Two years after being shocked and awed into “freedom,” freedom on the ground is a meaningless concept for large swathes of the Iraqi population. Sunnis and Shi’ites alike tell Asia Times Online of a brutalization of every-day life.

Highways in and out of Baghdad are suicidal: the Americans can’t control any of them. Anyone is a potential kidnapping target, either for the Sunni guerrilla or criminal gangs. Officials at the Oil and Electricity Ministries tell of at least one attack a day. Oil pipelines are attacked and distribution interrupted virtually every week. There’s a prison camp syndrome: almost 10,000 Iraqis incarcerated at any one time, in three large jails, including the infamous Abu Ghraib. There’s also an Abu Ghraib syndrome: all-round denunciation of torture, electroshocks and beatings. The Americans and the Iraqi police proceed with the same “round up the usual suspects” tactic: but even if the “suspects” are not part of the resistance, their families are always well taken care of, so they inevitably join the resistance actively when they leave jail.

The Sunni guerrillas register an average of scores of attacks a day, all over the country. Roadside and car bombs are still exploding in leveled Fallujah. The Baghdad regional police commander was assassinated on Saturday. The resistance has infiltrated virtually all government and police networks. American counterinsurgency methods are going nowhere, because as the Sunni guerrillas keep killing masses of Iraqi security forces, these forces are retaliating in kind – abuses detailed, among others, by Human Rights Watch. The majority of the Sunni population, complaining about official brutality, has withdrawn support for the American-trained Iraqi security forces. So the culture of brutalization has merged with the emergence of sectarianism.

In contrast, life inside the Green Zone bubble is totally virtual. There’s no government yet – the elections were on January 30 – so the Sunni guerrillas keep up the pressure, while popular disillusionment with the political process is on the rise. Prime-minister-in-waiting Ibrahim Jaafari of the Da’wa Party recently said he would favor direct elections for prime minister and parliament – not the American-imposed indirect method: it was not good enough to placate popular impatience.

The Kurds for their part block any move toward a new government as long as they don’t get written assurances establishing their control over Kirkuk – their Jerusalem. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), is basically worried about reimplementing de-Ba’athification: the SCIRI in the next few days and weeks will virtually take over the Interior Ministry.

And all of this soaked in corruption

In its Global Corruption Report 2005, Berlin-based Transparency International (TI) blasted the widespread corruption in Iraq, which has benefited US contractors like Halliburton and Bechtel. TI stressed that the new Iraqi government, the American occupying power and international donors, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, must urgently insist on decentralizing governance, loans and aid projects; otherwise “Iraq will become the biggest corruption scandal in history.”

Many businessmen in Baghdad say that’s already the case. According to the TI report, the defunct L Paul Bremer-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), alongside the Pentagon, initially had only 80 people supervising the largest reconstruction agenda in history; both eventually outsourced the oversight to private companies, and corruption spiraled out of control. No one knows what happened to the US$ 8.8 billion of Iraqi money which disappeared into a CPA-controlled black void.

Meanwhile, there’s no government because of the Kirkuk tinderbox. The Kurds want it all: total control over Kirkuk, its oil, and their 100,000-strong peshmerga (paramilitary) fighters detached from the future Iraqi national army, in addition to army funding by the Iraqi national budget. This means that a Kurdistan government, with Kirkuk as its capital, would be able to block the Baghdad-controlled Iraqi armed forces from entering Kurdistan. Kirkuk’s Arabs and Turkomen are predictably furious. Inevitable consequence: sectarianism on the rise.

From a strategic Washington viewpoint, these questions are all minor.

Iraq is a crucial pawn in the US oil strategy – which includes the former Yugoslavia (now with a permanent US military base in Kosovo, right in the pipeline route from Russia and the Caspian to Europe); the Caspian and Venezuela (major oil reserves); Afghanistan (now also with a permanent US military base); Ukraine (a crucial pipeline route to Europe); Moldova (oil reserves); Iran (oil reserves); and Syria (on the route of a pipeline through which Israel wants to get Iraq’s oil).

Bremer’s CPA imposed myriad laws over Iyad Allawi’s transitional government. Washington controls almost every excruciating detail of Iraq’s economy: that’s how the “new” Iraqi administration was conceived by the neo-conservatives. The Ministry of Energy is in effect American-controlled. American-paid officials control all the key administrative positions in each relevant Iraqi ministry. Their mandate lasts for five years. Gung-ho privatization has not even started in full – and it will make a mockery of all the warnings included in the TI report.

Hakim says that the Iraqi population wants a full American troop pullout, and no American “permanent military bases.” He may be right, but it won’t happen. A Sunni Baghdad businessman was savvy enough to note, “We all know the Americans are building 14 military bases all over the country. And we all know they won’t leave them. Does that sound like freedom to you?”

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