The Bush administration is desperately trying to secure the colonisation of Iraq and control of its resources before the President leaves office. The US wants to impose a Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa) and a strategic framework agreement on Iraq that will ensure its long-term military domination of the country and allow the US to threaten other countries in the region, notably Iran. The agreements are reminiscent of those imposed on Iraq by British imperialism in the 1920s. Jim Craven reports.

Initially, the US insisted on the right to maintain 58 military bases in Iraq, to control Iraqi airspace up to 30,000 feet, to conduct military operations and move troops into and out of the country without having to inform the Iraqi government. The US also demanded continued immunity from Iraqi law for all US personnel and for the 160,000 private mercenaries and contractors on whom they depend. It wanted all Iraqi security institutions and armament contracts to be under US supervision for ten years and the right to continue arresting and imprisoning Iraqis. Currently, there are around 25,000 Iraqis in prisons controlled by the occupying forces, almost all without trial or access to legal process. In return, the US promised to defend Iraq from external aggression. However, the US would define what constitutes such aggression, leaving open the possibility, for example, that it could attack Iran on the pretext that it trains Shia militia. The US also demanded the right to refuel its planes in Iraqi airspace, making Iraq an important staging post for US attacks on any country in the region. The agreements were to be open-ended, with at least two years’ notice of curtailment.

Iraqi bourgeoisie compromise

The Iraqi government claimed to be outraged by the US demands. A majority of the Iraqi parliament wrote to the US Congress rejecting any long-term security deal. Many of them wanted a major reduction in US forces by the end of 2008. Others wanted US forces confined to barracks unless they are asked for assistance. Some wanted US forces out altogether. By 13 June Iraqi Prime Minister Al Maliki announced that negotiations had reached a ‘dead end’.

In reality, however, the majority parties in the Iraqi parliament, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), Al Maliki’s Dawa Party and the Kurdish parties, all favour large numbers of US troops remaining in the country and a US security guarantee. These parties represent the Iraqi elite and merchant classes who stand to gain most from foreign investment and the privatisation of Iraqi resources. They are well aware that, as the Iraqi defence minister pointed out in June, the Iraqi army will not be able to hold its own for many years. The US Government Accountability Office reported that although there are nearly half a million members of the Iraqi security forces, only 10% are able to operate without US help.

The Iraqi government’s immediate concern in opposing the US demands was not to disrupt relations with Iran. Al Maliki went to Tehran to reassure the Iranians that, ‘We will not allow Iraq to become a platform for harming the security of Iran and its neighbours.’ Iran supports the present Iraqi government and in particular ISCI, which was created in Iran. Members of the ISCI militia, the Badr Organisation, fought on Iran’s side in the Iran-Iraq War. A second concern of the Iraqi government was not to appear as a US client because a large majority of Iraqis oppose the occupation. As the Washington Post summarised a Pentagon report in December 2007, ‘Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the US military invasion is the primary root of the differences between them, and see the departure of occupying forces as the key to national reconciliation.’ ISCI, in particular, is worried that it will lose out to Al Sadr’s followers in provincial elections due in November and hence their plans to control oil contracts in the Basra fields will fail.

Al Sadr has consistently opposed the imperialist occupation and is organising rallies against Sofa, calling for a timetable for US withdrawal and a referendum on any agreements. He gains most of his support from the poorest sections of the Iraqi population, those who have suffered most from the invasion and occupation. A US military intelligence report admitted the Sadrists will win 60% of the vote in the south in November.

US threats

The US government is making financial threats to get the agreements signed. Under the UN mandate, the Federal Reserve has refused Iraqi requests to diversify some of the $50 billion of Iraqi assets it is holding out of the depreciating dollar and into other currencies. This has cost Iraq an estimated $5 billion.

In late June, the US made some concessions. They agreed that private contractors should not have immunity from Iraqi law and that any Iraqi prisoners held or arrested by the US should be transferred to Iraqi custody. However, as Iraqi prisons are already overflowing, this would be a paper exercise. The US also proposed a joint US/Iraqi centre to co-ordinate security operations and promised that Iraq would not be used as a base to attack other countries. They reduced their demands for 58 bases to an unspecified ‘few dozen’ and ridiculously offered to call them ‘Iraqi’ bases. By spring of 2006 there were 106 US bases of all sizes in Iraq, but it is doubtful whether they presently have more than about 30 large bases. In any case, the US is building five mega-bases, any two of which would be sufficient to militarily dominate the whole country.

These mega-bases were planned shortly after the invasion, though former Defence Secretary Rumsfeld denied this. The bases are huge and supplied with all the amenities the troops might expect back home. Camp Balad, for instance, 60 miles north of Baghdad, occupies 16 square miles and houses 40,000 troops, contractors and special service operatives. The Washington Post described it as ‘essentially a small American town smack in the middle of the most hostile part of Iraq’. The US embassy being built in the high security Baghdad Green Zone will cover 104 acres and house 1,000 diplomatic staff. It will have its own water and electricity supplies, anti-missile defences, blast resistant work spaces, recreation, retail and shopping areas and cost $1.2 billion a year to operate. These facilities are intended to last for decades not months.

The US imperialists wanted the agreements signed by the end of July, though this is unlikely to happen. Knowing a majority of the US population oppose permanent bases in Iraq they have fashioned them as agreements rather than treaties, so they do not have to go before the Senate for approval with November’s presidential elections looming. They want to present Barack Obama with a done deal should he win. However, Bush and his cronies shouldn’t worry too much. Obama’s promise to reduce troop numbers has always referred only to combat forces. He has never suggested withdrawing entirely from Iraq, telling Iraqi officials he will not act precipitately and will seek US military commanders’ views.

Prelude to oil plunder

In late June, five major western multinationals signed their first significant contracts in their quest to exploit Iraqi oil. BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil, Total and Chevron, and some smaller companies, signed deals covering oil fields from Kirkuk in the north to Rumaila in the south. The first four are heirs to the consortium that controlled Iraqi oil after the imperialist carve-up of the Middle East following the First World War until its nationalisation in 1972. There was no competitive tendering for the contracts and, importantly, the Russian Lukoil and Chinese and Indian firms lost out. The deals are worth around $250 million each, which can be paid in oil, and are for technical support; selling expertise and equipment, rather than for managerial or capital control. The Iraqi government hopes they will increase production by 20% from the present 2.5 million barrels per day. The contracts’ significance lies in the fact that big companies are not usually interested in service contracts. The oil industry watchdog Platform believes they are stepping stones; enabling the multinationals to get first preference on future contracts giving them control of the oil fields.

So far the Production Service Agreements (PSAs) that the western oil companies want in order to fully exploit Iraqi oil have not proved possible because the necessary legislation has stalled in the Iraqi parliament, due to widespread opposition among the Iraqi people. PSAs would amount to the privatisation of their oil. The Kurdistan Regional Government has agreed contracts with smaller companies, in defiance of the central government, but, since they do not have pipelines to get the oil out, it is thought the small companies will later sell on to the multinationals.

False claims for ‘surge’

The Bush administration continues to claim its ‘surge’ strategy is a success, pointing to the Iraqi ‘Charge of the Knights’ and ‘Roar of the Lion’ operations that gained control of Basra and Sadr City in Baghdad. The truth is that the Iraqi security forces were either deserting or being defeated by Al Sadr’s Mehdi Army before the US and British forces came to their assistance. Even then, and despite reneging on a ceasefire deal, they only managed to enter the cities when Al Sadr withdrew his forces from the streets. The number of attacks by the Iraqi resistance, which fell by 75% at the beginning of this year, is rising again: at least 25 US soldiers were killed in June as they came under attack from both Shia and Sunnis. An Amnesty International report in May spoke of the occupying forces and ‘trigger-happy private contractors’ committing ‘gross human rights violations, including unlawful killing of civilians, arbitrary arrests, destruction of property and violent house searches’. The report criticised the Iraqi government for extensive use of the death penalty, ‘some after grossly unfair trials’. The official number of Iraqi civilians killed fell by over two thirds to 541 in January but rose again to more than 2,000 during March and April.

Refugee crisis deepens

Amnesty International reports that the Iraqi refugee crisis ‘has steadily increased in size and complexity’; there are now 2.7 million Iraqis forced from their homes within the country, with over two million abroad and many more still trying to leave. For those abroad conditions are deteriorating because of increasing pressures in the countries concerned and because of lobbying from the Iraqi government to restrict access. In Syria, with 1.5 million refugees, the number needing food aid is predicted to rise from 120,000 now to 300,000 by the end of the year. Less than a quarter of children attend school. In Jordan, which has half a million refugees, Iraqis are not permitted to work and must pay $761 a year if they do not have official status. Saudi Arabia is building a wall on the Iraqi border. For many Iraqi refugees, child labour and prostitution are the only means of survival.

The imperialist countries refuse to accept virtually any refugees. The US has taken just 1,608 Iraqis. In Britain, Iraqi asylum seekers who fail on their first application must leave within 21 days. Around 500 Iraqi Kurds have been deported in the last three years because the British government claimed northern Iraq was ‘safe’. Sweden has even returned refugees claiming there was ‘no armed conflict’ in Iraq.

On the ninetieth anniversary of the RAF’s formation, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Glen Torpy, said on 18 March 2008: ‘It is easy to forget that the RAF has now been flying continuously in the Middle East for 17 years’. Now into its tenth decade, the RAF has bombed Iraq in seven of these decades. Approximately one million Iraqi’s have been killed since the March 2003 invasion. The people of the Middle East will not ‘easily forget’ the RAF’s bombing raids. Get all British and US forces out of the Middle East.

FRFI 204 August / September 2008


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