February 21, 2005
Iraqis want freedom on their terms, says
journalist Naomi Klein
By Jennifer McNulty
In a blistering critique of Bush administration policies in
Iraq, journalist Naomi Klein last week urged antiwar activists
to heed the call of Iraqi voters and demand a timetable for
the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops.
A clear majority of Iraqis want American troops to leave,
Klein said, referring to the results of the January 30 elections.
The Left should be echoing the demands were hearing
Klein, author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies,
is an award-winning journalist who has won praise for her coverage
of the economics of the war. A capacity crowd filled the Colleges
Nine and Ten Multipurpose Room to hear her talk, which was presented
by the UCSC Alumni Association and College Ten as part of the
UCSC Distinguished Visiting Professor Series.
The administrations pursuit of a free-market utopia
in Iraq has backfired and its brutal economic reforms
have fueled resentment and anger, transforming pockets of resistance
into a nationwide popular uprising, said Klein.
Klein described the amazing renaissance of democracy
in Iraq that followed the fall of Baghdad in April 2003.
Hundreds of independent newspapers and journalists provided
incredible coverage of the occupation, and Iraqis immediately
began holding elections to establish local governing councils.
They didnt wait for anyone to tell them to do it,
they just did it, said Klein. They couldnt
wait to have democracy.
But with the arrival of U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer in
May, U.S. officials pursued their real agenda in earnest under
the guise of bringing democracy to Iraq, said Klein. They began
slicing up the economic pie, adopting policies to protect foreign
investors, laying off 500,000 Iraqis (including 400,000 soldiers
who kept their guns but were stripped of their pensions), and
announcing plans to sell off all 200 state-owned Iraqi companies.
They negated the results of local elections, established a 15
percent flat tax (a Republican dream, quipped Klein),
and put 100 new laws on the books, including one that allowed
foreign companies to own 100 percent of the assets of businesses
in Iraq and take 100 percent of the profits out of the country.
Klein described attending trade shows and hearing gleeful contractors
discussing their prospects in Iraq. They were talking
about opening a McDonalds and a Wal-Mart in downtown Baghdad,
she recalled. They kept saying, Iraqis are going
to be so excited.' Reconstruction was treated as a laboratory
for the free market.
Meanwhile, Iraqis saw U.S. soldiers killing civilians and arresting
clerics who expressed anti-occupation views. They watched the
U.S. military build permanent installations in Saddam Husseins
former palaces and read that occupation forces lost $8.8 billion
in Iraqi oil money.
Likening the administrations policies in Iraq to the
Extreme Makeover craze, Klein said U.S. officials
were determined to start over and rebuild the country
from the ground up. But things didnt go according to plan,
In the early months after Baghdad fell, Iraqis used their
new-found freedom to stage a protest against the occupation
outside the gates of the Green Zone, said Klein. It
became clear that Iraqis wouldnt accept their shiny new
country like a delighted reality-TV show contestant. National
elections started to look like a very bad idea.
Indeed, increasing violence allowed U.S. administrators to
delay national elections that had been scheduled for early November
2003. The delay also gave them time to systematically
lock in their new economic policies, draft a constitution,
and appoint Iraqi government leaders. One agreement hammered
out by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi government and the so-called
Paris Club requires that Iraq manage its $200 billion international
debt in accordance with International Monetary Fund requirements
that include the privatization of all state-owned companies
and the replacement of the national food aid program--on which
60 percent of Iraqis dependwith a $15 individual monthly
stipend, said Klein.
All of this is totally illegal under international law,
In January 2004, 100,000 Iraqis staged a peaceful protest and
called for national elections. As their protests were ignored
and their pleas disregarded, Iraqis began to lose hope, and
the resistance grew, widening its targets to include all foreigners
and reconstruction projects themselves. Even on a good
day, there are now 40 to 50 attacks, said Klein.
In last months election, 51 percent of Iraqi voters endorsed
a platform that called for a social security system that would
guarantee a job for every fit Iraqi, write off Iraqi national
debts, cancel the reparations being paid to Kuwait, Britain,
the United States, and other countries, and the use of Iraqi
oil money for economic development, said Klein, noting that
a large number of Iraqis boycotted the election to protest the
occupation. The Association of Muslim Scholars urged Sunnis,
who make up 20 percent of the population, to stay away from
the polls, while Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called
the elections under occupation illegitimate and
a public relations ploy. Klein called on activists to support
the will of the Iraqi majority.
You cannot leave the language of democracy to George
Bush, she said. You need to take all this hot air
about freedom and democracy and force them to deliver it. If
we can listen to Iraqis, we will stop future wars, because the
way to stop future wars is to make war unprofitable. They want
the loot--the military bases and the free-market utopia. And
they havent gotten it yet.
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