The War in Iraq – Two years on

As we approach the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the US and British led occupation of the country is falling apart. Some 1500 US soldiers have been killed in the conflict, and tens of thousands of Iraqis. Everything that the Bush administration said about the war has been exposed as a lie. Far from improving the lives of Iraqis, things are even worse than under the hated regime of Saddam Hussein.

As we approach the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the US and British led occupation of the country is falling apart. Some 1500 US soldiers have been killed in the conflict, and tens of thousands of Iraqis. Everything that the Bush administration said about the war has been exposed as a lie. Far from improving the lives of Iraqis, things are even worse than under the hated regime of Saddam Hussein. Millions have no water or electricity, there is mass unemployment and wages are not being paid. There are plenty of reports of human rights abuse such as arbitrary arrests and torture at the hands of the Iraqi security forces and police – not to mention the torture being handed out by the forces of imperialism. Nothing in the war has gone the way the imperialists hoped it would.

The US and UK first claimed that the war was to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, which of course Iraq had acquired from the US and UK in the first place. Most of these had been destroyed after the first Gulf War in the 1990s. When no weapons could be found, Iraq was suddenly being occupied in order to fight the “war on terror” and “spread peace and democracy throughout the Middle East”. With the instability in Israel/Palestine, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and now Lebanon, all the plans of the imperialists are backfiring. Far from spreading peace and democracy, the war in Iraq has only spread instability and discontent.

The imperialist forces also believed that the occupation of Iraq would pay for itself through Iraq’s massive oil resources. At this point, next to no oil has left Iraq, and the costs of the war are spiralling out of control. The imperialists have not been able to achieve any of their goals in invading Iraq and are being dragged further and further into the mess with no real idea of how to extricate themselves. As we explained all along – no matter what the imperialists did in Iraq, it would be wrong and only cause them further problems. If they stayed, they would be faced with a growing insurgency, the threat of being sucked into a prolonged conflict and even a civil war, and would face troop casualties which would only increase the opposition to the war at home. If they left, they would lose any chance of gaining what they had hoped for by invading in the first place, and the new power in Iraq, whoever it may be, would be hostile to US imperialism.

Opposition to the occupation, both in Iraq and at home, forced the US and the UK to attempt to create the veneer of legitimacy and democracy as a cover for the brutal occupation. Hence they attempted to establish an Iraqi government, which would legitimise the occupation. Six weeks after the “election” of this “government”, what has happened?

Political power stems from the barrel of a gun

The new Iraqi government met for the first time on March 16, six weeks after it had been elected. Many people were beginning to wonder what had happened to it. After the euphoria about the “successful” election, bolstered by the western bourgeois media, the new Iraqi government had seemed to disappear. Political disputes between the rival blocs prevented the assembly from meeting, and again yesterday prevented it from forming a government.

The first session of the assembly was greeted by a series of explosions across Baghdad and mortar fire that rocked the building, rattled windows, and caused the lights to flicker. The meeting was opened, there were a few speeches, some debate, and then the session was closed so that the rival groups could return to their backroom deal making on the formation of the new government. Having failed to find agreement on the formation of a government, there was little for them to do other than accept their oath to office. It is not even clear when they will meet again.

The western media spoke of the ceremonial nature of this first session of the assembly, however it would be more accurate to say that the entire government is ceremonial. Everything from the election, to the formation of the government and the writing of the constitution will simply be a smokescreen, behind which lies the true power in Iraq – US imperialism.

The Iraqi government was elected by a very small percentage of the population and lacks the support of the Sunni population. The Americans are playing with fire, intriguing with the various national groups, and stirring up national antagonisms and playing them off one another. The Kurds are demanding the return of Kirkuk, the once Kurdish-majority oil-rich town of the north excluded from the Kurdish autonomous region. The Shia majority are reluctant to even speak about the issue, using delaying tactics and waiting for the drafting of a new constitution.

Another problem is the Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, which the Kurds would like to keep as their regional security force within the framework of the national army. Again the Shias are reluctant – deferring to the law again which says that groups with ethnic or political loyalties must be split up and absorbed into the regular force. The risk is that the Kurds may be pushed into breaking away if they do not get what they want, causing massive instability and conflict throughout the entire region – dragging Turkey and Iran into the quagmire.

Everything is being delayed until the writing of the constitution – the classic delaying tactics of the imperialists and capitalists. All national and religious groups in Iraq have many hopes in their newfound “freedom” and look to the constitution to guarantee these hopes and aspirations. If these are not met, particularly in the case of the Sunnis and the Kurds, there is the danger that the Iraqi constitution could be the spark that ignites a wider conflict.

In the end, the Iraqi government will be a government without power, entirely dependent on the occupation forces. How could it be otherwise? Iraq is in flames. The insurgency is growing and becoming stronger and more daring with every passing day. With no security forces and no police force with which to defend itself and enforce its rule and laws, the Iraqi government will be entirely dependent on the only other major armed force in the country – the US and British armies. Political power stems from the barrel of a gun, or as Engels explained, the state is in essence armed bodies of men, and this means that state power will remain in US hands – not Iraqi hands.

The not-so-willing coalition

The US and UK will, of course, not find it easy to maintain their rule in Iraq. The only thing that the imperialists are facing in Iraq – sooner or later – is defeat. The human and monetary costs of the war continue to grow, and has caused the unravelling of the so-called “coalition of the willing”.

The scramble by coalition members to get out of Iraq has taken the multinational force from about 300,000 soldiers in early in 2003 to 172,750 and falling. The coalition has been reduced from 38 to 24, more than a dozen members of the coalition have pulled out and some 150,000 US troops shoulder the bulk of the responsibility and suffer most of the casualties.

Spain’s Socialist Party government pulled its troops out of Iraq after last year’s March 11 train bombing. The population of Spain was overwhelmingly against the war, and the pressure of the masses forced Zapatero to deliver on his promise and withdraw troops. Now the Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine have announced that they will be withdrawing their troops later this year.

Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced this past Tuesday (March 15) that Italy would be withdrawing its troops in September. “I’ve spoken to [Tony] Blair about this,” he explained on live television. “We’ve got to construct a precise exit strategy. Public opinion expects it, and we shall be talking about it soon” (The Guardian, March 16, 2005). He added that, “A progressive reduction of the presence of our soldiers will start from September,” and that the withdrawal would take place “in agreement with our allies”.

Comically, the Bush and Blair governments claimed to have had no idea about Italy’s plans for withdrawal. Both US and British officials explained that Berlusconi’s comments were “an aspiration” or “political guesswork”.

Aside from the UK, Italy was the only remaining European country to have a sizeable force in Iraq with about 3000 troops based around Nasariyah. They had the fourth largest contingent next to the US, UK, and South Korea. The anti-war mood in Italy has been very strong from the beginning. Some of the largest anti-war demonstrations took place there. With the kidnapping of journalists and death of some 20 soldiers, the opposition to the war was strengthened. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the killing this month of an Italian agent who was protecting freed hostages by US forces. There is now massive pressure on the Italian government, one of the staunchest US allies in the occupation, to withdraw it troops. Local elections in Italy will be held next month, and Berlusconi is aware that the continued presence of Italian troops in Iraq could contribute to his downfall.

Berlusconi has now bowed to pressure from Blair and Bush, both of whom said that no troop withdrawal from Iraq has been ordered and that the Italian leader would not act unilaterally. Berlusconi did as he was told and the next day explained that what he said about the withdrawal was a “wish”. He added that, “If it isn’t possible, it isn’t possible. The disengagement must be co-ordinated with the allies”. Berlusconi is clearly caught in the middle between the pressure of the overwhelming majority of the population to withdraw the troops (and his desire to win the next round of elections), and the needs of imperialism. Either way he is doomed. If the troops stay, he will lose the elections. If the troops leave, he will lose the election anyway (as there are also many pressing domestic issues that the masses are angry about), but relations with the US and the UK would definitely become strained, and Italian capitalism is already preparing to jettison Berlusconi and replace him with the so-called Centre-Left coalition headed by Prodi.

An official spokesman for Blair said the following:

“What’s become clear is that Mr Berlusconi’s remarks have been misinterpreted. The future of the multi-national force will depend on the capability of the Iraqi forces, and any withdrawal would be as a consequence of that increasing capability. The timing would be determined by the increase in Iraqi-ization. What Mr Belusconi actually said is that withdrawal would depend on the ability of the Iraqi Government to provide adequate security structures. That’s precisely the same position as we have.”

In many ways Blair is in the same position as Berlusconi. Blair faces a general election later this year, and there is intense hostility to the continued presence of British forces in Iraq. Seeing Spain, and now Italy forced to withdraw their troops due to pressure from the masses, Blair was terrified of the prospect of an Italian withdrawal. This would isolate Blair, and give momentum to the anti-war mood, and anti-war movement in the UK. The withdrawal of Polish, Dutch, Ukrainian, and Italian troops, who are based mainly in the south, will mean that more British troops will be called upon to fill the void. This “mission creep” is something that Blair has already specifically said would not happen after the transfer of the Black Watch just before Christmas. The situation in Iraq is one factor that will eventually lead to Blair’s downfall.

Now that Italy is seriously considering withdrawing its troops before the UN mandate expires in December of this year, many questions are being asked about an exact withdrawal date of occupation forces. Many are wondering if there is even an exit strategy for the imperialists. Clearly there is not. Both Bush and Blair have said, “Our troops will come home when Iraq is capable of defending herself” (The Guardian, March 16). A recent US Congress report has confirmed what everybody already knows – Iraqi security forces are far from ready to take over. The Iraqi security force is numerically weak, ill equipped and ill trained, and suffers massive morale problems. Some Iraqi security troops refused to aid in the assault on Fallujah, while others have even defected to the insurgency. The imperialist exit strategy depends on the training of these forces to take over security. Cynically Blair calls this “Iraqi-ization”, using the same language the US used in Vietnam with the “Vietnam-ization” of security forces – and we all know where this led the US. It would seem the lessons of the past have not been learned by the imperialists. The Iraqi police and security forces, having been branded collaborators, are targets for the insurgency, and seem unable and in some cases unwilling to fight the insurgency in the name of the new government. In these conditions, there is no way that the new Iraqi government would last 2 weeks without the presence of US troops.

The Costs of War

As disgusting as the hypocrisy, legal wrangling, political manoeuvring and military brutality of the imperialists and the new “government” are, it is in the field of economics that the war perhaps becomes the most grotesque. The US military budget will top $400 billion this year. The US has spent some $210 billion on the war in Iraq (costofwar.org). On four occasions now the Bush administration has asked Congress for additional spending for the war. The first was a request for $54.4 billion for the Iraq War in April 2003; the second was for $70.6 billion in November 2003, and the third $21.5 billion for 2005. The Administration made a fourth request in February of this year for $81.9 billion of which $61 billion is earmarked for the war in Iraq. It is estimated that the war in Iraq costs the US some $4 billion to $6 billion dollars a month (some even say this is a conservative estimate)– this is a colossal drain on the US economy.

The UK spends approximately £30 billion a year on its military budget, and the war in Iraq has cost some £6 billion pounds. With no exit strategy in sight these figures will continue to skyrocket. Yet in both countries we are told there is no money for social programmes. In the UK we have seen the destruction of the NHS, top up fees for students, rising taxation, eroding infrastructure and now attacks on pensions. Schools in Britain are told to budget a mere 37 pence for a child’s school meal, when 50 pence could provide a much healthier diet than the present reprocessed muck they feed our children. So while local councils seek desperately where to find the extra 13 pence per child, billions of pounds are spent on killing thousands of Iraqis!

In the US we have seen tax cuts for the rich and there is now an all out assault planned on Social Security – in effect the end to the gains of the past and the New Deal. We are told there is no money for social spending and everything is about cuts, cuts, and still more cuts. Still, billions are spent on death and destruction in Iraq and elsewhere. This is money that could be used on health care, social security, housing, education, job creation, etc. The Bush and Blair administrations are clearly pursuing a policy of “guns over butter”.

The imperialists in the US and UK were embarrassed into giving some $400 million dollars in relief to the victims of the Asian tsunami disaster, yet they have no problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on arms. Military expenditure and the arms trade form the largest spending in the world at over $950 billion. Total world military expenditure is more than the estimated amount of money necessary for providing the world’s population with decent basic services, access to clean water, and decent education. This would cost around $80 billion a year for 10 years. In the 2005 US budget, the total request for discretionary spending was $818 billion, 51% of which was for military expenditure ($399 billion). In comparison, the next two largest items on the budget were health and education, receiving $51 billion and $60 billion respectively (facts on military budgets taken from Global Issues – www.globalissues.org/Geopolitics/ArmsTrade/Spending.asp). This massive discrepancy clearly shows where the priorities of ruling class lie.

And where has this massive military expenditure taken the US and the UK military forces? They are both stretched to the limit. In a recent US Socialist Appeal article, John Peterson reports:

“Before the invasion [of Iraq], it was estimated that just 30,000-40,000 troops would be required for the occupation, freeing up nearly 100,000 troops for other operations – Syria, Iran, and even Saudi Arabia were likely targets. But the reality has been far different. Two years after the relatively quick invasion and GW’s “Mission Accomplished” photo-op, roughly 150,000 U.S. troops remain stationed in Iraq with no end in sight ...

“As a result, the U.S. military is stretched to the limit. The U.S. now has some 446,000 active troops at more than 725 acknowledged (and any number of secret) bases in at least 38 countries around the world. They have a formal “military presence” in no less than 153 countries, on every continent except Antarctica, and nearly a dozen heavily-armed fleets on all the oceans. Yet far from having the capability to fight two major wars at once, U.S. imperialism has exposed itself as a “colossus with feet of clay”, unable to cope with the occupation of a small, impoverished country weakened by a decade of crippling sanctions. It’s one thing to smash a regular army with the help of the most technologically advanced killing machines in the world. It’s another matter altogether to hold down an entire population that doesn’t want you there.” (www.socialistappeal.org/antiwar/two_years_of_the_war_in_iraq.html)

And what of the UK’s military, which has been plagued by a lack of equipment, including right-foot boots, personal armour, and in some cases even food? A report from British lawmakers earlier this week says that, “The U.K. armed forces may be left unprepared for future battles”. It goes on to say “Across the services, equipment is being withdrawn over the next two to three years but new equipment in the same areas will not enter operational service until after 2010,” the report said. “Some of the replacement equipment has already encountered difficulties.”

Under these conditions, the lack of equipment, the fact that many soldiers face extended deployment or even open-ended deployment in Iraq, and the daily attacks on coalition forces, the morale of the occupying troops is very low. Many are reservists and simply want to go home. They, probably better than anyone, know that they are not in Iraq for the reasons they were told. Rather than being seen as liberators, the imperialist troops are seen as hated foreign occupiers. The USA is the most powerful country on earth – but not invincible. They lost in Vietnam to a ragged, but determined guerrilla force, and they face certain defeat in Iraq.

However, the real defeat will come at home. A recent poll Washington Post/ABC News poll (March 16) shows that the mood is changing in the US. 53 percent said the war was not worth fighting, 57 percent said they disapprove of the president’s handling of Iraq, and 70 percent said the number of U.S. casualties, including more than 1,500 deaths, is an unacceptable price. President Bush’s early wartime job approval rating reached 77 percent, while it is 50 percent now. His approval, specifically on Iraq, was 75 percent as the main fighting ended, but has reached a career low of 39 percent now.

This must eventually lead to a new and massive wave of protests against the war. With the cuts in social expenditure and the skyrocketing costs of the war, many people can see this disgusting contradiction, and will want to do something about it.

Pressure from home and mounting casualties in Iraq will force the imperialists to withdraw in defeat. They may cling on for several months, or even years, but the fate of the imperialist occupation is sealed. When they leave they will leave behind a trail of death and destruction and profound instability, but also something else – a hatred of imperialism that will lead to new uprisings and anti-imperialist struggles throughout the whole of the Middle East. The struggle against the war at home in the US and the UK, linked to the growing battle against counter-reforms and deep social cuts, i.e. capitalism itself, will give strength to the struggle against capitalism and imperialism world wide.