- Created: Wednesday, 06 May 2009 14:57
- Written by Jim Craven
FRFI 200 December 2007 / January 2008
The war on Iraq has been removed from the headlines, except for reports of British or US soldiers’ deaths. We are fed the occasional lie that ‘life in Baghdad is returning to normal’ and that ‘the surge is working’. We are being conditioned to accept war as normal. Meanwhile, the leading groups on the British left squabble in public over the legacy of the Stop the War Movement and the remains of Respect, and they build nothing, absolutely nothing, to oppose the warmongering British Labour government. JIM CRAVEN reports on the war in Iraq.
Iraqi Ministry of Health figures and Iraq Body Count (IBC) both indicated a decline in the number of Iraqis killed over the summer and early autumn period. The number of US soldiers who died also fell from 126 in May to 39 in October, the lowest monthly figure for two years. However, it is premature to suggest that life for the Iraqi people is getting better or that, as US General Petraeus claims, the US ‘surge’ has improved their security. IBC figures show the number of Iraqi casualties each month is still greater than the average for 2005 and that the total this year is likely to be almost as bad as last year, the worst of the occupation. Furthermore, provisional figures for October indicate Iraqi casualty figures are rising again. A recent Opinion Business Research survey, reported in the Los Angeles Times, states that the total number of Iraqis killed because of the invasion and occupation of their country is around one million and could be as high as 1.2 million. This reinforces The Lancet figures given last year of at least 655,000 Iraqis dead. Whatever the exact figure, it is certainly a catastrophic magnitude far greater than the tens of thousands admitted to by the imperialists. For US forces, 2007 has proved overall the deadliest year since the invasion. By the first week in November 853 US soldiers had been killed this year, bringing the total to 3,856.
The ‘surge’ tactics are to kill resistance fighters, create ghettos and terrorise the Iraqi population into submission or flight. They include greater use of air power without regard to the consequences for civilians. Every week Iraqis are killed by indiscriminate bombings and shootings. For example, on 7 October 26 Iraqi civilians were killed and 40 injured in a US air strike on Jazani Al Iman village in Diala. Four days later nine children and six women were killed in an air strike on a village in the Lake Thar Thar region. They were celebrating on the eve of Eid Al Fitr. Three days after that incident, two first aid workers were shot dead in Mosul, prompting a sit-in protest by their colleagues. On 22 October, 13 civilians, including children, were killed and 69 wounded in US attacks on Sadr City. Eight-year-old Murtada Nair reported, ‘I was going to buy eggs for breakfast, then I was hit by a helicopter.’ Another victim, 11-year-old Ali Ahmad said, ‘The pilot shot me when I crossed the street to buy bread.’ The next day 16 people were killed by a helicopter raid on Dijla in the Tikrit region. Farmers were fired on in their fields and when they tried to take shelter their homes were destroyed. The number of Iraqi civilians being killed and injured by the imperialist forces is becoming so great that even the Iraqi puppet government has been moved to complain.
In October the UN Assistance Mission reported ‘an ever-deepening humanitarian crisis’ in Iraq and that human rights are ‘very grim’ with indiscriminate killings and ‘routine torture’ in prisons. More than 24,000 Iraqis are being held prisoner by the occupying forces, including at least 860 children below the age of 16. The Iraqi government holds over 82,000 more prisoners. Virtually all the prisoners are held without charge or access to legal process. Evidence from Iraqi hospitals to be placed before the High Court in cases of torture by British forces says bodies showed signs of ‘gouged-out eyes’, ‘serious injury to genitals’ and asphyxiation and hanging of prisoners.
The ‘surge’ has accelerated the ethnic cleansing of mixed neighbourhoods and swelled the numbers of refugees. The rate at which Iraqis are being forced to flee their homes rose by over 70% in August and a further 16% in September. The UNHCR says there are now 2.2 million internal refugees in Iraq and estimates the number will rise to 2.5 million by the end of 2007, compared with less than half a million at the beginning of the year. A further 2.2 million Iraqis have fled abroad. This represents the biggest movement of people in the Middle East since the Palestinians were forced from their country in 1948. Altogether, around one in six Iraqis have had to abandon their homes. A report from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society said that over 80% of internal refugees are women or children under 12 years. It went on ‘… the majority suffer from disease, poverty and malnutrition. Children do not attend schools and are being sheltered in tents, abandoned government buildings with no water or electricity, mosques, churches or with relatives’. The government rationing system is breaking down. Levels of provision have been cut by a third and many people are unable to receive even that. The Iraqi Women’s Rights Association reported a 25% increase since 2005 in the incidence of women having to scavenge on rubbish tips or turn to prostitution to feed their families. Tens of thousands of people in Northern Iraq are suffering from suspected cholera due to polluted water.
The refugees’ plight has been made more desperate by internal restrictions on their movement. Only two Iraqi provinces now allow access to refugees from other areas. Most of the internal refugees live in 16 camps in Baghdad province. In Syria, where more than a million refugees have fled, one third of Iraqi children are unable to attend school and many Iraqi women have resorted to prostitution. Both Syria and Jordan, the other main destination for Iraqi refugees, are closing their borders. Neither Britain nor the US has accepted more than a handful of Iraqis. It was only with great reluctance that the Labour government, in October, even agreed to help 500 Iraqi interpreters who had been working for the occupying forces and feared for their lives.
Labour imperialists still ally with the US
In Britain, defence analysts say an extra £3 billion is required immediately or commitments must be cut. Gordon Brown stated that British troops in Iraq will be reduced from 5,500 to 2,500 by next spring, though 500 of them will be re-deployed elsewhere in the region, probably Kuwait. Brown also hinted at a total pull-out by the end of 2008, but ‘subject to conditions on the ground’. The Bush administration was reportedly ‘furious’ at British ‘betrayal’. The British withdrawal from Basra Palace was delayed for five months because the US refused to move its consulate from there and threatened to send in its own troops. It is clear, however, that the British were defeated in Basra by the resistance of the Iraqi people. In 2003 the British government promised Iraq ‘a stable, united and law-abiding state providing effective representative government to its own people’. A Washington Institute for Near East Policy report describes the legacy of the British occupation of southern Iraq as ‘a kleptocracy’ where ‘well armed political-criminal mafiosi have locked both the central government and the people out of power’. (Le Monde diplomatique, November 2007).
As for any differences between the US and Britain, Gordon Brown used his Mansion House speech in November to stress that the US would remain Britain’s number one ally. The speech is an annual opportunity to reassure the most powerful capitalists in the City that their interests continue to be served by the Labour government. British imperialism relies on its alliance with US military power to protect its global interests, which are second only to those of the US and cannot be maintained by the British military alone.
Iraqi people oppose oil theft
In his recently published memoirs, Alan Greenspan, former head of the US Federal Reserve, wrote, ‘I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.’ Well, the war is about more than oil, for it is part of a wider US global strategy to maintain military hegemony so as to deter rising economic competitors such as China, Russia and the EU. A permanent base in Iraq will help the US dominate the Middle East and support Israel. But control of Iraqi resources, particularly oil, is certainly a major consideration. Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves. Some estimate there may be a further 300 billion barrels yet to be discovered, which would make Iraq the second biggest source of oil in the world with 20% of global reserves. Furthermore, Iraq is the most under-exploited of all the world’s major oil fields, presently providing only around 2.5% of the total.
Since the invasion the oil multinationals have been manoeuvring to get their hands on the oil, but have been held back by the security situation and the lack of an Iraqi oil law to give a paper veil of legitimacy to their pillage. Such a law was drafted by the oil companies in consultation with the Bush administration and the British Foreign Office three years ago. The law would allow Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) that would give foreign companies control of around 85% of Iraqi oil for a period of up to 30 years at a very high rate of profit. None of the top six OPEC countries use PSAs. They prefer to keep control of oil in state hands and use foreign oil companies as contractors. PSAs are usually used only when conditions make exploration and drilling extremely difficult. But production costs for Iraqi oil will be very low. However, although representatives of the Iraqi puppet government were complicit in drafting the law they have been unable to get it passed by the Iraqi parliament because of widespread opposition both inside and outside the parliament, from Iraqi oil unions and from the Iraqi people. Asked whether there would be consultation with the Iraqi people and oil unions, a puppet government official replied, ‘Well Iraqi workers, they come from a low class – they are not well informed about these things. They are always demanding something: whether it’s higher wages or conditions, they are always wanting something.’ When oil workers went on strike this summer the Iraqi government sent in troops. In September, US planes launched an unprovoked attack on workers in the Basra oil fields. The Iraqi government is using legislation created by Saddam Hussein to try and ban all trade unions.
Despite the opposition, the puppet government is pushing ahead with plans to hand over Iraqi oil to the multinationals. Of course, there will be lucrative ‘bonuses’ for well-placed Iraqis involved in facilitating the deals. Evidence that the family of puppet prime minister Nouri Al Maliki is involved in the corruption has been ‘classified’ by the US State Department. At conferences in Dubai and London (none of these conferences are ever held in Iraq), the Iraqi government announced ‘its’ plans to privatise a whole swathe of state industries and services including: finances and telecom systems; rebuilding roads, railways, hospitals, schools, electricity and water plants; IT, hospital equipment and medicines; oil production tools, rail machinery and security equipment. 95% of tenders for contracts already received were from US multinationals.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has signed oil contracts with several foreign companies, including the Texas-based Hunt corporation, the Canadian company Heritage and the French firm Perenco. At least one Scandinavian company is already operating there under massive security. The Iraqi government claims these deals will not stand when the new oil law is passed. The dispute adds to the growing tensions over the autonomy of the KRG. In October, Turkey threatened to invade the region, ostensibly to attack Kurdish PKK guerrilla bases there. The PKK has long fought for an independent Kurdistan in the region bordering Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. On 13 October, Turkish artillery fire hit the Iraqi village of Nezdoor. Ten days later Turkish planes, helicopters and ground troops penetrated up to 13 miles inside Iraq, claiming to have killed 34 PKK fighters. The US urged restraint, promising to pursue the PKK itself. For the time being the imperialists prefer oil negotiations to be centralised in Baghdad and don’t want any interventions in the Kurdish region that they can’t control.
The US Congressional Budget Office estimates the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost $2.4 trillion over the next decade. Hundreds of thousands more Iraqis and Afghanis may be killed or made homeless. Yet for the imperialists this will count for nothing compared with the prize of controlling Iraq and its oil. Iraqi oil reserves could be worth $30 trillion over the next few decades and securing them is calculated as central to the US ruling class’s global hegemonic ambitions. This is why the US imperialists have no intention of leaving Iraq.
The Iraqi people have demonstrated that they will not accept submission. A statement in September by the 1920 Revolution Brigades, a mainly Sunni section of the resistance, warned the imperialists that they could, ‘Wander the shelves of history in search of methods to adapt (to maintain their occupation) and we will confront you with a form of variable, adaptable, and reversible asymmetric warfare that will set the standard for years and years to come…[The Iraqi resistance] has taught the world of oppressed nations and societies that a self-sufficient resistance movement in our modern times is possible, and can destabilise the most powerful opponents.’