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Iraqis On Handover of Sovereignty: “We Do Not Approve This Political Formula to Oppress Us”

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The day after the so-called transfer of power in Iraq we speak with two Iraqis about the political situation and future of their country: Iraqi women’s rights activist Yanar Mohammed joins us in our firehouse studio and we go to Baghdad to speak with retired Iraqi engineer Ghazwan Al-Mukhtar. [includes transcript]

At a NATO summit in Turkey yesterday, President Bush received a note from National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. It read: “Mr. President, Iraq is sovereign. Letter was passed from Bremer at 10:26 AM Iraq time — Condi.”

Bush took the note, scrawled “Let Freedom Reign!” and sent it back to her. He checked his watch and whispered to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the two shook hands. This is how the White House reportedly learnt of the early so-called transfer of sovereignty in Iraq.

In Baghdad, the transfer happened with such heavy security, that journalists ushered into a small room to watch the surprise ceremony didn’t know what they had been invited to until it was happening. Immediately after the ceremony, former proconsul Paul Bremer was driven over to the airport and quietly hopped on a plane. One American staffer called it a “tail-between-your-legs exit.” This according to the Washington Post.

At the NATO summit Bush announced “We pledged to end a dangerous regime, to free the oppressed and to restore sovereignty. We have kept our word.” But many questions remain over as to how much power the US has actually handed over. The U.S. issued a number of far-reaching edicts before Bremer left–including exempting U.S. contractors from Iraqi laws. There still are about 150 American advisors in Iraqi ministries. Not one fewer American soldier or Marine is on Iraqi soil today. US Ambassador John Negroponte will head up the largest embassy in the world.

Chief Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk of the London Independent writes “Those of us who put quotation marks around “liberation” in 2003 should now put quotation marks around “sovereignty”. Doing this has become part of the reporting of the Middle East.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we turn now to Yannar Mohammed, director of The Organization Of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a group that works to stop atrocities against Iraqi women. She also serves as editor and chief of the newspaper Al-Mousawat, which means equality. Welcome to Democracy Now!

YANNAR MOHAMMED: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to what has taken place in Iraq and who is now in control.

YANNAR MOHAMMED: It’s very obvious that it’s a cover-up for the total failure that the U.S. Administration has faced in Iraq. However, they try to fix things, they go wrong and this is only a cover-up to try to save the total fiasco that they are in. And to tell you the truth, we find it very outrageous that a tribal head and also previous Ba’ath regime are both put in power. We are speaking here about a Ba’ath regime that was leading the dictatorship for 35 years. They were responsible for the death of 180,000 Iraqis. Iyad Allawi is part of that political party. The tribal head, Razzi Al-Yawar, you know, the tribes in Iraq are the part of the society that are the most backward where women are looked at only at commodities, and they are not second rate citizens, they are tenth rate. They both — the tribal mentality and the Ba’ath regime, if you combine them, you have another Saddam Hussein. Why did we need to go through a war of so-called liberation and give away 20,000 lives in order to gain a new Saddam Hussein? We are totally outraged by this. In addition, on top of all of that, we have a new balkanization of Iraq where we are divided upon our ethnicities and religions as a potential for a civil war between these people. Even the seats that are chosen for president and prime minister and everything, they are chosen according to their religions. This is outrageous for the Iraqi people and also putting those who were responsible, who were supporting — fully supporting 13 years of U.S. policies of starving Iraqi people. You know, half a million children in Iraq died because of those policies, and these men that are up there and shaking hands, they were supporting these policies. Are they representing the Iraqi people? I don’t think so. People in Iraq totally refuse this government, and the days are coming will prove that. I do not speak it from the point of view of the insurgents or the so-called resistance. I speak it on behalf of the people of the freedom-loving people in Iraq. We do not deserve this backwards reaction, the political formula to oppress us. We would have done better ourselves without this war, without this liberation.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the role of women in this government?

YANNAR MOHAMMED: In this government, this government is run by a combination of political Islam, nationalist groups and tribal heads. Under the parties, the political parties, the religious fundamentalists, political parties, of course, women have no role. If they give them a role, it will be a role that will undermine and take away the achievements of the women’s movement. As for the Arab nationalist, we know very well during last decades, that they look at the women as the breeders of the nation. So women can have some superficial freedoms, but not real freedoms. You know, this transitional constitution that they put in place, they determine it very clearly that it is based mainly upon Islamic [inaudible] where one man equals four women. Of course, we know there are lots of Muslims in Iraq, but then again why does the constitution have to be based on religion? Why not the separation of religion from state? We need a secular constitution that treats all as equal, regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender. That is a basic prerequisite for the so-called liberation for the future of Iraq and we will not settle for anything less than that.

AMY GOODMAN: Yannar Mohammed, Director of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, speaking to us in our firehouse studio here in New York as we go by phone to Baghdad to Ghazwan Al Mukhtar, who is a retired Iraqi engineer. Welcome to Democracy Now!

GHAZWAN AL MUKHTAR: Thank you very much, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you share your reaction to the so-called handover of sovereignty?

GHAZWAN AL-MUKHTAR: Well, what sovereignty are they handing over? The American forces are still in Iraq, 160,000 of them. The Negroponte is just occupying the presidential palace in Iraq. He is the one telling us to, he is the one running the show because he occupies the presidential palace. The people that they have elected are ex-CIA or CIA agents who have been working with the CIA since 1992. They are not any cleaner than Saddam Hussein. The prime minister is a Ba’athist who was part of the Saddam hit squad in the 70s. He was living in the UK and here, in fact, he was working also for the CIA in ’94 where he — his group had bombed hospitals and schools and buses and killed the Iraqi people, innocent Iraqi people. So, we call that handing over the sovereignty? This is handing over the responsibility from the state department to the — or from the defense department to the C.I.A. You replaced Bremer, who was more or less under the influence of the state — defense department by Negroponte who is under the influence of the state department. You replace the people — the Iraqi governing council by somebody who has been working for the C.I.A. For ten years. There is no sovereignty in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the reaction in the street, Gaswan Al-Mukhtar, after what happened yesterday, the ceremony where Paul Bremer — well, the way it was described in the U.S. Media, is handed power over to the interim prime minister and president of Iraq?

GHAZWAN AL-MUKHTAR: Well, it’s an internal thing between them. In fact, the handover was more than two days in advance of June 30 because of the–president bush wanted to please the NATO leaders so that they would help him. It has nothing to do with the Iraqi side of the story. It’s more or less so that bush could claim that the mission is accomplished. We handed over the power. Today I was driving on the streets. There were American cars and American servicemen stopping people. I mean, nothing has changed. As far as I can see, nothing has changed.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to Greg —

GHAZWAN AL-MUKHTAR: What sovereignty?

AMY GOODMAN: What did you say?

GHAZWAN AL-MUKHTAR: They are talking now about handing over Saddam Hussein and keeping him back at the — under the protection of the Americans. This is something of a diversionary thing. Instead of telling the people what the agreement between the U.S. And the Iraqi government or the supposed Iraqi government on the condition of this disdain of the American people, whether they have immunity, whether the contractors have immunity, they were talking about Saddam Hussein and his people, whether they are handed over or not.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Gaswan Al- Mukhtar, a retired engineer, speaking to us from Baghdad.

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