Iraq: Withdrawal of combat troops – Occupation by another name
For nearly two years, the Iraq war has disappeared from the print and electronic media. The story put about by Anglo-American imperialism, and propagated far and wide by its media stooges, is that the Bush “surge” of 2007 worked, that the Iraqi resistance has been defeated, and that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are able to take responsibility for security. Consequently, runs this story, the US has won and it can, therefore, withdraw troops from Iraq, leaving behind a ‘democratically elected’ government. Thus, for most people in the US and Britain, the war in Iraq has already passed into history.
This impression received reinforcement through the withdrawal by the US of the “last combat brigade” from Iraq on 19 August, ahead of President Obama’s deadline of 31 August. As the soldiers of 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, sneaked away in the dead of night like thieves, across the Iraq-Kuwaiti border, they hollered: “we won”, “It’s over”. What exactly did they win? And, is the war really over?
War continues relentlessly
Whether these soldiers actually put any faith in their own bravado is of little consequence. The truth is that on both counts they were patently wrong, for neither the US has achieved victory, nor is the war over. Notwithstanding the headlines in the imperialist organs hailing the “end” of the war and reports saying “US troops to leave Iraq”, what Obama called the “dumb war” carries on inexorably and the occupation is to continue by another name. It is a case of old wine in new bottles – an attempt to rebrand the occupation to fool the simple Simons of this world.
After the withdrawal of the “last combat brigade”, there will still remain 50,000 US troops, operating from 94 military bases all across Iraq, in a “training” and “advisory” role, while “providing security” and undertaking “counter-terrorism” operations. In other words, absolutely nothing will change. Just as on Obama becoming president, Bush’s “war on terror” was rechristened “overseas contingency operations”, from the first of September “combat operations” will be repackaged as “stability operations”. General Raymond Odierno, the top US military commander in Iraq, told CNN on 21 August that remaining US troops could revert to combat operations in case of need, of which there will be plenty.
For, although the ISF have an apparently impressive strength of 663,000 (255,000 soldiers in the Iraqi puppet army and 408,000 personnel in the puppet police force), according to the US Government’s Accountability Office, only 10 per cent of these are able to operate without help from the US army of occupation. They will not be able to hold on, on their own, for years to come. Iraq’s air force has 102 aircraft but only 57 qualified pilots. If the US, with 170,000 troops at peak, and thousands of soldiers from other countries, found it impossible to defeat the Iraqi resistance, how are the puppet ISF, with only a tenth of them with the capability to function independently, to cope with the continuing resistance, as well as the US-instigated inter-ethnic, inter-religious violence, not to speak of the violence consequent upon factional fighting in the camp of the Iraqi stooges of the occupation. Obviously the $20bn (€14.8bn, £13bn) that the US has spent on building Iraq’s security forces has not done the trick.
The US authorities know all this and are busy strengthening the occupation and planning to stay in Iraq for a very long time indeed. Apart from the scores of bases that its forces operate from, the US is busy constructing five mega bases, any two of which would suffice for the military domination of the whole of Iraq, and are being endowed with the kind of amenities that the American soldiers are used to receiving back in the US. Take, for instance, Camp Balad, sitting on 16 square miles of territory 60 miles to the north of Baghdad, which is home to tens of thousands of troops, private contractors and other personnel, including special service operatives. In all essentials, it is a small American town bang in the middle of the most hostile part of Iraq.
As to the new US embassy in construction in the high security Green Zone of the capital, it will be the size of the Vatican, the largest US embassy anywhere, covering an area of 104 acres to house 1,000 diplomatic staff. With running costs of approximately $1.2bn a year, it will be equipped with its own utilities (water and electricity), anti-missile defence capability, and blast resistant working and shopping areas, as well as recreational facilities.
In addition to the 50,000 US troops still in Iraq, there are 168,000 private mercenaries still operating in the country employed by private security contractors. While 36,000 of these are Iraqis, 132,000 are foreign, many “third country nationals”, especially from the oppressed nations. Though many of these employees do the cooking and laundry, or provide logistical and technical services, at least a quarter of them have combat roles. A substantial portion, almost all former soldiers, work as bodyguards. Notwithstanding over 600 fatalities among them, there is no shortage of recruitment as a close-protection operative can make £300-350 a day.
Thus the war in Iraq is not only being rebranded, it is increasingly being outsourced and privatised. The US is known to want an increase in the number of private contractors in Iraq, dubbed correctly by some as the “coming surge”. According to press reports, this huge force of private contractors is seeking 29 helicopters, 60 IED-proof personnel carriers and a fleet of 1,320 armoured cars. So, one can be sure that lawless killings of civilians, destruction of property and gross human rights violations by these mercenary merchants of death are set to continue – only on an intensified scale.
Deterioration of security
Far from Iraq having been pacified, violence is on the increase. Security has deteriorated back to what it was in 2008 and is likely to collapse soon. Basra airport base is still occupied by 4,000 US troops and increasingly came under rocket attacks leading up to the end-of-August withdrawal deadline. Rockets continue to hit the Green Zone in the centre of Baghdad on a daily basis. July has been the worst month this year in terms of casualties, with more than 500 killed, including 396 civilians. Although they withdrew from the towns in June 2009, six US soldiers continue to be killed every month. As if deliberately planned to coincide with the August deadline, a bomb attack on a recruitment centre claimed 61 lives and wounded many other people on 17 August in Baghdad. On Sunday, 22 August, just three days after the withdrawal of combat troops, a US soldier was killed by a rocket strike near Basra. 25 August witnessed a series of bomb attacks in cities across Iraq, claiming scores of lives. Anywhere between 53 to 60 people were killed in these attacks, with another 200 injured. Worst hit were the towns of Kut in south-eastern Iraq, where 20 people were killed by a suicide car bomber, and Baghdad, where a similar attack killed 15 people. There was more loss of life in at least a dozen separate bomb attacks over a range of cities from Kirkuk in the north to Basra and Karbala in the south and Ramadi in the west. The ISF, which have lately taken greater responsibility for security as the US reduces its military presence, were the main targets of these attacks.
With the exit of the combat troops on 19 August, and the reduction in number of military personnel to 50,000, the new allegedly civilian-led mission it to be rebranded “Operation New Dawn”, with the remainder of US troops set to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and its puppets in Baghdad. Considering the mess in which the Iraqi puppets find themselves, and the fragility of the ISF, it is only too likely that the remaining US troops will increasingly take on combat missions, and that the last US troops will not leave Iraq by the end of next year. In fact, the Obama administration has already given a pointed hint that US troops are down to stay in Iraq for the foreseeable future.
Only the other day, Robert Gates, US Defence Secretary, said that the US had an agreement with Iraq that “…we will be out of Iraq at the end of 2011”, adding, however, that “… if a new government is formed there and they want to talk about beyond 2011, we’re obviously open to that discussion. But the initiative will have to come from the Iraqis”.
Well, we do know where the initiative will come from. As in the past, so in the future, it will come from the puppet-masters and not the puppets; it will come from the occupying power and not its collaborators. That being the case, the US will stay in Iraq.
This is particularly so, since the various Iraqi factions have been unable to agree on the formation of a new government although a whole six months has elapsed since the 7 March parliamentary election. In that election al-Iraqiya, a coalition led by Iyad Allawi, a former puppet prime minister, and including some prominent Sunnis, ended up gaining a slender majority of two seats over the State of Law, one of the Shia coalitions under Nouri al-Maliki, the incumbent puppet prime minister. No coalition won an outright majority in the 325-member parliament, with al-Iraqiya gaining 91 seats, State of Law 89, Iraqi National Alliance (comprising the Sadrish movement of Moqtada al-Sadr and the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq – ISCI – a Shia coalition in opposition to al-Maliki) 70, Kurdish Alliance (led by Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)) 43, and an assortment of others 32.
The election result leaves the various parties with no choice other than to negotiate the formation of a coalition government. This is extremely difficult in a country, which has, since the invasion, become riven with sectarianism and emerged as one of the most corrupt (according to Transparency International, 176th out of 180 countries surveyed) and whose puppet rulers behave like “hyenas preying on carrion”, treating the country’s institutions and wealth as sectarian booty or factional fiefs and means to looting the state treasury.
On being asked as to who will form the next government, a parliamentary official replied: “Go and ask Paul” – in reference to the octopus that supposedly predicted winners and losers at the football World Cup.
The US would dearly love to stitch up a coalition government between Iraqiya and State of Law, but this is proving very difficult as al-Maliki and Allawi cannot agree on who should be the prime minister. If such a coalition government were to be formed, it will entrench the position of the wealthy and mercantile interests, represented by these parties and seek to marginalise al-Sadr, who has consistently opposed the occupation, privatisation of Iraq’s oil wealth and regionalisation of the country into sectarian fiefs, championed the interests of the poor 10 million Iraqis from whom he draws his support and stood for a united Iraq. For his part, Moqtada al-Sadr, too, wants to shut out Iraqiya from the government but does not want al-Maliki to be the prime minister.
Status of Kirkuk
In addition to the problems associated with the formation of a government, there are many other contentious questions tearing the various factions apart. Tensions are high between the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi Arab forces over the disputed and oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds, constituting 20 per cent of Iraq’s population, want included in their autonomous region and to be its capital. Kirkuk, with 900,000 inhabitants, and a population mix of Kurds, Arabs, Turkomens and Yazidis, is home to some of Iraq’s richest oilfields, with about 40 per cent of Iraq’s proven reserves found in the surrounding area. This is an extremely explosive issue, which could cause civil war.
Furthermore, neighbouring Turkey has an interest in Kurkuk’s status. It vehemently opposes its incorporation into the Kurdish region, fearing that such an outcome would act as an encouragement to its own Turkish population to intensify its struggle for an independent state and eventually join forces with the Iraqi Kurds across the border. There is a real chance that Turkey would be prepared to go to war to prevent the realisation of such a scenario and draw other powers into the conflict.
Under Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, a referendum is supposed to decide the status of any disputed territory, which the Kurdish parties have demanded and over which the Baghdad government has been dragging its feet. It is difficult to see, given the narrow sectarianism of the parties involved, how this question could be solved amicably.
Then there is the all-important question of Iraq’s oil, to grab which and dominate the whole Middle East region, the US-led predatory war has been waged for close to two decades, the latest phase of this war being marked by the March 2003 invasion. Iraq’s oil has always been a prize too great for imperialism and oil companies to resist.
While Iraq has proven reserves of 115 billion barrels of oil, almost the same as Iran, it is reliably thought that its actual reserves could be up to 300 billion barrels – that is, in excess of Saudi Arabia’s. Much of the western part of Iraq remains unexplored.
John Teeling, Chairman of Petrel Resources, the explorer listed on London’s AIM market with interests in Iraq since 1997, correctly observed: “Iraq has 70 discovered, undeveloped fields. You’d die for any of them. Even the small ones have a billion barrels. If this isn’t the holy grail, it’s right next door to it”. He added: “It costs $1 a barrel to get oil out in Iraq. If you’re getting $60 for it, that’s good economics. You don’t have to go to Harvard to figure that out” (quoted in ‘Readying for Iraq’s oil’ by Saeed Shah in the Indian daily, The Tribune, 24 February 2007)
With the necessary upgrade of oil infrastructure, which has been gutted through imperialist war and sanctions, Iraq could produce well in excess of the 2.8 mbd (million barrels per day) that she produced before the start of the 2003 Anglo-American imperialist predatory war. In fact, it is capable of producing 10 mbd – slightly in excess of the daily production of Saudi Arabia, the current pre-eminent producer.
US not quitting
But having done all the heavy lifting and waging a costly and murderous war, Anglo-American imperialism has not managed to secure a monopoly of Iraq’s fabulous oil wealth. At the two Iraqi oil auctions, held in June and December 20009, imperialist oil companies had to either compete against, or join forces with, the national oil companies from Asia and Africa and concede a great deal to the latter in this “second gold rush”. CNPC (China National Petroleum Company), together with BP, won the right to develop Ramaila, Iraq’s biggest oil field in the June 2009 auction, which could eventually pump 2.85 mbd, coming close to Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar field which manages a higher output. The Halfaya field, which has 4.1 billion barrels, was won by a CNPC-led consortium of Total of France and Malaysia’s Petronas. CNPC, which is active in 27 countries and a savvy player among national oil companies, has additional strengths in the form of cheap equipment and skilled cheap labour. The consortium has promised to boost production at Halfaya from the current 3,000 barrel per day to 535,000 barrels per day for a fee of $1.40 a barrel.
Royal Dutch Shell, which won the right to operate the giant Majnoon field has accepted a very low price of $1.39 barrels and promised to boost the field’s production from the 46,000 barrels per day to 1.8 million barrels per day. Petronas of Malaysia will have a 30 per cent stake in the project, the remaining 25 per cent to be held by Iraq. Petronas also won a number of other deals. It will play the leading role in the development of the Gharaf oil field. Sonangol, the Angolan state-owned oil company, one of the youngest national oil companies to enter the high-stakes game of international oil, won two deals for fields that could produce up to 220,000 barrels per day.
Following the June 2009 auction, Shell had also won the right to help ExxonMobil repair the giant West Kurna 1 field.
Because of opposition within Iraq, and competition from the national oil companies, the imperialist oil companies had to give up the idea of securing PSAs (production-sharing agreements), which allow them to book reserves, and go for service contracts – and those too at rather low prices. “The international oil companies have raced each other to the bottom to get to Iraq’s reserves”, observed Raad Alkadiri, an analyst at PFC Energy, adding that “the Iraqis have got to be glowing after this round” (see ‘Shell wins ‘gold rush’ Iraqi oilfield auction’, Carola Hoyos, Financial Times, 12 December 2009).
If all these projects are fulfilled, in a decade Iraq could be producing close to 10 mbd, in excess of 12 per cent of the current global production. That being the case, the imperialist oil giants will certainly not want to be left out of this oil bonanza, while hoping to use their service contracts as a stepping stone to better and more lucrative exploration deals in the future in the vast areas of Iraq that have remained unexplored since the 1972 nationalisation of the oil sector. Equally, having waged a horrendously barbarous war against the people of Iraq, US imperialism would not want to simply up sticks and make for the exit, while Chinese and other national oil companies reap the benefits. All in all US imperialism is not quitting anytime soon.
We must now briefly refer to the ‘achievements’ of this imperialist war, led by the US. At the start of the war, sickeningly dubbed ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’, imperialism promised democracy, development, prosperity, freedom and human rights. Former President of the US, George W Bush, promised “a free Iraq” that would be a “watershed event in the global democratic revolution”. Seven and a half years on, these are the shameful accomplishments of this horrific enterprise, which shall for ever constitute an eloquent testimony to the barbarity of imperialism, its cruelty, its disregard for human life, and its destructive power in the never-ceasing chase for maximum profit and domination.
· Over one million Iraqis killed and many more wounded;
· Five million Iraqis turned into refugees, of which two million were forced to flee abroad, the rest internally displaced;
· Torture and imprisonment as an instrument of normal mode of governance, with upwards of 25,000 prisoners still languishing in various dungeons and concentration camps across Iraq;
· Dilapidated service consequent upon the wholesale destruction of the infrastructure;
· Trade union activity banned and women’s position worse than before;
· Unprecedented levels of unemployment (56 per cent of males between the ages 15-29 have no jobs);
· Ever deteriorating living standards and massive poverty (25 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line);
· In a country with the third largest reserves of oil, the citizens receive electricity for only a few hours a day;
· 40 per cent of Baghdad’s sewage flows into the Tigris, polluting the lifeblood of Iraq, while sewage flows openly on the streets of many neighbourhoods;
· There is no security for the citizens and Baghdad has achieved the dubious notoriety of being the most violent place on earth, cut up by 1,500 checkpoints and blast walls;
· ISF are thoroughly infected with sectarianism and linked to the political parties of the various leading puppets, being no more than sectarian militias draped in national uniforms;
· And there is no government worth its name.
Thanks to the imperialist carnage, Iraq is a broken country and a broken society, characterised by bloodshed and destruction. No wonder the Iraqis overwhelmingly hate the occupation and continue to resist it truly heroically. In the light of the foregoing, the claim by The Times of 5 August 2010 that “Iraq is a democracy” and the assertion by Gordon Brown, former prime minister and war criminal, in December 2009 that: “Thanks to our efforts and those of our allies, over six difficult years a young democracy has replaced a vicious 30-year dictatorship”, are obscenely grotesque.
On the American side, 4,420 soldiers have been killed and tens of thousands wounded so far. In terms of financial costs, the war up to now is estimated by experts such as Joseph Stiglitz to carry a tag of $3 trillion.
Thus, while the American tax payer has borne a heavy financial burden, and the American working-class youth have paid in blood, and millions of innocent Iraqis have been prematurely dispatched to death, wounded, driven out of their homes, and thrust into a life of exceptional poverty and destitution, consequent upon this criminal and predatory war, the robber barons of imperialism from the giant financial institutions to oil monopolies, armament manufacturers, private security contractors, and such other blood suckers have made fabulous profits – they are the one’s who had a lovely war.
After all the slaughter, all the cost in blood and treasury, in pursuit of this war, the present American general in charge in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno could say no more on 22 August on its outcome than that it could take years to determine if the US-led invasion was a success, adding with more hope than expectation that “A strong democratic Iraq will bring stability to the Middle East, and if we can see an Iraq that’s moving toward that, two, three, five years from now on, we can call our operation a success”.
Yes, a strong and democratic Iraq will emerge, and there will be stability in the Middle East, but only when the imperialist occupiers are expelled from Iraq and the wider Middle East region, for it is the predatory US-led war, the occupation, and the presence of imperialist armies which have weakened and destroyed Iraq and are, at the same time, a source of immense destabilisation in the region.
But no one need wait a few years to ascertain whether the war in Iraq has been a success for imperialism, for it is clear to all but the very blind and stupid that imperialism has been, and continues to be, beaten by the Iraqi resistance. Although ground down by decades of war, sanctions, occupation, ethnosectarian slaughter instigated by imperialism by way of postponing its defeat, the Iraqi people continue, through and overcoming all the misery imposed by this war, to wage a successful struggle against occupation and for the liberation of their country from the jackboots of the imperialist soldiery and their local stooges.
When the US soldiers, on crossing the Iraqi border into Kuwait, shouted “we won”, the reaction of the locals, according to one journalist, was said to be unprintable.
The Financial Times was nearer the truth when, in its leading article on 23 August, said this: “Beyond human suffering, the collateral damage includes America’s stature. Humiliated in Iraq, the US is less feared by enemies and less loved by friends. Another casualty was the case for liberal interventionism …” (‘Mission unfulfilled’).
For the moment, although humiliated and badly mauled, US imperialism is not leaving Iraq – not yet. It is busy rebranding the occupation, with “Combat operations” given the name of “Stability operations”, and “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, courtesy of massive slaughter and destruction, transformed into “Operation New Dawn”.
In view of this, it is the continuing duty of the anti-war and anti-imperialist working- class movement to give every support to the Iraqi resistance and work for the defeat and expulsion of the marauding imperialist armies from Iraq.