Tragedy and farce in Iraq

Cowboy hats, fur coats, fireworks, nine dress balls and sparkling wine celebrated the second inauguration of President Bush. The 55th presidential inauguration cost a record $40 million plus $17.3 million for security. To the singing of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ and invocations to ‘God and freedom’, Death rode out from the multitude. If anyone in Baghdad wanted to watch the proceedings on TV they were frustrated by power cuts. Trevor Rayne reports on the reality behind the window dressing of imperialism in Iraq.

The US and British governments present the 30 January elections for a national assembly as a step towards democracy for Iraq. They are not democratic nor do they transfer power from the occupation armies to the Iraqi people. The elections, devised by the occupation forces, are intended to confer legitimacy on the occupation, to consolidate an Iraqi political alliance willing to negotiate with and serve imperialism against the growing national resistance movement. If their outcome proves otherwise, this will be yet another stumble in imperialism’s collapsing Middle East strategy.

Interim government Prime Minister Allawi refused repeated requests from Shia, Sunni and Kurdish political parties and from his president to postpone the election for security reasons. He refused because the US government told him to. Three weeks before the elections the commander of US ground forces said that significant parts of four of Iraq’s 18 provinces were not secure enough to hold a vote. The Independent’s Robert Fisk points out that these four provinces contain half of Iraq’s population. The Daily Telegraph (17 January) reported: ‘Many people know next to nothing about the candidates, or even how they will be able to vote…Only a few leading politicians from each list have dared to identify themselves.’ Dozens of election officials resigned and 100,000 were still needed. Locations of many polling stations were to be kept secret until polling day. International observers stationed themselves in Amman, capital of Jordan.

With the US troop presence increased by 12,000 to 150,000 and the British contingent raised to 9,000, the elections took place in a battlefield where Iraqi deaths run at approximately 100 a week, which the occupying power refuses to count. On 22 January the interim government announced emergency powers, imposing a night-time curfew over the election period, bans on travel and use of cars, closure of Baghdad International airport and increased powers of arrest. Polling stations were to be ringed by consecutive circles of Iraqi police, then Iraqi troops and, where deemed necessary, an outer circle of occupation forces. No vote held under such conditions reflects the will of the Iraqi people.

The director of Iraq’s new intelligence services said, ‘I think the resistance is bigger than the US military. I think the resistance is more than 200,000 people’. This resistance now mounts an average of 70 attacks on the occupation forces each day. In November 135 US soldiers were killed, including 71 in Fallujah. A further 600 were wounded in Fallujah, this is a casualty rate of 10% of the US troops sent into the city – a proportion far higher than the US military has experienced in combat in recent years. On 7 December the US military admitted to its 1,000th death in combat. By 21 January this had risen to 1,070 dead. There are over 10,000 occupation troops in Baghdad. They seldom venture out from their bases. Over 1,000 Iraqi National Guard and 1,000 police have been killed. In January the governor of Baghdad and the deputy head of the city’s police were assassinated. The Iraqi forces, constructed by the occupiers, are hopelessly infiltrated. Whatever their different politics the resistance groups are backed by many Iraqis and whether the imperialists like it or not one of the newly elected body’s chief responsibilities (if only to itself and its survival) will be to negotiate with the resistance. It is scheduled to write a new constitution before 15 October and hold elections for a new government in December 2005.

Last year a Coalition Provisional Authority poll showed that 82% of Iraqis wanted the occupation forces out either immediately or after the January 2005 election. Most of the main parties say they want a timetable for the occupation forces’ withdrawal. The Sunni population will not vote; two of its organisations, the Muslim Scholars’ Association and the Iraqi Islamic Party, called for an electoral boycott in December. The two leading Kurdish parties, in an alliance for the election, expect to gain 75-85 of the 275 seats. Their main concern is to retain semi-autonomous powers and get a share of the oil reserves near Kirkuk and Mosul. The Kurdish parties are the main supporters of the occupation. Their militias are armed and trained by Israel.

In a proportional representation election based not on constituencies but on total share of the vote, the bulk of the seats will go to the Shi’ite Iraqi List led by Prime Minister Allawi and the United Iraqi Alliance endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Allawi’s slogan is ‘A strong leadership, a secure country’. His law and order platform combines with defence of Iraq’s borders against Syria and Iran and the prosecution of the Saddam Hussein regime officials. Allawi characterises his main Shia opponents as serving Syria and Iran. He unveiled his slate of candidates to a small audience of US security guards. At a press conference Allawi handed out $100 notes to invited journalists. The main parties of the United Iraqi Alliance are the Islamic Al Daawa, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the secular Iraqi National Congress led by Ahmed Chalabi. Their candidates reflect the traditional leadership of Shi’ite society: prominent tribal and religious figures. They say they oppose both the occupation and the armed resistance. It can be expected that they will seek to enshrine religious codes in law, for example those governing women. Followers of Moqtada Al Sadr, whose Mahdi militia fought US and British troops last year, are on the United Iraqi Alliance list. The leader of SCIRI is Abdul Aziz Al Hakim who spent most of the past 20 years in Iran which trained and armed the Badr Brigade that Al Hakim leads. Allawi’s defence minister called United Iraqi Alliance ‘an Iranian list’. King Abdullah of Jordan joined in, accusing Iran of infiltrating one million people into Iraq to vote.

Bush administration neo-conservatives had a plan for Iraq based on the ‘Lewis Doctrine’, named after Bernard Lewis, historian of the Middle East. This imagined a westernised polity imposed from above, much in the manner of Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey. This is proving to be a complete folly of strategic thinking driven by ideological prejudice.

Time for a rethink
In so far as they have a withdrawal strategy the occupation forces intend to replace themselves with reliable Iraqi forces, while retaining a military presence to ensure that US and British multinational corporations control Iraq’s and the Middle East’s oil. As yet 120,000 Iraqi troops out of a target 273,000 have been trained and many are unreliable. Before his departure from office the US Secretary of State Powell said of US troop numbers in Iraq, ‘It is not possible right now to say that by the end of 2005 we’ll be down to such and such a number. It really is dependent on the situation’. When asked by President Bush how the war was going, Powell is quoted as responding ‘We’re losing’. Bush asked Powell to leave.

Presidential inaugurations and flag waving cannot long hide the dismal reality of the US and British positions in Iraq. In December the Pentagon said that over 5,500 US soldiers had deserted since the war started. Some have gone to Canada seeking refugee status, just as in the generation before 55,000 crossed the border rather than go to Vietnam. Part-time soldiers of the US National Guard comprise 40% of the US contingent in Iraq. National Guard recruitment is down. In December the US National Guard announced it was tripling bonuses for new recruits and soldiers re-enlisting after it was revealed that it had fallen 10,000 below its standard strength of 350,000. The general at the head of US reserves said current deployment policies meant his units were ‘rapidly degenerating into a broken force’. Extended tours of duty are sapping morale. Only minor punishments were imposed on 18 US soldiers who disobeyed orders to drive unarmoured fuel tankers in October. In this context the revelation that Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld had letters of condolence to fallen soldiers’ families signed by auto-pen caused outrage. The US military intends to add robots armed with machine guns to its occupation army.

According to Newsweek magazine the US is rethinking military tactics in Iraq. ‘What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are. We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now we are playing defence. And we are losing’, observed a senior US military officer. Under consideration is ‘the Salvador option’. This refers to the use of death squads in Central America 20 years ago, supposedly to target resistance leaders. In El Salvador over 80,000 people were killed or disappeared and one million made refugees out of a population of 5.5 million. The Salvador option would result in similar population liquidation exercises on the scale of Fallujah all across Iraq.

British rotten apples
On 18 January, during the court martial of three members of the British Royal Regiment of Fusiliers for assault and indecent conduct, photographs of abuse of Iraqi prisoners were published. The photographs were taken several months before the events at Abu Ghraib were recorded. Torture conforms to the needs of an occupation force in alien and antagonistic territory. Labour Prime Minister Blair condemned the photographs as ‘shocking and appalling’. Chief of the British Army General Jackson ‘utterly condemned’ the abuse. Foreign Secretary Straw said the photographs were ‘disgusting and degrading…but this kind of activity was confined to a tiny handful of British soldiers’. Leader of the Opposition Howard said the photographs in ‘no way reflect the true character of Britain’s armed forces’. Liberal Democrat Kennedy lamented that circulation of the photographs would ‘increase the dangers for our troops’.

This ‘few rotten apples in the barrel’ line is nonsense. As is the way with apples and barrels, a few bad apples suggest the whole barrel is contaminated. Precisely because the British armed forces have a long history of imperialist ventures into other peoples’ territories they have a long history of the use of torture. The malleability of human beings in the service of racism and imperialism is exhaustively demonstrated across the former British colonies and Ireland. The almost identical sadistic humiliation of prisoners at Britain’s Camp Bread Basket with those at Abu Ghraib, forced use of public nakedness and simulated homosexual acts, indicates cultural and psychological profiling of men in Arab culture. The purpose is to find the most precise way of causing maximum psychological pain thereby extracting information from the captive as efficiently as possible. It is publishing the photographs that the military sees as a crime. Consequently, soldiers are being ordered by their officers to hand over all personal photographs taken in Iraq. A British high court has accepted evidence obtained through torture by another country, thereby endorsing torture as a legitimate means of gathering information and evidence.

On 20 January a bomb attack 20 miles south of Basra injured nine British soldiers and several Iraqi civilians. It was claimed as a reprisal for the British torture of ‘our brothers in prison’. The British Ministry of Defence state that the number of British troops flown home from Iraq with serious injuries is nearly 800. A quarter of the British Army in Iraq is drawn from the Territorial Army. 11,000 Territorial Army soldiers have served in Iraq. In January Territorial Army Lance Corporal George Solomon refused to serve in Iraq, condemning the war as ‘bankrupt, unjust and immoral’. He said that up to half of Territorial Army soldiers do not agree with the war.

For the US people the war on Iraq is costing over $1 billion a week, plus the pain of having sons and daughters killed and maimed and the loss of democratic rights. For the US ruling class the war threatens its international credibility as the unrivalled global power and US dominion over world oil supplies. It faces a choice, whether to reduce its military commitment with the minimum loss of credibility or whether to escalate with the risk of a greater defeat. The needs of US capital dictate that it must contend with and subdue rival imperialist powers and overcome any political threat to its domination. Any withdrawal from Iraq would only result in greater US bellicosity elsewhere until the US ruling class is challenged both without and within the US. For now there are serious misgivings about the Bush administration within the US state. The CIA and FBI are responsible for leaking information about the government’s encouragement of torture at Guantanamo and in Iraq, and the role of Zionists acting as spies within the US administration.

In Britain the Labour Party and government think that they can put the massive anti-war demonstration and sentiment behind them and win a spring election comfortably. They must be challenged and the war must be made the electoral issue – this is an opportunity to break with Labour imperialism once and for all.

Target Tehran

As US military convoys sped around Iraq’s capital in April 2003 car bumper stickers appeared in the US: Boys go to Baghdad, men to Tehran. Seymour Hersh’s report in The New Yorker suggests the men may get their chance yet. A former senior intelligence officer told Hersh, ‘The Bush administration is looking at this as a huge war zone. Next we’re going to have the Iranian campaign. We’ve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah. We’ve got four years, and we want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism’. Hersh was told that US special forces are already in Iran targeting sites for air strikes and commando raids. Vice President Cheney has elevated Iran, one of the original ‘axis of evil’, to ‘the top of the list’. The Pentagon did not deny the claim that US soldiers were inside Iran.

Iran is thought to be three years away from being able to produce a nuclear bomb. A nuclear-armed Iran is ‘unacceptable’ to the US government and Israel. Iran has 70 million people, nearly triple the number of Iraq. It is predominantly Shia and can exercise influence over Iraq’s Shia people as well as the Shia population of Saudi Arabia, whose territory contains large oil reserves. Iran itself has 8% of the world’s oil reserves and gas reserves second only to Russia’s. 40% of the world’s traded oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz that Iran can block. Iran borders or is close to Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Russia, Pakistan, India, Turkey, and the Caspian Basin: it is strategically critical for Central Asia. Tehran supports groups in the Middle East that the US and British governments consider as terrorists.
Inside the US the same people who drew up the Helms-Burton Act against Cuba and the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, stipulating regime change, propose an Iran Freedom and Support Act, with the backing of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. These reactionaries want to restore the monarchy, under the ousted Shah’s son who lives in Virginia. Britain, France and Germany are seeking to lure the Iranian government away from its nuclear programme with offers of trade benefits. Foreign Secretary Straw said in November, ‘I don’t see any circumstances in which military action would be justified against Iran, full stop’. No doubt his Prime Minister will remind the Foreign Secretary that circumstances can change unexpectedly.


The November attack on Fallujah will symbolise the brutality of the occupying army and the servility of the interim government. The US claims to have killed 1,200 ‘insurgents’ in Fallujah for the loss of 71 of its own soldiers. No figures for civilian casualties are given – nobody counts them. When the attacking forces captured the hospital they tied up all the doctors and confiscated their mobile phones to prevent them communicating with anyone. At Christmas one of the few eyewitnesses to report from Fallujah said the city was ‘completely devastated…I did not see a single building that was functioning’. He saw bodies rotting, being eaten by rabid dogs.

There are over 210,000 refugees from the city. Any citizen that returns must pass through one of five gates where they are biometrically catalogued with fingerprints, retina scans and DNA samples. Every person must wear an identity badge at all times. Young men may have to do forced labour: construction, waterworks, rubble clearing. Cars are forbidden. Returning residents complain that money and valuables have been stolen. Eight weeks after the assault began US planes continued to bomb Fallujah. Many resistance fighters withdrew from the city on 17 November, having at one point cut the invading army’s supply chain.

FRFI 183 February / March 2005


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