraqis with jobs in the secured "green zone"--as translators, drivers, cleaners--are not showing up for work. And that's better than a couple of weeks ago, when 75 percent of Iraqis employed by the US occupation authority stayed home (that staggering figure comes from Adm. David Nash, who oversees the awarding of reconstruction contracts).

Minor mutinous signs are emerging even within the ranks of the US military: Privates Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey have applied for refugee status in Canada as conscientious objectors and Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia is facing court martial after he refused to return to Iraq on the grounds that he no longer knew what the war was about [see Christian Parenti, "A Deserter Speaks," at].

Rebelling against the US authority in Iraq is not treachery, nor is it giving "false comfort to terrorists," as George W. Bush recently cautioned Spain's new prime minister. It is an entirely rational and principled response to policies that have put everyone living and working under US command in grave and unacceptable danger. This is a view shared by fifty-two former British diplomats, who recently sent a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair stating that although they endorsed his attempts to influence US Middle East policy, "there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure."

And one year in, the US occupation of Iraq does appear doomed on all fronts: political, economic and military. On the political front, the idea that the United States could bring genuine democracy to Iraq is now irredeemably discredited: Too many relatives of Iraqi Governing Council members have landed plum jobs and rigged contracts, too many groups demanding direct elections have been suppressed, too many newspapers have been closed down and too many Arab journalists have been murdered while trying to do their job. The most recent casualties were two employees of Al Iraqiya television, shot dead by US soldiers while filming a checkpoint in Samarra. Ironically, Al Iraqiya is the US-controlled propaganda network that was supposed to weaken the power of Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, both of which have also lost reporters to US guns and rockets over the past year.

White House plans to turn Iraq into a model free-market economy are in equally rough shape, plagued by corruption scandals and the rage of Iraqis who have seen few benefits--either in services or jobs--from the reconstruction. Corporate trade shows have been canceled across Iraq, investors are relocating to Amman and Iraq's housing minister estimates that more than 1,500 foreign contractors have fled the country. Bechtel, meanwhile, admits that it can no longer operate "in the hot spots" (there are precious few cold ones), truck drivers are afraid to travel the roads with valuable goods and General Electric has suspended work on key power stations. The timing couldn't be worse: Summer heat is coming and demand for electricity is about to soar.

As this predictable (and predicted) disaster unfolds, many are turning to the United Nations for help: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on the UN to support his demand for direct elections back in January. More recently, he has called on the UN to refuse to ratify the despised interim constitution, which most Iraqis see as a US attempt to continue to control Iraq's future long after the June 30 "handover" by, among other measures, giving sweeping veto powers to the Kurds--the only remaining US ally. Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, before pulling out his troops, asked the UN to take over the mission from the United States. Even Muqtada al-Sadr, the "outlaw" Shiite cleric, is calling on the UN to prevent a bloodbath in Najaf. On April 18, Sadr's spokesman, Qais al-Khazaali, told Bulgarian television it is "in the interest of the whole world to send peacekeeping forces under the UN flag."

And what has been the UN's response? Worse than silence, it has sided with Washington on all of these critical questions, dashing hopes that it could provide a genuine alternative to the lawlessness and brutality of the US occupation. First it refused to back the call for direct elections, citing security concerns. In retrospect, supporting the call back then might have avoided much of the violence now engulfing the country. After all, the UN's response weakened the more moderate Sistani and strengthened Muqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters continued demanding direct elections and launched a vocal campaign against the US transition plan and the interim constitution. This is what prompted US chief envoy Paul Bremer to decide to take Sadr out, the provocation that sparked the Shiite uprising.

The UN has proved equally deaf to calls to replace the US military occupation with a peacekeeping operation. On the contrary, it has made it clear that it will only re-enter Iraq if it is the United States that guarantees the safety of its staff--seemingly oblivious to the fact that being surrounded by American bodyguards is the best way to make sure that the UN will be targeted. "We have an obligation since [the attack on UN headquarters] last summer to insist on clarity and on what is being asked of us," Edward Mortimer, a senior aide to Secretary General Kofi Annan, told the New York Times. "What are the risks? What kind of guarantees can you give us that we are not going to be blown up? And is the job important enough to justify the risk?"

Even in light of that horrific bombing, this is a stunning series of questions coming from a UN official. Do Iraqis have guarantees that they won't be blown up when they go to the market in Sadr City, when their children get on the school bus in Basra, when they send their injured to a hospital in Falluja? Is there a more important job for the future of global security than peacemaking in Iraq?

The UN's greatest betrayal of all comes in the way it is re-entering Iraq: not as an independent broker but as a glorified US subcontractor, the political arm of the continued US occupation. The post-June 30 caretaker government being set up by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will be subject to all the restraints on Iraqi sovereignty that sparked the current uprising in the first place. The United States will maintain full control over "security" in Iraq, including over Iraq's army. It will keep control over the reconstruction funds. And, worst of all, the caretaker government will be subject to the laws laid out in the interim constitution, including the clause that states that it must enforce the orders written by the US occupiers. The UN should be defending Iraq against this illegal attempt to undermine its independence. Instead it is disgracefully helping Washington to convince the world that a country under continued military occupation by a foreign power is actually sovereign.

Iraq badly needs the UN as a clear, independent voice in the region. The people are calling out for it, begging the international body to live up to its mandate as peacemaker and truth teller. And yet just when it is needed most, the UN is at its most compromised and cowardly.