Iraq "Handover Day" and the Reality of U.S. Neo-Colonialism

Revolutionary Worker #1245, July 4, 2004, posted at

For months, the Bush administration has been building up June 30 as "Handover Day"--the day the U.S. claims that it will "transfer power" and restore "sovereignty" to the Iraqi people. The U.S. government crows that this represents a big step toward "liberation" and "democracy"-- validating its unprovoked war of conquest and aggression against Iraq.

If truth be told, "Handover Day" should be called "Tighten the U.S. Hand Around the Iraqi People's Necks Day."

This phony "handover of power" does NOT give the Iraqi people genuine sovereignty. It is an effort to do just the opposite --to further entrench and legitimize U.S. control of the country as the U.S. continues to radically transform Iraq militarily, politically, and economically. All this is being done in order to serve U.S. regional and global objectives, not the interests of the Iraqi people.

And the unanimous passage of a UN Security Council resolution on June 15--legitimizing the U.S. occupation and "handover" in Iraq--changes none of this.

Setting Up Instruments of Control

The official U.S. story is that "occupation ends" when the U.S. "hands over" power on June 30 to a "transitional Iraqi government." This government is supposedly "sovereign"--meaning that it controls the country's affairs and destiny. The new government will then hold elections--currently scheduled for January 2005.

As the old saying goes, "the devil is in the details"--and the details of Iraq's post-June 30 "sovereignty" reveal the reality of continued U.S. neo-colonialism and imperialist domination.

First and foremost, the 138,000 U.S. troops and 20,000 troops from U.S. allies will continue to stay in Iraq -- and the new "sovereign" government in Iraq will have no power to control those U.S. forces or make them leave. The new Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, is expected to quickly sign a treaty authorizing the presence of U.S. and allied armies in Iraq--which is a key aspect of the job he was hired by the U.S. to do.

The June 15 UN resolution legitimizes U.S. control, declaring that the U.S.-controlled multinational force will be given "the authority to take all necessary measures" to maintain order. In diplomatic letters with the U.S. in relation to the UN resolution, Allawi speaks of "coordination," "partnership," and "consultation" between U.S. and Iraqi military forces. But U.S. Secretary of State Powell's letter to Alawi states outright that the U.S. will "have responsibility for exercising jurisdiction" over the allied military forces.

In early June, the new Iraqi government raised the possibility that it might impose martial law in order to put down the anti-U.S. resistance. According to London's Financial Times (June 22), Allawi was immediately told in very clear terms that only the "U.S.-led coalition has the right to adopt emergency powers after the June 30 handover of sovereignty."

The Washington Post reported (June 24) that U.S. occupation overseer Paul Bremer was planning to extend his Order 17 giving U.S. troops and military personnel "immunity from prosecution by Iraqi courts for killing Iraqis or destroying local property" and "from any form of arrest or detention other than by persons acting on behalf of their parent states" after June 30. This is in the wake of the exposure of the torture carried out by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib!

Bremer will no longer be the head of the U.S. occupation after June 30. The neo-colonial administration of Iraq will be overseen by the newly appointed U.S. ambassador, John Negroponte--the notorious cutthroat who, during the Reagan administration, used the U.S. embassy in Honduras as headquarters to unleash bloody death squads on the people of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras. Negroponte will head up a staff of 3,000 in a vast complex being built in Baghdad--which will be the world's largest embassy.

The U.S. is also working behind the scenes to set precedents, pass laws, place advisers and pro-U.S. Iraqis throughout the state, and create institutions and levers of control so that it can continue to dominate Iraq's future. Behind the smokescreen of "sovereignty," the U.S. has been locking in decisions made during the occupation so that these "facts on the ground" cannot be changed by the new Iraqi government.

Although the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council dissolved itself on June 1, this handpicked group of collaborators have appointed themselves seats in the new Interim National Council. According to the Christian Science Monitor (June 24), this 100-member assembly "will have power to approve the 2005 budget, veto executive orders with a two-thirds majority, and appoint replacements to the presidency." And, according to the Monitor, "The former council also guaranteed itself seats on a head-spinning array of committees that will select other members of the new body."

The June 15 UN resolution states that Allawi's government must refrain "from taking any actions affecting Iraq's destiny beyond the limited interim period until an elected Transitional Government of Iraq assumes office."

The U.S. has also been setting up mechanisms for control of Iraq's economy. Bremer's Order 39, enacted in September 2003, privitized state-owned enterprises, allowing for 100% foreign ownership of businesses in all sectors except oil and mineral extraction. The order also gives foreign corporations unrestricted ability to take profits made in Iraq out of the country, without taxes. None of the multi-million-dollar contracts that Bremer's occupation authority signed with U.S. companies can be reviewed by the new government.

According to a report by Chris Shumway on (June 24), "A last minute spending spree by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and language in the UN Security Council resolution setting the conditions for Iraqi sovereignty appear likely to limit the interim government's ability to exercise meaningful control over the country's oil revenues. According to documents posted on its own website, the CPA's little-known Program Review Board (PRB) has quietly committed billions of dollars in Iraq's oil revenues to new contracts that critics say will enrich U.S. and British corporations while limiting the amount of revenue Iraq's new interim government will have at its disposal when it assumes authority from the CPA on June 30. Of the PRB's 12 voting members, all of whom were appointed by and report directly to CPA administrator Paul Bremer, only two represent Iraqi government ministries. The other voting members include one representative each from the Australian and British governments; a member of the Council for International Cooperation; a representative from USAID; and six representatives from various CPA divisions."

In a front-page article titled "Behind the Scenes, U.S. Tightens Grip On Iraq's Future" (May 13) the Wall Street Journal admitted, "The new Iraqi government will have little control over its armed forces, lack the ability to make or change laws and be unable to make major decisions within specific ministries without tacit U.S. approval."

The Journal article also revealed how the U.S. will continue to exercise control over the Iraqi media: "Haider al-Abadi runs Iraq's Ministry of Communications, but he no longer calls the shots there. Instead, the authority to license Iraq's television stations, sanction newspapers and regulate cell phone companies was recently transferred to a commission whose members were selected by Washington. The commissioners' five-year terms stretch far beyond the planned 18-month tenure of the interim Iraqi government that will assume sovereignty on June 30."

The U.S. government hopes the "handover" will blunt the mass resistance within Iraq to the U.S. occupation and move certain elements within the anti-U.S. opposition to come to terms with the U.S. and the new government.

The "handover" is also aimed at U.S. public opinion--to back up Bush's claim that the war and occupation have been "worth it" and justified, and gather support for "staying the course" in Iraq. It will be argued: We've turned over sovereignty to the Iraqis, so we aren't occupiers any more--but now the new Iraqi government needs our help against terrorists.

The "handover" is also an effort to gain more support--in terms of troops and financing- -from other imperialist countries to back up U.S. attempts to smash the Iraqi resistance. It is not yet clear whether the U.S. will be able to get such support. There are some sharp divisions between the various imperialist powers (between the U.S. and France, Germany, and Russia in particular), and much complicated maneuvering is going on behind the scenes. And the European powers are using the U.S. difficulties in Iraq to force Washington to involve them more in decision-making in Iraq as well as globally. At the same time, the U.S. is intent on keeping the main levers of economic, political, and military control in Iraq in its own hands.

However, the UN Security Council's approval of the U.S. occupation showed that the U.S. and other imperialist countries also have a shared interest in containing the volatile situation in Iraq and continuing to exploit Persian Gulf petroleum. The UN resolution endorsed Iraq's interim U.S.-controlled government as "sovereign" and labeled the U.S. occupation forces--which have committed countless crimes and brutalities against the Iraqi people -- as a UN-mandated "multinational force." It also provided after-the-fact approval for the U.S.'s war of aggression against Iraq. And the Security Council effectively labeled all Iraqi resistance to this unjust war and occupation as "terrorism" by formally condemning "all acts of terrorism in Iraq"--thus giving credibility to the Bush claim that the U.S. is somehow fighting "terrorism" in Iraq, when in fact it is inflicting enormous terror on the Iraqi people.

This rubber stamp for U.S. aggression, war crimes, and occupation in Iraq shows the real nature of the UN--it is a forum for inter-imperialist rivalry and contention, a body for the joint suppression and exploitation of the oppressed countries, and an instrument for deceiving the world's people with talk of "peace" and "human rights." The UN, in short, is a tool of global imperialism and a reactionary and criminal organization.

U.S. Faces Many Problems and Contradictions

Even as they attempt to tighten their grip over Iraq, the U.S. faces a raft of problems and deep contradictions in Iraq--especially the Iraqi people's deep hatred for the occupation. The first opinion poll after the revelation of the Abu Ghraib tortures, commissioned by the Coalition Provisional Authority, found that 80% of Iraqis have "no confidence" in either the U.S. or its rump government. The Associated Press called the poll results a "stark picture of anti-American sentiment."

Statements quoted by London's Independent (June 10) reflected sentiments that are widespread among the Iraqi people. An Iraqi computer salesman said, "I don't believe there will be a transfer of power. It is just a show for the international community." A shopkeeper added, "We Iraqis are rejecting this decision because it will turn Iraq back to the British occupation period. At that time there was an Iraqi government but it was just a puppet."

The armed resistance against the occupation continues to rage, and the U.S. is responding with brutal military campaigns. In Fallujah, the U.S. military declared they were conducting airstrikes against Zarqawi--who the Bush administration claims, with little or no evidence, is a top al-Qaida operative. According to people in Fallujah, the U.S. bombings hit residential neighborhoods and killed many residents.

On June 24, just six days before the "handover," resistance fighters launched a series of coordinated attacks against U.S. forces and Iraqi government targets in Baghdad, Mosul, Ramadi, and Baquba. The intense fighting forced the U.S. troops to pull out of Baquba, a small city 31 miles northeast of Baghdad.

After this series of attacks, the Washington Post (June 25) reported, "The 1st Infantry Division soldiers who walked off the battlefield Thursday, exhausted by the frantic pace of combat and a baking summer sun, had seen nothing like it in their three months here. In dawn-to-dusk fighting, more than 100 armed insurgents overran neighborhoods and occupied downtown buildings, using techniques that U.S. commanders said resembled those once employed by the Iraqi army. Well-equipped and highly coordinated, the insurgents demonstrated a new level of strength and tactical skill that alarmed the soldiers facing them."

The U.S. and its allies still do not have full control of the cities of Fallujah or Najaf. The Coalition authorities were reportedly "stunned" by the collapse of the Iraqi Governing Council's police and military units during the recent fighting in southern Iraq. The Baltimore Sun (June 23) wrote that even with 158,000 troops, the U.S. Coalition "does not control Iraq's borders, has taken substantial casualties along roads and highways, and avoids key cities such as Fallujah."

Another major contradiction facing the U.S. is the weak, discredited, and fractious character of the forces it is relying upon in Iraq. These bourgeois and feudal forces, who seek to become a new pro-U.S. comprador ruling class, are so isolated from the Iraqi people that they dare not venture outside their U.S.-protected compound. According to author Dilip Hiro, "two-thirds of the 36-member interim government carry foreign passports (chiefly British or American)" and "most of the former exiles of the Iraqi Governing Council didn't even bring their families back to Iraq." Since the U.S. occupation began in April 2003, some 100 U.S.-appointed officials have been killed, including two members of the Governing Council.

None of the forces the U.S. is relying upon to create a new government represent the genuine interests of the Iraqi masses, and none can transcend the country's religious and national divisions. This is why the competition and rivaly between these forces are in many ways increasing (even as all these forces remain overall dependent upon the U.S. as their sponsor and protector).

These divisions and rivalry among the pro-U.S. forces came to the fore sharply in early June when leaders of the two major Kurdish organizations threatened to pull out of the new government. They denounced the fact that the U.S., under pressure from Shi'a clerics, refused to include in the UN Security Council resolution their demand for a constitutional guarantee against any law restricting Kurdish autonomy. This crisis was temporarily papered over when Allawi promised to keep the constitutional guarantee until at least January 2005. But the underlying issue--the national oppression of the Kurdish people--remains completely unresolved.

Last summer U.S. occupation head Bremer insisted that the U.S. would only turn over sovereignty to a "stable, independent, and elected" Iraqi government. Nothing has worked out as planned, and the interim Iraqi government is neither stable, nor independent, nor elected.

Yet because creating a stable pro-U.S. client state in Iraq is seen as pivotal to implementing the U.S.'s overall global agenda of greater empire, the overall U.S. ruling class--both leading Democrats and Republicans--are determined at this point to "stay the course" and bludgeon their way through in Iraq. Leading Democratic Senator Joseph Biden recently expressed the rulers' view of the situation in Iraq when he said, "This is bigger than Bush and bigger than Kerry."

The U.S. hopes to crush the Iraqi resistance and/or entice certain opposition elements to capitulate and join the U.S.-backed government. In recent weeks the Shi'a cleric Moqtada Sadr--whose militias had been carrying out armed actions against the U.S. occupation forces and U.S. puppet forces in a number of areas--has offered to support the new government and even help maintain "security." President Bush has said that the U.S. might allow Sadr to participate in the U.S.-controlled political process.

At the same time, the new Iraqi government is vowing to step up counter insurgency (which, of course, will be carried out under U.S. direction and command). And there are signs that the U.S. may be preparing to increase its own troops level after November's election. The Baltimore Sun (June 23) reported that the U.S. Central Command "has informally asked Army planners for up to five more brigades -- about 25,000 troops -- to augment the American force of 138,000 soldiers and Marines now in Iraq."

Clearly the situation in Iraq remains highly volatile, and the possibility of a major U.S. reversal or defeat can't be ruled out. As RCP Chairman Bob Avakian put it in his article "New Situations, Great Challenges," the U.S. rulers' grab for greater global power carries with it "the potential...for this to get wildly out of control...the imperialists have set things in motion that can't be easily reversed, and may not be easily controlled."