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Iraq: Imperialism's Quagmire
THE POLITICAL problems confronting the US-led occupying powers in Iraq continue to mount. Last week, tens of thousands of Shias, under the political leadership of cleric Ayatollah Sistani, demonstrated in Iraq's second city Basra against the US authorities' transition plans for Iraqi self-governance.
They were demanding a general election to directly elect a parliament and accused the US plans of being tied to George Bush's presidential election this year. Sistani has threatened a fatwa (a 'holy struggle') against the US authorities if his demand is not met.
This movement, orchestrated by a supposed Shia 'moderate', has unsettled the Bush administration which urgently recalled to Washington Paul Bremer, the US pro-consul in Iraq.
Bremer is hoping to persuade a reluctant United Nations to return to Iraq to assist reconstruction and thereby relieve pressure on the US. However, last weekend's massive suicide bombing in Baghdad will have done little to persuade UN secretary general Kofi Anan to acceded to US demands.
Under the US plan for 'Iraqi-isation' (self-governance) a provisional Iraqi regime will be established on 1 July 2004, superseded by an elected parliament in December 2005. The provisional and elected parliaments will both be subservient to the real power on the ground, the US with its 150,000 troops.
The mechanism for the provisional parliament is highly convoluted. It involves a committee of 15 Iraqis appointed by the US occupation authorities that selects a local caucus which in turn elects representatives to a new parliament in May. This is designed to ensure the emergence of a pro-coalition regime.
Most Iraqis, however, will simply view it as a stooge parliament. Moreover, it will block the Shia clerics who, resting on the overwhelming Shi'ite population in Iraq, would otherwise expect to win a majority in a directly elected parliament.
Sistani's demand is also revealing the ethnic fault-lines dividing Iraq which imperialism will struggle to contain.
Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish Democratic Party opposes the majority Shia call for elections to the transitional government: "As for a majority imposing its will on the Kurds, this cannot be tolerated," he said. He is also quoted in the Washington Post as saying that the Kurds want their autonomous region extended to include the city of Kirkuk (which sits on a massive oil field) and that Arab Iraqis who had settled in Kirkuk under Saddam Hussein should be expelled.
Another headache for the occupying powers is the shortfall in oil revenues - resources which are crucial for Iraq's reconstruction and necessary to convince a sceptical US public that reconstruction wouldn't cost them billions.
But the combined effects of pre-war sanctions, the war itself and sabotage has meant that revenues won't even cover the $15.6 billion operating costs of the Iraqi Governing Coalition.
Meanwhile, the authorities are unable to deal with the growing anger of the unemployed who account for over 70% of the total Iraqi workforce. Recently in the southern cities of Amara and Kut police and troops have opened fire on demonstrators demanding jobs. Many of the unemployed are demobbed troops the result of Iraq's US pro-consul, Paul Bremer, dissolving the Iraqi army.
Some 500 US troops have now been killed since the start of the invasion back in March 2003 - a higher figure than US troops killed in Vietnam at the same stage of that occupation. And despite the ballyhoo surrounding Saddam Hussein's capture before Christmas, the number of attacks on coalition forces has actually increased.
In The Socialist 24 January 2004:
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