Iraq – imperialist occupation in deep trouble

Occupiers unable to control Iraq

Nearly five months after the fall of Baghdad, the ‘liberators’ of the Iraqi people, to wit, the Anglo-American imperialist armies of occupation, are no nearer to getting a grip on the country and are barely able to control its main roads. Iraq today is characterised by non-functioning public utilities, lawlessness, chaos, sabotage and intensified resistance to foreign occupation. The combination of the choking heat of Iraq’s summer and the Iraqi people’s frustration and anger at their miserable conditions of existence under foreign occupation have produced an explosive mix which the occupiers are at their wits’ end to deal with.

No one associated with the occupation forces, whose only contact with the Iraqi people is at the point of a gun, can hope to succeed. Hence the dramatic rise in anti-Americanism, which is a condition precedent for securing any following among the Iraqi population. Even those Iraqis who opposed the former Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein, express admiration for the willingness of many of its followers to fight and die for the sovereignty of Iraq. A large number of Iraqis, to the disquiet and dismay of US imperialism, entertain a genuine sense of pride at the way Uday and Qusay, the two sons of Saddam Hussein, held out for 4 hours in the face of overwhelming odds. No one can fail to notice a powerful current of Arab nationalism sweeping across Iraq, and indeed across the entire Arab world, whose primary and passionate desire is to expel the hated occupation forces from every occupied Arab land – from Iraq to Palestine – and reclaim their sovereignty and pride alike.

Attacks more frequent and better organised

The attacks on the occupation forces are getting uglier, better organised and more frequent. More US and British soldiers have been killed since Bush declared the end of major combat operation of 1 May than during the war. Between 1 May and 8 August, 55 US soldiers were killed in attacks by the Iraqi resistance (the actual number is more than three times as many, for these statistics do not include those who have died in ‘accidents’ or ‘in their sleep’ – a euphemism for suicides brought on by increasing demoralisation resulting from an unjust war and an unjust occupation). This number has gone up since then. On average at least one US soldier is being killed every day and the number of attacks average about 2 dozen a day. If the US administration thought that the killing of Saddam Hussein’s two sons would reduce US casualties, it has been sorely disappointed. Notwithstanding the killings of Uday and Qusay, as well as the capture of some leading figures of the former Iraqi regime, the attacks on the occupiers, and those associated with them, have if anything increased. During the 16 days following the killing of Uday and Qusay on 22 July, 17 US soldiers were eliminated by the resistance, forcing the Financial Times, in response to US claims that attacks on US soldiers had levelled off, to say that “…self-delusion about the reality on the ground is no improvement” (Leader, 8 August 2003).

As for US imperialism’s partner in crime, British imperialism, 50 British soldiers have died in the Iraq war – 11 since Washington declared the end of the war on 1 May. The 50th British soldier to die in Iraq did so on 28 August as the war criminal Tony Blair appeared before the Hutton Inquiry into the apparent suicide of the Ministry of Defence weapons expert, Dr David Kelly. This followed the killing of 3 British soldiers on Saturday 23 August.

There has been a shifting, and systematic pattern to attacks by the Iraqi resistance. Since early May, most attacks have targeted Anglo-American occupation forces. In June, however, the attacks shifted to oil installations and utilities. In July the focus of attacks was uniformed personnel. In August, the resistance targeted oil installations near Shirgat and Baiji on the Tigris and Heet on the Euphrates, water utilities in Baghdad, foreign embassies, Red Cross workers, the UN headquarters and local collaborators.

Jordanian embassy blasted

On 7 August, a powerful car bomb exploded outside the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, killing 11 and wounding 57 people. As Jordan was the only Arab state to send troops to support US ‘peacekeeping’ efforts in Afghanistan, and had allowed itself to be used as a launching pad for some US troops for the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of its embassy was nothing short of a powerful protest against the Jordanian regime’s subservience to US imperialism and its connivance at the latter’s war of aggression against Iraq. After the bombing, an angry crowd of Iraqis stormed the Jordanian embassy, raised clenched fists and spat at a portrait of the Jordanian monarch, Abdullah.

UN headquarters bombed

On 19 August, a massive bomb, consisting of 1,500 pounds of explosive, ripped through the Canal Hotel, which had served as the headquarters of the UN since the 1991 Gulf War, as well as serving as offices of UN weapons inspectors until 18 March this year when foreign staff left the country two days in advance of the start of the present war. Among the 23 killed was Sergio Vieira de Mello, special representative of the UN Secretary-General under Resolution 1483 passed by the Security Council. De Mello’s remit covered 8 areas of activity. Far from being humanitarian, his job, and that of his staff, was political, basically aimed at helping the occupation forces to make a success of the occupation – to legitimise it, for in a war without any legitimacy whatsoever, the UN alone can give it a cloak of legitimacy. Such legitimacy cannot be derived from the right of conquest. Those who bombed the Baghdad headquarters of the UN clearly did not want the Anglo-American occupation to be a success story.

After the attack on the UN headquarters, George W Bush, with truly Hitlerian cynicism and hypocrisy, declared that “the terrorists who struck today have again shown their contempt for the innocent. They showed their fear of progress and their hatred of peace. They are the enemies of the Iraqi people”.

“By attempting to spread chaos and fear”, he continued, “terrorists are testing our will”, adding that “…our will cannot be shaken”.

The truth, as understood by the overwhelming majority of humanity, is that it is Anglo-American imperialism which, through its aggression against Iraq, has shown “contempt for the innocent”, “fear of progress and hatred of peace”. It is the Anglo-American imperialists who are the true “enemies of the Iraqi people”, and who are busy spreading chaos and fear. Further, the truth is that the UN has, since the collapse of the USSR, acted as the colonial office of imperialism – in particular as an arm of the US state department and as an extension of US foreign policy. There is widespread resentment among the Iraqi people against the UN for its complicity in 13 years of sanctions, which have claimed the lives of 1.5 million innocent Iraqi people and reduced their once-prosperous country to sub-Saharan levels of penury. There is even more widespread resentment throughout the Middle East against the UN for allowing Israel, with total US support, to flout with impunity 64 UN resolutions, to continue the occupation of Palestine and the repression of its people, and to be in possession of a large arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including 200 nuclear bombs, while looking benignly at the Anglo-American imperialist war against the Iraqi people on the pretext of ridding Iraq of non-existent WMD which allegedly violate 17 UN resolutions.

Bush also stated after the bombing of the UN offices that “these killers will not determine the future of Iraq. Iraq is on an irreversible course for self-government and peace. America and our friends at the United Nations will stand with the Iraqi people as they reclaim their country.”

Undoubtedly Iraq is on “an irreversible course for self-government and peace”, but only through of war of national liberation against the occupation regime imposed by Anglo-American imperialism at gunpoint. They are certainly “reclaiming their country” -only through the forcible expulsion of the imperialist armies of occupation. The Iraqi people alone, not the Anglo-American killers, will determine the future of Iraq.

As to Bush’s bravado that “… our will cannot be shaken”, the plain truth is that this will is already shaken very badly indeed, as public opinion in the US is already weary of the Iraq war and earlier optimism about the fate of this venture has proved to be fragile and short-lived. The bombing of the UN headquarters, following a series of sabotage attacks on oil (including the previous week’s attack on the oil pipeline to Turkey), electricity and water installations in Iraq, as well as the bombing of the Jordanian embassy two weeks earlier, put paid to the remnants of US optimism. By these attacks, the resistance is successfully convincing the Iraqi masses that with the continued presence of US forces things can only get worse. These attacks make the Iraqi people averse to any cooperation with the occupation authorities by revealing their hold on the country to be precarious. With the continued attacks on the US and British forces, as well as sabotage strikes on the infrastructure, the occupiers cannot stage any economic revival of the Iraqi economy.

Bereft of any meaningful Iraqi support, suffering from troop shortages, faced with serious financial difficulties and confronted by an armed resistance which is growing more powerful with each passing day, the forces of occupation are staring in the face an ultimate humiliating defeat.

The Governing Council – a body of stooges

The interim Iraqi Governing Council (GC) commands very little support among the Iraqi people. It is a puppet administration appointed by Paul Bremer, the US colonial governor of Iraq, composed of US stooges, may of whom were in exile until the fall of Baghdad and have no contact with the Iraqi masses. In addition, the GC’s composition, based as it is on an arithmetical apportionment of places on the basis of religious affiliations, is calculated to foster sectarian and ethnic divisions (which have hitherto been alien to the political culture of Iraq) rather than to produce a unified representative governing body. Those participating in this charade are rightly seen by the Iraqi people as stooges. The participation in it by SCIRI (the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) is causing severe tensions among the Shia community of Najaf. The powerful explosion on Friday 29 August near the shrine of Imam Ali, in Najab, in which the leader of SCIRI, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqr al-Hakim, and 95 others, perished is most likely to have been connected with the controversial decision – much resented by large swathes of the Shia community – by the late Ayatollah al-Hakim to cooperate with the occupation forces. Radical clerics and the Shia masses oppose the occupation. Moqtada Sadr, a radical Shia cleric, is leading this opposition. During a fiery Friday (19 July) sermon in the holy city of Kufa, he appealed to the Shia masses to oppose the GC and to set up their own governing council to confront the puppet outfit set up by the occupation authorities. Sadr’s speech, aimed at discrediting figures who have thrown in their lot with the GC and obliging the mainstream Shia religious establishment to distance itself from the occupation forces, came as a significant blow to US attempts at the stabilisation of Iraq through the appointment of the GC as an interim administration. While Sadr denounced the GC as a tool of occupation, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqr al-Hakim sent his brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, to sit on it as a representative of SCIRI. It would thus appear that the leader of SCIRI paid with his life for his collaboration with the occupying powers, which must represent a clear warning to all those entertaining thoughts of engaging in such collaboration.

Financial burden

As for the financial aspect, the Iraq war could cost anything between $100 billion to $200 billion (£62 billion to £124 billion). Presently it is costing $3.9 billion a month – nearly $1 billion a week. As matters stand at present, Iraqi finances are in turmoil and cannot provide towards the costs of this war. Before the war, the size of the Iraqi economy stood at $28 billion a year, of which about $16 billion came from oil. After the war, $5 billion in investment and many years’ work will be needed to bring Iraqi oil production from the pre-war production level of 2.5 mbd (million barrels a day) to the pre-1991 level of 3.5 mbd. With the closure through sabotage by the Iraqi resistance of the 300 km pipeline running from Kirkuk to the southern Turkish port of Ceyhan, which carried a third of Iraq’s pre-war oil exports of 2.4 mbd, it is most unlikely that Iraqi production will reach the pre-1991 level in the foreseeable future.

Further, Iraq has reparation claims to the tune of $320 billion outstanding against it following the 1991 Gulf War. These claims creamed of 25% of Iraq’s oil revenues under the UN’s oil for food programme. In addition, there is the Iraqi debt, mostly owed to other Gulf states, of between $62-130 billion. Pending contracts, mainly with Russian companies, are estimated at $57 billion. Unless these liabilities are written off, or undergo a massive reduction, Iraq faces insolvency, no matter how quickly its oil production is increased. Its people will certainly not see the benefit of its oil revenues for decades. “Divide all that [debt] by current oil earnings and most Iraqis will be dead before they got anything”, said a Washington analyst (Financial Times, 28 March 2003).

If Iraq is not in a position to bear the burden of this war fully, Washington would appear to be equally unable to do so because of the burden of trade and fiscal debts afflicting it. According to reliable sources, the size of Washington’s liabilities – implicit (social security and medicare benefits) and explicit (the repayment of capital and interest on government bonds) – is such as to render the US government in effect bankrupt. The scale of its implicit liabilities – and resultant implicit bankruptcy – may be judged from the fact that when from the value of all the US government’s future revenues there is deducted the amount of its future expenditure commitments, one is left with a staggering shortfall of $44,000 billion (£27,000 billion). By comparison, the federal debt of $6,500 billion is almost small change. The result is that “…the colossus that bestrides the world has feet of clay” see ‘The fiscal overstretch that will undermine an empire’, Niall Ferguson and Laurence Koltikoff, Financial Times, 15 July 2003).

Morale and shortage of troops

In the middle of July, a report by an independent team of experts warned that the “potential for chaos” in Iraq was growing by the day, giving the US no more than 3 months to turn the security situation around. Commissioned by Donald Rumsfeld, five experts led by the CSIS (Centre for Strategic and International Studies), who spent nearly 2 weeks travelling across Iraq, made public their findings on 17 July. In view of the growing attacks by the Iraqi resistance, the Report stated that security was deteriorating in Baghdad, Mosul and elsewhere, with anti-Americanism on the rise.

“The next three months are crucial to turning around the security situation in key parts of the country. … The Iraqi population has exceedingly high expectations and the window for co-operation may close rapidly if they do not see progress on delivering security, basic services, opportunities for broad political involvement and economic opportunity.”

Further, the Report noted that the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) was disconnected from reality, “living in a cocoon inside a bubble”, according to Rick Barton of CSIS. The low morale of the US troops in Iraq was all too evident in the rebuke delivered by General John Abizaid, the new head of the Central Command, to his own soldiers, who were demanding the resignation of defence secretary Rumsfeld. In an expression of dissent, a number of troops from the US army’s 3rd infantry division in Iraq appeared on ABC television to complain about the deteriorating security situation. Their comments are revealing. “If Donald Rumsfeld were here, I’d ask him for his resignation”, said one soldier. Another told the AP News Agency: “You’ve got soldiers who are already at their mental, physical and emotional limits and you’re going to keep them here another three months? It’s not a smart thing to do. You’re going to have lots of incidents going on.”

Referring to the decks of cards bearing the photographs of the Iraqi leaders most sought after by the occupation forces and given to US soldiers, a sergeant, who requested anonymity, told ABC reporters: “I’ve got my own ‘Most Wanted List’. The aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz.”

Sergeant Eric Wright told the BBC News: “We’re exhausted. Mentally and physically exhausted to the point that someone hoped they would get wounded so they could go home. ‘Hey shoot me, I want to go home’.”

What really causes the US soldiers’ morale to plummet is the chasm between the rhetoric preceding the war and the reality on the ground in its aftermath. Month after month prior to the commencement of the war, US soldiers were told that they would be welcomed by the Iraqi people as ‘liberators’. In reality, however, they face a civilian population that despises them as aggressors and occupiers and is the source of a never-ending supply of recruits to the anti-American resistance.

The Los Angeles Times of 15 July reported the reaction of the Iraqi population of Fallujah to the 2nd Brigade’s attempts to distribute frozen chickens in a vain attempt to “win hearts and minds”. At several mosques the local Sunni Imams turned down the food, with one cleric telling the American troops: “We would rather eat rocks than eat chickens from Americans. Even the poorest person in Fallujah doesn’t want chickens from you.”

In the face of such hostility, US soldiers were compelled to drive away with the truckload of chickens through a hail of stones and bricks from local children.

While rebuking his own soldiers and stating that “None of us that wear this uniform are free to say anything disparaging about the secretary of state or the president of the United States”, General Abizaid felt free to contradict the defence secretary by claiming that the US was facing “a classical guerrilla-type campaign … It is low intensity conflict …, but it is war however you describe it” – a claim denied by Rumsfeld 2 weeks earlier.

In view of the rising resistance, and the need therefore to maintain the current force of 148,000 US soldiers in Iraq, the US military has to deploy its soldiers for a year instead of 6 months – a decision which has lowered the morale of US forces and given rise to great resentment on their part. With nearly half the US army’s 33 active combat divisions deployed in Iraq (not to speak of commitments elsewhere), the US army has been forced to call up 292,000 National Guard and reserve forces, many of whom have been on duty for more than a year. 190,000 are still serving, hitting small businesses across the US. The Guard and reserve forces now account for a huge 46% of the US military.

Futile attempts at

internationalising occupation

In view of all these daunting difficulties, the US administration, which was so cocky until only the other day and treated the UN Security Council with utter contempt, is now approaching that body with a view to conscripting the rest of the world to the Iraqi battlefield. While wanting help from other countries, it does not wish to cede control – political or military – to anyone else. The most it is prepared to accept is a multinational force under UN leadership, but with an American as the UN Commander in overall charge. In other words, the US authorities are merely formulating demands for cannon fodder.

However, the kind of UN ‘blue-wash’ desired by the US is not acceptable to its rival imperialist powers, notably France and Germany, who insist that authority over the transition must be shared. France has stated that the reconstruction of Iraq is only possible if the CPA acknowledges that it cannot succeed alone, insisting that in “…a world of equal and sovereign nations, sharing burdens and responsibilities also means sharing information and authority.” This is an international version of the old slogan of bourgeois revolutions: no taxation without representation. For France, as indeed for Germany, the most important issue is that of control of the multinational military force, for France is not willing to contribute troops if there is not the right kind of UN mandate and if France does not have a share of military command. Thus there is plenty of scope for a resurgence of the bitter inter-imperialist quarrels which preceded the Iraq war, and the consequent exacerbation of the inter-imperialist rivalry and contradictions, as each imperialist power is engaged in a deadly struggle for domination and to corner the mineral resources of the Middle East. By their very nature, such matters cannot be resolved amicably under the conditions of capitalism.

In any case, the negotiations at the Security Council have an air of unreality about them, for they do not take into account the desire and interests of the Iraqi people. While fighting with each other for the maximum share of the Iraqi cake, all the imperialist powers want to pacify and subjugate the Iraqi people. The latter, however, have made it perfectly clear that all foreign forces, whether they operate under US or a joint-imperialist command, or are covered by the fig leaf of a UN mandate, will be treated as aggressors and occupiers and dealt with accordingly. The attack on the UN headquarters has sent shock waves around the Middle East and Asia, hindering US attempts at recruiting forces from other countries. The attack was meant to “…warn off anyone – inside or outside Iraq – from collaborating with the American-led occupation authority … [and] to demonstrate the US army’s inability to control postwar Iraq” (leading article, Financial Times, 21 August 2003).

In fact, the helplessness of the US army to control Iraq was evident already before the attack. Its real purpose, therefore, was to issue an advance warning to those countries, such as India, Pakistan and Turkey, or, for that matter, France, Germany and other imperialist countries who might be considering sending their troops to Iraq. All without exception, implied the resistance through its attack, will face the same fate as the US and British troops.

End the occupation

While expressing satisfaction with the successes of the Iraqi resistance in frustrating Anglo-American imperialism’s attempts at consolidating its grip on Iraq, the movement for solidarity with the Iraqi people must demand the end of occupation and the withdrawal of the imperialist soldiery from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It must also render all political, moral and material support to the resistance.