EcoMole: Special Iraq Edition
'The First Casualty of War: the Independent Media', 'Did the US Encourage the Looting of Baghdad?' 'Did Baghdad Fall or Was It Pushed?' 'Democracy for Iraq could Mean Oil for Israel', 'When Globalization Fails, There's Always War', and 'Some Priorities ..
April 23, 2003

One day, the mothers of children killed or maimed by British cluster bombs
will thank Britain for their use.

- British Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon,
April 5, 2003

The First Casualty of War: the Independent Media
Al-Jazeera reporter Tariq Ayoub, minutes before he was killed by a US airstrike. Credit: Al-Jezeera
The first independent journalist murdered by US forces was Terry Lloyd of Britain's ITV. He was shot dead in his car by American soldiers in southern Iraq. Lloyd's film crew was reported missing. Unfortunately, Lloyd was not the last journalist to die from US fire.

On April 8, a US jet took aim at the office of al-Jazeera and fired a rocket that sheared off the top of the building. Veteran TV reporter Tariq Ayoub was broadcasting live from the roof of the building when the rocket struck, killing him and seriously wounding a cameraman.

Four hours later, a US M1A1 tank on the Jamhuriya Bridge suddenly spun its guns toward the Palestine Hotel (which houses nearly 200 members of the independent world press) and sent a round into the 15th floor office of Reuters. The shell killed Taras Protsyuk, a Ukranian cameraman and JosĀECouso from Spain's Tele 5. Two other Reuters reporters, Paul Pasquale (Britain) and Samia Nakhoul (Lebanon-Palestine) were seriously wounded.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent (London) called the April 8 attacks "very like murder."

The attack on Al-Jazeera was no accident. Two months before the invasion, the Doha-based news agency had given the Pentagon the precise coordinates of the office and had been assured that the bureau would not be targeted. Al-Jazeera had cause to be concerned: During the Afghan war in 2001, US rockets had destroyed its offices in Kabul.

General Buford Blount, whose Third Infantry Division troops opened fire on the Palestine Hotel claimed that his troops were "returning fire" from snipers at the hotel. Not one journalist in the vicinity has corroborated this charge. A French videotape of the event contains no sounds of any fire in the minutes leading up to the unprovoked tank assault.

"Something very dangerous appeared to be getting loose yesterday," Fisk wrote. "General Blount's explanation was the kind employed by the Israelies after they have killed the innocent." Recalling that Britain's Home Secretary David Blunkett had recently accused independent -- i.e., "non-embedded" -- journalists of working "behind enemy lines," Fisk asked if there was "some element in the US military that wants to take out journalists?"

Canadian professor Michel Chossudovsky believes that the attacks on independent journalists were "an integral part of the Pentagon's war plans." Prior to the invasion, the Pentagon stated that it could not be responsible for the safety of independent journalists. And as BBC correspondent Kate Adie revealed, Washington explicitly threatened to "target" any independent journalists who attempted to use satellite mobile phones. One Pentagon official told Adie, that any reporters not working within the US military command structure would be "targeted down... Who cares... They've been warned."

"The underlying objective,"Chossudovsky stated, "was to unseat the 'unembedded media' and disrupt factual and objective reporting... With the entry of US troops into Baghdad, the independent journalists... were brought under the direct control of the US military."

Did the US Encourage the Looting of Baghdad?
Months before the US invasion of Iraq, scholars and archeologists from around the world had beseeched the Pentagon to take special care to protect the country's priceless archeological heritage. They specifically called on the US to guarantee the security of the National Museum of Antiquities.

Instead, the US occupation of Baghdad was accompanied by a 48-hour binge of looting and destruction that emptied the national library and gutted the National Museum of more than 140,000 artifacts, many of which were 7,000 years old. The only site that did receive US protection was Iraq's Ministry of Oil.

In the aftermath of the looting, stories have begun to surface that suggest US troops not only did nothing to stop the pillaging, but were actively engaged in an organized attempt to encourage the looters.

One report comes from Ole Rothenborg, a reporter for Sweden's Dagens Nyheter. Rothenborg inverviewed an eyewitness to the rioting, a Swedish Ph.D student at the University of Lund named Khalend Bayomi.

On April 8, Bayomi was in Iraq, visiting friends in a run-down neighborhood on the west bank of the Tigris River. There had been a lot of intense fighting, Bayomi recalled but "during the afternoon it became perfectly quiet. Four American tanks pulled up in position on the outskirts of the slum area. From these tanks we heard anxious calls in Arabic, which told the population to come closer...

"After three-quarters of an hour, the first Baghdad citizens dared to come forward. At that moment, the US soldier shot two Sudanese guards, who were posted in front of a local administrative building on the other side of Haifa Avenue.

"I was just 300-meters away when the guards were murdered. Then they shot the building entrance to pieces and their Arabic translators in the tanks told people to run for grabs inside the building. Rumors spread rapidly and the house was cleaned out. Moments later, tanks broke down the doors to the Justice Department, residing in the neighboring building and looting was carried on there.

"I was standing in a big crowd of civilians that saw... They did not take any part in the looting but were afraid to take any action against it. Many of them had tears of shame in their eyes. The next morning, looting spread to the Museum of Modern Art."

When Rothenborg asked if he believed that US troops had encouraged the looting, Bayomi replied, "Absolutely. The lack of scenes of joy had the US forces in need of images of Iraqis who in different ways demonstrated their disgust with Saddam's regime."

When the predicted throngs of "liberated" Iraqis dancing in the streets failed to materialize, the Pentagon was beginning to look bad. At this point, Bayomi reasoned, the media wing of the military occupation settled for the next best thing: images of Iraqis "spontaneously" rising up to attack the symbols of Saddam's regime.

Did Baghdad Fall or Was It Pushed?
Jalal Ghazi believes he knows why Baghdad "collapsed" without a fight: the game was rigged. In the first weeks of the invasion, there were repeated stories in the Arab press about secret back-channel negotiations that were underway between US and Iraqi officials to arrange a surrender.

"Arabic media are using the word safqa to explain the sudden collapse of Baghdad and they Iraqi regime," Ghazi explained in an essay for the Pacific News Service [], "Translated into English, safqa means 'a deal made fast and in secrecy.'"

This theory explains a lot of baffling events. "Baath forces refrained from destroying a single bridge in Baghdad, which could have blocked US tanks access to the city, at least temporarily," Ghazi notes. In addition, "None of the senior Baath officials has surrendered to date, with the exception of two high-level scientists. Instead, tens of thousands of Baath operatives managed to disappear without a sign of internal divisions."

According to Ghazi, the Safqa Theory also explains "why most of the Iraqi forces, including the Republican Guards, were nowhere to be found when US forces entered Baghdad."

Throughout the Middle East, Ghazi reports, Arabs not only "routinely talk of the deal that saved Baghdad," they also speculate that "the same deal may have saved Saddam." One rumor is that Saddam escaped to Mecca. If that rumor proves to be true, Ghazi writes, "it would be one further clue that the architect of the safqa between the Baath and the US was Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah -- a trusted intermediary of the Bush family and the only Arab leader invited to President Bush's Crawford ranch."

Democracy for Iraq and Oil for Israel
George W. Bush has vaguely stated that the United Nations will play an undefined "vital role" in rebuilding Iraq. So far, however, the biggest rebuilders have been politically well-connected US firms like Halliburton and Bechtel. The Bush doctrine for nation-building in Baghdad does not recognize UN authority in the region. Instead, it proposes "helping Iraqis build a new Iraq" in such a fashion that the US "will have moral authority to promote its other objectives in the region."

If the Iraqi people are supposed to be in charge of rebuilding their country and if, as GWB has repeatedly claimed, Iraq's oil wealth is to be "returned to the Iraqi people," there is one reconstruction project that has caused more than a few eyebrows to flutter. As Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies observed in an April 10 essay, "The Israeli press reports negotiations are underway to reopen the British colonial-era oil pipeline from Mosul to Haifa. The pipeline was closed in 1948 with the creation of Israel. It's reopening would dramatically increase Israel's oil independence and lower its energy costs."

Bennis notes that Ahmad Chalabi, Dick Cheney's pick to rule Iraq, is known for his "longstanding support for Israel and [his'] interest in normalizing Israeli ties with the Arab world and maintaining its military power."

When Globalization Fails, There's Always War
In an article that appeared in The Nation and The Guardian (London) Naomi Klein warns that Iraq stands to become "a blank slate on which the most ideological Washington neoliberals can design their dream economy -- fully privatized, foreign-owned and open for business."

Klein agrees with critics who argue that the invasion was not about oil. "They're right. It's about oil, water, road, trains, phones, ports and drugs. And if this process isn't halted, 'free Iraq' will be the most sold country on Earth."

The White House has tried to deflect criticism for the generous no-bid reconstruction contracts that have gone to GOP-friendly multinationals by pointing out that it is the Agency for International Development that is making the decisions. But, as Klein points out, "The length of time these contracts will last is left unspecified. How long before they meld into long-term contracts for water services, transit systems, roads, schools and phones? When does reconstruction turn into privatization in disguise?"

Klein cites one egregious example of opportunism. GOP Congressman Darrel Issa is pushing legislation to require that Iraq be saddled with a CDMA cellphone system. While CDMA is favored in the US, however, it is not the standard used in Europe. Conveniently, Klein reports, CDMA's developer, Qualcomm, happens to be "one of Issa's most generous donors."

It's not just the promise of $100 billion in reconstruction contracts that has the multinational applauding George W. Bush's military triumphalism. As Klein observes, "It's been clear that 'free-trade' by less-violent means hasn't been going that well lately. More and more developing countries are rejecting privatization, while the Free Trade Area of the Americas, Bush's top trade priority, is wildly unpopular across Latin America.

"So what's a recessionary, growth-addicted superpower to do?" Klein asks rhetorically. "How about upgrading from Free Trade Lite, which wrestles market access through backroom bullying at the WTO, to Free Trade Supercharged, which seizes new markets on the battlefields of pre-emptive wars?

"After all," Klein reflects, "negotiations with sovereign countries can be hard. Far easier to just tear up the country, occupy it, then rebuild it the way you want."

What is in store for conquered Iraq, Klein predicts, is not reconstruction: "It is robbery: mass theft disguised as charity; privatization without representiaton."

Some Priorities for Post-Invasion Iraq
The Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies has issued a list of goals for US policy in Iraq. They are as follows:
  • We call for an end to US occupation of Iraq.
  • We call for the UN, not the US, to help Iraq create a new, representative and indigenous government. The UN's central role must involve real decision-making power; it must not be a fig-leaf fdesigned to provide political cover to unilateral US action. General Jay Garner's authority should be turned over to a UN special representative.
  • We call for the US to immediately provide for the urgent needs of the Iraqi population, including water, electricity, medical supplies.
  • We will hold the US accountable for its claims that this war is about democratization and not about empire, oil, and the expansion of US power.

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