Despite Hussein capture, Iraq woes continue

The capture of Saddam Hussein will not solve the problems swirling around the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the lies that justified it, many Americans are saying.

Rev. Tandy Sloan, an assistant minister at Cleveland’s Greater Friendship Baptist Church, whose son Brandon was killed in Iraq on March 23, told reporters he remains skeptical about the Bush administration’s justification for the war. Brandon, 19, was in the same unit as Pfc. Jessica Lynch, and was killed in the ambush that led to her capture. Catching Hussein was not why we went to war, said Sloan. “We were over there under the pretense of stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

“The reason why so many lives have been lost and why others are still in jeopardy was to secure the weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein of himself is not a weapon of mass destruction,” Sloan said.

Some 460 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq since March, and 10,000 have been wounded, injured or become sick enough to require evacuation.

Polls conducted in the days immediately after Hussein’s capture showed an unsurprising lift in Bush’s approval ratings, but also continuing widespread discontent over the war and occupation.

Hussein’s capture “does not necessarily make us any safer,” William Hartung of the World Policy Institute wrote in a Dec. 15 commentary. “There was no significant stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. There was no imminent threat to the United States or its neighbors. There was no operational link to Al Qaeda. There was no need to spend $150 billion and counting, to waste hundreds of American lives, to kill thousands of Iraqis, and to alienate large parts of the world, all to ‘get’ Saddam Hussein.

“Despite the wave of triumphalism that has seized the Bush administration and certain U.S. media outlets, the harsh bottom lines in Iraq remain the same,” Hartung said. “Will U.S. troops, Iraqi police and security forces, civilian contract personnel, and humanitarian aid workers continue to get killed on an almost daily basis?” he asked. “Will Iraqis continue to suffer shortages of food, fuel, safe drinking water, housing, and jobs? … Will companies like Halliburton and Bechtel continue to be allowed to overcharge for shoddy work while qualified Iraqis and companies from allied nations are relegated to the sidelines?”

Reflecting broad unease over these questions, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking Democratic member of the House Committee on Government Reform, has set up tip lines on his committee web site for whistleblowers to report “intelligence failures,” and fraud, abuses and “other forms of corporate profiteering in the contracts for Iraq’s reconstruction.”

A struggle is unfolding over how Hussein will be interrogated and tried, with the Bush administration maneuvering to maintain control. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the CIA would be in charge of interrogating Hussein and would be “the regulator” of information coming out of the interrogation. The administration is also insisting that Hussein be tried in U.S.-occupied Iraq, rather than under an internationally recognized body like the International Criminal Court.

Hartung and others point out that Saddam Hussein came to power in 1968 with the aid of the CIA, who later helped him jail and murder Communists and other opponents. In the 1980s, the Reagan and Bush Senior administrations gave him military technology, intelligence, and billions of dollars of taxpayer-subsidized loans. U.S. government–licensed companies supplied him with materials for biological and chemical weapons used against Kurdish civilians, and information used to target Iranian soldiers with chemical weapons.

United for Peace and Justice national coordinator Leslie Cagan told the Boston Globe, “If all that comes out during the trial is the crimes that Saddam committed – and I’m not saying those shouldn’t come out – then I think it could serve to buttress the Bush administration. But if it also comes out about the role of the U.S. in setting up that regime, then I think there will be even greater questioning about why this war happened and why this occupation is going on and what the real interests of the U.S. [administration] are.”

The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) said Hussein must be brought to justice under the rules of international law. These principles “must be held as more important that any political considerations of the United States occupation authorities,” FOR said.

In a Dec. 15 statement, FOR warned of greater dangers and challenges facing the Iraqi people. These include “both the continued presence of United States and international military occupation troops in Iraq and the pursuit of strategic, long term interests of transnational corporations that seek to exploit Iraq’s vast oil resources, privatize the Iraqi economy for the purpose of extracting profit, and impose ‘leaders’ on the people of Iraq who are more accountable to business interests than to the Iraqi people themselves.”

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