Iraq One Year On: Has Washington Won?
Iraq One Year On: Has Washington Won?
Rohan Pearce - Green Left Weekly
One year since US President George Bush announced the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, the plans for an imperial “new American century” have come seriously unhinged. The US is bogged down in Iraq, facing disquiet at home about its soldiers rising body count and an insurgency that the most powerful army in the world has failed to defeat.
As the November presidential election approaches, the corporate media is awash with op-eds speculating about “Bush's exit strategy” for Iraq, pretending that the Pentagon woke up one morning and was surprised to find it had put 150,000 troops in the middle of a country with the world's second biggest oil reserves.
In reality, there is no exit strategy. Unless forced out by Iraqis' resistance or a domestic political crisis, the US will stick it out in Iraq until it has its prize — the oil, a stable client regime in Baghdad and the ability to use Iraq as a staging post for strengthening US domination of the Middle East.
The talk of an exit strategy is eerily reminiscent of Washington's talk of withdrawal during the Vietnam War, a public stance that was maintained while the White House was still determined to crush the Viet Cong.
In July 1969, the administration of President Richard Nixon announced the “Vietnamisation” of the war and the withdrawal of US troops. An op-ed in the August 27, 1969, New York Times by James Reston argued that Nixon “has been worried about the revolt of the voters against the war, and even about a revolt of the generals if he humiliates them by pulling out too fast. But now he also has to consider the possibility of a revolt of the men if he risks their lives in a war he has decided to bring to a close.”
In his history of the US movement against the Vietnam War Out Now! (Monad Press, 1978), US socialist Fred Halstead noted: “Reston here assumed that Nixon really was trying to get out `gracefully' when in truth he was still trying to win the war. But the New York Times vice-president did put his finger on a major contradiction in the Nixon public relations effort. The more the government tried to defuse the antiwar movement by talking about the war being almost over, the less tolerable facing death in Vietnam was for the GIs.”
Similarly, the current talk of ending the occupation is merely rhetoric for the consumption of an uneasy US population and a sceptical and restive Iraqi population, who never believed that the US had acted out of altruistic motives.
Bush losing support
The 657 deaths of occupation troops, coupled with the revelations that there were no weapons of mass destruction, have taken a hefty toll on Bush's domestic support. A March 7 Washington Post poll showed that 53% of US residents surveyed disapproved of the way Bush was handling Iraq and 44% felt that the war on Iraq had not been worth fighting.
When it comes to the Iraqi population, as Scott Peterson notes in a March 11 Christian Science Monitor article, the US government's dilemma is: “how to grant self-rule to Iraqis as promised, while keeping overall control. Despite rhetoric from Washington that it will transform Iraq into a democratic beacon in the Mideast, few Iraqis believe the US is sincere.”
This is perhaps the most spectacular failure of the neoconservatives' plan to rule Iraq: the complete inability of its carefully groomed, well-funded, de facto government-in-exile — the Iraqi National Congress led by convicted embezzler Ahmad Chalabi — to develop any credibility or social base.
The CIA had a hand in creating the INC, but has long ago abandoned it because of its lack of support and endemic corruption.
At the root of Washington's problems in Iraq is that the Iraqi population has not been defeated. US planners had envisaged the war would include a sustained campaign of “shock and awe” — a ferocious bombing campaign based on a study titled Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance, published by the Pentagon in 1996.
The Pentagon's plan was to bombard Baghdad with one cruise missile every four minutes for 48 hours, resulting in, “nearly incomprehensible levels of massive destruction directed at influencing society writ large, meaning its leadership and public, rather than targeting directly military or strategic objective”.
Limited by pressure from the massive worldwide protest movement against the war, the campaign of devastation didn't achieve its aim — the complete collapse of the Iraqi army and the cowing of the civilian population.
The rapid advance on Baghdad by US forces allowed Bush to announce the end of major combat operations on May 1 and, for a time, reduced the pressure on the White House. However, it left Iraqis less pliant and demoralised than the occupation regime would have liked. Most saw the US victory as the defeat of Saddam Hussein, not the country.
Those who believed that the “liberation” forces would be welcomed were disappointed. A March 26, 2003 report by the United Press International wire service noted: “One disappointment to the White House has been the paucity of video of Iraqi civilians dancing in the streets to celebrate their liberation.”
Little more than a week after the US took Baghdad, a protest organised by a group called the Iraqi National United Movement, which claimed support of both Shiites and Sunnis, filled the streets. The crowd, estimated by some at several hundred thousand strong, chanted “No Bush, no Saddam, yes, yes to Islam!”.
A Canadian peace activist based in Baghdad told the March 27 Toronto Star that before the bombings began Iraqis had said they wanted peace. “But now, with families injured, they said they will fight. It's a kind of provocation from the United States the more civilians killed, the more the Iraqi people will fight.”
Contrary to the picture coming from the White House, public manifestations of support for the occupation have been few, unlike protests opposing the occupation.
Since the beginning of the year there has been a resurgence of attacks on occupation forces by the Iraqi resistance. A secret report by the US Agency for International Development, obtained by London's Financial Times, revealed that the number of attacks by Iraqi resistance forces in January was the highest since September.
Attacks had decreased between October and January, not through a loss of will to resist on the part of Iraqis, but because of fierce repression during the US occupation forces' Operation Iron Hammer (centred on Baghdad) and Operation Ivy Cyclone II (Tikrit to Kirkuk).
Both operations involved the first significant use of air firepower since the fall of Baghdad, including the bombing of empty buildings near residential areas. US forces also stepped up collective punishment of Iraqis, including home demolitions in Iraq's north and the mass arrests of “suspects”.
Maintaining this level of repression is neither politically nor logistically possible for Washington, however. Large-scale operations undermine the White House’s propaganda that the resistance is, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it on June 30, merely composed of “looters, criminals, remnants of the Baathist regime, foreign terrorists who came in to assist and try to harm the coalition forces, and those influenced by Iran”.
A study released on August 6 by the Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies, revealed that less than 5% of participants in an Iraq poll believed that supporters of Hussein were behind attacks on US forces. In Ramadi and Fallujah, both towns in the hotbed of resistance dubbed the “Sunni triangle”, the majority of people named “resistance” as the source of the attacks.
Every escalation of repression by the occupation forces leads to new recruits for the resistance and in the Shiite areas where anger is held in check by clerics, increasing impatience for an end to foreign rule.
Washington still periodically claims the resistance has ended, but without producing any convincing evidence. At a March 10 press briefing, Major General Charles Swannack, the commander of the US 82nd Airborne Division, claimed that anti-occupation forces in wester Iraq are “pretty much in disarray” and that he doesn't “see much substance occurring in terms of the insurgency”.
Yet a report from the day before in Toronto's Globe and Mail revealed that in Fallujah, a town in the province patrolled by Swannack's task force, “a loosely knit resistance known as the Army of Mohammed now controls much of the town”.
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