Violence rises in Iraq

Keen to bolster his poll ratings before the forthcoming mid-term elections, President Obama declared the end of US combat operations in Iraq at the end of August. The 50,000 US troops still in the country are supposed to leave by the end of 2011. They remain fully armed and combat-ready but are supposed to fight only in self-defence or if asked to do so by the Iraqi government.

However, six months after the elections in March, no elected Iraqi government was in place. The parliament of ‘democratic, sovereign’ Iraq, as Obama recently called it, had not met since January. Talks between State of Law, the coalition of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, first with the other main Shia coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance, and then with Iraqiya, the coalition headed by Iyad Allawi that won most seats in the election, broke down because of Al Maliki’s insistence on remaining in office. The US is now trying to devolve prime ministerial powers while allowing Al Maliki to stay. The plan is to create a council for national strategy that would be headed by Allawi. He was the imperialists’ choice as first prime minister after the invasion and is long associated with the CIA.

Meanwhile, the already volatile security situation in Iraq deteriorates. The Financial Times quotes an Adhamiya resident saying: ‘The political parties are fighting each other and the only victims are the people’. Bombings and shootings are increasing across the country. The number of rocket attacks, (which the US claims come from Iranian-backed Shia militias), have risen sharply. In July, according to Iraqi figures, 535 people were killed (the US claimed it was only 222) and over a thousand injured. Sunnis in Baghdad say the Shia-dominated security forces are rounding up people at random and isolating neighbourhoods with Humvees and razor wire. Members of the Awakening Councils, which were created and paid for by the US as a means of curtailing Sunni resistance to the occupation, are leaving to re-join the resistance forces. One leader said disaffection had reached breaking point.

In the north of Iraq violence has spread to Mosul and Kirkuk. General Zubydi, commander of the federal paramilitary force there, says the situation is getting worse. Because of the impotence of the government, no legislation has been passed regulating the share of oil revenues between the provinces and a referendum on the future of Kirkuk has not taken place. The Kurdish regional government wants oil-rich Kirkuk included within their bounds. If the Kurds declare an autonomous region, Turkey, which is suppressing the Kurdish liberation movement in its own country, has threatened to invade. Iran, Saudi Arabia and other neighbouring countries, keen to further their own interests in Iraq, are all intervening and creating further tensions.

Divide and rule

The US and other occupying powers have always used sectarianism to weaken resistance to their occupation. The present violence fomented by this strategy is creating the platform for a long term US presence in Iraq. Raad Sabah, a Shia living in Baghdad said, ‘We thought that after the American invasion things would be better, but now everybody agrees that the presence of the Americans has made matters worse... I hate the Americans because they created sectarianism... but they have become the safety valve for Iraq. They are the disease and the medicine at the same time.’ Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein’s right hand man, said from his prison cell that a US pull-out would be ‘leaving Iraq to the wolves’. In August the commander of the Iraqi army, Lt-General Zebari, said that Iraqi forces would not be ready until 2020 and that the US would need to retain a presence. Both Iraqi and US officials have signalled that plans to withdraw all US forces could be superseded by a new bilateral agreement. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said, ‘If a new government is formed there and they want to talk about [keeping troops] beyond 2011 we’re obviously open to that discussion.’ General Jay Garner, former commander of US forces in Iraq, recently said it was essential to have a permanent and expanded US ‘training’ force there ‘as we do in other parts of the world’.

The UN says a quarter of Iraqis live in poverty. More than a third are unemployed. Most of the population suffer inadequate supplies of drinking water. Raw sewage pours into the rivers. Electricity supply satisfies just 60% of requirements. Corruption is rife. The US Defence Department has been unable to account for $8.7bn from Iraqi oil revenues intended for reconstruction. GEC has agreed to pay $23.4m to settle bribery charges relating to contracts for water purification and medical equipment.

An estimated two million Iraqis have been displaced internally by the war and more than two million have sought refuge abroad. Daniel Endres of UNHCR said, ‘A lot of donor countries have turned their backs towards Iraq and even forcefully deport people to Iraq.’ Britain is one such country.

Last year, doctors in Fallujah reported a marked increase in the number of babies with birth defects. In 2004, US forces launched horrifying attacks on the town using white phosphorus shells. A new study has found a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in cancers among children under 14. The report says this indicates that weapons containing uranium were used and describes the effects as ‘similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors who were exposed to ionising radiation from the bomb and uranium from the fallout’. However, whereas there was a 17-fold increase in leukaemia cases in Hiroshima, in Fallujah the increase is 38-fold.

At the beginning of August President Obama assured West Point cadets that the war had been won. ‘This is what success looks like,’ he said.

Jim Craven

FRFI 217 October/November 2010

 

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