Iraqis tell US 'Don't stay, go away'
NEW YORK-- The television images coming out of Baghdad these days are reminiscent of the battle scenes in the Israeli occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza.
The children pelt stones at monstrous battle tanks, religious leaders exhort the congregation into a frenzy at Friday prayers, the threats from suicide bombers keep trigger-happy soldiers on edge, and heavily armed troops open fire killing civilian demonstrators, including women and children. The scenes keep shifting from Ramallah to Baghdad and from Gaza City to Basra.

At the village of Al-Tallulah last week, the Iraqis went even further. They hurled the worst insult at an enemy: they threw their worn-out leather shoes and sandals at US military forces. And the shootings followed. Reporting from the village, Chris Hughes of the London Daily Mirror wrote: "I watched in horror as American troops opened fire on a crowd of 1,000 unarmed people here yesterday." It all started, he said, when a young boy hurled a sandal at a US jeep - it ended with two Iraqis dead and 16 seriously injured.

When the news reached New York of an earlier gunfire outside the Al-Kaahd school last Monday, most news outlets first ran with the military's sanitized version of the shooting: "several Iraqis were hit." The subsequent news stories spoke of US military gunfire "killing" 13 unarmed protesters outside the school which was occupied by American soldiers.

The protesters, who were no fans of Saddam Hussein either, displayed signs which provided a political sense of what's going on in Iraq now: "Down With USA", "Don't Stay, Go Away" and "Bush is the same as Saddam".

The US rationale for going to war with Iraq has yet to be justified. The weapons of mass destruction that Iraq is said to have possessed -- including mobile laboratories, 30,000 munitions, 500 tons of chemical weapons, 25,000 litres of botulinum toxin, as the US claimed -- have yet to be found.

The US was also proved wrong when it claimed-- according to its own not-so-reliable intelligence sources -- that the Iraqis would be using chemical and biological weapons against American troops. Saddam Hussein still remains a mystery. A de-stabilised Iraq is threatened by civil war. American forces are under attack. And the US has still not discovered any tangible links between Iraq and Al-Qaeda terrorists.

So, the US has fallen back on its other great political mission in the Middle East: replace a ruthless dictatorship in Iraq with multi-party democracy. The motives seem altruistic, the goals commendable. But what happens if the Iraqis using their new-found electoral power decide to elect a rigidly Islamic government, Iranian-style?

This is one of the biggest political nightmares for US policy makers and right wing hawks in the Bush administration. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has already warned that the US will not permit the establishment of a theocracy in Iraq. The signs are ominous. Judging by the demands for an Islamic government by the majority Shias in Iraq, the US motivation to turn the entire Middle East into a huge haven for democracy may backfire in the long run.

And as South African President Thabo Mbeki said last month the American attempt to introduce democracy is equivalent to force-feeding a person on a hunger strike. Expressing his own fears for Africa-- a continent which swings back and forth between democracy and military dictatorships-- Mbeki said that Western nations may one day turn to his part of the world in their crusade to spread democracy worldwide.

"The prospect facing the people of Iraq should serve as sufficient warning that in future we, too, might have others descend on us, guns in hand to force-feed us," he said. Real democracy, he argued, was the product of evolution, not something to be imposed by an occupying power on an unwilling people. Mbeki also vilified Western double standards where two different political yardsticks are used to measure democracy. The Africans have been criticised for tolerating lifetime presidencies with no term limits: a fair criticism by any standards.

"But Great Britain does not limit the period during which a person may hold the position of prime minister, to say nothing about the hereditary position of head state" -- a post held by the Queen of England for life, he added.

And worse still, said Mbeki, Britain does not have an independent electoral commission that conducts elections. Nor does it have an independent human rights commission.
"And I have never heard of international observers verifying whether any British election was free and fair," he added.

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