Iraq: Anglo-American occupation in quagmire

Following the bogus and rigged elections held in Iraq on 30 January 2005, Anglo-American imperialism had hoped that the Iraqi people would be duped into giving up their resistance to the brutal occupation of their country on the alleged ground that Iraq now had a democratically-elected sovereign government. The Iraqi people have burst asunder this illusion through further intensification of their armed struggle against the forces of occupation. The Iraqi people know only too well that the present Iraqi government headed by Ibrahim al-Jaafri is no less a puppet of, and no less reliant for its survival on, Anglo-American imperialism than were its predecessors – the Interim Government under Allawi (2004) and the Interim Governing Council (2003). Precisely for this reason, the formation of the ‘new’ government ahs been greeted by a wave of attacks which have delivered a shattering blow to the optimism entertained by the imperialist predators that the resistance would weaken and fade away in the wake of the election.

Even before the formation of the al-Jaafri puppet administration, the resistance managed to liberate al-Qaim, a city situated in the al-Anbar province on the shores of the Euphrates river, near the border with Syria. At the same time, the freedom fighters resumed their offensive in Baghdad after a brief lull to allow the huge anti-American demonstrations of 9 April organised by the radical Shia cleric, Muqtada Sadr, calling for an immediate Anglo-American imperialist pull-out. Roadside bombs exploded to greet the unannounced arrival on 12 April of Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary.

In its continuing endeavour to sabotage the oil industry, and thus deny to the occupation forces and their stooges this valuable source of revenue, the resistance shot dead the chief of the force established by the US to safeguard the Northern Oil Company against sabotage. Nine members of the force employed by the Northern Oil Company were killed, along with their commander, Colonel Natham Abdullah, through the detonation of a mine near the town of Kirkuk.

On 21 April, the resistance shot down a commercial helicopter chartered by the US defence department, killing 11 people on board, including 6 American military contractors. It was brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade near the town of Tarmiya, 25 miles north of Baghdad. On the same day there were several bomb attacks, including a bomb on Baghdad’s airport road which destroyed an armoured convoy of foreign security contractors, killing 2. The day before (20 April), an assassination attempt was made on the then-outgoing puppet prime minister, Ayad Allawi. The attackers posted a statement on a website saying, inter alia, “Many were killed but Allawi was saved. But if this time the arrow did not pierce him, we have other arrows in our quiver.”

On 23 April a car bomb attack on an Iraqi National Guard convoy killed 9 soldiers near Abu Ghraib and wounded 20. This attack was the most lethal of the 5 car bombings that took place that day, and part of a wave of similar attacks that had taken place during the previous fortnight. On the same day as the ‘new’ government was formed (28 April), the resistance shot dead Lame’a Abed Khadawi, a female member of the new stooge parliament. A member of Iyad Allawi’s political party, she was shot outside her house in eastern Baghdad, and is believed to be the first member of the 275-strong National Assembly to be gunned down.

Rising tide of resistance

On 28 April, US President Bush asserted that progress was being made in fighting the resistance, and he telephoned Ibrahim al-Jaafari to congratulate him on the formation of the ‘new’ government. This was flagrantly at odds with the statement made earlier in the same week by General Richard Myers, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in which he made the frank admission that the resistance had the same capacity to attack as it had had a year earlier. “Where they [the attacks by the resistance] are, right now, is where they were almost a year ago and it’s nowhere near the peak”, said General Myers. As if to prove the correctness of this statement by General Myers, and the incorrectness of Bush’s assertion, the following day (29 April), a series of coordinated bomb attacks rocked Baghdad and several other places – killing at least 9 Iraqi soldiers and wounding many more.

During the first week following the formation of the al-Jaafari government, some 200 people, including a significant number of Iraqi forces, were killed in a wave of attacks by the resistance. The resistance is increasingly, and successfully targeting Iraqi security forces, members of the occupation armies and their stooges, collaborators and mercenaries.

The attacks of the freedom fighters have spread to Kurdish areas. Two bomb explosions, one at the offices of Kurdish party in northern Iraq, during the first week of May left 80 dead and more than 150 injured.

In April there were 135 car bombings, up from 69 in March. A US military spokesman admitted that the resistance was unleashing 70 attacks a day in April – up from 30-40 in February and March (see The Guardian, 12 May 2005). The 11th of May witnessed 5 bomb attacks, one each in the central Iraqi towns of Hawija and Tikrit, and 3 in Baghdad, killing a total of 71 and wounding 129 – the heaviest casualties being at a police and army recruitment centre in Hawija, where 30 people died and another 35 were injured.

These attacks shattered the boastful claims of the occupation that the resistance was on the way out, or that it was making a final desperate onslaught as a prelude to accepting that the game was up. Sadly for the imperialist forces, the game, far from being up, is only now beginning in earnest. With 400 dead within 2 weeks of its formation, the Jaafari government was shown to be an impotent spectator of events and powerless to crush the resistance.

Throughout May and June the resistance has been on the offensive, with a series of deadly attacks on the occupation forces, the puppet Iraqi army and police units and the oil installations, proving the hollowness of US claims, as for instance that of the ridiculous Dick Cheney, US Vice-President, to the effect that “the insurgency” was in its “last throes”. During this period, 3 US warplanes and helicopters were brought down, fierce gun battles raged in almost all the cities in central and western Iraq, and there was a dramatic increase in attacks in Baghdad, forcing the Americans to launch on 26 May the biggest security operation in the capital since its capture in April 2003. More than 10,000 US and 40,000 puppet troops were mobilised at the end of May to crush the resistance in Baghdad in ‘Operation Lightening’. The reply of the resistance to this operation was nothing short of lightening. On Sunday 29 May, units of the resistance, in an operation lasting 15 minutes, stormed the al-Amiriyah district of Baghdad and forced out the US and puppet troops, before retreating to safe house and issuing a statement which said: “We are showing the occupation that it is the resistance that has the initiative and that it is the resistance that chooses the time and place in which to wage the battles that it wants to wage with them.”

This communiqué can hardly have come as a surprise to the occupation commanders, for they know that their troops cannot, 2 years after the occupation, even secure the highway between the Green Zone in Baghdad and the airport – a distance of a mere 10 kilometres – any more than they are able to secure themselves against daily rocket and bomb attacks and ambushes in Baghdad and elsewhere.

The Financial Times of 2 June was forced to recognise the gravity of the situation in these words: “…any sense of reassurance or a fresh start was almost immediately blown away by a torrent of violence intense even by Iraqi standards. On the day after Mr Jaafari presented the government, 12 car bombs across the country killed 29 people. Since then guerrilla attacks … have killed nearly 700 people”, eroding hopes that the political process or the clampdown imposed on 26 May on Baghdad would help defeat the resistance. In other words, political deception through sham elections, held under the shadow of the guns of the occupation, as well as massive military assaults, are proving powerless in the face of the mighty resistance of the Iraqi people who are determined to free Iraq by driving out, through armed national liberation struggle, the Anglo-American imperialist occupation army.

On 27 June, a US Apache attack helicopter crashed in Iraq after being hit by a missile – killing its 2-man crew. Also, towards the end of June, US forces suffered a major defeat when they were forced out of al-Qaim after a week of fierce fighting. Although the US forces left behind a trail of destruction and devastation, with hundreds of houses and shops destroyed and scores of innocent civilians killed, the freedom fighters claim to have liquidated 200 US and puppet soldiers, while their own forces only suffered a quarter of the losses of their enemy in men and equipment. Meanwhile in Baghdad, the resistance continues to demonstrate its ability to operate at will by regularly storming police stations in the capital.

Increasing casualties and erosion of support

The increase of the Iraqi resistance is reflected in the casualties suffered by the US-led army of occupation. According to official sources, the US military has suffered more than 1,900 fatalities and more than 15,000 have been wounded. In the month of May alone, 67 US soldiers were killed – the fourth highest toll since the invasion on 19 March 2003. In addition, 300 mercenaries and thousands of puppet soldiers have lost their lives. The real death toll, however, is much higher. Relying on sources in the US colony of Puerto Rico, Cuba’s Prensa Latina claims that over a period of 799 days, the US command have suffered at least 4,076 fatalities.

This rising death toll among the US military is in turn eroding support for this unjust filthy war in the US and causing dissension within US ruling circles. An ABC News/Washington Post poll at the end of June found that 62% of Americans agreed that the US was bogged down in Iraq; 69% said that US deaths were unacceptable; 53% said that the war was not worth fighting for.

A steady snowdrift of revelations about the run-up to this war, such as the so-called Downing Street Memo (see box page 5) of July 2002, which further highlighted the web of lies spun by the US and British administrations as a pretext for war against Iraq, have led 57% of Americans to say that their government deliberately misled the public. As a result, the credibility of the Bush and Blair governments has hit rock bottom, with the American and British public overwhelmingly convinced that their governments are led by cliques of professional liars and mercenary flunkeys of the US and British monopolies.

Delusion and reality

As the rising US casualties turn public opinion against the war, the US administration has stepped up its propaganda offensive, even bringing to the US Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the puppet prime minister of Iraq, the writ of whose government does not run even in the Green Zone of Baghdad, to plead with the US to stay the course. On 28 June, to coincide with the anniversary of the alleged handover of sovereignty in Iraq, Bush made a speech to 700 soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in which, linking the predatory imperialist war in Iraq to the September 11 attacks on the US, he pledged to stay the course and defeat the Iraqi resistance. Whilst he was giving this pep talk and saying everything over there in Iraq was going fine, his defence secretary was openly admitting that it could take upwards of a decade to overcome the resistance in Iraq – a task which only the Iraqis could do. The Financial Times in its editorial of 28 June greeted Rumsfeld’s admission as “…a welcome sign of realism after the challengingly surreal pronouncements of the administration over the past two years, culminating in the ludicrous statement last month by Dick Cheney, the vice-president, that the insurgency is ‘in its last throes’.”

Rumsfeld further acknowledged, and defended, US meetings with representatives of the resistance to find a way out of the mess the US finds itself in, adding, however, that the US will have no truck with “people with blood on their hands”. While welcoming this engagement with reality by the US government after “the extraordinary mix of delusion and incompetence that has characterised US management of Iraq”, the Financial Times warns “…the reality is that the US and its Iraqi allies will end up having to talk to probably the same people, only with a lot more blood on their hands and from a weaker position”.

Dissension within the ruling class

The deteriorating US military position, consequent upon fierce anti-imperialist Iraqi resistance, is undermining the bipartisan support in the US Congress for the war in Iraq and even dissolving the cohesion in the ranks of Bush’s own Republican Party. “Our men and women in uniform … deserve an objective assessment of the situation in Iraq”, said Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, on 23 June at a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing attended by US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and top US generals involved in the conduct of the war in Iraq.

“Instead, they get a repetitious bugle sounding: ‘Things are going well, things are going well. Stay the course, stay the course’.”

Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, characterised the situation in Iraq as an “intractable quagmire”. Senator Joseph Biden, just back from a visit to Iraq, stated that the “…insurgency remains as bad as it was a year ago.” Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told Rumsfeld: “And I don’t think it’s a blip on the radar screen. I think we have a chronic problem on our hands.” Mr Graham went on to question whether Iraq might produce an offensive of coordinated attacks similar to the Tet offensive in Vietnam, resulting in a huge loss of American lives. While dismissing such a possibility, the Generals overseeing the war in Iraq, who were testifying with Rumsfeld, were obliged to concede that the resistance had not subsided in the past year.

While Rumsfeld dismissed the opinion polls revealing declining support among the US population for the war, General John Abizaid, the top US commander in the Middle East, made it clear that he was increasingly concerned as his troops were beginning to ask whether the US public still backed the war. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, and a strong supporter of the war, expressed the feeling that the US public was tiring of the war. He said: “I feel that the American public is tipping away from this effort”, adding that the Iraqi resistance “…will only defeat us on the field of American public opinion”. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, has come out in support of a proposal by Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, that the White House consider announcing a timetable for the withdrawal of the American forces from Iraq – an idea which is stubbornly opposed by the Bush administration, which considers such a plan to be an invitation to the Iraqi resistance to sit out the US troops. It is a measure of the difficulties faced by the US government that majority sentiment in the US has already turned against the Iraq war, whereas during the Vietnam war, a majority did not come out against the war until 1968, a year which claimed nearly 17,000 American lives in the battlefields of Vietnam.

In Britain, the overwhelming majority of the people were opposed to the war from the very beginning. That opposition, instead of being galvanised to take effective action to frustrate the war effort of the British government, has been squandered by the Troto-revisionist leadership of the Stop the War Coalition (STWC) which has been more concerned to preserve its alliance with the imperialist Labour Party, under whose stewardship British imperialism is in occupation of Iraq, than with making things difficult for this Labour government. All the same, there is anger among the people against the continuing carnage in their name – this anger being most nobly given expression to by the Military Families Against the War. While the STWC dare not support the slogan of Victory to the Iraqi people, Reg Keys, whose son Tom was killed in Iraq and who stood as an anti-war candidate against Tony Blair, uttered the following brave words in the run up to the British general election of May this year: “The Americans are looking at another Vietnam and Britain is looking at a new Northern Ireland. We will just be stuck there for years and years.” Mr Keys predicted: “These insurgent attacks will increase. After all, they are an occupied country and we have slaughtered over 100,000 of them. They are not going to take it lying down.” Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed in Iraq, has insisted that she does not blame the Iraqi people for his death.

The public would be still further outraged if the imperialist media, which never tire of falsely boasting about their objectivity in search of the truth, did not accept Washington’s advice not to concentrate on casualties or on drawing attention to the unpublicised night flights that bring back the body bags. But truth will out as the increasing number of coffins and injured soldiers return to their countries.

Recruitment difficulties

The lengthening list of US fatalities, and non-fatal injuries, is making it ever more difficult for Uncle Sam to recruit. The 7,500 US army recruiters are finding it difficult to hit their target of two enlisters per recruiter each month, for parents are becoming more reluctant to encourage their children to enlist, fearing that they might be killed in fighting. By the end of April, the US army had managed to attract only 35,926 soldiers towards its target of 80,000 for the year to October, it being very likely that it will miss the recruitment goal. Figures for reserves were worse still: 7,283 towards the target of 22,175 (see Financial Times, 1 June 2005).

The problem is exacerbated by desertions from the US and British armies. Thousands of US soldiers have deserted or gone absent without official leave (AWOL). As for Britain, according to the Ministry of Defence, 530 soldiers deserted in 2004, as against 205 in 2003, 150 in 2002 and only 100 in 2001. Further, in excess of 3,000 British troops went AWOL in 2004, with no more than a third returning to base within 21 days.

So-called coalition disintegrating

Through a combination of the Iraqi resistance, anti-war sentiment in the countries waging war against Iraq and the high-handedness of the US military, the US-led coalition of predatory bandits is falling apart. Flunkeys from eastern and western Europe are deserting the sinking ship and making for the exits in a rush. Not only Poland (17,000) troops but also Italy is set to withdraw its 2,700 troops from Iraq.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s enthusiastic support for the war, already undermined by Italian casualties in Iraq and public opinion at home, has been further eroded by the deliberate killing of Nicola Calipari, the Italian secret agent, who had negotiated the release of Giuliana Sgrena, a journalist of the Italian communist publication Il Manfesto, and with whom he was travelling in a car. Ms Sgrena believes that she was the real intended target because of her outspoken condemnation of the US-led occupation, but Calipari died shielding her with his own body.

What would otherwise have been a public relations triumph for the Berlusconi government, through the US military’s murderous action, in fact plunged the Italian government into a deep crisis, forcing it to make noises about pulling Italian troops out of Iraq. It is more than likely that Italy will bring its troops home and thus join the long list of countries to have done so already, leaving Anglo-American imperialism more isolated than ever.

Iraqi economy

Meanwhile, the Iraqi economy is in a shambles, with unemployment at the unbelievably high rate of 70% of the workforce. The majority of the population are suffering from malnutrition. The health service, which used to be the pride of the Middle East, lies in tatters. There are severe shortages of water and electricity and the oil industry is close to collapse. All of this adds to the frustration and anger of the Iraqi people and serves to fuel the resistance.

Oil production has failed, thanks to the sabotage by the resistance, to live up to US expectations. Prior to the war, US analysts had expected Iraqi oil production to reach 3 mbd by the end of 2004. As a matter of fact, production averaged 1.5 mbd during the whole of 2004 and oil exports earned about $17.1 billion. Although this is a large enough sum for a few favoured US monopolies, such as Haliburton, to make a lot of money out of, it falls far short of the bonanza the US expected, considering that the war is costing the US taxpayer over $1bn a week. Thus, while a few monopolies gaily enrich themselves, the war is costing the Iraqi people and the US taxpayers dearly – thus fuelling armed resistance in Iraq and anti-war protests in the US and Britain.

The Iraqi oil infrastructure was the target of 146 attacks in 2004 according to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a Washington-based think-tank. August and November last year witnessed the largest number of attacks, with an attack every day. As a result, Iraqi oil exports dropped to 1.1 mbd, the lowest since September 2003. In view of these attacks, US attempts to raise oil production to 3 mbd for 2005 and exports to 2 mbd, is a pipedream. Exports of Kirkuk oil in the north, carried by pipes through Turkey, are forever being halted through attacks by the resistance. In addition to hitting export revenues, the attacks on domestic pipelines and refineries have resulted in severe shortages of fuel and electricity in Iraq.

All this creates a vicious circle for the occupation regime which is thus powerless to improve fuel, electricity and water supplies without improved security, but it is unable to improve the latter without doing away with the shortages. Add to this the seething anger of the Iraqis at the slaughter of well over 100,000 of their countrymen, women and children, and the destruction of their towns, cities and centres of ancient culture.

Wanton destruction

To get an idea of the wanton destruction inflicted on Iraq, it is sufficient to recall the US assault on Falluja in the autumn of 2004. It left a trail of devastation, with several thousand civilians killed, 36,000 houses destroyed, 8,400 shops reduced to rubble, 60 children’s nurseries, schools and colleges, as well as 65 mosques and religious sanctuaries, demolished. In fact there was not a single building which, even according to the US State Department’s own assessment, was not damaged in one way or another.

The Libyans, who had done nothing to bring down the PanAm plane over Lockerbie, paid each of the families of the Lockerbie victims $10 million. If similar amounts of compensation were to be paid to the victims of US bombing in Falluja, this would amount to a total of $900 billion. Of course, nothing of the sort will happen, for in this imperialist-dominated world, the lives of the people in oppressed countries count for nothing. There imperialism kills with impunity and can, and does, get away literally with murder.

No wonder, then, that the National Foundation Congress, comprised of Iraqi Sunni and Shia nationalists, affirmed: “The legitimate right of the Iraqi resistance to defend their country and its destiny.” In its statement, the Congress warned that the Iraqi puppet government “will have no right to ratify any agreement or treaty that might affect Iraq’s sovereignty, the unity of its territory and the preservation of its resources.” This statement is an open challenge to the occupation regime that privatisation and sale of Iraqi assets will be reversed and declared null and void by a future nationalist regime representing the Iraqi people, unlike the quislings such as Jaafari and like cliques.

Gratuitous insults

On every conceivable occasion, the imperialist soldiery take it upon themselves to abuse prisoners and hurl gratuitous insults on them. When Newsweek magazine reported that US interrogators at the Guantananmo base in Cuba, where hundreds of prisoners captured in Afghanistan are held and routinely subjected to the most barbarous forms of torture, kept copies of the Koran in toilets, and “in at least one case flushed a holy book down the toilet”, it led to violent protests throughout the Muslim world. On 11 May at least 4 people were killed and several dozens injured in eastern Afghanistan after police fired on demonstrators protesting against the desecration of the Islamic scripture. Offices in Jelalabad were torched, shops sacked, and consulates and UN building attacked by angry crowds shouting “death to Karzai” and “we don’t want America”. Since then the 18,000-strong US-led (mostly US) force in Afghanistan has been struggling to fight against the Afghan resistance, which has intensified its attacks on the US-led forces.

Under strong pressure from the US government, Newsweek retracted its original story on 16 May.

Imperialism in a quagmire

Anglo-American imperialism finds itself in a quagmire from which it cannot escape unscathed. It has applied unprecedented force, which has only provoked further resistance. It has staged a mockery of an election, but the Iraqi people have not been deceived. It has tried to incite a sectarian war along confessional lines, but to no avail. Whichever way it turns, it is staring into the abyss. The best of options available to it are nothing short of a disaster for it. Here are the options open to it – all very unattractive:

First, it could continue along its existing path, and try and bolster the puppet regime through a ‘new’ constitution, followed by yet more sham elections and the installation of yet another ‘new’ government, while attempting to build up the Iraqi puppet forces and obtain some help from other imperialist countries and satellite regimes. But this will not work thanks to the revolutionary destruction carried out by the resistance. There is large scale desertion from the Iraqi forces which, in any case, have been heavily infiltrated by the freedom fighters. The number of attacks on the part of the resistance is climbing dramatically. Between 28 April and the end of June, 170 car bombs have exploded in Iraq. On average the resistance kills 2-3 US soldiers a day (in Vietnam it was 10) and injures many more, a third of them so badly that they are not able to return to duty. If these casualties increase, the Bush administration will face increasingly loud calls in the US to withdraw – calls which it may not be able to ignore. Several members of the coalition of the bribed and the coerced will have left by the end of the year, with no one willing to take their place.

Second, it may withdraw to bases being built by American contractors away from the centres of population for the domination of the region, just as in 140 other countries with US bases. The idea would be for the US military only to emerge from these bases at full strength for carrying out specific operations. For this tactic to work successfully would require the training of large enough numbers of Iraqis able and willing to take over security functions in the cities. With the resistance as strong as it is, and getting stronger by the day, this course of action is merely wishful thinking. The truth is that the Iraqi government is wholly reliant on the US army and the latter is, therefore, unable to withdraw from the cities until the Iraqi forces are able to take on the resistance. Although the US boasts 154,000 trained and equipped Iraqi police, soldiers, sailors and airmen, the trouble is that the majority of the Iraqi units are unable to conduct operations on their own. “We can’t launch guys out there who are not prepared to fight”, one US officer is reported as saying in the Financial Times of 12 May 2005. “The Iraqi police lean on the Americans like you lean on a wall, and if the wall is not firm you will fall”, says Colonel Ali, a veteran Iraqi police officer in west Baghdad. “If the US left us we could not defend ourselves at this time.

“The enemy is stronger than the police”, Colonel Mohammed, his colleague, admits (ibid.).

Third, the US could call it a day and pull out of Iraq – just as it did out of Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia. But as such a humiliating course of action would have incalculable consequences for US prestige and power and drive a coach and horses into the Project for a New American Century, the Bush administration is not ready – not just yet – to go along this route. After all, the fight for imperialist domination is not a policy choice but inherent to the whole of the system. It is the crisis of monopoly capitalism which is driving it to the insanity of endless wars, which can only end with the destruction of this bloodthirsty empire.

Fourth, it could increase the number of its forces in Iraq. According to military experts, to defeat an armed resistance requires a force ten times the strength of the resistance. Since the Iraqi resistance today is larger than the 160,000-strong US-led army of occupation, it would need at least 1.5 million imperialist troops to overwhelm the resistance. In the absence of conscription, resort to which would be unpopular and resisted by the American public, the US cannot muster forces in such large numbers.

Finally, the US could negotiate with the resistance. But the latter will not settle in such negotiations for anything short of an unconditional and complete withdrawal of the occupation forces.

It is most likely that the US would continue along the present path and muddle along as best as it can until the price, in men and materiel, becomes too punishing and forces it to withdraw, just as it did from Vietnam. The revolutionary violence of the Iraqi people is destroying the legitimacy of the occupation as well as it creation, the puppet regime, in a businesslike manner with single-minded determination and hastening the day of departure of the imperialist soldiery from Iraq. Roll on the day.