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U.S. occupation creates humanitarian disaster in Iraq

Published Sep 3, 2007 8:01 PM

If the full dimensions of the horror the U.S. occupation has created in Iraq were exposed and confronted, world outrage would reach such a pitch that the occupation could not continue.

A huge number of reports that are largely ignored or given only passing mention in the corporate media confirm an unprecedented level of destruction of essential infrastructure, loss of life and massive displacement of people.

There are more than 4 million Iraqi refugees and more than 1 million dead. Seventy percent of Iraqi children are not in school. Yet these reports and statistics do not begin to tell the story of destruction and violence caused by the U.S. occupation.

Iraq, which was a modern, industrializing country before the first U.S. war in 1991, is now under U.S. occupation, facing national catastrophe and disintegration. Its once internationally acclaimed and free health care system is now in shambles. Thousands of years worth of its cultural heritage have been looted and smashed.

From August 1990 to March 2003, during the 12 years of U.S.-imposed starvation sanctions, Iraq still had full literacy and struggled to maintain potable water, electricity and a basic food ration for the population of 25 million.

Now 8 million people, or almost one-third of the population, are in need of emergency aid, according to Oxfam and a network of 80 aid agencies.

The anti-war movement here must focus attention on the reports that expose the all-pervasive violence of the U.S. occupation. Otherwise the corporate media are able to put their “spin” on who is responsible for the violence in Iraq today. Consistently they blame the Iraqi people for the unfolding horror and not the U.S. occupation army.

The corporate media are currently giving extensive daily coverage to the drumbeat coming from U.S. politicians, Republican and Democrats alike, who wring their hands and describe the chaos and violence that would follow a U.S. troop withdrawal. This constantly repeated theme is woven together with coverage of seemingly senseless and sectarian attacks on civilians by “terrorist forces.” U.S. troops are described in every news article as trying to end the “sectarian violence” and desperately seeking to bring security and order.

Resistance to violent occupation

The media’s constant focus on seemingly random violence and mayhem, allegedly committed by contending Iraqi militias, is meant to mask the total violence of occupation. It also distorts who the resistance is and what are the primary acts that resistance fighters are engaged in. According to the Brookings Institution Report—Iraq Index, Aug. 23—over the past year resistance attacks of all kinds, including roadside bombings, rocket attacks, suicide attacks and car bombs, have amounted to 4,000 to 5,000 each month, or more than 150 attacks a day.

The report contains a chart showing that the vast majority of the resistance attacks are on U.S. forces and Iraqi security forces, not on civilians. According to this chart, 80 to 85 percent of the attacks target the occupation and its collaborators.

However, to the imperialist army of occupation, the entire Iraqi population has become the enemy and is treated with totally brutal repression and massive destruction.

The latest “surge” has increased the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to 170,000. There are also more than 200,000 “private contractors” or mercenaries. According to Jeremy Scahill, author of “The Mercenary Revolution,” these mercenaries answer to no authority or law. The U.S. occupying authority has granted these mercenaries complete immunity from prosecution under either Iraqi law or even U.S. military law. Contractors can interrogate and torture prisoners, gather intelligence, operate rendition flights and kill at random.

The British medical journal The Lancet has published two peer-reviewed studies on deaths due to the invasion of Iraq and continuing occupation. The studies in 2004 and 2006 estimated the number of excess deaths caused by the occupation, both directly and indirectly. The Lancet’s 2006 report reported that the study’s best estimate was that 655,000 more Iraqis had died than would have been expected in a non-war situation, as of June 2006.

Another 14 months of even greater chaos and violence have passed since that time, which may well have brought the number of excess deaths close to 1 million.

U.N. agencies, such as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, report that 70 percent of the Iraqi population lacks access to safe drinking water and 80 percent lacks effective sanitation. The World Health Organization has noted increased cases of diarrheal diseases and now cholera due to polluted drinking water.

The Oxfam report states that “health services are generally in a catastrophic situation in the capital, in the main towns, and across the governorates.” Forty-three percent of Iraqis are now in “absolute poverty.” The unemployment rate is 50 percent. Since the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iraq, many people there have depended on a food ration distributed by the government, and since the occupation the number has grown. But many of the more than 2 million internally displaced people in Iraq cannot get subsidized rations because they are not registered in their new homes.

Many schools are closed and the buildings have been taken over to house the homeless. More than 40 percent of Iraq’s teachers, water engineers, medical staff and other essential professionals have left the country since 2003.

Refugee crisis and prostitution

At least an additional 2.5 million Iraqis have fled to nearby countries. Hundreds of thousands have depleted all their savings. About 500,000 of the refugees are school-age children who have limited or no access to education.

Reports say that for many thousands of women, who are now single heads of household, prostitution is becoming one of the only means of feeding their families. The London Independent, The New York Times, MSNBC and other media, along with Amnesty International, confirm reports of growing child prostitution and trafficking of Iraqi children.

Hana Ibrahim, founder of the Iraqi women’s group Women’s Will in Syria, puts the figure at 50,000 women forced into the sex trade because their husbands and fathers have been killed and they are banned from working legally. There are few options for a family to survive.

Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program described the spiraling refugee population as “a humanitarian crisis that could engulf the region.”

Refugee International reports that an additional 40,000 to 50,000 Iraqis flee their homes each month, making this the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

Collaborators unable to govern

There is no government in Iraq today capable of organizing or providing any social services at all—not security, health care, schools, electricity or potable water. There are only a handful of corrupt U.S. collaborators, appointed heads of ministries who live in the U.S. Green Zone under U.S. protection. They dare not venture outside. U.S. contractors have found they have no one on the ground in local administration to accept the leaking, faulty projects for which the contractors overbilled the government.

The longer the U.S. forces of occupation stay in Iraq, the greater the destruction and violence. The occupation’s only solution is to try to drown the resistance in blood and fragment the society with divide-and-conquer tactics. From the first days of “shock and awe” bombings, this has been Washington’s approach.

The benchmarks that the occupation has demanded of the puppet government of Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi parliament include signing away all future control of Iraq’s oil resources. Such outright colonial demands only increase the determination of the average Iraqi to resist occupation by all possible means.

Iraq more than ever needs an aroused world movement that will stand up to the endless U.S. excuses for continued occupation. A movement that demands an end to all the funds for this criminal war. That is for getting all U.S. troops out of Iraq and the region. That demands reparations to the sovereign Iraqi government that is sure to eventually replace the collaborationist regime so Iraq can recover from the disaster U.S. imperialism has imposed on its people.

Sources used for this article include: The Lancet, Survey 2, Oct. 11, 2006, “The Human Cost of the War in Iraq: A Mortality Study, 2002-2006,” by Gilbert Burnham, Shannon Doocy, Elizabeth Dzeng, Riyadh Lafta and Les Roberts. Oxfam, “Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge in Iraq,” July 2007. Brookings Institution Report, www3.brookings.edu/fp/saban/iraq/index.pdf. UNHCR Refugees figures through March 2007.