Bad Days in Iraq

Revolutionary Worker #1212, September 14, 2003, posted at

"Day after day, there is something terrible in our lives."

Raed Ramadani, shoe salesman in central Baghdad market, Washington Post

"U.S. troops say they're not feeling the love in Iraq"

L.A. Times headline, August 31

Five months after the U.S. and Britain invaded their country, the people of Iraq face desperate and even worsening conditions, with no end in sight.

Across this once prosperous country, there are still only a few pockets where water and sewage systems work. There is a constant and growing danger from epidemic diseases--including cholera and dysentery--that are especially lethal for small children.

The lack of electrical power means that ordinary life is at a standstill: The vast majority of urban Iraqis have no work. In the countryside, the farmers' irrigation pumps don't work; their fields stay brown and dry.

People have no money for food or gas or other necessities--and after long summer months many are increasingly desperate. In the markets, the price of food has now doubled since the invasion. Former utility worker Hadji Rassul: "I am retired and I have received one pension payment from them on June 8. Since then, nothing. No one has any money to afford the normal daily costs."

The only parts of the economy that work are often tied to the degradation and domination of the people: The black market is still booming as people steal and resell anything of value they can find. So much basic cabling has been ripped out of Iraq's infrastructure that the price of copper in surrounding countries has been cut in half. Prostitution grows around U.S. bases. And of course, the more political forms of corruption are also booming: The U.S. is waving paychecks to recruit anyone demoralized, opportunistic or hungry enough to sign up--as police enforcers, informants, puppet soldiers, government hacks, translators and whatever other service the occupiers need.

And towering over it all is the military occupation itself. This country remains, essentially, under conditions of war. The occupying troops are pinned down, holding a few strategic strongpoints--base camps, oil facilities, major government offices, bridges, some borders and pipelines.

They emerge from their bunkered bases mainly for brutal sorties to frisk and threaten whole towns. Lt. Col. Michael Mahoney, commander of Task Force Thunder, pointed to U.S. soldiers inside his base camp: "They are very safe in here. When they leave, it's full battle rattle and game on, and they know it. When they go out of the gate, it's very, very serious."

At strategic roadblocks and random patrols, these soldiers poke machine guns into people's faces, shout in English, kick in doors, round up the men and boys, shoot at the rooftops and all-too-often simply kill anyone who protests or makes a sudden move.

Meanwhile, in the neighborhoods, under the darkness of night, people have only whatever protection they can provide for themselves. They are trapped indoors, and constantly must guard against rape, theft and murder. Unknown thousands of Iraqi men remain prisoners in U.S. military camps--under horrible conditions of heat and hopelessness.

At the national level, Iraqis can see the U.S. government is digging in for direct rule. The attempt to create a pro-U.S. Iraqi government gathers wannabe collaborators--bitterly squabbling, isolated, deeply corrupt, and obviously powerless.

In many ways, the clergy and religious politicians of the Shia religious communities have emerged as the only visible home-grown political apparatus in much of the country--and the U.S. pursues two options: on the one hand they toy with forces who want an Islamic state, while on the other hand, they try to reenlist former Baathist officers to form a secular puppet army as a balance.

What kind of a future do any of these schemes hold for Iraq's people? A conservative religious state with intense new restrictions on women and social life? A reunion of Saddam Hussein's old army and police? And years of U.S. direct control over everything, including the oilfields?

Iraq's people fight for daily survival in this madness of foreign conquest. Is it any wonder that more and more of them have picked up stones and weapons, and see their only hope in driving the occupiers out?

Problems of a Conqueror

"Facing resistance by forces they have yet to identify with any conviction, the U.S.-led occupation authorities are unable to control the roads or the borders, the water or the electricity supply. It is now increasingly clear they are also unable to defend the allies and institutions they need to rebuild Iraq."

British Financial Times , Sept. 2, 2003

One after another, four major explosions have vividly shown how little the U.S. military controls events in Iraq--and how difficult it will be to impose a stable new political or economic order on Iraq.

On August 19, the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad blew up. Among the dead was the leading UN operative Sergio Vieira de Mello, who had been working day and night trying to convince Iraqi figures to collaborate with the U.S. occupation authorities.

On August 29, a massive explosion hit Imam Ali Mosque, one of Islam's holiest shrines. It killed the leading Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, and over 100 other people. Al-Hakim had been the most prominent Iraqi political figure to consider collaborating with the U.S. occupation. Massive protests and anti-U.S. resistance have spread through southern Iraqi Shi'ite regions that had been considered relatively quiet.

The next day, on August 30, the pipeline carrying oil from the northern Kirkuk fields to Turkey burst into flames for the fourth time since the U.S. announced it was "operational."

Then on Sept. 2, a massive explosion blasted the Baghdad headquarters of the pro-U.S. Iraqi police. The top Iraqi police commander barely escaped alive.

In these same days, a series of announcements in Washington revealed the gruesome calculus of an invasion turning into a quagmire:

On August 26, the number of U.S. and British soldiers killed reached 318--and for the first time, more of them had died enforcing the occupation than died during the invasion itself. The Washington Post reported that an average of 10 U.S. soldiers a day are "wounded in action," many losing limbs in grenade and rocket attacks. The U.S. government does not report how many Iraqi people they kill, but those casualties too are clearly growing as the war continues on the ground.

The first week in September, the U.S. government finally "did the math" in public about the cost of this occupation in both dollars and military forces.

On September 4, the White House told Congress that the war would require a staggering $60 to $70 billion more than previously given the military in the new budget--twice what anyone expected. At the same time, a Congressional Budget Office report documented that the Pentagon could only maintain its current troop strength in Iraq by doubling the tours of duty to a full year and calling up even more National Guard and reserve units.

And all that assumed the same troop levels of 150,000 in Iraq (which the White House insists is their policy). A "senior official" in Bush's own government anonymously told the Washington Post that it is now clear that it will take 500,000 troops for U.S. imperialism to "secure" Iraq--a force equal to the Vietnam War at its height.

At the same time, the U.S. has failed to bring other countries to prop up its occupation. A World To Win New Service documented (August 25) that Poland, which had offered more troops than any other European country, freaked out after the UN building was bombed, and announced that its contingent will be withdrawn from the "high risk area" south of Baghdad, demanding that they be sent to "low risk" areas further south. Japan announced an indefinite postponement in sending its promised troops, because "conditions have become what they are."

The Debate over Getting "More Boots on the Ground"

"It is going to be hard. It is going to be long and sometimes bloody, but we just have to stick with it."

Centcom Commander Gen. John Abizaid, Wall Street Journal

"I think that Iraq, we have to be clear about this, is now shaping up as the worst foreign policy problem that the United States has faced since the end of the Vietnam War."

Richard Holbrooke, major architect of U.S. foreign policy, Fox News

The unraveling of the U.S. war plans led to a debate within the ruling class over how to succeed in this occupation. Universally, in both political parties, the debate assumes that the U.S. must now "tough it out"--and the only question is how to win, over the resistance growing in Iraq.

With this in mind it is especially useful to look at Howard Dean, the Vermont governor running for president as an "antiwar democrat." His campaign is filled with criticism of how this war was launched and conducted. Dean discusses the lies of the Bush administration in launching the wars. But his criticism is focused on "with inadequate planning and without maximum support." He supports the U.S. removing foreign regimes when it wants. And the solution he has offered for the crisis on the ground in Iraq is more troops. He adds: "General Shinseki's professional military advice that 200,000 troops would be needed was rejected. I would add at least 50,000 foreign troops to the force in Iraq."

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has announced that they will launch new efforts to get foreign troops into Iraq, and will move faster to build a puppet Iraqi army.

All sides in the ruling class debate say that there should be "more boots on the ground." (And "boots" is how the ruling class dismissively calls the troops who kill and die for them.) All urge action now to save the occupation, and prevent the rise of antiwar sentiment.

For example, a USA Today editorial argued (August 27): "The American people will not accept ever-more casualties and an ever-steeper bill to pay for vain efforts to make Iraq into a western democracy. Our credibility will suffer much less if we recalibrate now rather than retreat later."

The argument being sold to the public is: the war might be wrong, it might have been poorly planned, but the U.S. can't leave now, it must stand tough, because its position as a global power would be weakened. And these in-house imperialist "critics" of Bush are arguing for rescuing the U.S. conquest of Iraq.

In other words, they claim that somehow a war that is unjust and illegitimate has spawned an occupation that must now be carried through and strengthened at all costs.

The Bush administration will now launch a huge offensive both to get UN support for their occupation and to build up a new Iraqi puppet army. This means that virtually the only remaining, visible difference between the administration and its Democratic critics over Iraq is that the main Democratic presidential candidates insist on sending more U.S. troops to the Middle East, while Rumsfeld insists (for the moment) that no more are needed!

What an Orwellian moment, where Democrats who call for escalating this vicious U.S. occupation mascarade as "antiwar" candidates!!

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497