Katrina and Iraq

As I watched the scenes on television — soldiers driving by dead bodies in the street, wayward people looking like refugees, soldiers pointing their guns at civilians — I could not help but think of Baghdad, but it was New Orleans. The reports of people on the ground were even worse:

“Police drove by, windows rolled up, thumbs up signs. National guard trucks rolled by, completely empty, soldiers with guns cocked and aimed at them. Nobody stopped to drop off water. A helicopter dropped a load of water, but all the bottles exploded on impact due to the height of the helicopter.

“The first day (Wednesday) 4 people died next to her. The second day (Thursday) 6 people died next to her. Denise told me the people around her all thought they had been sent there to die. Again, nobody stopped.

“The only buses that came were full; they dropped off more and more people, but nobody was being picked up and taken away. They found out that those being dropped off had been rescued from rooftops and attics; they got off the buses delirious from lack of water and food, completely dehydrated.”

* * *

“The new arrivals had mostly lost their minds, they had gone crazy. Inside the convention center, the place was one huge bathroom. In order to deficate, you had to stand in other people’s shit. The floors were black and slick with shit. Most people stayed outside because the smell was so bad, but outside wasn’t much better: between the heat, the humidity, the lack of water, the old and very young dying from dehydration… and there was no place to lay down, not even room on the sidewalk.”

* * *

“Yes, there were young men with guns there, but they organized the crowd. They went to Canal Street and ‘looted,’ and brought back food and water for the old people and the babies, because nobody had eaten in days. When the police rolled down windows and yelled out ‘the buses are coming,’ the young men with guns organized the crowd in order: Old people in front, women and children next, men in the back. Just so that when the buses came, there would be priorities of who got out first.”

* * *

“She saw a young man who had stolen a car speed past, cops in pursuit; he crashed the car, got out and ran, and the cops shot him in the back, in front of the whole crowd. She saw many groups of people decide that they were going to walk across the bridge to the west bank, and those same groups would return, saying that they were met at the top of the bridge by armed police ordering them to turn around, that they weren’t allowed to leave.”

The story of Denise Moore as reported by Lisa Moore.

The parallels between the Iraq War and the U.S. preparation and response to Hurricane Katrina demonstrate that Katrina is the Iraq War Come Home to Roost.

Like Iraq, Katrina demonstrates the limited power of the world’s last remaining superpower. Just as the U.S. is unable to defeat the resistence in Iraq, we were unable to handle a hurricane on the Gulf Coast. The death, destruction and devastation of both have been seen by the American people on their televisions at home. As a result it has become more difficult to hoodwink the voters ­ despite their best propagandistic efforts ­ the truth came through loud and clear. Despite the hubris of political leaders, the power of the United States is not absolute. People are realizing that the priorities of their government need to be rethought.

The ineptitude of all levels of government in their response to Katrina closely mirrors the unmitigated disaster of Iraq. In both cases political leadership ignored the facts. Predictions of the likely natural disaster in New Orleans were ignored. In Iraq, the President and Congress ignored the warnings of retired military officers, foreign service officials and intelligence officials ­ as well as leaders from around the world ­ as to the likely disaster of an Iraq invasion. The president went forward despite these warnings and the Congress gave its bi-partisan blessing ­ and continues to bless it ­ with repeated votes supporting and funding the war and occupation of Iraq.

Today the people of Baghdad and New Orleans share many realities in common. Both suffer inadequate or polluted drinking water, inconsistent electricity, insufficient medical care, toxins in their environment and soldiers patrolling their streets with guns drawn, pointed at civilians. Civilians in both cities have been described by the same words “insurgents,” “refugees,” “criminals.” And, in both cases racism is a factor. Few in America doubt that if those left behind in New Orleans were wealthy, white Americans that the response of the government would have been quicker. A large majority of African Americans have reached that conclusion, even though some European Americans still deny the obvious. In Iraq, and in the war on terrorism generally, prejudice against Arabs, Muslims and Persians is evident in the actions of government. In both cases the body counts of these black and brown people is not even reported by U.S. authorities.

Indeed, as in Iraq, the U.S. government explicitly says it does not do body counts. In New Orleans, Cecilia M. Vega of the Chronicle reported on September 13:

“a member of the Army 82nd Airborne Division summoned a reporter and photographer standing nearby and told them that if they took pictures or wrote a story about the body recovery process, he would take away their press credentials and kick them out of the state.

“‘No photos. No stories,’ said the man, wearing camouflage fatigues and a red beret.

“On Saturday, after being challenged in court by CNN, the Bush administration agreed not to prevent the news media from following the effort to recover the bodies of Hurricane Katrina victims.

“But on Monday, in the Bywater district, that assurance wasn’t being followed. The 82nd Airborne soldier told reporters the Army had a policy that requires media to be 300 meters ­ more than three football fields in length ­ away from the scene of body recoveries in New Orleans. If reporters wrote stories or took pictures of body recoveries, they would be reported and face consequences, he said, including a loss of access for up-close coverage of certain military operations.”

In New Orleans and the Gulf states there was an immediate response by the American people to the images of death and destruction sent to our television sets has forced the president to admit mistakes. And, has government officials pointing the finger of blame at each other ­ when in fact there is blame to go around at all levels of government.

In Iraq, the reponse of the American public has been slower but building. Support for the war is dropping steadily. Support for the president’s handling of Iraq is shrinking rapidly while support for the Congress has also diminished. With massive anti-war rallies planned for September 24 pressure on Iraq will continue to mount. And, with the 2006 Congressional elections approaching ­ and a ‘throw the bums out’ mentality growing among voters ­ we may even see the president and congressional leaders admit they made a mistake in Iraq. More and more anti-war candidates are coming forward and as they do the incumbents will realize their support for the Iraq quagmire jeapordizes their political futures ­ despite their best efforts to gerrymander their districts into safe spaces for incumbents.

The lesson for the anti-war movement from Katrina is challenge those in power. If they support the war, no matter what party they are from, they need to be challenged electorally. If you cannot run, then get involved in campaigns of anti-war candidates so that those who support this illegal war will know there will be a price to pay ­ their political career is at risk.

KEVIN ZEESE is director of Democracy Rising and a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Maryland. You can comment on this column on either http://www.DemocracyRising.US.

Coming tomorrow: Part II The Lessons of Katrina.








We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005


Kevin Zeese is an organizer at Popular Resistance.