Iraq two months after the fall of Saddam Hussein: A "Vietnamese" trap for the "coalition" forces?

When President Bush stated on May 1 that combat operations had ended in Iraq, for most of the American people it seemed the war was over. It is not. The behaviour of the US forces is looking increasingly like that in Vietnam. Villages and towns are raided, where every one is considered an enemy and a potential target for besieged troops in a foreign and hostile country.

Two months have passed since the fall of Saddam Hussein. When President Bush stated on May 1, that combat operations had ended in Iraq, there was little discussion in the US of what that really meant. For most of the American people it seemed the war was over. It is not! Forty-seven US soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of May and many more have been injured.

Last week alone there were 12 deaths and on June 12, a U.S. Air Force F-16CG fighter crashed southwest of Baghdad, while on the same day a U.S. Army Apache helicopter was shot down by hostile fire in western Iraq. US military officials refused to say how many attacks their troops have been facing on a daily basis in which soldiers are neither injured nor killed, but some sources suggest that there have been an average of more than a dozen such strikes a day in the past week.

This was becoming too much for the US armed forces. So they launched their massive operation, called "Peninsula strike", a clampdown on "regime loyalists and other hardcore anti-coalition activities trying hard to disrupt our progress", as General David McKiernan, the commander of ground forces in Iraq, explained. According to him, about 400 people have been arrested, but the International Red Cross claims that over 1000 have been held under detention.

This operation was not directed solely against the die-hard Saddam supporters, but also against the Communists and other left-wing activists that have been trying to re-organize their forces in the main Iraqi cities. This shows the real intentions of the US occupying forces. They have overthrown the supposed "threat" to US security, Saddam Hussein, but they have no intention of allowing the Iraqi people to genuinely govern themselves. The reason for that is quite obvious. If they allow the ordinary working people of Iraq to decide their own fate the first thing they would do would be to tell the American army to get out of Iraq. the next thing they would do would be to start taking control of their own lives and destinies.

Just two examples are sufficient to demonstrate how true this is. One is that of a Baghdad medical college (Medical College of Mustanseriyya University) where student demonstrations and protests managed to overturn the rigged elections of the dean. The dean was a diehard Ba'athist, and he was forced to resign on May 19. he had been extremely unpopular long before the Americans had arrived. At one point he had closed the college club for a period of two weeks because the students had refused to let Saddam's photographs be hung up in the college. He had also lied about his belonging to the Ba'ath party. Another example comes from the South Refineries Company in Basra. The oil workers have been demanding the right to elect their managers. Again, they want to remove Ba'athists from the privileged positions they held under Saddam Hussein But the British army commanders have a different opinion. All they are interested in getting the oil pumping again.

Brutality of US operations

It is within this background of a growing willingness of the Iraqi workers and youth to assert their rights that attacks on the US army have been taking place. The US top brass can feel that control is slipping out of their hands and the only answer they can give is brutal repression. What is in fact striking about this latest "Peninsula strike", is the brutal and ruthless way in which the occupiers entered villages and towns.

In Balad, at least 27 Iraqis have been killed, while 82 fighters were killed earlier this week in a massive US army raid on a "desert training camp" near the town of Rawah, close to the Syrian border. In reality, as many witnesses explained to western journalists, the U.S. forces deliberately opened fire from tanks and helicopter at the houses of Iraqi civilians in Rawah, killing dozens of people while they rushed out of their homes.

This brutal repression is having the opposite effect to that desired by the US military. It is hardening the resolve of ordinary Iraqis to get rid of the US troops. "If I get a chance, I would shoot an American, because they are now my enemies," said Marwan Alrawi, a member of a family that owns farmland throughout the area. "Before this, one out of the 10,000 Rawah citizens would fight the Americans. Now, more than half would… "This town was safe before the Americans come here and spilled a lot of blood," said Ibrahim. "Is this the democracy they were talking about?" (Jordan Times, June 15, 2003).

In Mosul, hailed as a model of security by senior US officers until recently, clashes broke out on Saturday. US soldiers came under repeated hand grenade and sniper fire on the streets of the city centre. The attacks were the work of former soldiers taking revenge following the coalition's decision to dissolve all of Saddam's armed forces with just a single, but yet unpaid, resignation payment. Around 100,000 Iraqis are in the same situation. During the same three-day operation 2,000 occupying troops stormed Falluja, the cradle of the "anticoalition" resistance.

The behaviour of the US forces is looking increasingly like that in Vietnam. Villages and towns are raided, where every one is considered an enemy and a potential target for besieged troops in a foreign and hostile country. It is noticeable how the US has no support at all in any sector of the population. They have acted so arrogantly that it could not be otherwise.

Low morale of US troops

However, the situation unfolding in Iraq is not only affecting the people, it is also having serious damaging effects on the morale of US troops. Recently the New York Times published an article under the headline of "Anxious and weary U.S. soldiers face new mission in Iraq" . They had promised the ordinary US soldiers that the people of Iraq would welcome them with open arms as "liberators". The fact is that the US administration lied to its own soldiers. This was an attempt to get their morale high and ready them for battle. Now they have been there for two months a completely different picture is emerging.

US soldiers in Iraq live in constant fear of being attacked. They don't know where the next sniper is going to come from, where the next grenade attack is going to hit. They are extremely nervous. This in part explains their policy of "shoot first, ask questions later". They are terrified. The New York Times article explains how one US soldier is even terrified of Iraqi children when they approach him. They see everyone as a possible threat.

As the article explains, "It was not supposed to end this way for the brigade's [1st Brigade of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division] 5000 soldiers and officers… Six months after arriving in Kuwait and almost three months after entering Iraq, they were ready to go home…" The article quotes Private First Class Matthew O'Dell, an infantryman, "You call Donald Rumsfeld and tell him our sorry asses are ready to go home… Tell him to come spend a night in our building." This must express the feelings of thousands of US soldiers now.

The article went on the explain that, "Some said they were haunted by the deaths they caused - and suffered - and have sought counselling. All seemed tired and hot and increasingly bitter. Morale seems to have plummeted as sharply as the temperature has risen." If this situation continues the top military commanders will find it increasingly difficult to carry out the job Bush has given them. The whole thing could start to unravel. And, most importantly, the morale of the US troops is going to filter back home, and the truth about what is really happening in Iraq is going to dawn on the millions of ordinary Americans who have been duped by Bush and co.

Intolerable situation for the Iraqi masses

This truth has, of course, already become abundantly clear for the people in Iraq. The US and UK promised democracy and freedom. Now they talk about years before Iraq has a democratic government. "I think we should be talking in terms of several years at a minimum," Richard Haass, director of policy planning at the State Department, told AFP. "There will be a gradual transition or evolution to a more open Iraq." Paul Bremer, the new US governor, foresees two years of "interim" government by US-UK-led forces. For the time being they have postponed sine die the convocation of the National Assembly. They have even dismissed the Iraqi National Congress. This has led Chalabi (leader of the Iraqi National Congress), the man that they had initially brought in to rule the country just two months ago, to openly criticise the Americans. He warned America that it is making a mistake by refusing to give Iraqis (he meant himself) more control over the occupied country. But even this mild criticism, these "words of wisdom", are not acceptable to Washington.

They promised "oil to the Iraqi people". Instead they are planning to privatise the Oil company, as well as all the other state owned firms, and sell them off to the "best bidder", i.e. to US companies.

They promised "better condition of life". In most of towns and villages the Iraqis have no water or electricity. Wages, at least in some sectors, have been paid, but no one is actually going to work, because the US doesn't want to open state owned companies anymore. "Nobody has asked us to do anything in weeks," said Mahmoud Hameed, a geologist at the national irrigation company who had turned up solely to pick up his wages. "We are all just waiting to see when the real work begins." (Dar al Hayat, June 16, 2003)

There are no job statistics in the confusion of postwar Iraq, but Iraqi and foreign experts alike estimate that at least one third of the work force is either unemployed or underemployed. Even professional footballers have been protesting, because one US battalion has been stationed right inside the national stadium. They cannot play official games anymore!

In Britain the media has been hinting that the troubles have been provoked by the heavy-handed attitude of the US officers. But this does not explain the big demonstration that took place last Sunday in Basra where 12,000 marched demanding the right to rule themselves in their own country.

A long term guerrilla war

A totally new scenario is now opening up inside Iraq. Today "The Times" stated that "British troops could be stuck in Iraq for up to four years if pro-Saddam Hussein militias continue to undermine coalition efforts to bring security to the country."

We do not have to add anything else apart from reminding our readers of what we wrote six weeks ago:

"The Americans and British do not have a real base of support in Iraq. Any support they might have had in the beginning is evaporating like water on the desert sand. Military superiority is of little assistance here. A long term guerrilla war waged with low-tech methods like sniping, ambushes and suicide bombings can have a devastating effect over a long period if it has the backing of the people - and it will.

American imperialism is the most powerful nation in the whole of history, but its power is not absolute. It was defeated in Vietnam by a barefoot army. To be more correct, it was defeated on the home front by a mass movement against the war.

So far the majority of Americans have backed the war, but that was because it was short and relatively painless for America. But if it turns out that American soldiers are stuck in Iraq for a long time, subject to the attacks of a hostile population, the attitude of the American people will change. In the Lebanon a single car bomb was enough to force the US army to withdraw. Similar events in Iraq are inevitable. The final result will be the same, sooner or later." (The world after the war in Iraq, May 6, 2003)

At the beginning of May, Bush removed Garner, the former general, who had been criticized for moving too slowly in restoring services and for allowing widespread looting. Then Paul "Jerry" Bremer was appointed as top civilian administrator in Baghdad. He will report directly to Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary.

The appointment of Bremer was seen as the end of the long dispute between the State Department and the Pentagon over the administration of Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell had wanted greater civilian control, while Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld emphasized the military angle. Tha latter has clearly won out.

Bremer has a hard-line view and is close to leading neo-conservatives in the Pentagon. In an article in the Washington Times on January 13, 2003 he argued that the war on terror cannot "be won on the defensive, we must go on the offensive. To be blunt, we have to kill the terrorists before they kill us."

That is precisely what he is applying in Iraq today. The US administration and top officers have become over confident as a result of the outcome of the Iraq war. They feel extremely powerful. And on military terms, they certainly are. But they are playing with fire. For the last three decades, the US ruling class seemed to have learnt some lessons from the Vietnam war. They were very careful to avoid the occupation of foreign countries. The change of the international relationship of forces after the collapse of the Soviet Union played a role in determining the new US attitude, as well as the extreme shortsightedness of Bush and co. But the decisive reason is that the US bourgeoisie needs an aggressive policy to preserve its dominant role in the world, both economically and poltically.

In the last analysis, the men that are at the head of the US establishment are the ones that the big multinationals need. It is simply the case that the US bourgeoisie has no other choice.

The situation in Iraq is becoming so unstable that even the last defender of the US policy in Iraq, Adnan Pachachi declared that "Iraq has three weeks to avoid falling into chaos". He is described by The Independent as a "highly regarded former Iraqi foreign minister who is expected to play a big role in a transitional Iraqi administration". In other words, he is just another US puppet, but extremely worried that a social explosion could take place in the coming period.

There is no way in which the occupying forces can stop the guerrilla warfare in Iraq. Their aggressive policy is provoking more and more anger and resentment amongst the entire population.

Last Sunday marked the deadline of an amnesty for Iraqis to hand in heavy weapons without punishment. The coalition issued this law hoping to restore law and order.

The United States stated yesterday that Iraqis have handed in 123 pistols, 76 semi-automatic rifles, 435 automatic rifles, 46 machine-guns, 11 anti-aircraft weapons and 381 grenades and bombs. Probably they just got rid of their broken or old weapons, for the number of arms in Iraq is far far bigger than these paltry figures.

Need to build a mass movement

We support the right to self defence of the Iraqi people against the invaders. It is a struggle of national liberation against an occupying imperialist power. At the same time we would warn the guerrilla movement that they must not isolate themselves from the masses. A purely guerrilla type movement risks falling into the methods of individual terror. Armed resistance can only be successful if it is an auxiliary to the mass movement itself. If the struggle remains merely on the level of sporadic armed conflicts, then the US military has enormous firepower and can retaliate as they have been doing, killing hundreds and possibly even thousands of Iraqis.

The task is to build up a mass movement, involving the workers, the students, the city and rural poor, to such a level that no military force could stop. This mass movement is already there in the making. Mass demonstrations are taking place in every town in Iraq. From Kirkuk to Basra there are reports of thousands of people taking to the streets, demanding their basic rights. These are very brave acts of defiance, if we consider that the occupiers do not hesitate to shoot at unarmed people.

The task of the genuine revolutionaries is to link up with the masses, raising the demands for commitees of workers to take control over and run all the essential services and factories. If the Americans don't want to open the power stations, let's open them ourselves. If there is no water or basic foods, let's open the factories so our children will not starve or die of cholera! Let us defend our hospitals and basic public services!

Because of a lack of a seriously organised labour movement under genuine socialist leadership, undoubtedly the Shiite fundamentalists are gaining some ground in Iraq. But they are still very far from having control of the resistance at national level, or even in the main cities.

Role of the Communist movement

It is worth mentioning an article published this week in "The Economist" (June 14) with the title "Communists v clerics in Iraq". This bourgeois weekly usually pokes fun at the communists, but this time it had to admit that, "Iraq's few Communists are among the brave to stand up to the ayatollahs".

The article gives a different picture from the usual propaganda we are fed about "Islamic fundamentalism". The author of the article asks the question, "Can the Communists' clarion call again strike a chord?" What follows on from the question is interesting. "Young people are fed up with being told which films they can and cannot watch. Women demand equal inheritance rights and the abolition of laws that sanction "honour" crimes and forbid them from leaving Iraq without a male guardian. In the Baghdad cafés frequented by artists and authors, there is talk of a backlash." The article quotes one artist as saying that "We don't want to replace one totalitarian system with another." If even The Economist has picked up on this mood, it means that there must be an inevitable stirring among the masses, a yearning for genuine democracy and control over their own lives, as the two examples of the students and workers quoted above clearly indicate.

Of course, The Economist tries to belittle the role of the Communists, portraying them as a tiny group, with very little influence. But then what is the purpose of wasting two columns, if communists have no support at all? The truth is that the Iraqi Communists have a long tradition in Iraq, that we have written about elsewhere. We can see that in the last weeks this tradition has not been lost. It is re-emerging. A new historical opportunity is being given to the Iraqi communist movement.

We have to remember that, once a mass movement of the workers breaks out, it is very unlikely that the religious fundamentalists can take the lead (at least not in the initial stages). In Iran the Khomeini supporters played no role in the overthrow of the Shah or in the February 1979 revolution. That was a workers' revolution where committees, the shuras (or soviets) were set up in the initial stages. The workers were attempting to take control of their own destinies. It was only later, with the fundamental support of the Iranian Communist Party, the Tudeh, (that described the Ayatollah as "progressive" and "anti-imperialist") and of all the other main left-wing organisations, that Khomeini was able to take power, on the backs of a betrayed and defeated working class. The rise of fundamentalism is always the result of a defeat of the working class or of the mistaken policies of its leadership.

We support every effort of the workers in Iraq to set up their own organisations. In order to do so, it is absolutely necessary to learn the lessons of the past. There is no progressive wing of the Iraqi or western bourgeoisie, there is no intermediate stage. The successful struggle for national liberation can only be carried out as part of the struggle for the socialist transformation of society, both in Iraq and in the whole of the Middle East.