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[casi] Transition from tyranny to freedom?

Al-Ahram Weekly
14 - 20 August 2003
Issue No. 651

Transition from tyranny to freedom?

With the situation deteriorating drastically on all
levels in Iraq, the question of freedom is getting
more vague, reports Jihan Al-Alaily from Baghdad

The top US civil administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer,
rejected in his most recent press conference criticism
by some journalists that Iraq was a country descending
into "chaos". The observation came after a bloody week
that saw a car bomb attack on the Jordanian Embassy
which left at least 17 dead, the worst civil unrest in
Basra since the fall of the regime on 9 April,
electricity, fuel and water shortages and a continuing
dozen attacks a day against coalition forces.

Bremer downplayed the fighting, insisting that most of
the country is at peace, with trouble spots in "small
areas" and by "small groups of bitter end people."
"The problem we have here are these people who are
trained killers from the Saddam regime, basically
fighting history...they will either be killed or they
will be captured," he added.

An uneasy calm has returned to Basra after British
forces disbursed some 25 million litres of gasoline to
petrol stations, supervised their distribution and
restored electricity to some parts of the city. Water
shortage, persisting power cuts in the searing
temperatures of over 50 degrees and long cues at empty
petrol stations drove the angry residents to hurl
rocks and bricks at British troops. The 60 year old
Nors Mhibs, who had been waiting for hours at a petrol
station warned, "I have six sons, I have six guns and
I have an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade). I can make
trouble any time," reported the Associated Press. The
riots had left at least two Iraqis and a Nepalese
security guard dead.

Analysts saw the riots in Basra as the first
expression of Shi'ite violence against the coalition
forces. Shi'ites constitute around 60 per cent of
Iraqis and are believed to have largely refrained from
taking part in the ongoing four-month-old guerrilla
warfare waged against the occupation in Baghdad and in
what has come to be described as the "Sunni triangle"
north and west of the capital city. The speed with
which some basic services were restored in Basra were
seen as a necessary step by the coalition forces to
keep the Shi'ites out of the fight.

Ambassador Bremer described the attack on the Jordan
Embassy in Baghdad as evidence of a continuing
"terrorist threat in Iraq". He refused to speculate on
who was behind the attack saying that it could have
been the work of Iraqis or "foreign terrorists" still
operating in Iraq.

The top US administrator reaffirmed that the threat
did involve "a couple of hundred terrorists" from
Ansar Al-Islam, the militant Sunni group, whose
members might have slipped back from Iran into Iraq
after the war. Ansar Al-Islam, which the US believes
to have had long standing affiliations with Al-Qa'eda,
was largely subdued after a joint US-Kurdish assault
in March and April against their bases in Kurdish
controlled northern Iraq.

Iraqi police with the help of the FBI are still
conducting their investigations into the attack which
the UN was quick to condemn last Thursday as a
"terrorist and heinous act". It is too early to say
whether the car bombing was an isolated act or the
beginning of what the top UN official in Baghdad, Mr
Sergio Vieira de Mello called "new terror that must
not be allowed to take root in this country".

Coalition forces have been attacked daily by rocket
propelled grenades (RPGs), improvised explosive
devices and small arms. Since the death of Saddam's
two sons in late July, US forces have stepped up
aggressive searches for loyalists of the old regime,
foreign infiltrators and Muslim extremists.

Many innocent Iraqis lost their lives after being hit
by random fire from US soldiers retaliating to
attacks, and other civilians have been injured in what
they have described as "blanketed sweeps" of areas
where a designated target is thought to be located.

The 60-year-old Um Khedr received two bullet wounds as
she was trying desperately to protect her son Khedr
who was later arrested. US soldiers broke into their
home in a dawn raid that involved two tanks and 20
soldiers. After the humiliating episode in which Khedr
was pushed to the ground, beaten up and hand-cuffed,
he was released after being investigated. The
soldiers, who later apologised to Khedr, realised that
they had made a mistake. Their wanted target, a senior
officer from the former regime's security apparatus
used to live in the house next door to Khedr's home in
the Ammeriya district of Baghdad.

Mr Bremer described the deaths of innocent civilians
as "regrettable" in what he outlined as combat
operations. Coalition forces, he added, "have
apologised and made amends" in cases where military
investigations concluded that the death of a civilian
was accidental.

Recurring incidents like this leave Iraqis with a
sense of utmost indignity and grief, and sometimes a
desire for revenge. In Iraqi eyes this cannot be
perceived as a leap "from this very dark black night
of tyranny to the bright light of freedom", which Mr
Bremer repeatedly argued was the purpose of the war
before a crowd of wary journalists.

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