Iraq: "This is George W. Bush's Vietnam"

Iraq is in flames. Insurrections and fighting have spread across the country. The US-led coalition is fighting a desperate war on two-fronts: against Sunni rebels concentrated in the western towns of Falluja and Ramadi and a Shia uprising in south and central Iraq. This is just three months before the US is due to transfer power to an Iraqi government and the situation is deteriorating with every passing day.

Iraq is in flames. Insurrections and fighting have spread across the country. The US-led coalition is fighting a desperate war on two-fronts: against Sunni rebels concentrated in the western towns of Falluja and Ramadi and a Shia uprising in south and central Iraq. This is just three months before the US is due to transfer power to an Iraqi government and the situation is deteriorating with every passing day.

A Nightmare for the US

The latest developments are a nightmare scenario for US imperialism. Some 1,300 US marines and Iraqi security forces are struggling to regain control in Falluja after the killing and mutilation of four security guards last week. The intention was to deal a devastating blow to the insurgents, however they are meeting fierce resistance and taking heavy losses. 12 US marines were killed last nigh making it one of the worst days yet for US troops since the official end of hostilities last May.

The insurrection is spreading. Clashes have taken place between coalition troops and supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Nasiriyah, Amarah, Kut, Kufa and parts of Baghdad. Al-Sadr's Mahdi militia revolted against US forces over the weekend in the Baghdad district of Sadr City, following the arrest of one of his top aides on suspicion of involvement in the murder of a pro-U.S. cleric almost a year ago (the same incident for which Moqtada is now wanted) and the closure of his newspaper last week.

Al-Sadr has called for his supporters to rise up and seize control of their neighborhoods. Seven US soldiers were killed in the fighting that took place. Other coalition forces have been dragged into the fighting. British forces were battling the Mahdi militia in Amara, and the Italians were involved in running battles in Nassiriya. Since the weekend some 30 US marines have been killed and Bulgaria and Poland have also reported casualties.

These latest events mark the first uprising of Shias in Iraq since the beginning of the US occupation. The US will find this alarming as the Shia muslims were supposed to be their allies. The previous insurgencies had been mainly in the Sunni dominated areas of Iraq. The Shia muslims initially had welcomed US-led coalition forces after decades of vicious rule by Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime. Now all of that has all changed. Al-Sadr's call for an armed struggle against the occupation was answered by Sunnis and Shias alike in Baghdad and across central and south Iraq. When it was announced on Tuesday that the US had raided some of al-Sadr's offices, Sunnis and Shias alike rushed out to the streets in armed demonstrations.

The uprising in Baghdad is different from the Sunni insurgency. Instead of guerrillas attacking from the shadows and melting back into the civilian population, Moqtada al-Sadr has a militia that he called on to take over neighbourhoods and cities. They have dug themselves in and are standing their ground. He has also apparently called for a general strike. The US claims that Mr. Sadr has perhaps 3,000 supporters, although Sadr's Chief commander claims that there are some 50,000 in Baghdad alone.

The mass media is trying to claim that the insurgency is a result of Shia sectarianism. The battles in Baghdad show, that it is not simply a question of Sunni or Shias revolting against the occupation in isolated pockets of the country, but rather a question of the whole of the Iraqi people engaged in a war of national liberation. Sunni and Shia neighbourhoods in Baghdad, which used to send gangs over their connecting bridges to fight each other at night, are now sending people over these bridges to coordinate attacks against the occupying forces. The mass media is full of reports of former rival Sunni and Shia groups united together to battle the occupation.

The US has announced an arrest warrant for al-Sadr. However if they do arrest him, this would add fuel to the fire and could spark off a general uprising. Due to the resistance of the people of Baghdad, US forces have been unable to penetrate the neighbourhoods under the control of his militia. No matter what the occupation forces do, they will not be able to restore order or bring peace to the country. If they strike hard against the insurgents, this will cause the rebellion to spread and bring about a general uprising of the Iraqis. If they do nothing, they stand to lose control of the situation.

"Bush's Vietnam"

Senator Edward Kennedy, in a speech delivered to the Brookings Institution, a Washington based think-tank, compared the war in Iraq to the war in Vietnam, saying "Bush is the problem, not the solution. Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam, and this country needs a new President." This represents the beginnings of a split in the US ruling class. There are sharp divisions over how to handle the situation in Iraq.

We predicted these developments in Iraq in advance. We pointed out that the US army would defeat the Iraqi army – an army that had been broken by economic sanctions. However, we added that it is one thing to conquer a country and another to hold down an entire population against their will through military force.

Before the war, the Iraqi army warned the United States that a war in Iraq would turn into another Vietnam. On the surface there may seem to be no comparison between the two countries – but there is. The Iraqi army stated that the towns and cities in Iraq were like the jungles of Vietnam and that the desert was their swamp. The US will find itself more and more bogged down in a guerrilla war, and will be forced either to pull out their forces, or risk bringing in more troops, and hence risk more US casualties in their attempt to stabilize the occupation of Iraq.

The "War on Terror"

Bush told an audience in Arkansas while on the campaign trail, in reference to the recent uprising in Iraq that "We're now marching to peace" and vowing to "stay the course in Iraq." White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said "The president is proud of our troops for making the world safe and America more secure." These people really live on another planet!

The truth of the matter is that the "War on Terror" has exploded in the face of the Bush administration. They are not "marching to peace", and the world and America are less safe than before the "War on Terror". Rather than stopping the spread of terror, Bush's adventure is spreading terror around the globe. Bush and Blair have become the most efficient recruiters for Al-Queda and other terrorist organizations. With each new invasion and attack by the UK and the US, more and more youth are driven into the open arms of these reactionary terrorist organizations. One just has to look around. Al-Qaeda was not present in Iraq before the war. They are now present in a big way. Jordanian Mussab al-Zarqawi, the alleged leader of a network linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, who is also believed to be responsible for several terror attacks in Iraq - threatened US-led forces in a broadcast on Monday.

In the message, reportedly originating from inside Iraq, Zarqawi claimed that his "heroic Mujahedin have killed more than 200 soldiers from the coalition of the crusaders."

Senator Kennedy also said, referring to Bush: "By going to war in Iraq on false pretences and neglecting the real war on terrorism, President Bush gave al-Qaeda two years - two whole years - to regroup and recover in the border regions of Afghanistan. As the (March 11) terrorist bombings in Madrid and other reports now indicate, al-Qaeda has used that time to plant terrorist cells in countries throughout the world, and establish ties with terrorist groups in many different lands."

Terrorism is endemic the world over. This reflects the impasse and the organic crisis of world capitalism. It will not be possible to defeat terrorism with tanks and rockets. These are simply blunt instruments which will only kill civilians and anger the people even more.

The Insurrection

Monday saw the US using a new tactic against the insurrection that is spreading across Iraq. In a desperate attempt to display strength, US forces used Apache helicopters to attack targets in Baghdad for the first time since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. The helicopters opened fire over the Shia neighbourhood of Shulla after militants destroyed a US armoured vehicle. It is entirely short sighted of the US to think that they can crush the Iraqi people using helicopters and tanks. Using these types of weapons of mass destruction in civilian neighbourhoods, especially Shia neighbourhoods, will lead to an all out insurrection in Iraq.

The war in Iraq has seen a haemorrhaging of lives for the US forces. Since the weekend some 30 US soldiers have been killed and 130 Iraqi insurgents are reported to have been killed, but nowhere do we receive casualty reports of Iraqi civilians. One does not use Apache helicopters in civilian districts and not kill anyone! BBC Channel 4 news interviewed one elderly woman whose family members were killed in the attack. When asked what she thought of the attack and the occupation forces she said "give me a gun and I will kill them myself."

The US thought that by capturing Saddam the chaos and the guerrilla war would subside. In fact the capturing of Saddam didn't make any difference. The insurrection is Hydra-headed. The US cut off one head to see 10 more grow in its place. Since Saddam's capture, the national liberation struggle has not abated, but has become more widespread.

The US will find it difficult to fight an insurrection with tanks and helicopters, just as they have found it to difficult to fight the "War on Terror" on this basis.

No way out of the quagmire

The US is supposed to be getting money and resources out of Iraq. Iraqi oil was supposed to pay for operations and the occupation. This is what lead the US to go it alone – they wanted all the spoils of war for themselves – but now they are aking for the assistance of the UN and their allies. If there has been a haemorrhaging of US lives, there is also a massive haemorrhaging of money. Instead of paying for itself, the occupation of Iraq is costing the US $6 billion a month and is proving to be a massive drain on the US economy. This is at a time when the Bush administration has announced that they cannot afford Medicare or pensions - the US government recently announced that they will only be able to afford pensions for another 15 years.

George W. Bush is following a policy of "guns before butter". US imperialism is arming itself to the teeth, in the hopes that military might will help them solve their problems. This will have serious consequences in the US. The US working class will be furious when they see that the US government is prepared to spend $6 billion a month on the occupation of Iraq, but that the government refuses to fund pensions and Medicare.

There has already been a shift in mood of the American people. Recent polls show that support for Bush has dropped. 47% of respondents disapprove of the job Mr. Bush is doing, as opposed to 43% in favour. Only 40% of respondents approve of the way he is handling the situation in Iraq – down from 59% in January. Another poll taken over the weekend showed that 44% of Americans feel that Bush should be re-elected, as opposed to 51% who think that someone new should take over the reins. On the basis of further convulsions and casualties in Iraq, the mood of Americans will turn ever more against Mr. Bush and the war. This poses a danger for the Bush administration.

It must be remembered that the war in Vietnam was not lost in Vietnam, but in the US. Looking at the recent example of Spain, in this period of sharp and sudden changes in the world situation, we can see just how quickly the mood and consciousness of the masses can change. On the basis of events in Iraq, the mood of the US working class may very quickly change against Bush and the war in Iraq – forcing him to withdraw the troops and provoking major class battles at home.

The military might of the US has its limits. There are now calls for more troops. There are already 134,000 US troops in Iraq. This is supposed to be brought down to about 110,000 as part of duty rotations. The US is asking its Allies to consider helping in the search for fresh troops, because with US forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Haiti, the military might of the US is stretched to the breaking point. Some in the government are calling for an extension of the tour of the troops currently in Iraq. This will have a serious effect on morale and produce anger amongst US troops already there. There is the possibility of mutiny amongst US forces as occurred in Vietnam.

How many troops does the US need in Iraq? Even if they do call in reinforcements it won't make a fundamental difference. They will not be able to hold down the entire population through military force, no matter how many troops they have there.

No matter what the US does in Iraq it will be wrong. The US now finds itself in a similar situation to that of Britain in the 1920s in Iraq. Even the mighty British empire, at that time the most powerful imperialist power on the planet, could not succeed in occupying Iraq or keeping the population under control. The same situation applies today even to the military might of the US. If they remain, they will have to face further convulsions, the extension of the national liberation struggle and a possible general insurrection against their occupying army – which will lead to convulsions at home. But if the US pulls its forces out of Iraq, the puppet regime would be swept away within a matter of days. We cannot predict who would come to power, but a new regime in Iraq would undoubtedly not be friendly to the US. The US would lose all hope of having access to Iraqi oil or establishing a base of operations in the Middle East.

Only one thing is certain in Iraq – there will be further convulsions. The US will find it impossible to maintain the occupation of the country indefinitely. The coming together of Sunni and Shia muslims in Baghdad and surrounding cities shows that a national struggle of liberation has opened up against the occupation. The US will not be able to keep the population down on the basis of military force, yet their only option, if they wish to control the resources of the country, will be to attempt do so. They are thus trapped in an insoluble contradiction.

There is now no real prospect for the transfer of power to the Iraqi puppet regime at the end of June. The present insurgency and fighting across most of Iraq shows that the puppet regime would only last a few days if the US forces pulled out. The US will be forced to prop up this regime. The only way the US will be able to maintain control will be through maintaining a strong military presence.

There is the danger of the chaos spreading across the entire region. Al-Sadr has compared this weekend's uprising with the Palestinian Infitada of 2000. The US marched into Baghdad talking about bringing democracy and stability to the region. All they have done has brought instability and chaos. There is not a single stable regime in the Middle East and every day brings further instability and convulsions.

Things have turned into their opposite. Rather than being a great military victory for the US and the UK, the occupation in Iraq has turned into a quagmire from which Bush and Blair would like to extradite themselves, but cannot. It has become a major domestic and foreign policy disaster for both governments.

The invasion of Iraq was a crime of imperialism. It has brought nothing but bloodshed, suffering, and chaos on an unimaginable scale. However bad the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was, the sufferings of the Iraqi people are immeasurable worse than at any time in their history. The argument of Bush and Blair that the invasion of Iraq was intended to bring peace, prosperity and democracy now stands exposed as a hollow sham.

The international labour movement must oppose the criminal occupation of Iraq. We must fight for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraqi soil. Let the Iraqi people determine their own future! End the occupation of Iraq!