Iraq: American occupation in crisis

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One year after the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the American occupation of the country is in deep trouble. The burst of intense violence in April in Central and Southern Iraq has sent any semblance of political stability and military gains achieved during the last year down the drain. The death toll among the American soldiers is mounting. In fact, more soldiers have died in the last weeks than during the official war period that led to Saddam's removal from power. The brand new American trained Iraqi security forces have routinely "dropped out of sight" during these last weeks of fighting, or, worse, joined the anti-American forces. The circle of violence against the Americans has grown from Sunni Muslims identified with the old regime and foreign terrorist groups to include a faction of Shiite Muslims -the majority religious group in Iraq that was often the worst victim of Saddam's repression- led by cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr. In fact, the US and its supporters are increasingly isolated. Today, anybody identified as being on the American side has become a target of the rising anti-American violence. Iraqis working for the US at any level, do so at the risk of losing theirs lives at any moment, while foreigners working for the so called "reconstruction" effort are facing a wave of kidnappings and killings. A year after the "conquest" of the country the American media can't show anymore flower-bearing children thanking the occupation army for their "freedom". On the contrary, the youth of Baghdad are more likely today to be on the side of the hysteric mob, celebrating the last killing of one more American soldier. In sum, it seems that the so-called "liberated" population of Iraq has turned against its "liberators".

As we write, this last flare up of the war in Iraq seems far from abating, as fighting continues in many parts of the country. In the first weekend of May, 13 soldiers died, while the Bush administration was celebrating the first anniversary of the end of major combat operations in the country. In Falluja, a Sunni city of 300,000, after weeks of virtual urban warfare, and an almost month old siege, hundreds of Iraqi civilians and combatants have been killed and many more have been injured. Many houses have been blown to pieces by the firepower of heavy weapons used by the US military to quell the resistance. Only at the last minute did the US call off an all-out assault to take control of the city. With both sides claiming victory, one thing is undeniable: the American imperialist enterprise in Iraq has become so muddled that the US is willing to grasp at any straw for salvation. In a somewhat bizarre move to avoid an escalation of violence that could have had tremendous consequences throughout Iraq and the entire region, the Americans are trying to make new allies of old enemies. The task of restoring order in Falluja has been handed to a new "Iraqi force" composed of former soldiers of the Hussein army, led by an ex-general of the infamous Republican Guard, one of the special military units closest to Saddam Hussein. In the context of this odd alliance, nothing can be more ludicrous than the comments of the US commander in charge of operations in Falluja celebrating the "formation of a military partnership", with "the most respected institution in Iraq", the army. This is to say the former backbone of Hussein's dictatorship, from whose oppression the US claimed to come to liberate the Iraqi people!

With the standoff in Falluja "resolved" the US army is now moving to crash the anti-American Shiite uprising led by the cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr. Heavy fighting has erupted in Baghdad and in the southern cities of Najaf, Kufa, Karbala and Basra. After a period of hesitation during which the US retreated from is declarations that Sadr must be arrested or killed, today the US seems to be posed to launch a military offensive to take back control of the cities of Najaf and Kufa from Sadr's followers. An all-out assault against the holy city of Najaf can only be a factor of further destabilization, not only in Iraq, but also throughout the whole region. While a last minute, face-saving, political compromise that avoids the all-out military solution can't be discounted; this alternative will not improve the US position in Iraq.

No matter how the Bush administration tries to spin its difficulties in Iraq it is obvious that the occupation has reached a crisis point. It takes a lot of naivet? or cynicism to declare, as General Meyers did, that the deadly violence of the last month is "a symptom of the success that we are having there." The reality is that the whole enterprise aimed at making Iraq a bastion of American dominance of the Middle East, and thus a center for the defense of its imperialist hegemony of the world, is in deep crisis. After astronomic amounts of money spent in the war effort, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, the whole imperialist policy of the Bush administration is beginning to look like a total failure.

At the tactical level, the US is being pushed to constantly change its policies in at attempt to handle a situation that is very much out of control. Plans decided months or weeks ago are being constantly scrapped in mid-course, while new improvised ones are coming to the table. Among these new policies are; first, the rehabilitation of the UN, which after being frozen out of Iraq during the months that preceded the war, is now being put in charge of pulling together a transitional government. Today, certain elements with the American bourgeoisie openly talk of bringing in the UN or NATO troops as a way of lessening American imperialism's military and political exposure in the region-a clear backsliding from the open "go it alone" stance that has animated US policy since 9/11 Second, an easing of the ban on former Baath party members in the new government in the making has been touted, which goes hand in hand, with the decision to allow former Iraqi soldiers to try to quell the uprising in Falluja. Meanwhile, the embarrassments for the US continue mounting. In February, we saw the total discredit of the weapons of mass destruction excuse for attacking Iraq. It turned out that by the account of the American person in charge of finding these weapons, there were none after all. Now there is a growing scandal around the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by US army personnel. The bourgeois representatives are trying to spin this latest show of brutality as an aberration, contrary to American democracy, principles, etc. The reality is that torture and abuse of rivals is not the prerogative of dictatorial military regimes. Bourgeois democracy has a long, bloody history of all kinds of sadistic cruelties against its enemies, and in particular, against the working class, when it has dared to challenge its domination over society.

At the strategic level, the US is today politically weaker than when it decided to go after Iraq on its own. The credibility won by its show of military and political determination in going to war defying the open opposition of other imperialist powers -France, Germany, Russia- has been lost by its inability to consolidate its initial victory in the war field. Humbled by the difficulties in Iraq, there is no more talk of Bush's grand strategy of pre-emptive action and unilateralism of which, the war against Iraq was supposed to be a test case. What is left is an imperialist power bogged down in a costly local conflict, for which it has no apparent imminent solution. This weakening of American imperialist credibility will only encourage major and minor imperialist powers to advance their own cards at the expense of their US rival. This is already the case with Iran -with the protection of Germany and France. In fact, faced with the inability to control the Shiites, the Americans have been forced to ask Iran to intervene towards its proxies in the Shiite region, the same country which Bush denounced as part of the "axis of evil" and which seemed to have been slated as the next target for American intervention only one year ago. In addition, we must consider North Korea's ongoing efforts to become nuclear armed, as well as Israel's recent actions, which take advantage of the growing American political isolation to make the Bush administration support the latest attempts of Sharon to settle the Palestinian question in Israel's favor, even though those policies are in total contradiction to what has been the US's stated policy in the region for decades. Even countries that decided that it was best for its national interests to show allegiance to the US by sending troops to Iraq, are now trying to get off the shipwreck. Spain has been the first one, with others soon to come.

The quagmire in Iraq is also bound to have a profound impact in the dominant class itself. There is a growing dissatisfaction with the Bush administration's handling of the US imperialist policy. The Democratic candidate's latest criticism of Bush is centered on the US's change of tactics in Iraq -it seems that Kerry thinks that the Bush administration has stolen his ideas. If this is all that Kerry has to offer, the US bourgeoisie would certainly not need a new president. Nevertheless, a certain faction within the American ruling class is becoming increasingly frustrated with the Bush administration's handling of the war effort as well as its general implementation of imperialist policy. We have thus seen an electoral circus off to an early start. Months before the election, quite unusual for American presidential elections, a vicious exchange of attacks from both sides has graced television sets and radio speakers. This internal discord in the American bourgeoisie quite probably reflects the growing confusion within the American bourgeoisie over the tactical implementation of its imperialist policy. The Bush administration's cavalier unilateralism having fallen flat on its face, there are clearly factions of the American bourgeoisie that would prefer to make a change. Yet, the inability of Kerry to articulate any real alternative is also proving troubling to many. Thus, the possibility exists that the current political scandals represent a real fight within the American ruling class rather than a mere attempt to manipulate the democratic circus, a real reflection of the growing crisis of American imperialist hegemony and its political leadership. While the upcoming election will be just as irrelevant for the working class as any other, the bourgeoisie-due to its internal divisions-may have difficulty orchestrating a particular result

At the working class level, the question of war has always been of primordial importance. First of all, the workers are the ones that in the last instance, bear the brunt of the imperialist adventures of the dominant class. It is the working class that pays for the bourgeoisie's war through its increased exploitation and with the life of its sons and daughters. It is only the working class that can stop, with its struggle, this maddening dynamic of capitalism barbarism, a dynamic that is spinning out of control today.

ES/Henk, 05/11/04.

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