Remember Iraq? Well done if you do, because the government, aided valiantly by the mass media, is doing its best to persuade us to forget it.
Anyone who heard health secretary John Reid on the BBC’s Today programme last week, squirming like a moth on a pin, will be aware how hard it is for Tony Blair and his ministers to acknowledge that Iraq is at the heart of the alienation of millions of Labour voters.
The media collude in this effort by effectively ceasing to report on Iraq. A collective decision seems to have been taken that, since the elections at the end of January, Iraq has become a good news story, and therefore doesn’t merit detailed coverage.
Occasionally the odd story creeps through the filters. Last week, for example, we were told that the parties dominating the assembly elected in January have finally agreed on a government.
It’s hardly evidence of a robust democracy that it took over two months to reach an agreement, reflecting the fact that the US has been promoting a system based on bargaining among ethnic or religious coalitions.
Remember that the predominantly Sunni Arab provinces in central Iraq overwhelmingly boycotted the elections. This left two other forces to dominate the assembly.
The first was the Kurdish parties of northern Iraq. Their leaders, once they stopped fighting over the spoils of smuggling across the Turkish border, have thrown their lot in with the US lock, stock and barrel. They have been rewarded with the presidency, which went to Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
The lion’s share of the seats, however, was gained by the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). Backed by the leading Shia Muslim cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, this bloc campaigned on the promise that it would set a deadline for the end of the US occupation. The UIA’s Ibrahim al-Jafaari is prime minister in the new government.
According to Chris Toensing of the Middle East Research and Information Project, the UIA is reneging on its election promise. “Right now, the US is the protector of the United Iraqi Alliance,” he says. Talabani told CNN on Sunday that his government was “in great need to have American and allied forces” for at least two years.
The US congress is planning to vote for another $80 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of that money will stick to the hands of Iraq’s new parliamentarians and ministers.
Many believe that the US wants Iraq to become like Lebanon before the civil war, with political power carved up among communalist blocs.
And if this corrupt set-up fails to work, Washington’s last line of retreat would be to encourage the Kurds to break away and form a separate state, controlling the northern oil-bearing regions with US and Israeli support.
The media blackout of Iraq extends to the armed struggle against the occupation, which US generals claim is waning. Yet guerrillas in recent weeks mounted a massive assault on Abu Ghraib prison and kidnapped a senior Iraqi general. On Saturday 15 soldiers in the puppet army were killed in an ambush near Latifiya, south of Baghdad.
Last Saturday marked the second anniversary of the fall of Saddam’s regime. A mass demonstration of tens of thousands in Baghdad marched to Firdous Square, scene of the stage-managed removal of Saddam’s statue two years ago.
Strangely enough the marchers, according to the Financial Times “possibly the largest political protest since the 2003 US invasion”, were not there to celebrate Iraq’s achievement of democracy under the benevolent US occupation.
They chanted “No, no, to the occupiers!” and “No America! No Saddam! Yes to Islam!” and staged re-enactments of American torture in prisons like Abu Ghraib. The demonstration was organised by supporters of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada
al-Sadr. He commands the loyalty of a substantial bloc of parliamentarians, the most significant political force close to the resistance.
The sleazy politicians in the new “government” and their US backers are not going unchallenged.