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Robert Fisk On Sovereignty, Martial Law, and Continuing Violence in the New Iraq

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We go to Baghdad to speak with Robert Fisk, Chief Middle East correspondent for the London Independent, about the continuing violence in Iraq, house raids and phone tapping, and the unelected prime minister Iyad Allawi.

The new Iraq is in chaos. Since the so-called transfer of sovereignty on June 28th, over 30 people have been killed. This week alone, 22 people died in two car bombs in Baghdad. Now, the unelected Interim Prime Minister Allawi says he is going to create a new secret police force raising alarms among Iraqis who had suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s secret police.

The violence is continuing unabated despite the comments from the U.S. and its allies in the invasion. After Thursday’s recent bombing, the London Independent’s Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk writes:

“At the al-Yarmouk hospital in Baghdad yesterday morning, there was blood on the walls, blood on the floor, blood on the doctors, blood on the stretchers. In the dangerous oven of Baghdad, 10 more lives had just ended. So what was it Tony Blair said in the Commons yesterday afternoon? “We are not killing civilians in Iraq; terrorists are killing civilians in Iraq.” So that’s all right then. Question: Are Baghdad and London on the same planet?”

  • Robert Fisk, chief Middle East correspondent for the London Independent.

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

AMY GOODMAN: First we go to Baghdad to independent reporter Robert Fisk. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Robert.

ROBERT FISK: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we have just been spending the last half hour talking about Fox News coverage of Iraq and other issues involving the Bush administration. But we’d like to turn to you now to talk about what is happening on the ground.

ROBERT FISK: Well, one thing that is happening on the ground is that the reporting of Iraq has reached a point where hardly any journalists leave Baghdad and some of them don’t even leave their hotels. One of the reasons why the Bush administration is getting away with so much at the moment is that the degree of anarchy, the sheer size of the area of Iraq outside government or American control is being hidden from ordinary people. For example, in the town of Baquba, there are now hundreds of armed men. In Ramadi and Fallujah, they’re virtually people’s republics in which even the Americans cannot move freely. We do not realize, though we should, the degree to which the country of Iraq is outside the control of the new American-established government of Ayad Allawi. You know, we promised the people here democracy and we’re giving them now martial law, telephone tapping, mail opening, special raids on houses, forget about habeas corpus. The big problem at the moment is that the degree of violence across the country is not getting across. For example, when 10 people were killed and 33 wounded by a suicide bomber in the center of Baghdad, it went around the world as headlines. When 10 people were killed and 33 wounded in Kirkuk, we didn’t hear about it. And this is a major problem. We now find ourselves restricted by the danger. Now I’m still able to move around Baghdad and I can still travel outside Baghdad. But only with days of preparation. And so what we’re doing, in effect, is that we’re being circumscribed in our movements, which, of course, seeks the authorities because we can’t report dozens of deaths going on elsewhere in the country. And at the same time, the insurgency continues. Allawi who, of course, was as C.I.A. Operative and is now the interim, quote Prime Minister, unquote, made a statement in the last 24 hours saying it’s going to get worse. So, we’re still back in the same old Alice in Wonderland world. Everything is getting better, democracy is coming and everything is getting worse.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Robert Fisk in Baghdad. Can you talk about the Al Yarmuk hospital and the time you spent there and what you saw.

ROBERT FISK: Well, when I got there, as always after major bombings and atrocities, there was chaos, there were a large number of people believing that their families may have been wounded or killed. Of course, any family who knew that their loved ones were queuing at the gate at that moment to enter the Iraqi government compound naturally assumed the worst and rushed to the hospital. Some of the people being brought in, some of the wounded, were so badly mutilated and covered in so much blood, they were unrecognizable. One woman clearly did not at first recognize her own husband. One man came in with only a stump at the end of his arm. And I remember thinking, crazily, I saw a human hand beside one of the bombed vehicles, I wonder if it’s his hand. That’s the kind of horror that people here now face daily, and which we see — at least if we go out, we see. I think that there’s one thing that is very constantly seen here. which one has to say or admit, that Iraqis say they’d rather have law and democracy and they want an end to this abyss of lawlessness. Just 24 hours ago, I went to the funeral of a senior official in the Industry Ministry, a man whose job, actually, was to check the accounts to prevent fraud by the big contracting agencies who are rebuilding Iraq. He was a father of seven children. I met his youngest son and his older son. Mohammad was 11 and his eldest son Akram, was 20. And he came back home, bringing his family their breakfast, milk, cream, bread. A car with three men and one of them with a cell phone, called another vehicle, a pickup truck, which arrived with two very professional killers; two shots in the head, two shots in the stomach. The family found him lying with one leg still in his car. And at the funeral, and at the funeral meal afterwards, it’s a tradition in the Muslim world to meet with all the family afterwards in a tent in the street outside, one of the sons said to me, you know, we would like democracy, but we’ve had 35 years without. And it has given freedom to thieves and murderers, not to us. These people want more strict laws, they want the return of capital punishment, I’m sorry to say. But that’s what they say they want. It doesn’t mean they want Saddam back, but that’s what they say they want. And a measure of the lawlessness and the horror is that when they returned for the second time to the mosque to collect the coffin in which to put the body of the dead civil servant, a man called Sepal Karim, there was a bomb inside the coffin. It didn’t go off. When I visited the funeral tent, they had surrounded it with vehicles because they were frightened some of them might drive a car loaded with explosives, a suicide bomber might drive into the funeral tent. That is the — that is the extent of fear and horror and danger that Iraq is going through. Though I can say you’re not reading that in the American press all the time.

AMY GOODMAN: No, we’re not. What about Robert Fisk? What has happened since the so-called handover in terms of the laws that the unelected Prime Minister Allawi is implementing?

ROBERT FISK: Well, you see, it sounds good on television if you believe in strong laws. Martial law, telephone tapping, a new Director of the Public Security, as opposed to Director of National Security, which is what it was called under Saddam. After the Baath party officials are coming back into interrogation service, Allawi said they are professionals. Well the only Iraqi professional interrogators were those who worked for Saddam, the ones who we’re supposedly are supposed to be putting on trial someday for crimes against humanity. But you see, most Iraqis want to hear this. They are so fearful of the insecurity and the killings, they are so fearful of the kidnapping and rape of women, which is happening, that they want these laws. But what they’re not being given is what we promised them, which is democracy. Now the whole issue, of course, is that nobody here actually believes the argument that Allawi is the Iraqi Prime Minister. They see him as a creature of the United States. He is a former C.I.A. Operative. He said at a press conference he’s taken money in the past from 14 different intelligence agencies. Iraqis were not impressed when they saw the pictures of the first appearance of Saddam Hussein at a trial when the top right hand side of the screen said cleared by U.S. Military. John Negroponte of Honduras fame is not here as a routine ambassador, he’s here for a purpose. And most people I talk to in the streets of Baghdad, most of my Iraqi friends say basically Allawi works for the Americans. It wouldn’t be difficult to see how Allawi could be popular if he were to say: “All American troops and all foreign troops must leave Iraq in six weeks.” He’d be the most popular Prime Minister this country has ever had, he’d probably win an election. Of course, he is not going to say that. So, we come back to the same problem, which is foreign occupation. As, you know, I’ve said before, I think on your program, the Americans must leave Iraq. They will leave Iraq and they can’t leave Iraq. And that is the equation which is torturing the country and the United States at the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, I want to thank you for being with us. Robert Fisk speaking to us from Baghdad, Iraq. He is long time correspondent for the “Independent” newspaper in Britain. This is Democracy Now!

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