Things are going from bad to worse for the occupying forces in Iraq. As the guerrilla insurgency intensified, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Baghdad to check things out “on the ground”.
Shortly before Rumsfield’s arrival, two US soldiers and one Iraqi were killed and there was a fresh suicide attack in Kirkuk. These are the latest in a string of assaults that have made February the bloodiest month for Iraqis since the US president, George Bush, declared an end to hostilities in May. Already an estimated 250 Iraqis have died in guerrilla attacks since 1st February this year. In one attack alone in Iskandariyah involving a police station and an army recruiting office, more than 100 people were killed. The number of US soldiers killed since the start of the Iraq war has now risen to over 500.
After the war, the imperialists originally thought that their speedy victory would mean an easy occupation. However, the insurgency has turned Iraq into a nightmare for US and British forces, over 100,000 of whom are bogged down throughout the country.
Rumsfeld’s arrival, his fourth visit since the fall of Baghdad, was a display of heightened security. He resembled a weak Roman consulate arriving in a troublesome outpost of the Empire. His visit was apparently organised to gauge security risks ahead of a planned handover of power to local Iraqis in June. The United States is struggling to stamp out insurgency and contain the situation in Iraq along with mounting ethnic tensions ahead of the scheduled handover of power. Clearly, such violent attacks are set to intensify as the deadline approaches.
Rumsfeld, the man who thought guerrilla warfare was ruled out in Iraq due to the lack of a jungle, was greeted at Baghdad airport by US administrator Paul Bremer and senior US officers. He vowed democracy would take root in the unsettled country despite current “untidiness.” The apparent smugness of this leader of US imperialism reveals how out of touch the American Administration is.
Of course, the British government echoed this view. The British lap dog is forced to sing from the same hymn sheet. Hilary Benn, Britain’s international development secretary, told a London news conference: “Despite the security concerns - and they are real - reconstruction is progressing. Life is beginning to get better.”
These people have no idea. Despite their beliefs, daily life in Iraq is getting worse not better. With daily power cuts, lack of water and up to 70 percent unemployment, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis do not share the optimistic views of British ministers. Despite all the sugary promises, so-called democracy has brought nothing for the Iraqis. The brutal ‘search and seek’ actions of the occupying troops, trained in the methods of the Israelis on the West Bank, have only added to growing resentment against the imperialist armies of foreign occupation.
After his official briefings, Rumsfeld was presented with a poster from members of the Iraqi security force. It showed four happy Iraqis in uniform and was headed with the words: ‘Iraqi Security Forces - A New Generation’. Despite the touching gesture, it could not hide the fact that guerrillas had killed more than 300 policemen deemed to be cooperating with American occupation forces. The recent carnage in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, where 10 people were killed and 42 wounded, graphically underlined the problems faced by the Americans. The attack was on a police station, the latest in a relentless campaign against Iraqis seen cooperating with US occupation troops.
Armed only with AK-47 assault rifles, Iraqi police often complain that American troops do not provide them with any protection against suicide bombers targeting their offices.
The situation is one of profound instability. This latest bloodshed erupted at a time when Iraq’s Kurds are pressing for greater autonomy and competing for influence with other ethnic groups ahead of the US handover of power.
The 25-member Iraqi governing council, which is drafting an interim constitution, is trying to work out a federal system to decentralise government in the future Iraq, but differences have arisen over how much autonomy to give Kurdish areas.
Kirkuk is at the centre of this controversy. The city has witnessed rising ethnic tensions as Kurds, Arabs and Turkomans vie for control of the city, located in one of the world’s richest oil-producing regions, 300km north of Baghdad. Kurds view the city and surrounding region as the heartland of their Kurdistan, but it also has Arab, Turkoman and other populations vying for control. The tensions have erupted into violence in recent months. The Turks also have a vested interest and will not tolerate the Kurds establishing their own state.
Having originally dismissed the United Nations, the Bush administration is keen for it to pick up the bill. It is now prepared for the UN to return and mediate in the situation, especially as the security situation continues to deteriorate. The UN had been reluctant to intervene since it was forced to pull out of the country after the blast on August 19 that destroyed its office in Baghdad, killing 22. Under American pressure, the UN has now agreed to return to Iraq to help resolve the dispute between the US occupying force and the country's Shia majority over how to hand back power to Iraqis. Shia demands, backed by huge demonstrations, to hold direct elections by the end of June have been rejected as impractical by the United States and the UN. The United States’ proposals, however, to hold 18 regional caucuses of the “great and good” to chose an interim legislature have also been rejected, forcing both sides to revise their plans.
The Bush administration, with an eye on the presidential elections in November, has said that it plans to hand over some power to the Iraqis on 1st July, but that it was flexible about how it did so and to what kind of body. The bottom line is that the United States needs a puppet government to do its bidding in Iraq. In the meantime, Associated Press reported that a senior US official said the administration was considering extending the US-appointed governing council so it could take temporary control of the country. The present US proposals do not envisage elections until late next year.
Of course, the United Nations have now given its blessing to America’s timetable for the transfer of power in Iraq, saying that elections should wait until after the handover in June. Kofi Annan said he supported Washington’s position:
"We shared with them our sense - and the emerging consensus or understanding - that elections cannot be held before the end of June, that the June 30 date for the handover of sovereignty must be respected, and that we need to find a mechanism to create a caretaker government and then prepare the elections... some time later in the future," Annan said. So there we have it: the Iraqis can have “democracy” but without elections (the real meaning of “some time later in the future”).
The UN intervention was the first effort to resolve the stand-off between Washington and the powerful Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, over the handover to an Iraqi government. The cleric had called for elections, arguing that any other method of selecting leaders would be illegitimate. Washington was adamant polls could not be organised before June 30 and would have to wait. Obviously “democracy” is inconvenient for the Americans in their pursuit of a pliable government.
Annan said the UN would explore mechanisms for creating a caretaker administration that would prepare for elections after the handover. The UN is expected to make recommendations on the formula for a transitional government at a future date. Those may prove not much to Washington’s liking, which is keen to get it all its own way.
The White House had asked the UN to suggest a “framework” for Iraq's political future after its own plans for a complicated system of caucuses were rejected by Ayatollah Sistani.
In Washington circles, it is taken for granted that no retreat on the handover deadline would be tolerated in the run up to the American elections next November. "It is holy writ," an administration official told the New York Times. "Changes are possible, but the date holds," Paul Bremer said in Baghdad.
In the meantime, the occupiers are busy sharing out the spoils, in the form of contracts overwhelmingly to American companies such as controversial Halliburton and Bechtel with close links to the White House. “To the victors go the spoils”, and in this case this means the United States. Up until now the British, America’s special ally, have been left out in the cold, as is everyone else. The juicy Iraqi contracts total some $14 billion and cover areas such as electricity, water, transport, and telecommunications. The bidding process is firmly in the grasp of the Americans and is being run by Admiral David Nash, the senior procurement official at the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq.
Concerned at being cold shouldered, the British government sent Brian Wilson, the PM’s special envoy on reconstruction, cap in hand to Washington to plead with senior CPA figures and officials at the State Department and the US Army Corps of Engineers, which is funding most of the contracts.
Wilson went to Washington following disappointment with British involvement in reconstruction so far, particularly Amec’s failure to win a $1.2bn deal to overhaul Iraq’s southern oil network. That work went to KBR, and so far UK companies have not won any major work arising from post-war reconstruction. US officials were keen to advise Wilson that Halliburton had not had special treatment, after negative publicity over its cost control record. Wilson said: “It is not part of my role or the British Government’s position to complain about Halliburton or anyone else. Our role is to highlight the positive merits of British companies and the contribution they can make.”
Blair’s messenger boy, who was at pains to explain the process was being carried out fairly, will get nowhere. British companies are involved in bids for 15 of the 17 major Iraqi reconstruction contracts being examined by the US administration in the country.
It is clear that grabbing highly profitable contracts is more of a priority for some than granting genuine democracy to the Iraqi people. But all this does not go unnoticed among the Iraqi masses. The longer the US forces stay the greater the hatred for the Americans grows among the Iraqi people, especially the downtrodden and poor.
US imperialism has created a situation that it had not bargained for. The situation is more unstable than ever. Genuine democracy in Iraq will not be possible on a capitalist basis. Any Iraqi “democracy” that may be established at some point in the future will be a puppet regime and corrupt from head to toe. What is lacking in Iraq is a genuine voice of the workers and poor. Only when this is built can we expect a genuine solution to the crisis in Iraq, i.e. a socialist one.