Iraq: Demonstrations rock government / FRFI 220 April/May 2011

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 220 April/May 2011

Anti-government demonstrations were held in dozens of towns and cities across Iraq during February and continued into March. Thousands of people took to the streets and occupied buildings, demanding better services, clean water and electricity, more jobs and the dismissal of corrupt politicians and officials.

In Suleimaniyah in the Kurdish north, nine people were killed and 47 injured when the local militia fired on a crowd of more than 3,000 besieging the headquarters of Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party. Iraqi security forces also had to defend the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which is led by Iraqi president Jalal Talabani. Protests continued every day, causing the local government to impose a night time curfew. In Kut three people were killed in clashes with police while demonstrating against the US occupation and Iraqi Prime Minister Al Maliki. In Basra hundreds of protestors erected tents outside government buildings, while in Fallujah demonstrators carried banners reading, ‘No for sectarianism, yes for unity, down with Al Maliki’s government.’ In Sadr City, the poor working class area of Baghdad, posters read, ‘We voted for you, where are your promises?’ The Iraqi army tried to force demonstrators to leave Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and established checkpoints to identify protesters.

These early demonstrations led to the call for ‘A Day of Rage’ on 25 February. Clearly worried by developments, the Iraqi Speaker, Osama Al Nujaifi suspended parliament for a week, saying MPs should visit their constituencies. Al Maliki announced he was taking a 50% pay cut and delaying the purchase of 18 US jets to provide food for the poor. He tried to blame the protests on ‘Saddamists, terrorists and Al Qaida’. Ayatollah Ali Sistani, leader of one of the main Shia parties, also used scare tactics to deter the protesters. Moqtada Al Sadr, the Shia leader who once implacably opposed both the occupation and Al Maliki’s government, called for the demonstrations to be postponed for six months, saying participation would justify a crackdown. Just a week earlier he had called on a million of his supporters to join the protests. Moqtada now spends most of his time in Iran. Zaid Al Ali, a UN legal advisor, said the Shia leaders’ opposition to the demonstrations, ‘was a huge break for Al Maliki. There is a lot of fear among politicians in Iraq about what is going to happen’.

On the Day of Rage Al Maliki ordered a traffic ban in Baghdad, Mosul and Samarra. The Iraqi army tried to lock-down Baghdad and the airport was closed. Nevertheless, around 5,000 demonstrators marched from Tahrir Square to the Green Zone where Iraqi government and US offices are protected by high security. The police attacked demonstrators and tried to intimidate them with helicopters. Demonstrations took place in at least 16 other cities. Altogether, 29 protestors were killed.

Over the next few days Iraqi police raided journalists’ offices, closed an independent radio station and detained 300 leading intellectuals involved in the protests. The offices of the Iraqi Communist Party and the Iraqi Nation Party were closed down.

Prime Minister Al Maliki is increasingly seizing personal power. He can now place his own nominees in control of the central bank and many other agencies. A report by Human Rights Watch said, ‘Eight years after the invasion, life is actually getting worse for women and minorities. Forced marriages, forced prostitution, domestic and sexual abuse have all risen sharply in the years since the invasion. The US still routinely transfers prisoners to Iraqi detention knowing they are likely to be tortured.’ Salam Al Segar, one of the demonstrators said, ‘Al Maliki is starting to act like Saddam, to use the same fear, to plant it inside Iraqis who criticise him.’ Far from the ‘modern democratic state’ it promised, the imperialist occupation has wrought greater corruption and oppression.

Jim Craven

Victory to the Iraqi people!

Afghan people resist occupation / FRFI 219 Feb/Mar 2011

FRFI 219 February / March 2011

Reviewing the war on Afghanistan in December 2010, President Obama claimed that US/NATO troops had arrested and reversed the Taliban’s momentum. The US military claimed it had killed over 1,260 Taliban leaders and fighters and captured 2,360 in the previous three months. Since July 2010, when General Petraeus took command of US and NATO forces, there has been a 300% increase in special forces’ night-time raids. In Kabul, the CIA now has its biggest foreign station since the Viet Nam war, with a private army of 3,000. The number of bombs and missiles launched by the occupying forces increased by almost 50% last year. One US official proclaimed, ‘We’ve taken the gloves off, and it’s had a huge impact.’ JIM CRAVEN reports.

This assessment was for public consumption, given that 60% of the US population does not believe the war is worth fighting and there is a majority against the war in all 49 countries that make up the occupying coalition. Brian Katulis of the Centre for American Progress said, ‘A big part of the whole exercise in terms of strategic communications has been to reconstruct the narrative.’

Attacks by the anti-occupation forces increased by 66% last year. 711 members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were killed compared with 521 in 2009. The advances claimed by US troops in Kandahar were due largely to the withdrawal of anti-occupation forces. As Antonio Giustozzi, an expert in the Afghan insurgency at the London School of Economics, commented: ‘The fact that the Taliban refused engagement is not good. They seem to have left behind cadres who can challenge ISAF’s control from underground.’ Obama’s review admitted that the gains were ‘fragile and reversible’. Meanwhile, anti-occupation fighters have opened new fronts in the north and west of the country. A report from 16 US intelligence agencies in December 2010 said that large parts of Afghanistan were in danger of falling to the Taliban.

Occupation brings suffering

The US army manual on counter-insurgency, co-authored by General Petraeus, states that only one-fifth of the task is military. The rest is political: building a form of governance that is competent and popular enough to deny sufficient support for the insurgency to survive. In Obama’s terms they need to ‘win hearts and minds’ to make any military gains ‘durable and sustainable’. But, with the racist contempt for the local population that characterises all imperialist invasions, the occupiers imposed their rule through a gang of self-seeking criminals who are detested by the Afghan people. ‘US support for a corrupt regime is part of the foundations on which insecurity rests’, said one Afghan MP. A report from the Chatham House think tank stated: ‘US reliance on corrupt and abusive warlords, rigged elections and the use of state by top officials to enrich themselves ... [is leading to] ... political marginalisation and support for the Taliban.’ The report concluded, ‘Military operations would have little point if nothing was done to improve the abusive administration driving much of the insurgency.’ But having put their puppets in place, the imperialists are unable to always make them dance to their tune. US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry has said that Afghan President Karzai is ‘unable to grasp the most rudimentary principles of state building’. Karzai reportedly told General Petraeus, ‘If I had to choose sides today, I’d choose the Taliban.’

Since 2001, the US has provided $52 billion of aid to Afghanistan, two-thirds of which was diverted for security purposes. Much of the remainder has been creamed off by crooked contractors and their overlords. Scrutiny of development projects has been weak. In some isolated areas, photographs are forged to illustrate non-existent projects. An Afghan minister said, ‘The ISAF effort is a complete failure. When I meet with US Provincial Reconstruction Teams they think they know better than the Afghan people.’

Nine million Afghans live in poverty and a further five million live on less than $2 a day. The Famine Early Warning Network has warned that half the Afghan population is not getting enough to eat. A UN report in December 2010 stated that Afghan women still suffer horrendous abuse. In November, OXFAM reported that: ‘Security for the vast majority of Afghans is rapidly deteriorating. It is likely that increased violence in 2011 will lead to more civilian casualties.’ Far from ‘winning hearts and minds’, the occupying forces are distrusted, even hated. As Yama Torabi of Integrity Watch pointed out, ‘Villagers don’t forgive the US army for killing their sons just because it has built a road or a bridge.’ According to a BBC/ABC poll in December, over half the population want foreigners to begin withdrawing by June 2011 and, in areas where the fighting is most intense, the proportion approving attacks on the occupying forces has more than tripled to 40%.

More killing in Pakistan

Another major problem for the imperialist strategy is that anti-occupation fighters are able to find refuge and support over the border in northwest Pakistan. Bill Harris, former top diplomat in Kandahar, pointed out, ‘We’re on a bullet train to failure in Afghanistan if we try to fight the war to any kind of conclusion with Pakistan sanctuaries open.’ Last year the US more than doubled the number of missile strikes from Predator drones in the area. It has special forces and Xe Services (Blackwater) mercenaries operating in Pakistan and more than 300 CIA operatives on the border. It is also threatening to send in its own troops and to bomb other areas such as Baluchistan on the Iranian border. The attacks are supposedly aimed at Taliban leaders but the victims are often Pakistani villagers. Last year around 1,000 civilians were killed. The Conflict Management Centre said, ‘The assassination campaign is turning out to be a revenge campaign.’ The Pakistan government pays lip service to the massive popular resentment in the country but, as the WikiLeaks documents revealed, Prime Minister Gilani told the US government, ‘We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.’

There are, however, powerful sections of the Pakistan ruling class and military who regard Afghanistan as a strategic rearguard against India and consider the Afghan Taliban as allies. At present, they are refusing to attack Taliban bases in North Waziristan despite US pressure and offers of aid if Pakistan complies. WikiLeaks revealed that Ambassador to Pakistan Ann Patterson told the US government: ‘There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance... as sufficient compensation for abandoning support for these groups in Pakistan.’ General Kayani, chief of the Pakistan army, warned that, should any pro-India government emerge in Afghanistan, ‘The Pakistan establishment will dramatically increase support for Taliban groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan as an important counterweight.’

Permanent war

Despite being unable to win the war, the US cannot afford to lose it. Afghanistan is an important strategic base and provides access to the oil and gas reserves of the Caspian Basin. In December, President Karzai signed a treaty to resume construction of the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan as an alternative to supplies through Russia and Iran. US forces are due to begin leaving this summer, but that will be a token withdrawal. Afghan security forces are supposed to take over the lead role by the end of 2014. But Obama’s review made it clear that the US would still ‘support Afghanistan’s development and security as a strategic partner’ and have ‘a long-term commitment to training and advising Afghan forces’. A new HQ for US special operations has been built and Baghram air base, which already houses 20,000 troops, is being extended. In 2007, Admiral William Fallon told Congress that Baghram would become ‘the centrepiece for future access to and operations in Central Asia’. In January, leading Republican Senator Lindsay Graham called for permanent bases in Afghanistan, saying, with breathtaking arrogance: ‘I think it would be enormously beneficial to the region as well as Afghanistan. If the Afghan people want this relationship they are going to have to earn it.’

The dilemma of ‘can’t win – can’t lose’ faced by the US in Afghanistan is not simply the result of a confused and contradictory strategy. The war, like that in Iraq, is being fought to maintain US global hegemony and deter imperialist rivals and other rising powers. As the crisis of capitalism deepens so will such threats to US domination. The USKabul, ‘It is impossible for this situation to change without a revolution.’ He spoke in the context of Afghanistan, but he speaks for us all. has no clear vision of what final victory or peace might look like. Their strategy can only be to keep threatening and keep fighting. We face the prospect of perpetual conflict until such time as another global war establishes the undisputed supremacy of one imperialist power or another, or until the people of the world rise up and change the order of things. One man told a reporter in

Iraq: new government – same occupation / FRFI 219 Feb/Mar 2011

FRFI 219 February / March 2011

At the end of December 2010, the Iraqi parliament finally endorsed Nouri Al-Maliki as prime minister, nine months after the elections. In a compromise deal following pressure from both the US and Iran, Sunni candidates received nine ministries and one of three deputy prime ministers. Iyad Allawi, favoured candidate of the US, whose Sunni-supported Iraqiya alliance won the most seats in the election, called for ‘real reconciliation’, having previously repudiated any coalition with Al Maliki. Supporters of the Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr received eight junior ministries. The Sadrists had also previously refused to join any government headed by Al Maliki, who had backed US attempts to destroy the Sadrist militia, the Mehdi Army, in 2007. Al Sadr himself returned from four years’ self-imposed exile in Iran and called on his supporters to give the new government a chance.

Iran will maintain its influence on Iraq through the Shia parties. The acting Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi arrived in Baghdad on the same day that Al Sadr returned. The US, however, will expect the new government to rubber-stamp their plans for a long-term military presence in the country. In an interview in The Wall Street Journal at the end of 2010, Al Maliki said that the expiry date of the present State of Forces Agreement (SOFA) on 31 December 2011 was an unalterable date on which ‘the last American soldier will leave Iraq’. However, several high ranking members of the Iraqi government and military have stated that Iraqi forces are not ready to take over responsibility for security without support and that if the US leave they would have to seek assistance from Iran or Russia. Iran has already offered troops. So, Al Maliki went on to say, ‘If the new government, with parliament’s approval, wanted to reach another agreement, with America, or another country, that’s another matter.’ He also pointed out that ‘security co-operation’ between the US and Iraq is already approved under the wider Strategic Framework Agreement. This would allow US forces to remain should the US provoke a crisis with Iran.

Throughout the autumn, Puneet Tanwar, senior director for the Gulf States, Iran and Iraq on the US National Security Council, was already meeting with senior Iraqi civilian and military officials to discuss ways to sidestep SOFA. One proposal was to retain around 15,000 combat troops, under cover of the State Department force, to provide security for US officials in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Erbil, Mosul and Basra. Another was to augment the special operations force because it is not publicly acknowledged to be in Iraq. Commander of US forces General Odierno, who has deployed the 4th division along the Kurdish/Arab line in northern Iraq, where conflict is expected in the next two years, suggested the troops could remain there under the auspices of the UN.

In his homecoming speech Al Sadr called on his supporters to maintain strong but opposition to the US occupation and reiterated that the SOFA deadline was not negotiable. In any vote in the Iraqi parliament, however, the supporters of Al Maliki and Allawi, combined with the Kurds, would have a majority.

Jim Craven

Currency wars

The 11-12 November meeting of the heads of the G20 group of countries ended in failure. The world economy faces crisis: massive unemployment exists internationally, there are huge global trade and investment imbalances, and the shadow of a future financial crisis looms large. Yet by the end of the meeting, all they could agree about was a collection of platitudes, hopes, wishes and fine words about the desirability of co-operation.

Read more ...

IRAQ: a record of death, torture and deceit /FRFI 218 Dec 2010 / Jan 2011

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011

Secret US documents revealed by Wikileaks in October confirmed the record of atrocities committed by US, British and Iraqi forces that we have regularly reported in FRFI, but which the imperialists have always denied. JIM CRAVEN reports.

In order to try to hide the extent of the slaughter, the imperialists maintained they never recorded the number of Iraqis killed, but the leaked documents log over 109,000 deaths. This is still a gross underestimate. For example, only 103 deaths were logged from 3,800 air strikes. The documents contain evidence of the murder of 21 civilians by British troops and 700 civilians killed at checkpoints. Video footage of resistance fighters being killed in cold blood while trying to surrender is included, as well as evidence that US forces were involved in Shia death squads. There are over 300 examples of US abuse and torture of detainees and at least 1,500 records of torture by the Iraqi security forces. Between 2004 and 2005 orders were issued to US forces not to intervene in such cases, but US troops continued to hand over Iraqi detainees, knowing they would be tortured.

In Britain, 102 Iraqis are giving evidence of torture, including electric shocks, hooding and sound deprivation, whilst in British custody. In July, the High Court found: ‘There is an arguable case that the illegal ill-treatment was systemic and not just the whim of individual soldiers.’ Training manuals used by the Joint Services Intelligence Organisation (JSIO) obtained by The Guardian list approved interrogation techniques that include ‘sensory and sleep deprivation’, ‘probing anus and foreskin’ and ‘positional asphyxiation’ to provoke ‘fear, disorientation and humiliation’. The JSIO teams used in Iraq were advised to find ‘nasty’ places, ‘out of hearing’ and ‘away from the media’ to conduct interrogations.

In October, Sir John Sawers, head of MI6, made the misleading claim that: ‘We are accused by some people, not of committing torture ourselves, but of being too close to it in our efforts to keep Britain safe.’ He went on to justify the use of evidence obtained through torture by others, saying, ‘We can’t do our job if we work only with friendly democracies’.

In his memoirs ex-President Bush writes that he was pleased to give permission for waterboarding (simulated drowning) to be used by interrogators because it saved lives. Though the imperialist ruling classes have long used torture, from Malaysia to Ireland, from Vietnam to Afghanistan, they have always denied it. We are now seeing a move towards justifying torture in order to fight ‘the war on terror’. However, as Chris Marsden points out in Counterpunch: ‘There is no Chinese wall separating the readiness of the state forces to resort to lawlessness, brutality, torture and murder overseas from its actions at home. On the contrary, the ruling elite utilises “the terrorist threat” to arm itself with unprecedented power to use against its domestic opponents.’

In October, under the pretext of preparing for a terrorist siege such as that in Mumbai, the SAS began training British police in armed counter-insurgency tactics.

Al Maliki retains post

Eight months after the elections, a new Iraqi government has finally been cobbled together, with incumbent Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki still in post. Much of Iraqiya, the group that won most seats in the election, has joined the coalition but its leader and the preferred candidate of the US, Iyad Allawi, failed even to get the presidency, signifying the declining influence of the US in the Iraqi political process. Al Maliki also got the Iranians to persuade Moqtada Al Sadr to support him. Moqtada has been implacably opposed to the imperialist occupation and the US fears any government role for his supporters.

Al Maliki has tightened his control of the Iraqi security forces. In October, the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat reported that Al Maliki had ordered six divisions of the army to take up positions around Baghdad and had excluded other government officials from authority over the armed forces. There were widespread rumours of an impending military coup to retain Al Maliki in power. Barham Salih, the Kurdish official who led negotiations for the new government, said he feared whoever became the new prime minister (meaning Al Maliki) would not give up power when the US withdraws. He wanted the Iraqi army reformed to represent all parties and echoed others in saying the Iraqi armed forces were not capable of securing their borders from ‘regional predators’. Barham Salih wanted ‘a sustained engagement of the US to help develop their capabilities’.

US clings on

Violence in Iraq has reached levels not suffered for the past two years. By mid-October, over 1,300 Iraqi police, soldiers and senior officials had been the victims of targeted killings. At least 150 people were killed in bomb blasts and shootings in the first week of November alone. Joost Hiltermann, of the International Crisis Group, warned of a new sectarian war unless an inclusive government is formed soon. Although some Sunnis are supporting the coalition and a Sunni has been given the post of speaker of parliament, Hiltermann is sceptical that much will change. Living under the protection of the Green Zone, the political elite are more intent on securing a share of oil revenues and patronage over state jobs than building a functioning state or improving the lot of the Iraqi people.

This insecurity provides the context for the US to retain a presence in Iraq. The US inspector-general reported that ‘it may be years’ before Iraq stabilises and that Iraq is not expected to ‘contribute significantly to its own security and development until 2013’. Although US combat operations are supposed to have ended, there are still 50,000 combat-ready troops in Iraq and 4,500 US special forces on active duty alongside the Iraqis. The number of US security contractors (mercenaries) has more than doubled to 7,000. The US recently concluded a $4.2 billion arms deal with Iraq, to include Sidewinder missiles and 18 F-16 warplanes. A Pentagon spokesman said the arms would turn Iraq into ‘a more valuable partner in an important area of the world’.