you have any rooms?" we ask the hotelier.
looks us over, dwelling on my travel partner's
bald, white head.
try not to notice that there are sixty room keys
in pigeonholes behind her desk--the place is empty.
you have a room soon? Maybe next week?"
hesitates. "Ahh... No."
return to our current hotel--the one we want to
leave because there are bets on when it is going
to get hit--and flick on the TV: The BBC is showing
footage of Richard Clarke's testimony before the
September 11 Commission, and a couple of pundits
are arguing about whether invading Iraq has made
should try finding a hotel room in this city,
where the US occupation has unleashed a wave of
anti-American rage so intense that it now extends
not only to US troops, occupation officials and
their contractors but also to foreign journalists,
aid workers, their translators and pretty much
anyone else associated with the Americans. Which
is why we couldn't begrudge the hotelier her decision:
If you want to survive in Iraq, it's wise to stay
the hell away from people who look like us. (We
thought about explaining that we were Canadians,
but all the American reporters are sporting the
maple leaf--that is, when they aren't trying to
disappear behind their newly purchased headscarves.)
occupation chief Paul Bremer hasn't started wearing
a hijab yet, and is instead tackling the rise
of anti-Americanism with his usual foresight.
Baghdad is blanketed with inept psy-ops organs
like Baghdad Now, filled with fawning articles
about how Americans are teaching Iraqis about
press freedom. "I never thought before that the
Coalition could do a great thing for the Iraqi
people," one trainee is quoted saying. "Now I
can see it on my eyes what they are doing good
things for my country and the accomplishment they
made. I wish my people can see that, the way I
the Iraqi people recently saw another version
of press freedom when Bremer ordered US troops
to shut down a newspaper run by supporters of
Muqtada al-Sadr. The militant Shiite cleric has
been preaching that Americans are behind the attacks
on Iraqi civilians and condemning the interim
constitution as a "terrorist law." So far, al-Sadr
has refrained from calling on his supporters to
join the armed resistance, but many here are predicting
that the closing down of the newspaper--a nonviolent
means of resisting the occupation--was just the
push he needed. But then, recruiting for the resistance
has always been a specialty of the Presidential
Envoy to Iraq: Bremer's first act after being
tapped by Bush was to fire 400,000 Iraqi soldiers,
refuse to give them their rightful pensions but
allow them to hold on to their weapons--in case
they needed them later.
US soldiers were padlocking the door of the newspaper's
office, I found myself at what I thought would
be an oasis of pro-Americanism, the Baghdad Soft
Drinks Company. On May 1 this bottling plant will
start producing one of the most powerful icons
of American culture: Pepsi-Cola. I figured that
if there was anyone left in Baghdad willing to
defend the Americans, it would be Hamid Jassim
Khamis, the Baghdad Soft Drinks Company's managing
director. I was wrong.
the trouble in Iraq is because of Bremer," Khamis
told me, flanked by a line-up of thirty Pepsi
and 7-Up bottles. "He didn't listen to Iraqis.
He doesn't know anything about Iraq. He destroyed
the country and tried to rebuild it again, and
now we are in chaos."
are words you would expect to hear from religious
extremists or Saddam loyalists, but hardly from
the likes of Khamis. It's not just that his Pepsi
deal is the highest-profile investment by a US
multinational in Iraq's new "free market." It's
also that few Iraqis supported the war more staunchly
than Khamis. And no wonder: Saddam executed both
of his brothers and Khamis was forced to resign
as managing director of the bottling plant in
1999 after Saddam's son Uday threatened his life.
When the Americans overthrew Saddam, "You can't
imagine how much relief we felt," he says.
the Baathist plant manager was forced out, Khamis
returned to his old job. "There is a risk doing
business with the Americans," he says. Several
months ago, two detonators were discovered in
front of the factory gates. And Khamis is still
shaken from an attempted assassination three weeks
ago. He was on his way to work when he was carjacked
and shot at, and there was no doubt that this
was a targeted attack; one of the assailants was
heard asking another, "Did you kill the manager?"
used to be happy to defend his pro-US position,
even if it meant arguing with friends. But one
year after the invasion, many of his neighbors
in the industrial park have gone out of business.
"I don't know what to say to my friends anymore,"
he says. "It's chaos."
list of grievances against the occupation is long:
corruption in the awarding of reconstruction contracts,
the failure to stop the looting, the failure to
secure Iraq's borders--both from foreign terrorists
and from unregulated foreign imports. Iraqi companies,
still suffering from the sanctions and the looting,
have been unable to compete.
of all, Khamis is worried about how these policies
have fed the country's unemployment crisis, creating
far too many desperate people. He also notes that
Iraqi police officers are paid less than half
what he pays his assembly line workers, "which
is not enough to survive." The normally soft-spoken
Khamis becomes enraged when talking about the
man in charge of "rebuilding" Iraq. "Paul Bremer
has caused more damage than the war, because the
bombs can damage a building but if you damage
people there is no hope."
have gone to the mosques and street demonstrations
and listened to Muqtada al-Sadr's supporters shout
"Death to America, Death to the Jews," and it
is indeed chilling. But it is the profound sense
of betrayal expressed by a pro-US businessman
running a Pepsi plant that attests to the depths
of the US-created disaster here. "I'm disappointed,
not because I hate the Americans," Khamis tells
me, "but because I like them. And when you love
someone and they hurt you, it hurts even more."
we leave the bottling plant in late afternoon,
the streets of US-occupied Baghdad are filled
with al-Sadr supporters vowing bloody revenge
for the attack on their newspaper. A spokesperson
for Bremer is defending the decision on the grounds
that the paper "was making people think we were
out to get them."
growing number of Iraqis are certainly under that
impression, but it has far less to do with an
inflammatory newspaper than with the inflammatory
actions of the US occupation authority. As the
June 30 "handover" approaches, Paul Bremer has
unveiled a slew of new tricks to hold on to power
long after "sovereignty" has been declared.
recent highlights: At the end of March, building
on his Order 39 of last September, Bremer passed
yet another law further opening up Iraq's economy
to foreign ownership, a law that Iraq's next government
is prohibited from changing under the terms of
the interim constitution. Bremer also announced
the establishment of several independent regulators,
which will drastically reduce the power of Iraqi
government ministries. For instance, the Financial
Times reports that "officials of the Coalition
Provisional Authority said the regulator would
prevent communications minister Haider al-Abadi,
a thorn in the side of the coalition, from carrying
out his threat to cancel licenses the coalition
awarded to foreign-managed consortia to operate
three mobile networks and the national broadcaster."
CPA has also confirmed that after June 30, the
$18.4 billion the US government is spending on
reconstruction will be administered by the US
Embassy in Iraq. The money will be spent over
five years and will fundamentally redesign Iraq's
most basic infrastructure, including its electricity,
water, oil and communications sectors, as well
as its courts and police. Iraq's future governments
will have no say in the construction of these
core sectors of Iraqi society. Retired Rear Adm.
David Nash, who heads the Project Management Office,
which administers the funds, describes the $18.4
billion as "a gift from the American people to
the people of Iraq." He appears to have forgotten
the part about gifts being something you actually
give up. And in the same eventful week, US engineers
began construction on fourteen "enduring bases"
in Iraq, capable of housing the 110,000 soldiers
who will be posted here for at least two more
years. Even though the bases are being built with
no mandate from an Iraqi government, Brig. Gen.
Mark Kimmitt, deputy chief of operations in Iraq,
called them "a blueprint for how we could operate
in the Middle East."
US occupation authority has also found a sneaky
way to maintain control over Iraq's armed forces.
Bremer has issued an executive order stating that
even after the interim Iraqi government has been
established, the Iraqi army will answer to US
commander Lieut. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. In order
to pull this off, Washington is relying on a legalistic
reading of a clause in UN Security Council Resolution
1511, which puts US forces in charge of Iraq's
security until "the completion of the political
process" in Iraq. Since the "political process"
in Iraq is never-ending, so, it seems, is US military
the same flurry of activity, the CPA announced
that it would put further constraints on the Iraqi
military by appointing a national security adviser
for Iraq. This US appointee would have powers
equivalent to those held by Condoleezza Rice and
will stay in office for a five-year term, long
after Iraq is scheduled to have made the transition
to a democratically elected government.
is one piece of this country, though, that the
US government is happy to cede to the people of
Iraq: the hospitals. On March 27 Bremer announced
that he had withdrawn the senior US advisers from
Iraq's Health Ministry, making it the first sector
to achieve "full authority" in the US occupation.
together, these latest measures paint a telling
picture of what a "free Iraq" will look like:
The United States will maintain its military and
corporate presence through fourteen enduring military
bases and the largest US Embassy in the world.
It will hold on to authority over Iraq's armed
forces, its security and economic policy and the
design of its core infrastructure--but the Iraqis
can deal with their decrepit hospitals all by
themselves, complete with their chronic drug shortages
and lack of the most basic sanitation capacity.
(US Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy
Thompson revealed just how low a priority this
was when he commented that Iraq's hospitals would
be fixed if the Iraqis "just washed their hands
and cleaned the crap off the walls.")
nights when there are no nearby explosions, we
hang out at the hotel, jumping at the sound of
car doors slamming. Sometimes we flick on the
news and eavesdrop on a faraway debate about whether
invading Iraq has made Americans safer. Few seem
interested in the question of whether the invasion
has made Iraqis feel safer, which is too bad because
the questions are intimately related. As Khamis
says, "It's not the war that caused the hatred.
It's what they did after. What they are doing
Posted: April 8, 2004