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Disorder, Protests Challenge US Occupation of Iraq

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release April 21, 2003

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Disorder, Protests Challenge U.S. Occupation of Iraq, Undermining White House Triumphalism

Interview with Roger Normand, executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

After several weeks of fighting for control of Iraq's largest cities, the Pentagon announced on April 14 that major combat operations were over. But while the president and his administration were jubilant at the victory of the world's most powerful military over a nation battered by 12 years of economic sanctions and a decade of constant bombing, it seemed that the occupation of Iraq would be filled with danger and uncertainty.

After Saddam Hussein's forces fled Baghdad, chaos and violence reigned in the streets of the capital city and elsewhere as the looting of government offices, banks, hospitals, museums and private homes went unchallenged by U.S. troops. But while the Pentagon made little effort to control widespread pillaging, the old regime's oil ministry was one of the few government buildings to be guarded by U.S. Marines -- a powerful symbol of why many believe the U.S. had come to Iraq. Anti-U.S. occupation protests were organized by Baghdad citizens just days after American tanks rolled into the central city.

Islamic fundamentalist Shiites, Sunni groups and Kurdish rebels are now in fierce competition with each other for spheres of influence and a role in any government body installed by former U.S. General Jay Garner, the man appointed by the Bush administration to run post-war Iraq. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Roger Normand, executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights, who assesses the dangers posed by the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Pentagon's possible next target nation in the Middle East.

Roger Normand: If you look at history since World War II, there have been 20 interventions by the United States military in other countries that led to regime change. Not one of them, not one led to democracy. This is not a good track record if your supposed claim is to bring democracy. When we look at Iraq, Bush tells us it's about democracy. But when you actually look at what he's doing, he's putting former generals in charge of an occupation force of another country. That's not the way to bring democracy. The people that he is choosing from the Iraqi exile community are not known to be democrats. They're in fact known to be crooks and thieves. Ahmed Chalabi, the potential new head of state after Gen. Garner is finished with his tour of duty, is a wanted felon in Jordan for embezzling from a bank. So, when you look at what the United States has actually done around the world, you see it has not brought democracy. You can win a war with overwhelming military force, but to a! ctually maintain an occupation, this is where you get into what the British are calling the "hearts and minds campaign" -- you actually have to offer some benefits to the people.

What the United States is doing -- while of course talking a lot about humanitarian relief -- the United States is telling the U.N. that the humanitarian U.N. Oil For Food Program has to end, that the U.N. should no longer be involved in the billions of dollars of Iraqi oil distributed in food, medicine and humanitarian relief and instead that money should go to what the U.S. is calling reconstruction, which means money for Halliburton and other American companies to rebuild what the U.S. military has destroyed. This is not going to spread goodwill in Iraq, it's going to be viewed as blatant imperialism, it's not going to give the U.S. any kind of coalition outside of the Brits and the Australians. And even these two countries, even though they contributed militarily, are basically being shut out of "the loot" if we can call it that. You know the economic gains.

So also, if we look at Afghanistan as an example where the United States and other countries promised rebuilding and "we're never going to forget Afghanistan" and shortly after, it seems quite forgotten and the country is slipping into warlordism and chaos. So winning the peace is much more difficult than, I think, the way the United States is heading. They're really much more interested in maintaining control of the wealth of Iraq, than in winning the peace through any kind of legitimate democracy.

Between The Lines: Roger Normand, we've heard some fairly bellicose statements come out of the White House as regards to the nation of Syria. Syria has been warned not to harbor Iraqi officials. The Bush administration also accuses Syria of having chemical weapons. Are we not seeing the beginnings of a justification for a new war against Damascus at this point?

Roger Normand: I think clearly the ground is being laid for that. And again, it shouldn't come as a surprise because the Wolfowitzes, Cheneys, Rumsfelds and Douglas Feith -- all of these people have been writing about the need to change the regime not just in Iraq, but Syria, even Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. So again, I think it's really important that people need to take these fundamentalists in Washington seriously. We need to read what they've said and realize that they will stop at nothing. International law does not matter. If the U.N. charter says you can't find an aggressive war, they'll fight one anyway. And if the Middle East is teeming with weapons of mass destruction, if our biggest ally Israel has more weapons of mass destruction than every other country in the region combined, well that doesn't matter. And if you raise those facts, those are "irrelevant" facts. All that matters is strategically, for this government, Syria makes sense as the next target becau! se it's the weakest target. We have a couple hundred thousand troops in the area. We're increasing the number of troops, we're going to establish bases in Iraq and elsewhere and therefore, attacking Syria is relatively easy if you compare it to some of the other talked-about targets: North Korea and Iran. So I think that we should expect that this will happen and people need to be aware of that and start opposing what's happening from the point of view of international human rights, because really, the rule of law is the only thing that can ultimately save the people of this planet. Endless war is in nobody's interest, including Americans.

Contact the Center for Economic and Social Rights by calling (718) 237-9145 or visit the group's Web site at

Contact the Iraq Pledge of Resistance by calling (301) 608-2450 or visit their Web site at

Other related links on our website at for the week ending 4/25/03

Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, nationally syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( ), for the week ending April 25, 2003.

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