BY DOUG LORIMER
After weeks of haggling, France, Germany and Russia on October 16 finally voted in the UN Security Council for a US-sponsored resolution mandating the creation of a "multinational" occupation force in Iraq under US command.
While US officials do not expect adoption of the resolution to lead other countries to contribute substantial numbers of troops, they hope to use it to arrest falling public support within the US for the occupation.
With an average of 22 armed attacks on US soldiers a day in Iraq — resulting in an average of six US soldiers killed and dozens severely injured each week — public support for US President George Bush's handling of the war in Iraq has steadily collapsed since he declared aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1 that "major combat operations" were over. According to a CBS-New York Times poll conducted in early October, 53% of Americans did not think the invasion of Iraq was worth the cost in lives and money, compared with 73% in April who thought it was.
Public disillusionment with the Iraq occupation, particularly among troops serving there and their families in the US, is generating concern within the most powerful sections of the US capitalist ruling class — views that tend to be reflected in the editorials of the New York Times and Washington Post — that a prolonged guerrilla war in Iraq will undermine the fighting capacity of the US military machine in a similar way that anti-war sentiment among GIs in Vietnam in the late 1960s and early '70s undermined the fighting capacity of the US Army for years afterward, weakening Washington's ability to use its military to crush insurgent Third World nations.
In 1979, for example, despite decades of political investment in making Mohammed Reza Shah's autocratic, CIA-installed regime in Iran Washington's proxy in the Persian Gulf, Washington did not feel it could to use the US military to save the Shah and his 20,000 US "advisers" from being ousted by a massive popular uprising.
The US rulers' concerns about the impact of the Iraq war on the US Army were articulated in an October 5 NYT editorial: "Now that it is clear the United States faces a lengthy military occupation of Iraq, requiring perhaps 100,000 troops for the foreseeable future, it is possible to begin calculating how the war may damage the American armed forces.
"Since the United States cannot expect much additional help from other countries or from the fledgling Iraqi security forces, the burdens of occupation will start to strain severely the army's capacity to deploy trained and rested combat forces worldwide in a matter of months. In the longer term, the lives of thousands of military families will be disrupted, the army reserve system so carefully built up when America moved to a smaller, volunteer army three decades ago will be put at severe risk and the global reach of American foreign policy will be diminished...
"Nearly half the army's 33 combat brigades are now in the Persian Gulf region. Replacing all of them with fresh units would leave the army hard pressed to meet its obligations elsewhere, including Afghanistan and the Korean peninsula. A congressional study last month found that unless major adjustments are made, the army will be forced to shrink its occupation forces to less than half its present size within 18 months. None of these adjustments look attractive."
A Newsweek poll released on September 27 found that, while 49% those Americans canvassed believed the US should start bringing its troops home from Iraq, 51% believed US troop numbers in Iraq should be reduced only if they are replaced by international forces. Furthermore, "72 per cent of Americans polled say they favour the United States turning over some authority for rebuilding Iraq to the United Nations as a way to encourage other countries to provide money and troops", Newsweek reported.
Gaining a UN resolution that gives international "legal" cover for more countries to send troops to Iraq, even if the numbers are small in comparison to the US occupation forces, has therefore become a critical part of Washington's drive to arrest declining public support for its war in Iraq.
Rival business interests
The diplomatic struggle between Washington and Paris over the content of the new UN resolution was initially centred on whether or not the UN and its agencies should be given control over the administration of Iraq, in place of the US-created Coalition Provisional Authority.
This struggle was a continuation of the pre-war struggle by France — backed by Germany and Russia — to contain the US capitalist rulers' drive for world domination, as outlined in the US president's National Security Strategy in September 2002.
The French and German capitalist rulers feared that a US-led invasion of Iraq would cut them out of the lucrative business contracts they had negotiated with Saddam Hussein's regime. Moscow was owed up to US$12 billion by Saddam Hussein's regime, a debt it stood to lose if Washington overthrew Saddam's regime.
German interests in pre-war Iraq were also considerable. According to an article in February 20 Washington Times, German corporations were "the market leaders in supplying Iraq, even in the decade after the  Gulf war". The 12,000-page report that Iraq gave the UN on its weapons programs last December, the article noted, listed "80 German firms" as suppliers of weapons and industrial equipment. Iraq's debt to Germany was undisclosed but was said to be significant.
Paris had the biggest stake to lose if Washington took over Iraq. The French oil giant TotalFinaElf, the world's fourth largest oil company, had contracted to exploit up to one-third of Iraq's oil reserves once UN sanctions were lifted. French companies had established themselves as the largest suppliers of goods to Iraq after the UN trade embargo was partially lifted in 1996.
Once Washington launched its invasion on March 20, the French capitalists began to look for other ways to protect their business interests in Iraq. According to a March 25 Associated Press report from Paris: "Worried it could be shut out of business deals in post-war Iraq, France is drawing up plans to win French companies access to lucrative oil and reconstruction contracts, officials said...
"Gilles Munier, an executive board member of the French-Iraq Association of Economic Co-operation, said business leaders and government representatives were studying how to gain a foothold in postwar Iraq. He said a meeting between France's most powerful business federation, government leaders and the French-Iraq Association for Economic Cooperation was scheduled for April 3."
According to the AP report, a French finance ministry official, "who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed discussions were underway with business leaders about Iraq. Some French were concerned that a US-administration in Iraq will favour companies from the United States and other pro-war countries while penalising companies from France and other opponents.
"Munier said he believes American companies will have difficulties in Iraq because of widespread anger against the US-led bombing campaign. 'I don't see how American executives can work when their lives will be at risk", he said. 'There will be such hatred toward Americans. Munier criticised French companies for negotiating with American companies for a piece of their business in Iraq, saying that such 'collaboration' would damage the image of French business among Iraqis."
With the US military suffering casualties daily and with Washington facing growing public disaffection with the occupation, the French capitalist rulers have mounted a campaign to push their way back into Iraq via the UN. They wanted UN agencies under the direction of the Security Council, rather than the US administration in Iraq, to give out reconstruction contracts and to supervise the sell off of Iraq's state-owned industries, meaning that French companies would not be cut out by their US rivals.
However, Washington adamantly refused to surrender control over Iraq to the UN. As an unnamed senior US State department official told the Baltimore Sun on September 3: "Any kind of broader UN role that would put France and Germany on a par with the US in getting reconstruction contracts is pretty much a no-go. The Pentagon view is, 'Most countries calling for a greater role opposed the war and didn't spill blood. They have no right to profit from reconstruction'."
Unable to get Washington to agree to surrender formal control of Iraq to the UN, Paris pushed for formal authority to be transferred as soon as possible from US official Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority and its US ministerial "advisers" to the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and its council of ministers.
While the IGC is made up of figures handpicked by Bremer, strengthening its formal decision-making authority as soon as possible would give French diplomats and business leaders an opening to cultivate pro-French leaders among the leading officials of an Iraqi provisional government.
However, the most that Paris was able to extract from Washington was agreement that the IGC submit a timetable to the Security Council for drawing up a new constitution and subsequent elections. But this will still give French officials a diplomatic opening to continue to have a say, via the UN, over the construction of a new Iraqi government.
The on-going diplomatic struggle between Washington and Paris over Iraq is really a fight over whether Iraq should remain in the exclusive grip of the Pentagon, its corporate masters on Wall Street and the US oil industry, along with their junior partners in London — or, as Paris wants, the Iraqi nation should be exploited by a "multilateral" gang of corporate bandits. Either way, the Iraqi people would lose sovereignty over their natural resources and economy.
From Green Left Weekly, October 22, 2003.
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