“Generals lie, Soldiers die,” chanted pro-testers when general David Petraeus appeared before a Congressional committee in Washington on 10 September.
Petraeus’s mission? To provide military cover for Bush’s cynical tactic of playing for time. With over 3,700 US troops killed, Bush refuses to own up to the reality of a devastating defeat for US imperialism in Iraq. He wants to pass the problem of a humiliating exit on to his successor after the 2008 elections.
Petraeus put on a slide show and presented an array of statistics. As a result of the “surge” – the extra 30,000 combat troops sent to Iraq earlier this year – US military objectives, he claimed, “are in large measure being met”. But he met with a hostile reception. Bush has sent you, the Committee chair, Tom Lantis told the general, “to convince [Congress]…that victory is at hand…I don’t buy it.”
Petraeus’s appearance is being compared with that of general Westmoreland, US commander during the Vietnam war. To bolster president Lyndon Johnson in 1967, he told Congress that the “body count” of Vietcong dead was rising and there was “light at the end of the tunnel”. The US was mired in the Vietnam quagmire for another eight years, costing thousands of lives.
The additional US forces have undoubtedly clamped down in some areas, particularly in Baghdad, with near total military occupation. Even so, the US news agency McClatchy reports that 2,890 people died violently in Iraq in August, much higher that Petraeus’s figure of 1,011. Moreover, conflict has flared up elsewhere. This is always the case with guerrilla wars.
If security has improved, as Petraeus claims, most Iraqis have not noticed. A recent opinion poll found that 70% of Iraqis believe their security has got worse during the last six months.
After four-and-a-half years of US-British occupation, living conditions remain intolerable. Homes in Baghdad get only eight hours of electricity supply a day, and only a third are connected to water mains. Over 60,000 people a month (up from 50,000) are now leaving the country as refugees.
The country is being torn apart by factional, sectarian struggle between Kurdish, Sunni and Shia forces. The Maliki government, isolated in the protected “green zone”, is paralysed and would not last five minutes without US military backing.
Another piece of political camouflage for Bush is Petraeus’s promise of “troop reductions”. Two combat brigades will return to the US by the end of this year, with more to follow. In reality, this is a necessity forced on US commanders by the severe over-stretch of US forces. But by July 2008 US forces will merely be back to around 130,000 – the pre-surge level. Petraeus offers no timetable for the end of the war.
The Democrats are not taken in by the Bush-Petraeus propaganda. But the leaders of the US’s second big-business party have no real exit strategy of their own. They recognise that US public opinion is now overwhelmingly against the war and they want to present an “anti-war” image to win votes. But they fear that an ignominious rout in Iraq will enormously weaken the power and prestige of US imperialism.
Only the Iraqi people themselves can bring the internal conflict to an end. The only effective anti-war policy is for the immediate withdrawal of all US forces.
Meanwhile, around 5,000 British forces are holed up in the Basra airport base. Their only role is to provide token support for Bush’s failed policy. All British forces should be withdrawn immediately from Iraq, as well as from Afghanistan.