The post-war war in Iraq

September 4, 2010
US military patrol in Asragiyah, Iraq. The Obama administration still aims to accomplish for US imperialism in Iraq — with dif

“We won. It’s over, America. We brought democracy to Iraq.” Those were the words of a soldier from the 4th Stryker Brigade, supposedly among the last US combat soldiers to leave Iraq, quoted in the August 20 two weeks ahead of President Barack Obama’s August 31 deadline for withdrawal.

The Obama administration is claiming the withdrawal of combat soldiers represents a new day for the country. “Politics, not war, has broken out in Iraq”, US Vice-President Joe Biden told an August 23 convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said that day.

Biden claimed a number of US accomplishments, including a drop in violence, the negotiated resolution of complex divisions within Iraq’s political class, the marginalisation of al-Qaeda and the creation of a 650,000-strong Iraqi security force “leading the way to defend and protect their country”.

US officials even have a new name picked out for the post-war war. The US mission in Iraq will now be known as Operation New Dawn.

Never mind that violence in Iraq “dropped” only after the US invasion plunged the country into civil war. Never mind that five months after national elections, Iraqi politicians still can’t form a government.

Never mind that the US war itself created the opening for al-Qaeda to establish itself in Iraq. And never mind that even establishment analysts generally agree that Iraq is far from a “new dawn”.

Anthony Cordesman, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in an August 20 article: “The Iraq war is not over, and it is not ‘won’. In fact, it is at as critical a stage as at any time since 2003.”

Because of the ongoing insurgency, the political deadlock and the country’s shattered economy, Cordesman projected it would take a minimum of five and probably 10 years for Iraq to achieve anything approaching stability and security.

The Obama administration is living up to the letter of its “status of forces agreement” with Iraq — the arrangement that establishes the official conditions for foreign troops in the country.

Combat soldiers are gone — but only because the US reclassified the 50,000 US soldiers who will remain in Iraq from “combat troops” to “advise-and-assist brigades”.

Asked by a CNN reporter on August 22 if the withdrawal of combat forces meant the end of combat involving US soldiers, commander of US forces in Iraq General Ray Odierno flatly answered: “No”.

He said: “What it means is our units that were organised to conduct combat operations have left … We now have units left behind that are organised to do advise-train-assist.

“But they certainly have the ability to protect themselves and if necessary to conduct combat operations if it was required.”

Odierno acknowledged that US soldiers could remain in Iraq until 2020.

There are also tens of thousands of private contractors in Iraq. The Obama administration is launching an “unprecedented” civilian operation, backed up by “a small army of contractors”, the August 19 New York Times said.

In a country that is still home to insurgents with al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, the US State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to as many as 7000.

Defending five fortified compounds across the country, the security contractors would operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and even staff quick reaction forces to aid civilians in distress, State Department officials said.

So, Obama hasn’t ended the war on Iraq. Now more than seven years old, it’s already gone on longer than World War II. It has cost US$1 trillion.

Since the “end of combat operations”, one more US soldier has been killed already, bringing the official death toll among US forces to 4416.

Of course, the loss of human life on the Iraqi side is incalculably higher at more than 1 million.

The Obama administration still aims to accomplish for US imperialism in Iraq — with different strategies and tactics — what the bungling Bush administration failed to. reported on August 19 that State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley said: “We’ve invested heavily in Iraq and have to do everything we can to preserve that investment to integrate Iraq, along with the neighborhood, into a much more peaceful situation that serves their interests, as well as ours.”

Obama’s defenders claim that the US owes a debt to Iraq and must stay to set things right. But that isn’t what people like Crowley think the ongoing US presence is about.

In reality, the US war on Iraq is nearly two decades old. It began with the first invasion of Iraq carried out by then president George H.W. Bush in 1991. Between then and the 2003 invasion, the US enforced the most devastating and complete regime of economic sanctions ever known.

Asked in 1996 about the half-million Iraqi children killed by the sanctions, then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said: “We think the price is worth it.”

The US has thoroughly destroyed Iraq. Obama is continuing an old policy. What’s different is that he has done so while using anti-war rhetoric, a reflection of growing anti-war sentiment that resulted in Obama’s election in 2008.

This moment should be a watershed for all the people who longed to see an end to the destruction of the Iraq war, and hoped that Obama would deliver that end. As it becomes clear that the Obama administration hasn’t ended the war, the question will loom about will happen to all those people who had their hopes dashed.

Obama’s deceptions about Iraq and Afghanistan have already produced widespread disorientation among millions of people who voted for him enthusiastically. For some, the disillusionment may turn into apathy or cynicism.

But others will arrive at the conclusion that if the Democrats won’t put a stop to the war on Iraq even when they control the White House and Congress, then perhaps they will have to take action themselves — and organise for a political alternative that works to put an end to war once and for all.

[Abridged from Socialist Worker.]

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