Occupation and Reconstruction are an “Economic Catastrophe”
After two years of occupation, news continues to come in regarding the dismal state of Iraq’s economy and the lives of its citizens as promises by the United States to rebuild the country have been shown to be empty. Iraq has become an “economic catastrophe” with a decline in living standards, increases in poverty and child malnutrition, and an unemployment rate that is as high as 65% according to some estimates. The World Food Programme estimates that one in four Iraqis survive on food rations distributed by the Ministry of Trade while 2.6 million are estimated to be so poor that they regularly sell a portion of their rations to meet other needs.
Another problem with the reconstruction has been in a lack of training given to Iraqis, with control being handed over to Iraqis to run water filtration plants without proper training resulting in a rapid deterioration of reconstructed industries while wasting millions of dollars in limited reconstruction funds. Consequently, the State Department has ordered the third major reevaluation of the Iraq reconstruction effort in the past nine months. According to an article in the LA Times, the United States is going to shift some funding from large-scale building projects, such as water filtration plants, into immediate job creation and training.
US Does not have an “Exit Strategy” for Iraq
During a surprise visit to Iraq this week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted that the United States does not have an “exit strategy” for Iraq or timetable for removing US forces from the country. Instead, Rumsfeld told soldiers that the United States has a “victory strategy” in Iraq. While Rumsfeld was in Iraq he met with the new Iraqi government and discussed the preparedness of Iraqi security forces, specifically relating the United States’ desire that former Ba’ath Party members be allowed to retain their positions in the security services. Despite public calls in Iraq for the dismissal of former Ba’ath Party members from the government. This is yet another example of how the United States tends to use the Iraqi government to maintain its occupation—a model of occupation perfected by Israel.
300,000 Iraqis Protest Occupation in Baghdad
Saturday, April 9, an estimated 300,000 Iraqis marched on Firdos Square in downtown Baghdad to show their opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Gathering in the same spot where Saddam’s statue was pulled down two years previously, the crowd waved Iraqi flags while chanting “No, no to Americans” and “Yes to Islam.” The protest was called for by cleric Moqtada Sadr and was primarily composed of Shiite Muslims drawn from the slums of Baghdad known as “Sadr City” as well as from other cities in Southern Iraq.
The protest is significant not only in that it is one of the largest public protests in Iraq since the U.S. invasion, but also in that it signifies a change in tactics by Sadr and his followers. Previously Sadr’s militia had militarily engaged U.S. forces, although they have been adhering to an informal truce since last August. Unlike previous marches called by Sadr, this Saturday none of the protesters were carrying weapons. Sadr’s followers said that the protest would be followed up with a non-violent campaign to force U.S and other foreign forces from Iraq
The U.S. military is reporting a decline in the number of attacks and U.S. casualties since January. While it is impossible to say with any certainty what the cause of this decline may be, it is reasonable to suggest that some of this reduction is due to splits within the various resistance factions. While the U.S. occupation remains very unpopular, Iraqis are becoming increasingly divided concerning resistance groups which target civilians. While some of the more militant Islamist groups continue to target Iraqi army and police, the influential Association of Muslim Scholars has reversed their position and called for Iraqis to join the army and police.