Bush plays politics with Iraq crisis

President Bush’s stage-managed Thanksgiving Day trip to a U.S. military hangar in Baghdad dramatized the extent to which the administration is now handling Iraq as an element in Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.

Bush’s two-hour appearance, in which he walked out from behind a curtain like a game show guest, uttered homespun lines about “just looking for a warm meal,” and served turkey to American soldiers, aired on TV screens across the U.S. as Americans tuned in for Thanksgiving Day football. “George Bush becomes the first U.S. president to visit Iraq in order to provide the television pictures required by his re-election campaign,” commented the London Daily Independent, which headlined its article, “The turkey has landed.”

The stunt is being widely compared to Bush’s May 1 “mission accomplished” aircraft carrier landing. With 189 U.S. troops killed since then, thousands wounded, and major combat ongoing, that photo op has become an object of ridicule.

The stealth with which the in-and-out Iraq trip was carried out underscores the security crisis in Iraq and the failure of the administration’s war and occupation policies. According to Pentagon figures, 79 U.S. soldiers and 26 “allied” troops were killed by hostile fire in November – over two a day, more than any month since the war began. Over the last weekend, attacks killed two South Korean electricians, a Colombian contractor, seven Spanish military intelligence officers, two Japanese diplomats and two U.S. soldiers.

Controversy continues over U.S. actions in response to an ambush in Samarra, north of Baghdad, Nov. 30. U.S. commanders said 54 “enemy personnel” were killed and 22 wounded, but the numbers have been disputed, with local Iraqis insisting that most of the dead and wounded were civilians hit by U.S. troops firing randomly. The U.S. military has started issuing enemy body counts, something it had avoided for fear of evoking Vietnam memories.

Samarra is the place where, six months ago, U.S. troops mistakenly shot unarmed guests at a wedding party. The latest incident there is an example of how the new U.S. no-holds-barred “Iron Hammer” is further antagonizing Iraq’s civilian population, already angered over the arrogance and incompetence of the U.S. occupation.

The armed resistance is not a popular resistance yet, but it is slowly starting to gain popular support, says Thabit Abdullah, an associate professor of history at York University in Toronto who closely monitors events in Iraq.

Abdullah, who left Baghdad at age 18 because of political repression, said the Iraqi people overwhelmingly condemn terrorist acts. At the same time, he said, “If U.S. arrogance continues, it might push the country into what they want at all costs to avoid – popular armed struggle.”

Abdullah criticized U.S. refusal to listen to views of “very sophisticated democratic parties” represented on the Iraqi Governing Council. Both he and Nabil Roumayah, a leader of the left-progressive Iraqi Democratic Union, part of a 17-member Network of Iraqi American Organizations, said the council includes the main forces in Iraqi society, with very deep roots and backing.

Roumayah, who was active in the anti-Saddam Hussein struggle from an early age and had to leave Iraq in the 1980s, now lives in the Detroit area. He told the World, “The number one priority is transfer of power to the Iraqi people.” Iraqis do not want to have occupation, he said. “You have to give Iraqi people the right to rule themselves immediately.”

The new U.S. plan for a transitional government by next June has come late, and subsequent Bush administration statements – such as insistence on a long-term U.S. presence – dampen the plan’s prospects, Abdullah said. But “if they think that Iraqis will simply sit by and allow the U.S. to exploit their resources,” they are very mistaken, he added.

For decades, Iraqi people had nothing, Roumayah said – the country’s wealth was taken by the Baathists. “We did not have the benefit of the oil. It was mortgaged to France, Russia, to pay Saddam’s debts, to pay for his weapons,” he said. “We’re not going to mortgage our country to the U.S. either.”

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.