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

The Unending U.S. War for Oil

Jan 22, 2012

At the end of December, President Barack Obama declared an end to the gruesome nine-year U.S. war and occupation of Iraq. Trying to paste a happy face on the war, he actually called it “a remarkable achievement.” And Obama assured U.S. troops returning from Iraq that “after all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering—all of it has led to this moment of success.... We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and selfreliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.

Obama’s depiction has nothing to do with the reality of the war or Iraq itself. The U.S. is not leaving Iraq—the U.S. government has only replaced its own troops in Iraq with a large mercenary army, paid for by the U.S. In October, U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, described this as “a major surge of contractors there in Iraq—17,000 contractors, 5,500 private security contractors.” Other estimates put the number of private contractors at 35,000, and that number is expected to increase in the future. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone has mushroomed into by far the largest embassy on the planet, a mini-city populated by 17,000 employees, contractors, security forces, etc. The U.S. State Department is also now commanding three other major centers, in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan; in Basra, the main port in the oil-rich South; and in Kirkuk, which is located in the hotly contested, oil-rich region in the North. The U.S. also has seven other facilities, for a total of 11 sites that it continues to run, nerve centers in fortified, self-contained installations at strategic points throughout the country.

Officially, the U.S. military is keeping several hundred troops, as “trainers” or “advisors,” under the Office of Security Cooperation (OSC)—to provide “considerable continuity in the security relationship between the United States and Iraq,” according to the The New York Times (November 30).

Unofficially, a large number of Special Forces and CIA will be working under the Joint Special Operations Command. U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey admitted as much in a television interview with Ted Koppel on December 12.

Finally, the U.S. is beefing up its already considerable force of 40,000 troops in other countries in the Persian Gulf region (not including Afghanistan). In December, for example, the U.S. military increased the number of troops in tiny Kuwait on Iraq’s border by 4,000, bringing the total number of U.S. troops there to 27,000. On board the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf, as well as at several U.S. air bases in countries surrounding Iraq, there are the countless aircraft and missiles that stand ready to attack Iraq at a moment’s notice.

In other words, the U.S. has exchanged one military approach for another. The Wall Street Journal (December 10) made exactly this point in an article with the headline, “In Iraq, the U.S. Shifts to a Large New Footprint.” It described how “…the U.S. involvement there is anything but over…. In place of the military, the State Department will assume a new role of unprecedented scale….” U.S. military forces will now be considered “employees” of the State Department.

As for Obama’s boast about how the U.S. war brought “stability” to Iraq, it would be laughable, if it weren’t so tragic. The U.S. government’s own unclassified data shows that Iraq remains one of the most violent and dangerous countries in the world, with about 30% of all terrorist acts taking place there. The violence in Iraq has been even higher than in Afghanistan, according to “The Quarterly Report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction” (October 30, 2011). And this violence is getting worse. On December 23, a series of explosions ripped through Baghdad, destroying schools, markets and apartments, killing at least 67 people and wounding 185. It was Baghdad’s deadliest day in more than a year. On January 2, the toll was even worse: 72 people in the Baghdad area were killed in a spate of bombings.

Furthermore, the power struggle at the top of the government almost certainly is helping to intensify the vicious ethnic and sectarian strife throughout the society. Immediately after the last U.S. troop convoy rolled out of Iraq on December 18, the Maliki government went after the top members of his own cabinet, who belong to the largest party in his coalition, which gained more votes in the last election than Maliki’s party. An arrest warrant was issued for Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, on terrorist charges, forcing Hashemi to seek refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. Two days later, Maliki placed his own deputy prime minister, Saleh al-Mutlaq, on “extended leave.” Shortly afterwards, a roadside bomb exploded near the government’s finance minister, Rafie al-Esawi. He was unhurt, but two of his bodyguards were seriously wounded.

The deadly violence that marks Iraq today is the consequence of the U.S. divide and conquer strategy. From the beginning of the war, the U.S. divvied up official positions in the government according to sectarian and religious ruling cliques, and encouraged the formation of militias and gangs run by warlords and tribal chiefs.

A “Successful” Quagmire

The U.S. went into this war with the idea—at least on the part of the Bush administration—that its own military would topple Saddam Hussein and quickly establish its own order in the country. Instead, almost nine years later, its own military practically slunk out of the country like a dog with its tail between its legs.

When the U.S. pulled its troops on December 18, 2011, it did not do so with flying colors and a big parade. Instead, the last contingents to leave snuck out in the dead of night, accompanied by an armada of helicopters scanning the ground for rocket attacks and armored vehicles. The U.S. military clearly had so little trust in their counterparts in the Iraqi Army, that U.S. officers deliberately misled their closest Iraqi collaborators into believing they would see each other the next day.

It could not have been more clear what the U.S. had produced in its nine years of war against Iraq—another quagmire.

By the summer of 2009, the U.S. was pulling its troops out of all Iraqi cities and towns, in an attempt to lessen the U.S. “footprint” in Iraq—and by the way, reduce the number of U.S. targets available to the insurgency. A year later, the U.S. military officially stopped all combat missions, moving its troops into well fortified bases from which they only infrequently strayed. But the U.S. could not really protect even these strongholds. The New York Times (June 26) reported that rocket and mortar attacks on U.S. bases had been increasing over the year, causing more casualties. In June, 2011, for example, 14 U.S. soldiers were killed in attacks on their bases.

Even in the heavily fortified Green Zone where its enormous new embassy is enthroned, the U.S. was vulnerable. Rockets and missiles hit the Green Zone when Vice President Joseph Biden paid an unannounced visit in July 2010. And the Zone was bombarded again in July 2011, during a visit by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

The very presence of U.S. troops added to the resentment in all parts of the Iraqi population. The U.S. media, reporting on the supposed end of the U.S. occupation, were hard pressed to find an opinion other than “good riddance.” Ali Jassem, 32, an unemployed worker in Baghdad, told The New York Times (December 13): “They [the U.S.] did not achieve anything, or let’s say they achieved bombing, killing and explosions. They delivered false promises. They didn’t bring anything good for us, for the people; they only brought politicians who are out for themselves.” The anger against the U.S. occupation was so strong, the Times commented, “…it is significant that in both Sunni and Shiite areas, there are some who say that life was better under Mr. Hussein … even from those who shudder in the next breath when recalling the dictatorial nature of his regime.”

For the U.S.’s own military, this near decade of war has caused real problems. Since before the “surge” of 2006-07, the generals, including many at the highest levels, have openly voiced their concerns about what the war in Iraq, coupled with the war in Afghanistan, was doing to their army. It had put huge stress on the troops, many of whom were redeployed to a war zone 3, 4, or even 5 times. Among those who have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan, 625,000 returning troops have now filed for disability. And the demoralization of the troops is reflected in the fact that more active duty troops and returning soldiers have taken their own lives than the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq. The multiple tours of duty threatened to “break the army” or at least severely erode the military’s ability to deal with other “crises” and “contingencies”—as the generals called them.

Then there is the problem of money. So far, the war has cost about 800 billion dollars over nine years. Adding other expenses, including interest on the debt and the ongoing cost of medical care for veterans brings the final cost of the war to at least four trillion dollars, say economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes.

General Karl R. Horst, Central Command’s chief of staff, voiced enthusiastic support for getting his troops out of Iraq. “I think it is healthy. I think it is efficient. I think it is practical,” he told The New York Times (October 29). In other words, it is “healthy” for the U.S. military. And it’s both an “efficient” and a “practical” way to serve the interests of the oil companies, who, in this mess of a situation, are content to have only certain areas of the country controlled, the zones with oil.

They Got What They Came For: Iraq’s Oil

In destroying the old state apparatus left over from Saddam Hussein, the U.S. also loosened the grip of the Iraqi state on the oil industry. And in fueling and playing on ethnic and sectarian tensions and divisions inside the country, the U.S. potentially split that industry in two parts: one controlled by the central Iraqi government and the other controlled by the regional government of Kurdistan in the north.

The oil companies have now jumped in to play the two sides off against each other. ExxonMobil, the biggest oil company in the world, signed a contract with the central government to pump oil from fields in the South, near Basra, where most of Iraqi oil now comes from. In late November, Exxon signed a contract on much more favorable terms with the Kurdish government in the North to drill for oil there. The Maliki government threatened Exxon with losing its right to bid on future auctions in the South. But these threats apparently didn’t worry Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, and the Italian company, ENI, which announced that they, too, are ready to sign up with the Kurdish regional government.

If the Kurdistan regional government succeeds in keeping control over the oil resources in its territory, this will encourage other regional governments to do the same thing. And that could set off a new round of fighting over which sets of warlords, tribal chiefs and/or religious leaders get the crumbs from the table of the international oil companies and banks. The end result may well be a further break-up and balkanization of the country, leaving the oil reserves ripe for the picking.

Certainly Iraqi oil production is seriously reduced as a result of the U.S. invasion and war and the succeeding civil war. But the big international oil companies and the banks that stand behind them have gained a much vaster control of future production and profits than they had before.

The value of this prize should not be under-estimated. Iraq’s known reserves currently rank third in the world in terms of size. But international geologists estimate that unexplored territory contains vastly larger reserves. These reserves are relatively close to the surface and don’t have to be extracted in rough seas or Arctic tundra, so the cost to get the oil out is extremely low, barely a dollar a barrel. And the oil’s generally high quality means it is cheap and easy to refine.

The balkanization of Iraq could, of course, bring more disorder, with all its risks and dangers for the oil industry. That’s exactly why the U.S. government is boosting its mercenary forces in Iraq under the command of the State Department, and why the oil companies are beefing up their own private security forces and mercenary armies.

Nationwide protests against the worsening conditions broke out last year in Iraq, lasting several weeks. The demonstrators called for better social services, electricity, water, stable food prices, more jobs, less corruption (Iraq is rated the fourth most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International) and government reform. And there was a great deal of anger aimed against the U.S. occupation. The protests varied in size, but they were held throughout the country and they cut across sectarian and religious divisions, from Basra in the South to Baghdad and Tikrit in the center of the country, up to Mosul in the North and Sulaimaniya in the autonomous Kurdish region.

Iraq’s important religious leaders, such as Moktada al-Sadr, whose main base of support is in the Shiite slums of Baghdad, and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, opposed the demonstrations. Meanwhile, the government responded with force. There were numerous reports of police opening fire with live ammunition at demonstrators, using tear gas, carrying out beatings and arresting thousands. The Maliki government also closed the offices of the Iraqi Communist Party and the Iraqi Nation Party, after accusing them of leading the demonstrations in Baghdad.

The religious hierarchy’s opposition to the demonstrations, as well as the repression by the state apparatus, offered a kind of reassurance to U.S. imperialism, as it prepared to remove its troops, that the Iraqi authorities can control the population sufficiently for oil production to go on.

The Price Paid by the Iraqi Population

This war has left the country in ashes. The future for the population is already extremely bleak, and the further break-up of the country and possible civil war threaten disaster beyond what has already been suffered.

By far, the bulk of the people killed in nine years of war have been civilians. The U.S. military’s own logs, released by WikiLeaks, enumerate 122,000 civilians killed. Surveys of the Iraqi population by the advocacy group Just Foreign Policy estimate that almost 1.5 million civilians have either been killed or died because of the conditions brought on by the war.

The CIA estimates that Iraq’s per capita income is now so low that it ranks 161st in the world—compared to what it was before the various U.S. wars on Iraq, when the country ranked at the top in the Middle East. Iran, suffering under years of U.S. embargoes, sanctions, assassinations of scientists and other acts of a secret war, still ranks 104, far ahead of Iraq.

Even the most basic infrastructure is practically non-existent. Most of the 64 billion dollars that the U.S. officially spent on reconstruction went only to enrich the big U.S. construction companies and a few wealthy Iraqis, leaving the population with little or no electricity and drinking water, while sewage often pools in the streets. People living in cities and towns near oil producing areas, like Basra, the second largest city in the country, are inundated by soot and smoke.

The U.S. dropped thousands of bombs across Iraq laced with depleted uranium, the radioactive waste produced from manufacturing nuclear fuel. British researchers uncovered a massive increase in infant mortality and rates of cancer in cities like Fallujah, which were heavily bombarded, exceeding “those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” In the province of Babil, reported cancer cases rose from 500 in 2004 to 7,000 in 2008. And in Basra, the childhood leukemia rate has more than doubled over the last 15 years, according to a study published two years ago in the American Journal of Public Health.

As the U.S. pulled its last troops out of the country, some reporters visited the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, where the U.S. had launched two massive military sieges in 2004, to try to break the resistance against the occupation. In this city of 300,000, doctors in the local hospital reported that close to 2,000 civilians, mainly women, the elderly and children, have been killed, and skeletons continue to be pulled out of bombed buildings. A majority of the residents were displaced from their homes during the siege. While most have returned, thousands remain homeless. After the siege, the government had promised a reconstruction program. Two of the highlighted reconstruction projects were a water purification plant and a wastewater treatment project launched in 2004. Seven years later, the sewage system remains unfinished, its future uncertain. Meanwhile, the water treatment plant provides clean water for less than 20% of the population. The neighborhoods that bore the brunt of the battles are now dusty dirt roads strewn with garbage. “Everything here is bad,” a bakery worker told a reporter for al-Jazeera (January 3), “No water, no electricity, no good health care. We have between 75 and 80% unemployment. Widows have no rights, no compensation.”

The sectarian strife spawned by the war drove families out of their homes. Many of those who did return are now being forced out again, due to the new upsurge in fighting. The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that there are still five million Iraqis who have fled their homes. Close to three million are refugees in their own country. A big proportion of them are crammed into 380 settlements scattered around the country. They have little access to clean water, sanitation or medical care. Many are deemed to be illegally squatting and cannot get the documents necessary to register for welfare relief or take jobs or enroll their children in schools. Another two million fled Iraq for neighboring countries Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria, with little prospect of being integrated into the community, or even gaining residency rights so they can work. Those in Syria, with its escalating violence, are now being uprooted again, having to seek another place of safety.

Women have been particularly hard hit. The war, the economic hardship and upsurge in religious extremism have led to a huge increase in violence against women—including honor killings, rape and kidnapping. Before the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq had the highest female literacy rate in the Middle East, and more Iraqi women were employed, in skilled professions, like medicine and education, as well as working class jobs, than in any other country in the region. Now most women are forced to remain at home, without jobs or education. Many Iraqi women who fled to neighboring countries have found themselves unable to feed their children. Just to make ends meet, tens of thousands of them—including girls 13 and under—have been forced into prostitution.

Bulldogs for Imperialism, but Victims Also

Another generation of young Americans has been transformed into imperialism’s pit bulls, themselves suffering all the moral, physical and psychological destruction that such a war holds for imperialism’s own army.

Beyond the nearly 5,000 killed in the war, are the suicide deaths that mount up year after year as soldiers return. According to the VA itself, every 80 minutes a veteran of the two wars tries to kill him or herself—that figures out to 18 a day, or almost 6600 in one year’s time. Then there is the greater amount of domestic violence, alcoholism, drug use, etc.

The Pentagon reports only 32,226 wounded—a number that wildly understates the toll. Various studies have been done by the Pentagon’s own Brain Injury Center, the RAND Corporation, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. They estimate that as many as one-third of all women and men return from their deployments in Iraq with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, depression, hearing loss, breathing disorders, diseases and other long-term health problems.

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, who have been brutalized physically and psychologically, are returning to a country where they face untold problems—first of all getting adequate medical care, a job and a place to stay. This country pays lip service to them as so-called returning “heroes,” but does not recognize the damage that has been done them.

No Exit

The U.S. has laid a whole country to waste, imposing on the Iraqi population a descent into chaos and barbarism—a war that from the beginning was based on lies and fabrications, driven by the interests of the oil companies, other major corporations and the biggest banks.

To these last nine years of war must be added the bloody cost already paid by the Iraqi people in the Iraq-Iran war from 1980 to 1988, which the U.S. encouraged; the first Gulf War of 1990-91 and the massive bombing carried out ever since. This latest chapter of the U.S. war on Iraq is not over yet for the Iraqi people, not by far.

It is a war that the troops of this country have also paid heavily for. And this war is not over and neither is it the last of U.S. imperialism’s wars.

The Iraq war gives the exact picture of the enormously barbaric impact of imperialism, the human price it extorts from populations around the world, including in this country—all in the search for a few more dollars in profit.