The Spark

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

Iraq:
A Sham Election Stained With the Blood of Falluja

Jan 20, 2005

Donald Rumsfeld himself admitted in an interview broadcast nationwide on Fox TV News, early in December, that the administration had misjudged the possibility of an insurrection developing after the U.S. invasion. (His exact words were: "it would have been possible to make a better assessment of the insurrection.") Rumsfeld's public admission in front of millions of viewers is a clear indication that U.S. forces face serious difficulties in Iraq.

But Rumsfeld was way behind the times, since those difficulties have been obvious for months – most strikingly in statements made by and actions taken by some U.S. troops themselves. In early December, the press reported that 5500 U.S. soldiers have deserted since the beginning of this war, according to information provided by the military itself. The very next day, U.S. reservists challenged Rumsfeld during his visit to Kuwait, demanding to know why the soldiers of the world's richest army had to hunt for scrap metal to protect their vehicles against attacks. And that same night, three U.S. deserters who had just been granted refugee status in Canada were seen on the "60 Minutes" TV program. This may have been a particularly difficult two days for the administration, still trying to pretend that all was going well in Iraq, but these televised reports were only a very few drops in the buckets of soldier complaints. There have been constant accounts in local papers given by the families of the troops, who report what they have been told by their relatives stationed in Iraq, outlining just how terrible the situation is.

Despite the vastly superior U.S. firepower and its monopoly of the air, U.S. casualties for November were the highest one-month total for the whole war. January promises to be even worse. The bloody attack on Falluja, rather than throwing back the resistance, seems only to have pushed more Iraqis into its arms. Gun battles, ambushes and terrorist attacks of all kinds target U.S. and British occupation forces and their Iraqi allies every day across an area covering more than a third of the Iraqi territory, with nearly half its population. There's never been an accurate picture of the number of Iraqi victims, but now, with the vast majority of reporters unable even to continue in the country, there's even less information coming from Iraq.

The increasingly catastrophic situation has not prevented the Bush administration from pushing to keep the January 30 election date. Just the opposite. Bush and Britain's Tony Blair, both coming under more criticism, are desperately looking for any "success" to brag about.

That, in and of itself, speaks to the catastrophe that the U.S. and its allies have created in Iraq. This so-called election is a cynical farce that proves to the entire world there is no emerging "democracy" in Iraq. There is nothing but a lake of blood from tens of thousands of Iraqis paying the price for this latest U.S. war.

The following article dealing with the situation in Iraq at the time of the election is excerpted from an article that first appeared in the January-February 2005 issue of Class Struggle, Number 59, a journal published by Workers' Fight, a British Trotskyist group, and was then translated and published in the January issue of Lutte de Classe, the journal of the French Trotskyist group, Lutte Ouvrière.

The Quagmire Deepens

Senior U.S. army officials interviewed by the media do not seem to share Bush and Blair's apparent optimism about January 30th. Several of them were quoted as stating that it will be impossible for the occupation forces to protect voters in all 9,000 polling stations, especially in the many areas of central Iraq where the U.S. forces have to use most of their resources to protect their own positions. Others were even more severe in their estimation of the situation. They warned that if the turnout is ridiculously low, as is likely, and the election therefore deprived of any legitimacy and seen as a defeat for the occupation authorities and Allawi's puppet regime, the resistance groups could be encouraged to capitalize on this defeat....

In fact, the top military echelon seems to be taking the view that the policy followed by Bush so far has been a failure and needs to reviewed. A special envoy – a retired general – has been sent from Washington to look for ways to sort out the mess. Among the measures to be considered would be an increase in the U.S. contingent from its present 150,000 level (already up from 130,000 a month ago) to 200,000 – a long-standing demand of U.S. generals. Quite obviously, and contrary to the fairy tales floated about by western leaders, the top U.S. military brass do not believe that the January 30th election will solve anything in Iraq, no matter what happens.

The resistance to the U.S.-British occupation has increased dramatically over the past months. The same U.S. generals who estimated semi-officially a few months ago that the resistance involved "at most" 5,000 to 10,000 fighters, have doubled their estimates lately. But Allawi's intelligence chief, General Shahwani, could well prove to be closer to the truth. During an interview with Reuters, he estimated that the resistance involves 40,000 "hard-core fighters" together with another 160,000 part-time fighters and sympathizers who provide the resistance groups with logistical help, shelter or intelligence.

The extent to which the armed groups have raised their profile is shown by the Pentagon's own statistics. According to these figures, the monthly number of attacks against U.S. troops, which was around 700 in the last quarter of 2003 has escalated to 1,850 in the last quarter of 2004. These attacks are taking place in a much larger area, which now includes the northern city of Mosul, the country's third largest city, and in Basra, where there have been repeated rocket and mortar attacks against the coalition headquarters. Moreover, these attacks have included numerous armed confrontations in broad daylight, in the middle of urban areas – something which had occurred earlier only during last April's insurgency in Falluja and the main Shiite urban centers, or last July, during the siege of Najaf.

Many of these attacks are still suicide bombings or involve the use of light or home-made equipment such as rifles, RPGs, roadside bombs or booby-trapped vehicles. But the growing number of U.S. helicopters and transport aircraft shot down by the resistance shows that some armed groups have managed to equip themselves with far more sophisticated weapons. Journalists "embedded" with the Black Watch near Falluja noted that rocket launchers with a range of at least 8 miles were being used to attack Camp Dogwood. Another report mentioned that during an attack against a number of police stations in Samara, which involved several dozen guerilla fighters, anti-tank artillery had been used to destroy police bunkers. This change from the light weaponry commonly in use up until now means that some resistance groups have achieved a degree of organization and built up arsenals that will make it far more difficult for the occupation forces to crush them.

The increased profile of the resistance is also reflected in the rising number of U.S. troops killed and wounded. In the first 13 months of the war, up to and including last March, the average number of soldiers wounded in combat per month was 229. It rose to 782 in the 9 months between July and December 2004, a 240% increase. Likewise for the average monthly number of soldiers killed in combat: 46 in the first 13 months of the war, 81 in the past 9 months – a 76% increase. But, according to the findings of a U.S. army medical journal, one in ten wounded soldiers dies of his or her injuries away from the battlefield. So the real number of U.S. soldiers killed since the beginning of the war would be about 2,350 instead of 1,350 and the real average killed over the past 9 months would be 159 per month, instead of 81.

These figures do not include the casualties among Iraqi government forces, which lately have been much greater than those suffered by U.S. troops. The Iraqi interior minister admitted recently that 1,300 Iraqi police had been killed since the beginning of the war. But this figure is obviously much too low. Media reports since last September mention dozens of Iraqi police and National Guards killed every day. Iraqi forces, unlike their U.S. counterparts, do not have the protection of heavy armored vehicles, not even the Humvees and armored trucks.

The U.S.-Trained Iraqi Forces Threaten to Melt Down

These rising casualties and the increasing unreliability among the Iraqi forces now confront U.S. leaders with major problems: they are unable to establish an Iraqi military force sufficiently loyal, dependable – and large.

...

General Shahwani, himself a former head of Iraqi Intelligence under Saddam, was given the responsibility for recruiting a new "Special Forces" unit. Former members of Saddam Hussein's secret police were put back to work: this force rapidly earned a reputation as sadistic torturers, a result of its participation in a "cleansing"operation carried out by U.S. troops against suspected terrorists. However, from the U.S. point of view, despite their reliability, these "Special Forces" were far too small a force to be much use against the rising resistance.

The Iraqi police, which had been drafted back into its former role in 2003, was considered too close to the population to be reliable, too corrupted and too infiltrated by the resistance – all of which is probably true. So the decision was made to set up a U.S.-trained Iraqi National Guard, whose hierarchy would be provided by selected former army officers. It was hoped that ex-soldiers would join in droves. This did not happen. Instead, those who did turn up to the recruitment centers were mostly attracted by the lure of regular wages, had no military experience, no sense of discipline, and certainly no loyalty to their new employers, for whom they did not wish to risk their lives. Others were criminals seeking a licence to loot or members of resistance groups sent to join in order to snatch weapons at the first opportunity or to act as informants. The National Guard proved to be just as unreliable as the Iraqi police when confronted with attacks from the resistance.

Another sign of the deteriorating situation was the mass resignation of the whole police force of Ramadi – a city with 400,000 inhabitants – to protest the state of emergency declared in October by Allawi's government. In the northern capital of Mosul, it is estimated that only 10% of the police force are still turning up for duty and most National Guard units have deserted. The Iraqi National Guard has been showing increasing signs of unrest over the past two months. In recent street gun-fights, some National Guard regulars, engaged alongside U.S. troops, handed their weapons over to resistance groups or even turned them against U.S. troops. Cases of desertion have become even more frequent. On December 29th, a Guard unit of 111 men based near Samara deserted with their weapons following the death of their commanding officer in a terrorist attack. Allawi announced the Iraqi National Guard would be disbanded the following week and integrated into the fledgling Iraqi army – which was probably a way to selectively disarm those units considered too unreliable.

But this decision also means that U.S. leaders are back to square one, without any significant forces to rely on, other than their own soldiers. What has changed, however, is that the resistance seems far stronger than it was a few months ago.

The Bloodbath in Falluja Will Leave Indelible Hatred

When the U.S. leaders decided to launch their offensive against Falluja, they did so under the pretext that this city was a hotbed of terrorists. They claimed it harbored "foreign fighters" and al-Zarkawi, Bush's favorite bogeyman. They probably hoped that bombing the city into the ground would frighten the rest of the Iraqi population away from the resistance, for fear of being subjected to the same treatment. Such methods have a name – terrorism. Yet they justified this act of terrorism by calling it the "war on terrorism."

In addition to the general situation in Iraq, the population of Falluja has special reasons for its hostility to the occupation forces. At the end of April 2003, U.S. troops fired on a demonstration of the youth of Falluja who were protesting the transformation of their school into a U.S. barracks, leaving 13 dead. In April 2004, during a first failed attempt at taking control of Falluja, the U.S. army killed an estimated 3,000 people – although the exact number will never be known. In the end, to avoid a wholesale uprising by the 300,000-strong population, the U.S. troops had to withdraw, under the cover of a face-saving "peace deal."

So, yes, the population of Falluja had every reason to want the occupying forces out of their city. And they certainly did not need the armed resistance – let alone al-Zarkawi or any "foreign fighters" – to encourage them to feel this way.

But U.S. leaders would not tolerate such defiance, and especially because it would create a precedent. Other cities like Samara, Ramadi, Baquba, etc. in the Sunni Triangle were threatening to follow Falluja's example. And the occupation forces could not afford the example Falluja was setting. So they decided to strike and to make an example.

On November 4th, 12,000 Marines and 2,500 Iraqi Special Forces launched their offensive. According to the U.S. generals, the operation was supposed to be over in a few days. After all, the number of potential fighters in the city was estimated to be no more than 2,000 and the U.S. troops had an overwhelming superiority in troop numbers and firepower, not to mention their total monopoly of the air. And yet, exactly two months later, on January 4th, Colonel Clark Matthew, a Marine spokesman, admitted that there were still areas in the city that U.S. troops did not control and that every night the bunkers they occupied were attacked by guerillas. As of late January, the U.S. Air Force was still carrying out "targeted bombings" every day in Falluja.

According to the reports which have filtered out of Falluja, there is nothing left but rubble and ruins in the city; the on-going bombing is destroying those few houses left partly standing. The evidence available shows that some of the artillery shells used a kind of napalm. This mixture of fuel and gel is set alight when the shell explodes; it sticks to the skin, turning people into human torches. The Pentagon admitted to using this ammunition, claiming, however, that unlike napalm, it was less damaging for the environment because of the kind of fuel being used! And these sadistic killers claim to be defending the values of "freedom" and "democracy"?

During the attack itself, the Marines had to fight "for every ruin, every house, even every room" – according to an Iraqi photographer who was there during the fighting. The Marines stormed their way in with hand grenades, regardless of who got hurt, civilian or fighter.

How many civilians died in the attack? Even if half to three quarters of the 300,000 population had left beforehand, some 75,000 to 150,000 were still there, including many too old to flee. The only estimate of civilian casualties was given by the Red Crescent on the basis of incomplete reports it had from the city's hospitals – 6,000 dead! But no one will ever know the real casualty figure. The only certainty is that this bloodbath will long be remembered and not just in Falluja.

Officially, over 50 Marines were killed during the attack – almost as many as during the first month of the invasion of Iraq, when they were fighting Saddam Hussein's army. U.S. officials claimed that 1,200 to 1,600 "insurgents" were killed and 1,000 taken prisoner. But they had to admit that among these 1,000 prisoners only 15 had been found to be "foreigners" (a very small number for a city which is a crossroads between Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia). There was no trace of al-Zarkawi, of course. General Shahwani admitted: "What we have now is an empty city almost destroyed... and most of the insurgents are free. They have gone either to Mosul or to Baghdad or other areas." But anyone could have predicted this result. The attack on Falluja was nothing but a terrorist operation ordered by U.S. leaders against the population.

The Nature and Objectives of the Resistance

Ever since the beginning of the attack on Falluja, the resistance has raised its profile to a new level in all the main cities of the Sunni Triangle, including some which were relatively calm, like Tikrit. Outside the Sunni Triangle, Mosul, which had been relatively unaffected by the insurgency, has also erupted. The U.S. troops had to call in Kurdish reinforcements. The resistance remains in control of some of Mosul's districts.

Obviously the resistance groups are trying to capitalize on the anger generated by the bloodbath in Falluja. Whether they succeed in the long term remains to be seen. But in attacking Falluja, the U.S. leaders were gambling on the fact that it would terrify the Iraqi population enough to isolate the resistance. So far it seems they have lost their gamble.

Of course, the resistance is not, by far, a homogeneous movement and the relative strength of its various components is not known, if only because they are underground groups with no public voice. The majority of these groups are certainly Sunni fundamentalists. Although the groups are separate entities, many of them state their allegiance to a Council of Sunni clerics, which was based in Falluja until recently. Other resistance groups are said to be remnants of the Baath party (which exists officially in exile, but has not endorsed armed resistance so far), or of the army and various nationalist or regionalist factions. Whatever their differences, they have a common reactionary policy, which is one by-product of the U.S. invasion. Claiming to work for democracy and progress, the U.S. opened the door to many reactionary currents and various sorts of religious fundamentalism, who have come to embody the resistance to foreign occupation.

Furthermore, they have organized their fight as a guerrilla struggle, depending on terrorist actions – in many cases carried out by suicide attacks.

Even though a fighter might be killed by taking part in an ambush against a U.S. column, there is a big difference between that and expecting resistance fighters to blow themselves up next to a U.S. column. Using suicide attacks means sentencing one's supporters to death, for the sake of killing an enemy. It denies such supporters any future or right to fight for their cause, let alone to achieve anything. In addition, the indiscriminate nature of such a form of terrorism makes those who advocate its use murderers. They may hide under cover of religion or other causes – but it is not hard to imagine the sort of inhuman dictatorship they would establish if they achieved political power.

But those using guerilla methods, in which groups of armed individuals fight their own war outside any control from the population, cannot defend the interests of the Iraqi people either, even if such actions receive a certain amount of support. When armed guerillas melt back into the landscape, it is usually the local population around the area of the attack which takes the brunt of the retaliation. This is another way of using the population as cannon-fodder, under the cover of fighting in its name. Of course, guerilla methods can provide a means to train and build a military machine. Once such a force becomes powerful enough, it can take power, not just against the "enemy," but also against the population if need be. History has shown numerous guerilla leaders of the Third World who, despite their radical language, became bloody dictators once in power.

The resistance groups have all tried to paralyze Allawi's puppet government since the "handover of power" last June. Indeed, since that date their main targets seem to have been "collaborators" – high-ranking politicians associated with the U.S.-British authorities or the Allawi government and members of the Iraqi repressive machinery. To some extent this policy has been successful since, rather quickly Allawi was unable to find anyone willing to be appointed governor of some provinces (like Anbar province which includes Falluja and Ramadi) or police chief of some cities (including a big city like Samara). In so doing, the resistance succeeded in exposing the isolation of the Allawi government and its total dependence on the occupation forces.

The other common objective of all the resistance groups has been to try to derail the coming election. Not all the components of the resistance have the same reasons for this. Some of the more radical fundamentalist groups would oppose any election no matter who organized it. Others are probably motivated by their determination to see the occupation forces leave before coming out into the open. There are also groups – some religious, Baathists or nationalists – which would not necessarily object to joining the electoral process, even under the occupation, but would prefer to wait for a more favorable time. Meanwhile they gain credit by taking an uncompromising stand against the U.S.-British occupation. Such groups know that if the electoral process does take off, they will have another chance to join it in the next election planned for the end of 2005.

What is significant, however, are the methods used by all these groups to achieve these two objectives.

In their attempt to paralyze the Allawi government, for instance, they have not just targeted top regime officials, but also ordinary workers. An Iraqi union, for example, denounced the kidnaping of train crews on the Baghdad-Mosul and Basra-Nasiriyah lines. There have been numerous attacks against teachers in universities as well as social and health workers, who are considered by some groups as "collaborators" because they are employed by the government. Not to mention hundreds of unemployed who have been killed while lining up for government jobs.

Likewise, these groups have murdered ordinary Iraqis to stop the January 30th election. In many cities, they targeted election workers recruited to check voters' personal data on the food ration cards. (These cards will be used as registration certificates on election day.) These terrorist tactics have been effective – in a number of areas, election workers have resigned. In the region around Mosul, where the population is caught in an incipient civil war carried out between Sunni and Kurdish militias, there was no election commission only two weeks before the election. Moreover, between the bombing carried out by the U.S., the inter-ethnic fighting in some areas, and the terrorist attacks, the U.N. has had to reduce the planned number of polling stations from 30,000 to just 9,000.

In any case, such methods speak volumes for the contempt in which the resistance holds the Iraqi working population and poor!

Question Marks On The Election

On January 30, Iraqi voters are supposed to elect a Transitional National Assembly of 275 members, which will then have nine months to draft a constitution before putting it to the vote in a referendum in October 2005. The Transitional Assembly is to organize a new assembly election in December 2005. In addition, voters in the three Kurdish provinces will elect an Iraqi Kurdistan National Assembly of 105 members. Voters in each one of the country's 18 provinces will elect governing councils. All these elections are organized according to a list system. Each voter votes for one list in each election and each list will be allocated a number of seats proportional to its votes.

For months already, the fine-tuning of the lists for these elections has generated farcical bickering and bargaining between the 230 parties which have sought registration with Allawi's administration. The only reason for many of these parties to seek registration was to try to get the name of their founder included on one of the few lists likely to get a significant share of the vote. The parties based on the country's three main minorities (Shia, Sunni and Kurds), which heavily dominated these lists, all put a few representatives of the other minorities on their lists, as an electoral maneuver, but their main appeal is to their own group.

Over seventy lists have been registered so far, including as few as 15 or as many as 275 candidates. The main lists are the "Iraki United Alliance," bringing together the two main Shia parties; the party of ex-U.S. favorite Ahmed Chalabi, a small Sunni-dominated party; the "National Front," which is formed by Allawi's Iraqi National Accord with various satellite groups; and a list led by the two Kurdish parties, the KDP and PUK. The Iraqi Communist Party has formed a smaller "People's Union" list, which includes candidates from all minorities, on a program advocating, among other things, the separation of state and religion.

Going practically up to the election, there were two unresolved questions. One is whether the Shiite fundamentalist movement of Moqtada al-Sadr will take part in the election, and if not, whether he will call on his supporters to boycott it. The second is the attitude of the main Sunni parties which, to date, have not registered a list.

Al-Sadr has been under pressure from the U.S. and Allawi to stand in this election. In December a number of his leading supporters were arrested on spurious charges. Negotiations led to their release and to a rumor claiming that al-Sadr's supporters would be on the main Shiite list. Al-Sadr himself confirmed it to the press, but added he would join this list only if Ayatollah al-Sistani, the power broker behind it, got a commitment from the occupation forces on a deadline for their departure from Iraq. The U.S. has always refused any such commitment, as al-Sadr well knew. But this stand let him avoid refusing to take a spot on the Shiite list, while it also let him reiterate a tough-sounding line against the occupation.

In the meantime, al-Sadr's supporters are busy campaigning themselves. They organized a national protest against power cuts, with a demonstration in Baghdad, and his militiamen are hunting down black-marketeers and organizing the distribution of gasoline and kerosene in Sadr City, the capital's Shiite slum. Al-Sadr has made no secret of his intention to turn his militia into a political movement at some point. And he is definitely working to build support for it with a certain amount of success. But when and how he will decide to move remains an open question.

Whether the Sunni parties will participate in the election has been up in the air for over two months. With public support from the Sunni Council of Clerics, these parties have called for the election to be postponed until some order returns to the Sunni Triangle. When the U.S. refused, the Sunni parties were put on the spot. On the one hand, they feared retaliation from the resistance if they stand in the election, as well as being discredited with the Sunni population. On the other hand, if they boycott the elections, they risk political marginalization since they'll have no representatives in the new institutions. Either way they lose. The U.S. puppet government of Allawi went out of its way to integrate them in the election, pushing back the deadline for list registration until January 15th, to give them more time to resolve their quandary. But January 15th came and went, and the main parties did not register.

More Threats To Come

...

Whatever happens, this election can only be a parody of a democratic election – and not only because of the predictable fraud or because the only observers sent by the Ottawa conference to monitor the vote will "observe" from the safety of Jordan, for security reasons.

It will be a farce because of the conditions under which it is taking place. On one side, there is the state terrorism of U.S.-British imperialism, with its arsenal of bombs and tanks, its 170,000 heavily armed soldiers, and its determination to reduce Iraq into a vassal state, under a pliable regime. And on the other side, there is the terrorism of reactionary armed groups born out of the western invasion of Iraq, who consider the Iraqi population as disposable cannon-fodder and dream of various forms of dictatorship. What sort of "democratic election" can there be when voters are caught between these two threats? In this situation, the real issue is not what they put in the ballot box, but what they find outside when they leave the polling station – assuming they do vote. And what they find is a bloody war, which claims dozens of lives every day and can claim theirs at any time.

If, as it seems likely, this election is virtually boycotted in the Sunni areas, the Transitional Assembly will be considered legitimate only in the Shiite and Kurdish regions – at best. But it will be seen as irrelevant in the Sunni regions. And this could push more people into the arms of the armed resistance, for lack of any other option, thereby encouraging it to step up its activity.

But even if the turnout in the Sunni areas is significant enough for the Transitional Assembly to have a minimum of credibility, those well-placed Sunnis who monopolized power and positions under Saddam Hussein, won't get them back. And this could provide a continuing base for Sunniseparatism. The forces already pushing Iraq to fracture may well become more vocal after the election. In Kurdistan, a section of the Kurdish population is becoming impatient because the reconstruction they were promised has yet to materialize and they blame their problem on war in the Sunni areas. In the Shiite center of the country, south of Baghdad, a council of high-ranking clerics has already launched a campaign to demand autonomous status, cutting off their area from the terrorist activity in the Sunni Triangle and from the British-occupied south. In addition, the U.S. army's use of Kurdish militias as auxiliaries to repress the Sunni insurgency in Falluja and Mosul threatens to erect a wall of blood between the two minorities.

Ultimately, even if there were to be a credible turnout in this election, letting Bush and Blair portray it as a "democratic" achievement, the powder keg created by the invasion of Iraq will not be any less dangerous. If anything, the threat of an implosion is increasing. And the only methods that imperialism knows how to use, confronting such a threat, are those it already used in the Falluja massacres. More bloodbaths are awaiting the Iraqi people. This is the only prospect that imperialism has to offer them.