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[ This message has been sent to you via the CASI-analysis mailing list ] NINE MONTHS IN IRAQ A Public Meeting with Ewa Jasiewicz. Quaker International Centre, Byng Place, Malet St, London (nr. ULU). 7.30pm, TUESDAY 2ND MARCH Organised by Voices UK (www.voicesuk.org) Polish-British activist Ewa Jasiewicz has just returned to the UK after spending nine months in Iraq, working with Voices US, the Occupation Watch centre and others. Ewa, who had previously spent time in Jenin refugee camp in Palestine, was one of two internationals thrown out of a US press conference - and then barred from the convention centre in Baghdad after raising questions about checkpoint killings by the occupying forces. Ewa has also been working with Palestinian refugees in Iraq and reporting on Iraq's growing labour movement (see below for a sample report). **************************** Protests in Iraq by Ewa Jasiewicz, 12 January 2004 Today saw thousands of former soldiers riot in the streets of Basra after being denied three months worth of survival payments from the CPA. Approximately 2000 ex-service men amassed in the streets of Ashaar, a crowded market, hawker-mafia district, with sellers and junk stalls flanking a filthy river, and the home of the Raffidian Bank, aka pay-out HQ. Today was Iraqi Army Day - the annual celebration of over 80 years of soldiering and saluting to the beat of many a monarchy, authoritarian, general coup fought and dictatorship drum. For the thousands of ex-service men laid off in May and demonstrating outside CPA South HQ on a weekly basis, today had a deeper significance. It was also the deadline for their 10-day pay-or-face-our- organized-wrath vow over 3 months of financial destitution courtesy of CPA indifference. The back payments amount to $150 per person. The ex-soldiers are also demanding a permanent monthly payout of $50 per month and not the $15 I was quoted by demonstrators outside CPA HQ almost 2 weeks ago. A protestor beaten into a hospital bed by British troops told me tonight that maybe I was quoted that figure by an outsider and to take care from stuff like that, whilst his brother by his side chuckled ruefully and said $15? What, so we can buy a pack of cigarettes?, followed by a more serious appraisal of, 'Remember that many people don't know the actual exchange rate of the dollar'. Either way, the payment of such figures by the Occupation Administration represents a threat to its budget, currently following a military construction and entrenchment agenda (the only reconstruction that's taken place in the south has either been workers' own or Occupation entrenching military base and prison camp building). Benefits payments also threaten the control-at-the-lowest-costs basic principles of occupying, which the almost total absence of humanitarian/social construction, and extermination of almost all previous state survival benefits plus cheap gear for soldiers - worst machine guns on the market according to a former military Special Ops acquaintance here and shared bulletproof vests - all attest to. Official figures put the population of the Iraqi army at 350,000, but compulsory conscription, CPA created unemployment downplaying and the word of locals estimates its pre-war levels at 2 million. Islam on-Line quotes a figure of five million when the dissolution information, interior ministries, and defense ministries are taken into account. Now, in Basra alone, some 60,000 members have been left unemployed. The trouble with former servicemen asking for payment is that 99% of the post-18 male population of Iraq had to serve in the army at some point. I spoke to a few today by the murky Shaat Al Arab waterway that had taken part. One wasn't ever in the army but had turned out in solidarity with his 'brothers', and two had only done their compulsory three years, a sharp contrast to career soldiers who ploughed in 15 or 20 years and don’t know how to do anything else. But they all had one thing in common - total frustration and disillusionment in the British, and desperate poverty, with unemployment stagnating at a thievery/mafia/con-thy-neighbor promoting 70% (Occupied Palestine has a similar if not higher figure but social bonds, social care, and UN relief are far more plentiful and class antagonisms a lot lower than battered post-sanctions, post-fascism, neo-Baathism battling Iraq). The demonstration began at approximately 8 am, on a muggy smoggy Basra morning and involved an assertive march down to Ashaar and up to the doors of Al Raffidian Bank where protestors were informed that there would be no money for them today, despite being promised it. Witnesses report that some demonstrators tried to storm the bank to reclaim their stipend, which prompted bank guards and Iraqi Police Special Forces, who all look like bank robbers in army-print jackets and black acrylic balaclavas, to fire on them without warning. British police officers, headed by CPA South Law and Order Chief Stephen White, former Northern Ireland plod, have been conducting training for Iraqi police and Special Forces in a specially formed academy in Az Zubiar. From the last CPA law and order report the word 'accountability' was mentioned more times than freedom' in a George Dubbya speech. Despite British soldiers carrying body-length plastic riot shields and tear gas. Their Iraqi counterparts have no tear gas, stun grenades, stun guns or rubber bullets. Just the live-ammo they've always been used to. According to the Head of Police in Basra, out of the 15,000 recruits now patrolling the streets (and shooting into crowds of unarmed protestors) 8,700 were police under the Baath regime. Less lethal technologies for cops under the Baath probably just meant an avalanche of rifle butts and boots in the head rather than a simple bullet, perhaps administered at the end of it all. Hassan, 36, was near the front of the demo when the firing began. A soldier since he was 14-years-old, I met him in Central Basra Hospital hooked up to a drip from a scummy hospital bed. Myself and two friends went in search of the demonstration's injured, after being told by a cardiologist in Talimi Hospital that 10 had been brought in with gunshot wounds that day and all had been transferred - with at least 4 to Basra Central - suffering from bullet blasted broken bones. Doctors denied all knowledge of the injured and told us with shrugged shoulders that the Brits had already been around and they'd told them the same thing. It’s unusual for the occupying forces to visit civilian hospitals unless they are looking for suspects or doing a puke-some photo call with Jack Straw and small hairy babies. We could only conclude that they’d come to either arrest 'riot leaders' or were trying to keep the story quiet, the riot coming just a day after Blair came and schmoozed the troops, touching down at 4:30 am and evacuating Basra by 11 the same morning. Hassan was suffering from internal bruising to his kidneys after being kicked by 2 truckloads of Iraqi coppers (11 or so) and 6 British Soldiers. He recounts his version of the day s events: “When we arrived at the bank we immediately started to demand our payment. The Police responded by locking up the bank. There were no British troops present at this point. The Police then came forward and started to beat and push us. Some also started firing. The protest took place in the middle of a triangle of banks. Guards started firing in all directions. Then they called the British. I saw four people injured before me and one person was definitely killed. He was shot in the back of the head, in front of me. He was around my age 35, 36. I saw another injured in the calf, another just above the knee and another I don’t know as the bullet came from the direction of another bank. The crowd moved the injured into their cars and took them to the hospital. When the Brits arrived, they came with 8 tanks and about 7 jeeps and surrounded the whole area. The police were still around at the time. We ran when we heard they were coming but we came back after ten minutes with sticks and rocks. The British arrested two people but released them later after they pushed them back from the bank. A group of soldiers tried to arrest a group of us but we attacked them. One group managed to grab one British soldier and dragged him into the crowd, which then beat him with rocks. Not throwing rocks at him but actually beating him with our rocks. Four more came running at us with sticks after this but we beat them all too with our own sticks and rocks. Even a soldier sitting in his tank put down his hatch and hid. We were throwing stones so hard that no one could even get close enough or shoot their guns. The British moved their tanks into the crowd to rescue the soldier kidnapped into the crowd and managed to carry him into the tank. I saw three soldiers injured directly - one in the head, one in the leg his - knee was broken by a rock, and one in the back. I remember one officer coming out of his tank and trying to calm us down, speaking to us like they were on our side and like they felt sorry for us. The translator came up and asked us for our demands. We told him all we wanted was our pay and that, 'Today is just a slight thing; if we don’t get our wages then we’ll become like Osama Bin Laden, and tomorrow we’ll be back even stronger.' When the Special Operations Police came up and told us to leave, we said, 'You are so young! We were out fighting before your mother even met your father. We are soldiers, we will show you what you’re made of'. 'I did witness some people trying to sabotage the demonstration. When we were trying to negotiate with the Brits they threw stones on both of us and then they tried to enter the bank while we were negotiating. We said, we want our pay, that’s all, we don't want to break into it and loot it. They tried to break into the market too. We soon grabbed them and threw them out'. Remember how much we did hate Saddam Hussein? He was dirty and selfish but the British came up with their sweet talks of freedom, democracy and human rights but where is it? Where is it?” One of Basra's chief of police stated, straight-faced, flanked by two Occupation jeeps that the riot had all been caused by 'Al Qeda'. He said of the demonstrators, 'They are Al Qaeda, they are terrorists, they were armed with machineguns, they are fedayheen, and they are not from here'. A rumor engulfed the crowd that Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya (The most popular TV channels in the Middle East) had broadcast that the demo was being fuelled by terrorists. The Occupation and the multi-motivated resistance to it, has provided reactionary authorities with ideal ammunition to demonize any dissidents. In London Mayday demonstration organizers and activists have been loosely linked with the IRA and slandered in “The Standard” as preparing to mob up for the day with Samurai swords and machetes but here - you've got the tar-drenching of being labeled part of the most wanted terror organization in the world. It’s the Mcarthyite catchall trump card of demonstrations. When myself and a friend walked into the demo at around midday, with British troops mobbing up with plastic foot length shields and shin pads and some eating what looked like fish and chips on the sidelines, the action was almost over. Tanks stood parked in the triangle of banks. Bricks and smashed up bits of pavement lay broken on the ground. Huddles of veterans were standing around, jaws clenched. Upon spotting us they soon formed a tight circle around us and the only thing that saved me from potentially being stoned to a pulp, explained my friend, was the fact that some of the protestors recognized me from the previous demo and were able to vouch for me. This didn't stop exhausted wails of 'WE'RE NOT TERRORISTS!!! AL JAZEERA ARE LIARS, ALL JOURNALISTS ARE LIARS!,’ voiced in my direction. One of the unelected and much reviled negotiators surged up behind me and attempted to smash my head open with a large brick, whist denouncing me for being with 'AL JAZEERAAAA!' I had to leave, fast, pursued by a confused crowd, with my friend. When asked if he too was a foreigner, tersely replying he was 'A son of Iraq, 100%'. He's actually Palestinian and I never heard him deny it or try to hide it, ever. Jawazees Both the injured soldier plus three others told me that the negotiators advocating on their behalf were collaborators and have since been employed by the British. 'We suffered a lot from the people who negotiated with the people in the palace.' tells me Basim, who has sacrificed 20 years of his life to the army. 'The result was that they were employed by the British'. Hassan also confirmed that many regarded them as having been paid off and when this demonstration took place, the two were absent. 'If we see them again, we will kill them. We will tear them apart', swears Basim. Asked what process was undertaken to chose these negotiators, Hassan explained from his hospital bed, 'They weren't elected. We were searching for someone to come and talk to them who can speak English, so we saw him (one of the negotiators) trying to talk to the British in English so he then said he'd go in on our behalf. Even the people who went inside today were not elected. Our people are simple, not educated and we trust people fast, after all they are soldiers just like us'. Negotiations at the riot eventually took place out in the open air on top of a tank. 'In public because we didn't trust anyone' said Hassan. 'The British said we are going to the palace and we'll bring you your money. Please form a queue. We waited one hour for them and they didn't return. At this point I was in so much pain from my injuries that I had to leave'. Basim, Mazen and Ali, the three vets I spoke to on the river are adamant that if money isn't paid out to the thousands of unemployed servicemen soon, the British will be facing more than flying rocks, bottles and burning tires. Asked if the situation is reaching a point where most people will start wanting the British to leave Basim says, 'Yes, of course. When the British came to Iraq and saw people in this condition, what did they intend to do? From the moment they came they promised to make our lives better, compensate those harmed by the regime and we want them to fulfill this promise or to leave.' And if they do, what's instead? 'An Iraqi government. Even though we know the Governing Council is instructed by the occupation, if the occupation leaves they will be forced to listen to us.' Asked what next and they all look grim. Ali, father of seven with 24-years experience in the army squints in the midday brightness and says, 'See Tikrit, Ramadi, Falluga, Baghdad? Basra will be the leading example. It will be teaching the others how to fight.' Following Wednesday's riot, despite unemployed ex-service men turning up at Ashaar with a stack of tires under the bridge and alleged hidden kalashnikovs, all was placid and the veterans queued in the pouring rain and read soggy DHSS style Coalition leaflets informing them that they had to go to the bank they were originally registered with and check if their names were written down. If not, then they had to re-apply. All those with their names scribed in the lists received $150 - 3 months back payment. The story doesn't end there or in Basra. Yesterday British troops and Iraqi Special Forces allegedly fired on a crowd of 500 unemployed veterans and killed five. 11 were also wounded in the incident. Islam on-line quotes demonstrator Saadun Ahmed Sarai, 49, saying, 'Amara was neglected under Saddam Hussein. Today, we suffer at the hands of his sons [the U.S.-led occupation forces].' A highly placed corporate source in Basra said that a group of protestors were shot trying to storm the KBR training base in Amara today. Troops opened fire on them and killed at least three. No back-up information is available but it will be searched for. All that’s known for sure is that there was a demonstration today avenging the deaths of the six demonstrators yesterday. It is highly probable that occupation forces and the police which they are responsible for have violated Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 which states, 'Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.' It goes on to state: 'Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary...in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.' However, serious threat to life and the use of force proportionate to that threat must be taken into consideration. Only one report from Amara out of 20 or so seen on the net stated that protestors were armed. Now that the blood has been spilled however, investigations must be conducted. Adam Price MP explains in his excellent 'Can Kill, Won't Count' report into civilian deaths at the hands of the British Occupation, the responsibilities of the occupying authority to conduct investigations into any killings perpetrated by security forces on the territory. The case of Kaya vs.Turkey 1998 saw the Court rule that 'neither the prevalence of violent armed clashes nor the high incidence of fatalities can displace the obligation under Article 2 to ensure that an effective, independent investigation is conducted into deaths arising out of clashes involving the security forces, more so in cases such as the present where the circumstances are in many respects unclear.' Despite demonstrations today, yesterday, last week and six months ago all qualifying as riots, the use of live ammunition as crowd-control can't be justified unless an immediate and usually armed threat is presented. The immediate and indiscriminate resort to lethal force, as demonstrated in Basra and Amara can also seen as a violation of the UN's Basic Principles of the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The Basic Principles, seen as the gold standard in international policing but holding no legal weight in terms of prosecution in the event of derogation, provide that the intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made: 'When strictly unavoidable in order to protect life' (Principle 9), and that 'law enforcement officers should as far as possible apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms (Principle 4).' Exceptional circumstances such as internal instability or other public emergency may not be invoked to justify a departure from these basic principles. The next few weeks will reveal the level of commitment the Occupation Administration has towards its obligation under the Geneva and European conventions on the protection of civilians. For Iraqi people, its just repression as usual, cheapened life, bullets tearing flesh and fear of the military smashing down your door. -- Emma Sangster _______________________________________ Sent via the CASI-analysis mailing list To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-analysis All postings are archived on CASI's website at http://www.casi.org.uk