IRAQ–imperialists lose the plot

FRFI 188 December 2005 / January 2006

US and British imperialism cannot afford to admit any sort of defeat in Iraq. It is not simply that they might lose control of Iraqi assets and an important strategic position in the Middle East. Any sign of weakness would undermine their claim to global military dominance, a threat they are using to try and prevent an economic crisis from becoming a political one as well. Any retreat would give space for imperialist rivals such as France and Germany and other rising economic powers such as Russia, India and most particularly China to take advantage. This is why the US and British governments are in complete denial of the horror into which Iraq is sinking; why they maintain the myth that Iraq is moving towards peace and democracy and desperately cling to their timetable of sham elections.

The reality on the ground, however, is very different. It is phosphorus and napalm bombs, torture camps, death squads and a rising toll of casualties. The Resistance is growing, the occupying forces are becoming increasingly demoralised, the Iraqi government and security forces remain ineffective, corruption and crime are rife and the Iraqi economy and infrastructure are stagnant. In the US opposition to the war is growing and the ruling class is divided. JIM CRAVEN reports.

Chemical weapons and torture
In mid-November the state department admitted that US forces had used white phosphorous shells during their assault on Fallujah in 2004. White phosphorus burns spontaneously on contact with the air and on contact with skin can burn right down to the bone. US Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable said ‘[White phosphorus] was used as an incendiary weapon…one technique is to fire into [the enemy’s position]: the combined effect of the fire and smoke – and in some cases the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground – will drive them out of the holes so you can kill them with high explosives’. In the callous jargon of the imperialist military this butchery is known as ‘shake ’n’ bake’.

But white phosphorus does not discriminate. Many Iraqi civilians, including women and children, were killed in the attacks; their skin ‘dissolved, caramelised or turned the consistency of leather’.

The US and British governments have also had to admit, despite earlier denials, that napalm bombs and ‘mark 77 firebombs’ have been used in Iraq. Both substances are designed to make sure burning petrol or kerosene sticks to their victims. A senior US commander said ‘the generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect’.

Used directly against people, both white phosphorus and napalm would be classified as chemical weapons; the use of which, so we were told, was one of the reasons Saddam Hussein had to be stopped.

Also in mid-November, over 170 prisoners were discovered in an Iraqi interior ministry bunker. They had been starved, beaten and brutally tortured. Observers reported that at least two prisoners were paralysed and others had their skin peeled off. This horror is just one small glimpse of the widespread systematic terror being used against those who dare to resist. Even the US Department of Defence admits that over 13,000 Iraqi prisoners are being held at the present time in Iraq and a total of 35,000 have been held since the invasion. According to the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch many prisoners have died in custody; at least eight of them following interrogation. Most prisoners have not been charged; fewer than 660 of the 35,000 have been tried and convicted. Worldwide, the US admits to holding more than 80,000 people since the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001. At least 14,500 of these are presently being held in camps in eight countries including Guantanamo Bay in occupied Cuba, Afghanistan, Thailand and several eastern European countries believed to include Poland and Romania. In Guantanamo Bay prisoners on hunger strike, protesting at the conditions, abuse, torture and lack of legal process, are being force-fed.

Iraqi ‘justice’ made in the US
The trial of Saddam Hussein and six other defendants was intended to be another demonstration that ‘normality’ and justice were returning. The special tribunal to try Saddam had been set up by the US in 2003. The US is also in charge of security for the trial and is paying for 50 lawyers and support staff from the US, Britain and Australia. Hoshar Zabari, the puppet foreign minister, admitted the trial had been delayed so long because of the difficulty in finding judges willing to risk their lives. Of the five judges eventually found to decide Saddam’s fate, at least two have never sat as judges before. There will be no jury. According to the conditions laid down for the trial, the standard of proof required to convict any of the defendants will be less than the international standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Two of the defending lawyers have been shot dead and a third wounded. Most of the remaining defence team has threatened to resign because of lack of protection. When the trial eventually opened on 19 October, between 30 and 40 witnesses failed to appear. Saddam is accused of the massacre of 145 people in Dujail in 1982, a time when he had the full support and backing of Britain and the US. The trial was promptly postponed until 28 November.

Ruling class divisions grow
An indication that sections of the US ruling class are now turning on President Bush was the passing of a resolution in November by the Senate calling for stricter regulations on the treatment and interrogation of prisoners there and in the international camps. The Senate ignored a plea from Vice President Dick Cheney that the CIA should be exempt from the regulations. The bill is likely to be vetoed by President Bush. Several senior Democrats who voted for the war in Iraq as well as ex-President Clinton are now saying the war was a mistake and claim they were misled by the administration. Lewis Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff, is presently standing trial for lying to an inquiry into the leaking of the identity of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame, whose husband Joseph Wilson had been a leading critic of the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ excuse for going to war. President Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove has been forced to resign and may also be indicted. 55% of the US population believe Bush intentionally misled the US public. 60% now believe the war was not worth fighting. President Bush’s overall popularity has hit a new low of just 37%.

Imperialist pressure on Iran and Syria
In an attempt to maintain an aggressive global posture and switch blame for the catastrophe in Iraq, the US and Britain are threatening Iran and Syria. At the beginning of October, President Bush denounced the countries as ‘outlaw regimes’ and ‘allies of convenience’ for the Iraqi resistance. A US official said ‘Syria had made the unwise choice of allowing its territory to be part of the Iraqi battlefield’. The US has made it clear they want President Bassar Al Assad replaced as leader of Syria, by a coup if necessary. They have threatened raids against Ba’athist supporters in Syria and have made several massive and bloody raids along the Iraqi border with Syria. A UN enquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, allegedly at the hands of Syrian agents, has been used to put further pressure on Syria. On 31 October the UN Security Council ordered the arrest of Syrian officials. The US wants to impose economic sanctions if Syria doesn’t comply. Significantly, the EU is less keen on sanctions and Russia and China both oppose the threat.

In September, Iran restarted the production of uranium hexafluoride, the first stage of a nuclear enrichment programme. The International Atomic Energy Authority condemned the move, paving the way for UN intervention. The US called for UN inspectors to be allowed into the country. Meanwhile, Britain claimed that sophisticated bombs using infra-red trip devices that had killed eight members of the British forces in the autumn had come from Iran. A report in The Independent, however, pointed out that the technology had been in international circulation for many years and that it originated from British security forces during a botched sting operation against the IRA. On 12 October, Britain accused Iran of running training camps for Shia resistance fighters. In the summer Britain had tried to blame four bomb blasts that killed eight people in Ahraz near the Iranian border on Iranian Arab extremists.

Imperialist troops pinned down and demoralised
Though they continue to deny it, any plan the imperialist occupiers might have had of replacing their troops with Iraqi puppet government forces is in complete disarray. The reality is that only one battalion of around 1,000 Iraqi soldiers is able to function without coalition support. Instead, the occupying forces rely on more than 20,000 private security personnel from abroad. There are supposedly 115 battalions in the Iraqi army with a total of 80,000 members. However, many of these are ‘ghost’ soldiers, listed by their corrupt officers in order to claim and then pocket their pay. The British Ministry of Defence admits the real strength of the Iraqi army is only around 40,000.

Morale among British troops is deteriorating rapidly. Commodore Toby Elliott, chief executive of Combat Stress, a military charity for soldiers suffering psychological problems, said the seemingly indefinite struggle in Iraq has created the greatest crisis of morale among British troops for decades. Soldiers are leaving the army early to try and escape flashbacks, nightmares and guilt. The army is about 10,000 troops short of required numbers. The Territorial Army has lost over 13,000 members since April 2003 and is now 6,000 below full strength. The main reason given for resignation was Iraq. RAF officer Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith said he was prepared to face gaol rather than serve in Iraq in a war he considers illegal. He is to be court-martialled for ‘refusing to obey a lawful command’. Captain Ken Masters, who was responsible for investigations into abuse, torture and murder by British troops, was found hanged in Basra Camp in October, having allegedly committed suicide. In the US, Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez is being tried for the murder of two superior officers using mines and grenades. In the Vietnam War such ‘fraggings’, as they were known, occurred frequently as soldiers became resentful at fighting an unpopular war.

By late autumn the number of attacks by the Iraqi resistance was averaging 570 a week compared with 470 between February and August. During the summer there were more than 100 attacks on British troops in the south of Iraq. By late November the number of US forces killed had risen to 2,100 with over 15,500 injured, almost half of whom did not return to duty. The number of British troops killed stood at 98. In the year to September 2005, 292 foreign contractors were killed in Iraq compared with 120 in the whole previous period since the invasion. The daily number of Iraqi casualties more than doubled in the six months from April 2005. Iraq Body Count says that since 1 May 2003, in reported incidents alone, between 27,000 and 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed by events that, according to international convention, were the responsibility of the occupying powers to prevent.

This is the horrific reality of life under imperialist occupation in Iraq, not the return to democracy and normality they would have us believe. The horror can only end when imperialist troops withdraw.