The US army is now faced with a general insurrectionary upsurge all over Iraq. This marks a qualitative change in the situation. This week has seen the heaviest fighting since the end of the war, with the US losing 33 soldiers in three days. By last night, the troops which overthrew Saddam Hussein a year ago this week, had been driven from five Iraqi cities after heavy fighting.
Allied forces were under attack at both ends of the country as US-led occupation forces lost control of large parts of Iraq. Although US soldiers say they had reached the centre of Fallujah, most of the city still appears still to be under the control of guerrillas.
US Marines on the roads leading in and out of Fallujah were turning back all vehicles yesterday including ambulances. Anyone trying to reach the city, which has a population of 300,000, was barred from entering. Two Iraqis, sitting half-hidden close to a US roadblock near the village of Haswa, said: "You can't reach the city. The Americans have closed it off. Don't let them see you talking to us or we will be arrested."
The American attack on Fallujah, 30 miles west of the capital, was in retaliation for the killing of four American "contractors". What were armed American civilians doing at all, without a military escort, in Fallujah, the most dangerous place in Iraq? The Economist answers:
"They were private security guards working for a company called Blackwater USA, under contract to the American administration. Around 15,000 such civilian security guards are now in Iraq, a substantial presence. And this number does not include the telephone engineers, oil-pipeline specialists and other private contractors working on Iraqi infrastructure."
In other words, these men were mercenaries: hired killers and bandits who are now swarming all over Iraq, making money out of repressive activities that are carried out with no control or restriction. No wonder the people of Fallujah acted as they did. The scenes were barbaric, but this is the consequence of the general barbarism into which the Iraqi people have been plunged by US imperialism – the most barbaric and reactionary force on the planet.
Overall civilian casualties in Fallujah are not known but 16 children and eight women were reported to have been killed when US aircraft hit four houses on Tuesday, according to Hatem Samir, an official at Fallujah hospital. The list of dead and wounded is rising inexorably. At least 150 Iraqis have died west of Baghdad alone, not counting those who died in an attack on a mosque yesterday.
American attack helicopters and fighter aircraft supported marines as they stormed Fallujah. The aircraft fired a rocket and a bomb into the compound of the Abdul-Aziz al-Samarrai mosque. This act shows the incredible stupidity of the American commanders. Witnesses said the attack came as worshippers gathered for afternoon prayers and that at least 40 worshippers had been killed.
Improvised hospitals were set up in private homes to treat the wounded and prepare the dead for burial. The US military gave varying casualty counts. Marines Capt Bruce Frame, in a statement issued from Central Command, said: "One anti-coalition force member was killed in the attack. There is no report of civilian casualties." However, Brig Gen Mark Kimmitt, the chief US military spokesman in Iraq, said, "I understand there was a large casualty toll taken by the enemy."
Of course, the real level of casualties will be far greater than these reports suggest. And with every such attack, the hatred of the US invaders will grow and their already tiny base of support will shrink still further. All the military hardware and advanced technology in the world will not help. This is exactly what happened in Vietnam.
Large parts of southern Iraq have slipped out of their control as Allied forces come under attack from militiamen of the Army of the Mehdi which is loyal to Muqtada Sadr, a militant Shia cleric whom the US says it intends to arrest. US defence chief Donald Rumsfeld attempted to play down rebel resistance against coalition forces in Iraq today. But nobody believes him. Speaking in Washington, the US defence secretary said: "The number of people involved in those battles is relatively small.
"There's nothing like an army or large elements of people trying to change the situation. You have a small number of terrorists and militias coupled with some protests."
This is a considerable understatement. It is probably the case that the number of actual fighters is relatively small. But this is to misunderstand the nature of a war of national liberation. The strength of the guerrillas is not in numbers. In general, guerrilla groups are small, mobile units that can strike unexpectedly and then melt away into the population. Their strength consists in the support of the population. And virtually the entire population of Iraq is now implacably opposed to the occupation of their country.
The Americans were supposed to bring peace, stability, democracy and prosperity to Iraq. Instead they have brought endless conflict, death and misery, chaos, unemployment and universal poverty. Over 50 percent of the population is unemployed. Jobless youths express their resentment by demonstrating, and are met with bullets. It is therefore no wonder that they are queuing up to join militia groups like that of Muqtada Sadr.
The present conflict was sparked off by a clumsy attempt to arrest the radical Shia cleric. In the past, 30-year-old Muqtada Sadr, whose authority stems from the fact that he is the son of Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, the revered Shia clerical leader assassinated by Saddam Hussein in 1999, has had only limited popular support. But there are signs that this is growing after a US-appointed Iraqi judge issued a warrant for his arrest.
Sadr appealed to Iraq's have-nots, who number many millions – the poor, the homeless, the unemployed. That is what made him so dangerous to the Americans. The confrontation with Sadr appears to have been provoked by Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, when he closed Sadr's newspaper and arrested one of his aides. He clearly did not expect such a violent response.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit, deputy director of operations for the US army in Iraq, said: "If he wants to calm the situation, he can turn himself in to an Iraqi police station and face justice." Such sentiments show that the imperialists at least do not lack a sense of humour.
Sadr, who controls three cities in the south, is naturally in no hurry to hand himself over to American "justice". His militia force has been swelled by disgruntled, unemployed young men to about 3,000 fighters. It will grow even more as a result of the present fighting. The secret of the strength of the movement is that it unites social and national protests into a single movement.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt insists that Sadr would be arrested and "the coalition and security forces are conducting operations to destroy the Mehdi Army."
This will be sooner said than done. The Army of the Mehdi has shown that it has greater military strength than had been supposed in fighting since the weekend. It is reportedly in control of most of Najaf where Sadr himself has taken refuge. Al-Sadr and his followers will not surrender. They will continue to fight until they are dead. They fight with fanatical bravery because they believe passionately in what they are fighting for. Can the same be said of the American soldiers who face them? That is extremely doubtful.
The American soldiers were told that they were going to Iraq to liberate the people from a hated and tyrannical government. They were asssured that the population would welcome them like heroes. In some (not very many) cases this was true. But not any more. Everywhere they turn, the coalition forces meet with a wall of hatred and suspicion. The entire population is against them. They are not safe anywhere, at any time. The effects of this on morale can only be imagined.
In many of the southern cities of Iraq where Shia are the majority of the population, the local Iraqi police and paramilitary units - supposedly under orders from the coalition - have shown they are not prepared to fight fellow Shia in the Mehdi army. If the US army uses its massive firepower to fight its way into Najaf in pursuit of Sadr it well be seen by Shias as a repetition of the Iraqi army offensive. This was against rebels in Najaf and Kerbala during their great uprising against Saddam Hussein at the end of the first Gulf War in 1991.
In the early hours of April 4th, in the biggest American assault since the conventional war a year ago, dozens of tanks and helicopter gunships had bombarded Baghdad's sprawling Shia townships. More than 1,000 American troops swarmed in, recapturing government buildings and police stations that Mr Sadr's "Mahdi army" had taken over. At least 50 Iraqis were killed in Baghdad alone, for the loss, in the next three days, of at least eight American soldiers. But the loss of support among the Shia population will far outweigh any military success they may obtain.
Limits of power of US imperialism
It is true that US imperialism is a colossal power. But this power is not unlimited. In Iraq the American invaders are faced with a general uprising of the masses that they cannot defeat, despite all their tremendous military power. In secret the clique in the White House have understood it. At long last reality is beginning to penetrate even the thick skulls of Rumsfeld and Bush, allowing at least a little daylight to enter even into these dark places.
The Economist writes: "In private, senior Defence Department officials have given up claiming that the security situation is about to improve. This week, the Pentagon suspended the rotation home of 24,000 soldiers from Iraq and General John Abizaid, the chief of America's central command, asked for contingency plans to increase the number of soldiers in his region. These are the clearest signs yet that the Pentagon is concerned about deteriorating security. They reverse the previous insistence of Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defence, that more troops would not be needed."
The consequences are highly unpalatable. As the article says, the Americans were planning to withdraw troops from Iraq soon. Now they are singing a different song. Rumsfeld has said that some American troops due to leave Iraq soon might have to stay longer, although the commander of American forces in the region, Gen John Abizaid, and his deputies had not asked yet for more troops or an order delaying the departure of any soldiers.
"You can be certain that if they want more troops, we will sign deployment orders so that they'll have the troops they need," Mr Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon.
Delaying the departure of existing troops is a very sharp reversal and will have negative consequences for Bush's electoral campaign. After all, the Texan Wonder decided, in his infinite wisdom, to fight the election as a War President. He intended to portray himself as a hard man, leading the American Nation into victorious battle against the Forces of Evil. Now, however, this image is looking slightly tarnished.
The decision to keep troops in Iraq, and even to send reinforcements, is a tacit admission of the seriousness of the situation. The constant repetition of the claim that "we have not lost control of the situation" proves beyond reasonable doubt that they have indeed lost control, and that thousands of extra forces will be needed to deal with the upsurge in unrest.
US military commanders declared yesterday that they would arrest Sadr and destroy the Army of the Mehdi, the black-clad militiamen who support him. But it is doubtful if the US has the military forces in Iraq, numbering some 130,000 men, to do so. They would have to call in reinforcements and even that might not be enough.
Mr Rumsfeld said: "We're taking advantage of that increase, and we will likely be managing the pace of the redeployments to allow those seasoned troops with experience and relationships with the local populations to see the current situation through."
The "seasoned troops" to which Mr. Rumsfeld refers will doubtless have very different ideas as to the desirability of remaining among a local population that has made it quite clear that it wishes to see the back of them as soon as possible. Already there have been complaints that battle weary and shell-shocked American troops are being sent back to the front line before they are ready. The discontent in the US forces in Iraq will grow, and sooner or later will be expressed in mutinous tendencies.
The Fighting Spreads
Events have a logic of their own and, despite the assurances of Rumsfeld, are spiralling out of control. It is now incorrect to refer to the fighting in Iraq as guerrilla warfare. The movement has become generalised and has changed its character. What we are witnessing is not a guerrilla war but a mass uprising of the whole people against the hated foreign invader. And all history shows that it is impossible to defeat an entire people, no matter how many troops, tanks and helicopters are used.
Despite everything the US army persists in its policy of repression. President Bush insists the US will not waiver, saying: "Our resolve is firm... and we will prevail."
These are brave words indeed! But words in themselves solve very little. The idea that a man like al-Sadr would surrender shows how far removed from reality these people are. Because the degenerate autocrat Saddam Hussein showed himself to be a miserable coward who preferred to save his own skin rather than commit suicide does not mean that all others are the same.
What must be particularly alarming to Washington is the fact that the uprising is not confined to the Sunni Belt, but the main focus of resistance comes from the Shiites, who were supposed to be their allies. General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said today the fighting came in two broad categories.
West of Baghdad in cities such as Ramadi and Fallujah, the main opposition was "former regime loyalists", including supporters of former president Saddam Hussein and anti-American foreign fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born terrorist believed to be linked to al Qaeda, he said.
These words are in themselves an admission of failure. Before the US invasion of Iraq, there was no al Qaeda presence in Iraq. Whatever one thinks of the Saddam regime, it was secular and deeply hostile to Islamic groups like al Qaeda. The feeling was mutual. By their actions the US imperialists have opened up Iraq to al Qaeda, where they are cheerfully killing American soldiers and planning new terrorist actions both inside and outside Iraq.
The "allies" under attack
The US is thus facing a two-front war against Sunni and Shia Iraqis. Earlier in the week militiamen supporting Sadr entered the Sunni neighbourhood of Azamiya in Baghdad to shoot at US Humvees. Even before the uprising, the US army was already having difficulty in coping with the Sunni guerrillas north and west of Baghdad. The revolt of the Shiites has stretched their forces to breaking point.
Fortunately, they have some allies, who will now be expected to share in the joys of fighting and dying. This may not prove to be especially popular with them. Many of the Allied troops in the Shia cities of the south are from countries such as Poland, Spain, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Italy. The governments of these countries wanted to show their loyalty to the US but they never expected to find themselves in serious fighting. Like jackals, they only expected to put in an appearance after the kill in the hope of sharing some of the bones. But this meagre repast will give them some severe indigestion!
The fighting has affected every part of the Coalition forces. Militiamen loyal to al-Sadr clashed with Polish troops in the holy city of Karbala yesterday and Ukrainian forces were forced to evacuate the city of Kut, south west of Baghdad, during clashes with the cleric's army. At least 12 Iraqis were reported killed and 20 wounded. There are reports today that the insurgents are holding Japanese hostages, whom they threaten to kill unless Japan withdraws its forces from Iraq.
Thus, every nation that is involved in Iraq will be affected, provoking political crises like the one that recently shook Spain to its foundations. They will pay a terrible price for so thoughtlessly accepting the dictates of Washington.
A national liberation movement
Under Saddam Hussein the ruling clique, drawn from the minority Sunni community, ruled with an iron fist, suppressing the aspirations of the Shiites (60 percent of the population) and Kurds. By destroying the central power, the US-led invasion inevitably gave rise to powerful centrifugal forces that have a logic of their own.
It is an established fact that imperialism makes use of the aspirations of small nations and the desire for self-determination for its own cynical purposes. Small nations and minorities are merely the small change of imperialism. One day it stirs them up in order to weaken an enemy, the next it abandons them to their fate.
We saw the real attitude of Washington in 1990, when Bush's father called on the Iraqi Shiites to rise up against Saddam Hussein and then left them to suffer terrible reprisals. In the invasion last year, the Americans once again tried to base themselves on the Shiites and Kurds. Ever since, they have been intriguing with different groups, playing the old imperialist game of divide and rule.
The press constantly harps on the theme of the danger of civil war (between Sunnis and Shiites). The reason for this is clear: it is meant to justify the continued occupation of Iraq. "If we withdraw, there will be civil war!" they say. What they do not say is that they have been constantly playing up the differences between different religious and national groups in order to increase their own power and present themselves as the arbiter between them.
However, the uprising has cut across all national and religious differences. There were signs of sympathy for the al-Sadr revolt by the Sunni rebels as graffiti praising his "valiant uprising" appeared on mosque and government building walls in the Sunni city of Ramadi. Sunnis and Shiites have spontaneously united in struggle against the common enemy.
There have also been peaceful protests supporting al-Sadr in the northern cities of Mosul and Rashad, in the Kurdish areas. This is a genuine all-Iraqi national liberation struggle, uniting Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. The Iraqi people have demonstrated considerable maturity. They have shown that, above all the religious, linguistic and national differences, there is an Iraqi national consciousness. It has been forged over generations. It defeated the might of British imperialism in the past and it is capable of defeating US imperialism now.
Our information about Al-Sadr is limited. But he seems not to correspond to the caricature of a Shiite religious fanatic presented by the Western media. Indeed, he has shown a degree of political understanding that has nothing to do with the lunacy of al Qaeda. He has warned that Iraq would become "another Vietnam" for the United States unless it transferred power to Iraqis not connected with the US-led occupation authority.
Remarkably, he has made an appeal to the people of the USA in which he carefully distinguishes between the US government and the American people:
"I call upon the American people to stand beside their brethren, the Iraqi people, who are suffering an injustice by your rulers and the occupying army, to help them in the transfer of power to honest Iraqis," he said. This language is not that of a mindless fanatic and correctly expresses what is necessary. The occupation of Iraq must end, the foreign troops must be withdrawn and instead of maintaining a puppet government by force of arms, America must let the Iraqi people decide who rules them.
This is not socialism, of course. But it is a position that should be supported by all honest democrats. However, those who now rule the roost in the Whitehouse have little in common either with honesty or democracy. Bush and his clique are determined to continue the occupation and to crush the uprising in blood.
Hearts and Minds
In a war of this kind the decisive question is the attitude of the population, or what the Americans used to call the struggle to win hearts and minds. On this decisive front, America has already lost the war.
The brutality of the imperialists, their indifference to the suffering of the Iraqi population, their arrogant disregard of national and religious sensitivities, has created a feeling of universal resentment against them. This cannot be removed by rockets, tanks and helicopter gunships. On the contrary, every strike against civilian areas, every woman and child killed or wounded, increases the hatred of the occupation forces.
Abu Hussam, an elderly man in Haswa just east of Fallujah, was quoted in today's Independent as saying: "We were pleased when the Americans overthrew Saddam's miserable regime but today our lives are worse than they were when he ruled in Baghdad." He said he hoped the insurgents would win. This must be typical of the attitude of millions of Iraqis.
By their actions, the Americans are alienating the Iraqi Shia community as a whole. Today's Independent comments:
"US soldiers do not seem able to distinguish between the Army of the Mehdi and ordinary Shia pilgrims on their way to the holy city of Kerbala to commemorate the feast of Arbain, which starts today, forty days after the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, one of the founders of their faith.
" 'The Americans are just as bad as Saddam Hussein,' said Hamid al-Ugily, the leader of six men from Sadr city carrying a green flag who are spending two to three days walking to Kerbala. 'We think they will attack Muqtada in Najaf. We will defend our religious leaders.'
"What is menacing for the US is that all of the men marching to Kerbala, something they once did secretly under Saddam Hussein, are soldiers in the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps (ICDC). This paramilitary body, created by the Coalition Provisional Authority, is set to take over duties currently undertaken by the American soldiers.
"Abbas, one of the marchers, said: 'I have been in the ICDC one year and the Americans didn't do anything for Iraq.' The friction between US soldiers and Iraqi Shias, some 15-16 million of the 25 million population, is becoming more intense by the day."
Bush and Kerry
The present uprising will probably die down after a time. The intensity of the fighting cannot be maintained for long at its present state of ferocity. The Americans have sufficient firepower to achieve something approximately resembling control. But everyone now realises that a line has been crossed, and that something fundamental has changed.
Although the occupying forces may regain some control, they will not be able to establish anything like stability. None of the fundamental problems can be solved. Therefore, new upheavals and insurrections are inevitable. Sooner or later, the invaders will conclude that the occupation of Iraq is costing them more than they are ever likely to get out of it. At that point the whole inglorious adventure will collapse. However, that is not an immediate prospect. Having mounted the tiger, the riders now find it very difficult to dismount.
Despite its immense power, the room for manoeuvre of US imperialism is limited by the general world situation. It is bogged down in military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The worsening situation in Iraq is beginning to affect public opinion in America, where polls demonstrate erosion in support for the decision to invade in Iraq. The mood of masses in the USA is increasingly critical. Bush's position is increasingly precarious.
As in Spain, the mood in the USA can experience lightening changes that can cause serious upsets. Already there are signs of public nervousness about the conduct of policy, even while opinion remains steadfast about the war's justification. Approval of Mr Bush's handling of Iraq has plummeted to 40 percent, from 59 percent in January. His overall job-approval rating, at 43 percent, is the lowest of his presidency. And just one-third of Americans think he has a clear plan for what to do in Iraq: a very low number, though hardly a surprising one.
According to one recent poll, 57 per cent of Americans still think it was right to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. But a survey yesterday for the Wall Street Journal, taken even before this week's bloody fighting, showed a 55-43 majority disapproving of Mr Bush's handling of the crisis. The President can see power slipping through his fingers, and he is not pleased.
The increasingly bitter political argument at home has prompted Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, to make a rare foray into domestic politics. Berating Senator Edward Kennedy for his description of Iraq as "George Bush's Vietnam", General Powell noted the country was at war and said the Massachusetts senator should be "more restrained and careful" in his comments. This shows that the White House is beginning to lose its nerve.
Of course, the scale of losses in Iraq is nothing compared to the morass of Vietnam. The United States spent a decade in Vietnam and lost some 50,000 soldiers. The conquest and occupation of Iraq have so far claimed just over 600 Americans. However, the effects in the USA can be as great as Vietnam, given the changed world situation and the mood that is developing inside the USA. There is a growing unease and a questioning of the system that is far more profound than in the 1960s, when the US economy was growing.
Bush's difficulties over Iraq have been compounded by a series of revelations and books, the latest of which states that George Bush Senior, father of the President and architect of the 1991 Gulf War, apparently opposed the invasion. According to The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty, by Peter and Rochelle Schweizer, Mr Bush Snr expressed "anguish" in the summer of 2002 about the war preparations under way. Now it is his son's turn to suffer anguish – although nothing compared to the anguish he has inflicted on the people of Iraq.
All the plans so carefully worked out are now in disarray. Last weekend, Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, became the first senior Republican to suggest in public that the handover date of June 30th might be postponed. He argued that Iraqi security forces would not nearly be ready then and that the administration's plans for America's role in the post-handover period were vague.
The worsening situation in Iraq now threatens to undo the Bush campaign's recent successes against John Kerry, the man almost certain to be Democratic nominee to fight the November election. However, even if the Democrats win, there is not likely to be much difference to America's foreign policy. They have no alternative strategy and basically defend the same class interests as Bush. The Democrats want the United Nations to take the central role. But that it is easier said than done.
Kerry voted for the war in October 2002 but has opportunistically criticised Mr Bush's handling of the conflict in recent months. In a radio interview yesterday, Mr Kerry accused Mr Bush of setting the 30 June power transfer deadline for political reasons. "There are so many things you could do differently in Iraq that it's hard to know where to begin," he said. Kerry now argues that more troops are needed in Iraq, although the Pentagon says commanders in the field have not asked for an increase to the force of 135,000.
Thus, whether Kerry or Bush sits in the Oval Office does not make a fundamental difference. Either of them will have to try to use the UN as a cover for the occupation of Iraq. Finally, the question will be settled by the struggle of the Iraqi people for self-determination and by the movement of the masses in the USA, Britain, Spain and the other countries involved.
Role of the UN
The US imperialists are now trapped in Iraq. They cannot pull out because they would lose everything. They have no base in Iraq. The idea of handing over power to the Iraqis is a joke. Their collaborators are isolated and hated by the population. The Iraqi police force set up by the Americans has failed miserably as a fighting force. This was cruelly exposed in the recent fighting. The Economist comments:
"A striking feature of the turbulence was the failure of Iraq's fledgling police to stand up to the rebels. Though their numbers have risen from 30,000 last July to over 78,000 today, they are clearly no match yet for determined militiamen such as those of Mr Sadr. In Baghdad this week, they simply abandoned their stations. Elsewhere, some switched sides."
The implications of this are clear: the puppet government in Baghdad is kept in power only by American bayonets. The moment the American army withdraws, it will collapse like a house of cards. The Economist concludes pessimistically: "America may have done most of what it can do in Iraq. This means it has few options if the occupation fails to start improving the quality of life there. And, at the moment, the opposite is happening."
In a word, the US imperialists are in serious difficulties in Iraq. In life, when one is in difficulties one remembers long-forgotten friends. In war the same rule applies. Having arrogantly spurned the UN in the period that led up to the invasion of Iraq, George W Bush now remembers, with tears in his eyes, that splendid organization. A friend in need is a friend indeed, the saying goes, and Mr. Bush's need is now very great indeed!
All of a sudden there are calls for an increased international military presence in Iraq. Having failed to clamp down on the bloody unrest, which has left at least 30 coalition troops and 150 Iraqis dead since the weekend, the Americans are anxiously looking around for assistance. Rumsfeld spoke ahead of crisis talks next week between Tony Blair, George Bush and the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Messers Bush and Blair suddenly remembered the existence of the UN secretary general shortly after the results of the Spanish elections, where, as you will recall, the new Socialist Premier, Zapatero, threatened to pull the Spanish contingent out of Iraq unless the UN took over operations. We predicted at the time that this would lead to some new manoeuvre involving the UN. And so it did. Time to invite Mr. Annan to dinner!
Mr Blair will have dinner with Mr Annan in New York next Thursday to discuss the UN's role in the run-up to the planned handover of sovereignty to an Iraqi-led administration at the end of June. Downing Street said the talks next Thursday and Friday would cover Iraq, the Middle East peace process, weapons proliferation and the fight against terrorism.
We sincerely hope that the dinner will be to Mr. Annan's liking. Unfortunately, the dessert will be rather unpalatable for a lot of people. As usual, the UN will be used by the imperialists to provide a respectable cover for their predatory operations. The labour movement must oppose the involvement of foreign troops in Iraq, whether under the UN flag or the Stars and Stripes. We demand the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraqi soil. For Iraqi self-determination! Let the people of Iraq decide their own future free from outside interference.