Eman Ahmed Khammas, a co-director of the Baghdad-based International Occupation Watch Center, speaks to Flag of Unity about recent developments in Iraq under the occupation. (September 21, 2003, in Baghdad)
-- What has the US/UK occupation brought on the people of Iraq?
The occupation has brought many things. Unfortunately almost all of them are violating the rights of the Iraqi people. The occupation in itself is a violation of the Iraqi people's right of sovereignty. It happened without any international resolution. The UN Resolution 1483 was passed only after the occupation.
The occupation and the war happened for two essential reasons. First, to look for mass destruction weapons. Up to now it is clear that Iraq has no mass destruction weapons. Second, the war happened in the campaign against terrorism in the American language. Up to now nothing has proved that Iraq has anything to do with terrorism. Also we do not have any proved relationship to Al Qaida. So these main reasons proved to be untrue. This is one point.
The second point is that the American administration has said that they are after human rights, democracy and freedom for the Iraqi people, and that they want to relieve the Iraqi people from the regime of Saddam Hussein. Yes, they put down the regime of Saddam Hussein. But in the process they put down the Iraqi state, all the ministries and institutions in Iraq. All these bodies are dissolved and not working for the last six months. This certainly does not serve the rights of the Iraqi people. We are living in chaos, insecure situation and economic devastation. Many of social, political and economic problems appeared or increased. So everything under the occupation is violating the Iraqi people's rights.
Some people say that there is freedom of speech, there are many newspapers that can talk freely. Yes, we have demonstrations, we can talk. But we talk, talk, talk and see nothing. Nothing is achieved. The first idea of invading a country and putting down its government, especially in a country like Iraq which has very complex social issues, is crazy and stupid. It is impossible to just put down a government and come and say "Well, we're going to arrange the country." Iraq is not a small island in the ocean. It is a big country with many nationalities, many religions and many ethnic groups. The American administration knows this very well, but they don't care.
-- Several months ago we heard that US big corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel won the contracts from the US government in the business of what they call Iraq reconstruction. How have these US corporations been introduced to Iraq and how are they controlling the Iraqi economy?
There is a very important issue concerning the economic situation and the role of the international big corporations. Everything is kept hidden and done under the table. There is no transparency at all. We don't know what is going on.
For example, during the war, all the communication centers in Iraq were destroyed. Now there are no telecommunications whatsoever. And we have just heard that Iraq is going to be divided into three sectors and each sector to be given to a certain communication corporation. But we don't know who these corporations are and why they are not Iraqi. We had a very mean answer, which says that the Iraqis have no experience in the communication field and that they do not know how to arrange this. Certain conditions are being put for any corporation to take the tender. These conditions do not apply completely to any Iraqi. They say that any Iraqi company that is to work on the communication should have 15 years of experience. No Iraqi company has such experience. And this company should have some experience outside the country. These conditions exclude any Iraqi to go into the business of telecommunication. The business of telecommunication brings huge money. If the international companies take this economic activity, all the money are going to be sent abroad. This will add many things to the debts that Iraq already has.
Also we don't see any activity in reconstructing the country. We have been under the damage of the war, but they are not doing the reconstruction. They say that in Baghdad the security situation is not stable so they cannot begin reconstruction activities. OK. But what about in other provinces? I have been to the south recently and the situation there is stable. Why don't they begin the reconstruction? There are millions of Iraqi people who are unemployed and need jobs. What are they waiting for?
For these big corporations, this is a very good chance to make billions of money. And this is going to be on the expense of the Iraqi people. I really feel that they need to have a feedback from outside, because we don't know what these corporations are doing. We don't have any information about what is going on the economic situation. You read the papers and listen to the radio and the TV, and you don't know what is going on.
We have many economic problems. We have unemployment. We have debts. We have reconstruction. And also the agriculture in Iraq is totally damaged. We need to begin from zero. While we were in the provinces in the south, we went in car for four hours. All are agricultural lands, fertile and green. They only need people to do the job. Why don't they just begin to let people do something?
-- Some analysts say that the real purpose of the Iraq war is to privatize the Iraq economy, so to speak, first bombing the country and then privatizing it. Do you have any comment on this?
Thank you for reminding me of this. They are working on privatizing the Iraqi economy, which is very dangerous issue. If they are going to privatize the services, because about 50% of the people here are living in poverty, if the electricity is going to be privatized, if water, healthcare, education or transportation is going to be privatized, the prices are going to be very high. People will have real difficulties in these essential things. I have read in a newspaper that new fees for colleges, which are higher than before, are being introduced. We are beginning to see the prices going up. This is a society which we call post-war society. People are poor and badly in need of help. So this issue of privatization in the public sector is really frightening. I am really afraid of this. We are going to see the poor people not having the opportunity to study, to go to hospital, to drink clean water or to have electricity. This has happened in many Third World counties in Latin America, Asia and Africa, damaging people. There will be much social conflict, which leads to a new bloodshed and insecurity.
From the economic point of view, we have been in public sector. The last Iraqi regime used to support people with the essentials. We had the monthly food ration, we had education free, we had hospitals free. In the last years, there were what we call self-providing budgets for hospitals. But even in these projects, the prices were not very high. Average people could go to these places. The Iraqi people are used to this public sector. If it is going to be privatized, there will be a very rapid transfer from public to private, which is not gradual and not well-studied, well-organized. This will affect the economy very much.
-- During this short stay, we have been able to feel huge anti-occupation sentiment among the Iraqi people. How and to what extent is this anti-occupation sentiment organized into a concrete action? How much organized has anti-occupation movement in Iraq been?
Yes, there is anti-occupation sentiment in Iraq. It is not only against the American but also there are anti-occupation sentiments against the Italian, the Spanish, the Polish, the Croatian and whatever country in the occupation forces. It is instinctive. If other countries come and invade your country, all the people will be against that. This is something in the blood of people. If somebody comes and invades my house, I will directly ask him to leave. How is this organized? Where are people working on it? There are many political parties who are against the occupation, just began organized and refuse to be in the Governing Council because the GC is connected to the occupation. But the problem is, people here are put in a situation in which the American occupying administration has regrettably succeeded in putting the Iraqi people in a corner where they think "If the occupying forces leave now, what is going to happen to Iraq?" There are many factions, many political people and many ethnic groups. They are competing and looking to have the biggest piece of the cake of the government. Some of them are asking for militias to work on the streets for security reasons. So if the American forces, this is what the average Iraqi people are to say, will pull back, what will happen? These parties or militias may be going to fight, and there may be a civil war like in Lebanon in the 80's. It was a catastrophe.
But at the same time the Iraqi people hate to be occupied. And the American occupying forces are behaving in a way that really provokes the Iraqi people against them. There are many detainees, the services are damaged, all the country is damaged and they are doing nothing. So people really want this occupation to end.
Many political organizations are telling the Iraqi people that we are not helpless. No. We are not helpless. We can organize, we can work, we can do something. Just now before I came here, I met a man in an Internet cafe. I was distributing a questionnaire, what the political parties think of the occupation. The man told me, "Why are you doing this?" I told him that I want to know what the Iraqi organizations think of the occupation. He said, "Instead of doing that, you have to ask the UN to come here to have a general referendum to ask the people what they want, how they think of the Iraqi future, what they want. I told him, "Yes, you can write your answer in the questionnaire. I want to put it on the website and see what the reactions are going to be." I mean the Iraqi people are working on this. They are meeting, they are talking, they are connecting each other as organizations, as NGOs and as parties to see what to do. As the Occupation Watch Center, I do think that there should be a National Conference where all the people will be there, all the political parties say their word, what they want, what kind of government they want, what kind of future they want. In this way we will be able to make the position of the Iraqi people clear in front of the whole international society.
-- I have heard that there has been a call by religious and tribal leaders for a constituent assembly, which has gained one million signatures from the Iraqi population. Is that right?
Though I did not hear that they had a million signatures, the Iraqi society is built on tribal network, so to speak. There are many tribes that have political history against injustice and colonialism. These people feel that they are being neglected, put away from what is going on in Iraq. So they meet and discuss. They want these Iraqi tribes to gather, to organize and to have a certain position in the whole political scene.
-- For the Iraqi people, what role can the UN play? How do the Iraqi people view about the UN? Is the UN, for them, merely an institution led by the US, or can it do something better?
The Iraqi people think of the UN as a tool in the hand of the US. Because for the last thirteen years we have seen many resolutions coming out of the Security Council. Directly or indirectly we know, and I think the world also knows, that the US has a very strong impact on the UN. The Iraqi people in many ways believe that the UN is responsible for their suffering in the last thirteen years. All the resolutions of sanctions came throughout the UN. Also the UN did nothing for the Iraqi people in and after this war. It did not prevent this war, and did not do anything after the war. It is a pity because some of the UN organizations do very good job here. The UNDP, the UNICEF, the WHO and the Food Program are trying to do something good for the Iraqi people. They have really good programs and projects. But in the overall political situation, unfortunately the UN was absent. When they were there, the resolutions were not always in the interest of the Iraqi people. The UN should be here very strong, very forceful and very effective. They should govern and lead other international forces. They should not be led by the American. What happened here after the war was that the late Mr. De Mello and the Governing Council were working under the command of the American, while the opposite should be, the UN should be leading the situation here. But I don't think that the UN is capable of this thing, especially after what happened in the UN Headquarters. Several days ago I heard Mr. Koffi Anan said that the UN is not going to work in Iraq unless the security is guaranteed. The UN here is working as if they were a humanitarian organization. The UN, as an international body, should have much stronger position.
-- You cannot expect much from the UN under the current situation?
Well, I hope that they will have more impacts. I hear that there was a meeting between European countries, but its outcome seems not very fruitful. So I am not very optimistic about this. But I hope they are going to be stronger.
-- What do you plan to do in the coming months to end the occupation and to get more international solidarity with the Iraqi people?
Let me just tell you the last two months of what we were doing. It was very hot in Iraq, and we didn't have many delegations from outside. So our work was really here. Our job is to watch the occupation, document and investigate the violations that are committed by the occupation authorities and forces to the Iraqi people under the occupation. We have many political and social things to work on.
First, we have many camps for detainees, very huge ones where they are put for unlimited period. People do not know in which camps these detainees are, why they are arrested. This is a very big issue. People are frustrated from after-midnight raids by American forces. They take whatever they find in the house, money, precious things and gold. And they take people from houses, old or young, women or men. No one knows about what is happening to these people. After weeks or a month or more, you have their names in a list put by the Coalition Provisional Authority, but not necessarily all the names. Some names do not appear at all. This is a very big issue we are working on.
Second, we have many people who are being killed or injured by random or indiscriminative shooting. The American forces are very terrified, very tense and very nervous. Whenever they feel there is a kind of danger, they just begin shooting. Many people have lost their family members, women and men. So we are also investigating these kinds of issues. We go to the people, we ask them, we shoot photography or videotaping. We have documentation. And we ask some lawyers to follow the issue for the compensation. Unfortunately we are not achieving much because the American authorities are maneuvering and not giving anything. There is a committee for compensation in the CPA which is just documenting things, collecting information and doing nothing really.
There are many other issues. For example, the debaathification issue. Under the last regime, all the Iraqi public institutions were baathified. If you want to be a teacher, you go to the college of education and have to put your name on the Baath Party. So there are tens of thousands of teachers who are not really Baathists but their names are in the Party. When the Party was dissolved and all the members were sent out, these people lost their jobs. We have more than 2,000 university professors who were dismissed from the colleges. Yes, they were Baathists. But did they do anything illegal? Did they do anything to hurt their students and colleagues? Did they do anything that was violation of law, violation of human rights or violation of ethic? If their pages are clean and white, why are they dismissed, just because their names are in the Baath. This is illogical. And these people have families to support. These people have to live. Many of them for months have no salary. Also, especially professors in the universities have their social and scientific prestige. If you dismiss them and treat them like criminals, it is really hurting psychologically. The most important issue is that if you send more than 2,000 professors out of university, while in a month the universities are going to be open, who is going to teach the students? There will be a scientific vacuum, educational vacuum in the universities.
This issue applies to many bodies or ministries. For example, the Ministry of Defense is dissolved. Now Iraq is defenseless. We have no army. Any neighboring country or any international outside country can invade and occupy just like the US did. We are now to that. This is one thing. Second, there were millions of people in the army, soldiers and officers. How are they going to live? Yesterday I was just walking on the street. A woman came to me, saying "I heard that you are working on the occupation watch job." I said yes. She said that she used to work in the General Federation of Iraqi Women. She was just an employee, a clerk. The GFIW supposed to be an organization of the Party. OK. There are many women who are in the political bureau or executive bureau. But there are people working there. They are just employees. Especially in the GFIW almost all the women were either widows or divorced or women who support their families. Many are responsible for children. There are about 300 women. They are really poor. So who are going to help these women? They are now without salary. There are many examples of this issue because of debaathification of society. How is this going to be solved? We are also working on this issue.
Our plan for the future is to spread information about these issues. Because the weather is going to be cooler, many people are coming like you in the next months. I am going to help these people to go to the different parts of the Iraqi society to meet, to talk, to have interviews, to know what is the real situation here in Iraq, for first-hand information. Also I am going to write reports about all these issues and have many conferences. I will be in Italy to talk about what is going on to the Iraqi people under the occupation, meeting many activists and peace organizations there.
-- What would you appeal to the people around the world seeking peace and justice in Iraq?
My appeal to the peace organizations in the whole world is to spread information, to tell their people that the occupation of Iraq was built on lies. This is part of the American project of hegemony of controlling the whole world. Iraq is strategically and economically one of the central issues. If they are going to control the Iraqi oil, they are going to control the oil market in the whole world. And, if they control the oil market, they are going to control the world economy. The corporations are working on this issue. The only ministry that was well protected and not looted was the Ministry of Oil. Oil is essential here. So I want these peace organizations to expose the hypocrisy of the American propaganda, of the American lies. Because outside they are only talking about that there is resistance by the pro-Saddam people and there are American soldiers killed. This is not the only issue. Yes. There is resistance but they are not all pro-Saddam. No. Many people are against the occupation. Maybe there are pro-Saddam people. I agree. But there are almost the majority of the Iraqi people who are in the armed resistance, not necessarily pro-Saddam.
So the important issue here is to deconstruct the American propaganda. The American propaganda is very strong. They have built this propaganda over years against Iraq, against the Iraqi people. It is very important to educate ordinary people about the real issue here. It is not the warfare of the Iraqi people. It is the warfare of the American corporations, especially military and oil. It is also the warfare of the American administration which wants to control the world. Tell the truth and educate people about the truth. If people know, they will move.
-- The Japanese government is planning to send its troops to Iraq.
Please don't. We don't need troops, please. We have many troops here.
-- We try hard to stop this move.
What I know is that Japan has been denied the right to have the military force. And you have the bitter experience with the American. But you are a very great nation, and returned back even stronger but economically not militarily. There are many novels translated into Arabic from Japan. I know from what I have read from your literature, your culture and your movies that you are a peaceful nation, that you are a very spiritual nation. You have a very strong background in peace, in culture, in humanitarian thinking. I think you can depend on this heritage to move the Japanese people against the occupation. You can work on this culture to try to prevent the Japanese government from sending troops to Iraq.
-- We try hard to stop this move.