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"The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today"

By       Message Mike Whitney     Permalink
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The greatest threat to Libyan sovereignty and independence is the United States of America. Nothing else comes close.

Gaddafi hasn't been targeted because he's a tyrant, but because he sits on an ocean of petroleum. That's what this is all about, right? If Libya's main source of wealth was car parts or coconuts, there never would have been a war.

The notion that a leader does not have the right to put down an armed rebellion against the state is too absurd to dispute. If we apply the same standard to the demonstrations in Wisconsin, then the teachers and other union members would be entirely justified in grabbing their hunting rifles and handguns and storming the capital in Madison. Can you see how stupid this is? And yet this is pretext that's being used to wage war on Libya.

"The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government." That was true when Martin Luther King uttered those words more than 40 years ago, and it's true today. Just ask anyone who lives in Baghdad.

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Sure, no one wants to talk about Iraq anymore. It's more fun to watch while some dissolute sitcom star, like Charlie Sheen, has an emotional breakdown on national TV. Or listen to the endless blabbering of some clownish real estate mogul as he claws a path to the 2012 elections. But Iraq is still front-and-center on every Arab's mind. And, it should be. It's the prime example of US foreign policy at work.

Don't worry, I won't bore you with all the stats about the 1 million killed, the 4 million displaced, the lack of electricity, clean water, hospitals, schools etc., etc., etc. You've heard it all before. But there is one clip from an article in the New York Times that I will share with you because it perfectly summarizes how life has changed for many Iraqis since the invasion. The article is titled "City Upon a Hill of Scraps: Surviving on Scavenging in Iraq." Here's an excerpt:

"At the bottom of the economy here, life revolves around that humblest of commodities, garbage....

"On a recent morning, Hamad Tarish dropped down a bag of cans and scrap metal, showing off blackened hands that rarely touched running water. For Mr. Tarish, 22, garbage is his capital. Every night around 3 a.m. he leaves his home to scavenge in a neighborhood to the south before the sanitation trucks come, hustling to avoid the police and to compete with other collectors.

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"In front of a stretch of makeshift cinder-block houses he threw his haul onto a scale. Seventeen pounds of aluminum cans, worth $6. A hunk of scrap metal and a pound of wire from which he had burned the rubber insulation, each good for $2. In all, $10 to buy food for himself, his wife and their two children.

"For Mr. Tarish, who said he usually earned about $4 a day, it was a good harvest. Tomorrow might not be as good, he said. You could never tell. His eyes were bloodshot, his limbs hung heavy with exhaustion.

"'A kilogram of meat is $15,' he said. 'It's impossible. I don't buy sugar for tea.'

"As Iraq's economy languishes, Mr. Tarish has found his livelihood in an underground economy that sustains and organizes whole neighborhoods. Around him were his fellow foot soldiers in this new marketplace -- the nocturnal scavengers, the middlemen who bought the scrap for cents on the pound, the dirty horse-drawn carts bringing in more debris from more remote parts of the city. And around these were piles and piles of garbage, sorted by type and swarmed over by flies.

"'People here are living on garbage and animals,' said Ali Hasun, 27, a middleman, gesturing around him at a horizon of improvised houses pressed one against another as far as the eye could see -- a midsize city subsisting on refuge....

"Mr. Hasun and Mr. Tarish live in a vast slum named Naser City, or Victory City, one of dozens of squatter settlements that have sprung up around Baghdad since the American invasion of 2003. Naser City, one of the largest, grew exponentially through the waves of sectarian violence that displaced people from other areas, and more recently because unemployment has forced others to leave their homes. With Baghdad experiencing a housing shortage, the squats -- where land is free but illegal, and housing is whatever a family can erect -- are in a construction boom.

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"Residents of Naser City believe that as many as 500,000 people live here, but that is just guesswork. The governor of Baghdad estimates that 600,000 people live in 42 squatter encampments around the city -- roughly the population of Boston. But in a country without a census, where few government agencies venture into the squats, this, too, is more belief than fact.

"'Those people need to pick up garbage because there are no chances to work,' said the governor, Salah Abdul-Razzaq.

"Because the communities were not legal, he said, the province did not provide services like education, medical care, security, electricity, sewage and clean water. 'The neighborhoods become places for criminals, thieves, terrorists, kidnappers. But we can't move them out because there are no alternatives.'" (City Upon a Hill of Scraps: Surviving on Scavenging in Iraq," John Leland, New York Times)

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Mike is a freelance writer living in Washington state.


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