The Iraqi quagmire

Bush is now in Britain on the first state visit of a US president to this country in eighty years. The trip was obviously planned long ago and when it was organised Blair probably was not aware of how strong the antiwar mood in Britain would become. But the consistent lies on the part of both Blair and Bush have convinced even many of those who initially went along with their arguments that the whole war was totally unjustified. It has exposed the real reasons for the occupation of Iraq - to get their hands on the oil and to achieve a strategically important position in the Middle East.

Bush is now in Britain on the first state visit of a US president to this country. The trip was obviously planned long ago and when it was organised Blair probably was not aware of how strong the antiwar mood in Britain would become. But the consistent lies on the part of both Blair and Bush have convinced even many of those who initially went along with their arguments that the whole war was totally unjustified. It has exposed the real reasons for the occupation of Iraq - to get their hands on the oil and to achieve a strategically important position in the Middle East.

Both leaders are facing flagging support at home. Blair earlier in the year went and spoke to a joint assembly of the US Senate and Congress. He got no fewer than 17 standing ovations. This was at a time when at home few people would have bothered to stand, let alone clap. Now it is Bush's turn to find some solace outside of his own country. He needs a publicity stunt to show that he has support around the world. Instead he is being met by thousands of protestors. On Monday evening one sole 61-year-old woman managed to climb up to the top of the gates of Buckingham Palace and unfurl a US flag upside down. Instead of ridiculing her, the bystanders were all expressing support and saying how she reflected the real mood in Britain!

Bush wants to portray an image of a President flying around the world receiving massive support. Unfortunately for him the country whose government backed his war effort the most is now showing bitter opposition. The Bush administration had demanded the closing off of large parts of central London. The excuse given was that of security. How can the man be endangered when the British police have mobilised 14,000 officers to patrol the streets of London, simply to protect him. Not satisfied with that, Bush has brought with him no fewer than 700 US security officers and secret agents. No expense is spared when it comes to such an important figure in world history! Children can starve, workers can lose their jobs, healthcare can be cut, but the millions of dollars which this operation is costing are obviously money well spent.

This visit could not have come at a worse time from the standpoint of the imperialists. Some within the British Establishment had suggested cancelling the visit. But the answer came back that it was now in the "Queen's diary"! And we can't make changes to the Queen's plans. After Clinton was involved in the Lewinski scandal one of his visits was cancelled. Obviously those who organise the Queen's diary have their priorities right!

While all this farce is unfolding the situation in Iraq is becoming a nightmare. The total number of American soldiers killed during the Iraq war and since it was supposed to have ended has now reached over 400. The number of British deaths stands at over 50. And recently the Italians got a shock with the death of 19 of their soldiers and policemen. Thus the overall figure of  "coalition" deaths is creeping close to the 500 figure.

The situation is destined to get worse. In the so-called "Sunni triangle", north and west of Baghdad, the attacks on US and other foreign troops have been increasingly steadily. There are around 30 daily attacks taking place. Since September this has led to a doubling of the daily casualties. On top of this we have the 1500 injured US soldiers who have been flown back to America, while a further 9,000 have been taken out for various other health reasons, one of which is "mental stress".

What is happening in Iraq is that the US and its allies are beginning to get bogged down. The US military machine proved very good at occupying Iraq. In terms of conventional war they have an unbeatable army. But that is not the end of the story. It is one thing to win a war; it is another to hold down a whole people. Opposition to the presence of foreign troops in their country is growing among the Iraqi people. The official version is that the attacks are carried out by "pockets" of Saddam supporters. This is a lie to appease the consciences of people back home. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell this version of "the facts". It is becomingly increasingly evident that the resistance movement is growing and getting ever more confident.

If it were merely a question of superior arms, the US could stay for a long period, for as long as they believed necessary. But an army is made of ordinary men and women, most of them working class youths who did not join the army to get killed but to get a job and earn some money.

What the resistance movement in Iraq is achieving is clear. It is showing the other side of the US military, their inability to deal with guerrilla warfare. It is also bringing back the old "Vietnam syndrome". In Vietnam the US had the military means to destroy the country ten times over. But they were thrown out, because the US soldiers did not want to be there. The morale of the US army collapsed.

The US imperialists are now facing a similar scenario today in Iraq. The fact that a large number of the 9,000 soldiers taken out of Iraq were affected with "mental stress" is an indication of what is happening.

All this is beginning to have its effect, particularly back home in the USA. There is growing opposition to the continued occupation of Iraq. The reality of the situation is beginning to sink into the consciousness of millions of ordinary Americans. They are being asked to support a military effort that costs billions of dollars while at home jobs are being cut and many are suffering sever cuts in their standard of living.

Thus, while from the purely military point of view the US could maintain its operations for a period, it is the political situation at home that beginning to worry Bush. He wants to be re-elected. He thought a quick, sharp, successful war would have electoral dividends and make him easily re-electable. Now even this obtuse president is waking up to the fact that things aren't that simple.

Instead of the "shock and awe" (does anyone remember that one?) that was supposed to cowe all resistance throughout the Middle East a different scenario is emerging. Soon after the successful US occupation of Iraq (and especially with hardly any resistance being put up by the Iraqi army) the mood among the Arab and Muslim masses was a sombre one. It seemed no-one could stop the US juggernaut. Now the view coming across is that the US army can indeed be defeated over time, or at least pinned down in an unwinnable operation, if the resistance movement can keep up the pressure.

All this may explain why last week Paul Bremer, America's chief administrator in Iraq, hurriedly flew back to the USA for talks with the President. Apparently one of the options they discussed was a speedy transfer of power to an "Iraqi government". Initially they had a plan to get a constitution drawn up and then to proceed to elections. Now they are even thinking of calling elections without a constitution. This reveals their desperation.

US intelligence are trying to work out how strong the resistance movement is. Calculations vary from a couple of thousand to possibly tens of thousands. No one can really say. However, that is not the main point. The real important question is that an overwhelming majority of Iraqis do not want the US military in their country. And a whole people cannot be held down against their will for long. In these conditions the resistance finds fertile soil and can operate with plenty of backing from many of the people.

The difficulties the US imperialists are facing in Iraq are forcing them to look for another way of holding down the country. One idea is to build an Iraqi army and police that would take over and allow the US troops to withdraw, or at least to drastically reduce the number of troops they have to station in the country.

The problem with this is that they would have to find a political force with sufficient authority to unite the different interest groups in the country. But that is easier said than done. The present Iraqi Governing Council (the puppet government set up under US patronage) has no authority within the country. They are seen as mere stooges of US imperialism. They are known more for their in-fighting, corruption and nepotism.

How much this so-called Governing Council considers the genuine needs of the Iraqi people can be seen from the economic measures they announced back in September. The Economist (September 27, 2003) pointed out that, "If carried through, the measures will represent the kind of wish-list that foreign investors and donor agencies dream of for developing markets. Investors in any field, except for all-important oil production and refining would be allowed 100% ownership of Iraqi assets, full repatriation of profits, and equal legal standing with local firms. Foreign banks would be welcome to set up shop immediately, or buy into Iraqi ventures. Income and corporate taxes would be capped at 15%. Tariffs would be slashed to a universal 5% rate…"

This is a programme of total surrender to the imperialists, in particular to the US imperialists. It is particularly revealing of what the major capitalist institutions would like to do to the whole of the so-called "developing" world. They want a free hand to exploit the peoples of the world, to squeeze every last cent out of the sweat of the workers of these already impoverished countries. It is no wonder the Iraqi Governing Council has little support in the country. Even many Iraqi businessmen expressed surprise at such a programme. What would be left for them if the imperialists take everything?

Thus the Iraqi Governing Council is no real option. The other option would be to lean on one of the power groups within the country to the detriment of the others. Saddam Hussein's regime was in fact based on the Sunni minority. The majority of Iraqis are Shiites, who were terribly oppressed under Saddam Hussein. However, they are opposed to the United States also, for their own reasons. They too do not wish to be governed by a foreign power. To make things worse the Shiite clergy wish to model themselves on the Iranian Shiite model. That is precisely what the US imperialists do not want. Let us remember that back in 1991, when the Shiites of the south rose up against Saddam Hussein, the US stood by while the regime crushed them. The US feared an Iranian type development in the south.

The other group are the Kurds in the north, but they cannot offer a solution to the power vacuum that has opened up. They could not govern the country.

If the US and its allies were to withdraw from Iraq in the present situation they could risk the break up of the country, with power falling into forces hostile to the US. They cannot allow that to happen. That means they are stuck there for the foreseeable future.

This explains the desperate measures the US military have been taking in the recent period. They have bombed ex-Republican Guard buildings. They have increased their military operations against the guerrillas. It is in the nature of a guerrilla movement that it cannot be pinned down. It has no bases. There is no front line where the opposing forces face each other. Guerrillas attack and then disappear. But the obtuseness of the US military has no limits. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the top US general in Iraq recently made a statement in which he said, "The most important message is that we are all going to get pretty tough, and that's what is needed to defeat the enemy, and we are definitely not shy of doing that when it is required." Thus we have the scenes on our television screens of US soldiers entering civilian homes and manhandling women, handcuffing terrified men, and of bewildered children squatting outside their homes as their parents are treated in this barbarous manner.

The US military may be obtuse, but at least some of the CIA officials have a clearer view of what is happening and also understand what effect all this could have. Recent updated figures have revealed that anything between 11,000 and 15,000 Iraqis were killed during the "war". How this could have endeared the imperialists to the Iraqi people is anyone's guess. The more attacks take place, the more Iraqis are killed now that war is supposed to have ended, the more will the resistance increase its sympathy among ordinary Iraqis.

The CIA officials understand this and realise that support for the resistance is growing in Iraq. A recent CIA report concludes that stepping up operations against the guerrillas could cause more civilian casualties and thus push more and more Iraqis into supporting the anti-US resistance. That is in fact what is already happening.

The whole situation in Iraq is turning into the opposite of what Blair and Bush had envisaged. It has become a quagmire. They believed they would go down in history as great war leaders. Instead they will be remembered as two of the most hated men in history. Nothing can save them from this fate. All the state paraphernalia, all the pomp and ceremony of the present state visit will not save them. They are hated in the Arab and Muslim world. They are hated by millions in Europe. And most importantly they are hated by many at home. Bush and Blair will live to regret their Iraqi adventure.