The Occupation Get More Saddam-like Everyday


Ghazwan Al-Mukhtar is an engineer living in what America calls “liberated’ Iraq” but what he calls “occupied Baghdad.” Ghazwan has been an outspoken critic of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, he was also an outspoken critic of Saddam Hussein. During our interview, which was conducted over email, Ghwazan noted that using the Internet was a problem because “electricity comes 2 hours (most likely less) and then goes off for 4 hours.” Now that the two year anniversary of the U.S. invasion has passed the interview provides a useful historical review of how the occupation has unfolded as well as an informed perspective of whether Iraq is better or worse off today then prior to the occupation. The interview was conducted by KEVIN ZEESE of Democracy Rising.

Zeese: Describe yourself, background and connection to Iraq.

Ghazwan: I am an engineer, a medical engineer who worked with, and not for, the Iraqi Ministry of Health. I am living in occupied Baghdad. I lived most of my 60 years in Iraq. I have been, for the last twelve years, active in the anti-sanctions and anti-war movement in Iraq. I devoted a lot of my time talking and exchanging ideas with foreign activists visiting Iraq. The war of 1991 forced me to close my engineering business and forced me to give myself an early retirement. I pride myself as an independent thinker with no connection to any political party in power. In addition to my experience I also draw on the experiences of my wife, a gynecologist who worked 30 years at the Ministry of Health.

Zeese: What have you observed regarding the behavior of US troops and the reaction to them from the people of Baghdad?

Ghazwan: The American forces occupied my kids school at the beginning of the occupation. I repeatedly asked them to leave the school so that our kids can go back to classes. They refused. I had Al-Jazeera make a report on that and the troops still did not leave. I called CNN and took them to the school and they talked to the principal. I am not sure if they broadcast that. CBS was also invited by us to visit the school and again interviews with teachers, students and parents. Again I am not sure CBS conveyed the message. Out of desperation we led a demonstration to “free our school” from the American occupation. This time we did not rely on the American news media. We issued a press release that we will demonstrate and free our schools on May 3 rd 2003. The idea is that they can not occupy schools and convert them to military bases. WE MANAGED TO FREE OUR SCHOOL !!!! Many non-American papers did report the freeing of our school!

Looting started after the fall of Baghdad. Most of the hospitals in Baghdad were looted . The only hospital in Baghdad that was protected by the American forces was the “Al-Wasiti” hospital. This was done simply because a Reuter’s correspondent, a British journalist injured before the fall of Baghdad, was in that hospital. For 3 days I kept going to that hospital, sometimes more than once a day, and each time I asked the Americans to do something about looting the other four nearby hospitals. Regrettably each time I asked them they refused to interfere or to call the responsible commanders to take action to stop the looting. I do not want to speculate as to WHY.

The US forces not only did not stop the looting and burning of hospitals and other official buildings but in fact encouraged it. US Secretary of Defense Rumsfield justified these actions by saying that the looting was “part of the price” for what the United States and Britain have called “the liberation of Iraq”. Rumsfeld also made a comment that: ” Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things .” His comment serves to highlight the attitude of the occupation authorities.

One of the first acts of the occupation authority was to dissolve the army and the police forces at a time when the country needed them most. After about two months of near total chaos, the occupation authorities created a new police force. This new police force depended mostly on new recruits without any experience and a few experienced former police officers. Police officers who were in service before the occupation were seen to be unfit for the “new” force because of their “alleged” association with the old regime. This policy deprived the police force of the experience of very highly qualified police officers.

By dissolving the police force and the army the US wanted to be “the only game in town” something that they regretted later. Ministries and state establishment were also dissolved. Government employees were kicked out of their jobs without being paid any compensation or social security benefit or retirement benefits. The lack of security and other services like electricity, water, sewage or reasonable health services reflected badly, or were attributed to the American occupation force. Things started to go from bad to worse. Most people started blaming America.

Zeese: How has the occupation affected employment in Iraq and how have employment decision effected reconstruction?

Ghazwan: Unemployment has risen dramatically since the occupation. There are an estimated five million Iraqis who are unemployed . The current unemployment rate is 60% of the total population, compared to 30% before the war . This rapid increase in unemployment is largely the result of the CPA’s “de-Ba’athification” campaign, meaning the decision to disband Iraq’s military and dismantle much of Iraq’s state bureaucracy. This put 750,000 people out of work . The destruction and looting of factories, the inability to find spare parts needed to fix them, the general lawlessness, and the lack of electricity and fuel resulted in additional closure of factories adding to the number of unemployed. This high level of unemployment fueled the insurgency by putting many angry young men on the street.

U.S. reconstruction policy – importing contractors rather than hiring Iraqis fuels economic problems in Iraq. Fewer than 25,000 Iraqis are working on projects in the U.S. reconstruction efforts. In fact the Bush administration concedes that less than one percen t of Iraq’s workforce of seven million is currently involved in the reconstruction process. Most of Iraq’s reconstruction has been contracted out to American companies, rather than Iraqi or regional companies . This practice helps to maintain Iraq’s high unemployment rate. Obviously, this has a disastrous impact on Iraq’s economy.

To make matters worse, the work to date has proceeded far too slowly, AND it is extremely expensive, but of substandard quality. After 24 months of occupation hundreds of government buildings are still destroyed. We Iraqis see NO visible sign of ongoing work on these buildings. Local contractors and government contracting companies are capable and qualified to do the reconstruction work. Money for these reconstruction projects is available. As of June 22, 2004 the CPA had used “less than 2 percent of the reconstruction money lawmakers provided. The funds were meant to finance everything from training Iraqi police to starting small businesses to rebuilding the country’s electric, water, health, and oil production facilities.”

The need is there, the manpower is there, the material is there, and the money is there. However, the will and the decision to start the reconstruction AND hence reduce the unemployment are, regrettably, not there. Unemployment will continue to be above 50% until and unless meaningful and honest efforts are made to carry out the reconstruction.

Zeese: Describe the health care system in Iraq.

Ghazwan: Before August 1990, the health care system in Iraq was based on an extensive and developed network of primary, secondary and tertiary health care facilities. After 1990, the situation of the health care system changed drastically. The Gulf War, followed by more than 10 years of sanctions has resulted in significant damage to the health care network.

Because of the current situation, the health facilities are dealing with a severe shortage of critically needed items and supplies. The poor environmental quality, reported malnutrition and difficult socioeconomic conditions have seriously aggravated this health situation.

The situation in Baghdad’s hospitals is critical, particularly in terms of unhygienic and unsafe working conditions , according to a recent survey by the US-based Medicine For Peace (MFP) NGO. The looting, the lack of security, the lack of planning for improvement all lead to further deteriorating medical services.

To complicate the health crises more than 100 doctors have been kidnapped for ransom by criminal gangs in Iraq since the occupation. Countless doctors and scientist were threatened and forced to flee from Iraq. Indeed, a few hundred highly qualified doctors ran away from the country not because of the tyranny of Saddam but because of the lack of security in the American run Iraq.

During the period of economic sanctions the Iraqi medical colleges were able to train more than 2,000 specialist’s doctors despite US and UK embargo on medical journals and books coming into the country. This intellectual genocide is unprecedented in history.

To complicate the health situation further after the occupation the sewage and water systems stopped working properly. The whole city sewage system is not working. Reasons? Lack of electricity to drive sewage pumps, spare parts for sewage stations, specialized sewage trucks with vacuum pumps for maintenance…. and most importantly the will and the decision to improve and fix things. This is lacking under the current government.

Before the occupation we had 800 garbage trucks now we have 80 . Why? Do we wait for the World Bank, US AID, or Bechtel to rehire the 720 drivers or to buy new trucks? We had money until $8.8 Billion went missing and unaccounted for by the CPA!!!! By the way this $8.8 is enough to feed all the 26 million Iraqis for more than 60 months of the current food ration!!! [See for the facts on the missing $8.8 Billion of Coalition Provisional Authority dollars and discussion of other problems with the economics of the occupation.]

Zeese: Can the United States win the hearts and minds of Iraqis?

Ghazwan: Not preventing the looting and occupying schools are totally unacceptable and is illegal because it is the duty of the occupying force to withhold the law and order. Dissolving the police and the army and the resultant chaotic situation is a good indication that America started on the wrong footing in Iraq.

Stories about American soldiers stealing money from the poor Iraqis started to emerge very soon after the occupation. The first thing that Americans did was to grant themselves total immunity from prosecution and Iraqi courts were not allowed to hear any complaint against the Americans and those working for them. This deprived the Iraqis the right to seek legal action for crimes committed against them by the American force.

Arrests and detention became more frequent and stories of human rights abuse became widely known “secrets.” I personally handed Amnesty International delegations visiting Baghdad around end of May 2003 pictures of torture by the American forces. Even Arab media were afraid to cover such stories until the CBS pictures were released. The graphic images we kept seeing for months helped to inflame the resentment to the way Americans were treating the Iraqi detainees.

Saddam used Abu Ghraib prison to torture prisoners. In November 2002 all prisoners in Iraq were released and Abu Ghraib prison was closed. The Americans reopened the prison again and started torturing Iraqis more savagely. It is now more appropriate to call it Abu Gulag!!! To add insult to injury we were told that those actions are done by “the seven bad apples” and they want us to believe that!!! The torture migrated, or was it illegally smuggled!!!, from Gitmo to Afghanistan to Iraq. I think that lie was the straw that broke the camels back.

The attack on Falluja, the US use of chemical weapons against it civilian population , the total destruction of the city of 350,000 people and making them refuges did more to increase the resentment exponentially. Now we are reading that there is a video CD, created by members of the US forces, called “Ramadi madness” this does not surprise me at all. It is only another example of the American madness

One British journalist wrote in The Economist an article “When deadly force bumps into hearts and minds “. He gives examples how and why Americas lost the battle to win the hearts and mind. He is one of the few “embedded”, and not “inbeded”, reporters who had the courage to report what he sees. His name was withheld by The Economist probably fearing he might be shut out by the Americans.

Zeese: What can you tell us about civilian deaths in Iraq?

Ghazwan: It is very hard to know the exact human cost of the occupation of Iraq. The U.S. military refuses to monitor or even estimate the number of Iraqi civilian casualties. Gen. Tommy Franks says, “We don’t do body counts.” Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director of Operations for the U.S. Military, said U.S. forces do not have the capacity to track Iraqi civilian casualties. According to the Associated Press, the American-appointed Iraqi Minister of Health “has ordered a halt to a count of civilians killed during the war and told its statistics department not to release figures compiled so far.” The official who oversaw the count provided this information.

Iraq Body Count, a group of academics and researchers, has compiled a comprehensive account of civilian casualties during the war. IBC researchers have determined that as of May, 2005, somewhere between 21,447 and maximum 24,324 civilians have been killed as a direct result of the U.S. invasion and ensuing occupation of Iraq. Other researchers put the estimate over 100,000 civilian deaths.

Data from past wars shows us that the number of wounded in war is about three times as many killed. This means that approximately 65,000 Iraqis may have been wounded as of May 2005. However, Iraq’s hospitals and health system have been understaffed and overwhelmed throughout the war, meaning that the actual number could be even higher. Months ago, Medact, an organization dedicated to alleviating the health effects of war, estimates that at least 40,000 Iraqis have been injured.

During “major combat” operations, between 4,895 and 6,370 Iraqi soldiers and insurgents were killed. The nature of the fighting has made it difficult to distinguish civilians from fighters. The Pentagon provides day-to-day estimates of insurgent deaths, but Iraqis on the ground claim that occupying forces unfairly categorize civilians as insurgents. For example, during the spring 2004 siege of Fallujah, over 600 Iraqis were killed. Rahul Mahajan, a journalist reporting from Fallujah during that period, estimated that the dead included 100 children and 200 women. However, the U.S. commander of the operation, without visiting any hospitals or cemeteries, insisted that of the 600 killed, “95 percent of those were military age males.”

Zeese: Can you compare Iraq today with Iraq under Saddam Hussein?

Ghazwan: I will not try to proportionate the blame between Saddam and America for the ills that happened to us, the Iraqi people, since I believe the civilized world should not have turned the blind eye to the blight of the Iraqi people just because the ills were done by Saddam. Probably the civilized world is more guilty than Saddam because Saddam was a known dictator long before the Gulf War stated in 1991. Some of those civilized and bleeding hearts were in Baghdad meeting Saddam, shaking his hand and later on supported him in his war against Iran. They totally disregarded Saddam’s human rights abuse for their political gains. I am sure you know that I am referring to the visit in 1983 and 1984 by none other than Donald Rumsfield who aligned his country, the USA, to a dictator like Saddam.

One basic measure that highlights how Iraq is doing is food supplies. During the 1980s Iraq had one of the highest levels of per capita food availability in the Middle East. Calorie availability data from FAO food balance sheets show an increase from 1,958 kcal in 1961 to approximately 3,200 kcal during 1984 – 1990. The latter figure exceeds the estimated average caloric requirement of the Iraqi population of 2,250 kcal per person/day.

Dietary habits and preferences included consumption of large quantities and varieties of meat, as well as chicken, pulses, grains, vegetables, fruits and dairy products. Common diets are believed to have had ample levels of most nutrients; in fact, the rate of obesity was on the increase. Food items not produced locally were widely available and sold at subsidized price by the Government of Iraq (GOI).

Production and importation of food declined rapidly in 1990 when comprehensive trade sanctions drastically reduced the country’s purchasing power. The trade sanctions had several negative effects: increase in the inflation rate (the price of food soared), and an increase in the rate of unemployment. Existing salaries and benefits did not reflect the inflation rate. Poverty became widespread.

The previous diet became unattainable for most Iraqis. Deprivation changed the food habits of most people. Rationing further influenced these habits. In an attempt to address the food security crisis, GOI re-introduced a public food rationing system in September 1990. GOI rationed wheat flour, rice, sugar, vegetable oil, lentils, tea, and milk powder. The composition of the ration over 1990-1997 changed several times, reflecting GOI’s declining financial capacity to provide food for its population.

The availability of food increased in successive phases of the Oil for Food Programme, providing, on average, 2,000 -2,200 kcal per person.

Routine distribution of food on this scale is in itself a massive logistic operation that appears to work flawlessly. Some 24 million people (20.5 million in the south/centre and 3.5 million in northern Iraq), or roughly 3.7 million families currently receive an average of 2,230 kcal per person per day (kcal/p/d).

Since 1997, 60% of households interviewed in Iraq were totally dependant on the ration system and reported that rations lasted less than 20 days. Iodized salt, pulses and rice are depleted the fastest, while sugar and wheat flour last the longest.

As Iraqis used to have much greater access to higher quantities and quality of food, cultural patterns of food preference and eating habits likely influence the acceptability of current diets. In order to make an assessment of the Oil for Food Programme, we would need to look at the Programme in a broader context.

Another interesting way to look at Iraq today is oil. We have the third largest oil reserves in the world. Yet, we have an added crisis right now of petrol. Iraq was an exporting country of diesel fuel and refined oil products. Since the occupation, we have been importing oil from Turkey. No one fixes the refineries. There is a huge queue of cars waiting to get oil or petrol. And the U.S. Congress said in May 2003, seven out of 18 governmentals had more than 16 hours of electricity. Now we are getting two hours of electricity right in Baghdad.

For a more complete description of the conditions before and after the U.S. invasion and occupation please see my report:

Zeese: What was your reaction — and the reaction of other Iraqi’s — to the recent election? Do you consider it to be a legitimate election?

Ghazwan: I do not believe that the election was legitimate, the election was held under the occupation. The occupying power has modified the basic rules in Iraq as to who is an Iraqi and who is not. The election was shoved down our throat because all the major parties, including Allawi’s party, requested that the election be postponed. That was in November. And before even the independent electoral commission could decide on the request, President Bush said he does not want the election to be postponed and Ambassador Negroponte said, oddly enough from Fallujah that the elections will be held on January 30. It is an Iraqi election, it is not a U.S. election, it is not Negroponte’s election, it is the Iraqi people’s election. So, if the Iraqi parties wanted to postpone the election, they should have been able to do so without the interference of the United States government.

Anyway, the election was forced down our throat, a lot of people boycotted it. The Sunnis boycotted the elections. Some of the Shias boycotted it. Muktadar Al Sadr faction boycotted the election. Al Khalaf faction boycotted the election. There is a resistance to the occupation in Iraq. This resistance stems from the fact that our life has been, for the last 24 months, deteriorating day and night and we have not seen any improvement in our condition for the last 24 months, nor that anything has been reconstructed. The telephone system is bad, the electricity is worse, the security condition is worse. A lot of people are saying, why do I vote? What does the government do for me? They did absolutely nothing. The shocking thing is that the conditions after 24 months of occupation are a lot worse in every single aspect of life than with Saddam Hussein, after 12 years of sanction.

I did not vote and I will not vote to any one of those people who came on the back of the American banks and their military.

Zeese: Are you taking a risk speaking out against the US government occupation?

Ghazwan: I do not only criticize the United States occupation. I also criticized Saddam. I called him a ruthless dictator. He did not arrest me. On the otherhand when America destroyed our telephone system in 2003 they set up a small mobile system which they used and shared with NGO. We called it the (914) system, a US number with country code 1, and was ran by MCI. My wife was working as a doctor for the UNDP so she was issued this 914 telephone. Amy Goodman from Democracy Now sent me a message to give her a phone number so they could call for interview. I gave her my wife’s number (cheep local call!!) she called and we talked about the situation in Iraq. Two days later the phone went dead and was never reactivated again. I think BIG BROTHER did not like what I said. Democracy?

By the way I write because I found out that it vents my frustration. What America fears the most is for you people to know the TRUTH

In comparing Saddam with US actions there are remarkable similarities. Both Iraq and Iran had and used chemical weapons in their war. The United States and the United Kingdom assisted, encouraged, armed, priovided intelligence and protected Iraq in the UN during Iraq’s war with Iran for their own political and economic goals. Iraq used gas in Halabja then the two governments, UK and US, made every effort to cover-up facts, again for their political and economic interests. Saddam supposedly “gased” his own people during the war with Iran: Not according to the CIA offical who wrote in the N.Y. Times that the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency issued a report that said this was speculation and that in fact it was likely Iran used gas on the Kurds.

Iraq was on the Amnesty International list for human rights violations for decades. For 20 years, the UK and US government told us that, Saddam Hussein, and the government, was “not so bad.” They ignored human right abuses for their political and economic self interest.

It was not until 1990 that the US and UK governments started talking about 30,000+ political prisoners and human rights abuses. Where were they for 20 years!

During the Gulf War the allies deliberately bombed vital civilian targets like water purification plants, sewage systems, electricity, irrigation, hospitals, roads… in violation of UN conventions. Such facilities are essential for the civilian population. I am not going to tell you about the unjustified killing on the highway of death nor talk about the use of depleted uranium and its disastrous long-term effects. [See Iraq War Facts section on history of Iraq for further discussion of these issues.]

The economic sanctions were imposed on Iraq for more than 10 years. These sanctions have caused any were between 500,000 to 1.5 million additional deaths, nearly 300,000 children less than 5 years old. Add up all of the civilians killed by Saddam and there would be less than 500,000 deaths. The U.S. has certainly killed more Iraqi civilians since 1991.

Regarding Saddam, I will accept any figure you wish to quote for political prisoners. While Saddam’s atrocities cannot be justified let me make the following distinction: The political prisoners are adults who decided willingly to oppose the government knowing the fact that their action is punishable by death. The same thing CANNOT be said for the nearly 300,000 children under five they are too young to know the responsibility – killed by economic sanctions. With the economic sanctions the American and the British governments took all the 20+ million Iraq’s as hostages for over 11 years.

While Saddam denied the Iraqi people of their political rights The UK-USA-UN have denied the people of Iraq most of their other rights, namely the right to have decent education, clean water, medical health through the economic sanctions. And, now with the war and occupation not only have these basic necessities continued to be taken from us but now our political rights are being taken as well.

One is free to accuse Saddam of anything they want, America has accused him of September 11, Anthrax and weapons of mass destruction to justify invading Iraq – only to find out that it is not true.

Saddam tortured the Iraqi people. The Bush Army used the same prison and tortured the Iraqi people. Pictures speak louder than words.

Saddam is accused of using poison gas, but according to the American appointed ministry of health offical the Bush Army not only destroyed Fallujja BUT “gased” the Iraqi people See:

Saddam killed people and burried them in mass graves. See what the Americans did

What else are we going to findout?

While Saddam Hussein’s actions could be looked at as stupid acts of a dictator I wish I could say the same on the actions of elected and civilized governments who imposed a genocidal sanctions on 20+ million Iraqi’s and then illegally invaded and occupied our country.

Zeese: If there were a national vote on whether the United States should continue to have a military and corporate presence in Iraq how do you think Iraqi’s would vote?

Ghazwan: So, all those factors will indicate that the people are discontented, the people are resentful of the presence of the American forces, that the people are dissatisfied with the occupation, because they have not seen any improvement in their life. Unemployment is very high; it’s at about 60%. People are starving. This is the basis for the resistance. It’s not the Mussabu Al Zarqawi and Abu, I don’t know who, or the terrorists coming from the outside of Iraq. It is the indigenous Iraqi resistance. While we were told that Saddam Hussein was torturing us, we are finding after 22 months that the Americans are torturing us, the British are torturing us, the Danish are torturing us and now we discover that the Iraqi forces, the ING is torturing us. So, instead of one having one torturer, now we have four torturers. And you want us to be happy with the election.

KEVIN ZEESE is a director of Democracy Rising. You can comment on this article by visiting his blogspot at www.DemocracyRising.US.

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Kevin Zeese is an organizer at Popular Resistance.