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Iraq, Afghanistan: The bitter fruits of war and occupation
FIVE LONG, bloody years of war and occupation, led by US imperialism, has left Iraq as a dangerous, violent and divided society, despite promises of stability and democracy. NIALL MULHOLLAND looks at the gruesome results of Western 'intervention'.
THE LATEST mortality statistics from the war and occupation suggest that around 700,000 Iraqis have died violently or in connection with the conflict; almost one in two households in Baghdad have lost a family member. Over 170 British troops and nearly 4,000 US troops have been killed, so far, with a further 58,000 US wounded, injured or seriously ill.
It is estimated that 100,000 US troops returned home with serious mental health disorders (the occupying powers do not even bother collating such statistics for the Iraqi people).
Living conditions for the majority of Iraqis are even worse than under Saddam Hussein's brutal rule. Baghdad has only eight hours of electricity supply a day and only one-third of the city is connected to the water mains. The health service, once one of the best in the Middle East, lies in ruins, as do the country's roads, schools, homes and sewage system.
One in four Iraqis are jobless. No wonder that two million people fled the killing fields of Iraq for Syria and Jordan and elsewhere, and few returned. A further two million were internally displaced. Yet Bush and Blair and their apologists in the media told us that invading Iraq would "bring democracy and stability".
The Iraqi people, particularly the oppressed Shias and Kurds, suffered terribly for decades under the brutal Saddam regime. But the task of overthrowing the dictatorship was for the Iraqi masses to carry out, not the cynical imperialist powers, which for years backed the vicious Saddam regime. The same powers imposed cruel, inhumane sanctions on Iraqis, for over ten years, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Following the "shock and awe" US-led invasion five years ago in March 2003 which quickly crushed Saddam Hussein's forces, Washington neo-cons - led by figures like Donald Rumsfeld - believed their own propaganda. They thought they could rule a 'liberated' Iraq with a minimum military force.
They thought the invasion would be the start of their plan to re-order the Middle East to their liking, including removing local 'axis of evil' regimes, like Iran and Syria.
Bush wanted to secure oil for the big corporations and to vastly enhance US imperialism's geostrategic position, both in the region and internationally. Six weeks after the war started, President Bush stood on the decks of USS Abraham Lincoln in front of a 'Mission Accomplished' banner.
Rather than swift success, the superpower has now been in Iraq for longer than the US was involved in both world wars and in the Korean War. Within months of the start of the occupation, armed resistance raged in Iraq. This mainly involved the five million-strong Sunni population (many of whom lost their jobs after the US dismantled the overthrown Baathist regime's structures).
A September 2006 opinion poll showed 70% of Iraqis want the US out of their country. Rather than bringing 'stability', the US occupation deepened religious and national divisions, triggering a sectarian bloodbath that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
The occupation also exacts an enormous economic burden for US imperialism. The estimated total budgetary and economic cost to the US: "will turn out to be around $3 trillion, with the cost to the rest of the world perhaps doubling that number again" (The Three Trillion Dollar War, Stiglitz and Bilmes, 2008). The cost of direct US military operations exceeds the cost of the 12-year war in Vietnam and is more than double the cost of the Korean War.
Iraq's Gross Domestic Product is just getting back to the level it was before 2003. Washington hoped for cheap oil from Iraq but this did not materialise. Instead, the conflict helped push up world oil prices, and oil supplies and production in Iraq are severely disrupted.
Yet, the Bush administration portrays, in recent comments, a vastly improved situation in Iraq over the last year. The White House propagandists claim that the 'surge', which put 30,000 more US troops on the ground in Iraq since February 2007, brought 'stability' to many areas and that the US is on the road to success and even 'victory'.
They point to the lower death toll as an indication of this trend: with 'only' 39 US soldiers and 599 Iraqi civilians killed in January.
It is true the death toll has come down - although many innocent Iraqis are still slaughtered daily - but this is not due to US 'victory' over 'al-Qa'ida' forces, as the Western media claim. It is more to do with the new situation arising from the ongoing struggle for power between Sunni and Shia political/militia forces.
From 2003 to the summer of 2006, Sunni resistance forces fought the US and the Shia-Kurdish dominated Iraqi regime. Last year, however, many Sunni militias "switched sides" and allied to the US forces. They formed the 'al-Sahwa' (Awakening) movement and fought the pro-al-Qa'ida groups.
The change of alliance by Sunni groups "came about for many reasons", according to Patrick Cockburn (Independent 15 February 2008), including the decision by "enraged" Sunni tribes to counter attempts by al-Qa'ida styled groups to "establish total dominance" and to "set-up a Taliban type state".
Sunni and Shia
But the Sunni militias could also see that, "although its guerilla war was effective against the US, it was being defeated by the Shia who controlled the Iraqi government and armed forces after the election of 2005". The Shia and Kurdish ruling parties controlled oil revenues and the only real jobs (government posts), and, covertly, anti-Sunni death squads.
A number of Sunni armed groups believe a tactical alliance with the US forces is the only way to counter the Shia/Kurdish regime.
Consequently, a deal was struck that saw the creation of the Awakening Council (al-Sahwa); 80,000 armed Sunni supporters, paid for by the US. Signifying the depth of this cynical manoeuvre by US imperialism, Bush referred to the Awakening Council militia, yesterday's "terrorists", as today's "concerned local citizens".
While the US holds hundreds of "al-Qa'ida suspects" in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and elsewhere, as part of the "war on terror", the superpower is happy to pay the wages of former (and reportedly current) al-Qa'ida activists who are now in the Awakening Council.
No peace or stability
DESPITE BUSH'S rhetoric, the deal between US imperialism and Sunni leaders will not bring long-term peace and stability to Iraq. The powerful Awakening Council displays open hostility and contempt towards the Shia/Kurdish government. Sunni leaders demand real power and influence in the government and state structures but the Shia/Kurdish ministers strongly resist any Sunnis and former Saddam Hussein supporters returning to power.
The situation in Iraq remains highly unstable and fragile. Horrific conflict continues, although at a lower level than in recent years. Nothing is fundamentally resolved. The Shia Mehdi Army, fearful of conflict with other Shia groups, recently announced a second ceasefire. Al-Qa'ida is severely weakened but not finished as a force. More al-Qa'ida bombs in Shia markets or against Shia religious events could re-ignite widespread sectarian carnage.
The national question is also highly explosive. Recent Turkish army incursions into northern Kurdish Iraq, despite the protests of the US, are motivated by Ankara's fear of the creation of a de facto Kurdish state acting as an example to their own discriminated-against Kurdish minority.
In the absence of a powerful class force uniting all Iraqis, including non-sectarian, democratically-run defence committees, the Iraq state could eventually break up along national and sectarian lines, pulling neighbouring states into the bloody vortex.
Only a mighty class movement, which entails building independent, fighting unions and a mass party of the working class, can successfully expel imperialism from Iraq and the region.
The Iraqi working class must return to its rich class struggle traditions; creating a powerful socialist party to unite all religious and national groups and to overthrow the rule of sectarian warlords and big business. This is a huge task facing the Iraqi working class but the alternative is a continuation of imperialist and capitalist rule, and deepening sectarian divisions.
Washington claims that the 30,000 extra US troops are successfully carrying out a "security plan" in Baghdad, ignoring the fact that they have, according to Cockburn, "frozen into place the Shia victory of 2006". The city, Belfast-style, is divided into sectarian enclaves partitioned by concrete walls.
Baghdad is an extremely dangerous and violent place, with daily kidnappings, killings and scores of mutilated bodies dumped in back streets. The present "fragile truce" is based on the results of sectarian 'cleansing', which took place under the 'watch' of the US-led occupation.
Despite its enormous military and economic power, US imperialism over-reached itself in Iraq and failed in its regional objectives. Since the invasion, the Middle East has become much more unstable and the balance of power has changed.
Underlining Iran's regional influence and its close links to the Shia-dominated Iraq government, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Baghdad this month. In the first full state visit to Iraq by any foreign head of state since March 2003, President Ahmadinejad was given a 'red carpet treatment' and travelled from Baghdad airport by motorcade, unlike Bush and other Western leaders, who were forced to secretly fly in and out of US military bases to avoid attacks.
Blow to Washington
Ahmadinejad's visit was a blow to Washington, which routinely accuses Iran of developing nuclear weapons, backing Iraqi-Shia militias and supporting 'terrorism' throughout the Middle East (eg Hamas and Hezbollah). As well as denouncing US foreign policy while in Baghdad, Ahmadinejad welcomed Iran's growing trade and economic ties with Iraq and the millions of Iranian pilgrims that travel to Shia shrines in Iraq.
Heightened tensions between the US and Iran make many people across the globe fear an attack on Iran. A 'dry run' to a possible air strike appeared to take place some time after midnight on 6 September 2007, when low-flying Israeli Air Force fighters crossed into Syrian airspace and bombed an unidentified target.
Journalist Seymour M. Hersh investigated the operation (A strike in the dark, New Yorker, 11-18 February 2008) and found no evidence that Syria is trying to build nuclear weapons, as suggested by Israel and the US. A former US intelligence official told Hersh that US involvement in the Israeli raid dated back months before the air strikes and was linked to the "[US] Administration's planning for a possible air war against Iran".
Although even US intelligence sources admitted there is no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear arms, the White House maintains a bellicose attitude towards Tehran. Will Bush invade or attack Iran, perhaps using Israel, as a proxy, in the dying days of his office? Although this cannot be ruled out, it is unlikely, given that the US military is bogged down in the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires, the Bush presidency is extremely unpopular, and a new conflict would re-ignite the Middle East.
However, as long as US imperialism remains in Iraq - where Washington aims to reduce troop numbers but to maintain enormous military bases to wield power and influence in the region - tensions between the superpower and Iran will continue, and can spill over into open armed conflicts.
WESTERN IMPERIALISM is also facing growing disaster in Afghanistan. For a while, Afghanistan was held up as the model of 'nation building' and supposed 'liberal interventionism', after the US led a war to overthrow the Taliban in 2001.
It says a lot about life for Afghans under Western powers that the reactionary Taliban - who believe in a strict interpretation of Islamic law, carrying out public executions, and who force women to be fully covered and refuse them education - should make a comeback.
Under Western control, Afghanistan remains one of the world's poorest countries, with life expectancy at a mere 46 years.
Indiscriminate Nato aerial bombings kill innocent civilians. Poppy production in Afghanistan rose dramatically after the 2001 invasion, as farmers turned to opium production to survive (The country provides 86% of the world's supply of the drug).
The huge PR stunt surrounding Prince Harry's 'tour' of duty in Afghanistan (with craven British media compliance), cannot hide the truth that the majority of Afghans regard Western troops as an oppressive occupation and that most of Afghanistan is out of the control of the puppet Karzai government.
Heated disputes between Nato countries over a shortage of troops and committing resources reflect the serious difficulties facing imperialism and the likelihood that the conflict can go on for a very long time. Indeed, Britain's ambassador to Afghanistan recently said Western troops will be in the country for 30-40 years. The dispute threatens to tear Nato apart. US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates accused Germany of retreating on its role in the 'war on terror' and Canada threatens to pull its troops out of Afghanistan.
The conflict is also spreading to neighbouring countries, destabilising states, such as fragile, nuclear-armed Pakistan.
In February, US forces crossed the Pakistan border, attacking the "al-Qa'ida leadership". The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq also act as recruiting sergeants for al-Qai'da type networks in the West, which attract small numbers of desperate, deeply-alienated Muslim youth, some of whom are willing to carry out horrendous, indiscriminate bombings.
FIVE YEARS ago, millions marched and protested against the invasion of Iraq and many workers and youth were radicalised. Millions held governments and much of the media in contempt following the exposure of their blatant lies about Iraqi 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' and al-Qa' ida 'links' with Saddam Hussein's regime, which were used to justify going to war.
The huge unpopularity of the wars causes most pro-establishment political parties in the West to try to cynically distance themselves from the bloody imbroglios, despite supporting military action at the time. US Democrat presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, offer verbal opposition to aspects of Bush's foreign policies, but both voted for enormous war funding. Obama says the US should remain in Iraq for years to come.
Both the Democrats and Republicans are parties of big business and will follow a pro-corporation, anti-working class agenda at home and abroad. While a Democratic White House might represent a 'mood change', compared to the discredited neo-con Republican hawks, Clinton or Obama will continue pursuing the interests of US imperialism worldwide. In Britain, Gordon Brown merely continues Blair's policies, domestically and internationally. This means more imperialist aggression and conflicts, as the powers compete for resources, power and influence.
After all, it was former Democrat president, Bill Clinton, who led Nato air strikes against Serbia in 1999 - a forerunner of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The 1999 conflict was presented as a 'humanitarian' and 'liberal' intervention and that false notion is being rehabilitated around the recent US-sponsored 'declaration of independence' by Kosovo (which does not represent genuine self-rule and which is dangerously destabilising the Balkans).
To develop the anti-war movement requires it taking a thorough anti-imperialist stance, independent of the pro-capitalist parties. Building international solidarity with working people in Iraq and Afghanistan who oppose imperialist occupation is vital.
Full support should be given to attempts by democratic, non-sectarian, working-class organisations in Iraq and Afghanistan to resist imperialism, to fight for democratic rights and to struggle to overthrow the ruling gangster puppets.
As recent waves of strikes in Egypt and Iran show, class struggle can unite workers across all ethnic, religious and national lines in the Middle East.
A voluntary federation of socialist states in the region is the only way to end capitalism, imperialism and poverty and exploitation. To rid the world of imperialist wars and capitalism requires a political alternative.
Working people and youth, everywhere, need political parties that represent their anti-war, anti-capitalist sentiments - new mass workers' parties, with bold socialist policies.
In The Socialist 12 March 2008:
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Post Office closures
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news
Socialist Party review