The U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, sold by President Bush as a smooth road to Iraqi freedom is fast becoming a nightmare for Iraqis and occupation soldiers alike. Deadly attacks on U.S. soldiers occur almost daily, as Iraqis protest undemocratic control of their country and shortages of fuel, electricity, and other necessities.
Over 62 U.S. soldiers have died in combat since President Bush declared the end of major combat in May, in what the Bush administration now admits is an ongoing guerrilla war. Assailants have ambushed convoys with gunfire, hurled grenades at soldiers, and planted bombs in increasingly sophisticated and coordinated attacks. An investigative team sent by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld reported back that the “potential for chaos is becoming more real every day.”
“A lot of people have the sentiment that the war is over – it’s not over,” a member of the 4th Infantry Division told the Los Angeles Times in early August.
U.S. soldiers landing in Iraq in early spring were promised a hero’s welcome and a quick return home. But as Justice warned, this was only a Bush administration pipe dream. Now, with the occupation entering a quagmire, the Pentagon has announced one-year troop deployments. Weary troops stationed in Iraq since last fall must stay on until September, while the 101st Airborne division, which led the attack, will remain in Iraq until early next year.
Iraqi opposition to the occupation is widespread among both Sunnis and Shias, and is not limited to Saddam Hussein supporters as the Bush administration and media have claimed. When a Shia cleric in Najaf called for supporters to demonstrate against American control, thousands took to the streets in one of many such demonstrations throughout Iraq since the occupation began.
A recent poll of 2400 Iraqis by the independent Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies showed that 47% of Iraqis thought attacks on U.S. and U.K. forces were either provoked by their own behavior or were caused by “resistance forces.” Less than one third blamed former members of the Ba’ath party.
Outrage at Iraqi civilian deaths at the hands of the U.S. (6113 according to IraqBodyCount.net) and the desperate conditions of everyday life, as well the indignation of living under a U.S. colonial occupation, is fueling mass opposition. The U.S. has failed to accomplish even the basic tasks of stabilizing the country and building an infrastructure to provide for essential needs such as water and electricity.
In the southern, British-controlled city of Basra, where there is no real civil authority or reconstruction effort, protests and riots erupted for days over fuel shortages. Motorists in Basra have faced fuel lines several miles long and waits of more than 24 hours – in one of the most oil-rich countries in the world.
Power outages had pulled the plug on hospital equipment and air conditioners, leaving residents broiling in 120-degree heat. Iain Pickard, a British occupation official, slammed the U.S. for moving slowly to restore power. “All the repair work has been done by Iraqis, and none by the U.S.A.,” he complained.
Instead, the U.S. has focused on its own priorities – securing the profitable oil fields and searching desperately for Saddam and his supposed weapons of mass destruction in order to justify America’s drive to war.
Occupation soldiers have responded to Iraqi opposition with ever-increasing brutality. Killings of civilians have become commonplace. On August 8, U.S. soldiers murdered six Iraqis from one family as their car drove toward an unannounced military checkpoint. Sabah Azami, whose nephew was shot by U.S. soldiers, told an Associated Press reporter, “They are terrified of the Iraqis. If they weren’t afraid, they wouldn’t behave this way.”
Amnesty International has accused the U.S. of “very severe” human rights abuses in Iraq, noting that occupation officials refused them access to thousands of prisoners being held without charges. The prisoners were tortured and subjected to sleep deprivation and insufficient water, Amnesty reported.
On August 13, international labor groups also criticized the U.S. for detaining 34 union leaders without cause, demonstrating that the US will attempt to prevent the development of an independent Iraqi trade union movement.
In the Sunni town of Fallujah, U.S. soldiers fired on a crowd of Iraqi protesters, killing 18 and wounding 78; within a week, several civilians demonstrating against the deaths were also killed. The backlash was so severe that the troops were forced to compensate the families of the victims – $1500 per death, $500 per injury.
These repressive tactics only confirm that Bush lied when he claimed the war would “liberate the Iraqi people.” Under the occupation authority, as under Hussein, freedom and democracy remain an elusive dream.
The instability in Iraq and the coming U.S. elections are pushing Bush to urgently set up some sort of Iraqi government. But the current Governing Council – never elected by the Iraqi people, handpicked by the U.S., and made up largely of former exiles close to the U.S. – is only a fig leaf that barely covers the ugly reality of U.S. rule. U.S. viceroy Paul Bremer can veto any Council decision. Unless real elections are held soon, opposition to the occupation will only grow.
In fact, all signs point towards the U.S. getting more and more bogged down in Iraq in the months to come. Military overstretch is already a reality for U.S. forces around the globe; 30 of the 33 U.S. infantry divisions are already committed to responsibilities in other countries. Bush has been forced to eat his words on Iraq and call for help from other imperialist powers, but heavy-hitters France, Germany, and India will not send troops without a United Nations resolution.
As the conflict drags on, the U.S. will have to contend with the growing Sunni and Shia opposition as well as the aspirations of the Kurds for their own state, which conflict with the interests of Turkey, a strategic U.S. ally.
Things in Iraq are “not that dire,” a Bush administration official recently commented in the New York Times. But many Americans disagree, with 43% saying that the occupation is not going well, compared with 13% in May. Twenty-five percent of respondents in a recent Gallup poll want the troops out now, and another 33% said they should return home if casualties continue.
Socialist Alternative opposed this war for oil, power, and prestige from the beginning, and we predicted that the U.S. would face mass resistance to the occupation in Iraq. We are campaigning for:
- An immediate end to the occupation – bring the troops home now
- The people of Iraq to control their own country through genuine democratic elections
- A democratic socialist Iraq, with full rights for all minorities, including the right to their own state, as part of a voluntary socialist federation of the region.
Only in a democratic socialist society can Iraqis work to solve ethnic and religious divisions and use the country’s natural wealth for the benefit of the Iraqi people. Such a society has to be built by the Iraqi people themselves, not imposed by an outside power.
Public Support for Bush and Iraq War Sags
- Bush’s job approval rating has slipped to 52%, his lowest since 9/11. (Zogby International, 8/16-19/03)
- 58% say the economy is worse off than two years ago. 81% believe providing health insurance for all Americans is more important than tax cuts. When listing the most important problems facing the nation, 40% say the economy and jobs compared with 15% who say the war and terrorism. (CBS, 5/13/03 and 5/27/03)
- 66% of Americans rated Bush’s performance on jobs and economy negatively. On the environment: 65% negative. Healthcare: 61% negative. Taxes: 54% negative. Even on the “war on terrorism,” the only issue for which Bush still has a positive rating, his negative rating has risen to 40%. (Zogby International, 7/16-17/03)
- For the first time, more likely voters (48%) say it’s time for someone new in the White House, compared to 45% who said the President deserves to be re-elected. (Zogby International, 8/16-19/03)
- When asked if the country had to do the war in Iraq over again, 40% say they would oppose a war, up from April when 22% opposed it. (Zogby International, 7/16-17/03)
- 43% said things are going badly for the U.S. in Iraq now, up from 13% in May. (CNN/USA Today/Gallup, 7/25-27/03)