Thu, Jul 03, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Occupation policy should be center of political attention

By Andrew Murray  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The words of Paul Bremer, Washington's overlord in Iraq, need no "sexing up."

"We are going to fight them and impose our will on them and we will capture or ... kill them until we have imposed law and order on this country," he declared at the weekend. "We will dominate the scene and we will continue to impose our will on this country."

Neither General Dyer at Amritsar nor General William Westmoreland in Vietnam could have put it any clearer. Welcome to the new colonialism. Bremer's words are not just bluster. US forces are now engaged in massive search and destroy sweeps in central and northern Iraq against forces opposing their rule.

While the Westminster village remains riveted by the Campbell-BBC pillow fight, it is the real war on the ground in Iraq that should be commanding our attention. The six British soldiers killed last week, like the US servicemen under daily attack, are victims of an overbearing and inept occupation policy that is alienating ordinary Iraqis of all persuasions.

Civilian deaths, particularly of demonstrators, are mounting. Basic services and rights are in scant supply, with neither democracy nor a reliable water supply on offer to Iraqis. The only advanced program is for the privatization of state industry. This occupation, which has no modern precedence, should be at the center of political attention. Ending it needs to be at the heart of public activity.

For British Prime Minister Tony Blair has placed Britain at the service of the first major post-1991 attempt to fasten foreign domination by force on a sovereign country, an endeavor as unlawful as it is unwise. And there is no easy way out for the government. British troops in Iraq are now hostages to the Middle East policy of the Bush administration and its boundless appetite for domination.

As the occupation of Iraq increasingly appears as a springboard for a regime change offensive against Iran, the British troops controlling the Shia-dominated south of Iraq will be seen not as uninvited occupiers but as aggressors against their co-religionists.

If the recent warnings of Washington uberhawks US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and John Bolton -- that military action against Iran is a live option -- become fact, British forces will be caught up in the campaign, like it or not. And how often over the past 18 months have the musings of maniacs become official Bush administration policy faster than you can say "pre-emptive war?"

It is certainly hard to see US President George W. Bush willingly withdrawing the forces of his "coalition" from Iraq without first having a crack at toppling the Iranian government. Indeed, the US has no strategy for pacifying Iraq that does not involve challenging Iran. Thus is the traditional logic of 19th-century empire being replayed in the 21st: protecting one conquest requires an indefinite extension of conflict.

Blair seems to be up for this -- committed as he is to his own version of the "white man's burden", imposing New Labour values of market efficiency and moral hectoring on the world for its own good. He shows no signs whatever of wanting to unhook Britain from Bush's endless war against the "axis of evil" and beyond.

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, for example, when not pledging thousands more troops to the Iraqi quagmire, has signalled a British willingness to sign up for the entirely lawless and manifestly dangerous US plan to board and search by force North Korean ships on the high seas.

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