Iraq – bloody legacy of the occupation / FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

One year on from the withdrawal of imperialist troops, the Iraq they occupied for over eight years remains divided and torn apart by violence. Iraq Body Count recorded over 5,000 Iraqis killed in 2012 and concluded, ‘The country remains in a state of low-level war. Little has changed since 2009.’

In late October and November, at least 110 people, mainly Shia, were killed in a series of bombings in Baghdad. In December, thousands of Sunnis took to the streets in Ramadhi to protest against the Shia-dominated government. The protests followed the arrest of 10 bodyguards of the Sunni finance minister Rafia Al Issawi during a raid on his office. The Sunni deputy prime minister, Tariq Al Hashemi, is still in exile in Turkey after fleeing for his life last year. At a rally, Al Issawi claimed, ‘Injustice, marginalisation, discrimination and double standards, as well as the politicisation of the judicial system and a lack of respect for partnership, law and constitution...have all turned our neighbourhoods in Baghdad into huge prisons surrounded by concrete blocks.’ Shia Prime Minister Nouri Al Malaki threatened to use force against the demonstrators. Days later a car bomb in Musayyib killed at least 27 Shia pilgrims. Maria Fantappie, an Iraq expert with the International Crisis Group, said, ‘December has completely shaken the political scene. We are at this moment in a kind of tornado.’ Abdulazziz Sager, head of the Gulf Research Centre said, ‘If the demonstrators decide to defend themselves with guns this could easily lead to a civil war.’

In the north, the Kurdish regional government (KRG) is pushing ahead with independent oil production in defiance of the national government in Baghdad. The Kurds have signed nearly 50 contracts with foreign oil companies, including Chevron, Total, Exxon and the Russian Gazprom. The Exxon contract was particularly contentious because the oil field lies in a disputed area. The Iraqi national government retaliated by withholding payment for Kurdish oil sold through them and by massing troops on the Kurdish border. When Iraqi troops arrested a Kurdish merchant for ‘illegally’ selling oil in November, fighting broke out between the government forces and the Kurdish peshmerga militia in Tuz Khormatu.

The following month, explosions in the Shia district of the town killed five people, while a truck bomb near Mosul killed seven. Sami Al Ashari, an Iraqi MP said, ‘We don’t want war but we will go to war for oil and Iraqi sovereignty. The Prime Minister has been clear, if Exxon lays a finger on this territory, they will face the Iraqi army.’ An Iraqi army officer confirmed that if oil companies begin work in disputed areas ‘it’s a declaration of war’. The US government has taken no action to curtail Exxon’s activities. It is inconceivable that the US would allow one of its most important multinationals to be attacked. Retaliatory action, perhaps in the form of support for the KRG, would give the US an opportunity to reassert its power in the region. The Kurds are not backing off. In January, they began trucking oil directly to Turkey and have plans to build their own pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

More revelations of torture

More details of torture by British forces are coming to light as their Iraqi victims pursue prosecution and compensation claims. In December, Dr Derek Keilloh, former medical officer in the 1st Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, was struck off the register for failing to protect Baha Mousa and others being tortured. One soldier has already been prosecuted for Baha Mousa’s murder. 19 other soldiers, including officers and the regimental padre, are being investigated. Over 130 other Iraqis, who claim they were tortured, say they were examined by doctors who failed to take action against their torturers. Paul Shiner, lawyer for Baha Mousa’s family, said these doctors ‘had best start to instruct their lawyers’. The Al Sweady inquiry into allegations of torture and murder following the so-called Battle of Danny Boy in 2004 is to question more than 500 troops.

The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) has identified more than 100 former and serving members of the armed forces to be interviewed concerning the torture and abuse of Iraqi civilians. That number is expected to rise significantly. However, Louise Thomas, a former WREN and police officer, has resigned from IHAT, saying the investigations are ‘little more than whitewash’. She recalls IHAT members making comments such as ‘who cares, they’re terrorists’ and ‘they’re only bombers’. Lawyers for Iraqi complainants agree, saying IHAT includes members of the military police and answers to officials at the Ministry of Defence. After two years of investigations, no charges have been made. Louise Thomas said she had seen around 1,600 videos showing Iraqis being tortured at three secret interrogation centres near Basra. Prisoners were threatened with rape, hanging and starvation; were beaten, left naked and dragged around assault courses by their thumbs. When a prisoner cried out in pain, Thomas recalls, his torturer responded with, ‘Good, I’m fucking glad. I hope you die. I hope your kids die.’

Jim Craven

Iraq - Britain’s torture policy – Jan 2013

Baha Mousa

On 29 January, the statements of nearly 200 Iraqis will go before a judicial review hearing at the High Court in London in a case intended to show that Britain deliberately pursued a policy of systematic torture and abuse during its occupation of Iraq between 2003 and 2008.

Read more ...

Iraqi people resist oil theft /FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012

In August Iraq overtook Iran as the second largest oil producer in OPEC. It had not been in this position since the 1980s. Although the result reflects the dwindling sales from Iran because of the international sanctions, Iraqi production has nevertheless increased to more than three million barrels per day (mbpd) in recent months. This follows the signing of major contracts with international oil companies between late 2008 and early 2010 to develop a dozen oil fields. The companies include Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Total, Russian Lukoil and the Chinese CNPC. In addition, Total, Exxon Mobil and Russian Gazprom signed deals with the Kurdish regional government. The Iraqi government has a target to produce 12 mbpd by 2017 (more than Saudi Arabia), though a more realistic estimate would be 4.5 mbpd because of the lack of pipeline infrastructure. The oil companies, however, are being paid per barrel produced regardless of whether or not they meet government targets. This is far more profitable than simply being paid for the services they provide, although oil drilling contractors are receiving above rate fees from the Iraqi government.

On the face of it, the oil multinationals have achieved a major stake in Iraqi oil, one of the main aims of the imperialist war on Iraq. However, this would be to ignore the strength of the Iraqi people. One of the reasons the imperialist occupiers wanted to impose the fiasco of ‘democratic elections’ on Iraq, and then impose a settlement when those elections ended in prolonged stalemate, was because the big oil companies were refusing to invest in Iraq without a ‘legitimate’ government to authorise their fraud. But when the relevant legislation finally came before the Iraqi parliament, there was such determined opposition by the Iraqi people to the theft of their national assets that most Iraqi politicians were forced to join the opposition for the sake of their own electoral skins. That legislation has never been passed. The contracts signed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki are illegal and may fail if his corrupt and dictatorial government falls. Also, the contracts awarded by the Kurdish regional government fall outside their jurisdiction. They have been transferring their own (up to 25%) stake to private companies and smuggling oil abroad.

Much of the people’s opposition to the international oil deals has been led by the oil workers’ unions. At the beginning of the imperialist occupation, the Coalition Provisional Authority refused to rescind Saddam Hussein’s law prohibiting unions and collective bargaining in the public sector, which comprised 80% of the Iraqi economy. Al Maliki has continued Saddam Hussein’s oppression. Oil union treasuries and offices have been seized; Iraqi troops have been mobilised against strikers and key union leaders have been arrested and prosecuted. Two years ago, Al Maliki ordered a crackdown on the electrical workers’ union. Recently, he ordered local oilfield managers to stop informal bargaining with unions. The resistance continues.

A further problem for the multinationals is the continuing rise in attacks by Sunni groups attempting to reclaim areas they lost in the sectarian battles that had been encouraged by the imperialist forces as a means of dividing opposition to their occupation. Early this year, the oil pipeline from Kirkuk into Turkey was damaged by two bombs. In July, the Sunni group ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ (ISI) launched at least 30 attacks in 18 towns and cities, mainly against state security forces, government buildings and Shia areas. Another wave of attacks followed in August, killing more than 120 people. ISI leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi said ‘We are starting a new stage. The first priority in this is releasing Muslim prisoners everywhere, and chasing and eliminating judges and investigators and their guards’.

The rise of ISI and other Al Qaeda inspired groups in Yemen and parts of Africa demonstrates once again the false nature of the imperialists’ so-called war on terror.

Jim Craven

Afghan misery continues: imperialist plans in disarray /FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012

A UN-backed survey has found that around one million Afghan children under the age of five are malnourished. In southern provinces such as Helmand and Kandahar, where the war is at its fiercest, almost 30% of children suffer acute malnutrition (30% is one of the official bench marks for declaring a famine). Afghanistan is now bottom of the UN development programme poverty index. It has the world’s third worst infant mortality rates. Nine million Afghans (36% of the population) live in absolute poverty, with a similar number living just above the threshold. Less than a quarter of the Afghan people have regular access to safe water. At the same time, a super-rich elite, sponging off the spoils of war, live in grand mansions and drive around in luxury cars. As of 16 September 2012, 430 British soldiers have been killed for this. JIM CRAVEN reports.

Heroin production has doubled since 2001. In 2005, nine tons were found in the office of Mohammed Akhundzada, an ally of President Karzai, who later joined the Afghan senate. In 2006, heroin was found in the car of Haji Zahar Qadir, whom Karzai was considering to be head of the border police and who is now one of the leaders in the lower house of parliament. More than 40% of the foreign aid supposedly meant for the Afghan people goes back to the western bank accounts of these criminals. Bashir Sarwari, head of the Afghan mental health department, believes half the population suffers psychological problems because of the war conditions under which they are forced to live. Recent symptoms of widespread ‘poisoning’ among school children proved to be cases of mass hysteria brought on by stress. This is the reality after 11 years of a war and occupation that the Afghan people were told would bring them peace, prosperity and democracy.

One in three of the world’s refugees are from Afghanistan – three million in all. Although the camps in Pakistan, where many of them live, have little or no basic resources, most refugees prefer them to life in Afghanistan. Only around 40,000 have taken up the UN repatriation programme this year. The Pakistan government, however, is threatening to cancel their refugee status next year. Life expectancy in Afghanistan, at 48.6 years, is the fifth lowest in the world. It is one of only five countries where women’s life expectancy is lower than men’s. More than three-quarters of Afghans over 15 years of age are illiterate (the proportion of women is much worse). The Thomas Reuters Foundation regards Afghanistan as the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman. Last year 88 girls committed suicide by self-immolation rather than suffer a forced marriage. Maternal mortality rates are the second highest in the world. It is legal for men to beat and rape their wives. A new law being promoted by President Karzai will make it illegal for Afghan women to go out without a male or to be in the same workplace as men. He wants women to stay at home when possible and not even be shown on TV in the same room as men. So much for liberating women from the Taliban.

Occupation forces digging in

Although the US and Britain claim to be pulling out most of their combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, they have no intention of ending the war or the occupation. A strategic agreement between the US and Afghan governments will allow the US to keep around 20,000 troops, special forces and trainers in the country until 2025, as well as maintaining control of air power. Britain will keep up to 200 special forces in Afghanistan, together with 90 officers to run an elite training academy for Afghan officers. In fact, the US is continuing to expand its military facilities. It is presently building an intelligence centre for drone warfare and a special operations centre at Kandahar airfield and there are seven contracts in the pipeline for a planned ten-year development at Bagram air base. The US is also building a logistics hub at Camp Marmal on the Uzbekistan/Tajikistan border.

Expanding the war chest

Since coming to power, President Obama has authorised the bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Pakistan, including over 330 drone attacks on the latter, which have killed over 3,000 people. Proposed US military expenditure for 2013 is $912 billion, almost a quarter of the total US budget. Not to be outdone, Obama’s presidential rival Mitt Romney has proposed more naval vessels, bigger ground forces and an extra $2 trillion on the military budget over the next ten years. Unable to even dream of such destructive power, the British ruling class clings on to the coat tails of the US in order to promote its own global imperialist interests.

US/British plans to maintain a grip on the strategically important Afghanistan, however, face severe problems. Despite spending over $50 billion, there is little sign that the Afghan national army and police will be capable of taking over the bulk of security by 2014. Anti-occupation forces have been able to penetrate security and carry out attacks on army, police and government bases with comparative ease. In August, the Taliban claimed to have shot down a NATO Black Hawk helicopter carrying seven US and four Afghan special-ops soldiers. A week later the plane being used by head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey was hit by shrapnel from two Taliban rockets fired at Bagram Air Base.

On 14 September, 19 Taliban breached the supposedly impregnable Camp Bastion to kill two US marines and destroy five aircraft. This camp in central Helmand province is the size of Reading, and ‘completely isolated’. The Taliban said they were targeting British Prince Harry. Several British airmen were wounded.

There has been a dramatic rise in the frequency of ‘green on blue’ attacks where members of the Afghan national forces have turned their weapons on the occupying forces. By the middle of August there had been 32 such attacks this year, resulting in 40 deaths. This compares with 21 attacks and 35 deaths last year. The situation has become so dangerous that the US have implemented the so-called Guardian Angel programme, using armed US soldiers to guard colleagues from their Afghan ‘allies’. Among the incidents this year: a 15-year-old tea boy killed three US soldiers, a 60-year-old farmer killed two special force trainers at an inauguration ceremony for his village security force and an Afghan police officer killed three marine special operatives after inviting them to a meal. Such actions indicate an underlying hostility among many Afghans working alongside the occupation forces. It is the most visible outcome of a much wider antipathy bred by the hated night-time raids, the killing of civilians, the indiscriminate arrests of young men and the total disrespect for Afghan customs. It was recently announced that no action would be taken against either the three US marines who urinated on the bodies of dead Afghan fighters, or against the six US soldiers responsible for the burning of copies of the Koran at Bagram base.

Dwindling support

The handover of some security operations to Afghan national forces also relies on the continuing support of other nations. At a meeting in Chicago in May, NATO countries agreed to contribute around $5 billion a year to the Afghan security budget until 2024, together with payment for troops that remain and other aid projects. However, support remains fragile. New Zealand has followed France and South Korea and decided to pull its troops out earlier than planned. A majority of people in most countries are opposed to continuing the war and occupation. 60% of registered voters in the US believe the country should no longer be involved in Afghanistan. Under these circumstances, and with the ongoing capitalist recession, many governments may be forced to withdraw their support. The imperialists’ plans for the long-term occupation of Afghanistan could well unravel.

Iraqi ‘dictatorship’ / FRFI 227 June/July 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

Among the many excuses made by the imperialists for their war on Iraq were the removal of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of democracy. As Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki consolidates his power, many in the country believe one dictator has been replaced by another. Kurdish journalist Zakia Al Mazouri, persistently threatened by Al Maliki’s regime, said, ‘This government that came now is not better than the old one. There is no real democracy.’

Following the disputed elections of March 2010, Al Maliki took personal control of the interior and defence ministries. He also created a new post for himself as Commander-in-Chief, from which he was able to fill senior posts in the military with his own supporters. Maysoon Al Damliyi, an MP for the mainly Sunni Iraqiya Party, said, ‘He [Al Maliki] controls the budget; he’s controlling the military, internal security, defence, intelligence. He’s controlling the judicial authorities; he’s controlling the media; he broke the constitution several times. What can you call him, if not a dictator?’ Iyad Allawi and Moqtada Al Sadr, leaders of two other groups in the Iraqi parliament, have threatened a vote of no confidence unless the government stops its ‘autocratic decision making’.

In December, Al Maliki issued an arrest warrant for Vice-President Tareq Al Hashemi, accusing him of running Sunni death squads. Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Al Mutlaq and finance minister Rafie Al Issawi, were also threatened with arrest and there were mass arrests of former Sunni members of the Ba’ath Party. Al Hashemi fled to the Kurdish region of Iraq and later sought sanctuary in Turkey. He claims that three of his body guards who were arrested at the same time have since been tortured to death.

To strengthen his international credibility, Al Maliki hosted a conference of the Arab League in March: the first time the organisation has met in Iraq since 1990. In May, international talks on Iran’s nuclear programme were held there. Although having close ties with Iran (he visited the country in April and has plans for a gas pipeline from Iran to Syria to pass through Iraq), Al Maliki has maintained US support. However, in May, a Baghdad court released Musa Daqduq, a Hezbollah liaison officer accused of assisting the Shia League of Righteousness and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in killing US soldiers and kidnapping and executing western contractors. Daqduq was transferred from US to Iraqi custody when US forces left the country in December 2011 as a gesture of co-operation between Obama and Al Maliki. His release has inflamed the US administration. Al Maliki would do well to remember that Saddam Hussein was also once a trusted US ally.

Jim Craven