Violence rises in Iraq / FRFI 217 Oct/Nov 2010

FRFI 217 October/November 2010

Keen to bolster his poll ratings before the forthcoming mid-term elections, President Obama declared the end of US combat operations in Iraq at the end of August. The 50,000 US troops still in the country are supposed to leave by the end of 2011. They remain fully armed and combat-ready but are supposed to fight only in self-defence or if asked to do so by the Iraqi government.

However, six months after the elections in March, no elected Iraqi government was in place. The parliament of ‘democratic, sovereign’ Iraq, as Obama recently called it, had not met since January. Talks between State of Law, the coalition of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, first with the other main Shia coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance, and then with Iraqiya, the coalition headed by Iyad Allawi that won most seats in the election, broke down because of Al Maliki’s insistence on remaining in office. The US is now trying to devolve prime ministerial powers while allowing Al Maliki to stay. The plan is to create a council for national strategy that would be headed by Allawi. He was the imperialists’ choice as first prime minister after the invasion and is long associated with the CIA.

Meanwhile, the already volatile security situation in Iraq deteriorates. The Financial Times quotes an Adhamiya resident saying: ‘The political parties are fighting each other and the only victims are the people’. Bombings and shootings are increasing across the country. The number of rocket attacks, (which the US claims come from Iranian-backed Shia militias), have risen sharply. In July, according to Iraqi figures, 535 people were killed (the US claimed it was only 222) and over a thousand injured. Sunnis in Baghdad say the Shia-dominated security forces are rounding up people at random and isolating neighbourhoods with Humvees and razor wire. Members of the Awakening Councils, which were created and paid for by the US as a means of curtailing Sunni resistance to the occupation, are leaving to re-join the resistance forces. One leader said disaffection had reached breaking point.

In the north of Iraq violence has spread to Mosul and Kirkuk. General Zubydi, commander of the federal paramilitary force there, says the situation is getting worse. Because of the impotence of the government, no legislation has been passed regulating the share of oil revenues between the provinces and a referendum on the future of Kirkuk has not taken place. The Kurdish regional government wants oil-rich Kirkuk included within their bounds. If the Kurds declare an autonomous region, Turkey, which is suppressing the Kurdish liberation movement in its own country, has threatened to invade. Iran, Saudi Arabia and other neighbouring countries, keen to further their own interests in Iraq, are all intervening and creating further tensions.

Divide and rule

The US and other occupying powers have always used sectarianism to weaken resistance to their occupation. The present violence fomented by this strategy is creating the platform for a long term US presence in Iraq. Raad Sabah, a Shia living in Baghdad said, ‘We thought that after the American invasion things would be better, but now everybody agrees that the presence of the Americans has made matters worse... I hate the Americans because they created sectarianism... but they have become the safety valve for Iraq. They are the disease and the medicine at the same time.’ Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein’s right hand man, said from his prison cell that a US pull-out would be ‘leaving Iraq to the wolves’. In August the commander of the Iraqi army, Lt-General Zebari, said that Iraqi forces would not be ready until 2020 and that the US would need to retain a presence. Both Iraqi and US officials have signalled that plans to withdraw all US forces could be superseded by a new bilateral agreement. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said, ‘If a new government is formed there and they want to talk about [keeping troops] beyond 2011 we’re obviously open to that discussion.’ General Jay Garner, former commander of US forces in Iraq, recently said it was essential to have a permanent and expanded US ‘training’ force there ‘as we do in other parts of the world’.

The UN says a quarter of Iraqis live in poverty. More than a third are unemployed. Most of the population suffer inadequate supplies of drinking water. Raw sewage pours into the rivers. Electricity supply satisfies just 60% of requirements. Corruption is rife. The US Defence Department has been unable to account for $8.7bn from Iraqi oil revenues intended for reconstruction. GEC has agreed to pay $23.4m to settle bribery charges relating to contracts for water purification and medical equipment.

An estimated two million Iraqis have been displaced internally by the war and more than two million have sought refuge abroad. Daniel Endres of UNHCR said, ‘A lot of donor countries have turned their backs towards Iraq and even forcefully deport people to Iraq.’ Britain is one such country.

Last year, doctors in Fallujah reported a marked increase in the number of babies with birth defects. In 2004, US forces launched horrifying attacks on the town using white phosphorus shells. A new study has found a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in cancers among children under 14. The report says this indicates that weapons containing uranium were used and describes the effects as ‘similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors who were exposed to ionising radiation from the bomb and uranium from the fallout’. However, whereas there was a 17-fold increase in leukaemia cases in Hiroshima, in Fallujah the increase is 38-fold.

At the beginning of August President Obama assured West Point cadets that the war had been won. ‘This is what success looks like,’ he said.

Jim Craven

Iraq: eyes still on the prize / FRFI 216 Aug/Sep 2010

FRFI 216 August/September 2010

Iraq: eyes still on the prize

Iraq held a parliamentary election in March 2010 but still the country does not have a new government. The State of Law coalition, led by incumbent Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, joined forces with the other Shi’ite bloc, the Iraqi National Alliance, to achieve an overall majority but they cannot agree on who should be the new prime minister. US Vice-President Joe Biden has intervened to try and forge an agreement between Al Maliki and the imperialists’ favourite, Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqiya coalition won the most seats.

The Iraqi government is riddled with corruption. The state is the main employer, and those in power use the offer of state jobs as patronage and bribery. Anyone in the media attempting to expose the corruption is likely to be murdered. Iraq’s people suffer massive unemployment, little access to clean water and extensive power cuts. There have been riots in many parts of the country because, in temperatures of 50 degrees, people were unable to operate any air-conditioning or cooling systems. Violence continues with the threat of renewed sectarian warfare and a simmering dispute over the status of Kurdistan.

Nevertheless, the oil multinationals are rushing in to grab Iraq’s energy resources. As one oil consultant told the Financial Times last year, ‘Iraq may be at the bottom of the scale ranking investment climate... but it is at the top of the scale ranking the attractiveness of its oil reserves.’ The known oil and gas reserves are third in size to those of Saudi Arabia and Iran, but there may be another 100 billion barrels of oil in the west of Iraq. More importantly, these are the only major reserves still open to expansion by the oil companies now that 88% of the world’s oil is controlled by the countries concerned. Furthermore, Iraqi oil is easy to develop compared with many other available reserves in isolated regions or offshore, witness BP’s problems in the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the oil fields to be developed are in Shi’ite areas, the most secure parts of Iraq.

Last year BP, Shell, Exxon and Total bid for 11 oil service contracts. Most are establishing expensive head­quarters in Basra. In June, Shell signed a $12.5 billion gas production agreement. Altogether, the oil multinationals intend to spend around $100 billion over ten years to quadruple production to 9.5 million barrels per day. This far outweighs the potential increased capacity of the rest of OPEC and will create difficulties for countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, the political consequences of which will not have been lost on the imperialist governments.

Jim Craven

Iraq: Sectarian elections provoke more violence / FRFI 215 Jun/Jul 2010

FRFI 215 June/July 2010

Following the stalemate in the March Iraqi parliamentary elections, sectarian divisions that were inflamed by the imperialist occupation are again threatening the security of the Iraqi people, as the various bourgeois factions battle for control of the country’s resources. In the election, the predominantly Sunni Iraqiya Alliance, headed by Iyad Allawi, won two more seats than Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s State of Law Party. Al Maliki immediately made accusations of electoral fraud and demanded a recount in Baghdad, which he hopes will give him four more seats. An Iraqi court has disqualified another two Iraqiya MPs because of links to the old ruling Baath party. Other opposition MPs have been arrested or have fled their homes fearing arrest.

In May, State of Law announced an alliance with the other main Shia bloc, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) that has close ties with Iran. This would give them, with some Kurdish support, an absolute majority and once again exclude the Sunni minority from a share of power. However, within the INA, the Sadrists, followers of Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, did particularly well. His main support comes from the poor and working class. Al Sadr is a long-standing opponent of the imperialist occupation. He is strongly opposed to Al Maliki because of the prime minister’s support for US attempts to destroy the Sadrist militia, the Mehdi Army. So the question of who will be prime minister remains unresolved.

Violence flares

Three waves of attacks in April and May, mainly against Iraqi government, security and Shia targets, killed over 250 people. Al Sadr threatened to put the Mehdi Army on the streets again. Many political factions still have their own militias. According to Human Rights Watch, the Baghdad Brigade, that answers personally to Al Maliki, has been running a secret prison in West Baghdad where Sunni anti-occupation fighters have been sexually abused and tortured.

The US has been pushing for a coalition by which Al Maliki and Allawi would each serve for two years. The US will be keen to sign a new agreement allowing US bases to remain when the present Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) expires at the end of next year. Allawi was the imperialists’ choice as interim prime minister after the invasion. He had been an agent for the CIA and was instrumental in maintaining the lie that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Allawi’s election campaign was financed by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states, together with Turkey, which has threatened to invade Iraq if ever an independent Kurdish region is established. Iyad Allawi told The Guardian: ‘This conflict will not remain within the borders of Iraq. It will spill over and it has the potential to reach the world at large, not just the neighbouring countries.’

Jim Craven

Iraq: elections serve occupation / FRFI 214 Apr / May 2010

FRFI 214 April / May 2010

The Iraqi parliamentary elections at the beginning of March demonstrated how the imperialist occupation has ‘enshrined sectarianism’. The strategy of dividing opposition along sectarian lines and then tying factions into a ‘legitimate’ electoral process is a well-tried imperialist tactic for emasculating national liberation movements: most recently in the so-called power sharing process in the Irish Six Counties. In Iraq, the imperialists armed the Shia militias for their battle against Sunni insurgents, and then paid and armed the defeated Sunnis when they had to seek the protection of the occupying forces. The imperialists then attacked the main Shia anti-occupation force, Moqtada Al Sadr’s Mehdi Army, which was eventually persuaded to lay down its arms following secret talks between Iran and the US. All the groups stood in the election but parties and voting predominantly reflected the sectarian divisions. A Sunni in Arasat, quoted in The Independent, said ‘I want to vote for a secular party, but everything now is divided along religious lines.’ A Shia worker in Najaf said ‘Democracy in Iraq is chaotic. Everyone lies.’

Before the election, the Shia dominated government of Nouri Al Maliki banned 500, mainly Sunni, candidates from standing. This number was later reduced to 145, but several hundred former officers and provincial officials were refused the right to stand for election. Among those banned was Saleh Al Mutlaq, leader of the second largest Sunni group and part of the Iraqiya coalition led by Iyad Allawi. Since the devastated Iraqi economy relies mainly on state oil revenues and half the population has to rely on state food rations, the government parties, particularly Al Maliki’s State of Law coalition, were able to buy votes with government patronage.

No solutions for Iraqi people

The overall turnout for the election was 62%, well down on the 75% turnout in the 2005 election, despite the fact that nearly all Sunnis boycotted that election. By 18 March, with 80% of votes counted, Al Maliki’s and Allawi’s coalitions were running neck and neck. However, no party will gain a clear majority and it will take several weeks to form a new coalition government. The US will interfere in negotiations in order to weaken the pro-Iranian parties and strengthen Allawi’s position. Allawi is a former US agent and oil executive and was appointed by them as first interim prime minister.

Although the Kurds predominantly voted for Kurdish parties, Iraqiya took half the votes in the disputed city of Kirkuk. The Kurdish regional government hopes to make it the capital of an autonomous region, a proposition opposed by the Iraqi national government and by Turkey, which oppresses a Kurdish national liberation movement in Turkey and has threatened to invade Kurdish Iraq. 40% of Iraqi oil reserves lie within the Kirkuk region. Kirkuk could become the focus of renewed violence.

In February, US commander General Odierno said that there were still 96,000 troops in Iraq. Although these troops are not supposed to be involved in combat roles, they are acting as ‘advisers’, embedded in the Iraqi security forces, selecting targets and directing operations backed by US air support. The Iraqi Defence Minister Abdul Qader Jassin said in March that the armed forces modernisation programme would not be completed until 2020. The US/Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement allows for a ‘long-term relationship in economic, diplomatic, cultural and security fields’. Tens of thousands of US troops will occupy their three main bases and their huge embassy, long after the so-called withdrawal is complete.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi people continue to suffer the consequences of imperialist occupation. In Fallujah, a large number of children have been born with deformed limbs and developmental problems. The situation is so bad that women in the city are advised not to get pregnant. Fallujah was the victim of a massive bombardment and massacre by US forces in 2004. The worst of the birth defects are in the working class Al Julan district, scene of the most intense fighting.

Jim Craven

Multinationals grab Iraqi oil / FRFI 213 Feb / Mar 2010

FRFI 213 February / March 2010

Since the height of the violence in Iraq in 2007, both civilian and US casualties have fallen by over 90%. There is, however, no peace for the Iraqi people. In the northern Kurdish areas around Kirkuk and Mosul tension remains high because Kurdish aspirations for an autonomous government controlling its own oil are being thwarted by central government and Sunni political advances in the region. Car and suicide bombs in the latter part of last year aimed at Iraqi government and US targets in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad killed more than 500 people. Sadi Piri of the Kurdish PUK said ‘This proves that the Iraqi forces are not able to control their own cities and borders’.

US General Petraeus admitted that what he called ‘Iranian-backed militias’ still posed a threat to Iraqi security.  Some of these groups, such as the Badr brigade, had been used by the imperialist forces in the early years of the occupation and came to dominate the Iraqi police. It has been claimed that Peter Moore, the British computer expert released in January, had been kidnapped by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard because he was installing a system that could track how international aid for Iraq had been diverted to pro-Iranian militia groups. In October 2007, Judge Radhi Hamza Al Radhi told the US Congress that Iraqi government corruption amounted to $18 billion. The only records of transactions were destroyed in a fire at the Iraqi Central Bank.

Moore was released in exchange for Qais Al Khazali, who had been captured by the SAS in 2007. Al Khazali had been a spokesman for Moqtada Al Sadr, a former forceful opponent of the imperialist occupation with strong support among the Shia poor. He is now prominent in the pro-Iranian Iraqi Righteous League, expected to take a large share of the vote in the forthcoming Iraqi elections.

In December, the Iraqi parliament passed a new election law, after pressure from the US, reducing representation for Sunnis. In January, the Iraqi government threatened to bar 14 Sunni parties from the election and banned over 500 Sunni candidates, including Saleh Al Multah of the National Dialogue Front, which seeks to reconcile Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. More violence could follow if Sunni and Kurdish aspirations are not met by the Shia dominated government.

Oil contracts signed

On 17 December, Iranian troops occupied the Iraqi Al Fakkah oil field in the disputed border region of Maysan Province. The Iranians also have claims to the Abu Gharb field in the same area. Anglo-Dutch Shell has interests in both fields. Despite the continuing uncertainty, however, multinational oil companies consider the security situation in parts of Iraq steady enough to grab new contracts.

Iraq has the third largest known oil reserves in the world. There are very few opportunities elsewhere in the world for the oil companies to extend production. So, in the first auction, Shell and Exxon/Mobil took the West Qurna field, while BP and the Chinese CNPC took Rumaila, the largest field. In the second auction on 11 December, Shell and the Malaysian company Petronas outbid Total for the Majnoon field, and a consortium of CNPC, Petronas and Total took the Halfaya field.

Significantly, there were no bids for fields in the less secure regions east of Baghdad. The Iraqi government plans to raise total output from the present 2.5 million barrels per day (mbpd) to 10 or even 12.5 mbpd in the next ten years. Such an output would match that of Saudi Arabia and could cause other countries to cut production or face a fall in prices.

Bloody role of mercenaries

On 1 January, a US Federal Judge dismissed charges against five guards employed by private security firm Blackwater. The guards, on contract to the US military, were accused of murdering 17 Iraqi civilians during a wild shooting spree in Baghdad in September 2007. The judge ruled that the guards’ confessions were inadmissible. He did not, however, call any local witnesses or families of the victims. Rahab Abdul Karim, whose nephew was killed, said ‘They (the guards) were arrogant with the power they had. They thought they answered to no one. And with this verdict, maybe they were right’.

Since the incident Blackwater has been re-named Xe Services. It employs many ex-CIA and military personnel and has close links with both services. Its turnover is around $1bn a year. Blackwater mercenaries have accompanied US forces on raids in both Iraq and Afghanistan and are believed to be involved in a secret programme to assassinate members of Al Qaida throughout the world. Blackwater mercenaries have been accused of a number of murders in Iraq.

A former British mercenary told the BBC World Service how they worked with complete anonymity in Iraq. They could shoot someone dead or beat up prisoners with no repercussions. The mercenary spoke of displacing refugees from their temporary homes with no concern for how they would survive. Any mercenary guilty of a crime that might cause difficulties was flown to safety out of the country the same day. The security companies make millions of pounds profit from each contract.

The British security company Control Risks recently announced a big increase in demand for their services, particularly by multinational oil companies in Iraq.

Jim Craven