- Created: Wednesday, 06 May 2009 16:01
- Written by Jim Craven
FRFI 193 October / November 2006
‘It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.’
In a speech to the American Legion in Salt Lake City at the beginning of September, President Bush said, ‘The war we are fighting today is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.’ Coming from Bush this was a remarkably accurate statement. It indicates that the ruling classes in the imperialist countries understand that what is at stake in the present struggles in the Middle East and elsewhere may be the very survival of imperialism itself. JIM CRAVEN reports.
A few weeks earlier, speaking at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, British Prime Minister Blair had referred to ‘an elemental struggle about values’ and said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ‘were not just about changing regimes but changing value systems’. Had they elaborated in an honest fashion Bush and Blair would have explained that the ideology and values at stake represent the right of the rich capitalist nations to conquer, occupy, oppress and exploit the resources and people of the rest of the world. More likely they would have mystified their ideology, as capitalists usually do, by talking about spreading ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and ‘civilisation’ against ‘the forces of evil’. At the same American Legion rally at which Bush spoke, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, with his grotesque ability to calmly turn the truth on its head, said the world faced ‘a new kind of fascism’. He went on, ‘Those who know the truth need to speak out against the kinds of myths and distortions that are being told about our country and our troops.’ Immediately afterwards the Pentagon announced they would tender a $20 million public relations contract to promote more positive coverage from Iraq in US and Middle Eastern media – ‘public relations’ being what Rumsfeld regards as synonymous with the truth.
Difficulties sow division
However, no amount of public relations can conceal the fact that mounting problems for the imperialists are creating divisions among their ruling classes and cynicism among the people. Nearly two thirds of the US population disapprove of the way Bush is handling the war on Iraq. In Britain Blair is leaving office with his reputation in tatters, in part, at least, because of concern among sections of the ruling class at his handling of the war and his unconditional support for the Zionist onslaught in Lebanon. The imperialist public relations machine can no longer get away with talk of weapons of mass destruction or toppling dictators. The rallying cry of ‘democracy’ has been muted by imperialism’s blatant attempt to starve into submission the freely elected Hamas government in Palestine. Even the ‘war on terror’ excuse is beginning to wear thin. More than half the US population no longer believe the war on Iraq has anything to do with a war on terror. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, one of many Republicans trying to distance themselves from Bush in the run-up to the November Congressional elections, said of the war in Iraq, ‘This is no more a war on terror than World War Two was a war on blitzkrieg … Terror is a tactic; it is not our enemy. Our enemy is a people who have an ideology.’ On 8 September the US Senate issued a report stating that Saddam Hussein’s regime had no relationship with Al Qaida, one of the big lies used by the Bush regime as a pretext to invade Iraq.
Those arrayed on the other side of this ‘decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century’ presently include resistance fighters in Iraq and Palestine, the people’s army in Nepal, the government of Iran, Hizbullah and the Taliban, and the people and governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. Their ideologies range widely from militant Islam to revolutionary socialism. What they have in common is a rejection of the idea that their countries can be exploited in the interests of imperialism and its agents and a willingness to fight for their ideals. In recent months their forces have been in the ascendancy, creating the present turmoil within the imperialist ranks.
Iraq occupation escalates violence
It was only a few months ago that the US and British governments were promising that the new government in Iraq would lead to peace and stability and that the occupying forces would soon be able to hand over control to Iraqi security forces. At the beginning of August, however, the outgoing British Ambassador to Iraq, William Patey, in a leaked memo to Blair warned that civil war leading to a de facto division of the country was a more likely outcome in Iraq than the emergence of a stable democracy. He suggested that, ‘Even the lowered expectation of President Bush for Iraq – a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terrorism – must remain in doubt.’ Around the same time General John Abizaid, head of the US Central Command that oversees the war on Iraq, admitted: ‘The sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it’.
An additional 100,000 US-trained recruits have joined the Iraqi army and police over the past year, bringing the total to more than 260,000. In September the occupying forces formally handed over command of the Iraqi forces to the Iraqi government. This, however, was just another public relations exercise. In reality the US military will continue to control them just as they do the Iraqi intelligence services, which are funded by the CIA and report back to them first, not to the Iraqi government.
Despite the increased number of Iraqi troops, the situation is so perilous for the occupying forces that General Abizaid had to play down suggestions made only the previous month by General George Casey that troop cuts would soon be possible. This confusion in the ranks of the US state was underlined when a group of leading Democrats wrote to President Bush calling for a phased redeployment of US troops to begin by the end of the year. John Warner, chair of the Senate armed services committee, said Congress might have to re-examine the authority given to Bush to wage war in Iraq.
The number of violent deaths each month in Iraq has been rising since February. Even official figures reveal that over 3,000 Iraqis were killed in June. In July there was an average 52 attacks each day across Baghdad. A record 1,815 bodies, many of them the victims of torture and mutilation, arrived at the Baghdad morgue. By early August, 120 Iraqis every day were suffering violent deaths; an annual rate of over 43,000.
The imperialists blame much of the violence on sectarian militias. In mid-August occupation and puppet government forces launched a major operation called ‘Together Forward’, ostensibly to weaken the power of the militias, an extra 12,000 troops were drafted into Baghdad. However, the focus of the operation was only those militias hostile to the imperialist occupation. A former Iraqi government minister said: ‘The Americans are not honest brokers. They switch their support between the Shi’a, Sunni and Kurds in order to serve their own interests.’ They turned a blind eye to the Shi’a Badr militias that control large sections of the Iraqi security forces and are responsible for many of the attacks on Sunni supporters of the Iraqi resistance. Most Sunnis regard Iraqi police and police commando detachments as officially sanctioned death squads. Instead, the imperialist forces concentrated on attacking the Mehdi army, followers of the Shi’a cleric Moqtada Al Sadr. Moqtada has his base among workers in Sadr City, the poorest part of Baghdad. In the leaked memo William Patey said, ‘preventing the Mehdi army from developing into a state within a state, as Hizbullah has done in Lebanon, will be a priority’. Although sections of the Mehdi army have been blamed for some attacks on Sunnis, Moqtada has repeatedly called for united resistance among Iraqis and the Mehdi have several times engaged in prolonged fighting against US forces. On the first day of the operation US forces killed three people including a child in Sadr City. They also seized seven bodyguards of Iraqi health minister Ali Al Shemari, a follower of Moqtada. At the end of August 73 people, including 23 Iraqi soldiers, were killed in a battle between the Mehdi army and Iraqi security forces in Diwaniya.
Resistance takes its toll
The US military claimed attacks in Baghdad had fallen by 41% since the start of the Together Forward campaign. However, resistance to the occupation is unrelenting and deepening its toll on imperialist troops. The Pentagon’s latest quarterly report to Congress admitted that the Iraqi resistance movement remained ‘potent and viable’. Other US military figures showed that attacks against US and Iraqi puppet forces had doubled since January. In July US forces encountered 2,625 roadside bombs compared with 1,454 in January. US Private Justin Cross said, ‘It drives you nuts. You feel like every step you might get blown up. You just hit a point where you’re like – “If I die today, I die”. You’re just walking a death walk.’ In Britain the Ministry of Defence said that 1,541 British service personnel had received treatment for mental health problems between the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and December 2005. The size of the British Army fell by 1,500 last year, despite increased recruitment, because so many troops are leaving. Absence without leave is also increasing. By mid-August 740 troops had gone AWOL. By 6 September 2,663 US troops, 117 British troops and 102 other Coalition troops had been killed in Iraq.
Afghan resistance exhausts British forces
In Afghanistan British Lt-General David Richards, NATO commander, said the resistance was even fiercer than in Iraq. He admitted it was the worst sustained fighting the British army has had to face since the Korean War between 1950 and 1953. When British reinforcements were sent to Afghanistan last spring the then Defence Secretary, John Reid, wanting to give the impression it would be a short-term ‘hearts and minds’ campaign, said he hoped the troops would return without a shot being fired. Since then hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Afghan people and resistance fighters have been killed. Since June 16 British soldiers have been killed in action. From 1 August to 15 September 11 British and 11 Canadian troops were killed in combat. Additionally, on 2 September a RAF Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft taking part in a major NATO operation crashed killing 14 more servicemen. The Army initially denied claims that it had been shot down by the Taliban. Later the Ministry of Defence (MOD) modified this to say it was ‘pretty confident’ that the crash was an accident. However, eye witnesses report seeing flames coming from the aircraft at a high altitude. When a Hercules aircraft crashed last year in Iraq killing 10 servicemen the MOD also claimed it was an accident, only to discover later that the plane had been shot down by resistance fighters. In any case the army admitted in June that the Taliban had SAM missiles capable of attacking aircraft in the air and that there had been three to five attempts to ‘lock-on’ to aircraft this year.
NATO commanders in Afghanistan have been calling for troop reinforcements for 18 months. In July Britain sent an extra 900 troops bringing the total British force to 4,500. However, the fighting has been so intense that troops on the ground are said to be exhausted. Brigadier Ed Butler, commander of British forces in southern Afghanistan, said: ‘We’ve used all the assets available to British forces.’ Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the British Army, said British forces were fighting at the limits of their capacity and could ‘only just cope’ with the campaign. In September Lt-General Richards called for 2,500 further reinforcements including a 1,000 strong rapid reaction force.
Germany and the Netherlands, which have 2,200 and 1,400 troops respectively in the NATO force, as well as Turkey, Italy and Spain, have all so far refused to increase their contingents and are reluctant even to re-deploy any of their present forces to the main battlefields in the southern Helmand province. Pleas from NATO’s Secretary General, US Secretary of State Rice and Prime Minister Blair for additional NATO combatants have thus far elicited 1,000 Polish soldiers promised for February who were already promised anyway and will be stationed well away from the fighting. Consequently, it is reported that Britain may post more troops to Afghanistan. The NATO powers are close to open division.
At the beginning of August three British soldiers were killed in Musa Qala on the first day of a major operation when their patrol vehicle was hit by rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire. In the rising panic over the British death toll there has been much criticism in the media that British forces are still having to use Land Rover ‘snatch vehicles’ designed for use on the streets of Belfast and Derry. But this patrol was destroyed in a heavily armoured Scimitar tank. At the end of the month the first death of a British soldier to be killed in a direct attack on an army post occurred at the Musa Qala outpost.
Imperialist troops have now been forced to pull back to more easily defensible positions at Lashkar Gar and Camp Bastion and the US firebase at Musa Qala has been shut down. The resistance fighters have proved strong enough to move from small groups using hit and run tactics to larger detachments able to take and hold substantial areas and are proving very difficult to dislodge. Suicide bombings against military targets have also started within Kabul itself. A British soldier was killed there in a bomb attack on 3 September. On 8 September a suicide bomb killed 16 people including two soldiers near the US embassy in Kabul.
Record opium crop
Eradication of the opium crop, which the US and Britain in particular used as an excuse for their actions in Afghanistan, has not happened. This year will see a record harvest, up 59% on last year, mainly due to increased production in the southern provinces where British troops are operating. Afghanistan will produce about 6,100 tons of opium; 92% of the world’s output. It is the only significant item in the country’s economy. The puppet government is riddled with drug barons. US officials fear their corruption has created a crisis of confidence among the Afghan people and could bring down the government. Executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said that Afghanistan was ‘displaying ominous hallmarks of incipient collapse with large scale drug cultivation and trafficking’ and what he called ‘insurgency and terrorism and corruption’. Lt-General Richards described the country as ‘close to anarchy’. The British occupiers are in a dilemma: if they confront the opium crop they will drive more Afghanis towards the Taliban, if they allow it then Taliban funds grow.
Imperialism is failing in Iraq and Afghanistan – it is being hurt. Senior British officers and politicians repeatedly praise the ‘professionalism and commitment’ of British soldiers and reassure us of their ‘high morale’. The British ruling class has a long tradition of expending young lives in Afghanistan and Iraq and will continue to do so until it is stopped. What imperialism cannot stand is to be seen to be losing.
Franz Kafka remarked that the cinema put the eye in uniform. Doctor Goebbels was a past master at spreading rumours, often accompanying them with photographs used to devalue and supplant any precise information. On 10 August the British security forces announced that they had foiled the plans of a gang of ‘radical Islamic’ terrorists intent on blowing up aeroplanes flying from Britain to the US.
MI5 said that this was a ‘critical situation’ and called on the public to ‘be very vigilant’. Flights were cancelled, rigorous check-in procedures introduced and the disruption filmed and broadcast far and wide. US President Bush praised the British strike at terrorism and announced that we are ‘at war with Islamic fascists’. We were to be on our guard – and mobilised into the war on terror. 24 people were arrested in Britain, and US intelligence said at least 50 people linked with Al Qaida were involved.
Whatever the substance of the conspiracy (still to be proven) the police operation coincided with growing criticism and disgust at US and British support for Zionism’s premeditated attempt at annihilating Lebanon. For several days the cameras and newsprint focussed on the ‘war on terror’ back home; it was made headline news, supplanting Lebanon’s suffering. In February 2003 British Army tanks were deployed at Heathrow airport to thwart a rumoured attack. This preceded London’s two million strong demonstration against the looming Iraq war. A presumed Al Qaida threat was invoked to support US and British war preparations. The British state is at war, psychological operations are integral to war. Goebbels and the Nazis knew all about putting on a show to aid their mobilisations; we can expect more and bigger shows.