IRAQI resistance forces coalition retreat

FRFI 177 February / March 2004

With the US and British occupation forces in danger of losing their most valuable political assets in Iraq, Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), was flown back to Washington on 15 January. The previously quiescent Shia population of the south had taken to the streets demanding elections that the CPA did not intend to give them. The dominant Kurdish political parties of the north, military allies of the US and Britain, demanded a degree of autonomy from the rest of Iraq also unacceptable to the occupiers. As the resistance war continues to claim its daily toll of coalition soldiers’ lives, the US and British governments are groping for a political solution before they are engulfed in a greater conflagration they cannot win. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

‘Ladies and gentlemen – we got him.’ So announced Paul Bremer after the capture of Saddam Hussein on 13 December. The US Pentagon claimed that the capture led directly to the arrest of over 200 people. Thirty Iraqi civilians were killed in suicide attacks within a day of Bremer’s triumphal announcement. US troops killed over 40 Iraqi civilians in the four days following the capture. In captivity and at large Saddam Hussein was of use to the US and British states. His capture was used to justify the invasion and as a means for increased repression.

Christmas and New Year
Whatever rewards the coalition authorities thought Saddam Hussein’s captivity might bring them, they did not arrive. Four US soldiers were killed in the 24 hours up to mid-day Christmas Day. Twenty coalition troops were killed over five days starting from 24 December, including two Thai engineers and four Bulgarian soldiers. On 25 December rockets were fired at the CPA chief’s palace and there was a mortar attack on the Sheraton hotel, used by occupation authority staff and US businessmen. The medical director of Baghdad’s mortuary told Robert Fisk that up to 20 Iraqis, mostly the victims of violence, were delivered on the morning of 25 December.

By January approximately 10,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed since the war was launched on 20 March 2003. In December the CPA is reported to have told the Iraqi health ministry to stop collecting statistics on civilian deaths. Almost nine months after the US and British forces claimed victory, many areas of Baghdad still have just six hours of electricity a day and petrol queues stretch for three miles.

On New Year’s Day US troops broke into a Sunni mosque in Baghdad. They smashed down the front gate, broke air conditioners, ripped up carpets, threw Korans to the floor, smashed open the metal collection box and took the money inside along with the mosque’s computers. US soldiers allegedly punched the man leading the call to prayer in the face. They said they were looking for weapons. Also on New Year’s Day two British SAS soldiers were killed in Baghdad, bringing the total of British troops killed since the start of the conflict
to 55.

Putting on a brave face
Prime Minister Blair’s seven-hour New Year visit to Iraq was almost three times as long as President Bush’s visit for Thanksgiving. Blair told the assembled troops that they were ‘new pioneers of 21st century soldiering’ and that ‘the conflict here was of enormous importance because Iraq was a test case.’ The assembly received this promise of wars to come politely. It is essential to US and British imperialist ambitions that they are seen to be succeeding in Iraq – failure would seriously harm if not destroy their aim for global domination.

The capture of Saddam Hussein provided a context in which the US and British ruling class could hide reality behind celebration. The Wall Street Journal used its end of year review to promote the cause of wars:

‘For the vast majority of Iraqis, their lives and prospects are infinitely better…The Ba’athist and jihadi die-hards will have to be killed…The invasion and its aftermath have gone far in purging the ghosts of Beirut and Mogadishu…As destructive as they are, the truck bombs in Iraq are only strategically notable because this time they are not driving the US home…Even amid the worst of the casualty reports in November, some 60% of Americans said the war was worth fighting.’

94 US troops were killed in November. With some relief US forces announced that attacks on them had fallen by half in December. Separately they said that the number of US army patrols had been cut from 1,500 a day in November to 500 a day in December. So who might claim to be winning? 24 US soldiers were killed in combat in December and 33 in the month to 29 January. The final January toll exceeds the number of US killed in combat for every month except November since 1 May 2003 when Bush declared the war over and won. By 17 January the US had lost 500 soldiers since 20 March 2003 and 2,895 were seriously wounded. Of these totals, 138 were killed and 550 injured up to 1 May 2003. About ten US soldiers are wounded every day.

Nearly 7,000 US soldiers have had to be evacuated from Iraq, many with psychological problems. At least 21 have committed suicide in Iraq, one in seven of non-hostile deaths. More than 300 Iraqi policemen working for the CPA have been killed since 1 May. The Iraqi resistance is fighting a guerrilla war of attrition. The US government and its Wall Street backers must fear that like Vietnam it will first erode support for the war in the US, and then trigger an avalanche of opposition.

Israeli guidance
Responding to the intensity of attacks in November the US forces launched Operation Iron Hammer using 2,000-pound bombs and missiles on built up areas for the first time since April 2003. A US commander repeated a phrase of British Field Marshal Viscount Slim who led the British forces against Japan in Burma, saying the US military would ‘use a sledgehammer to crush a walnut’. US tactics have included those typical of the Saddam Hussein regime: destruction of plantations, arrest of the wives of wanted men – to be used as bargaining tools. Elements of the Ba’athist intelligence services are being incorporated into the occupation administration.

Israeli Defence Force staff are training US special forces in assassination squads and Israeli military ‘consultants’ have visited Iraq. Methods used against the Palestinians are employed in Iraq. Areas deemed centres of resistance are sealed off with razor wire, buildings are flattened, as are roadsides. One US officer likened the tactics to putting the population in a goldfish bowl and peering in – presumably then to unleash the assassination squad. The occupation forces use collective punishments as the Israeli forces do in Palestine.

On 13 January a third US helicopter was shot down in two weeks. The US responded by shooting three men in a car and an elderly woman. Iraqi people complain that the US is using its firepower randomly to retaliate against attacks thereby killing Iraqis arbitrarily. Random slaughter is what US soldiers did in Vietnam. The US and British governments are refusing to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency monitors into Iraq to test for uranium contamination. Radiation related illnesses and deaths from the US and British depleted uranium shells are rising. Journalist John Pilger estimates deaths and injuries to young children from unexploded cluster bombs at 1,000 a month.

Afraid of democracy

For all their talk of liberating Iraq the prospect of a free self-governing Iraqi people is what the US and British states cannot abide. They intend to repress the organised expressions of the mass of Iraqi people and encourage those elements willing to connive in imperialism’s continuing domination of Iraq.

According to Iraq’s Union of the Unemployed 70% of the workforce are unemployed and hungry and many are now homeless. On 19 September the CPA published Order Number 39 permitting 100% foreign ownership of business apart from oil and allowing the transfer abroad of profits made in Iraq. This is the context in which the resistance fights and mass demonstrations take place. The demand for democracy and self-determination is a demand for jobs and food and an end to imperialist plunder of Iraq.

In December Southern Oil Company trade unionists declared their workplace ‘no-go zones’ for Halliburton. They banned all Kellogg, Browne and Root (a Halliburton subsidiary) representatives and foreign workers from entering their sites. Iraqi workers threw out Indian and Pakistani workers hired by Kuwaiti sub-contractors. They have succeeded in repairing oil refinery and pumping stations.

The CPA accepts as law the 1987 Ba’athist statute forbidding workers in state-owned institutions from forming independent trade unions. Ba’athist unions were intended as instruments of surveillance and repression. In early December US troops raided the offices of the Transport and Communications Union in Baghdad, home of the Workers’ Federation of Trade Unions. Eight members of the Federation’s executive were taken into detention. The CPA gave no explanation for the arrests. The eight were released the following day. Two other trade unionists, members of the Union of the Unemployed, had been arrested in November. They had helped organise protests demanding jobs and unemployment benefits. Federation leader Muhsen Mull Ali, who spent two long prison stretches under Saddam Hussein for organising unions, said ‘our responsibility is to oppose privatisation as much as possible, and fight for the welfare of our workers’. That is a crime in occupied Iraq.

US and British strategy in Iraq seeks to engage as many sections of society as it can in their political process, isolate opposition and use allies to target and eliminate it. To this end, in January, the US released over 500 of the 9,500 prisoners it holds in Iraq. The intention is to draw local and clan leaders towards the stooge Governing Council and boost support for the coalition’s constitutional plans.

The coalition plan, unveiled in November after Bremer’s previous hasty return to Washington, is to use the Governing Council, selected by the US and Britain, to hold 18 regional caucuses which would pick national assembly members, who would again in turn select a government. That body would be the formal government after 30 June 2004. The CPA would dissolve and the occupation end. However, the new government would invite the outside armies to stay on in Iraq. If all goes according to plan, elections for a new Iraqi government would take place on 31 December 2005. As the second most senior Shia cleric wrote to Bush and Blair in mid-January: ‘Your plan for the transfer of powers is vague and too complicated. It is nothing other than replacing one dictatorship with another to serve your own re-election goals.’

60% of Iraqi people are described as Shia Muslims, 20% Sunni Muslims and 17% are Kurds. Using regional caucuses the occupying powers intend to control the outcomes of the political process. On 15 January tens of thousands of supporters of the leading Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani marched in Basra supporting his call for direct elections to the national assembly to then serve as the interim government after 30 June. Earlier in the week in the predominantly Shia town of Kut demonstrators demanding jobs had been fired on, killing one and wounding three. On 10 January in the Shia town of Amarah British troops and Iraqi police killed six people who were part of a demonstration for jobs. The British army acknowledged one or two deaths attributable to its soldiers. A British military offer to pay the family of Baha Mousa compensation of $8,000 for British soldiers beating him to death was rejected by the family. The letter containing the offer said acceptance would be a ‘final settlement…without admission of liability’ on behalf of British forces (The Independent on Sunday). Attacks on the occupation forces in the Shia south east of Iraq doubled between August and December. Bremer and his British allies can see the writing on the wall for the occupation.

Any concessions made to the Shia clerics are likely to be at the expense of the ambitions of the Kurdish leadership. The Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) want to retain autonomy within Iraq, control over natural resources and a veto over troop movements in the Kurdish region. The KDP and PUK want control over the oil-rich Kirkuk area. The CPA and the Turkic peoples who live among the Kurds reject these proposals. For the Arab and Turkic peoples, demands for democracy can be used as a means of restoring majority rule over the Kurds and Kirkuk. Among the Kurds there is a movement for a referendum on the future status of their region.

Confronted by rival claims from Kurds, Sunni and Shia populations the occupation forces may calculate that the bourgeois Kurdish leadership will be compliant and seek a price acceptable to the Shia religious leadership. At the behest of the US and British governments, the United Nations (UN) has sent a small team to Iraq to investigate whether it is safe enough to send a team of experts to assess the possibility of holding elections. The occupiers believe that a judgement from the UN against the possibility of elections will be more acceptable to the Shia religious leadership than their own edict.

Whatever deals the occupation powers manage they will not meet the people’s demands for work and control of their own industries and resources. They may have captured the original, but they will be seeking another Saddam Hussein in all but name.


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