Socialist Worker

‘The US is still running Iraq’

Two weeks ago the US staged its fake handover of power in Iraq. Anindya Bhattacharyya spoke to Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi-born novelist now living in Britain, who is campaigning against the occupation

Issue No. 1910

THE ROAD to Baghdad airport used to be lined with date palm trees stretching for miles. “The date palm is a national symbol of Iraq,” Haifa Zangana explains. “It’s something that takes farmers 20 to 30 years to grow.”

But the date palms are no more. The US occupation chopped them down, claiming that the resistance could hide behind them.

Haifa sees this as a metaphor for the whole occupation—and the country’s deepening resistance to it.

“The point, as I and many other Iraqis see it, is that nothing has changed in the country,” says Haifa. “They are occupying the same space.”

Ordinary Iraqis have coined a phrase to describe the fake handover, she adds. “What people are saying is the occupation left through the door and came back through the window.”

The changes made in the country are “totally cosmetic”, says Haifa, involving minor rebranding of the forces occupying Iraq.

“The coalition force is now called the multinational force. Paul Bremer, the US administrator, has been replaced with John Negroponte, the US ambassador.

“And the Green Zone in Baghdad is now called the International Zone.”

That International Zone—formerly one of Saddam’s palaces—will be dominated by the new US embassy. Except this “embassy” will be unlike any other.

It will be the largest in the world and it will house the real rulers of Iraq.

“Around 3,000 staff are undergoing intense training in Washington in the use of weapons,” notes Haifa. “And these are the civilians—the diplomats—I’m not talking about the army!”

One of the main purposes of the embassy will be to supply American “advisors” in every Iraqi ministry. “These are in fact the people running the country,” says Haifa.

The status of the 160,000 occupying troops is another sign of how hollow Iraq’s “sovereignty” is.

These armies remain completely under American control. The US is also building 13 permanent military bases around the country.

Haifa also notes that the foreign forces—both regular troops and mercenaries—are immune from Iraqi law. “They can kill, maim, shoot, do whatever they like, and never have to face an Iraqi court.”

Nothing has changed for ordinary Iraqis on the ground, she adds. “The troops have not been pulled out from the streets. Lieutenant General Sanchez, who helped direct the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, is still there.”

“Brigadier General Kimmitt has been replaced by an Iraqi officer who just reads from the same script. The tanks, the bombardments, the decapitations—I wonder what on earth has changed.”

Iraq’s oil industry also remains in full control of the US. And this vital component of Iraq’s economy is being run in almost totally secrecy, says Haifa.

“No one knows the amount of oil being sold. They are not declaring what price they are offering. They never tell you who they are selling to or how the money is being spent.”

All that is revealed is an end of month revenue figure for oil sales. And this money is not going primarily into reconstructing the country. “Their first priority is paying compensation to Kuwait,” says Haifa.

The occupation’s control of Iraq doesn’t stop at running the troops and the oil industry. Iraq’s new interim government was also entirely appointed by the Anglo-American occupation.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN’s envoy to Iraq, tried suggesting a few possible names outside the US circle. But these were all vetoed by the Americans.

Haifa says it was this incident that led to Brahimi angrily describing Bremer as the “dictator of Iraq”—a statement he was later forced to withdraw and apologise for.

The Iraqi interim government is basically a reshuffle of the previous Iraqi governing council, also appointed by the Americans.

Haifa notes that only ten of the 33 council members were actually living in Iraq prior to the coalition invasion. The US cultivated exiles from the country, many of whom had little support in Iraq, she adds.

Washington’s original favourite was Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress. But now his star has fallen.

“They burned Chalabi—he got too big for his boots,” says Haifa. “Now they are giving Allawi a chance. He’s a CIA man, they have been grooming him.”

Ayad Allawi, the prime minister of Iraq, openly admits to being paid by the CIA. Haifa finds this astonishing. “Spying for another country is usually thought of as a disgraceful thing,” she says. “But now it’s accepted, it’s fine!”

Haifa notes that Allawi’s recent rise is intimately linked to his “strong man” approach, making a mockery of talk of a “transition to democracy” in Iraq.

“He persuaded the Americans that he is the man who will establish security,” she says.

Allawi heads the Iraqi National Accord, a CIA-sponsored organisation that actively recruited former Ba’athist generals from Iraq.

The US believes former Ba’athists are behind the resistance, says Haifa, and believes Allawi has the contacts and understanding to deal with them.

There is little evidence that resistance to occupation has much to do with former supporters of Saddam.

But as with WMD, the Americans prefer to delude themselves with their own propaganda.

“The administration is arrogant, hateful and ignorant. And they are also desperate,” says Haifa. “It’s a lethal combination. They are willing to believe anything.”

The first few days of “sovereignty” have already humiliated Allawi’s regime.

Allawi announced he would declare an amnesty for insurgents who had fought the occupation.

Then the planned press conference was postponed. Rumours began to circulate that the amnesty would only be a partial one. Eventually the idea was vetoed altogether. “The Americans could not accept it,” says Haifa.

Just to underline exactly who was in control, the Americans then launched a massive bombardment of Fallujah, the rebel town that has become a national symbol of the resistance.

Allawi wasn’t told about this, says Haifa, but had to later pretend he had been “consulted” in order to save face.

The next day he brought in the “Iraqi national safety law”, enabling the regime to declare martial law.

One effect of this has been to spark what Haifa describes as “a major change in resistance tactics”.

One incident involved street militias in Baghdad fighting for six hours against government troops.

There had been sporadic gun battles before, but nothing so extended and ferocious. “The Iraqi army couldn’t face it,” says Haifa. “The US tanks had to come back.”

And Haifa is confident that this resistance to the occupation and Allawi’s puppet regime will only deepen. “We don’t like occupiers,” she says. “We have dignity, national feeling, respect for the place we grow up in, just like anyone else.”

Haifa Zangana was born in Baghdad in 1950. She became a Communist at university and fought against the Iraqi regime using guerrilla tactics. She left Iraq in 1975 after being imprisoned and tortured. Her books include The Presence of Others and Through Vast Halls of Memory.

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Sat 17 Jul 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1910
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