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Justifying Occupation


Iraq is now an occupied country. Its economy is in the process of being privatized and sold to US corporations. Electrical power is still not available to millions of people and temperatures reach 45 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, the original pretexts for the war – mainly Iraq’s supposed possession of ‘weapons of mass destruction’- have disappeared. These are vitally important issues, with tremendous implications for Iraq’s population today and for the ability of leaders to wage wars in future. If the media were seriously engaging with these issues – asking serious questions about the nature of the occupation and the lies told to bring it about, presenting the information to the public – it would be far more difficult for the US to go to war, and to sustain its occupation.

The Globe and Mail, Canada’s ‘National Newspaper’, instead presents information in order to justify, rationalize, and hide the brutal realities of war, occupation, and the US history of intervention in the region.

This takes some effort, given the destructiveness of that history. It is only by hiding the context that the Globe’s writers can get away with the distortions they write.

How Iraq became a convenient enemy

When the Iranian revolution of 1979 deposed the rather brutal dictatorship of the Shah, a major U.S. ally was lost, and support shifted to Iraq’s Baath regime to compensate for diminished U.S. influence in the region. The Baath regime’s atrocities disturbed U.S. planners as little as had those of the Shah’s government, and support persisted through the torture of dissidents, the gassing of Iranian soldiers and Iraqi Kurds, and so on. As a U.S. Senate Committee Report affirmed in 1994, U.S. support included the sale of various chemical and biological weapons agents to Hussein’s regime.

By invading Kuwait in 1990, Iraq secured a significant increase in control over the region’s oil resources – one of the world’s most important natural resource bases in terms of political and economic power. While this may in itself have troubled US planners, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait most importantly offered an opportunity to assert U.S. domination of a post- Soviet "New World Order" by responding with swift and unchallengeable military power. The subsequent US-led invasion of Iraq was an ominous (and appropriate) way to mark the emergence of a brutal international system: "An estimated 85,000 tons of conventional bombs were dropped on Iraq and Kuwait during five weeks of around-the-clock attacks," Michael Klare explained from the pages of the Nation, "or the equivalent (in destructive power) of five Hiroshima-sized bombs. Comparable quantities of rockets, missiles and artillery shells were also fired at Iraqi positions during the course of the war, making this the most firepower-intensive conflict since World War II. Many of these munitions, originally designed for use against Soviet forces in Europe, were first used in combat during Operation Desert Storm. And, while the non-nuclear weapons used in the Gulf did not produce any of the radiation effects associated with nuclear weapons, their use against water, electricity, and transportation systems has resulted in extensive death, disease and hunger." Klare might have added that the radiation and toxicity of depleted uranium, used for munitions, took up some of the slack in this regard.

With the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait as leverage, the U.S. was able to secure UN Security Council backing for this insanely lopsided war. While it went off to ‘defend international law’ in Iraq, the U.S. was supporting Indonesian forces illegally occupying East Timor, and Israeli forces illegally occupying Palestinian land.

Operation Desert Storm was followed by a decade of sporadic bombing, as a U.S.- led sanctions regime (with continuing support from the Security Council) prevented Iraq from rebuilding its devastated social, economic and military infrastructure. By 1997, when asked what she thought of the deaths of an estimated half million Iraqi children as a result of sanctions alone, then- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was in no position to dispute the figures. She merely responded with now-infamous words that "the price is worth it." US policy had fully shifted from supporting the murderous Iraqi Baath government to directly orchestrating catastrophic attacks on its citizens.

By September of 2001, the U.S. population was accustomed to depictions of Iraqi Baath leader Saddam Hussein as a great figurehead of evil (a relatively accurate characterization, though a cynically exploited one). Through a campaign of insinuation by government officials and the media, a false association in the American psyche was made between the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11 and the Iraqi Baath regime. Ideological preparations were so successfully made for a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that by the time the invasion began in March 2003, an estimated 42 percent of the American population believed that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were the handiwork of Iraq’s evil dictator (according to a New York Times/CBS survey). The conspicuous absence of evidence had evidently been insufficient to stop the war.

At the time, U.S. officials led people to believe that Iraq was full of weapons of mass destruction that might at any moment by used by Saddam against freedom-loving people the world over, that the United States was finally moving in to hand power from a brutal dictator to the people of Iraq, and that Iraqis would hail the U.S.-led invaders as liberators.

What’s missing from the Globe and Mail’s coverage

Now, with the declared "end" of the war receding into history, there are no signs of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (except perhaps for some unexploded ordinances still lying about from the U.S.-led assault) – the imminent threat of Iraqi aggression has been exposed as a complete fabrication. With surprisingly little influence being given to even those Iraqis most willing to collaborate, the U.S.-British forces are gearing up for a long-term military occupation. And as their country’s infrastructure still further deteriorates under foreign military administration, Iraqis – exhibiting a mysterious antagonism towards the powers that have wrought death and abysmal poverty upon their friends and families for more than a decade – are confronting the occupying forces with angry, mass demonstrations and increasingly well- organized armed resistance. It would not be difficult for Globe and Mail writers to put these events in context, and provide readers with some reasonable analysis.

By and large, Globe writers have instead busied themselves in papering over the obvious cracks in the official story, reworking the plainly debunked justification for the March invasion as well as trying to stretch the rationale’s weak and outdated logic into the present.

On June 20, for example, a full page was devoted to a retrospective justification of the invasion. John Lloyd started it off by dismissing as irrelevant the fact that the pre-war justification for invasion – Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction – was a fraud: "For those of us who thought, and still think, that the removal of a man steeped in blood, suffering and misery is a good thing, the arguments over the existence of quantity of weapons of mass destruction seems churlish. . .Arguments as to whether he [Hussein] had sufficient quantities [of weapons of mass destruction] to offer serious threats…depend on abstruse judgements and intelligence documents which are either hard to evaluate or impossible to obtain." Though the occupying powers cannot prove that Iraq did possess weapons of mass destruction, "neither are their opponents likely to prove they did not exist." Let’s overlook the knee-jerk personification of the government and even country of Iraq into Saddam Hussein (as if he might have had weapons stashed in his closet), and look to more substantive matters.

If hard evidence had been produced after the attacks of September 11, 2001 that the United States government (read: Bush?) possessed nuclear, biological, chemical and other weapons of mass destruction – a simple case to prove, certainly – the fact’s use as justification for destroying the twin towers would quite roundly have been dismissed as preposterous. The United States’ unparalleled record of unilateral invasions would have made the argument no less misplaced. But although the recent U.S. military aggression in Iraq has claimed many more than 6,000 Iraqi civilian lives (http://www.iraqbodycount.net/), Lloyd feels comfortable relying on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in the country to justify this crime. To point to the factual invalidity of this argument, even on its own terms, is "churlish."

Directly below this piece, lead Globe columnist Marcus Gee – not to be outdone by the likes of John Lloyd – put the argument in still plainer terms under the gem of a title "So the United States and Britain lied to the world. So what?" Gee explains that "the case for war did not rest on whether he [Hussein] had X number of biological-weapons laboratories or Y amount of nerve agent. It rested on his record and ambitions . . . Whether or not he had weapons of mass destruction when war began, he will never again threaten the world or subjugate his people. That outcome richly justifies the decision to go to war in Iraq." This is a change from the pre-war rhetoric, but consistent in its defense of whatetever the US government is claiming.

Still left to determine, however, is how to deal with the live rounds being fired by soldiers at Iraqi demonstrators, and how to depict the emerging campaign of anti-occupation guerrilla warfare. In an article published by ZNet, Counterpunch and other alternative media websites, Maria Tomchick outlines the scale and organization of this resistance:

"On the same day that the U.S. announced it would resume exporting Iraqi oil from the port of Ceyhan, Turkey, the main export pipeline between Iraq’s northern oil fields and Ceyhan was bombed. Oil from the north can’t be shifted south to Umm Qasr because the main pipeline south was destroyed in a U.S. bombing raid during the war; it won’t be fixed until the end of the year, at the soonest. On June 23, saboteurs located a pipeline junction buried in the ground about 200 yards off a main highway from Iraq into Syria. They dug down to the line, planted explosives, and blew a hole in the pipeline that carries oil from the northern fields in Iraq to ports in Syria and Lebanon, effectively cutting off exports from the north . . . Halliburton contractors are convinced that the looting is intentional sabotage and not for economic gain. Said one, ‘There have been other attacks on facilities that seem senseless, except to impede the development of the oil sector.’ . . .

"Such well-coordinated, knowledgeable attacks don’t happen by accident. They point to an organized guerrilla movement — in spite of what Pentagon officials say. And despite coordinated sweeps by U.S. troops through towns and villages in the ‘Sunni Belt’ west and north of Baghdad, daily attacks against U.S. soldiers continue to mount, with 25 separate ambushes and attacks reported in one day alone last week . . . "The day after Paul Bremer [the chief U.S. military administrator in Iraq] stood before the World Economic Forum in Jordan and announced that he would unilaterally sell off Iraq’s national assets to foreign private companies, saboteurs blew the gas pipeline that cut off electricity to Baghdad and all of central Iraq."

Occupying forces are responding quite severely to this upsurge. On June 30, Amnesty International declared that U.S. conduct with regards to Iraqi criminal offenders and political opponents it is incarcerating "may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, banned by international law."(1) The same day, occupying forces increased their crack-down on resistance movements with the launch of Operation Sidewinder. The Globe’s spin on this initiative was revealing. The main article on the topic was written by Nadim Ladki under the title "U.S. effort targets Hussein die-hards," with the subheading "American troops launch crackdown on resistance, seek loyalists of deposed Iraqi leader." It began as follows: "A top U.S. official signaled Washington believes Saddam Hussein may be alive as U.S. forces launched an operation to crack down on armed resistance blamed on die-hard supporters of the toppled Iraqi leader." The remainder of the article was more of the same, citations from and paraphrases of official U.S. state proclamations, linking the emerging resistance movement to our favorite caricature of Iraqi tyranny and despotism. Of the article’s thirteen paragraphs, only the last one offered space for Iraqi perspectives on the conflict. It read, "The United States blames remnants of Mr. Hussein’s Fedayeen paramilitary force and his Baath Party for the raids. But many Iraqis have warned of widespread discontent if Washington does not quickly restore government to Iraqi hands and rebuild the war-battered nation."

No evidence was used to back the official statements for which the article served as a platform. This is understandable, since none could be drawn upon – no real efforts have been made to substantiate the suggestions that Saddam Hussein is coordinating these attacks, or that Baath ideologues are resisting occupation out of nostalgic loyalty to their by-gone leader. Perhaps the United States is lying, yet again – but as Marcus Gee would be quick to point out, "so what?"

One rare occasion when the Globe published an article expressing some actual annoyance at lies used by the Bush administration to justify war – a rather unchallenging piece by Paul Knox (June 25) – a letter came out a couple days later in response, scolding Knox for diverting focus from the official bad- guys. After going through the human rights and related policy record of the Iraqi Baath government, it concluded: "Yes, Paul Knox, there is a duty on the media to expose governments that shade the truth, but that extends to a vigorous examination of all the players, not just one side." (Lynne Teperman, June 27).

"One-sided" indeed. The letter-writer may have been satisfied that the Globe had already moved to compensate for Knox’s dissident focus, publishing on June 26 a piece by Mark MacKinnon that made a further farce of former Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, "better known in the West as Comical Ali." "Comical," because Iraqi war-time reports so blatantly distorted the war’s obvious realities, "Ali" because – it fits the stereotype of the name of an "Arab man"? Needless to say, there were no accompanying stories ridiculing "Bumbling Bush" or "Raging Rumsfeld" for expressing sympathy for the Iraqis upon whom they were raining death, or for bringing liberty in the form of foreign military governance (nor were their any satires of "Comical Gee" supporting this official farce).

Moving into July with two months of "post-war" military occupation behind us, Globe coverage shows no sign of improving. On the 1st, analysis of the occupation was provided by Bassem Mroue, writing of Operation Sidewinder’s attempt "at capturing Saddam Hussein loyalists and curbing a wave of attacks on U.S. soldiers," whose welfare is assumed to be of primary importance. After all, "U.S. troops have been increasingly targeted in recent weeks, raising fears that their mission will become mired in a guerrilla-style insurgency" – as if the occupied were the aggressors, the occupiers the fearful. And so it continued on the 2nd, with the front-line headline "U.S. faces long haul to shape new Iraq, Bush says," continuing pages later under the title "Six U.S. soldiers injured in three separate attacks" (Paul Koring). Covering a day of intense violence against Iraq’s civilian population, only George W’s PR line and the principal occupying military’s casualties made headlines.

On July 4th, Koring stepped it up a notch with an article explaining that "Bush administration officials have suggested the widespread Iraqi fear that Mr. Hussein might return to power and wreak appalling retribution on those who cooperated with the American occupiers explains the lack of widespread support for U.S. troops. They also contend that remnants of the ousted regime are emboldened in their continuing attacks because of a belief that Mr. Hussein may re-emerge." Not one iota of evidence was, nor could have been, presented for these claims. But official truths often find legitimacy in their constant repetition rather than in the substance of their claims.

Stories are systematically distorted for reasons we and others have discussed many times. (see our May 3 media alert for an example: www.en- camino.orgmay032003mediaalert2.htm). But no matter how the system works, reporters can’t be let off the hook for doing work that is dishonest for the purpose of serving war interests. Explains York University professor David McNally, "Twenty-five military planners from Canada were active members of the US military central command (CENTCOM) in Qatar, the body that planned and oversaw the assault on Iraq. About 1300 military personnel on three Canadian warship provided protection for US aircraft carriers from which much of the air war was launched. Canada also had 31 troops inside Iraq working with US and British forces, including ten Canadian pilots who participated in the aerial bombing of Iraq. On top of all this, the Canadian government allowed US aircraft bound for the Persian Gulf to refuel and change crews in Newfoundland."(2)

In other words, Canada has been participating in this war, and in this occupation, which has killed thousands of innocents, poisoned and devastated the country, and brought it into a humanitarian crisis. The Canadian government cannot participate in such war crimes if the Canadian population won’t let it. By simultaneously whitewashing war crimes and downplaying or outright ignoring Canadian state participation in them, Globe writers and editors bear a degree of responsibility for the mounting human cost of these policies. And they need to be called on their conduct.

Suggested Action:

The idea for these media alerts came from the UK’s ‘Media Lens’
(www.medialens.org) Like them, our goal ‘is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.’

Write to Marcus Gee at [email protected]
Write to Paul Knox at [email protected]
Write to John Lloyd at [email protected]
Write to Mark Mackinnon at [email protected]
Copy letters to En Camino: [email protected]

Notes:

(1) http://electroniciraq.net/news/930.shtml
(2) "Militarism and Imperialism, Canadian Style" New Socialist Magazine, May 2003

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