Iraq and Afghanistan Imperialists wage low intensity war

FRFI 174 August / September 2003

‘The United States has a strategy based on arithmetic. They question the computers, add and subtract, extract square roots, and then go into action. But arithmetical strategy doesn’t work here. If it did they would have already exterminated us. With their planes, for example. Of course they thought they could bring us to heel by dumping billions (of tonnes) of explosives on us. Because as I told you they figure everything in billions, billions of dollars. They don’t reckon on the spirit of a people fighting for what they know is right, to save their country from invaders.’
Vietnamese General Giap, 1969

‘The captive Iraqi boy who was asked why he fought so overwhelming a foe merely muttered: “It’s my country’’. The answer was worth a dozen Tomahawks.’

The Times, 23 March 2003.

It was three months from ‘shock and awe’ to an indefinite extension of US troops’ term of stay in Iraq. The lightning strike has given way to low intensity war. US and British technological superiority is replaced by ‘low tech’ urban guerrilla war. Satellite and computer information systems remain relatively ineffective when Iraqi intelligence is passed from house to house and family to family. Trevor Rayne reports.

The scale of US and British weaponry and the speed of its deployment, combining overwhelming force and precision timing, quickly dispersed their targets in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US and British armies occupied territories when the digital battles were won. Whatever happened on the digital battlefield, resistance on the ground continues. The US and International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) presence in Afghanistan is down to 11,000 soldiers, many of whom are based in Kabul. The rest of the country has reverted to regional warlord control and the Taliban and Al Qaida have regrouped. In Iraq 145,000 US and 11,000 British troops are under daily attack. When Prime Minister Blair visited British soldiers in Basra on 29 May his reception was described as ‘eerily silent’. Foreign Secretary Straw’s planned armoured motorcade into Baghdad on 2 July was abandoned in favour of a helicopter gun-ship for security reasons. The US and British governments have asked over 30 countries for help with patrolling Iraq. The usual answer is ‘No, thank you’. Iraqi resistance attacks are increasing as US and British troop morale falls and soldiers get homesick.

The US and British ruling classes can live with this for as long as they are achieving their objectives and domestic political opposition is contained. For the US ruling class the prime objective was to move, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, to assert regional and global domination over potential rivals. It intends to do this by controlling oil supplies and transport routes and establishing military bases and political power from the Middle East to the borders of China. It further seeks profits from Iraqi oil and control over the Iraqi and Middle Eastern economies. For the British ruling class the alliance with the US allows it to ‘punch above its weight’ in the world compared to France, Germany and Japan. It does this in order to increase its share of the global plunder.

Thus far the US and British ruling classes are relatively satisfied with their achievements; they have their bases and Iraqi oil. The stakes are high and they are in this for the long haul. Nevertheless, the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan prevents them from securing their positions. They never had any intention of significant investment in Afghanistan but they sought a subdued region and now face organised and armed opposition in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They were greedy for Iraqi oil and privatised Iraqi assets; now these projects cannot proceed amid growing armed resistance.

In the US and Britain the growing toll on the occupation forces in Iraq adds to anxieties over the consequences of the strategy of global domination. US Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy described US soldiers ‘serving as policemen in what seems to be a shooting gallery.’ In the lands of the sound bite people are liable to become impatient when their President and Prime Minister warn of wars going on for years to come. Already the US government is spending $3.9 billion a month in Iraq, about twice what was anticipated. The US budget deficit is soaring to $455 billion and welfare spending at home is being cut.

Most of the soldiers who do the fighting are from the working classes. For young African-American males the army offers a better chance of education and training than any other institution. African-Americans aged between 18 and 24 years make up 14% of this age group in the USA, but almost 22% of the military. It was the revolt of African-Americans against a system that both sent them to Vietnam and racially oppressed them at home, combined with the resistance of the Vietnamese people, which finally forced the US out of Vietnam. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is a Vietnam militarily or politically. There is no popular communist leadership, there are no Soviet or Chinese allies to supply the resistance, but the Iraqi and Afghan people recognise the illegal and predatory motives of the occupiers: a spectre is forming in the brains of the US and British warmongers. That is why now is precisely the time for us to mobilise and demand the withdrawal of all British troops from Iraq and the Middle East.

No exit from Iraq
By the start of July, 25 Coalition troops, including six British soldiers, had been killed since President Bush declared the main combat over on 1 May. On 2 July Bush said, ‘My answer is bring them on. We’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.’ By 26 July, 48 Coalition troops had been killed by snipers, mortar bombs, rocket-propelled grenades etc. Bush was under-estimating the enemy. US soldiers are bein picked off at a rate of one a day. During June three oil pipelines were successfully attacked, exposing the limitations of the occupation forces and striking at the heart of the imperialists’ plans. Baghdad airport, occupied by US forces, is under nightly sniper fire.

The British Army has turned to its experience in the north of Ireland to guide its operations in Iraq. Early in the occupation of southern Iraq Lieutenant-Colonel Howes, commanding officer of the Royal Marines’ 42 Commando, said, ‘Ultimately you have to have men on the ground. We have 30 years’ experience in doing this’. The second most senior police officer in the occupied north of Ireland has been drafted in to train an Iraqi police force. The media presentation of a supposedly subtle British policing operation will fool no one. On 24 June six British military policemen were killed and at least five Iraqis with them at Majar al-Kabir. Later that same day eight British soldiers were injured, three seriously, when a patrol south of Majar was ambushed and a helicopter sent to help them was fired on. Previously British troops had raided homes in Majar accompanied by dogs. They kicked down doors, searching for weapons, a child was struck with a rifle butt and a pregnant woman was shot. The British soldiers shot an ambulance driver coming to help the injured.

In one week in mid-June US troops claimed to have killed over 100 guerrillas. On 14-15 June 4,000 US soldiers raided Thuluiya, a village north of Baghdad, and took over 400 prisoners. In Falluja US soldiers have shot dead more than 20 Iraqi civilians and lost three of their own troops. US soldiers have been conducting Israeli-style punitive demolitions of the family homes of those allegedly fighting the occupation forces. Both the US and British forces study and learn from the Israeli army’s occupation of Palestine. At the beginning of July the British Ministry of Defence admitted it had no idea what had happened to 4,000 Iraqi captives the British Army handed over to US forces.

Alongside the customary brutality of the ‘counter-insurgency operations’, the occupation forces are seeking to cultivate a reliable network of Iraqis willing to assist the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the US and British military. Its function is nothing to do with bringing democracy to Iraq and everything to do with trying to isolate the resistance, inform on it and bring legitimacy to the occupation. In Falluja and elsewhere the US has resorted to offering contracts and money to clan leaders and sheiks. On 22 July, Uday and Qusay Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein’s sons, were killed in an overwhelming display of US firepower. No prisoners were taken and their bodies were put on display, as befits a barbaric war. In July the CPA set up a governing council consisting mainly of representatives of organisations associated with the US and Britain before the occupation. It is formally subordinate to the US- and British-led CPA. Any authority it obtains will correspond to the extent that it conforms with US and British governments’ wishes.

Large scale development of Iraq’s oil will cost over $40 billion and require the likes of Exxon, Shell and BP. However, these companies have delayed sending representatives into Iraq because of the security situation. Citibank and the HSBC bank are lining up to restructure the banking system and the British company De La Rue’s share prices rose 9% on news that it would print Iraq’s new money. At the moment the main British beneficiaries from Iraq are the private security firms hired to protect the CPA’s Iraqi allies.

Twenty months ago when the Taliban were evicted from Kabul the US and British governments said they would ‘not forget’ Afghanistan this time. This time would be unlike a decade earlier when, together with their allies, they forced the Soviet Army out and let an assortment of cut-throats rule the country until the Taliban gained control. This June the Afghan finance minister visited Prime Minister Blair to issue a reminder: the money needed to rebuild the country was running out and a further $15 billion was needed. He said, ‘the international community has given us the lowest amount of per capita assistance of any post-conflict country’. Afghanistan was promised $5 billion in 2002 but has received only $1.8 billion so far. President Karzai threatened to resign unless regional warlords paid more money to the central government.

With elections scheduled for next year the interim government could not claim one major infrastructure repair project undertaken since the Taliban’s removal. The US has now agreed to increase its support for the repair of the Kandahar to Kabul road. However, US aid is planned to fall from $1 billion in 2002 to $321 million in 2004. Afghanistan’s economy has returned to dependence on opium production and in June a bumper harvest was recorded: up ten-fold since the last year of the Taliban in 2001.

Central government in Kabul remains weak and US spending is divided between it and the regional warlords who helped the US and British forces evict the Taliban. Between them the warlords can muster 100,000 armed men while the central government has an emerging 5,000 strong National Army.

The Taliban have regrouped in southern and eastern Afghanistan. In early June 49 people were killed in a gun battle near Kandahar between Taliban and pro-government militia. On 7 June a ‘suicide bomber’, thought to be Al Qaida killed four German soldiers and wounded 25 others in Kabul. Attacks on ISAF troops are increasing, including on British soldiers. Two Norwegian soldiers were shot and wounded, a hand grenade was thrown into the British military headquarters in Kabul. A remote control bomb exploded close to a Dutch soldier. As Foreign Minister Straw visited Kabul on 30 June, rockets were fired into the city of Jalalabad and a bomb injured 16 worshippers in a mosque in Kandahar.

US forces are making little headway against the Taliban and Al Qaida remaining in Afghanistan nor against those stationed across the border in Pakistan. Mullah Omar and Bin Laden continue to elude their pursuers. Saddam Hussein, for the moment, remains at large. The mounting toll of dead soldiers exposes the folly of imperialism and its project to rule the world. The US ruling class and its willing Labour government ally wade on into the mire. Wherever they tread resistance rises up. At the moment of its greatest might this great beast, this behemoth, has feet of clay.


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