A Filipino¹s Guide to Iraq BRIEFING PAPER #1
Iraq Solidarity Campaign – Philippines
What is now happening in Iraq?
In March last year, without any UN authorization and in violation of international law, the United States, along with other coalition members including the Philippines, invaded Iraq. They cited the supposed danger posed to the world by Iraq¹s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and its alleged links with Osama bin Lade despite evidence available even then that such claims were unfounded. A year after, the pretexts used to justify the war have all been proven to be lies. Meanwhile, between 11,000 to 13,000 Iraqis and up to 1,000 coalition troops have been killed.
Still, the occupation continues. The United States and the remaining members of the ³Coalition of the Willing,² continue to attempt to wield ultimate power over the country. Despite the so-called ³transfer of sovereignty² last June 30, Iraq is still neither sovereign nor independent. The occupation has not ended.
But the resistance is also growing. Iraqis have launched a war of national liberation to drive out the occupiers and to regain their freedom. According to a recent survey, a staggering 92% of Iraqis view all occupation forces as ³occupiers² not as ³liberators.² Up to 55% of Iraqis now want the US and all the coalition forces to leave. The best way to understand how the Iraqis feel and what they are doing is to look back to our own history. When the US occupied the Philippines last century, Filipinos like Apolinario Mabini and Macario Sakay also fought back. This is why we should think of ourselves as yesterday¹s Iraqis and why we should see the Iraqis as today¹s Filipinos.
What did Angelo dela Cruz have to do with all that?
The abduction of foreign hostages in Iraq is part of the Iraqi resistance fighters¹ tactics to pressure foreign governments into withdrawing their support for the US-led occupation of their country. As a member of the US-led coalition, the resistance saw our troops in Iraq not as a ³humanitarian mission² but as unwelcome ³occupiers² helping the United States occupy their country. While the Filipino soldiers may have built roads or schools, they did so in an attempt to help the US achieve its political objective of making the occupation more acceptable to the Iraqis.
Why did President Arroyo support the war in the first place? President Arroyo was quite straightforward: in justifying the war, she herself said that she sent our troops to Iraq so that Filipino businessmen can get reconstruction contracts and so that our OFWs can be employed there by reconstruction contractors. In other words, the Philippine government wanted to profit from the occupation of another country. Iraqis know that.
On a more general level, President Arroyo supported the war as part of her administration¹s relationship with the United States. Only the US and Arroyo know exactly what¹s the deal. But as in the past and as in the case with other countries, the US usually gets what it wants from other governments by offering them military aid, loans, trade concessions or other forms of inducement. The US has also been documented to support pro-US candidates during elections and to protect their regimes once in power.
But Angelo and the other OFWs in Iraq are merely trying to earn a living. Should we be against that? Our workers should only have been sent to Iraq at the invitation of an independent Iraqi government and at their own terms not by the occupiers and not without the Iraqis¹ consent. It does not help that many of our OFWs in Iraq are employed by such contractors as Bechtel and Halliburton infamous American corporations which are currently being investigated in the US for corruption and which many Iraqis see as profiting from the destruction of their country. The risk now, in fact, is that an independent Iraqi government could decide to ban our workers¹ in the future because of our government¹s participation in the invasion and occupation of their own country.
Iraqis want to begin rebuilding their own country and they will most likely need our help. But they can¹t start unless the occupation ends.
OK, let¹s assume for the sake of argument that the Iraqis are right to resist the occupation. But isn¹t beheading prisoners wrong?
First of all, we have to understand that the resistance is composed of many different factions with varying aims and different strategies and little coordination and communication among themselves. A united front against the occupation, with an over-all command structure, has yet to emerge. What is clear, however, is that the demand for an end to the occupation has widespread and popular support among Iraqis.
We don¹t have to approve of all of their tactics to understand why they resort to kidnappings and beheadings: Faced with the overwhelming military superiority of the US and the coalition-members, Iraqis think that one way to fight back is to resort to non-conventional forms of warfare. While beheading hostages is regrettable, the kind of violence being used by the occupiers in Iraq should not be equated with the violence of the resistance. One side uses force to illegitimately occupy another people; the other side uses it to assert their legitimate right to self-determination.
Wait, but what¹s this I heard in the news that sovereignty has been transferred to the Iraqis, that the occupation has actually ended? On June 28, Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer handed over blue envelopes not sovereignty to officials of the ³interim government² in ceremonies which, they claimed, marked the end of the occupation. But there was never a ³transfer of sovereignty² and the occupation has not ended, as proven by the following simple facts:
1 The ³interim government² to which sovereignty was supposedly handed over was installed and chosen by the United States not by the Iraqi people. The³Prime Minister² Iyad Allawi a self-confessed CIA and M16 paid operative, as well as scores of its other officials, were handpicked by the United States. The US chose Allawi and his men precisely because they agreed to the US¹ conditions. Allawi and his men, for their part, chose to be installed by the US because they would not gain power if the choice were left to the Iraqis. The fact that the resistance continues only indicates that this³interim government² has no legitimacy in the eyes of many Iraqis.
2 All 140,000 plus US troops, and the 20,000 soldiers of the remaining³coalition members,² are still in Iraq and intend to stay there indefinitely. They will not take orders from anyone but the US and will not be answerable to the Iraqis. If a GI shoots an Iraqi boy after mistaking him for a pig, this GI will be above the law because all the troops staying behind as well as the thousands of contractors profiting from the reconstruction are immune from prosecution.
3 The ³interim government² has no real meaningful power. It is held hostage by the presence of the US-led forces: should it do anything against the wishes of the US, the coalition troops can just march out of their bases anytime and oust them. It cannot represent the will of the Iraqi people because their very survival depends on ignoring and acting against what the Iraqi people want. A majority of the Iraqis want the US to leave something the ³interim government² will not demand because its very existence depends on the US¹ continuing presence.
The ³interim government² does not even have the power to enact its own policies because the Coalition Provisional Authority has left behind an array of laws which the US does not want the ³interim government² to overturn. Even if it now has authority over Iraq¹s oil revenues, the new³interim government² has little control over the funds because the US has used up almost all of it and has entered into long-term commitments which the ³interim government² does not have the authority to revoke.
All this indicate that there was neither a ³transfer² nor ³sovereignty² during the June 28 ³transfer of sovereignty² in Iraq. So it¹s not perfect. But the situation is so messy and complicated so it¹s not going to be easy. Besides, the US has scheduled a step-by-step process for giving Iraqis more control. I heard that elections are even scheduled for next year.
True, it¹s not easy. But any solution should come from the Iraqis themselves. The political process for determining the Iraqis¹ new government should be determined by the Iraqis and should be respected. The US should have no role in it whatsoever. The Iraqis have been saying all along that they want free, general, and direct one-person, one vote elections. But the US has been against that all along.
Instead, the US has imposed a political process that addresses its own interests rather than that of the Iraqis. The US is against any general elections because it is are fully aware that any directly elected independent government will demand that they leave. According to the US-imposed timetable, elections will not be held until after the US has had enough time to put in place all those guarantees that will ensure that it can influence the outcome of the elections. In Iraq, as in Nicaragua, Venezuela, and many other countries around the world, the US is currently funding, training, and building up political parties and NGOs that are intended to participate in the coming elections. US support will give them a tremendous edge over other parties.
But hey, I heard that even the UN itself has said that the occupation is over. Surely, we should trust the UN on this one? True, in a resolution passed last month, the United Nations Security Council voted 15-0 to welcome ³the end the occupation² and to recognize the ³interim government² as the representative of the Iraqi people. But even if the UN Security Council voted to declare that the earth is flat, we all know that it is not. Sure, the UN Security Council did not endorse the invasion of Iraq last year; but even if it did, would it have made the war right? Let us remember that Security Council members vote according to their own geo-political calculations. Germany¹s, France¹s, and Russia¹s desire to get a piece of the biggest reconstruction business opportunity since World War II played a part in their estimates. Remember too that countries are not immune to blackmail and intimidation. In the run-up to war last year, the US was documented to have bullied or coerced countries to vote in favor of war. The US might not have succeeded then but that does not mean that it always fails.
What was all that ³transfer of sovereignty² fuss all about then? All that was about propaganda. The US needs to convince the world that the occupation has ended because it needs more troops and funds from other countries two things which the US could no longer afford to provide on its own. They also need to persuade the Iraqis that the occupation is over so that they¹ll stop fighting. As a Pentagon official admitted, “The transfer of sovereignty clearly will have an impact on security because you rid yourself of the ‘occupation’ label. That is one of the claims that these so-called insurgents make; that they are under American occupation. So you remove that political claim from the ideological battle.²
But why would the US still want to stay in Iraq if no weapons of mass destruction have been found and so many of its soldiers are dying there?
Good question. A US Senate committee, as well as National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell as well as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair have all confirmed that the reasons given for going to war were all lies. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam Hussein had no links with al Qaeda. This was never a war to defend the world from ³WMDs² or ³terrorists.² It was always a war to secure the world¹s second largest reserves of oil, to open up the domestic markets of the Middle East, and to establish US military presence in a very important and very strategic region all in an attempt to perpetuate and extend the US¹ military, economic, and political domination of the world. If these were the real reasons for the invasion, then we shouldn¹t expect the US to just pack up and leave just like that. Too much is at stake.
But how does the US still intend to achieve those objectives? The US has been forced to give up a certain degree of control over Iraq as direct occupying powers. But they still hope to call the shots from behind the scenes. They and not the ³interim government² will continue to exercise real power in Iraq by bombs and dollars: through its indefinite military presence and its control over the $18 billion reconstruction fund for Iraq. The presence of around 160,000 foreign troops in Iraq will be like a knife held before any Iraqi government¹s neck; the reconstruction funds, on the other hand, will be more than enough incentive for some Iraqis to do as the US pleases.
The CPA may have been dissolved but power will continue to be exercised from the American embassy where the former CPA used to be. Leading the biggest US embassy in the world, with the world¹s biggest CIA station, is none other than former US ambassador to the Philippines John Negroponte who is accused of organizing the destabilization of the progressive revolutionary government of Nicaragua in the 1980s. Hidden within the various ministries in Iraq are scores of USAID consultants literally drafting Iraq¹s laws and policies on a blank slate ala AGILE in the Philippines. (In fact, Development Alternatives International, which was behind AGILE, is also now operating as USAID contractor in Iraq.)
Scattered across the country are scores of USAID contractors funding and training NGOs and other civil society organizations in order to set up the kind of civil society that will actively support or passively accept the US¹preferred policies. All these to ensure that the occupation continues even after ³independence² is granted. Given the striking parallelisms between our post-³independence² history with what the US intends to accomplish in Iraq, we may still be today¹s Iraqis and they may yet be tomorrow¹s Filipinos.
What should happen then? Iraqis themselves say that they want all the foreign forces to leave and for the occupation to end. Only by ending the occupation can Iraqis begin the difficult task of rebuilding their own country. They should be given the space to decide for themselves how they will start anew how they will form their own government, how they will settle their differences, how they will cast judgment on the dictatorship, etc without any self-interested interference from outside. Any help from other countries, including possibly the presence of peacekeeping forces, should be decided on by the Iraqis themselves and on their own conditions. The United States and all those party to the invasion and occupation should be held accountable and responsible for their obligations.
Does the resistance stand a chance at all? We¹re talking of the world¹s only superpower here. The US may enjoy tremendous military advantages over the Iraqis but that¹s not all that it takes to win a war. On the battle for hearts and minds, the US has decisively lost. According to a survey, as many as 81% of Iraqis now have ³no confidence² in the occupation forces.
While the Iraqis may have been initially grateful for the ouster of Saddam, they now feel betrayed: the US promised to give them ³democracy,² but they have blocked the holding of free general elections. Instead, the ³interim government² which the US installed has imposed martial law. The US promised them respect for human rights; instead, as in the case of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal where detainees were forced to perform sexual acts, they have been tortured and abused. The US promised to help them reconstruct their country; but until now, electricity has not even been fully restored because US contractors put profit above the needs of the Iraqis.
As a result of all this, the US has squandered the one thing that could have defeated the resistance: the Iraqi people¹s support. The US may have far more bombs and bullets but the resistance has popular backing. This was also the decisive imbalance in power that accounts for the defeat of the world¹s only superpower 30 years ago in Vietnam. But as in Vietnam, the Iraqis need the world¹s support.
Why should I care? Though Iraq is far away, what is happening there affects us even here in the Philippines, as the plight of Angelo dela Cruz proves. Pragmatically speaking, our OFWs will be safer and more welcome in Iraq if they were sent there at the invitation of the Iraqis themselves. The longer the occupation continues, the longer our OFWs who are already there would continue to remain in danger.
More than this however, we should be concerned about what happens in Iraq because it is one of the most flagrant and most destructive violations of international law and international norms in recent years. The US¹single-minded and unilateral pursuit of its interests in Iraq and in other parts of the world has been and remains to be the biggest threats to global peace and justice. Instead of making the world safer from al Qaeda-type³terrorists² for instance, the US is unleashing a far more lethal and more violent kind of ³state terrorism² and provoking even more retaliation from³terrorists.² Victory for the US in its illegal and immoral war and occupation in Iraq will only lead to more instability, and suffering not just for Iraqis but for people around the world.
No one country no matter how powerful should be allowed to illegally invade and occupy a country, kill over 10,000 civilians knowingly, and plunder its resources. As a member of the international community, so much of our aspirations as Filipinos depend on the achievement and maintenance of global peace. Genuine social and economic development not just for Filipinos but for all people in the world, the greater availability of food, housing, and shelter and the absence of deprivation, conflict and misery all these are conditional on making the world a world of equality and justice. If we allow the US to succeed in Iraq, we might as well say goodbye to all that. To stand against the war in Iraq is to stand for peace, justice, and a better future for the world.
What can I do? Join the Iraq Solidarity Campaign, a broad multi-sectoral coalition of organizations and individuals calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq. The ISC conducts workshops, trainings, and film screenings for a deeper understanding of the issues. It also organizes press conferences, mass actions, and other protest rallies to express its positions. For more information, write to Cora Fabros at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on August 13th, 2004