Iraq: Growing resistance – imperialists sink further

FRFI 192 August / September 2006

When the US and Britain invaded Iraq in 2003, leading proponents of the war such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and other neo-cons expected a swift victory using their overwhelming fire power in ‘shock and awe’ tactics. They would establish a friendly Iraq and stabilise access to Middle East oil at a time when the West’s principal ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, was becoming increasingly problematic. Above all the war would send a warning shot across the bows of any potential challenger to US hegemony. Iraq would become a base for further US assertiveness, both in the region and beyond, as the US, with Britain tagging along, used its global military domination to prevent an economic crisis for imperialism becoming a political one. Jim Craven reports.

Over three years later and the US and British troops remain bogged down in Iraq, sinking deeper every day. Their allies in the ‘coalition of the willing’, who hoped to gather crumbs from the imperial table, dwindle. Spain, Netherlands, Ukraine, Philippines, Nicaragua and Honduras have already withdrawn their troops. In June, Italy and Japan announced they would pull out by the end of the year. Not that their military contribution amounted to much but their retreat indicates that neither the war nor the US have the support they had. The war has destabilised the region and tied down imperialism.

Confusion in US ranks
In the US support for the war has fallen to 40%. The Bush administration is torn between keeping the necessary force in Iraq and bringing troops home, both for political reasons, with an eye on upcoming mid-term elections, and to prepare for other actions. At the end of May an extra 1,500 US troops had to be sent to Iraq just five months after the number of brigades had been cut from 17 to 15. The confusion in the ranks of the US ruling class was illustrated in June when US commander in Iraq, General George Casey, announced plans to reduce the number of brigades by two this September and cut the remaining troops by half by the end of 2007.

The announcement immediately had cold water thrown on it by President Bush’s press secretary Tony Snow. In order to try and allow the withdrawal of ground troops and reduce its casualties, the US increasingly relies on aerial bombardment. According to a report in Voices from the Wilderness newsletter US warplanes attacked twice as many Iraqi cities in the period October 2005 to February 2006 as they did in the same period a year earlier. Daily bombing runs and missile launches from jets also increased by 50% between the two periods.
However, no matter what troop reductions the US might achieve in the short term it has no intention of withdrawing completely from Iraq, for to do so would be a major blow to its strategy of global military domination. On the contrary, as reported previously in FRFI, the US is building four major airbases in Iraq that presently house 55,000 troops. Two of the bases are strategically placed to secure Iraq’s main oil reserves and three of the four could be used to attack Iran. Additionally, in Baghdad the US is building the world’s biggest embassy, the size of Vatican City and totally self-sufficient.

Another puppet government
When a new Iraqi government was finally formed in May, five months after the elections, it was hailed by the imperialists as another landmark for progress and democracy in Iraq. The government, however, was largely the creation of the US Ambassador, Zilmay Khalilzad, anxious to ensure the majority Shia parties did not have a monopoly so as to keep on board some of the Sunni groups and prevent a hardening of the armed resistance. It took a further month to appoint heads to the defence and interior ministries, which had become strongholds of the Shia militias responsible for many of the sectarian killings against Sunnis. The new government has made very little difference. Ministries remain the fiefdom of whatever faction holds the ministerial post. Corruption is rife and most ministers remain cosseted in the heavily fortified Green Zone. They cannot be dismissed because that would upset the balance of perks and privileges. When the Shia Fadila group lost control of the oil ministry it retaliated by interfering with oil production in southern Iraq. This important ministry was handed to Hussein al-Saristani, who then called for the centralisation of oil contracts and preparation for foreign investment.

That the new government remains a puppet of the imperialist occupiers was graphically illustrated when Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki announced the capture and killing on 7 June of Musab Al Zarqawi, self-styled leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Al Maliki was flanked by US commander General George Casey and Zilmay Khalilzad. When Al Maliki suggested that all but two of Iraq’s provinces could be under control of Iraqi security forces by the end of the year, British Prime Minister Blair immediately contradicted him. Blair said the policy was not to set dates but to decide according to the level of violence and the preparedness of the Iraqi forces. In June the Iraqi government announced a ‘peace deal’, including an amnesty for some resistance fighters, a review of the policy preventing ex-Ba’athists taking senior civil service and armed forces positions and a schedule for withdrawal of occupying forces. Some Sunni resistance groups have had informal talks with the Iraqi president and the US ambassador. The key question was the withdrawal of imperialist forces. But while the Iraqi government was promising a fixed timetable for withdrawal, a British government official insisted that British troops would remain in Iraq until at least 2010.

Divide and rule creates sectarian violence
Meanwhile, sectarian violence spirals. The day after the June ‘peace plan’ announcement, two bombs in Baquba and Hillah killed at least 40 people on a day when there were 22 other deaths. A few days later at least 66 people were killed and more than a hundred injured by a car bomb in Baghdad. Throughout the country Shias, Sunnis and Kurds are fleeing from areas where they are in the minority. This is not through mutual hostility; there is a remarkable degree of unity among the Iraqi people against the occupation and in favour of living together as Iraqis. Rather, the people are victims of a chain of attacks and counter-attacks instigated by militias created by the imperialists to assist them in the early days of the occupation. The imperialists are more than happy to ignore the sectarian violence while it prevents united resistance to their occupation from emerging. Indeed, there is evidence that imperialist troops have provoked sectarian violence by planting bombs at holy sites.

Resistance grows – imperialist atrocities mount
Despite this the resistance movement continues to gather strength. In the first four months of 2006 attacks on the British were up by more than a quarter compared with 2005, rising to a total of over 100 attacks in April. Central Basra is a no-go area for British troops. In May Prime Minister Al Maliki announced a state of emergency in Basra province. With the complete disregard for the blindingly obvious, habitually demonstrated by the Bush administration, US Vice-President Cheney claimed for the second time in just over a year that the resistance movement was ‘in its last throes’. A report from the British parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee on 2 July, however, admitted there had been a ‘worrying’ deterioration in what it called the security situation in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

By early July a total of 113 British, 2,547 US and 113 other troops had been killed in Iraq together with 100 journalists and over 350 private contractors. 20,000 occupying troops had been wounded. One in five of US and British troops who have served in Iraq since 2003 suffers mental health problems. US Colonel Dan Smith predicts there will eventually be more than 200,000 totally disabled veterans never able to work. Latest estimates from the US Congressional Research Service state that at the present rate of expenditure of $9.7 billion a month the Bush administration will have spent over $500 billion on Iraq, Afghanistan and associated military activities by the end of 2007; enough to provide adequate food, shelter, health and education for everyone in the world for two years. There has been a sharp increase in desertions from the British forces during the Iraq war – over 1,000 since 2003. Hard drug abuse in the British Army has increased by 50% in five years. British Army recruitment is running 27% below target. Soldiers are offered a £1,300 bounty to recruit friends.

Evidence of atrocities committed by the occupying forces continues to be revealed. In Haditha on 19 November 2005 US marines shot 24 civilians, including seven women and three children, after an army driver had been killed by a roadside bomb. The marines tried to claim that most of the victims had been killed in the road blast and that others were ‘insurgents’, but video evidence of the slaughter has come to light supporting accusations that the marines went on a revenge rampage and shot the Iraqi villagers in cold blood. On 15 March 2006 in Ishaqi 11 people, again including women and children, were bound and blindfolded and shot by US troops according to reports from Iraqi police and video evidence obtained by the BBC. Witnesses said those murdered were herded into one room that was later destroyed by the soldiers to try and bury the bodies. An enquiry by the US military concluded there is insufficient evidence to prosecute the soldiers. Seven US marines and a sailor have been accused of conspiracy, kidnap and murder in the case of the death of an unarmed civilian in Hamandiyah in April. The troops are said to have fixed evidence to suggest the man was planting a roadside bomb. Another four US soldiers have been charged with shooting and killing three civilians on 9 May, and on 30 June the Pentagon announced an inquiry into the case of five soldiers alleged to have raped an Iraqi woman and killed her and three members of her family. Even puppet Prime Minister Al Maliki was moved to rattle his strings, complaining about the ‘daily’ violence against unarmed civilians by the US military. ‘They run them over and leave them, or they kill anyone suspicious. This cannot be accepted,’ he said. He included a promise to stop abuse by US and British troops in his ‘peace plan’. Quite how Al Maliki intended to enforce this was never spelled out.

The New York Times has made more revelations of the torture of Iraqi prisoners. An elite US Special Operations unit known as Task Force 6-26 operating at top secret camps throughout the country ‘beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spat in their faces’. Some detainees ‘were stripped naked and had cold water thrown on them to cause the sensation of drowning’. Over 50,000 people have been imprisoned since 2003, almost all without charge or access to legal process. The US admits at least 14,000 are still being held. Among them, despite attempts by the imperialists to conceal the fact, are children and women, who have not only suffered torture but sexual abuse and rape.

Life deteriorates

For Iraq’s people the miseries of daily life deepen. The average number of multiple fatality bombings rose from 23 per month in the first part of 2005 to 41 per month in 2006. During June over 1,500 bodies from violent deaths were sent to Baghdad mortuary. No-one knows how many Iraqis have died altogether because the occupying forces have never considered it worthwhile to count their deaths. Iraq Body Count says between 39,116 and 43,568 have been killed by military intervention since the start of the war but these are only deaths confirmed by at least two independent sources. The total will be much higher.

20% of the population live in absolute poverty. Unemployment is estimated at around 50%. Prices have risen while wages have fallen. Inflation has increased by more than 30%. Lack of public interest laws, environmental regulations or worker protection mean imperialist corporations operating in Iraq can extract maximum profits from the country’s resources and working class. In August 2005 the puppet government passed Decree 8750, which gave them detailed control over trade unions with the power to freeze assets and disband them. In May striking dockworkers were arrested in Basra.

The UN has reported that 400,000 Iraqi children are suffering ‘dangerous deficiencies of protein’. Deaths from malnutrition and preventable diseases have increased. Typhoid and tuberculosis sweep the country. Dust from depleted uranium weapons has poisoned much of Iraq. Thousands of Iraqis have lost limbs from mines and other explosive devices. Water, sewerage and electricity supplies are below pre-war levels. A leaked memo from the US Ambassador to Condoleezza Rice about life in Baghdad said electricity supplies averaged only four to eight hours a day and one suburb had not had power for a month, but that when a new government minister was appointed his apartment block immediately received a 24-hour-a-day supply.

The network of hospitals and health centres has been severely damaged by the war and looting. The US military attacked hospitals to prevent them giving out casualty figures. In 2005 the UN reported that 84% of higher education establishments had been ‘destroyed, damaged and robbed’. Religious bigotry is rife. As many as a million Iraqis have fled the country to Jordan, Egypt and Syria; mainly the educated professional and middle classes. The poor stay and suffer.

 

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