The Spark

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

Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan:
From One Quagmire to Another

Jul 31, 2009

On July 1, the U.S. announced with great fanfare that it was pulling its troops out of Iraq’s cities. Of course, the U.S. is not pulling any troops out of Iraq, despite what many people were led to believe by the announcement. The U.S. military is just testing to see if the Iraqi police and military can maintain order on their own. There are still the same 130,000 U.S. troops stationed in bases throughout the country, along with at least an equal number of private mercenaries and military contractors, as well as U.S. war planes, tanks, etc.

The U.S. military is not supposed to start withdrawing troops until March 2010. Then, gradually, over the subsequent six months, about 80,000 troops are supposed to be taken out. This will not be a complete withdrawal, but a partial one. The U.S. says it will leave a so-called “residual” force of 50,000 troops in Iraq for at least another year.

Of course, this withdrawal is supposed to take place if all goes according to “plan.” How often has anything gone according to the U.S. military’s plan for Iraq? After all, a month after the U.S. troop withdrawal from the cities, U.S. troops were right back patrolling the streets of Mosul, where fighting has regularly broken out.

The U.S. military is gambling that Iraq has finally been “pacified,” that is, bled dry and destroyed after more than 30 years of wars and suffocating embargoes stretching all the way back to Saddam Hussein’s war with Iran, a war that, by the way, the U.S. encouraged and helped inflame. Now, millions of deaths later, with much of the population either dispersed as refugees or imprisoned in walled-off sectarian ghettoes like those of Baghdad, the U.S. military seems to have calculated that it has pacified the population sufficiently.

Overall, we have been very encouraged by the progress that has been made,” said President Barack Obama on July 21 in the White House Rose Garden with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouriel al-Maliki at his side. It takes a really cynical, servile and imperialist-minded press to not have even raised an eyebrow to that remark.

There are no guarantees that the U.S. will be able to successfully extricate itself from its almost seven year war in Iraq. One of the ways the U.S. imposed itself on the Iraqi population, playing the different religious sectarian militias and war lords off against each other, has also left Iraq a more dangerous powder keg. The unabated bombings, IED (improvised explosive device) explosions and armed skirmishes that still terrorize the population are an indication of the continued rivalries and struggles for power inside the country. Today, it is said, one of the most dangerous rivalries is between the forces of Kurdish regional president Masoud Barzani, a long-time Kurdish nationalist leader, and those of al-Maliki over the control of the Kurdish region and its oil, with flashpoints in cities like Mosul and Kirkuk.

An incident on June 28, later reported in the Washington Post by Anthony Shadid, underscores that danger. Kurdish residents and militiamen loyal to the Kurdish regional government faced off with an Arab-led Iraqi army unit approaching a predominantly Kurdish town between Kirkuk and Mosul. For 24 hours, Kurdish leaders, Iraqi officials in Baghdad and the U.S. military negotiated until the Arab-led Iraqi unit was pulled back. The Kurdish militiamen are nominally under the authority of the Iraqi army but their loyalty is to the Kurdish regional government, which retains de facto control.

Part of the problem for the U.S. government is whether it will be able to strengthen someone like al-Maliki at the head of the Iraqi state apparatus sufficiently to be able to hold the population in check, while the U.S. continues to play off the competing forces through threats and bribes, so to prevent them from upsetting the extremely volatile and unstable balance of power.

There is no guarantee that this will succeed. “Iraqification” of this war could go the way of “Vietnamization” in the 1970s. At that time, the U.S. tried to withdraw its forces while trying to beef up its puppet regime in Viet Nam, only to have its ally over-run in the end. If the Iraqi regime fails and new conflicts spring up and threaten to engulf the country, this would leave U.S. imperialism with a bigger disaster than what happened after the Viet Nam War, especially given how much more explosive the Middle East is and how much more vital oil is to the economy and profits of the imperialists.

The problem for the U.S. military is that as long as it is tied down in the quagmire in Iraq, it cannot devote the kinds of forces necessary to ramp up its disastrous wars in Afghanistan and now Pakistan. These strains were shown most recently when the Pentagon issued a new request to raise the overall strength of the army by 22,000 more troops. In fact, over the past seven years, the Pentagon has increased the size of the army by close to 100,000 more soldiers.

Over the last few years, the U.S. has been raising troop levels in Afghanistan, while getting allies, from Britain and France to Colombia, to send in troops as well. The only thing this accomplished was to increase anger against the U.S.-sponsored atrocities and violence, strengthening the opposition and the insurgency.

Afghanistan may not be as vital to U.S. economic interests as Iraq is. But the U.S. government cannot allow itself to be chased out, weakening the U.S. grip over the region and encouraging insurgency in other countries.

Explained Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 25, “This is not only the right strategy, but to withdraw our presence or keep it on the low-level limited effectiveness that had been demonstrated would have sent a message to Al-Qaeda and their allies that the United States was willing to leave the field to them.” Not to mention it would have shown people around the world who today live under the domination of U.S. imperialism that the U.S. is not so strong as it pretends.

So the U.S. has decided to ramp up the war. War, invasion and civil war have already embroiled Afghanistan for 30 years, destroying so much, killing so many people, pushing conditions back centuries.

Now, the U.S. is in the process of doubling the number of troops in Afghanistan, from 30,000 to 60,000. With its allies, there could be a force of foreign troops close to 100,000 by the end of the year. If we add in the swarms of mercenaries and private contractors, they effectively double the number of foreign forces in the country.

That could very well be the beginning of an even bigger war. A new treaty with Kyrgyzstan for a U.S. air base from which to fly supplies to Afghanistan, as well as a new treaty with the Russian government to allow U.S. planes to fly over Russian territory, is one indication of the kind of infrastructure and supply chain being put together for the U.S. surge.

In trying to cut off the insurgents in Afghanistan from any haven, the U.S. government has been trying to force the Pakistan Army to fight the war in more and more regions of Pakistan, a country of almost 160 million people. U.S. special forces and drones carry out terrorist raids and bombings against the people of the tribal territories. The U.S. also pushed the Pakistan military to carry out a big offensive in the Swat Valley, causing at least two million refugees to flee, raising the danger of starvation in the winter. This has also further destabilized the already corrupt and tottering Pakistan regime, as it is forced to carry out U.S. orders in a country where much of the population strongly opposes U.S. intervention. On top of that, the Pakistan government has issued warnings of the possibility of the war spreading to another province, Baluchistan, where there already is an insurgency against the Pakistan government.

The war “is worth the effort we are making and the sacrifice that is being felt. And more will come,” said Vice President Joseph Biden on a July 23 state visit to Great Britain, the chief U.S. ally in Afghanistan. Biden was speaking to a British public that has already demonstrated its revulsion to the terrible cost of the war. But he might have been speaking to the American public as well.

Month by month, the U.S. working class is paying the price for the U.S. escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the first three weeks of July, 30 U.S. soldiers were killed, surpassing the highest previous monthly total, reached in June 2008. The U.S. working class has not stopped paying for the wars of conquest and control carried out in the interests of its own imperialist ruling class.

Obviously, the full extent of all these wars has been generally hidden by the almost complete news blackout. And the desperation caused by the worsening recession has meant that more young people – and not so young people – have been going into the military, in order to escape unemployment.

U.S. imperialism’s barbaric wars can be stopped when the U.S. working class, both at home and in the military, revolts.