March 20th of this year marked the fifth anniversay of the bombing of Baghdad, the beginning of the war on Iraq and the ongoing occupation of that country by the US-UK led axis. The period leading up to that day and the months after it were an emotive, passionate and polarising time with much political discussions/arguments, demonstrations and actions. An intense time: the campaigning, the feelings of unity through actions, with people all over the world and a glimmer of hope for a peaceful solution. The full time media coverage of the bombing campaign – disturbing like a computer game and full of propaganda insinuations – buried the sentiment of peace for many.
For us over here safe in the West it was all too easy to a take a step back from the activism, to get lost in studies perhaps or a rockin’ band at a gig, to move onto the next thing. The nightmare for the Iraqi people was just beginning or perhaps leading into a worse phase. It would seem all too easy now to feel vindicated by having taken an anti-war stance at that time, that emotionally-charged time; that “we were right all along” or “this is what we predicted” but this is not enough, the ongoing situation in Iraq needs, demands that we do more. We must continue to engage with the issue, to read and be informed on what is happening there, to campaign for the self-determination rights of the Iraqi people, for the withdrawal of the colonising occupation troops and most of all not to forget.
Not to forget the lies we were fed by the governments of the world in the lead up to that war; Bush, Blair and our own Bertie will be forever damned for that. Bush continued his traditional rhetoric over the “War on Terror” and WMD, while Tony Blair played the tune of sincerity for his people. Bertie clumsily but fierce crafty always managed to rub the majority of the Irish up the right way. The brazenness of his demeanor was seen when he claimed to have been anti-war and to have stood with the demonstrators of Feb 15, 2003 while a month later he was presenting shamrocks to Bush just days before the outbreak. Making a sham of Irish neutrality by opening Shannon airport to US military flights refueling and turning a blind eye to rendition flights making stopovers*. Bush and Blair will be forever tarnished with these war crimes that they have perpetrated while the greed of our society, the West, and it’s hunger for oil, (more reliance on technology that uses oil or bigger faster cars), involves us all and is upon all our consciences.
With the recent anniversary, the issue did receive new discussion and it should continue to do so. Among this were books of analysis published, documentaries screened on tv and two films by mainstream directors. Redacted (2007) by Brian De Palma deals with the real-life rape and killing of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by U.S. soldiers; while Nick Broomfield’s Battle for Haditha (2007) investigates the massacre of twenty four men, women and children in Haditha, Iraq allegedly shot by four U.S. Marines in retaliation for the death of a U.S. Marine killed by a roadside bomb.
With this in mind we at Loserdom have reviewed two publications
from independent publishers related to Iraq and one concerning a direct
action taken in Derry (N. Ireland) by anti-war campaigners.
[Illustrations from Iraqi Oil For Beginners by Jon Sack.]
*Amnesty International’s Report 2008 found Ireland guilty of contravening international law by allowing its territory to be used to facilitate extraordinary rendition flights link.
Haifa Zangana is herself a victim of Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian
torture and violence, having been imprisoned in the 1970's for her involvement
in the Iraqi Communist Party and role in armed struggle while a student
at Baghdad University in 1972. Unlike her comrades who were murdered Haifa
was lucky to be released alive though forced to leave Iraq as an exile.
In this informative book she tells the plight of her people through a history
up to the current day of the women’s liberation struggle in Iraq.
The examination of women’s rights in Iraq, Zangana sees as a good
barometer of a society’s human rights and the state of its’
civil society. Under occupation Zangana proves women’s role is far
worse than at any time previously. She states:
“Since the US-led occupation of Iraq, in 2003, Iraqi women have conversely become confined to their homes, striving daily to survive the harsh realities of war and domination. A typical day for an average Iraqi woman begins with the struggle to get basic necessities – electricity, gas, water, food, medicine – for herself and her family, and ends with a sigh of relief at making it through the day amid death threats, violent attacks, and kidnap attempts. Their political participation, if allowed at all, is reduced to bickering among a handful of “women leaders” over nominal political posts created under occupation.” (p.10)
This holds an added poignancy in the fact that the establishing of human rights in particular for Iraqi women was one of the stated aims of the so-called “Coalition of the Willing” (the US-UK led axis) in their invasion of Iraq. The other reasons being the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and supposed al-Qaeda connections with the Ba’ath regime. All Zangana concludes have proven false.
The emergence of the Iraqi women’s movement began with the formation
of the modern Iraqi state at the end of the 19th century when under Ottoman
rule; continuing it’s development while fighting British colonialism
up to the 1920 Revolution. In Iraq poetry has been the dominant literary
genre and a powerful conveyor of political messages; according to Zangana:
“Generations of Iraqi women have used the oral tradition of poetry as an educational tool to complement the Qur’an in teaching their children history, morality, and responsibility. Women recited poetry during the 1920 Revolution to encourage fighters against British occupation. It is no coincidence that the first calls for the liberation of Iraqi women were initiated by poets, both men and women.” (p.29)
She goes on to account noteworthy Iraqi poets, developments in women’s
access to education, the beginnings of women-only gatherings in private
houses (Qebul) and women’s public social activities through “The
Society of Women’s Awakening” (established in 1923). Women journalists,
writers emerged and the first women’s magazines. As these progresses
were being made the British Empire vied for control of Iraqi oil and mining
rights through the establishment of the Iraqi Petroleum Company. Zangana
recognises the issue of wearing the veil (abaya) or more specifically not
wearing it as connected with education:
“Usually education preceded unveiling, as veiling was regarded among students as a form of female servitude. Girls enrolling in high schools and colleges in Baghdad during the 1930s and ‘40s continued to wear the Iraqi abaya over European clothes”. (p.39)
The establishment of groups such as the Arab Women’s Union, Iraqi
Women’s Society against Fascism, the Society for the Defense of Women’s
Rights (later the Iraqi Women’s League) are noted. Zangana paints
a picture of a society where the women’s role is not one of passive
subservience to their male counterparts. Rather for her growing up as a
teenager; it was the image of Algerian resistance fighter, Jamilah, who
was looked up to rather than a pop singer or super model.
Although a victim of Hussein and the Ba’ath party’s persecution, Zangana offers subjective criticism of the positive and negative constitutional changes that effected women’s liberty. Iraq had adopted one of the most progressive constitutions in the Arab world, guaranteeing equality for all individuals – for women eg: the right to inherit property, the right to divorce and the education of women was seen as a critical part of the nations advancement.
It is overall a picture of a secular society that is created, one that is not intertwined with religious sects and groups. Zangana emphasises this point repeatedly:
“In fact, sectarianism is loathed by most Iraqis, and religion is perceived as a personal choice rather than a political tool of governance. Islam is part of one’s culture and identity but never the one and only way of ruling Iraq. No wonder that the political parties wearing the religious turbans, be it Sunni or Shi’ite, or the ethnic robes, whether Kurdish, Tourkuman, or Yezides, are failing to represent Iraqi people. No wonder that given the idea highly promoted by the occupation and its client regime that Iraqis hate each other, the testimony of Abu Ahmed from a displaced family does not reach mainstream media: “My family is Shi’ite. We live together with a Sunni family. Both families were forced to leave their homes by militias...””.(p.19)
In 1979 Saddam Hussein took power and this Zangana states led to a tragic
turn of events, the two main periods being: 1980-88 the Iran-Iraq war and
1990-2003 the sanctions years. The Iran-Iraq war started as a challenge
to Iranian dominance in the Middle East but disastrously for both countries
dragged on as the longest, most devastating war in modern history. Iraq’s
invasion of Kuwait in 1990 led to the first US-led Gulf War of 1991, followed
by drastic UN sanctions.
The sanctions knows as “the siege” by Iraqis “touched every aspect of Iraqi life, causing death, disease, rapid economic decline, and nearly an end to any sort of human development....By the mid-nineties, half a million children died, a crime considered to be genocide.” (p.73)
Although the Ba’ath regime under Hussein rolled back some of its extreme secular aspects during the sanctions years (seen as a way to garner the material and moral support of the Muslim world). Attempts were made through state and individual initiatives to ease the economic burden on the Iraqi people. One success was the rebuilding of the destroyed infrastructure [during the first Gulf War with US in 1991]: “Dedicated Iraqi engineers restored the electricity grid and rebuilt the destroyed bridges in a few months, a matter of pride for Iraqis to this day.” (p.77). Other initiatives included social solidarity funds, a family welfare salary, and a National Strategy for Advancing Iraqi Women was planned. Meanwhile the work of the General Federation of Iraqi Women was generally seen as a propaganda arm of an oppressive regime – it met the suffering of Iraqi women with silence as it justified Ba’ath policies against political opponents even when issuing decrees against women’s rights.
Zangana notes that it was not until October 2002 that the US administration
adopted the issue of Iraqi women, calling for their liberation – forgetting
the suffering caused by eleven years of sanctions they had perpetrated.
She forcefully critiques Washington’s use of female fronted NGO’s,
which she dubs “colonial feminists” and the female face of the
“In the period leading up to the invasion, when millions of people around the world were demonstrating against a preemptive war, none of them defending Saddam’s regime or dismissing his crimes, but concerned about the safety of the Iraqi people, colonial feminists spared little concern for their sisters who would suffer. The war has been, in the final analysis, a war on Iraqi women.” (p.85)
In researched analysis and evidence Zangana proves the phoniness of organisations such as Women for a Free Iraq and Women’s Alliance for a Democratic Iraq – many of which shared the same members. She illustrates that while the US warplanes rain down bombs across the cities of the country, the members of successive Iraqi governments in the Green Zone “have greeted the suffering of the Iraqi civilians, whose cities are showered with napalm, white phosphorus, and cluster bombs, with rhetoric about training for democracy.” (p.97). While critiquing the writing of a new constitution (why Zangana asks was the original Iraqi constitution not built upon?), the US-UK axis has perpetrated major crimes in the country – including vicious crimes against women (such as cases of rape and abuse while in custody and the horrifying gang-rape, burning and murder of a 14 year old girl in Mahmudiyah).
It is widely reported and taken in the media of the West that without the
US-UK troops Iraq would descend into civil war. Zangana makes the important
distinction that it is not the Iraqi people who are fighting themselves
but rather forces of militias fighting each other in some cases being supplied
weapons by occupation troops.
“Mercenaries, death squads and militias, acting on behalf of sectarian and ethnic political parties involved in the “democratic” political processes, are also clearly responsible for the wide-scale killing of civilians.” (p.113)
She goes on to list some of the human carnage that has largely gone uninvestigated by the present governments forces:
“A total of 254 journalists and media assistants have been killed since the start of the war, and 51 have been kidnapped. By June 2007, 220 doctors had been killed and more than 10,000 had fled Iraq. Thousands of Iraq’s best-educated academics, doctors and other professionals have been forced to flee the country, taking with them the intellectual capital for building a stable, democratic and free nation.” (p.114)
As these crimes continue incredibly, under law of the CPA (Coalition Provisional
Authority) occupation troops, contractors, diplomats and those who work
for them enjoy immunity from prosecution under new Iraqi law. Freedom of
press and speech long promised by the US has not materialised either rather
“silencing journalists has become the best guarantee to cover up crimes,
abuses, and violations of human rights.” (p.115). Crimes against
women are widespread; according to former Iraqi deputy human rights minster,
“Of course rape is going on. We blame the militias. But when we talk about the militias, many are members of the police. Any family now that has a good-looking young woman in it does not want to send her out to school or university, and does not send her out without a veil. This is the worst time ever in Iraqi women’s lives. In the name of religion and sectarian conflict they are being kidnapped and killed and raped. And no one is mentioning it.” (p.117)
Tens of thousands of Iraqis languish in prisons of the occupation forces; without the right to challenge their detention, without remedy and the knowledge of how long they will be kept for [the torture crimes of the occupation forces are well known since the leaking of photos taken by US soldiers torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib in 2004]. US officials have admitted detaining women in order to convince male relatives to relate information (p.124). Zangana recounts instances of abuse of female prisoners, yet the Iraqi authorities suppress and withhold information about the detention of women due to the outrage it would cause and to “give the Iraqi people the impression that the occupation troops respect local traditions, especially with regard to the sensitive status of women.” (p.123).
The war and occupation has created a humanitarian disaster in the forced
displacement of two million Iraqis inside the country and two million in
neighbouring countries; the largest longterm population movement since the
displacement of Palestinians after the creation of Israel in 1948 (p.17).
In the final chapter titled Resistance, Zangana first of all reminds us that armed resistance against occupation is a right under international law and that contrary to claims by the occupation and media the main target of the resistance has been occupation forces: 75% of recorded attacks directed at the occupation forces, with 17% at Iraqi government forces (p.128). She highlights peaceful political resistance noting how difficult it has been for those attempting it (many have gone into exile, underground or been forced to keep a low profile after collective punishment by the occupation forces). Groups such as the Iraqi National Foundation Congress founded in 2004 represents “people who opposed Saddam’s regime and who refused to be part of any process implemented by the occupation to legitimize and prolong its hegemony on Iraqi people and territory” (p.129). It calls for the immediate withdrawal of occupation troops and unity of Iraqi people against any division based on sectarian, religious or ethnic grounds. Iraqi Women’s Will founded as a cultural club in 2002 combines “anti-occupation activities with demanding full, equal women’s rights” (p.135) and Knowledge for Women in Iraqi Society emphasising “the role of women within family and society and aims to relieve the suffering of Iraqi women by providing financial, occupational, medical, and educational resources in addition to campaigning for human rights, women’s rights in particular” (p.137). Cultural resistance and public disobedience are also common forms of resisting the new colonising orders in Iraq.
Zangana illustrates her bewilderment with the US-UK led project in Iraq:
“To invade any country is in itself a hugely complex undertaking by any power. But the total lack of basic knowledge and understanding of Iraqi society or Arab-Muslim culture shown by the United States is extraordinary. For the United States to claim that they can win hearts and minds, and build a democracy that makes Iraq a model for the rest of the Arab world, without knowing the language and culture of the country, seems a bizarre notion by any standard.” (p.142)
She concludes noting that opposition to brutality has been a long one in
Iraq with a long line of struggles behind it:
“What the occupiers have failed to see is that Iraqis who have committed acts of resistance are not terrorists. We are a people willing to risk our lives defending our homes, families, ways of life, history, culture, identity, and resources. We do not hate Americans, though we loathe their government’s greed and brutality, and are willing to defend ourselves against it. We simply believe that Iraq belongs to Iraqis.” (p.149)
City of Widows is a hugely informative book. Haifa Zangana makes
a convincing case for how badly wrong the War On Iraq and ongoing occupation
is. She is a very good writer and her personal perspective leads the book
extra weight as well as making it more accessible for the reader. Although
the subject itself is a heavy one, in particular when reading about the
atrocities committed under occupation, due to the writing standard it is
a hugely interesting read which I finished in no time [it clocks in at just
150 pages]. Definitely recommended!
Iraqi Oil For Beginners; Jon Sack; Voices
In The Wilderness; Dec. 2007; available for £3 direct from Voices,
5 Caledonian Road, King's Cross, London N1 9DX, UK; or in the 56a Infoshop.
Iraqi Oil For Beginners is a comic book telling the history of Iraq and its neighboring countries as connected with the discovery of oil at the turn of the 20th century right up to the present day. It is apparent that the interests of colonial forces such as the British have had major interference in the country from 1914 onwards more or less directly because of oil. This researched book breaks down the story through comic panels detailing the political maneuverings, power-shifts and interference of the budding oil industry in Iraq.
From the British invasion of Basra in 1914 through to the nationalization of Iraqi oil (partially in 1961 and then fully in 1972); to the first Gulf War of 1991, the sanctions years and finally the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when Iraqi oil was again open season for the oil affiliated multinational companies. Sack also offers the alternative view put forth by the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, which is opposed to the occupation of Iraq and to foreign companies taking control of Iraq's oil.
Sack returns to the notion put forth by the US and British government at
the time of the outbreak of the Iraqi war that the call of 'war for oil'
was a conspiracy theory. Rather for Blair et al the invasion was for the
noblest of reasons. Sack certainly in this comic book proves that the interests
of the West for oil in the Middle East regions has a long history and has
been undoubtedly an influencing factor in foreign policy moves in the region.
The extent to which these motives will be put with the regard to the outcomes
of another country/peoples' well-being and existence is frightening.
Although this comic is nicely printed one or two pages are strangely enough slighted pixilated. So too does it seem that some of the lettering was perhaps a bit rushed. The history of Iraq offered is not as full as in City of Widows, but Sack has succeeded in producing a fine resource here; which would be of infinite use to anti-war groups for graphics, for explaining the Iraqi oil issue in digestible comic-book form as well as the researched information regarding the oil industries interference in this country which has had tragic effect.
Resisting War Crimes is Not a Crime The Raytheon 9; Eamonn
McCann; Derry Anti War Coalition; £2/€3
In this 48 page booklet veteran Derry civil rights campaigner [of the Battle of the Bogside in August 1969 and Bloody Sunday in January 1972], committed socialist, journalist and member of the Raytheon 9; Eamonn McCann writes an account of the actions of the Raytheon 9 group. The group (all members of the Derry Anti War Coalition) on 9th August 2006 took a direct action at the Raytheon munitions factory in Co. Derry (N. Ireland) by occupying one of the offices of Raytheon and decommissioning computer equipment used for its internal ordering system. Raytheon Systems Limited is one of the major players in the global arms industry making missiles used by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan and by Israel against Lebanon and Palestine. "Raytheon also builds sensors and radars used on manned and unmanned reconnaissance airplanes used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan" (p.6).
McCann accounts the history of the Raytheon plant in Derry how it was incredibly
set up by Nobel Peace laureates John Hume (SDLP) and David Trimble (Ulster
Unionists) in August 1999. Hailed at the time, as part of the "peace
dividend" arising from the Good Friday Agreement the year before.
Until recently it was claimed by the political parties in the area that
the plant was confined to civil development work. Research unearthed by
journalists for the Belfast Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act
proves this a lie - the parties knew all along that the Derry Raytheon plant
was involved in munitions manufacturing and its establishment was in fact
dependent on the awarding of a contract from the British Ministry of Defense.
"…the irony of a military firm setting up in a place trying to emerge from conflict - and the additional irony that most political parties see no irony in this fact" (p.37).
The initial façade of ethics by the politicians was underpinned
by a neo-liberalist streak of jobs-at-any-cost pragmatism. [The Derry Raytheon
plant employs 40; originally it promised up to 150 jobs (p.28)].
The issue of Raytheon in their city was an eight year one for the Derry people of Derry Anti War Coalition and the Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign. With the outbreak of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars the campaigners became more and more desperate about the situation; culminating with the Israeli assault on Lebanon in 2006. Various forms of peaceful protest were made over the period 2001-2006 including the lobbying of local councilors, die-ins, handing out leaflets, marches, talks and more. One can sense that these campaigners really were reaching the end of their tether and losing patience with the means of mainstream political lobbying. McCann explains:
"The bombing three days earlier [before the action] on July 30th, of a residential building in Qana in southern Lebanon had had a particular effect on anti-war activists in Derry. It was evident that a large number of people - it wasn't yet clear how many - had been crushed to death, all of them civilians, many of them children, when the buildings was brought down by a "bunker-buster" weapon. We knew that Israel's main supplier of bunker-busters was US arms giant Raytheon, which had a plant in the Science and Technology Park at Springtown on the outskirts of Derry". (p. 3)
He explains how the Derry Anti War Coalition at a meeting discussed possible
actions to take, how it was decided to do the action and accounts what happened
on the action.
Included here is a log taken by Lebanon based secular group Samidoun of the eight hour period in which the nine activists were in the Raytheon offices. In that time bombs were dropping like flies on Lebanon. Also too is a report of the groups later visit to Lebanon one year on from the Qana massacre in which they met with family members of victims - the visit had the effect of reaffirming their resolve for having taken the action.
Direct action is discussed as a tactic in an article, which weighs out
the various arguments for taking a direct action and pros/cons of the impact
it will have on the general public, in getting the message across, employees
who may be affected and other concerns.
McCann is an experienced writer. His account of the actions and motivations of the Raytheon 9 is lucid and well backed up by research and thought out analysis. The argument of the title is laid out convincingly. This booklet is an important document of the case and stands as an inspiration to us all…
[On 11th June 2008 the nine were acquitted of all charges of criminal damage
"The jury have accepted that we were reasonable in our belief that the Israeli Defence Forces were guilty of war crimes in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. The action we took was intended to have, and did have, the effect of hampering or delaying the commission of war crimes." (statement outside court).]