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2003-11-14

U.S. Launches Operation Iron Hammer; Berlusconi to Keep Italian Troops in Iraq Following Nasiriyah Bombing

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U.S. forces stepped up security across Iraq and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rejected calls to bring troops home following the attack in the southern town of Nasiriyah which killed up to 31 people including at least 18 Italians. Author and Voices in the Wilderness founder Milan Rai and professor Silvia Federici join us in our studio. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rejected calls Wednesday to bring troops home following a suicide attack in Nasiriyah that killed 31 people, including at least 18 Italians. The attack marked Italy’s worst military combat loss since World War II.

Addressing a special session of the Senate, Berlusconi called for continued support for the approximately 2,300 Italian troops in Iraq. He said "I expect proof of loyalty and democratic maturity regarding those who have lost their lives." Berlusconi supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq despite massive protests in major cities across Italy in the build-up to the invasion. In the February 15th antiwar demonstrations, up to 3 million people took to the streets in Rome alone.

  • Milan Rai, author of War Plan Iraq and one of the founders of Voices in the Wilderness, UK. His latest book is Regime Unchanged: Why the War on Iraq Chaned Nothing (Pluto).
  • Silvia Federici, associate professor in Political Philosophy at Hofstra University, and coordinator of the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa. She is the editor of several books including Enduring Western Civilization: The Construction of the Concept of Western Civilization and Its Others

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Italian Prime Minister Sylvia Burlesconi rejected calls Wednesday to bring troops home following the suicide attack in Nasiriyah that killed 31 people, including at least 18 Italians. The attack marked Italy’s worst military combat loss since World War II.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Addressing a special session of the Senate, Burlesconi called for continued support for the approximately 2,300 Italian troops in Iraq. He said, quote, "I expect proof of loyalty and democratic maturity regarding those who have lost their lives." Burlesconi supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq despite massive protests in major cities across Italy in the buildup to the invasion. In the February 15 anti-war demonstrations, up to 3 million people took to the streets in Rome alone.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined in the studio now by Silvia Federici, associate professor in Political Philosophy at Hofstra University in Long Island, and coordinator for the Committee of Academic Freedom in Africa. She is the editor of several books including Enduring Western Civilization: The Construction of the Concept of Western Civilization and others, as well as Milan RAI, the author of War Plan Iraq. His latest book is called, Regime Unchanged: Why the War in Iraq Changed Nothing. Let’s begin with Silvia Federici. Professor Federici, you are from Italy. This is the worst combat disaster since World War II. What is the response?

SILVIA FEDERICI: The response is very mixed at the moment because as you can imagine, this is the moment mourning, so people were in the street, people were presenting their support to the families. It’s a moment of — at the same time of realization that the claims that that the government has made to justify its presence in Iraq cannot be sustained. I think in the short term, perhaps the Berlusconi government may be able to turn this terrible event into a rally for patriotism and more commitment in Iraq. At the same time on the long term, I think that it’s going to escalate the process that has been there all along and has never ceased. It was very, very, as you said, it was very intense, in the period of the war. Now, the Berlusconi government has been clever in the sense that it has supported the war effort, but claim to the 3,200 troops that are there are not there in any combat format. They’re not there as an occupying force. They’re purely there to provide humanitarian aid. And, in fact, as the N.G.O.'s were leaving, because of the attacks in Baghdad, and other parts of the country, the government very proudly would go on TV and say, you see, we are there because we remain, because without us, the children will not have support from medical teams will not be able — so, there's been this claim that I’m not so sure how much it has affected the public opinion, but it is a humanitarian intervention . . . we are not there. And this is why we can’t take a separate route from the French and Germans. Well, this is now over. This is over, and I expect very soon — see, at the end of the year, the presence of the troops has to be decided again — has to be voted in parliament. And at the moment, there’s a great division in the opposition. And because the left coalition, the main opposition of the government, the center left coalition is divided in two parts. There are smaller parties like the Greens who are completely opposed. they want the troops out now and they think total disengagement is the only road to go, but at the same time the major parties of the center left coalition, which is the party, one who is the former communist party, and the other, the former D.C. party the Christian Democrats. They have accepted the hue humanitarian intervention line. And they want Italy to be part of the reconstruction. So, they’re very divided on what to do.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Berlusconi is not only the leader of the country, he’s also the biggest media baron of the country.

SILVIA FEDERICI: Right.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What has been the impact in terms of the media that he controls in terms of the coverage of these issues, such as Iraq and has he been able to utilize that to help shape public opinion?

SILVIA FEDERICI: You know, it’s difficult to measure how much public opinion particularly when it’s so soon. But certainly there’s been a major, major use of the media. You see it’s not the media that controls the Iraq thing it’s also the state run media. Because now, in fact, Berlusconi controls the private channels, TV channels stations he has, as well as the state run media, the public TV, the state run channels. We can see this has been a tremendous build up of patriotic sentiment. But I don’t believe. Keep in mind also that Italy is going through tremendous crisis. There’s a tremendous opposition to the position of the government on other fronts. For example . . . the pension reform. Workers have been out, the labor reforms the government is trying to bring out, the pension reform, Italy is going through tremendous crisis because of the devastation, economic devastation, produced by the heat wave this summer and the drought. So, for people it is very unlikely that these tragic events can really turn around what has been a widespread rejection of Italian presence, which I think has been softened to some extent because of the claim that this was a humanitarian mission. But now they there cannot be illusion. It’s very clear that, you say one other argument that the government has made on TV over and over and over is that the reason why the headquarters was in the center of the town was precisely because of that. Because Italians were really working in the population with the population and so on. And — while that, too, is going to — regardless of the truth of that, but it’s certainly going to change in the aftermath of these events.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Sylvia Federicci, a professor at Hofstra University in Long Island. and Milan Rai, his book is called, "Regime Unchanged." Milan Rai, Rumsfeld said there are no plans for an early withdraw from Iraq but said that Iraqis will get more power more quickly as — than the U.S. thought. This comes as Japan decides not to send soldiers to Iraq.

MILAN RAI: I think there’s a presence of 'Iraqification,' trying to put Arabs on front line politically as well as militarily. But I think the united states is still determined to maintain its dominance of the political economic and social reconstruction of Iraq. And also the security reconstruction of Iraq. So, last year I wrote a book called "War Plan Iraq," which was predicting — saying that the united states was not seriously interested in regime change in Iraq. I think all of the evidence since then has — tends to validate that. So, last October, the white house spokesperson Ari Fleischer said when he was asked about the tens of billions of dollars that an invasion and occupation could cost, that could be saved with the cost of one bullet. When he was asked whether he was advocating the assassination of Saddam Hussein, he said that he would welcome regime change in whatever form it took. President bush’s ultimatum on the 17th of march was that Saddam Hussein and his two sons should leave Iraq, and then there would be no war. So, it’s a very small circle in terms of Saddam Hussein and his senior leadership, who were the problem. But the political, military, bureaucratic, judicial intelligence system, which has controlled Iraq, and which has turned the whole country into a prison cell, and carried out the massacres of the Kurds in the 1980’s and the Shia who were massacred after the uprising in 1991, that system was not a problem, and that system was intended to continue.

So, one of the ways kind of describing the problem that the united states is facing in Iraq is how come the united states and Britain invaded with forces which they knew could not control the country of 23 million people, and the simple fact is that they were intending to use the security forces which were already controlling that country of 23 million people and foreseeing the U.S. and British officials were saying that plainly just before and after the war started. After the fall of the regime and the disintegration of the system it was in the first weeks of April reconstructed. So, in the ministries, the minister and deputy minister were out and number three would be promoted, that the chief of police in Baghdad, the first chief of police selected by the united states used to be the deputy chief of police under Saddam Hussein. The second person they selected as the chief of police used to be Saddam Hussein’s chief of police in Baghdad. Then there was a wave of outrage from the Iraqi people, and a lot of these people were haven’t away because the u.s. Had to bow to the level of popular outrage. There was the deba’athification order.

Despite that there were reports in The New York Times, Sunday Times in London that spies from Iraq’s intelligence agency have been rehired and are working for the C.I.A. in Iraq. Senior republican commander was selected to be the governor of the province from which Saddam Hussein comes from which the capital is Tikrit. So, in terms of the security forces and in a lot of positions former regime figures are being restored to power, and that’s what I would describe as the partial reunification of Iraq. We were told it was for weapons of mass destruction and by the regime being so evil that we have to use force to get rid of it, but what’s happened is that a lot of the people who were part of Saddam Hussein’s regime are enjoying power because of choices made by the U.S. and U.K. they are on our payroll. They are not acting in the best interests of the Iraqi people.

JUAN GONZALEZ: At the same time, the part of the — the part of this whole occupation that hasn’t gotten very much attention is the attempt of the united states government to radically overhaul the Iraqi economy. I understand recently, economist Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglits criticized the Bush policy as almost crazy are the words they used because they’re attempting to privatize an enormous state-run industry without any legal basis because occupation troops cannot-an occupation government cannot change the laws of the nation so there’s a huge legal problem but at the same time they seem to be moving forwards with plans to privatize.

MILAN RAI: That’s right. Under the general knee have a conventions, an occupying power is not required to carry out the changes in the legal framework of the country. So, if there is an elected government in Iraq, then it will have the legal authority to rip up all of those contracts and say this is being done illegally and we are going to make our own decisions as a nation and not simply take the decisions which have been imposed on us by the people who invaded and occupied us.

AMY GOODMAN: Milan Rai, President Bush is going to Britain next week. Yesterday we read a headline that "The Independent" of London’s reporting that the U.S. is attempting to severely curtail protests during President Bush’s visit to London. Police have told protest organizers that have rolling exclusion zone will be set up in order to insure that television cameras will never capture images of Bush or his motorcade and protesters at the same time. Marchers have also been banned in parts of central London. Jeremy Corbin, the Labour M.P. Said that the police are under the pressure from the Americans. The losers are the British people who want to show their opposition to the Iraq war.

MILAN RAI: That’s right. We kind of went on an exchange program. Tony Blair coming here and President Bush going there. Before I left I was in contact with people around the country who were organizing non-violent civil disobedience about that visit. It has galvanized the anti-war movement in Britain which, to my surprise, has remained strong and coherent since the war and there’s been a whole lot of activity going on at the grassroots level and I expect that there will be — if there is a heavy-handed approach, there probably will be quite a bit of disorder in London, and so there’s going to be civil disobedience on the 19th on his first day there and a big demonstration on the 20th. We’ll just have to see how that plays out. There are a lot of people who want to make their views clear to the people of the world, people of the united states, and just on — just how much they abhor the idea of sort of concretizing Britain’s subservient to the Bush administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Milan Rai, I want to thank you for being with us and his book is called "Regime Unchanged." and Sylvia Federicci, professor at Hofstra University in New York.


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