- Created: Wednesday, 06 May 2009 15:56
- Written by Jim Craven
FRFI 194 December 2006 / January 2007
The determined resistance of the Iraqi people to the occupation of their country and growing divisions among the ruling classes in the US and Britain have forced a critical reassessment of policy by the imperialist governments. In the November US mid-term elections the Republicans lost control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, forcing the immediate resignation of leading warmonger Defence Secretary Rumsfeld. Within a few days of the election President Bush was in discussion with the Iraq Study Group (ISG) about changes in policy. JIM CRAVEN reports.
In September, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) reported ‘the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism’ and the ‘occupation and injustice’ had fuelled what it called ‘violent jihad’. This was followed in October by comments from the previously loyal Republican leader of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner, who said there was ‘a very serious situation’ in Iraq and events were ‘simply drifting sideways’. A US diplomat told the Arabic TV station Al-Jazeera that the US had shown ‘arrogance’ and ‘stupidity’ in Iraq, while another US diplomat and consultant to the ISG, David Mack, said, ‘We are really at a point where any talk of a victory is an illusion.’
Imperialists forced to change policy
The ISG was created as a means of camouflaging a change in direction. Its head is James Baker, ex-Secretary of State for George Bush senior, who opposed the invasion. Leaks from the ISG suggest it will recommend co-operation with Iran and Syria (members of President Bush’s axis of evil!) to help achieve stability in Iraq. The imperialists hope this will allow a phased withdrawal of some troops over the next 18 months. Remaining troops may then withdraw to heavily fortified bases within Iraq or even to bases in neighbouring countries. Talks are already underway in Jordan with leaders of the Iraqi resistance. The British government has also been having talks with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh about an exit strategy for British troops and help from Syria and Iran. Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser recently visited Syria. On 22 November Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Britain could transfer security operations in southern Iraq to Iraqi control by spring 2007, but she said we are ‘not cutting and running’.
Popular support plummets
According to US opinion polls, only 20% of the population believe the occupying forces are winning the war, whereas almost two-thirds now oppose the war and believe it was a mistake. Orchestrating Saddam Hussein’s show trial to produce a guilty verdict two days before the US November elections failed to impress. In Britain, a poll found 72% of the population now believe the war cannot be won and 62% want troops withdrawn as soon as possible. A Commons motion demanding an inquiry into the Iraq war was narrowly defeated thanks to the cowardly attitude of the Labour left. Only 12 of them voted for the inquiry.
Ruling class worried
In October, General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, launched an unprecedented attack on government policy, saying: ‘We should get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems…Whatever consent we may have had (from the Iraqi people) has largely turned to intolerance.’ Even Labour Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett admitted that future historians might judge the invasion of Iraq as ‘a foreign policy disaster’. Such comments and events in the US should not, however, be interpreted as a retreat from imperialist warmongering. The new US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, is an experienced and reliable servant of the US ruling class. He was involved in the Iran-Contra cover-up and served as Director of the CIA from 1991 to 1993. It must be remembered that the ?US Democratic Party initially supported virtually every aspect of the war in Iraq and the so-called ‘war on terror’. There has been no suggestion that it will withdraw funding for the Iraq war or change policy in Afghanistan. The Democrats and other ruling class critics such as Dannatt are not opposed to the strategy of using military force to impose their political and economic will. What concerns them is that the difficulties being experienced in Iraq and the military resources being tied up there are hindering the capability of the US and Britain to police their wider imperialist interests. As Dannatt said: ‘Our presence in Iraq exacerbates the difficulties we are facing around the world…Our troops are stretched to capacity. Almost everyone is going to end up in Iraq and Afghanistan.’ Far from reducing the use of military power Dannatt wants increased spending on the armed forces, the money for which, he hinted, should come from the social security budget.
The British ruling class knows that, for the foreseeable future, Britain must continue to ride on the back of the US military to defend Britain’s huge global interests. In November, Labour Prime Minister Blair reiterated this position when he said that any rift with the US would seriously damage those interests – echoing that other arch-imperialist Winston Churchill who once said ‘We should never get out of step with the Americans – never’.
War machine fails to subdue the Iraqi people
US forces in Iraq increased from 126,000 to 141,000 during the summer. In August, more than 7,000 coalition troops and 20,000 members of the Iraqi security forces launched Operation Together Forward, an intensive drive to gain control of Baghdad. Despite these moves resistance attacks on the imperialist and puppet forces increased by over 20% in October. 104 US troops were killed, the fourth worst month for them since the invasion. Larry Diamond, former adviser to the US occupation authority and adviser to the ISG admitted, ‘The failure of the Baghdad initiative is convincing evidence that a military solution is not going to work.’
At the end of September 1,000 British troops together with 2,300 Iraqi troops launched a similar operation in the south. A Territorial Army officer described it as ‘almost a last attempt to be seen to be doing something’. This too had no significant impact. On 20 October in Amarah, the town in Maysan Province where British forces had nominally handed over control of security to Iraqi police in August, members of the Mehdi Army, followers of the Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, razed police stations to the ground and took control of the town.
Sectarian violence fired by imperialist forces
Any hopes the imperialists have of reducing troop numbers while still retaining control of Iraq depend on handing over some security responsibilities to Iraqi puppet forces. The British want in the near future to make Maysan the third southern province to be handed over in order to relieve troops for service in Afghanistan. However, the events in Amarah and the attack on the British boat near Basra in November that killed four British service personnel demonstrate how precarious such a decision could be. US General George Casey claimed that Iraqi forces were 75% ready and would take over in 12 to 18 months. But Stuart Bowen, US Inspector-General for Iraq, admitted ‘… significant challenges remain that put at risk the goal of transferring responsibility to the Iraqis by 1 January 2008’.
Under present conditions of occupation any attempt to create an effective Iraqi national security force is doomed to failure because the main Shia militias and their supporters have infiltrated the highly corrupt Iraqi police and army. Local commanders bear more allegiance to the militias than to the government. The Iraqi people do not trust the Iraqi police or army as such and turn to their respective militias for protection. Everyone realises that the repeated calls by the US for a clamp down on all militias is being used by them as cover to attack the Mehdi army alone because they have consistently opposed the occupation and been willing to engage the occupying forces in heavy fighting.
Much of the blame for the sectarian violence presently taking place in the country lies firmly with the occupying imperialist forces. Shortly after the invasion the CIA set up Iraqi death squads to help them put down the Resistance. In the south the British allowed the Badr militia to work alongside the Iraqi police. There were several reports that British troops stood aside while sectarian killings were taking place and even that British special forces were responsible for planting bombs that sparked sectarian violence. Terrorising the local people with death squads and divide and rule tactics are long established means by which British imperialism has sought to quell opposition in the oppressed countries. At the beginning of 2005 the Pentagon trained Iraqis for what it called ‘irregular missions’. The operation was code-named the ‘Salvador Option’ after US counter-revolutionary operations in Central America 20 years ago that resulted in 70,000 deaths. Adviser to the ‘Salvador Option’ was James Steele, the man who had commanded the US military in El Salvador.
Despite the sectarian violence the Iraqi people have no doubt who their main enemies are. A survey by the University of Maryland a few weeks ago found 80% of Iraqis believe the US military is ‘provoking more conflict than it is preventing’; 71% want US troops out within a year and 62% of Shias and 92% of Sunnis approve of attacks on US-led forces.
Of course, none of these difficulties mean the imperialists intend to give up on Iraq. Nor will they allow any change in policy to be regarded as in any sense a defeat, for to do so would be a major blow to their wider strategy of maintaining global economic and political hegemony through the threat of military force. Furthermore, despite the turmoil, the oil multinationals have continued scheming to secure Iraqi oil. Prominent among them have been the British and Anglo-Dutch giants BP and Shell.
The price of Iraqi oil
Immediately after the invasion the Coalition Provisional Authority hired oil executives to advise them. The most senior was Phil Carroll, former head of Shell in the US. Later advisers included Terry Adams and Bob Morgan of BP. In 2004 Iyad Allawi, head of the Iraqi interim government, issued guidelines for foreign involvement in oil development and argued that there should be no public debate on the proposals because it would delay progress. No wonder Allawi (who supported the massacre in Fallujah) was the imperialists’ favoured Iraqi politician in the later elections.
Meanwhile, both Shell and BP bid for the contract to process geological data from the main Iraqi oil fields: a contract Shell won. Technical information and friends in high places are the two most valuable assets when developing new oil fields. In late summer 2004 Shell appointed a ‘country chairman’ for Iraq to its board and advertised for an Iraqi communications officer who had to be ‘an Iraqi national who understood and had connections in the network of Iraqi families of significance’. Shell also sponsored conferences with Iraqi oil ministry speakers, funded the training of Iraqi oil technicians and provided them with technical manuals. In October 2004 the Iraqi oil minister announced in the Shell in-house magazine that 2005 would be the ‘year of dialogue’ with international oil companies.
Officials from the Iraqi oil ministry worked closely with executives from the major oil companies, including BP, to draft proposals for developing Iraqi oilfields and the necessary legislation to permit it. The multinationals wanted Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs), which effectively allow the oil giants to operate as private companies, developing new oilfields as they wish and paying taxes rather than royalties. The oil-monitoring group Platform has estimated PSAs would give the foreign companies control of up to 87% of Iraqi oil reserves and a return on investment of between 42% and 162%. This would result in the theft of as much as $200 billion that would belong to the Iraqi people if oil were state-owned.
In case the Iraqi puppets faltered in their treachery, the IMF in late January 2006 released its standby agreement allowing future financing facilities for the Iraqi government and cancelling 30% of Iraq’s debt to the Paris Club of creditor nations. In return the Iraqis had to comply with the IMF’s conditions on economic policy, including a slashing of fuel subsidies and a requirement that the IMF be involved in drafting the oil legislation, which must then be passed into law by the end of 2006. Members of the Iraqi oil ministry were summoned to the US for further work on the oil legislation so that immediately after the Iraqi elections in May 2006 the new oil minister, Husayn al-Shahristani, was able to announce that one of the top priorities would be to pass a law allowing Iraq to sign contracts with the largest overseas oil companies. In July, US Energy Secretary Bodman insisted on reviewing the draft law and then arranged for al-Shahristani to visit Washington where the draft could be scrutinised by representatives of all the top oil companies, including Shell and BP. By the end of August the draft legislation had still not been seen by the Iraqi parliament. In October 2006 the Iraqi government announced the form that oil contracts would take and that they would be signed before the end of next year. Again, the announcements were made not to the Iraqi people, but at conferences in Australia and Abu Dhabi.
All the major oil vultures will now start circling. Shell is in a particularly strong position having already picked up contracts to provide equipment for Iraq’s oil terminals, to design Iraq’s Gas Master Plan and to advise on the expansion of the Missan oilfield in addition to its geology contract, and due to its well-groomed Iraqi contacts. In addition, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, ex-Conservative foreign secretary, has been lobbying US Vice-President Dick Cheney on behalf of Shell and the Australian oil company BHP Billiton of which Rifkind is Director of International Strategy. Rifkind also happens to be chair of Armor Group the largest private security firm operating in Iraq. There are over 25,000 such foreign mercenaries in the country. In April this year all of the five Iraqi trade union federations called unanimously on the government to ‘refuse all foreign take-overs in the oil sector whether by privatisation or by production sharing agreements’. Given Shell’s involvement with the massacre of the Ogoni people in Nigeria we can expect further ‘co-operation’ between Shell and Rifkind’s thugs should the Iraqi people resist the theft of their oil.
Massive death toll for the Iraqi people
In October the medical journalThe Lancet reported a survey of Iraqi deaths carried out by Johns Hopkins University in the United States and doctors from the Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. The survey revealed there had been 655,000 Iraqis killed because of the invasion and the occupation. Of these, 196,000 violent deaths were at the hands of the imperialist forces. Needless to say President Bush immediately attacked the survey, saying, ‘I don’t consider this a credible report and neither does General Casey and neither do Iraqi officials.’ But the survey involved well-proven methods of cluster sampling. Such surveys in other countries have been accepted without question by the imperialist governments when the results were conducive to their interests.
Homelessness and suffering
Altogether 1.6 million Iraqis have left the country in the last three years. Another 1.5 million have been forced to leave their homes within the country, many now having to live six or seven to a room in whatever shelter they can find. The Iraqi Ministry of Labour says that the incidence of poverty has increased by 35% since 2003. Some reports say around eight million Iraqis live on less than $1 a day. If the money being spent on the war was instead distributed among the Iraqi people every man woman and child would receive more than $10 a day.
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health half of all Iraqi children are suffering some form of malnutrition and one in ten is suffering from chronic disease or illness. 60% of Iraqis are unemployed. Iraq’s electricity network is in a state of collapse. Homes, hospitals and schools rely on generators, the cost of which has sky-rocketed since the IMF insisted on fuel price increases. A quarter of all Iraq’s doctors have left the country. Hospitals are so short of medicines and equipment they are even having to re-use intravenous tubes and needles. Of the 180 health clinics the US had promised to build by 2005, only four have been completed and none have opened.
Articles 55 and 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention state that ‘the Occupying Power’ has the duty of ensuring food and medical supplies, medical services, public health and hygiene for the population. Bush and Blair would, of course, wash their hands of the crimes being committed against the Iraqi people and, pointing towards their puppets in Baghdad, claim their troops are not the occupying power but are in Iraq at the invitation of the ‘democratically elected Iraqi government’. Perhaps nothing could better illustrate the cynical and callous inhumanity that is imperialism.