“The Americans say that Saddam is the man of mass graves,
but they are the ones responsible for these mass graves.”
– Iraqi tribal leader
On the campaign trail, Bush presented a picture of an Iraq in transition from dictatorship to democracy. The President told a crowd in Minnesota, “It wasn’t all that long ago that Saddam Hussein was in power with his torture chambers and mass graves. And today, this country is headed towards elections.”
But a growing section of Iraqis see the role of the U.S. military occupation of Iraq much differently than Bush. While helping bury Iraqis outside Fallujah after a U.S. aerial assault, one tribal leader told an American reporter, ”They [the Americans] say that Saddam is the man of mass graves, but they are the ones responsible for these mass graves” (Boston Globe 18 Sep 2004).
Months of occupation have stoked up enormous anger among Iraqis. In addition to the brutal and humiliating nature of a foreign occupation, unemployment stands at 60%. Crime is rampant. Women face the threat of kidnapping and rape every time they leave home. Raw sewage flows through the streets of Baghdad, and preventable diseases are spreading in epidemic proportions.
Intelligence reports suggest that more and more Iraqis are joining the ranks of the insurgency. One recent report put the number of full-time insurgent forces as high as 20,000, much higher than all previous estimates.
The insurgency has already demonstrated sufficient strength to force the U.S. out of major areas in the “Sunni triangle” north and west of Baghdad and large areas of the Shi’a south. In the last months, the insurgency has spread to every corner of Iraq outside of the Kurdish north, and insurgents have even managed attacks in the heavily guarded Green Zone.
George Bush’s Vietnam
George Bush is losing his war. His insane adventure to grab Iraqi oil fields and boost the power and prestige of U.S. imperialism has created a catastrophe that is spinning out of control. Attacks have increased to 87 per day, up from 40-50 per day in June. Nearly 1,100 U.S. soldiers have been killed, and a new report from public health experts estimates that more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been slaughtered since the March 2003 invasion (Lancet Journal 28 Oct 2004).
While playing down this disaster, Bush has gambled on a strategy of “Iraqification,” that is, giving the U.S. occupation an Iraqi face in the form of former exile Ayad Allawi. But the authority of Interim Prime Minister Allawi’s government extends little beyond the city limits of Baghdad.
The U.S. has even found it difficult to ensure the security of the Iraqi National Guard. A recent massacre of 50 Iraqi soldiers suggests that insurgents have successfully infiltrated the guard. Many Iraqis sign up just for the paycheck, and at critical moments many have switched sides, joining the resistance to the U.S.
The insurgency may be outmatched by the awesome power of the U.S. military, but the U.S. will not be able to secure Iraq in the face of a widespread guerrilla war or national uprising. The New York Times recently expressed doubts about this: “History, from Algeria to Vietnam, suggests that no military solution to a spreading insurgency is possible” (26 Sep 2004).
Without security, Bush’s stated aim of a democratic Iraq and U.S. imperialism’s strategic goal of a pro-U.S. outpost in Iraq is in jeopardy. Clearly, the U.S. has lost this war if only because of the tremendous political problem posed by a widespread insurgency. Support in Iraq for the U.S. occupation barely exists, and the crisis has shaken U.S. society and the world. UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, for example, has recently expressed sharp criticisms of the U.S. occupation, labeling it “illegal.”
An increasingly large section of the U.S. ruling class is concluding that Iraq is a lost cause. But, it will not be easy for U.S. imperialism to escape from this bloody mess without doing severe damage to its prestige. Pulling out is unacceptable to the ruling class at this stage. But continuing the occupation could prepare the way for a much more humiliating defeat. Either way, the U.S. will not achieve its aim of forming a stable pro-U.S. regime on Iraqi soil.
President Bush has tried to deflect criticisms of the crisis by insisting that the occupation is preparing the way for democracy. But this war has never had anything to do with democracy. The interim government was handpicked by the U.S. Ayad Allawi’s regime is not resting on any firm social roots among the Iraq population. His real base of power is the 160,000 foreign troops who are loathed by the Iraqis he claims to represent.
The problems with organizing credible elections are rooted deep in the imperialist character of the occupation, and grave doubts exist as to whether elections can be pulled off in the face of the growing insurgency.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently told Congress that an election might only be possible in “three quarters or four fifths of Iraq.” Elections of this sort will be fundamentally undemocratic. The Association of Muslim Scholars, representing over 3,000 Sunni mosques, called for Iraqis to boycott the elections. Partial or boycotted elections will be seen as illegitimate and exacerbate the conflict.
On the other hand, if elections are delayed or do not proceed all together, Bush risks alienating Grand Ayatolla al Sistani, the most powerful Shi’a cleric. Sistani has been cooperative with the U.S. administration and has acted as a counterweight to radical Shi’a cleric Muktada al Sadr.
Sistani has resisted a plan endorsed by other interim government parties to put together a single consolidated list of candidates on the ballot. Shi’a Muslims make up over 60% of the population in Iraq, and Sistani has openly warned he will boycott the elections if the Shi’a majority is underrepresented.
Gunning for Fallujah
Desperate to pull off elections on schedule by January, the U.S. is undertaking a major military offensive to retake a number of areas currently under rebel control. The focus of the U.S. offensive is Fallujah in Anbar province, where the insurgency is the strongest and best organized.
In October, the U.S. military recaptured Samara from the insurgent forces, a dress rehearsal for the attack on Fallujah. But the operation in Samara, which pitted 3,000 U.S. and 2,000 Iraqi National Guard troops against 500 estimated insurgents, pales in comparison to the bloodbath the U.S. prepared for Fallujah, where there are a reported 2,000 to 2,500 insurgents. U.S. Army and Marine units, backed by C-130 gunships, launched an all-out assault on Fallujah in November, forcing 75% of the residents of the city to flee for their lives.
The U.S. pretext for the assault is their claim that al Qaeda operative Abu Musab al Zarqawi is using Fallujah as a staging ground for attacks on occupation forces and civilians. Socialists certainly do not support the terrorism of Zarqawi’s group, but we do support the right of ordinary Iraqis to resist the nightmare of U.S. terror.
There is no doubt that the death and destruction rained down on Fallujah will reinvigorate the insurgency and could possibly lead to a full-scale Sunni rebellion. And while al Sadr’s militia seems to be stepping down for the moment, there is no reason to believe that a Shi’a insurgency could not resume at a moment’s notice if provoked by a U.S. offensive. The next few months could see a major escalation of violence.
Bring the Troops Home Now!
U.S. imperialism is not waging this war for the sake of ordinary working-class Americans, and certainly not for the sake of ordinary Iraqis. A continued occupation will only lead to the death and maiming of more Iraqis and more working-class American soldiers.
Meanwhile, billions are being spent every month on the war, while education and social services are cut and jobs are being lost here at home. The war in Iraq is intimately linked to the war on working people in the U.S. This is precisely why the working class needs to be at the forefront of building a truly mass movement that can stop the war and bring the troops home.