After Costly War, Iraqis Quickly Organize
After Costly War, Iraqis Quickly Organize
As stage-managed media images of the Bush administration's triumphant conquest of Iraq fade into memory, the harsh reality of American occupation is becoming clearer with each passing day. The goodwill expressed toward U.S. troops by some Iraqi citizens, thankful for the overthrow of a brutal dictator, has given way to increasingly vocal demands for sovereignty and self-determination.
Street protests organized by diverse sectors of Iraq's religious and ethnic communities have condemned both the fallen regime of Saddam Hussein and the American military, which now occupies their nation. Retired Gen. Jay Garner, the man appointed by the Bush administration to rule postwar Iraq, has been the target for criticism by many Iraqis for America's failure to prevent the looting of hospitals, museums and libraries and the restoration of essential services such as water and electricity destroyed by U.S. bombs during the conflict. Even as thousands of Iraqi civilians suffer from injuries and privation caused by the war, the Pentagon has prevented dozens of non-governmental relief organizations from entering Iraq because they refuse to shed their neutrality and submit to military control. The Bush administration has similarly blocked a role for the United Nations relief assistance and the reentry of U.N. arms inspectors to resume their hunt for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, the one-time justification for this illegal U.S. war.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Wade Hudson, a member of the Iraq Peace Team affiliated with the group Voices in the Wilderness. Hudson, an activist, writer and cabdriver from California, provides an eyewitness account of the U.S. bombardment and invasion of Iraq as seen during 31 days he spent in Baghdad before his departure on April 13.
Wade Hudson: As soon as the bombing started, our primary project was to gather evidence about the damage to civilian infrastructure, the civilian casualties, injuries and deaths that were being inflicted by the bombing. We compiled that information into a report which we issued on April 4. For myself, on the first day of bombing I had a tour that involved looking at a number of buildings that were hit and it was hard to know exactly what those buildings were. We ended up in a residential neighborhood where there was clearly no government buildings or military targets anywhere near. Whenever you drop a million tons of bombs on a country, a large portion of which was on a densely populated city like Baghdad, it's inevitable that a large percentage of those bombs are going to kill civilians and injure them severely and destroy residential and commercial (buildings).
I was sitting on the balcony of our hotel when the Palestine Hotel was hit (by a shell fired by a U.S. tank), that became highly publicized because it was home for the media that were in Baghdad. I looked over my shoulder and saw a cloud of smoke and a few minutes later the fire inside the hotel room where two journalists died, one of whom worked with a Spanish TV station that had been sending emails out of Baghdad for us. So that added a certain poignancy to the incident and made us feel a little bit less secure under the shadow of the Palestine Hotel.
Between The Lines: The Bush administration, in justifying the war against the regime of Saddam Hussein, stated over and over again that the price of civilian casualties in this war -- we still don't know the exact numbers -- will be worth it in the end because a despotic government will be removed. How did the people of Iraq that you had contact with during the war see this conflict? Did they think it was justified?
Wade Hudson: Well, it's hard to generalize about the Iraqi people, partly because they did live under a very oppressive dictatorship and they were not free to speak their minds and there are no reliable public opinion polls. I must say that I think that regardless of any benefits that might accrue, that this war was inherently immoral and illegal and could never be justified. I mean, Iraq did not threaten the United States and we have a whole legacy of international law that stipulates that nations do not invade and attack other nations unless they are threatened.
But back to your question. I think that there was 24 hours or 36 hours of relief and some joy about having Saddam toppled. I think most Iraqis probably had some positive feelings about that. But it was not overwhelming ecstasy. There were a number of indications that suggest to me that large numbers of Iraqis never wanted the United States to attack. I mean, before the bombing started, we would circulate in the open air markets, and go to shops and go shopping and people would find out who we were and why we were there and there would just be spontaneous expressions of gratitude and appreciation. If so many people had wanted to be liberated by the United States, we would not have been swamped by people coming up to us like that spontaneously.
If there was a liberation honeymoon, it was over and done with awful quickly. The Iraqi people most likely want the United States to be done with it and out of there. The irony is that the Bush administration talks about wanting democracy, but when the people of Turkey said no to U.S. troops (using their territory before the war), we try to bribe their government.
Between The Lines: Wade Hudson, what are some of your big concerns about the U.S. occupation of Iraq and any kind of transition to an interim government which may or may not be led by Iraqi exiles, many of whom haven't set foot in the country in decades?
Wade Hudson: Right. It seems like the U.S. is just fumbling along. I can't imagine what their real intent is other than to allow the country to fall into a very long period of disorder and strife. They say that the Iraqi oil belongs to the Iraqi people, but it will be interesting to see how they try to spin that one when they privatize the oil companies, which seems to be the plan. Iraq is filled with so many different factions that are ready to tear into one another. The more disorder there is, the more people will identify with their own grouping as a defense mechanism and the more likely they will strike out against others. So I think the United States has bitten off more than it can chew. It's like they were bothered by some hornets and they went out and whacked at the hornets' nest and now they're trying to get rid of the hornets with a fly swatter. They've created an incredible mess and we cannot rely on the United States to clean it up. We need to defer to the United Nations. So now we're in a situation where the Iraqi people could very well go the direction of Iran (which has a fundamentalist Shiite Islamic government) and I seriously doubt that the Bush administration would accept that.
Contact the Iraq Peace Team at (773) 784-8065 or visit their Web site at www.iraqpeaceteam.org
For more related links on Iraq's Shiite Muslims, who comprise 60 percent of the Iraqi population, and their wish to form a theocracy similar to the fundamentalist government in Iran since 1979, visit our Web site Between The Lines , for the Week Ending May 2, 2003
More articles on the Occupation of Iraq and more interviews
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 (http://www.btlonline.org ) for the week ending May 2, 2003. AOL users: Click here!