IRAQ: Will US withdrawal lead to civil war?


Doug Lorimer

If the US troops leave Iraq, "violence will fill the vacuum as groups struggle for political power, and we risk all-out civil war", John McCain, a leading Republican member of the US Senate armed services committee, declared in a April 22 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, the peak US ruling-class foreign policy think-tank.

This idea — that the withdrawal of the US and other foreign occupation forces from Iraq will only lead to "chaos" and civil war — has became an increasing theme of the US rulers and their media mouthpieces as the Iraqi armed resistance to the occupation has steadily grown over the last several months.

In early April, this propaganda campaign reached a crescendo. When Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr led his Madhi Army militia in an armed rebellion against the US-led occupation forces in the Shiite slums of Baghdad and in half a dozen predominately Shiite cities across Iraq, Western newspapers carried articles declaring that Iraq was on the "brink of civil war".

The April 3 Washington Post reported that in response to the fierce defence mounted by armed residents of the city of Fallujah against the brutal attempt by US troops to re-occupy the city, large numbers of "Shiite and Sunni [residents of Baghdad were] giving aid, shelter to refugees and even volunteers to the fight". It added that this has "pushed fears of an Iraqi civil war to the background".

In reality, it is the US and allied occupation forces which are seeking to create a civil war in Iraq — by trying to get Iraqis to fight Iraqis. The US imperialist rulers have spent millions of dollars to recruit, train and pay Iraqis to assist the occupation troops — as police officers, as members ofthe paramilitary Iraqi Civil Defence Corps (ICDC), and as soldiers in a new US-commanded Iraqi army — in attempting to suppress patriotic Iraqis fighting to free their country from the foreign occupation.

Mass unemployment — at least 60% of Iraqi workers are jobless — has enabled the US-led occupiers to recruit about 200,000 Iraqis into these puppet security forces. However, these soldiers' response to Sadr's armed rebellion and the US assault on Fallujah has demonstrated that the occupiers' "Iraqisation" of the war has been a dismal failure.

The April 15 San Jose Mercury News reported that in Baghdad's Sadr City and in Najaf, "Iraqi police asked permission from Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr— the man they were expected to capture or kill — before they reported to work" and in Fallujah, "at least two Iraqi battalions refused to join the fight against insurgents".

The Reuters news agency carried an interview on April 18 with Ali al Shamari, one of the soldiers in the ICDC's "elite" 36th Special Brigade, which was one of the two US-recruited Iraqi battalions which had refused to participate in the US marines' assault on Fallujah.

"They told us to attack the city and we were astonished", the soldier said. "How could an Iraqi fight an Iraqi like this? This meant that nothing had changed from the Saddam Hussein days."

But this is exactly what the US occupiers now recognise they need to do to create an Iraqi army that will be willing to kill Iraqis. On April 23, Paul Bremer, the US viceroy in Iraq, announced that many of Saddam Hussein's senior army officers, dismissed by him a year ago when he disbanded the old Iraqi army, would be appointed as senior officers in the new, US-created Iraqi army.

Washington hopes that these officers, just as they did under Saddam Hussein, will intimidate the ranks of its Iraqi puppet army into brutally repressing the patriotic Iraqi resistance to the US-led occupation — and thus reduce the rate of US troop casualties, which has reached levels not seen since the US war in Vietnam.

In that war, Washington also built up a puppet army commanded by local officers willing to slaughter large numbers of their fellow citizens. "Vietnamisation of the war", Washington's strategic policy after July 1969, however, failed to crush the Vietnamese resistance to the US occupation. It simply prolonged the war for another six years.

Washington claimed that if it was to "cut and run" from Vietnam there would be a "bloodbath". But nothing of the kind happened after the last US troops were forced out in April 1975.

However, there was a horrific bloodbath in Vietnam, which cost the lives of 4 million Vietnamese civilians and 1.1 million Vietnamese military personnel. This mass slaughter was carried out by the US military during their 14-year-long war against the Vietnamese national liberation movement.

In Iraq, as in Vietnam, the threat of a civil war comes from the US rulers' violent struggle for political power over another nation. The way to minimise that threat is to withdraw the US-led occupation troops and let the Iraqi people fully and freely determine their own affairs.

From Green Left Weekly, May 5, 2004.
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