Iraq: Imperialists attempt an orderly retreat

FRFI 206 December 2008 / January 2009

Months of wrangling resulted in a vote for the Status of Forces Agreement between the US and Iraq by the Iraqi parliament on 27 November. ‘All US forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than 31 December 2011.’ Make no mistake: if this is enforced it will be a defeat for US imperialism. All US forces are to pull out from cities, towns and villages ‘on a date no later than 30 June 2009’. From the boast of ‘Mission Accomplished’ in 2003 to the so-called victory of the surge in 2007, the reality is that the ground has given way beneath the imperialists’ feet until they stumbled and fell and could no longer claim success. They have accepted a way out that allows them to claim an orderly withdrawal – leaving behind over one million Iraqi dead, and, thus far, 4,136 US soldiers killed.

Among the Agreement’s clauses is the removal of foreign contractors’ legal immunity, the insertion of an Iraqi veto over all US military operations from Iraqi territory and rules directing that no Iraqi can be arrested by US forces without Iraqi permission and requiring that any who are so arrested must be handed over to Iraqi forces within 24 hours. Of 275 members of parliament, 198 were present and of these 149 voted in favour of the Agreement. MPs who support Moqtada Al Sadr voted against, demanding an immediate withdrawal of US forces and shouting ‘No, no, no to the US.’ Sunni MPs supported the Agreement, winning the provision that a national referendum is held on it next summer. The original US proposals had been dismissed following widespread opposition among the Iraqi people, not least from supporters of Al Sadr who held weekly demonstrations against the continued presence of US troops. Iran had also tried to persuade Iraqi MPs to reject the original deal and the final Agreement demonstrates Iran’s influence with the clause prohibiting US operations against other countries from Iraqi ‘land, sea or air’.

President Bush and Prime Ministers Blair and Brown repeatedly said that any pull-out must be linked to conditions, for example that the Iraqi forces be judged capable or that US and British air forces retain the right to fly freely over Iraqi airspace and to use their military bases in Iraq. These conditions have gone; President Bush congratulated the Iraqi parliament, saying that the vote affirmed ‘the growth of Iraq’s democracy and increasing ability to secure itself’. The imperialists must present their adversity as success, until the end.

US attacks Syria
On 27 October US forces in Iraq attacked Syria. There was no consultation with the Iraqis. The Iraqi constitution does not allow the country to be used as a staging ground to attack its neighbours. A US officer in Washington later explained, ‘We are taking matters into our own hands.’

The attack, involving four helicopters and 24 US special forces, took place five miles inside Syria on a civilian building under construction in the village of Sukkariyeh, close to the border crossing of Bou Kamal. Eight Syrians were killed. The US military said the target of the raid was Abu Ghadiyah, who they claimed facilitated the flow of men and supplies to Al Qaida in Iraq. The Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al Moualem condemned the attack as ‘criminal and terrorist aggression’. The Secretary-General of the Arab League said the incursion ‘should not pass without clear condemnation’. Anti-US demonstrations followed with demonstrators shouting ‘Down with Bush and the American enemy.’
Syria is on the US list of ‘countries that support terrorism’ and has suffered US sanctions since 2004. Israeli planes attacked what the Zionists claimed was a nuclear reactor site in the country last year. In recent months, though, Syria has had talks with Israel and taken diplomatic initiatives in Lebanon. Furthermore, there has been little activity by the Iraqi resistance recently in Anbar province next to the Syrian border. The US raid was meant to indicate that their military ambitions were not going to be restricted by paper agreements and that no country in the region was immune from attack. That the US has conceded the right in the Agreement to use Iraq as a base for attacking other countries indicates considerable pressure from the Iraqi people, Syria, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries on the governing Iraqi bourgeoisie to stand up to
the US state.

Earlier this year, President Bush passed $300-million plans to assist covert attacks by non-US forces (he was particularly keen to get British special forces involved) on ‘an important close ally’ without seeking permission. This deliberately vague formulation, apparently intended to suggest Pakistan, means General Petraeus, head of US Central Command, has power to order strikes throughout the Middle East from Afghanistan to the Lebanon and in Africa, where Kenya, Mali and Sudan are considered to be likely targets. Only in the case of an attack on Iran would Petraeus have to inform the Chair of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff.

No end to suffering and violence
In Iraq the reduction in violence over the past few months, remains, as Petraeus consistently warned, ‘fragile’. The thousands of former Sunni resistance fighters who sought protection from Shia death squads by joining the Al Sawah ‘Awakening Movement’ under US patronage are to come under Iraqi government control. The mainly Shia government has attacked and arrested Al Sawah members and stops them joining the Iraqi security forces. Disenchantment among the Sunnis and the need to protect themselves from government attacks could lead some of them to rejoin the resistance. Sunni MPs insistence on a referendum on the Agreement in the summer is intended to serve as an insurance against Shia domination.

Baghdad remains a series of fortified townships, each surrounded by concrete walls and checkpoints that create huge delays for the local people. Unemployment is running at 50-60%. Most of the city receives only five hours electricity a day and half the population has no access to clean water. In the summer, seven people died in a cholera outbreak south of Baghdad. It was caused by corrupt officials buying outdated chlorine to ‘purify’ the water. Last year, nearly 5,000 people fell ill in another cholera epidemic.

Patrick Cockburn of the The Independent described the Iraqi government as a ‘patronage machine’. It employs two million people, more than under Saddam, and receives $80 billion a year in oil revenues, yet it cannot supply food, electricity and water to its people. Last year it spent barely a quarter of its $12 billion reconstruction budget. In 2009 the Iraqi government plans to spend $78.9 billion on reconstruction, welfare and utilities; whether it will do so remains to be seen.

Security has improved in the past year, but this is only relative to the mass slaughter of 2007. Hundreds of people are still killed every month. In October, Saleh Al Auqaelli, an MP and supporter of Moqtada Al Sadr, was killed by a bomb at an Iraqi army checkpoint. Both the Badr militia, which supports the rival Shia ISCI party, and US forces were implicated. When an Iraqi soldier was killed by the resistance, also in October, the Iraqi security forces arbitrarily arrested 23 local men. Of the 17 eventually released one had smashed teeth, another had a broken arm. All had been tortured. In Kazimiriyah, a Shia district of Baghdad, a secret hanging chamber has been uncovered where hundreds of suspected members of the Iraqi resistance have been executed without trial.

The Turkish government recently extended its mandate to attack PKK guerrilla bases in northern Iraq. The PKK has waged a long struggle for an independent Kurdish state. Its homeland was split between Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran by British imperialists in the 1920s. Turkish forces have made several attacks across the Iraqi border in the past year.

The Kurdish north of Iraq was an area previously considered relatively free of violence. But since the end of September, thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled from sectarian attacks there. At least 11 people have been killed. The number of Christians in the area has fallen over the past five years from 800,000 to 250,000. They have joined the over four million Iraqis who have been forced to leave their homes because of the war, more than two million of them having left the country. So far, despite an Iraqi government campaign, only 20,000 families have returned. Not surprising, since most no longer have homes to go to and several of those returning have been the victims of sectarian killings.

Of the 34,000 Iraqi doctors registered in 2003, 2,000 have been killed and 20,000 have fled the country. The Iraqi government offered to allow those who returned to carry weapons! Dr Fatin Mohammed, however, said ‘Doctors abroad should stay where they are because the situation there is a hundred times better than it is here’.

The Iraqi government has cancelled six ‘no-bid’ service contracts signed with western oil companies earlier this year because the multinationals were insisting on first refusal on subsequent long-term contracts. However, the push to grab Iraqi oil continues. Shell has opened a secret office in Baghdad and signed a multi-billion dollar contract (49% stake) to process natural gas in southern Iraq. In October the Iraqi oil minister travelled to London for further discussions on contracts.

Labour Defence Secretary John Hutton has announced there will soon be a ‘fundamental change’ in the British role in Iraq. Having been responsible for much of the violence in the south and having been effectively defeated and kicked out of Basra by the Iraqi resistance, British forces will be ‘moving towards an increased focus on military training and education’. Commenting on revelations that the top 10 military officers receive up to £225,000 a year in pay and share £18 million a year in other benefits, a Ministry of Defence spokesperson argued, ‘Its value should be judged by the achievements of our armed forces in helping to bring stability to Iraq and Afghanistan.’

All US, British and foreign troops out of Iraq!
Jim Craven


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