Eyewitness report on the legacy of the occupation of Iraq

by Sabah Jawad, Stop the War Coalition (UK)

October 2009

Sabah Jawad has just returned from Iraq. He reports on a country still devastated by the effects of the war and explains how the very foundations of society have been shattered by the US.

In 2003 the Iraqi state structures, not only the regime of Saddam Hussein, were destroyed. All the institutions of the Iraqi state were disbanded - the ministries and buildings were destroyed, the civil service sent home. The police, army, museums, national heritage and libraries were all destroyed, looted and burned down.

Over the past six years the US have tried to build a new state on foundations of sand. They have introduced the cosmetics of democracy, devoid of genuine content. The new US-built edifice is certainly not what the Iraqi people struggled for under 35 years of Saddam's dictatorship.

The US have planted seeds of discontent and fragmentation within Iraqi society by constructing a political system based on sectarianism and ethnic divisions. This is in line with the divide and rule practice of the old colonialist powers. The French did it in Lebanon; the British did it in Iraq and many other parts of the world.

Though not enshrined in law, sectarian and ethnic identities dictate the allocation of the executive's posts. Therefore, the prime minister has to be a Shia, and the ministries are reserved for the various sects, religions and ethnicities. The president has to be a Kurd, his two vice-presidents have to be a Shia and a Sunni, and the leader of the parliament has to be a Sunni with two deputies, one Shia and one Kurd.

Each ministry has US and British advisers who dictate policy, especially in important ministries like oil. Even the Iraqi army, now the National Guard, is constructed on ethnic and sectarian lines. For example, you have a section of the army that recruits mostly Sunni Muslims and another that recruits only Shias while the Kurdish militias of the two ruling Kurdish parties are the army of the Kurdish region. This means your loyalty is to your sect or ethnicity.

With such entrenchment of divisions it is not difficult to foresee the eruption of conflicts among the various Iraqi ruling factions, which, while loyal to the US, are at each other's throats fighting over a greater share of power.

Corruption is also a serious problem. Last month the deputy transport minister was caught red-handed on video, accepting a bribe of $100,000 as part of a bigger payment of $500,000 from a foreign company seeking a contract at Baghdad airport. A few months ago the minister of commerce, along with his brothers and cronies, was accused of embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds. In fact the ministry of commerce in Iraq has a huge budget because it contributes to a programme introduced under the 1991 sanctions regime, which provides monthly food rations for all Iraqi families. This has been a crucial source of subsistence for most Iraqi families.

These officials have been squandering and stealing the funds from the most needy sections of Iraqi society. However, no one in the regime is able to touch them, as in the past with others, because of the mafia-style groups you find in the Iraqi ruling parties, the parliament and the Iraqi state as a whole.

The whole economy is in tatters and unemployment is well over 50 percent. State funds are being looted and oil contracts awarded to multinational companies, even if the notorious Iraqi oil law has not been approved by parliament.

This is of little benefit to the Iraqi people, but of great benefit to the multinational oil companies. With Iraq's infrastructure all but destroyed by sanctions and war, Iraqis will be left with a huge reconstruction programme in the future, but the resources for this that could come from oil revenues are being requisitioned by multinational oil companies.

Another massive problem facing Iraq is that of water resources. Because of the invasion six years ago Iraq was not able to pursue water-sharing agreements with Iran, Turkey and Syria. Iraq's share of water resources from its many rivers has dropped enormously. This is true of the Tigris and Euphrates, mostly originating from Turkey, and the smaller rivers, which go through Iran. This is having a devastating impact on Iraq's agriculture. Iraqi agriculture has dropped by 36 percent over the past two years. This has led to huge migrations of peasants and farmers from the countryside to major towns and cities.

It's estimated that, in the past two years alone, more than 3.3 million peasants left the countryside to seek jobs in the cities. Iraq used to be referred to as a "bread basket" but the occupation is threatening to transform a fertile land into a desert. Large areas of Iraq are becoming wasteland.

The rapid migration of peasants to the cities is having an adverse impact on the city dwellers. It has created huge housing, health, transport, clean water and social problems. In Baghdad alone it is estimated that we need one million housing units immediately, and the situation is probably worse in the south. Thousands now live in growing slums and shanty towns around the cities, with some even having to survive in shelters on top of rubbish tips.

The impact of the occupation on the education of Iraqis is also huge. After the occupation started the US introduced "free enterprise" which led to "universities and colleges" springing up in Baghdad and the major cities. These sell certificates and degrees, even PhDs. This will have a huge impact on future academic standards, reversing a historical trend of there being a high standard of education in Iraq. Many people think this is a deliberate US occupation policy. A lot of Iraqi academics and scientists have fled abroad, draining the country of its knowledge base and hampering its future cultural, technical and scientific progress.

Legally and morally the US are responsible for all this. In this case, it is certainly true to say, "If you break something you own it." They invaded Iraq in 2003 after imposing 13 years of the most savage economic sanctions. The longer the occupation continues in Iraq, the worse the situation gets.

Despite US claims that their troops are withdrawing from the cities, they are still patrolling Baghdad and the major cities. In fact they want to redeploy their forces to intervene to prevent so-called problems between Arabs and Kurds. These redeployments include oil-rich Kirkuk and Mosul. US troops are quite visible in the streets of Baghdad while planes and helicopters patrol the sky. To reduce their casualties and the financial cost of the occupation, the US want to withdraw to military bases outside the cities and to push the Iraqi army to take on the resistance. They also want to build up their mercenary forces in Iraq. For example, we learned recently that the US refused to cancel the contract with the private security firm Blackwater. This can only be explained by the US government's need for private companies to do the dirty work on their behalf.

The Iraqi government is unable or unwilling to prevent companies like Blackwater operating in Iraq. Government spokesmen announced a while ago that, because the mercenaries had committed vile crimes against the Iraqi people, Blackwater would be expelled from Iraq and brought to account. They were not brought to account, nor were their contracts cancelled. This is testimony to Iraq's much vaunted sovereignty.

But the US occupation of Iraq has failed primarily because the Iraqi people resisted from day one. The Iraqi people opposed the regime of Saddam Hussein because it was a dictatorship imposed upon them by the guns of the coup of 1968, but they did not want the regime to be replaced by a brutal occupation.

The Iraqi people utterly reject the occupation of their land. They will continue to do so despite all the devastation inflicted upon them: a million dead, the infrastructure destroyed, and all the social problems and divisions the US have created. Judging by their history of determined struggle for a better future and against all forms of oppression, the Iraqi people will eventually overcome these barriers and build a democratic, free, progressive Iraq. SJ

Sabah Jawad is a national officer of Stop the War Coalition and a member of Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation