On March 20, anti-war and international solidarity activists globally will mark the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by the US-led "coalition of the willing".
Opposition to the ongoing occupation of Iraq was a factor in the recent election of Barack Obama as US president. Obama campaigned on a platform of withdrawing troops from Iraq within 16 months.
On February 27, at a military base in Florida, Obama announced his policy to end the Iraq war. However, not only was the withdrawal of 100,000 combat troops put off until August 31, 2010, but a "residual force" of up to 50,000 troops will remain until December 31, 2011.
After this date, the "status of forces agreement" signed between the US government and the US-installed Iraqi government stipulates that no US troops may remain.
Some US political and military leaders have raised the possibility of renegotiating the SFA to allow the "residual force" to remain indefinitely.
Furthermore, the projected downsizing of the occupation army in Iraq will enable more troops to be deployed in the US-led war of occupation in Afghanistan. Obama has announced that the number of US soldiers in Afghanistan will be boosted by 30,000 by the end of 2009 — bringing the total size of the multinational occupying force to 100,000 (of whom 68,000 are US troops).
While Obama's efforts to persuade the US's Western allies to increase the size their military contingents in Afghanistan have been largely unsuccessful, the March 6 Courier Mail quoted "insiders" as stating that Australia will increase its contingent from 1100 to 2100 — to be announced when Rudd makes an official visit to Washington on March 24.
While Obama benefited electorally from the opposition to the Iraq war in the US (partly based on his vote against the invasion in the Senate), he has been repeating the lies used by the previous government of George Bush to justify the ongoing occupation.
These include that the occupation troops are a force for stability against the threat of civil war, that the occupation has brought democracy and that the 2007 "surge" — the deployment of an extra 30,000 US troops — has been responsible for a significant decrease in violence.
Far from being a force for stability, the occupation forces have deliberately fostered ethnic and religious conflict to forestall the emergence of a united resistance. The blueprint for the US divide and rule policies was created in Iraqi Kurdistan following the 1991 US war against Iraq, which devastated the country while leaving Saddam Hussein in power.
While most of the country was put under a starvation blockade that cost 1.5 million lives, Iraqi Kurdistan became a self-governing US protectorate ruled by two rival right-wing Kurdish nationalist parties: the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
Under their rule, ethnic minorities — Assyrians, Turkomen and Arabs — and political dissidents were persecuted, religious fundamentalism gained a foothold and "honour killings" of women proliferated.
Since 2003, the KDP and PUK have remained closely aligned to the US and have been allowed to consolidate their rule in their fiefdom. However, US support is contingent on their not raising the demand for independence and not supporting, or giving sanctuary to, Kurds struggling for self-determination in Turkish Kurdistan.
The ethnically mixed region around the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk has been the scene of violence between Kurdish and Arab armed groups and ethnic cleansing. Whether this oil-rich area becomes part of the Kurdish autonomous region has not been determined. The Assyrian and Turkoman minorities have fared the worst in this violence.
In the Arab-majority centre and south of Iraq, the US has sought to foster a religious sectarian civil war, with sectarian violence reaching its peak in 2006 and '07.
The Shia Muslim majority has faced discrimination throughout Iraq's modern history, and Saddam's brutal crushing of a Shiite uprising in the south following the 1991 US-led war increased the alienation of Shiites from the Sunni-dominated political elite.
However, prior to the 2003 invasion, Shia and Sunni Muslims lived in mixed neighbourhoods and intermarriage and other forms of social integration were common.
Following the invasion, the US made an alliance with the pro-Iranian Shia parties who now dominate the US-installed Baghdad government: the Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC).
The main sources of anti-occupation resistance were the Shia Mahdi Army led by Muqtada al-Sadr, based in the south and in Baghdad's Sadr City satellite slum district, and a coalition of nationalist, religious and tribal groups in the Sunni-majority region around Fallujah and Ramadi.
The occupation forces sought to establish control through extreme brutality. Fallujah was levelled twice in 2004. The occupiers greatest anxiety was the development of cooperation between the two strands of anti-occupation resistance. Sectarian violence was fostered in response.
At its height, the sectarian violence was claiming 3000 civilian lives a month. On the Shia side, the main perpetrators were not, as the Western media claimed, al-Sadr's supporters. In a rare admission, the December 5, 2005 Washington Post acknowledged they were supporters of the ruling Shiite parties, both inside and outside the security forces.
On the Sunni side, the US gave a blind eye to infiltration by religious fundamentalists, ironically creating an al-Qaeda presence, which then served to justify the occupation.
As millions fled their homes and previously mixed neighbourhoods were replaced by religiously segregated ghettos, divided by US-built walls, the intensity of sectarian killing has decreased.
The US found a new ally in the Awakening Movement in the Fallujah and Ramadi area — based on criminal gang leaders and tribal warlords.
Independent journalist Dahr Jamal reported in the February 20 Socialist Worker that this alliance is partly based on direct payment by the US of millions of dollars of "reconstruction funds". Fallujah remains rubble, however, with the only reconstruction being the vast fortified mansions of the Awakening Movement dons.
While the occupation forces have succeeded so far in thwarting coordination between al-Sadr's supporters and other resistance forces, repeated attempts to crush the Mahdi Army, most recently in April 2008, have failed.
While Obama claims that the surge has created stability, the relative decline in violence is based on the tenuous alliegance to the US of three mutually hostile forces: the Awakening Movement, the Dawa Party/SIIC forces and the Kurdish nationalists.
Antagonisms also exist within these three blocs.
Ominously, the illusion of the successful surge in Iraq is being used to justify the increase in occupation forces in Afghanistan. However, despite the combination of brutal bombing raids and bribes to various warlords, Islamist militias and drug gangs, Afghanistan remains in chaos that is now also increasingly engulfing Pakistan.
The Pakistani government and military have responded to the rising death toll of Pakistani civilians at the hands of both US forces and Islamist militants by providing assistance to both sides.
Fundamentalist extremists in the region are known to be supported by the ISI, Pakistan's military intelligence.
At the same time, the US drones that destroy Pakistani villages in an attempt to target the Taliban operating within Pakistani borders, take off from a base inside Pakistan — with the cooperation of the military and government.
Obama has inherited disastarous, unwinnable and fundamentally unjust wars from the Bush administration. It is clear that the Obama administration aims to make the best of the situation from the perspective of US imperial interests.
It will be up to the global anti-war movement to force the end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan that have already caused untold suffering to millions of people.