Civilizations cradle destroyed by war

In seizing control of Iraq, the Bush administration has brought devastation to this ancient land, closing its eyes to the human toll and destruction in this “cradle of human civilization.”

This week, artifacts dating back 7,000 years were destroyed when Iraq’s renowned National Museum of Antiquities was ransacked and the National Library was burned, while American military commanders declined to protect them. Hundreds of thousands of priceless ancient objects and documents were destroyed. International experts had begged Pentagon officials to protect Iraq’s antiquities, which are considered treasures of world culture.

“The U.S. is an occupying military power and under the Geneva Convention it is obligated to safeguard Iraq’s cultural heritage,” said Roger Normand, executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR). But instead, Normand told the World, the U.S. has violated this heritage “in one of the worst ways in human history. Whether it’s criminal neglect or deliberate is not the issue; the entire world has suffered as a result.”

While U.S. troops are guarding Iraq’s oil wells, witnesses say the military command has ignored and even encouraged looting and destruction of precious public property and essential services. The looters represent “a small minority encouraged by the breakdown in public order,” Normand charged.

Irene Khan, secretary-general of Amnesty International, told reporters, “Much planning and resources seem to have been devoted to securing Iraqi oilfields. However, there is scarce evidence of similar levels of planning and allocation of resources for securing public and other institutions essential for the survival and well-being of the population,” Khan said. “The response to disorder has been shockingly inadequate. Before the conflict broke out, we repeatedly pointed out that with the fall of the regime, law and order would break down, and insecurity could endanger lives and property. Protecting people should be a primary responsibility of any power that expects to enter a country and justifies its intervention on the basis of liberating the people or protecting their rights.”

International humanitarian law defines very clearly the obligations of occupation. “Occupying powers have a duty to plan for the breakdown of law and order in the areas where they establish military control,” Khan said.

Some 2,000 civilian deaths resulting directly from U.S.-British military action have been reported by news media so far. In addition, photos and reports of maimed and injured civilians, including many children, continue to shock the world. Congress passed a measure April 12 calling on the Bush administration to identify and provide “appropriate assistance” to Iraqi civilians who suffered war losses. But the Pentagon said it has “no plans” to do so.

The U.S. is attempting to promote “leaders” like Ahmed Chalabi, who has not lived in Iraq for decades and was sentenced by Jordan to 22 years of hard labor for embezzlement and fraud in 1989. Because of wide opposition to Chalabi in Iraq, he was forced to decline to participate in a recent meeting of Iraqi groups convened by the U.S.

Normand, of the CESC, said, “Under the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. now assumes two primary legal obligations: first, to end the occupation as soon as possible without installing either U.S. military rule or a U.S. puppet over the country; and second, to allow independent humanitarian relief agencies unimpeded access (not subject to Pentagon command) to address the grave humanitarian crisis caused by war and sanctions.”

Dan Smith, a retired U.S. army colonel and senior fellow on military affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, called the Pentagon’s distribution of relief supplies a shambles.

“Only the UN, as flawed as it may be, can lay claim to neutrality and global legitimacy … [I]t is time to secure full UN participation in meeting post-war Iraq’s humanitarian, reconstruction, and political needs. In particular, a new UN Security Council resolution providing for a UN leadership role in Iraq would help heal the breech created in the international community in the period leading to active hostilities,” Smith said.

In a statement issued from Iraqi Kurdistan, the Iraqi Communist Party rejected U.S. occupation and military rule, saying the Iraqi people must decide their own destiny, choosing the form of their future government “without foreign interference or patronage from any quarter.”

The Iraqi Communists called for the convening of an International Conference on Iraq, under UN auspices, with participation of Iraqi democratic and patriotic forces, “to ensure genuine democratic change in our country.”

The Party said the conference would establish a broadly based transitional government that would ensure democratic freedoms and prepare for free elections under UN supervision, “as an essential step along the path of building a constitutional, democratic Iraq.”

The Iraqi Communist Party was the largest Communist Party in the Middle East, with wide influence and a broad popular base until 1963, when the Baath Party came to power and slaughtered thousands of CP members, forcing many others into exile.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org



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