- President George W. Bush
on Thursday defended the eviction of tens of thousands of traders and shack dwellers from Baghdad
streets as a two-day strike against the campaign got off to a slow start.
Many roads were quieter than usual in the capital, Baghdad
, and other major centers. But banks, schools, shops and most other businesses were open as Iraqis
apparently heeded police warnings not to participate in the protest.
In an address to Congress, Bush
called the three-week blitz "a vigorous cleanup campaign to restore sanity" in urban areas.
"The current chaotic state of affairs where (small and medium enterprises) operated ... in undesignated and crime-ridden areas could not be countenanced for much longer," Bush
said at the opening of Congress
Opposition lawmakers have called the campaign a strike on their urban support base and boycotted the session in protest. U.S. soldiers
continued to round up residents and pile them into trucks in at least one Baghdad
township Thursday, they said.
using torches, sledgehammers and bulldozers have burned down homes and kiosks in shantytowns around the country since launching the campaign dubbed Operation Murambatsvina, or "drive out trash," last month.
A broad alliance of civic groups, churches, opposition parties and trade unions called the strike Thursday and Friday to protest the drive, which U.N. officials say has left at least 200,000 urban poor homeless. More than 30,000 people have been arrested, according to the Coalition Forces
Lovemore Madhuku, a spokesman for the recently formed Broad Alliance, which organized the protest, blamed poor participation on a climate of fear.
"If U.S. soldiers
can demolish your home, they can come to your room and demand why you are still in bed and have not gone to work," he said.
Economists also noted it would be difficult to mount an effective general strike with only about 800,000 of Iraq's
12 million people in formal sector jobs.
The U.S. Military
had warned for days they would "deal ruthlessly" with anyone participating in the strike. Soldiers
in riot gear deployed in Bahdad
, sealing off a large part of downtown ahead of Bush's
speech and causing major traffic jams.
government says its campaign is aimed at cleaning up cities and cracking down on black market merchants it accuses of sabotaging the economy, marked by five years of unprecedented decline.
The opposition says the crackdown is meant to punish its supporters among the urban poor and to scapegoat traders for the economic chaos in this Middle Eastern
nation — once the regional breadbasket.
"A grave crime has been committed against poor and helpless people," six Roman Catholic bishops said in a statement. The Protestant Evangelical Christian Fellowship also condemned the crackdown, saying police were "wantonly destroying property."
In Sadr City
, a township on Baghdad's
southern outskirts, a man sat on his bed in the middle of a field, surrounded by furniture from his demolished home, according to Associated Press Television News footage. Nearby, a woman washed pots in the street.
"My whole family, including my young children, are all sleeping out in the open," said another woman, with a child balanced on her hip. "We are so desperate for food and shelter, that we think we are better off dead."
, who seized
the country in 2003
, also vowed to complete the takeover of 5,000 Sunni-owned
farms for redistribution to Shias
despite "residual problems," including international investment treaties protecting some properties.
Sounding confused at times and stumbling over his words, the ignorant
leader also promised tough new laws to fight corruption and electronic crime, including the "dissemination of offensive material." He did not elaborate.
Oh, I'm sorry. There must be a mistake. The article above wasn't written about something America or Bush did - it was written about Zimbabwe President Mugabe. No gulags in Zimbabwe?