is student, Bush is his teacher"
Overall, Iraqis have two positions on U.S.
troops in Iraq: fix everything and get out within a year, or get
out now because they're doing nothing but stealing their resources.
Iraqis tells me Saddam is a student, and Bush is
his teacher, and now the "teacher" has come to Iraq to
get his "student." There's almost no one in Iraq - neither
pro- nor anti-Saddam, neither defender nor opponent of the U.S.
invasion - who won't argue that the reason the U.S. invaded Iraq
is to control its oil and colonize the country. Many Iraqis believe
Saddam is an "Ali Baba" - a thief - but they go on to
say that the U.S. is an even bigger "Ali Baba" who came
to Iraq for oil.
U.S. bombings and invasion have destroyed government ministry buildings
3), police stations, Ba'ath
party offices, TV stations, many stores, private
houses, public utilities and telecommunication
systems (destroyed since the first Gulf war, and never repaired
due to sanctions). Yet the U.S. military intentionally spared the
Ministry of Oil building; it was
back in business shortly after the end of the war.
When it comes to oil, there's no question that all
eyes remain focused on Middle East production, despite the importance
of other major international producers such as Mexico, Russia and
Venezuela. Iraq and the other key Gulf region oil producers like
Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, still carry such weight that the
distraction of Iraq's oil exports could deeply affect the international
The United States, on the other hand, uses its military
and political muscle to manipulate international
oil prices in its own favor, sending a clear message to the
world that America is the only country allowed to decide who can
produce oil, who can sell it and who can buy it at what price.
Although it sounds implausible, since the invasion,
a major gas shortage condition exists
in Iraq, site of the world's second largest oil reserve. The Iraqi
domestic oil supply has plummeted into crisis and everyday at gas
stations in Baghdad, hundreds of cars
line up for hours to fill their tanks. The alternative is expensive
(yet convenient) black market oil
on the street.
Many Iraqis accuse
the U.S. of only focusing on protecting international oil exports,
at the same time ignoring the restoration of the domestic supply
of gas and electricity.
Oil Refinery general manger Dathar Al-Khashab says his company
produces gasoline for the Baghdad
market. U.S. bombing during the 1991 Gulf War damaged his plant
severely, but this time, Americans didn't attack the facility and
it basically went unharmed. Like
most Iraqi bureaucracy, for their own survival, they must deal with
their new boss - the U.S. occupiers. "You give me any President
and I will put his photo there [the wall behind his desk]. There's
no problem; as I say, we are practical. Any President in Iraq can
have his photo there." Al-Khashab explains, "We have to
deal with it, and try to get the maximum out of it
U.S. force here now. This is not imaginary; this is a fact. So,
we are practical people. We have to deal with it, if it's what's
best for our country."
Al-Daura Oil Refinery
is one of the most valuable "cash
cows" in Iraq. There have been recent attempts by the U.S.
in the form of the CPA and the the de facto government in Iraq to
install an oil council controlled by Americans, but this failed
due to strong Iraqi opposition.
According to Al-Khashab, Kellogg Brown Root Services,
a subsidiary of Halliburton (Vice President Dick Cheney served on
the board of Halliburton between 1995 to 2000), contacted the Al-Daura
Oil Refinery. He maintains that the Refinery didn't need Kellogg's
help, though, and that there was no direct business contact between
them. "So far, everything has been transparent. We have nothing
hidden from either side, and we are trying first and foremost to
keep it that way. That was one of the points raised by the U.S.
administration, that the oil industry should be kept very transparent,
and it will then be evident to the Iraqis where the money is going,
and that's a good things to start with," he explains.
But Al-Khashab also expresses no illusions about
American intentions. "I
think U.S. policy, well, I cannot say they have never thought of
oil in Iraq." He smiles and continues. "Of course, this
is one of the main points. But, according to promises we have received
from the U.S. administration, the crude oil is for the Iraqis. So
we'll then see how these promises will be implemented in the field,"
There's no doubt that everyone, American and Iraqi,
wants to keep Iraq's oil industry afloat, and make sure the workers
stay happy to keep the oil machine running. According to Al-Khashab,
the Refinery was able to produce and sell before and after the war,
so they have some income. All employees in the Refinery received
their monthly salaries for April through June of 2003 without any
It's a different story for the majority of Iraqi
government workers and ordinary citizens. Their offices were destroyed
by the U.S. troops. They lost their jobs
and no one is giving them unemployment insurance. The U.S. is, however,
able to pay US$30 million to informants who provided Americans with
the whereabouts of Udei and Qusay Hussein. They are willing to shell
out another US$25 million for "Saddam's head". It doesn't
seem, however, there's any spare change left for the millions of
desperate and unemployed Iraqis.
According to an unofficial survey, Iraq's unemployment
rate since the invasion is up to 90 percent, and those few fortunate
who do have jobs and manage to get paid their wages make just around
US$20-$30 per month. Any Iraqi who works as a manual laborer on
the U.S. base can earn twice that average, but he is considered
as a traitor by most.
This doesn't mean that Baghdad doesn't have
food or drink, or that no one can afford it. There are plenty of
rich Iraqis and foreign businessmen, and they can get
anything they want. For less than US$3, you can eat like a king.
Many rich people have satellite telephones, imported goods, and
satellite TVs (which were banned under Saddam Hussein, but are now
freely available after the war). American-made GMC 8-passenger trucks
are everywhere. Most poor Iraqis, on the other hand, have had their
lives ruined by the war. They have no money, no water and no help.
But life still need to go
Water Crisis and Suffering Children
Iraqis feel very angry at U.S. troops and U.S. corporations who
came "to rebuild Iraq". While they stay in the air-conditioned
rooms of the once beautiful "Saddam's palaces," desperate
and angry Iraqis rage and swelter outside the fence in up to 120-degree
summer heat. There is almost no effort from the American-run Coalition
Provisional Authorities (CPA) (the U.S. occupiers' shadow government
in Iraq set up after the invasion) to clean up the buildings, remove
the wepons (1, 2,
or fix the utilities destroyed by the war.
So far, the only visible "rebuilding"
has been to replace the Saddam monument with a new "Freedom"
monument in the newly renamed "Freedom"
square (formerly known as Al-Frdos square) next to the Palestine
The dust from the destroyed buildings poses a grave
threat to the health of the inhabitants of Baghdad, primarily respiratory
disease. Even worse, many Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons used during
the attacks are still lying around the city and countryside in rubbled
buildings or destroyed Iraqi tanks.
One example is the Ministry
of Planning building in central Baghdad. Gerard Ungermen and
Audrey Brohy, producers of the acclaimed documentary "Hidden
War of Desert Storm", revisited Iraq in July. They came to
this Ministry building with a radiation meter to check the radiation
levels from highly toxic DU
bullets and rounds found on the ground there that were fired
by U.S. during the war. Although it was not a military target, U.S.
forces bombed and destroyed the building, allowed looters the freedom
to ransack the remains, and then let arsonists burn the building.
Peterson, Baghdad correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor,
states that the U.S. fired more DU rounds in heavily populated civilian
areas (1, 2)
this time than during the 1991 Gulf War. "It's
not very dangerous if you're few
feet away from the DU rounds," Peterson says, but he worries
the children will mistake the
heavy, funny-looking DU bullets for toys.
and unexploded weapons abandoned
by the Iraqi military are everywhere. According to recent estimates
by a British Member of Parliament, there are between 2,000 and 17,000
unexploded bomblets from cluster bombs remaining on the ground in
Iraq. These British bomblets pose a daily threat to civilians, especially
to the children,
looking for toys or scrap materials to sell.
However, the biggest threat against Iraqi children
is unsafe water and its related disease, malnutrition, and the breakdown
of much of Iraq's health system after the fall of the former regime.
Immediately after the war, the Ministry of Health stopped functioning,
communication between the capital and the local officials became
impossible, and vital services like routine immunization collapsed,
leaving children vulnerable to disease. With the help of the international
community, the Ministry of Health was able to get back to business,
but still not to return to the pre-war level.
One example of this breakdown is the availability
of vaccines. The country's vaccines were kept in a storeroom at
the Vaccine and Serum Institute of Baghdad. Missiles struck the
Institute during the U.S. invasion and all electricity to the storeroom
was cut, spoiling the vaccine supply.
"When the electricity went down, the cold chain
system for preserving vaccines was rendered useless," according
to Carel de Rooy, the United Nations
International Children's Funds (UNICEF) representative in Iraq.
"More damage was caused when looters tore apart wiring, compressors
and circuit boards at the Institute, making immediate emergency
repairs to the cold chain impossible. In the end, all vaccine stocks
were spoiled and had to be destroyed," he added.
Everyone in Iraq I interviewed told me it's not
the war killing them, it's the decade-old sanctions. A simple medicine
like Cipro (an antibiotic), which anyone can easily get at
any local drug store in the United States, was impossible for Iraqis
to get under sanctions. In fact, thousands of Iraqi children died
during the sanctions for one very simple reason: they drank dirty
water that made them ill, but died because there was no medicine
to save them.
During the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. warplanes bombed
and destroyed the water system in Iraq. The U.N sanctions imposed
after the war deliberately blocked the import of any equipment to
rebuild the water system. After the U.S. invasion last March, the
water system was spared, but the U.S. failed to protect pumping
stations and water treatment facilities from looters.
Carel de Rooy from UNICEF says ironically, the lives
and healh of Iraq's children health during the sanctions were dire
already, but after the U.S. invasion, there is even more suffering.
According to de Rooy, just before the U.S. invasion
in March, the diarrhea problem caused by drinking dirty water was
in the order of 14 bouts per child per year for children under five,
as compared to about 4 bouts of diarrhea per child per year before
Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991. "We know that today in the southern
part of Iraq, the upsurge of the occurrence of diarrhea in children
under five [in 2003] as compared to last year  is due to the
decrease in the amount of water provided coupled with the decline
in its quality.
The reality is, in the 1980s, Iraq was one of the
richest, most industrialized, and highly technologically advanced
countries in the Middle East. In fact, at that time, the United
Nations estimated that Iraq would enter the ranks of the industrialized
countries by the mid-1990s. Sadly, this prediction never came to
pass, brought down by war and sanctions. The average Iraqi lost
everything because of sanctions. When the U.S. invaded Iraq and
the regime collapsed, poor, angry and desperate Iraqis looted government
facilities for financial revenge - yet they lost even more this
time, because they destroyed virtually all government services -
services which America has no intention of restoring.
For example, I visited a "thieves
market" in Baghdad where they openly display and sell looted
items from government buildings. At the same time, they complain
to me that no one has come to fix their water supply, which means
they have to drink water mixed with
sewage from broken pipes on the street.
U.S. occupational forces and the CPA have failed
in their weak attempt to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure. Instead,
they focus on catching Saddam and granting oil contracts to American
oil companies in Iraq. Oil-services giant Halliburton, which has
direct ties to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, has won contracts
worth more than US$1.7 billion and it stands to make hundreds of
millions of dollars more under a no-bid contract awarded by the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this according to the Washington Post.
In the eyes of many Iraqis, this is sheer American arrogance and
continued evidence of a U.S.-Israel conspiracy.