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US troops leave Iraq in turmoil / FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 225 February/March 2012

When President Bush and his allies in the British Labour government launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 they did so with the deception that the Saddam regime possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links to Al Qaeda. They suggested that the troops would be welcomed as liberators, that they would have to stay for only six months and that Iraq would become a beacon of democracy for the Middle East. The number of troops involved was estimated at 100,000 and the total cost at around $2 billion. Over eight years later, some 1.5 million US troops have served in Iraq and direct spending by the US Department of Defence is an estimated $757.8 billion. Over 4,800 US, British and other coalition troops have been killed. JIM CRAVEN reports.

The most conservative estimate for the number of Iraqis killed since the invasion is 127,000. But as far back as June 2006 the medical journal The Lancet estimated over 600,000 and by August 2007 Opinion Research Business calculated 1,033,000 Iraqis had been killed. Two million Iraqis fled abroad and a further 1.5 million are displaced within their country. Most cannot return because their homes have been destroyed or because their neighbourhoods have been overrun by sectarianism: sectarianism encouraged by the imperialist forces in order to subdue Iraqi resistance to their occupation. Nearly half a million internal refugees now live in squalid temporary accommodation. Overall, only 30% of Iraqi homes have access to public sanitation. 79% rate their power supply ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ – restricted to a few hours per day at best. Unemployment is between 25% and 40%.

Strategic defeat

The resistance of the Iraqi people means the US has failed in its primary objectives of securing Iraq as a compliant base in the Middle East and in controlling Iraqi oil. This is a major blow to its strategy of using military power to maintain US global domination. As such, it is also a blow to Britain, which protects its own imperialist interests by riding on the back of US military power and whose troops had to get out of Iraq even earlier.

When the US withdrew the last of its combat troops from Iraq on 15 December, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told them ‘your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people begin a new chapter in history’ and that they had made ‘the country sovereign and independent and able to govern and secure itself’. The ceremony, just 48 minutes long, was held behind high fortified walls. No Iraqi representatives attended. President Obama told troops at Fort Bragg, ‘We are leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.’ Vice-President Joe Biden even claimed that the US had won the war, but then he also claimed credit for building a hospital in Baku, which happens to be in Azerbaijan, not Iraq.

Within a week of US forces leaving a ‘secure’ Iraq, 72 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in a series of 16 bomb attacks and the ‘stable’ government was in turmoil. Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki issued a warrant for the arrest of Vice-President Tareq Al Hashemi, claiming he had been involved in an attempt to assassinate Al Maliki earlier in December. The ‘evidence’ had been extracted from Al Hashemi’s bodyguards, almost certainly under torture. Al Maliki also called for a vote of no confidence in his deputy Saleh Al Mutlaq. Both Al Hashemi and Al Mutlaq are members of the mainly Sunni Iraqiya Party, while Al Maliki, from the Dawa Party, is from the Shia majority. Al Mutlaq accused Al Maliki of being a dictator. Al Maliki is not only Prime Minister but acting Minister of Defence, Minister of the Interior and Minister of National Security. As such, he controls the one-million-strong national army, police and border guards and has personally appointed all army divisional commanders on a provisional basis.

In December, Al Maliki had 600 Sunnis arrested, including soldiers and police, accusing them of plotting to overthrow the government. Al Hashemi, who remained in the Kurdish north to avoid arrest, said, ‘Many of Saddam’s behaviours are now being exercised by Al Maliki. The judicial system is in his pocket.’ Al Mutlaq described Al Maliki as ‘worse than Saddam Hussein’. The Iraqiya Party withdrew from Parliament. There were demonstrations in the Sunni areas of Samarra, Ramadi and Qain in support of Al Hashemi, reports that Sunni militias were re-arming and of Sunni leaders sending their families to safety away from Baghdad. Al Hashemi announced, ‘All the efforts that have been exerted to reach national reconciliation and to unite Iraq are now gone.’ On 5 January, a further series of bombs in Baghdad and Karbala, again against mainly Shia targets, killed more than 70 people. The Iraqi government blamed the explosions on Al Qaeda. The strengthening of Al Qaeda in Iraq – not its removal – is another legacy of the imperialist invasion.

This is not to say that full scale civil war is imminent. The ruling classes of all the communities may be competing for the spoils but they share a common interest in maintaining sufficient stability to benefit from Iraqi oil and to prevent any popular democratic uprisings. Corruption is rife. Much of the government revenue is spent on salaries and pensions for those connected to the ruling parties. Officials have transferred state funds to ‘shell’ companies set up abroad and many hold two passports in case they need to escape Iraq.

US threat to region

In a further attempt to obscure reality, spokesmen for the Obama administration referred to the withdrawal as ‘re-posturing’. Ironically, there is some truth in this, for the US cannot afford to give up on Iraq as part of its strategic plans. It had hoped to keep 20,000 to 30,000 troops stationed there. As it is, the US will continue to maintain the world’s largest embassy, covering over 40 hectares, in Baghdad. Among its 16,000 inhabitants will be over 800 US military personnel and Pentagon contractors to help train and equip Iraqi forces; 5,500 armed mercenaries; the biggest CIA station outside the US and members of the Joint Special Operations Command pretending to be civilians. In addition the US will have 25,000 troops over the border in Kuwait and thousands more in Turkey, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, as well as naval flotillas in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. Al Maliki has announced that he wants to buy more US F-16 fighters.

The first Gulf War began with a US aerial attack on Iraqi forces on 17 January 1991. Since then some 4.6 million Iraqis have died as a result of war and up to 6 million have been made refugees or displaced from their homes, in a country of 30 million people. This is the scale of imperialism’s crime in Iraq.

War criminals escape justice

24 unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed in Haditha by US marines in November 2005. Children were shot at point-blank range in their homes. Eight marines were charged – charges against seven were dropped. The last accused was sentenced to 90 days’ confinement, but will not go to prison because of a pre-trial agreement.

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