It has taken only six months since George Bush’s proclamation on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln that major combat was “over” for the occupation of Iraq to become a complete quagmire for U.S. imperialism. Now Bush says he had nothing to do with the huge “Mission Accomplished” banner that was draped behind him that day.
No wonder. U.S. forces are bogged down in a guerrilla war concentrated in the so-called “Sunni triangle” around Baghdad but which is rapidly spreading to other parts of the country.
The deteriorating situation has forced a complete turnaround by the Bush administration, which now claims the occupation will end by June 2004 with the holding of elections and the creation of a new Iraqi government. The U.S. has been trying to get the UN to share the load and is preparing to rapidly remobilize sections of the old Iraqi army so they can take on the brunt of the fighting. But no matter what elaborate fa?ade is created, the reality is that this will continue to be an imperialist occupation.
The Reality of Occupation
Far more soldiers have died since Bush’s May 1 declaration than in the initial invasion. And while the deaths of soldiers are pretty widely reported, the true number of wounded has been a well-kept secret. According to the Observer (10/1/03) newspaper in Britain, 6,000 American soldiers have been evacuated for medical reasons since the beginning of the war and 1,700 have been wounded, many seriously.
Attacks on U.S. and allied forces are becoming increasingly sophisticated and deadly. At the end of October the number of attacks on U.S. forces had reached over 30 per day. The guerrilla resistance in Iraq has also used suicide bombings to attack a range of targets in the last couple of months, including the United Nations (UN) compound.
Of course, the American casualties pale in comparison with the number of ordinary Iraqis who have died. The independent web site www.Iraqbodycount.net estimates (as of November 17) that there has been a minimum of 7,898 civilian deaths due to the occupation and that 20,000 civilians have been injured.
Besides the threat of dying in the crossfire, ordinary Iraqis must submit to humiliating searches by American soldiers and worry whether their children will be maimed by unexploded ordnance. Baghdad in October received only half the electricity it requires, and water was 25% more polluted than before the war. The lack of clean drinking water results in serious health problems, especially among children. Oxfam reports that malnutrition has doubled. On top of this, the Iraqi economy remains dead in the water, with more than 70% of the 12 million working age people unemployed.
The effects of the occupation have led to increasing popular support, at least in Sunni areas, for the guerrillas. This is especially evident in Fallujah, scene of many bloody clashes, where every successful attack against U.S. forces leads to celebrations by local residents. After the downing of a Chinook helicopter, one person told a reporter, “This was a new lesson from the resistance, a lesson to the greedy aggressors.”
The U.S. claims that the guerrillas are remnants of Saddam’s Baathist apparatus and foreign Muslim fighters who have come into Iraq for the opportunity to take on American forces. However, this does not seem to be a sufficient explanation. As even Paul Bremer, the U.S. proconsul admitted, “The reality of foreign troops on the streets is starting to chafe. Some Iraqis are beginning to regard us as occupiers and not liberators.”
The net result of the chaos in Iraq has been to seriously damage the prestige of U.S. imperialism after its rapid victory over Saddam Hussein’s hated regime. The occupation has tied down a large part of America’s deployable forces, thus putting off the agenda the idea of military interventions in other countries like Iran, Syria, or on the Korean peninsula.
In fact, what is blatantly evident is that the U.S. has committed far too few forces to effectively control the country, as many military experts warned before the invasion. The “Rumsfeld doctrine” of rapid victory and brief occupation using a small force and overwhelming technological superiority has been shown to be a sham. James Dobbins, an advisor to many previous administrations, estimates that Iraq needs a security force of 500,000, echoing the point made by General Shinseki in Congressional testimony last year.
Faced with the unexpected strain of occupation, which is seriously affecting the morale of the armed forces and costing billions per month, Bush returned to the UN in September to ask for a new resolution of support. This request for the UN to grant the occupation “legitimacy” is a complete turnaround for the Bush regime, which went to war without a UN mandate and proclaimed its right to stage unilateral “preemptive” attacks against regimes it doesn’t like.
But the two-month-long attempt to get other nations to commit significant forces to the occupation has ended in complete failure with the announcement that Turkish troops would not serve after an initial commitment by the Turkish government. The reality is that there is almost no government in the world that can commit troops, given the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the overwhelming opposition of the masses internationally to this occupation. Now the focus is on trying to create a government in Iraq with some internal legitimacy. However, this too is fraught with problems.
Opposition at Home
But perhaps the biggest political cost to Bush from the Iraqi quagmire will be at home. There was widespread public opposition to the administration’s recent request for $87 billion to pay for the occupation and the reconstruction of Iraq. It is widely understood now that the justifications for the war, including Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s links to Al Qaeda, were straightforward lies to cover the real agenda: projecting American power and controlling oil resources.
After the downing of the Chinook helicopter, public opinion polls for the first time showed a majority being against the way Bush is handling the Iraq situation. Nor is the opposition coming simply from those who opposed the war in the first place. Within the U.S. armed forces and among soldiers’ families, there is increasing fear, anxiety, and anger about the dangers facing soldiers on the ground and about extended tours due to the inadequate troop levels. This is especially true of the families of reservists who are now being called up by the tens of thousands.
In a particularly powerful letter to the Peoria Journal Star (8/24/03), reprinted on the Military Families Speak Out website (www.mfso.org), Tim Predmore, stationed with the 101st Airborne in Iraq, declared “I once believed that I served for a cause: ‘to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ Now, I no longer believe; I have lost my conviction, my determination. I can no longer justify my service for what I believe to be half-truths and bold lies.”
The choices facing the U.S. ruling class in Iraq are increasingly unappetizing. Either it shares the responsibility for the occupation with the other major imperialist powers, or it must partially remobilize the old Iraqi army to do the job for them. Both these options are problematic to say the least. One way or the other, the U.S. faces, in Rumsfeld’s own words, a “long slog” with increasing international and domestic overheads.
The U.S. will be forced to try to find an “exit strategy” from Iraq, though this will be extremely difficult. A brutal neo-colonial occupation of a major nation is simply unsustainable in the long run. As socialists in the U.S., we have raised the call to end the occupation now before more American soldiers and more Iraqi civilians die needlessly. It is time for the working class here and around the world to recognize that the source of war in our time is the rapacious, bloodthirsty capitalist system, which should have been put out of commission a long time ago. The best outcome of the war in Iraq would be the forging of a new movement to do just that.