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Socialism Today 78 - October 2003

US/UK occupation faces a rising tide of resistance

US imperialism is bogged down in an escalating guerrilla war. There are a dozen or more attacks on US/British forces everyday, and increasingly sophisticated bombings of military patrols and high-profile targets. Daily deaths and casualties from indiscriminate retaliation by occupation forces are arousing more and more resentment and anger, as are the security sweeps of residential areas. Electricity, water and other basic services have still not been fully restored. LYNN WALSH writes.

AT THE END of August the Shiite leader, Ayatollah Bakr al-Hakim, was assassinated in An Najaf, with 95 killed by the car bomb. Bakr al-Hakim argued against a jihad against the occupation, and his death is likely to strengthen figures like Moktada al-Sadr, who advocates resistance to the occupation.

Bombings and assassinations continued throughout September, with major incidents almost every day. There was an assassination attempt against the Baghdad police chief, in the police headquarters (3 September), and a bomb attack on the Abu Ghraib jail outside Baghdad. On 20 September assassins fatally wounded Akila al-Hashimi, a Shia Muslim who was one of the three women on the recently formed governing council, set up by the US administration (al-Hashimi died on 25 September). This was no doubt intended as yet another warning to those collaborating with the occupation authorities.

By 22 September the number of US forces killed had risen to 304, 165 since 1 May. But as the Independent’s correspondent, Robert Fisk, points out, the US gives out no figures for the Iraqis killed or wounded in the continuing conflict. "On Wednesday of last week", reports Fisk, "the Baghdad city morgue received 19 corpses, of which eleven were victims of gunfire. The next day, the morticians received eleven dead, of whom five had been killed by bullets. In May, approximately 300 murder victims were brought to the morgue, in June around 500, in July 600, last month about 700". (Another Day in the Bloody Death of Iraq, Independent on Sunday, 21 September)

Fisk estimates that at least 10,000 Iraqi civilians have been gunned down since the US occupied Baghdad on 9 April. Some of the dead are the victims of political feuds, some have been killed by thieves and gangsters, while others are the innocent victims of indiscriminate shooting by US soldiers. In one notorious incident, for instance, US forces shot eight Iraqi police who were pursuing a stolen BMW (12 September).

Everyday, the conflict adds to the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed, wounded, and in some cases, seriously disabled for life. The organisation Iraqi Body Count ( estimated on 17 August that the number of civilian deaths since the start of hostilities was between 6,113 and 7,830, with about 20,000 wounded during the war (which, according to Bush, officially ended on 1 May).

Guerrilla war

THE PENTAGON RECENTLY put on a special screening of The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1965) which re-enacts the urban struggle of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) against the occupying force of French imperialism. Though the French prevailed militarily in the battle of Algiers in 1957, they were forced to withdraw from the country in 1962, giving way to a FLN government. A leaflet for the Pentagon screening declared: "How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafés. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervour. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film". (Michael Kaufman, Pentagon Film Group Watches Algiers While Thinking Iraq, International Herald Tribune, 8 September) Was this a message to Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the hawks from their worried staff?

A military assessment by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff blames the post-war chaos in Iraq on hurried, inadequate planning before the invasion. The pre-war warning of General Eric Shinseki, that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to stabilise post-Saddam Iraq, has been confirmed. At the time, it was summarily dismissed by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz as exaggerated. But even the hawks’ policy adviser, Richard Perle, recently admitted that "America had blundered by failing to prepare an Iraq opposition capable of taking charge of the country after its liberation". At the same time, deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, admitted mistakes in planning the war in Iraq. In reality, the Rumsfeld strategy, of a small, mobile force relying on hi-tech weaponry, has been completely falsified. James Dobbins, a senior diplomat and long-time adviser to previous administrations, says Iraq needs a security force of 500,000 – including Americans, Iraqis and coalition members – to stabilise the country. (Christopher Marquis, Iraq’s Reality Outpaces Ideology, International Herald Tribune, 2 September)

The hawks’ arrogant strategy – that they could surgically decapitate Saddam’s regime, quickly install a comprador regime, and rapidly move on to their next military intervention – has proved to be a bloody and costly mistake.

Bush, Rumsfeld and company blame the insurgency on remnants of the Saddam regime and foreign Islamic fighters. Early in September, the US claimed that they had captured 225 foreign fighters in recent raids. US forces claimed to have detained 80 foreign fighters on 15 September, including Saudis, Jordanians and Sudanese. These forces, however, appear to be a small element in the continuing resistance, as even US officials admit. According to one report, "the degree to which such [foreign] fighters, along with loyalists of Saddam Hussein, were finding support within the Iraqi population, was making it difficult for US forces to track them down and root them out". (International Herald Tribune, 18 September)

Another report says: "Talk to people at random in this sprawling capital [Baghdad] of five million and they decry the lack of tangible improvements, its absence leaving them frustrated and anxious. [They] object to living with rampant crime, terrorist bombings, constant power cuts, an ill-defined political process, sluggish reconstruction and a mostly American administration that remains largely inaccessible in its bunkered palaces". (Neil MacFarquhar, The Battle for Hearts and Minds, International Herald Tribune, 16 September)

Rumsfeld blamed the resistance on "deadeners, foreign terrorists and criminal gangs". But defence department officials (anonymously) "said it was a mistake for the administration to discount the role of ordinary Iraqis who have little in common with the groups Rumsfeld cited, but whose anger over the US presence appears to be kindling some sympathy for those attacking US forces". (US Facing a Rise in Iraqi Hostility, International Herald Tribune, 18 September) Intelligence assessments and opinion polls carried out by the State Department contradict the line of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, etc. "Recent intelligence assessments tend to cast [opposition to the occupation] mainly as an insurgency in which the key variable will be the role played by ordinary Iraqis". One defence department official said: "To a lot of Iraqis, we are no longer the guys who threw out Saddam, but the ones who are bursting down doors and barging in on their wives and daughters".

Even Paul Bremer, the US proconsul, admitted: "The reality of foreign troops on the streets is starting to chafe. Some Iraqis are beginning to regard us as occupiers and not liberators… The degree to which we are now threatened by terrorists has been an unwelcome surprise to some of us". (Financial Times, 23 September)

Moreover, even the US’s hand-picked puppets, leaders of the Governing Council, including Ahmad Chalabi, have been demanding a new UN mandate that would grant sovereignty to the current interim government (in other words, to the leaders of the Governing Council). This is partly because they want to get their hands on the perks and privileges of power (although they recognise that they would not survive without US backing) but also because they fear a growing tide of opposition to those collaborating with Bremer’s occupation administration.

Bush retreats

IN HIS SPEECH to the UN General Assembly on 23 September Bush unrepentantly defended the US’s pre-emptive action against Iraq. He asserted that ‘nations’ (meaning the US) ‘must have the wisdom and the will to stop grave threats before they arise’. He claimed that ‘the nation of Iraq needs and desires our aid’. This assertive language was mainly aimed at the US domestic audience, and met with a cool reception in the General Assembly. In reality, Bush’s policy towards Iraq has been drastically undermined: his regime is in disarray and, despite his rhetoric, Bush has had to sound a retreat on key issues.

Bush finally admitted (21 September) that there was no connection between Saddam’s regime and the 9/11 attacks. Asked to comment on repeated claims by Vice-President Cheney, Bush told journalists: ‘No, we’ve no evidence that Saddam Hussain was involved with September 11’ (International Herald Tribune, 22 September).

Bush, Rumsfeld and company have effectively abandoned their earlier claims that Saddam possessed non-conventional weapons that posed an ‘imminent threat’. After his visit to Iraq in early September, Rumsfeld was asked if he had discussed evidence of WMDs with David Kay, leader of the Iraq Survey Group, the 1,400-strong team of weapons inspectors which has spent six months searching for evidence. Rumsfeld told reporters that he had been too busy to discuss the issue with Kay. In any case, he said, Kay reports to George Tenent, head of the CIA, not to him (International Herald Tribune, 9 September).

The CIA, however, has reportedly been investigating to see if the US was duped by Iraqi defectors giving bogus information to mislead the West before the war. According to the Los Angeles Times, intelligence officials "now fear that key portions of pre-war information may have been flawed…" (International Herald Tribune, 1 September).

Leaked copies of the Iraq survey group’s interim report reveal that the group has found that, in the period before the US invaded, Saddam’s regime had no non-conventional weapons posing an ‘imminent threat’ to neighbouring states, let alone more distant targets. The WMD pretext for pre-emptive military action against Iraq, which was actually decided on long ago by the hawks, has been exposed as a complete fraud. This inevitably undermines the credibility of the Bush regime, not to mention slavish supporters like Blair (The Hunt for Weapons of Mass Destruction Yields – Nothing, Guardian, 25 September).

Bush has also had to admit setbacks in other areas. He acknowledged that the Middle East ‘road map’ was ‘stalled,’ as the US-backed prime minister of the Palestinian authority, Abbas, was forced to resign. The Bush/Condoleezza Rice plan for the transformation of the Middle East is shattered.

In relation to Iran, Bush has retreated from the threats hurled at the regime in the period immediately after the invasion of Iraq. The US appears, at least for the time being, to be relying on UN and EU initiatives to enforce international inspection of Iran’s nuclear programme. The US threats, followed by retreat, appear to have strengthened the hard-line Islamic leadership in Teheran, at least for the time being. On recent celebrations, the regime paraded its latest long-range missiles through Teheran.

On North Korea, Bush has retreated on his policy of no concessions until the Kim Il Jong regime completely dismantles its nuclear programme. Without admitting it publicly, the US has accepted negotiations, tacitly accepting that concessions may be made to North Korea, relying on the mediation of the Chinese government.

When launching the invasion of Iraq, Bush contemptuously dismissed the UN as ‘irrelevant’. Now, despite defending pre-emptive action, Bush is effectively pleading for UN backing. The US now wants UN cover in the form of a resolution legitimising the US/British occupation. Such a mandate would allow states to send troops and to provide funds for reconstruction. Yet, Bush, Powell and company are not prepared to concede any political and military control to the UN, or to other powers. Chirac, in particular, has forcefully blocked any moves towards a UN mandate without concessions from the Bush regime. Even though there has been a certain rapprochement between Schröder and Bush, this has not produced any concrete results. It is noteworthy, moreover, that while many heads of state went to New York for the General Assembly meeting, Blair failed to show up – reflecting the growing pressure arising from the Hutton enquiry.

So far, none of the states being pressed by the US – India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh – have agreed to send troops. The governments in these countries would face enormous opposition if they were to do so. Even if they agreed, the US would have to pay most of the cost of their intervention. As far as cash is concerned, only about $1bn has been promised for reconstruction from 61 countries – a trivial amount compared to the sums required.

At the General Assembly session, Kofi Annan, the UN general secretary, bluntly criticised the US policy of pre-emptive action. Both the US and other states, for their own reasons, are discussing ‘restructuring’ of the UN, possibly bringing states such as India and Brazil onto the Security Council to balance the influence of existing Security Council members. Any such moves, however, would require the unanimous support of the five permanent Security Council members, which is hardly likely. Meanwhile, the UN will continue to be paralysed on major conflicts such as Iraq.

Hawks under attack

RETURNING FROM HIS visit to Iraq, Rumsfeld launched an attack on the Bush regime’s widening circle of critics, claiming that they give encouragement to the foes of the US (International Herald Tribune, 9 September). This is a new variation on the old ‘anti-communist’ theme of the Cold War: if you are not 100% with us, then you are against us. The disastrous results of the invasion of Iraq, however, have opened up splits within the ranks of the hawks and provoked a growing tide of criticism of Bush’s entourage of neo-conservative advisors.

Speaking for a faction of the neo-conservative ideologues, William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, launched a sweeping attack on the CIA, the State Department, and Bremer’s provisional authority for their failure to establish firm control in Iraq. Kristol also attacks Rumsfeld, formerly the neo-cons’ favourite action man, for his doctrinaire obsession with ‘military transformation’ – that is, proving the effectiveness of small, high-tech intervention forces. Like the US military commanders, Kristol can see that the commitment of totally inadequate numbers of troops to Iraq has been disastrous (Guy Dinmore, Cracks appear in America’s Conservative consensus, Financial Times, 23 September). Criticisms are being fired at Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security advisor, for her failure to ensure the formulation of a coherent policy at the strategic and operational level (Financial Times, 15 September).

The whole aviary of hawks, however, neo-conservative ideologues and Pentagon officials alike, are coming under increasing attack from the strategists of the ruling class. More and more commentators are bluntly characterising Bush’s policy of unilateral, pre-emptive war as a short-sighted, reckless adventure, far worse in its consequences than even the ‘old guard’ Washington critics anticipated in the pre-war period.

The neo-conservatives are under attack from Congressional leaders. There are a growing number of calls from leading Democrats for the sacking of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. Without naming them, Nancy Pelosi (Democratic leader in the House) and Jack Murty, senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, called on Bush to sack advisors responsible for ‘false assumptions and miscalculations’ regarding Iraq. (International Herald Tribune, 17 September)

More bluntly, David Obey, senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee – currently considering Bush’s request for another $87bn to fund the Iraqi occupation – openly called for the dismissal of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. Politicians in both big-business parties are feeling the strong public opposition to further massive expenditure on Iraq. A Washington Post/ABC poll (14 September) showed that 61% were against the additional funds with only 38% in favour.

A New York Times editorial noted that future generations would be saddled with the bill for Bush’s military adventure. "The United States has no clear exit strategy from Iraq or immediate hope of a turnaround in a violent, complicated and expensive commitment". Bush’s aggression, they warn, "risks America’s economic stability and international credibility [power and prestige]".

Cost of the war

CONFRONTED BY BUSH’S demand for another $87bn, the US public are beginning to wake up to the size of the bill they are being asked to pay. After the 1990-91 Gulf war, the US collected $60bn from grateful allies, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan, etc. This time, the major powers are not prepared to pay the bill for US imperialism’s unilateral action. On the other hand, allies like Turkey and Pakistan, far from contributing, are demanding subsidies and debt write-offs as the price for their support. Bush indignantly denounced Senator Edward Kennedy for his comment that the US was paying ‘bribes’ to foreign nations to support a fraudulent war, but this is the truth.

Senator Robert Byrd, the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, described the $87bn request as ‘eye-popping’. The American people, said Byrd, were expressing "serious reservations about the president’s go-it-alone occupation of Iraq… They are questioning the wisdom of a policy that has our soldiers serving as sitting ducks in an Iraqi shooting gallery".

The invasion of Iraq, it is now being revealed, cost $45bn – for military preparations, aid to non-combatants (Turkey, Pakistan, etc), and the invasion itself. Since 1 May, the military occupation has been costing $1bn a week. Other costs of the occupation are phenomenal: immediate humanitarian aid will cost around $5bn, while $8bn is needed to pay for Iraqi government salaries. Immediate repairs to utilities are estimated at $7bn, while $3bn is required to resettle the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees who have now returned to the country.

Bush’s request for $87bn includes $50.5bn for the military, and $20.3bn for reconstruction. Bremer recently revealed, however, that the World Bank estimates that reconstruction will cost $60-70bn over the next four to five years. (Financial Times, 23 September) Iraq’s financial requirements were "almost impossible to exaggerate", Bremer said recently. (Donald Hepburn, Nice War – Here’s the Bill, International Herald Tribune, 4 September)

The cost of the US maintaining its tenuous foothold in Afghanistan, moreover, continues to rise. The $87bn includes a further $11bn for military operations in Afghanistan, and $800 million for reconstruction. So far, international donors have offered only between $1bn and $1.5bn between 61 contributing countries. The US government expropriated $2.5bn of Iraqi state assets in the United States, but these funds must be more or less exhausted.

Bush’s soaring military budget and escalating expenditure on Iraq will increase the growing federal budget deficit. Bush has transformed a surplus $281bn into a deficit of over $400bn and it is likely to rise to over $540bn (5% of GDP) during the current fiscal year. Without this deficit, the downturn in the US economy would have been deeper and longer. However, the character of the deficit, which arises from a combination of tax cuts, public spending cuts, and increased military expenditure, combines the minimum economic stimulation with the maximum deficit. Meanwhile, jobs continue to be lost – over 2.7 million jobs have disappeared since Bush came to office. Last year, moreover, another 1.3 million people (half of them children) were pushed below the official poverty line. Even if the economy begins to grow again in the coming moths – which is not guaranteed, given the shakiness of the dollar and the possibility of international shocks – it will be a weak, jobless recovery, with little or no improvement for most working people.

US superpower ensnared

THE POWER AND prestige of US imperialism appeared to be greatly increased after the ‘shock and awe’ destruction of Saddam’s regime. But the US superpower is now ensnared in a complex, costly and increasingly bloody conflict.

Through the UN General Assembly, Bush has appealed for help from the major powers and allies, but he is constrained by electoral factors at home. Openly accepting that unilateral, pre-emptive action was a mistake and agreeing to UN control of the occupation of Iraq, would severely damage his chances of re-election next year. In any case, the continued rise of unemployment and other economic problems make his chances look less rosy every day.

Many of the serious strategists of the ruling class, some of whom warned of the consequences of the hawks’ strategy in advance, are now deeply alarmed at the morass into which the Bush leadership has dragged them. They are beginning to recognise that, once again, they face the dilemma that the US faced in Vietnam, or French imperialism in Algeria: retreat, withdraw from an unwinnable conflict, or face a prolonged, costly defeat which will drag down the US economy and provoke a social revolt at home.

US imperialism is now paying a heavy price for Bush’s arrogant unilateralism. France and other states are not eager to help the US, without concessions from Bush – that is, being allowed a share of the loot in Iraq. US and other occupation forces should be withdrawn from Iraq immediately.

Occupation by a consortium of powers under the fig leaf of UN legitimacy, however, would be no better than US control. The task of reconstructing the country belongs to the Iraqi people themselves. Under a US-sponsored capitalism, dominated by multinational corporations and banks, Iraqis would face a ghastly future. But a home-grown gangster capitalism is no alternative. To meet the needs of the majority, the exploited workers and poor farmers, reconstruction requires a socialist alternative. A democratically planned economy would provide the foundation for economic security for all and guarantee the right of self-determination to all national minorities. Only socialist transformation, in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, can provide a way out of the intolerable morass created by imperialism, capitalism and their feudal allies.

The great sell-off

THE US is pushing ahead with the rapid privatisation and sell-off of Iraqi industry and commerce. The ministry of industry currently controls 48 manufacturers employing about 96,000; while the ministry of trade controls about 100 companies. New laws that would allow foreign companies to buy up large swathes of the Iraqi economy were announced on 21 September by the Iraqi Governing Council’s finance minister, Kamel Kilani – in Dubai, during the IMF/World Bank meeting. "Seize this opportunity", was Kilani’s message to foreign businesses on behalf of his US masters, who are desperate to present a favourable prospectus to potential investors at next month’s donor’s conference in Madrid.

These measures have been announced despite earlier warnings from the World Bank against ‘pell-mell deregulation’. "We made the case", said a World Bank official, "that the Iraqi population is vulnerable and to liberalise right now would expose them". (International Herald Tribune, 19 September) Apart from security problems, there is no stable legal framework, and state-controlled companies are immersed in "a swamp of murky loans". Over half of working-age Iraqis are estimated to be unemployed. At a meeting in Washington with World Bank officials, Bremer appeared to accept that privatisation of Iraqi industries would have to be delayed because the country was "too unstable to absorb the shock of swift deregulation".

Yet only a few days later in Dubai, Kilani, backed by the US treasury secretary, John Snow, proceeded to announce the great sell-off. "To provide for rich returns to those willing to risk investing money in a war-zone, Kilani said, foreign owners will be able to control as much as 100% of any enterprise in which they invest in Iraq… The ownership rule applies to every sector of the economy except natural resources… The new ownership laws, completed on Friday [19 September] allow investors to jump into Iraq immediately, without having to be screened by the government. All profits from such ventures can be fully and immediately remitted overseas, meaning the money does not have to be stored with an Iraqi institution…" (New York Times, 22 September).

Tax rates will be low, ranging from 3% to 15% – after an initial tax holiday. Foreign banks will be allowed to open branches in Iraq, and the new law permits six foreign banks to take complete control of local banks within the next five years.

The new free-for-all ownership rules will not apply to the oil industry – it remains to be seen what structure the US occupiers will propose, though US multinationals will no doubt get the lion’s share of contracts. Foreign investors may be wary of putting money into Iraq while the guerrilla resistance continues. But there is already a property boom in Baghdad, mainly fuelled at the moment by wealthy Iraqis returning home after years in exile and by gangsters who looted the banks during the early stages of the US invasion. Five-bedroom villas in the fashionable Karada district, for instance, are now selling for around $500,000.

The ‘big bang’ privatisation of the Iraqi economy will be a disaster for the Iraqi people. Big multinationals will be given a free hand to plunder key sectors, while the local mafia will take over other sectors.


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