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[casi-analysis] EVENT: Nine Months in Iraq

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A Public Meeting with Ewa Jasiewicz.
Quaker International Centre, Byng Place, Malet St, London (nr. ULU).
Organised by Voices UK (

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

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

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

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

'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
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.


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 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

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