IRAQ: US military victory turning into political debacle

Issue 

BY DOUG LORIMER

Washington's quick and apparently easy military defeat of Iraq's Baathist regime is threatening to turn into a political debacle, exacerbating the very problems the US rulers hoped it would decisively help to overcome.

The US rulers hoped widespread international scepticism about Washington's rationale for the war — that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed a massive arsenal of chemical and biological weapons — would be dissipated by the rapid discovery of such weapons. However, neither during the invasion nor since, have any chemical or biological weapons stockpiles been discovered.

This failure only confirms the view — widely held in most of the world — that the "weapons of mass destruction" rationale was simply a ruse for Washington's real objective of seizing control of Iraq's huge oil resources.

The US rulers hoped that the widely held perception that their invasion of Iraq was an act of imperial conquest would be swept away by the rapid surrender of the Iraqi army, followed by public celebrations of gratitude by the Iraqi masses toward US troops, thus confirming Washington's claim that its bloody invasion was an act of "liberation".

Neither of these hopes have been fulfilled. The massive "precision" bombing campaign which Washington mounted against government buildings in Baghdad failed to deliver the devastating psychological blow that was intended.

Despite the Pentagon's expectations that the Iraqi army would put up little resistance, in the first weeks of the invasion US and British troops encountered stiff resistance, particularly from Iraqi army units in the south made up predominantly of Iraqi Shiite conscripts.

Rather than throwing down their arms and surrendering in droves, Iraqi soldiers fought heroically, though hopelessly, against the technologically superior Anglo-American invaders.

"Even as US commanders cite dramatic success in the ... war", Christian Science Monitor correspondent Ann Scott Tyson reported on April 11, "many look upon the wholesale destruction of Iraq's military and the killing of thousands of Iraqi fighters with a sense of regret. They voiced frustration at the numbers of Iraqis who stood their ground against overwhelming US firepower, wasting their lives and equipment rather than capitulating as expected."

Why Iraqi regime collapsed

The unexpected resistance displayed by Iraqi soldiers left Washington with two choices — either halt the invasion and seek a negotiated settlement with Hussein's regime (an alternative US President George Bush had long before ruled out as unthinkable), or to drive through to Baghdad imposing greater and greater destruction from aerial bombings as the US Air Force depleted its stock of precision bombs.

The latter meant abandoning the initial attempt to avoid fuelling the massive anti-war protests around the world by minimising Iraqi civilian casualties.

As the US invaders approached Baghdad, the Pentagon signalled to the city's population that it was ready to indiscriminately slaughter huge numbers of civilians rather than risk large numbers of US military casualties in fierce urban battles with Iraqi fighters. It did this with its deliberate decision to bomb a civilian-area restaurant on April 7, where Hussein was thought to be eating.

Though Hussein's whereabouts remained unknown, the bodies of more than a dozen civilians, including young children, were pulled from the rubble after four "bunker-buster" bombs were dropped on the restaurant by a US warplane.

The April 9 British Guardian reported that, beginning on April 8, US warplanes "prowled low overhead, attacking the eastern, southern and northern suburbs" of Baghdad. "The amount of firepower deployed, and its duration — with only intermittent pauses from dawn to dusk yesterday — was almost beyond belief."

There was justifiable fear among Baghdad's civilian population that if the Iraqi military retreated into the city, the US Air Force would unleash the same sort of carpet bombing that it inflicted for several weeks upon Republican Guard units on the outskirts of the capital.

The April 9 Guardian reported that Baghdad "came to a halt, with little evidence of the presence of the millions of Iraqis who normally live there... The only sign of motion came from the dreary trickle of civilians heading for safety. They had withstood the bombardments for more than a fortnight, and had been without electricity and phones for nearly a week, and they could take no more. They packed up whatever they could carry and made their way out of the city on foot."

With the fear of the terrible death and destruction Washington was prepared to inflict upon them outweighing their fear of Hussein's brutal regime, Baghdad's civilian population refused to cooperate in any military defence of the city.

The Baathist regime's morale quickly collapsed, its leading personnel went into hiding and its remaining military units — now leaderless — dissolved into the civilian population.

War for oil

The US rulers hoped that the Iraqi masses' gratitude for removing the Baathist regime would provide Washington with years of political capital in Iraq with which it could use to easily install a US military occupation regime, followed by a stable puppet government that would enable the US capitalist ruling class to control Iraq's oil resources, the second largest in the world after Saudi Arabia's (which for all practical purposes are already under US control).

Whatever gratitude Iraqis felt toward Washington for removing Hussein's regime was dissipated within a few days of the Anglo-American occupation of Baghdad, Basra and other Iraqi cities as the occupation troops failed to quickly restore electricity and water supplies and allowed looting of public buildings, including massively overcrowded hospitals.

Within 24 hours of the US Army's entry into central Baghdad, however, a ring of US troops was posted around the Iraqi oil ministry building to protect it from looters.

The political significance of this action has not been lost on the Iraqi population. As the April 15 Australian reported: "While most other public buildings in Baghdad have been left unguarded [from looters], the huge Oil Ministry headquarters on Palestine Street has been ringed by more than 70 US troops and protected by up to a dozen or more armoured personnel carriers.

"That glaring contrast has convinced many angry Iraqis that Washington's invasion of Iraq was motivated by its own commercial interests and the state of international oil markets rather than its professed concern for the Iraqi public and its democratic rights."

What Washington means by "freedom" and "democracy" in Iraq was illustrated when US officials convened a meeting of hand-picked Iraqi "representatives" at the heavily guarded Tallil air base in southern Iraq on April 15.

The meeting demonstrated that Washington has no intention of permitting Iraq's people any say in the selection of a post-Baathist government.

According to the accounts of the meeting by the carefully screened journalists who were present, the mood of the Iraqi "representatives" was described as "lukewarm", even "sullen".

Hoshyar Zebari, a representative of the pro-US Kurdish Democratic Party, attempted to explain away the atmosphere by declaring: "They are nervous. They don't believe Saddam is gone yet." A far more likely explanation for the invitees' nervousness was their worry about being identified as US stooges.

Only five days earlier, one of Washington's key Iraqi political assets — Islamic cleric Abdul Majid al Khoei, who had been flown by the US military into Najaf with US$3 million provided by Washington to exert his influence — was hacked to death by an angry mob when he attempted to visit a mosque with Haider al Kadar, a Shiite cleric formerly loyal to Saddam Hussein.

While what retired US general Jay Garner, the head of the Pentagon's office for the "reconstruction" of Iraq, referred to as the beginning of "a democratic Iraq" was being held, up to 20,000 Iraqis marched through the streets of the neighbouring city of Nasiriya chanting "No, no, no Saddam; No, no, no United States."

Hostility to the Anglo-American occupation forces was evident not only among the Iraqi's majority Shiite population, who had been persecuted by the Sunni-based Baathist party. It was echoed by Iraqi Christians. Typical of their attitude was the comment made to the Boston Globe's reporter in Karbala by Alaa Tawbiah, an Iraqi Christian, as he left Good Friday prayers: "The Americans and Saddam Hussein are two sides of the same coin. We drove the British out with sticks in 1920. If the Americans try to stay, they'll get their due."

Iraqi intifada

The steadily mounting protests by Iraqis against the US occupation have not only discredited Washington's claim that its invasion is aimed at "liberating" the Iraqi people, they threaten to undermine its objective of installing a relatively stable puppet regime.

From the standpoint of the US ruling class, the outcome of its invasion of Iraq is in stark contrast to that of its invasions of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989. In both those cases, Washington succeeded through limited military operations in installing subservient and relatively stable capitalist regimes almost overnight. The US rulers' resulting political victory was virtually simultaneous with their military victory.

By contrast, while Washington's invasion of Iraq has militarily crushed the Baathist regime, it has not politically crushed the Iraqi masses' will to resist imperialist domination of their country.

As a result, Iraq is threatening to become Washington's own "Palestine" — with an intifada potentially involving 15 times as many people as live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And only those who believe in fairytales can think that the US occupation forces won't respond to an Iraqi intifada the same way that Washington's ally Israel has responded to the Palestinians' uprising.

When up to 200,000 Iraqis poured out of Baghdad's mosques on April 18 chanting anti-US slogans, a recording was played over US Army loudspeakers warning people in Arabic to disperse "immediately or there will be consequences", according to British Guardian reporter Mark Oliver.

An indication of what the US occupiers mean by "consequences" was signalled when on April 15 and 16 US troops fired into crowds in Mosul protesting against the region's new US appointed administrator, killing 17. On April 27 and 29, US troops in the town of Fallujah fired unto unarmed protesters, killing at least 17.

These massacres are foretastes of the repression to come as Washington strives to impose a pro-US puppet regime on the Iraqi people.

In testimony given on April 8 before US Senate's subcommittee on international economic policy, export and trade, Martha Brill Olcon, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (a "liberal" US ruling-class foreign policy think tank), warned that the "period of US military occupation will be a time of real stress in the Persian Gulf and in the Muslim world more generally, where many will see the US military presence as a form of thinly disguised 21st century-style colonialism".

Olcon observed: "Protests in both the Arab and the Muslim world more generally are likely to continue throughout the period of US military occupation and this kind of public reaction will make the regimes that have supported the US effort more vulnerable from their critics... When one adds up active and inactive supporters, the regimes in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have all been put at greater risk, and the last two were already quite vulnerable."

And if this is true of the pro-US regimes in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, it will be even truer of a pro-US puppet regime in Iraq. This is particularly so because the collapse of the Baathist regime has left a political vacuum that anti-US Shiite clerics, using the organising base of the mosques, have begun to fill.

Writing in the April 27 New York Daily News, columnist Michael Kramer quoted a US State Department official, who said: "We totally underestimated the degree to which many Shiites oppose us... Their ability to begin organising governmental operations in the current political vacuum is nothing short of astounding."

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman complained in an April 27 article, "No sooner is Saddam gone than up pops a group of Shiite clerics demanding that Iraq be turned into another Iran." Four days earlier, US war secretary Donald Rumsfeld made it clear that Washington would not tolerate any such development. Any attempt by Iraqis to "transform Iraq into Iran will not be permitted", Rumsfeld declared.

subh = Iran: Bush's next target

One of the US rulers' objectives in invading Iraq is to transform Iraq into a politically stable base from which to launch future operations for "regime change" in neighbouring Iran, the world's third largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Placing Iraq and Iran under US domination would give the US rulers control over the Persian Gulf region, which contains 65% of the world's known oil reserves. It would enable the US rulers to decisively bolster their political and economic leverage over its capitalist competitors, such as Japan, China and France, whose economies are dependent imports of oil from the Persian Gulf.

Since Bush's January 2002 State of the Union address to US Congress, in which he named Iraq, Iran and North Korea as members of an "axis of evil", US officials have been steadily building a propaganda campaign to justify an invasion of Iran.

For some time now, the Bush administration has claimed that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Since its invasion of Iraq, Washington has escalated its claims that Iran is violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Tehran signed in 1970.

On May 6, Associated Press carried a report that US undersecretary of state John Bolton "expressed hope that the [International Atomic Energy Agency] would conclude that Tehran had violated its non-proliferation obligations, which would require that the issue be referred to the UN Security Council for action".

IAEA director general Mohammed ElBaradei will submit a report by June 16 on whether Iran's nuclear power program continues to be intended only for peaceful purposes.

Just as Washington's claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction were uncritically recycled by the international corporate media in the year leading up to the US-led invasion, so too are Washington's claims about Iran's nuclear program now being peddled as fact.

On May 12, Business Week carried an article claiming: "It now seems that Tehran is dramatically closer to being able to produce atomic bombs than even Washington suspected... Early this year, Iran admitted that it had secretly built a sophisticated uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, north of the central Iranian city of Isphahan. Experts say that when the plant is completed in 2005, Iran would be able to produce several uranium-based bombs each year."

In an indication that its campaign against Iran is not limited to propaganda and diplomatic pressure, on April 15 the US military command in Iraq signed a truce with the People's Mujaheddin, an Iranian exile group based in Iraq which is on the US State Department's list of "terrorist organisations".

Commenting on this decision, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's "supreme leader" said: "It shows terrorism is bad if terrorists are not America's servants. But if terrorists become America's servants, then they are not bad."

"There is a real atmosphere of fear here", Saeed Leylaz, a political commentator and former Iranian government official, told the May 4 Boston Globe by telephone from Tehran. "The supreme leader and other officials have said publicly that they believe military action against us is a real possibility."

Growing and sustained popular resistance to the US military in Iraq, however, will make it politically harder for Washington to use Iraq as a staging post for an invasion of Iran.

In her April 8 testimony to the US Senate subcommittee on international economic policy, Olcon made no attempt to hide the fact that achieving "regime change" in Iran is a key foreign policy objective of the US ruling class, while noting the difficulties of achieving this.

"US policy-makers should also make sure that they have drawn all the appropriate lessons from our military engagement in Iraq before challenging the regime in Iran by military means", Olcon stated.

"First, there is the question of international support for such an operation, which is certain to be even more difficult to obtain than the current operations in Iraq. But even if US policy-makers were convinced that we could successfully overcome the international diplomatic fall-out of proceeding militarily with a small coalition of allies, there is the question of how the Iranian military and Iranian people would respond in the face of a military incursion.

"While it is certainly the case that the Iranian political and religious establishment are in an uneasy alliance at best, Iranian nationalism is a much more formidable and deeply rooted force than Iraqi nationalism, and there is little or no evidence to suggest that outside forces would be welcomed by any significant sector of the population as the source of moving the Iranian polity toward a more secular and pro-Western form of government."

Olcon's reference to the "formidable and deeply rooted force" of "Iranian nationalism" was an oblique allusion to the February 1979 revolution in Iran and to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

In February 1979, the Iranian masses mobilised in their millions to successfully defeat the US-backed Palhavi monarchy, its 400,000-strong army, its 80,000-strong CIA-trained secret police apparatus and its 20,000 US "advisers".

For eight long years, from late 1980, the Iranian masses again mobilised in their millions to successfully hold off and then defeat a US-backed invasion of their country by the Iraqi regime, which at that time possessed the strongest army in the Persian Gulf region.

The think tanks that influence and advise the Bush administration are "actively debating what steps should be taken to promote liberalisation and regime change in Iran following the Iraq war", according to a May 7 United Press International report.

UPI reported that at a May 6 conference on Iran, co-sponsored by the Hudson Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, Meyrav Wurmser, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute, said: "If our policy doesn't focus on ... the terror masters [in Tehran], we are in danger of taking an American [military] victory [in Iraq] and turning it into a political failure."

From Green Left Weekly, May 14, 2003.

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