Catch 22: Is There Any Way Out for the US in Iraq?
Vietnam Syndrome Then, Iraq Syndrome Now!
By Shannon Bundock
After over 2 years, after over 1,700 US soldiers dead, after over 150,000 Iraqis murdered, after over $300Billion US spent, Iraq remains a hot and rising centre of imperialist aggression and anti-imperialist struggle in the world. Today, the era of war and occupation, which was launched into action after September 11th 2001, continues to expand primarily across the Middle East and Latin America. But despite the hopeful projections of the US ruling class, that they can secure Iraq and move on to bigger targets, their goals are going unfulfilled. Why and how is the US occupation failing today? From mounting pressure at home, to steady and unconquered resistance in Iraq, a number of factors are at play. Recently these factors have aided in quickening the American military’s slip into quagmire and shown that warning calls of “crisis” are too little, too late.
Cracks Within the Occupying Ruling Class
“President Bush’s portrayal of a wilting insurgency in Iraq at a time of escalating violence and insecurity throughout the country is reviving the debate over the administration’s Iraq strategy and the accuracy of its upbeat claims.” – Washington Post, June 5th 2005
On June 28th 2005, one year since the US claimed to have “handed over power” in Iraq, George Bush spoke to America from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He spoke confidently making bold statements about how the US is dealing with the “insurgency” in Iraq and the opponents to America’s presence there. Despite the assurance that he portrayed in his half-hour address, Bush was unable to fully convince his government and supporters that the plan they have been pursuing is correct and effective. Both before and after the Presidential address, criticism, doubt and uncertainty remain.
Throughout the speech, Bush glossed over, or failed to mention the main points of weakness and crisis for the occupation forces. He bolstered the contributions of countries pledging funds to Iraq. He didn’t mention that $23Billion of the $34Billion pledged is coming from America. He did not mention that several of the “Coalition Allies” are planning to leave or considering doing so. And he did not touch on the crisis of Iraq’s economy which remains at pre- war levels.
These points are only illustrations of the thin veil that is covering the crisis for imperialist occupiers in Iraq. As the disaster becomes clearer to various levels of the US Administration and the US ruling class, faith is being lost in the leadership that sent America to war. As a result a number of differences and disputes are emerging within the halls of government on how the US can survive in Iraq and how they can proceed.
Debating the Exit Strategy
Only days before the June 28th address, the US Congress was met by a number of house members who had drafted a resolution to lay plans for a US withdrawal from Iraq. One of the members of the bi-partisan group opening the discussion was Republican Rep. Walter Jones. “After 1,700 deaths, over 12,000 wounded and $200Billion spent, we believe it is time to have this debate and this discussion on this resolution,” said Jones, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Building up to this, on May 25th, the US Congress defeated an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill that asked President Bush to, “develop a plan as soon as practicable to withdraw American troops from Iraq.” Through their votes and their comments it was clear that confidence is waning among a significant portion of the US congress.
Amidst this, support continues to decline significantly with 53% of American’s polled in June disapproving of Bush’s overall job in Iraq. According to the pollster, Gallup, this is: “the worst negative to positive ratio in Bush’s presidency.”
The Downing St. Memo is another point of controversy that arose in recent months and is driving wedges into ruling class unity for the war drive. The memo contains the minutes from a meeting held eight months prior to the Iraq war between UK and US top officials.
According to a letter sent by 122 congressional Democrats, the memo raises many questions for them about US Administration’s pre-planning the war in summer 2002. The letter targets top officials for misleading congress about the reasons for invading Iraq and starting the 2003 war. What is significant is not what the memo contains. The people of Iraq, and millions of their supporters in the global anti-war movement have known that the official White House reasons for invading Iraq were false from the get go and the war was illegal. The past 2 1/2 years have proven that there are no weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam had no links to Al-Qaeda and that the US can not in any way bring freedom and “democracy” to Iraq.
What this controversy over the Downing St Memo shows is that the pressure of over half of the recently-polled American population who don’t support the war, along with the pressure of a failing strategy in Iraq and the increasing number of body-bags is weighing heavily on the US ruling class. Divisions are opening and the points of weak unity are surfacing and giving way.
“Insurgency” Vs. Resistance
Despite this increase in internal criticism, the problems that the US faces at home are quite minor when compared with the problems faced in Iraq. On June 28th, Bush identified armed resistance in Iraq as a major obstacle to ending the occupation. He claimed that a major portion of these fighters are from outside Iraq. Anthony Cordesman of the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS – a US-based rightwing think tank), in a critique of the Bush speech, pointed out that, “He [Bush] totally failed to mention the thousands of native Iraqis that make up the core of the insurgency, the fact we have only some 600 foreign detainees out of a total of 14,000, the fact most intelligence estimates put foreign fighters at around 5% of the total…”
He also failed to mention that it is not only “insurgency” and armed resistance that is a problem for the US. It is the mass opposition to occupation, and from that the mass resistance of Iraqi people, that is truly beating back the occupation forces. In its criticism of the US President’s address, CSIS pointed out, “the fact that Iraq’s per capita income and services remain well under pre-war levels, and that the lack of jobs and security feeds the insurgency.” As well, according to CSIS, on May 20th 2005 “Thousands of Shiites stomped on American flags painted on roads outside mosques in a show of anger over the US presence in Iraq…”
On April 9th 2005, less than a month prior, the China Daily reported that thousands of Shia and Sunni Iraqis protested in Baghdad, “Chanting “No! No to terrorism!” and “No! No to America,” thousands of supporters … called Saturday for American forces to withdraw from Iraq.”
As months push on, the US and occupation forces are not gaining popularity in Iraq. On June 30th a joint marine and soldier operation – Operation Sword – engaged in mass house raids throughout towns along the Euphrates river. Hundreds were harassed, beaten, and arrested. The operation was primarily centered in the city of Hit. According to the US Department of Defense, Hit now joins a number of other cities that will continue to have a long term presence of occupation forces. Operation Muthana Strike, which was carried out over the 4th of July weekend, also contained a strategy of random “knock-and-search” house raids and arrests, this time the targets were neighborhoods west of Baghdad.
Despite the heavy presence of US troops in the streets of Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul, and other Iraqi cities and towns, organized resistance continues. While laws prohibiting labour organizing still exist in Iraq, unions and workers continue to organize. A conference was held in Iraq on May 25th and 26th by the 23,000-member-strong General Union of Oil Employees (GUOE). In a press release for the conference they identify the GUOE as “a union resolutely opposed to the Occupation … and current plans to privatize Iraq’s oil industry.”
In Bush’s June 28th speech, he focused solely on the role of armed resistance in Iraq. Through reports on the US Department of Defense website their main operations being launched are targeting broad sectors of the Iraqi population. Operations Sword and Muthana Strike were focused on civilian regions and targeted, at random, civilian homes. Without stating it outright, the military strategy shows that the US knows they are not fighting an isolated group of foreign “insurgents” who are threatening the occupation forces. Any Iraqi could be involved in resistance to occupation – and in fact most are.
It is this broad and sweeping character that has forced the US to misrepresent the resistance as isolated pockets of armed extremists. A sensational and demonizing characterization of Iraqis fighting for their sovereignty is the only way for the US to build up opposition at home to the resistance movement in Iraq. If American people are able to identify with the Iraqis fight against unemployment, against lack of infrastructure, against constant harassment by foreign troops, then the case for occupation is weakened. So the rallies are ignored, the prison riots are covered up, the self-determination demands of union organizers are kept quiet. The only resistance that exists - according to America - is the resistance of car bombs, mortar shells and rapid fire attacks. And the term “insurgent” today is the new synonym for “terrorist”, which people in the US and internationally are taught to fear above all else.
New Words that Now Seem Old: Quagmire, Quagmire, Quagmire
In March 2003 the US invaded Iraq, overthrew the Saddam government and expected they were on the way to easy victory. But the celebrations and wild claims that Iraq is free and sovereign have become an outlandish joke and after 2 1/2 years 160,000 troops remain stationed in the country.
How long can the occupation forces continue? Well, according to Bush on June 28th, the US cannot set a date for withdrawal. “Some contend that we should set a deadline for withdrawing US forces. Let me explain why that would be a serious mistake. Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. It would send the wrong message to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out.”
What Bush doesn’t say is that with or without an exit strategy, the US will, at one point have to exit Iraq.
Today the US has to deal with military recruitment quotas coming up short month after month. Official numbers state that over 5,500 US soldiers have deserted and, according to the Pentagon, over a hundred have fled to Canada to avoid serving. With a tired and demoralized military on the ground in Iraq; the breakdown is weighing heavily on the US war drive.
The US has even recently admitted to attempts to meet with and to negotiate with their sworn enemies – the “insurgents”. Far from their policy that they “will not negotiate with terrorists”, the US has been forced to recognize that their strategy is failing and has been forced to try methods that they once condemned.
According to the Washington Post on June 27th 2005, “Rumsfeld acknowledged that there is no military solution to ending the insurgency and that the talks with Iraqi insurgents were part of a search for a political solution to the war. ‘I mean, foreign troops are not going to beat the insurgency,’ he said. … He also pointed out, on Fox News that, ‘insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years.”
This crisis that is increasing on every level for the occupation forces shows no signs of slowing. Why the US is not pulling out despite this crisis, however is clear. Iraq is not an isolated mission. Iraq is part of the imperialist era of war and occupation that was opened following the September 11th 2001 attacks.
Along with the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, along with the US/Canada/France occupation of Haiti and along with threats, against Iran, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba, this war is one pole of a global strategy of permanent war and occupation. Losing in Iraq is not an option for US imperialists. Defeat in Iraq would have grave historical and international impacts on the world’s “superpower” as well as inflicting deep damage to imperialism in the battle against oppressed countries globally.
The objectives of the US and other imperialist countries are to gain control and hegemony in the most strategic regions, to plunder the resources and feed off the wealth of oppressed countries. As unemployment and market crisis increase at home, imperialist economies move to shakier ground. These powerful imperialist countries have no choice but to secure their position in the Middle East, in Latin America and throughout the world, in order to maintain the balance of forces and their position as global powers.
Iraqi Resistance: The Only Hope for the Future
As the rhetoric from the White House becomes fierier, the truth on the ground is that the occupation forces are weakening, “at a time of escalating violence and insecurity” in Iraq. But the people of Iraq are in a different position than the US forces. They are not fighting because they signed up to the military and were sent on a mission. They are fighting for their families, their communities, their lives. The Iraqi people are fighting against imperialist occupation and for self-determination, because they see it as the only way to secure the future of their country.
According to a June 2005 entry in the online journal of a young woman in Iraq called Riverbendblog, “…this isn’t about Sunnis and Shia or Arabs and Kurds. It’s about an occupation and about people feeling that they do not have real representation. We have a government that needs to hide behind kilometers of barbed wire and meters and meters of concrete- and it’s not because they are Shia or Kurdish or Sunni Arab- it’s because they blatantly supported, and continue to support, an occupation that has led to death and chaos.”
For Iraq to progress at the most basic levels, they must have the space to do so. Tens of thousands of foreign troops are choking the Iraqi people and preventing any reconstruction and natural political development that is necessary for a country to advance.
US imperialism has descended on Iraq and made it the primary axis of struggle in the opening years of the era of war and occupation. The fight for self-determination in Iraq is the same fight for self-determination in Afghanistan, Palestine, Haiti and Indigenous Nations across the US and Canada.
As Iraqi people carry on, we too must continue with support, solidarity and echoes of the demands against occupation and for self-determination. In this decisive battle there will be a winner and there will be a loser. No body has forgotten Vietnam yet. Vietnam Syndrome then, Iraq Syndrome now. It is not only a fight in Iraq, but one of oppressed people of the world vs. the imperialist war drive. As the Iraqi resistance gains strength, the impact will reverberate globally.
END THE OCCUPATION OF IRAQ NOW!
SELF-DETERMINATION FOR IRAQ!
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