The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Iraq War:
Into the Quicksand

Jul 25, 2003

Over the last couple of months, the Bush administration has come under fire for its handling of the war and occupation in Iraq. Some Democratic Party presidential candidates have finally gathered enough nerve to actually question whether the Bush administration was completely "honest" and "truthful" in justifying the build-up to war against Iraq. They have especially grabbed hold of the "16 little words" mouthed by Bush in his State of the Union address, last January 28, accusing Saddam Hussein of trying to buy uranium from Niger, accusations based on forged documents. Many Democrats have even gone so far as to call for a "full Congressional investigation" into the U.S. "intelligence gap," as one of the presidential front-runners, Senator John Kerry, calls it.

Of course, the time to have denounced the Niger forgery was when Bush used it... last January. By that time, the documents had already been thoroughly discredited as an obvious and crude forgery. But the Democratic Party did not denounce the Niger forgery, nor any of the other lies in Bush’s State of the Union speech, nor the entire drumbeat to war at the time. Instead, most of the Democrats were mouthing the same lies, busy supporting Bush’s war drive. At most, they called on Bush to wait for U.N. approval before he went to war. The vast majority voted to give Bush his blank check to carry out that war. They congratulated Bush when the U.S. military took Baghdad. And even now, after they began a timid criticism of how he was carrying out the war, they were quick to jump on the Bush administration bandwagon when the U.S. military announced that it had killed Saddam Hussein’s two sons.

It is not difficult to understand why the Democrats suddenly resurrected the Niger forgeries and made them a political issue now. The war in Iraq is becoming more and more unpopular in the United States. And elections are coming up next year. The Democrats are just covering their own tracks for having supported that war, without in the least raising the real issue that the war is a dirty colonial war that should be opposed unconditionally.

In the last few weeks the Bush administration’s handling of the occupation of Iraq has also been called into question. There have been some news reports citing various "experts," who apparently specialize in the occupation of smaller countries by big imperialist powers, who now accuse the Bush administration of such things as not sufficiently preparing for the occupation, not sending in enough troops, not involving the United Nations or NATO in the occupation of Iraq.

More than anything else, these charges are part of old feuds, power struggles and turf battles that surface from time to time, between Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, between Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon brass, between Donald Rumsfeld and the CIA, and who knows, perhaps between Donald Rumsfeld and Donald Rumsfeld. But underlying these conflicts is the usual tension that exists between elected government officials who formulate policy and the different components of the permanent state apparatus that have to actually carry out that policy and make it work under conditions that they often don’t consider to be reasonable. So, for example, the heads of the armed services, especially the Army, have complained almost non-stop that they haven’t had nearly enough troops to do the job, neither to fight the Iraq war, nor to carry out the occupation of Iraq.

But of course, none of those who raise these issues, from the military, the CIA, to all the other former foreign policy officials, ever, in any way call the overall Iraq policy into question. They have invariably supported that policy at every step: the first Gulf War, the embargo, the regular bombing of the country for more than a year in preparation for the invasion, the invasion itself, the occupation. They are just saying that they need many more troops armed with more weapons to carry it out. For those current and retired officials of the state apparatus, as well as all those politicians, commentators and "experts" who repeat what they say, the real issue is simply how better to run the war and occupation. Of course, one may ask what occupation model in the U.S.’s long history do they consider more to their liking: the U.S. occupation of the Philippines and Cuba in the 1900s, or Haiti in the 1910s or the 1990s, or the Dominican Republic in the 1960s? Or perhaps they are a bit more worldly and sophisticated, and want to use another country’s colonial model, like the British occupation of Iraq back in the 1920s, or the French occupation of Algeria. Or perhaps they are fixed on the more modern versions of occupations in the Balkans or Afghanistan that the U.S. is involved in under NATO and the U.N.

No, all these hawks and vultures are not circling the Bush administration for supposed humanitarian reasons. On the contrary, they recognize that ever since the U.S. began to occupy Iraq, it has run into problems, some might even say that it has run into a quagmire ... or another Viet Nam, although they dare not say it.

The Shining Moment

Back on May 1, things looked different. It was a time of high optimism for the Bush administration. Three weeks before that date, U.S. forces had stormed into Baghdad. President George W. Bush was given his big, unforgettable moment to mark the U.S. victory in Iraq. And it was done in the style of one of those overblown spectacles that Hollywood has been churning out. Bush in a fighter jet was landed on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. Surrounded by the uniformed military, the fighter jets and the big guns, he made his speech. George W. Bush, the same son of privilege who used his family’s connections to weasel out of facing combat during the Viet Nam War, had emerged resplendent as a "war hero" in the U.S. Middle East campaign. And the footage featuring Bush on that aircraft carrier, costumed in the flight suit, was already scheduled to play until at least November 2004, supposedly making Bush’s re-election a near certainty.

But even on May 1, the very day that Bush declared the "end to major combat operations" in Iraq, tensions in Iraq were rising. On April 30, one day before Bush’s declaration of victory, U.S. troops in the town of Falluja fired on thousands of Iraqi demonstrators, who were demanding that the occupying U.S. troops leave, killing 14 and wounding another 50. On May 1, the same day Bush declared victory, U.S. troops in Falluja once again fired on thousands of demonstrators and killed another two people.

It wasn’t only Iraqis who were doing the dying. In those early weeks of the occupation, an average of one U.S. soldier per day was being killed, usually in what were described as accidents. Then, on May 8 Private Marlin Rockhold, 23, was shot by a sniper while directing traffic in Baghdad. Rockhold became the first U.S. soldier that the military officials acknowledged was killed by Iraqis since the war "ended."

This was a portent of things to come.

By the middle of May, U.S. troops were regularly coming under fire from snipers, home-made bombs, rocket propelled grenades, and sometimes mortar fire. The U.S. military did not release statistics of how many attacks were carried out each day, obviously to avoid the scrutiny of the U.S. public. But according to the Congressional testimony in early July of General Tommy Franks, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, in the first months of the occupation, the numbers had mounted to between 10 and 25 attacks per day. Pilots landing planes in Baghdad airport had to corkscrew their descents, in order to avoid small arms fire just like their counterparts did during the Viet Nam War. Installations like oil pipelines began to be sabotaged.

The Bush administration systematically tried to downplay these attacks, attributing them to rearguard actions by elements of the old Saddam Hussein regime. The standard line became something like: "We’re facing a combination of Ba’athists, fedayeen and ex-intelligence services operating without central control on a loose basis."

Undoubtedly this is partly true. The Iraqi Army had not offered much resistance to the U.S. invasion, except in the opening phase of the war in the south of the country. Instead, it had melted away. So it can be assumed that some individuals and even some units had simply regrouped and begun to carry out guerrilla attacks. But they were not the only ones, according to officers in the U.S. Army. Colonel Eric Wesley of the 3rd Infantry based near Falluja, told reporters that he believed that many of the attackers are ordinary people, motivated by "current grievances." And according to Col. Wesley, he doesn’t believe that many of the attackers are professionals. "They are disaffected people from various parts of society. They may be impoverished, or somehow afflicted by the war and the coalition, wanting revenge for the loss of a family member....Our indications are that the majority are not well trained. Their tactics are relatively crude and elementary. Their marksmanship is poor. The incidence of rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s being on target is rare."

Said another officer, Captain Michael Calvert, many attacks are what he calls "crimes of opportunity. A man behind a wall sees a convoy coming, fires a shot and runs."

Of course, the efforts employed by the U.S. military to try to crush this resistance, more aggressive patrols and raids that targeted ordinary Iraqis, only stoked Iraqi anger and resistance. As an example, at the end of May in Hit, a town of 20,000 people 100 miles to the west of Baghdad, residents attacked the police station, stoned U.S. armored military vehicles and set police cars on fire in several days of rioting.

In June, the U.S. upped the ante once again, by launching a series of massive offensives by combined air and ground forces that killed hundreds and resulted in thousands being rounded up and taken away. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, explained the purpose of these offensives in unusually candid terms:"We are going to fight them and impose our will on them and we will capture or, if necessary, kill them until we have imposed law and order upon this country."

In other words, the U.S. military machine was gearing up for more mass murder, imposing U.S. rule by creating mountains and mountains of corpses.

During this entire period, Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials downplayed the extent of the fighting. But on July 16, the new commander of the U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid, finally used the words that his civilian bosses in the Pentagon refused to utter. He said that the U.S. was engaged in a guerrilla war. "It’s war, however you describe it," he said, and for the first time, he raised the prospect that regular tours of duty of one year would have to be established for U.S. troops stationed there. In other words, the Pentagon was preparing to fight the guerrilla war and carry out the occupation for years and years and years.

No, the fall of Baghdad on April 9 and Bush’s speech on May 1 did not mark the end of the Iraq War. It only ended one phase, the establishment of the U.S. occupation of the country. The new phase, an open-ended U.S. war to impose its occupation on the Iraqi population, had only begun, with no "light at the end of the tunnel" to use the phrase that came back to haunt Johnson during the Viet Nam war.

"Creating Prosperity" under U.S. Occupation

Over 100 days have passed since the U.S. began its occupation of Iraq. Conditions remain desperate. There are no jobs, income, water, electricity, health care. That is, people don’t have the basics.

U.S. authorities even admit this. In an interview with the New York Times on July 9, Major General Carl Strock of the U.S. Army, one of the top U.S. officials overseeing the "U.S. led effort to rebuild Iraq," admitted that electricity production and drinking water available in Baghdad and some other parts of the country were still well below prewar limits. According to Strock, the production of electricity was still more than 20% below pre-war levels. It should be noted that pre-war levels were already severely low, since the infrastructure had been destroyed by the U.S. during and after the Gulf War and then not rebuilt, due to sanctions.

According to the Times, "the assessment appeared to run counter to earlier assurances of the Pentagon that the goal levels for improving those services had been or were close to being met in many parts of the country." And no wonder. For this year, the U.S. is budgeting only a tiny fraction, 250 million dollars, of the 1.5 billion dollars that it estimates it will take to begin restoring the electrical network. In other words, the U.S. authority is condemning the Iraqi population to severe electrical shortages for years to come despite all its promises to help them immediately.

What has been the impact of these electrical shortages for ordinary people? In early July, CARE International reported that in many parts of Baghdad there was no electricity at all for 72-hour stretches and, when the electricity comes on, it is only for two hours at a time. In the stifling heat when temperatures reach over 120 degrees and barely go down at night, people have no way to relieve the suffering of sick children or store food in refrigerators, for example.

Most of the population still gets very little water, much less than before the war. First of all, this is because water pumping stations also run on electricity. Often they are just not functioning. Also, more than one-third of the 240 pumping stations in Baghdad that run on diesel fuel are also not operating, because of the lack of diesel fuel. Of the water that people do get, much of it is unsafe. This is because the sewage treatment plants also go down, either because of a lack of electricity or because they have not been repaired. As a result, more than half the sewage in the big cities runs untreated into the very rivers from which people get their drinking water. There has been a big increase in the incidence of severe diarrhea and typhoid and cases of cholera are on the rise. Children have been especially hard hit. A survey by UNICEF found that 72% of all children in Iraq suffer from diarrhea, 2 times the pre-war rate. Public health officials say that this is an important barometer of poor public health in general.

Of course, the health care system to take care of the sick is also functioning at still lower levels than it was before the war (which were already very low because of the sanctions, etc.) Not only are there acute shortages of medicines, staff and equipment. There are even severe shortages of disinfectant and bed sheets so the hospitals cannot even be kept clean.

The rest of the economy is not functioning either. Official unemployment is running at over 60%. And those who have jobs are often not paid or paid only a tiny fraction of what they used to be paid.

One basic sector of the economy that is facing complete collapse is agriculture, according to a special assessment done by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO). That agency reports that for the farmers in the south of the country, the harvest of winter planted crops, that is, grains, was extremely poor. This is due to lack of spare parts to fix the aging harvester combines and a complete breakdown in the finance and distribution network, which the U.S. authorities didn’t bother to support after the collapse of the Iraqi state. At the same time, in the northern part of the country farmers did not plant crops of vegetables and fruit in the spring, because there are no seeds, pesticides, fertilizers or financing. Meat production has also collapsed, especially poultry and egg production, because of a lack of feed, medicine and vaccines; and the hatcheries and egg-laying facilities that were run by the government have collapsed, which the U.S. occupation authorities have also not bothered to deal with.

This means that much of the population that depended on farming for a living is being forced to leave the land for already teeming cities. It also means that a big part of the population faces potential starvation. The UNFAO announced that almost 100% of the Iraqi population will have to depend on various international food aid programs to survive. The ongoing collapse of agriculture in Iraq cannot be blamed, as the Bush administration does for everything else, on looting and lawlessness. Maybe that is why this crisis is not even mentioned in the U.S. news media.

In the July-August magazine, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, one visitor to Iraq who recently returned commented, "The media does not give even a glimpse of how bad it is in Iraq."

No, instead it continues to carry the lies of the Bush administration.

Occupation-Style Democracy

Bush, Rumsfeld, Powell, Bremer, the Democrats, Republicans and the New York Times, etc. all say that the U.S. is bringing democracy to Iraq. This is what they dared to tell the Iraqi people after the U.S. bombed their country for 13 years!

Iraq is being run from top to bottom by the U.S. authorities. There is no elected government anywhere, not even in a formal sense. Nor are there plans for one, except for some distant future. The U.S. authorities appoint Iraqis to government and important administrative positions. In July, the U.S. civilian administrator for the occupation, Paul Bremer, appointed what became known as a governing council for the country, made up of 25 people. Of course, Bremer can veto any of the governing council’s decisions. He can also remove them, or dismiss the entire body, if he so chooses. In other words, the supposed governing council for Iraq is a puppet of the U.S., completely and absolutely.Local authorities are also appointed by the U.S. In over 250 towns, U.S. military officers have selected delegates, who in turn select the mayor, police chief, etc. The U.S. occupation authorities justify this by saying that they want to make sure that those Iraqis who take office are not former Ba’athists, or people close to Saddam Hussein, or people who are corrupt, etc.

All this does is create and reinforce a hierarchy of power brokers and corrupt officials tied to the U.S. most often the same officials who came out of the regime of Saddam Hussein, despite what the U.S. claims. In May, for example, the U.S. appointed to the important and powerful position of police chief of Baghdad, Major-General Hamid Uthman, who headed the police under Saddam Hussein. The fact that he ran his own mafia out of police headquarters didn’t seem to bother the Americans. Only the protests of the people in Baghdad forced the U.S. to have him removed. The U.S. then named the former deputy chief of police under Saddam Hussein, Major General Zuhair Al-Noami, as the new police chief.

At one point, the U.S. did entertain the idea of trying to hold local elections. As an experiment, it tried to hold elections in the city of Najaf. It enlisted U.S. troops to help in the process. Eighteen candidates entered the competition. There was voter registration, campaigning, everything. Then, within days of the election, Bremer overruled the local military commander and canceled the election, decreeing "that conditions in Najaf were not appropriate for an election." Several days later, American marines stormed the offices of an obscure local political party there, arrested four members and jailed them for four days. Commented the reporter of the New York Times:"The events here exposed an uncomfortable truth of the American occupation. For now, American officials are barring direct elections in Iraq and limiting free speech, two of the very ideals the U.S. has promised to Iraqis.... Privately, American officials said they believed Iraq was not ready for elections, and voting could inflame tensions."

Instead of risking an elected mayor that it didn’t like, the U.S. authority appointed one it did, a certain Abdul Munim Abud. Abud had all of the credentials the U.S. was looking for. He was a former colonel in the Iraqi Army, and he also happened to have his own "militia," better known as a gang. The U.S. authorities liked these qualifications so much, they even let Abud keep his gang, only asking him to call them "bodyguards." Abud proceeded to use his "bodyguards" to steal, intimidate and shake people down. Only when almost the entire city revolted against Abud, were U.S. authorities forced to remove him as mayor and have him tried for corruption.

Of course, the U.S. authorities said this proved how they bow to popular pressure that is, in the rare cases when they are forced to remove one of their appointed thugs. In fact, it only shows what kind of Iraqi government the U.S. is trying to put together, one run by the same kind of thugs and gangsters as under Saddam Hussein, with the exception that this time they will be in the tow of the U.S.

No, the U.S. is not building "democracy" in Iraq. It is building the same kind of government that it imposes all through the underdeveloped world, from Latin America to Asia to Africa, a ruthless dictatorship that keeps order through violence and the threat of violence, even when there are supposed "elections." Of course, until that apparatus is put together, the U.S. authorities will continue to have U.S. troops do the dirty work, to murder, imprison, torture that is, if the people of Iraq... and of the U.S. accept this.

The U.S. Soldiers and Families

Certainly, press reports indicate that there is discontent in the ranks of at least some of the U.S. troops now stuck in Iraq. These troops had been led to believe that they would not long remain in Iraq. According to their families, they had been assured that the road home ran through Baghdad. Once they heard Bush’s May 1 speech declaring the war over, they figured that they would be out within a matter of days or weeks. But that didn’t happen.

"What are we doing here?" asked a sergeant with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division in mid-June. "The war is supposed to be over, but every day we hear of another soldier getting killed. Is it worth it? Saddam isn’t in power anymore. The locals want us to leave. Why are we still here?" Often, the soldiers said that they faced much more difficult conditions than those of the war. Explained Sergeant Ben Moore, "I’m more scared now than when we went to war. At least then you had your lines drawn, you knew where you stood, where the enemy was. But now you don’t know who will shoot at you." Just like in Viet Nam, the U.S. soldiers feel caught in an unknown country, surrounded by a hostile population.

On July 16, a reporter from the ABC television network captured the reactions of U.S. soldiers from the First Infantry who had been in the region since the previous September and had already had their redeployment date pushed back twice when they were told that the Pentagon had extended their tour of duty in Iraq indefinitely. One sergeant referred to the deck of cards the U.S. government published featuring Saddam Hussein, his sons and other wanted members of the former Iraqi regime. "I’ve got my own Most Wanted’ list. The aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz."

Asked by the reporter what he would tell Rumsfeld if he was sitting in front of him Spc. Clinton Deitz said, "If Donald Rumsfeld was here, I’d ask him for his resignation."

The fact that the U.S. soldiers were not coming home provoked real anger among the families of the soldiers also. When they were told that their husbands were not coming home, as expected, the army wives at Fort Stewart, Georgia staged a near-mutiny. A colonel, who had been sent to soothe a meeting of 800 of them, had to be escorted out of the hall under a torrent of jeers and angry questions.

Of course, the troops and their families have plenty to fear. As of July 24, a total of 238 U.S. troops had been killed from the date the war started on March 20th. And 99 of those soldiers had been killed after May 1, that is, after Bush declared the war over, the period of "peace." Very soon, more soldiers will have been killed in the period of "peace" than in war!

Often the Bush administration and the U.S. news media have minimized the growing U.S. death toll by reporting only the number of those it considers to have been killed in action. The numbers they often give don’t include those troops killed in what the Pentagon considers "non-combat deaths," like helicopter crashes (perhaps brought down by enemy fire), guns going off while being cleaned (better known as suicides), vehicle accidents (that may have hit a mine).

But one thing is certain. These troops being used to sow death and destruction in Iraq are in the process themselves of being ground up as cannon fodder. And for what? So that U.S. imperialism can gain greater domination over the people and resources of the Middle East and the world, so that Bush, Cheney and the rest of their buddies can extort greater profits from their increasing control over Middle Eastern oil, as well as from the bigger military and construction contracts.

This is a criminal, dirty colonial war. No U.S. troops should be there. Get the troops out immediately!