No peace in Iraq /FRFI 226 Apr/May 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 226 April/May 2012

Violence continues to sweep across the supposedly ‘secure’ Iraq that US forces left in December. By the beginning of February 434 Iraqis had been killed. On 24 February at least 60 more were killed when Sunni groups attacked Iraqi security forces. 25 Iraqi police were shot in Haditha on 6 March and 13 people died in explosions in Tal Afar two days later. Iraqi legislators have passed a bill to buy 350 armoured vehicles for their own use.

The violence stems from Prime Minister Al Maliki’s attempts to suppress the mainly Sunni Iraqiya opposition. Although Iraqiya has ended its boycott of parliament, Iraqi Vice-President Tariq Al Hashemi remains in hiding in the Kurdish north after being charged by Al Maliki for running death squads. Iraqiya MP Haidar Al Mulla has also been threatened with prosecution for questioning the independence of the judiciary and accusing Al Maliki of trying to quash any criticism of his rule.

Behind this apparently internal dispute lie the interests of the US and regional powers. Ayad Allawi, the leader of Iraqiya, is a long-time CIA asset and was the imperialists’ choice as interim prime minister in 2004. Turkey and Saudi Arabia funded Iraqiya’s election campaign in 2010. They want a greater say for Iraqiya and for Allawi to oversee the main security ministries. All are concerned that the predominantly Shia administration in Iraq will allow Iran greater influence in the country. Turkey also does not want an independent Kurdish state established in the north. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan accused Al Maliki of encouraging violence against Sunnis, saying, ‘It is impossible for us to remain silent.’ According to a US government spokesman, the US wishes to negotiate ‘broad defence ties to Iraq, similar to American relationships with other nations in the Gulf’. The US already has 40,000 troops in the Gulf, including 25,000 in neighbouring Kuwait, together with a naval base in Bahrain and access to several air bases. The US intends to use drones to oversee its huge embassy in Baghdad and assist regional security officers with mission planning and execution – in other words, to spy on Iran.

Al Maliki has signalled that he will not side directly with Iran. However, he opposes the use of US drones. One member of Al Maliki’s government said, ‘If they are afraid about their diplomats being attacked in Iraq, then they can take them out of the country.’

Jim Craven

US troops leave Iraq in turmoil / FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 225 February/March 2012

When President Bush and his allies in the British Labour government launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 they did so with the deception that the Saddam regime possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links to Al Qaeda. They suggested that the troops would be welcomed as liberators, that they would have to stay for only six months and that Iraq would become a beacon of democracy for the Middle East. The number of troops involved was estimated at 100,000 and the total cost at around $2 billion. Over eight years later, some 1.5 million US troops have served in Iraq and direct spending by the US Department of Defence is an estimated $757.8 billion. Over 4,800 US, British and other coalition troops have been killed. JIM CRAVEN reports.

The most conservative estimate for the number of Iraqis killed since the invasion is 127,000. But as far back as June 2006 the medical journal The Lancet estimated over 600,000 and by August 2007 Opinion Research Business calculated 1,033,000 Iraqis had been killed. Two million Iraqis fled abroad and a further 1.5 million are displaced within their country. Most cannot return because their homes have been destroyed or because their neighbourhoods have been overrun by sectarianism: sectarianism encouraged by the imperialist forces in order to subdue Iraqi resistance to their occupation. Nearly half a million internal refugees now live in squalid temporary accommodation. Overall, only 30% of Iraqi homes have access to public sanitation. 79% rate their power supply ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ – restricted to a few hours per day at best. Unemployment is between 25% and 40%.

Strategic defeat

The resistance of the Iraqi people means the US has failed in its primary objectives of securing Iraq as a compliant base in the Middle East and in controlling Iraqi oil. This is a major blow to its strategy of using military power to maintain US global domination. As such, it is also a blow to Britain, which protects its own imperialist interests by riding on the back of US military power and whose troops had to get out of Iraq even earlier.

When the US withdrew the last of its combat troops from Iraq on 15 December, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told them ‘your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people begin a new chapter in history’ and that they had made ‘the country sovereign and independent and able to govern and secure itself’. The ceremony, just 48 minutes long, was held behind high fortified walls. No Iraqi representatives attended. President Obama told troops at Fort Bragg, ‘We are leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.’ Vice-President Joe Biden even claimed that the US had won the war, but then he also claimed credit for building a hospital in Baku, which happens to be in Azerbaijan, not Iraq.

Within a week of US forces leaving a ‘secure’ Iraq, 72 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in a series of 16 bomb attacks and the ‘stable’ government was in turmoil. Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki issued a warrant for the arrest of Vice-President Tareq Al Hashemi, claiming he had been involved in an attempt to assassinate Al Maliki earlier in December. The ‘evidence’ had been extracted from Al Hashemi’s bodyguards, almost certainly under torture. Al Maliki also called for a vote of no confidence in his deputy Saleh Al Mutlaq. Both Al Hashemi and Al Mutlaq are members of the mainly Sunni Iraqiya Party, while Al Maliki, from the Dawa Party, is from the Shia majority. Al Mutlaq accused Al Maliki of being a dictator. Al Maliki is not only Prime Minister but acting Minister of Defence, Minister of the Interior and Minister of National Security. As such, he controls the one-million-strong national army, police and border guards and has personally appointed all army divisional commanders on a provisional basis.

In December, Al Maliki had 600 Sunnis arrested, including soldiers and police, accusing them of plotting to overthrow the government. Al Hashemi, who remained in the Kurdish north to avoid arrest, said, ‘Many of Saddam’s behaviours are now being exercised by Al Maliki. The judicial system is in his pocket.’ Al Mutlaq described Al Maliki as ‘worse than Saddam Hussein’. The Iraqiya Party withdrew from Parliament. There were demonstrations in the Sunni areas of Samarra, Ramadi and Qain in support of Al Hashemi, reports that Sunni militias were re-arming and of Sunni leaders sending their families to safety away from Baghdad. Al Hashemi announced, ‘All the efforts that have been exerted to reach national reconciliation and to unite Iraq are now gone.’ On 5 January, a further series of bombs in Baghdad and Karbala, again against mainly Shia targets, killed more than 70 people. The Iraqi government blamed the explosions on Al Qaeda. The strengthening of Al Qaeda in Iraq – not its removal – is another legacy of the imperialist invasion.

This is not to say that full scale civil war is imminent. The ruling classes of all the communities may be competing for the spoils but they share a common interest in maintaining sufficient stability to benefit from Iraqi oil and to prevent any popular democratic uprisings. Corruption is rife. Much of the government revenue is spent on salaries and pensions for those connected to the ruling parties. Officials have transferred state funds to ‘shell’ companies set up abroad and many hold two passports in case they need to escape Iraq.

US threat to region

In a further attempt to obscure reality, spokesmen for the Obama administration referred to the withdrawal as ‘re-posturing’. Ironically, there is some truth in this, for the US cannot afford to give up on Iraq as part of its strategic plans. It had hoped to keep 20,000 to 30,000 troops stationed there. As it is, the US will continue to maintain the world’s largest embassy, covering over 40 hectares, in Baghdad. Among its 16,000 inhabitants will be over 800 US military personnel and Pentagon contractors to help train and equip Iraqi forces; 5,500 armed mercenaries; the biggest CIA station outside the US and members of the Joint Special Operations Command pretending to be civilians. In addition the US will have 25,000 troops over the border in Kuwait and thousands more in Turkey, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, as well as naval flotillas in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. Al Maliki has announced that he wants to buy more US F-16 fighters.

The first Gulf War began with a US aerial attack on Iraqi forces on 17 January 1991. Since then some 4.6 million Iraqis have died as a result of war and up to 6 million have been made refugees or displaced from their homes, in a country of 30 million people. This is the scale of imperialism’s crime in Iraq.

War criminals escape justice

24 unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed in Haditha by US marines in November 2005. Children were shot at point-blank range in their homes. Eight marines were charged – charges against seven were dropped. The last accused was sentenced to 90 days’ confinement, but will not go to prison because of a pre-trial agreement.

War for global domination

FRFI 172 April / May 2003

The US/British Coalition war on Iraq has immense consequences not only for the countries involved, the invaders and the invaded, and the neighbouring countries in the Middle East, but also for the rest of the world. This war is a watershed, marking the complete disintegration of the old world order which subsisted from the Second World War onwards. This war initiates the new century that the US has marked down as its own: this is its opening bid for global domination. The British ruling class, under the leadership of its most committed imperialists, the Labour government, is no poodle, but a greedy partner in this enterprise. The Coalition strategy is both a war for oil and for stamping its authority on future world relations. We should be clear, however, that while the US may want to claim ‘a new American century’, and Britain may demand its share, the seeds of their own destruction have already been sown. Alongside wars come revolutions.

The Coalition war began on 19 March after months of diplomatic manoeuvring, strong-arm tactics, and behind the scenes, the remorseless movement of troops and war materiel to the region around Iraq. US Joint Chief of Staff, General Tommy Franks, promised ‘this will be a campaign unlike any other in history’, comprised of ‘shock, surprise, flexibility and overwhelming force’. ‘S, G and A’, he said, adopting the style of an advertising executive, ‘special forces, ground attack and air bombardment, in that order.’ Hundreds of journalists were ‘embedded’ with Coalition forces, ready to be drip-fed information favourable to the invaders. As if as a warning, a crew of ITN journalists travelling independently, were wiped out by Coalition ‘friendly fire’ in the first days of the war.

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Iraq’s oil and Labour lies / FRFI 221 Jun/Jul 2011

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 221 June/July 2011

On 22 May the last British troops left Iraq when 81 Royal Navy trainers left the southern port of Umm Qasr. That same day there were at least ten bomb attacks across the country. Foreign Secretary Hague declared that the allies had left Iraq ‘a much better place than we found it’. In 2010 the death toll from attacks in Iraq was 4,038 or 11 a day. So far this year 1,200 Iraqis have been killed in attacks. 179 British military personnel were killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Iraq’s dead run into hundreds of thousands.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq was primarily about maintaining US strategic domination in the area. However, an important secondary consideration was undoubtedly the exploitation of Iraq’s vast oil reserves. In March 2003 Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair described the ‘oil conspiracy theory’ as ‘the most absurd’ and British oil companies Shell and BP denied they had any strategic interest in Iraq.

Government documents obtained by The Independent, however, reveal that Labour ministers and government officials were planning for British oil companies to take part in the carve up of Iraqi oil several months before the invasion, at a time when Blair was still pretending that Saddam Hussein could stay in power if he co-operated with UN weapons inspectors.

Foreign Office Middle East Director Edward Chaplin wrote in October 2002, ‘Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake (in Iraq) for the sake of their long-term future...we were determined to get a fair share of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.’ In November 2002, the Foreign Office invited BP to talks about oil opportunities ‘post regime change’ and later commented, ‘BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.’ Trade minister Baroness Symons told BP that the Labour government believed British firms should be given a share of Iraq’s oil and gas as a reward for Blair’s commitment to US plans and promised to lobby the Bush administration. In 2004, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who as ambassador to the UN had argued for the invasion and who was later Britain’s special representative to Iraq, took a post as special adviser to BP. He met with the interim Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, to lobby for BP’s involvement.

Now, after the slaughter of over a million Iraqi people, the dispersal and ethnic cleansing of millions more and the destruction of the country’s infrastructure, the oil companies have that reward. BP holds a 38% stake in the Rumaila oil field, Iraq’s largest, where output could reach 3% of the world’s total within five years. Shell holds part of the second largest field, West Qurna 1, and the Majnoon field on the border with Iran.

Iraq has the world’s third largest oil reserves and has ambitious plans to expand production. Its target of 12 million barrels per day by 2016 is not considered feasible by most experts, but even with half that amount Iraq would overtake Iran as the world’s second biggest producer. It could undercut the price of oil, to the benefit of the imperialist and industrialised countries, but affect other OPEC producers and the balance of power in the region.

Meanwhile, the US plans to continue its occupation of Iraq in order to maintain its authority over the region and its oil. It wants Iraqi Prime Minister Al Maliki to sign a new agreement allowing some 10,000 to 16,000 US troops to remain. Al Maliki has already agreed to negotiations on ‘future co-operation with the US in the field of arming and training’ and US Admiral Mullen has further highlighted Iraq’s need for an adequate air force and intelligence facilities. Some Iraqi politicians are opposed and supporters of Moqtada Al Sadr have held demonstrations against the US’s continuing presence, but Al Maliki and the Iraqi military are thought to be in favour.

Jim Craven

Bin Laden killing signals US military intentions / FRFI 221 June/July 2011

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 221 June/July 2011

As the crisis of capitalism deepens, the US must become ever more determined in defence of its global hegemony. The killing of Osama Bin Laden on 2 May 2011 was a calculated act to demonstrate that the US will use its military power wherever and whenever necessary, regardless of international law and national sovereignty. As President Obama boasted in his ‘victory’ speech, ‘Tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history.’ Jim Craven reports.

Since Obama took office, air attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan launched against the (professed) wishes of their governments, and certainly against the wishes of the people, have increased dramatically. According to the Brookings Institute, ten civilians have been killed for every militant victim. In the past two years special forces operations have multiplied six-fold and now average 20 attacks every night. Their rules of engagement allow soldiers to kill ‘enemy combatants’ even if they are unarmed and present no visible threat. Hundreds of innocent men, women and children have been slaughtered.

Gary Leupp, of Tufts University, has written about what he calls the Israelification of US policy, ‘Present yourself as the victim of the world – never ask why you’re hated or what you’ve done to deserve such loathing – and wrap yourself in self-righteousness. Assert your right to lash out at any foes regardless of international law. Engage in pre-emptive strikes. Send attack squads to foreign countries to assassinate your enemies.’ He might have added ‘detain without trial and torture those who get in your way and prepare a police state to control protest at home’. Leupp, though, has inverted the process. US policy is not the outcome of a degenerate morality. It is determined by the political necessities of exploiting the whole world in order to sustain capital accumulation. The subjective justification follows from this.

US Attorney General Eric Holder described the shooting of unarmed Bin Laden in the head and chest as ‘an act of national self-defence’ and, though Bin Laden offered no resistance, said ‘his killing was appropriate’ because ‘there was no indication that he wanted to [surrender]’. Leon Panetta, head of the CIA, agreed with US journalists that torture (what Panetta described as ‘enhanced interrogation methods’) had facilitated the discovery and killing of Bin Laden.

Pakistan in dispute

For some time, the US has been frustrated by Pakistan’s refusal to launch further attacks against Afghan Taliban bases in North Waziristan. The US knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts since at least August 2010. One of the reasons they chose to attack the compound when they did was to demonstrate to Pakistan their willingness to act unilaterally within the country. A US administration official boasted, ‘I think we showed them the other options. You can no longer hold us out. This isn’t simply firing drones into the hills of Waziristan – we’re going after the snakes in the grass.’

Throughout April, relations between the two countries had deteriorated rapidly. Pakistan demanded that the CIA curtail drone attacks, cease using the Shamsi base in Baluchistan and withdraw CIA contractors. US chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen accused the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of links with the Haqqani militant network. Talks between ISI chief General Shuja Pasha and Leon Panetta broke up prematurely. General Kayani, head of the Pakistan military, suggested relations were at breaking point. Most galling to the US was a meeting held by Kayani, Shuja Pasha and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Gilani with Afghanistan’s President Karzai at which they suggested Afghanistan should have a long-term strategic relationship with Pakistan and China, not the US. Gilani told Karzai, ‘The Americans have failed us both... Forget about allowing a long-term US presence in your country.’ Later, in mid-May, Pakistan’s President Zardari made a three day official visit to Russia to discuss trade and security and Gilani visited China. Both Russia and China also want Pakistan to have full membership of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, which was created to counter US influence in the region.

The rhetoric of Pakistan’s leaders cannot be taken at face value. Much of it is aimed at subduing hostility among the Pakistani people, a large majority of whom oppose the US ‘war on terror’. Even as the Pakistan government and military were expressing their outrage at the US operation to kill Bin Laden, Gilani was reassuring them that, ‘We have a strategic partnership that we believe is in our mutual interest.’ Last year the Pakistani ruling class benefitted from over $4 billion in US military and economic aid. Its chief concern is that its interests are being disregarded by the US, which has shown preferential treatment to rival India and has so far refused to engage in meaningful peace talks with the Taliban. Many of the Pakistani elite regard Afghanistan as a strategic rearguard in any dispute with India, and the Afghan Taliban as a conduit for pursuing their interests.

Afghanistan ‘surge’ in retreat

Most of the countries in the coalition occupying Afghanistan want early peace talks. A Wikileaks document reported EU President Herman Van Rompuy saying last year, ‘No-one believes in Afghanistan any more. We will give it 2010 to see results.’ Britain is to pull out 400 troops by February 2012, against the advice of military chiefs.

Plans for Afghanistan’s own army and police to take over responsibility for security from occupying forces by 2014 were shaken by another series of incidents in April when security was easily breached by anti-occupation forces. Several US/NATO and Afghan personnel were killed, including Haji Khan Mojayed, the Kandahar police chief. These incidents were followed by the escape of nearly 500 anti-occupation fighters from the supposedly high-security Sarpoza prison. Such was the confusion following the escape that a US soldier told Time magazine, ‘Basically, there’s an order out to arrest anyone walking around barefoot.’ Local resident Islamullah Bashir, commented, ‘How can we trust or rely on a government that can’t protect the police chief inside his headquarters and can’t keep prisoners in the prison?’

In 2008, a US State Department cable now released by Wikileaks, hoped for ‘a rising tide of chaos and violence, caused by increase in NATO operations’ that would increase civilian casualties and turn the Afghan people against the anti-occupation fighters. Civilian casualties did indeed rise by 15% in the following two years but they served only to harden the opposition of the Afghan people. A survey by the International Council on Security and Development found almost 90% opposed US operations and more than 50% said their attitudes had become more negative in the past year. In May, up to 15,000 people chanting ‘Death to America’ attacked the NATO Reconstruction Team base at Taloqan with grenades, Molotov cocktails and rocks following another special forces raid in which civilians were killed. Security forces killed at least 12 of the demonstrators in what was previously considered one of the most stable parts of the country.

The imperialists are again expecting a bloody summer. However, there are signs that the US administration may be putting more emphasis on negotiations for a settlement. General Petraeus, Admiral Mullen and Defence Secretary Robert Gates are all moving post, leaving only Hilary Clinton from the main group that favoured an intensified military surge. At the same time, President Obama wants to cut $400 billion from the defence budget over the next 12 years. The war in Afghanistan is costing $100 billion a year. He may sketch out a revised strategy in July and Taliban representatives may be invited to a conference in Germany planned for December.

None of this means the imperialists have any intention of giving up on Afghanistan. President Karzai wants a strategic agreement with the US to retain between two and six military bases in the country after 2014. The US will stay. As former US Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski once wrote, ‘Eurasia is the chessboard for global supremacy...[the US must] prevent the emergence of a dominant antagonistic Eurasian power.’