The invasion and occupation of Iraq has never been popular. With more than 650,000 Iraqis, mostly civilians, having been killed since the March 2003 US-British-Australian invasion, it is not surprising that three quarters of Iraqis want the US and other foreign troops out, with 61% supporting armed attacks on US troops. The war is also opposed by a majority in the West, including those countries that are involved in the US-led occupation.
On the weekend of February 14-16, 2003, a month before the invasion, millions of people took to the streets around the world. At least 1 million Australians marched.
In the US and Britain, anti-war actions have continued to draw large numbers. Half a million people marched in Washington on January 27.
In Australia, the majority of people continue to oppose the war. However, numbers at Australian rallies have declined, reflecting the small size of the Australian occupation contingent — some 550 troops in Iraq and another 900 in neighbouring countries — and consequent low number of casualties.
While only one soldier serving with the Australian forces in Iraq has died, apparently of self-inflicted injuries, more than 3000 US soldiers have been killed. However, with an ever decreasing number of countries willing to be part of the occupation, the continued Australian presence is important for the US-led occupation force to maintain the facade of being "multinational".
The tenacious Iraqi resistance to the occupation and the domestic unpopularity of the war in the US and Australia is reflected in leading opposition politicians, such as Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barak Obama and ALP leader Kevin Rudd, projecting an anti-war stance. Both are now calling for a staged withdrawal of their country's troops from Iraq.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced on February 21 that Britain would be withdrawing 1600 of its 7100 troops, with the possibility of all British troops being out of Iraq sometime in 2008 if they no longer "have a job to do". Despite projecting themselves as anti-war candidates, both Obama and Rudd have put forward similar timescales and caveats.
While these developments should be welcomed by anti-war activists, it is not acceptable for troops to remain in Iraq for another year, or for their withdrawal to be dependent on their "job" being completed.
For one thing, their "job description" has been continually changed by the politicians directing the war. Initially, it was to destroy dictator Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The fact that Hussein had no such weapons meant that this job was quickly forgotten once the occupation began. Removing a dictator and installing "democracy" then became the occupiers' "job".
Formally, this job has already been done. The occupiers not only overthrew Hussein (who, ironically, came to power in the first place with CIA assistance) and organised the election of a new government.
While Washington's puppet régime in Baghdad's "Green Zone" might not be everyone's idea of a democracy, Bush, Blair and Howard never tire of declaring that it is.
Since the December 2005 parliamentary elections, the most common justification for the continued occupation of Iraq has been that it is necessary to stop the country descending into a civil war between the different Muslim communities.
Superficially, this appears to be a genuine concern, with sectarian-motivated attacks on civilians, bombings of mosques, assassinations and kidnappings having become commonplace. However, this violence is a new feature of Iraqi society, that did not exist before the invasion.
Furthermore, despite the occupation forces predicting sectarian violence from the moment they invaded, it only really took off over the past year — after the February 22, 2006, bombing of the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra.
While this bombing was blamed on "Sunni insurgents", the fact that the mosque is a place of worship for Sunni and Shiite Muslims makes this extremely unlikely.
US officials alleged that the bombers were wearing Iraqi police commando uniforms as a disguise. There is a more likely explanation for their attire — they were members of the US-created Iraqi police commando force. Residents of the vicinity of the mosque also reported US troops sealing off the area just before the bombing.
Much of the violence that is apparently sectarian in nature has been carried out by death squads attached to the US-run interior ministry's police commando units. Many of these units' officers were recruited from Hussein's security apparatus while others were drawn from the Badr Brigade, the militia of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) in Iraq, a Shiite religious party that has proved to the closest Iraqi political ally of the US.
Regardless of their origin, the police commandos have been trained by US Special Forces "advisers", many of whom are veterans of Washington's dirty war in El Salvador in the 1980s, in which death squads attached to the security forces were a key US tactic.
Like their predecessors in El Salvador, these death squads abduct, torture and kill anyone they suspect may be a threat to the US-backed regime. The victims may be actual resistance fighters, but are just as likely to be political activists, trade unionists, journalists or academics.
Furthermore, as in El Salvador in the 1980s, the death squads are also responsible for random killings to instill terror in the population. The puppet security forces are also responsible for apolitical criminal violence, such as kidnapping for ransom.
Terrorist-style bombings in both Sunni and Shiite neighbourhoods and on mosques serves to create a cycle of sectarian violence that divides Iraqis, weakening resistance to the occupiers.
In September 2005, the Basra police detained two undercover British SAS operatives, who were discovered trying to plant a car bomb in the middle of the city during the Karbala Festival, which draws as many as 3 million Shiite pilgrims to the southern Iraqi city. Their apparent intention was to have a car-bomb attack on pilgrims blamed on the Mahdi Army, the militia of anti-occupation Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr.
While Sunni communities and resistance fighters have born the brunt of the occupying forces' aggression for the past year, US President George Bush planned "troop surge" offensive appears to be aimed at Sadr's armed supporters. US officials have blamed Sadr for death-squad activity against Sunnis.
In fact, not only are Sadr's supporters not connected with the interior ministry's police commando death squads, Sadr has consistently called for cross-communal unity against the occupation. This has included fighting side by side with Sunni resistance forces in 2004 and organising protests following the Golden Dome mosque bombing calling for Sunni-Shiite unity. Sadr blamed the bombing on the occupiers and their puppet government, not "Sunni insurgents". Members of both communities were killed when the death squads attacked these protests.
The idea that the occupation is necessary to prevent Iraq from descending into violent anarchy and sectarian civil war is a sick joke. The occupation is deliberately creating such an outcome.
Furthermore, to retain troops in neighbouring countries to train the US-controlled Iraqi security forces, an idea being promoted by Rudd, would mean continuing to train the death squads.
A complete disengagement by Western forces is needed if Iraq is to have any hope of returning to any kind of normalcy.
Another problem with Rudd and Obama's anti-war credentials is that neither supports bringing Western troops out of Afghanistan. Indeed, the ALP has continually called for an increased Australian military presence in Afghanistan. This is despite the fact that the US-led invaders overthrew the Taliban regime to replace it with a regime dominated by warlords equally contemptuous of human rights.
These warlords have the same religious fundamentalist ideology as the Taliban, the main difference being that their constant in-fighting, along with the high-tech brutality of the occupation forces, makes the level of violence and insecurity worse than it was under the Taliban's grim rule.
The US-led foreign occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are not the solution to the death and destruction that is wracking these countries, they are the chief cause. The real solution is to end the occupation of these countries, immediately and unconditionally.