Iraq: Five Years of War and Occupation
By Shannon Bundock
For more than five years – half of a decade – the US, UK and their allies have been bludgeoning Iraq with all means of bombs, guns, ground troops and political stranglehold. After more than sixty months have passed it is wise to look at the tally thus far. What has been gained? What has been lost? What has the war and occupation of Iraq meant for the Iraqi people? Furthermore, what has it meant for all human beings living in this new era of war and occupation?
What Has Five Years Cost for the Iraqi People?
More than five years of war and occupation have brought unspeakable rates of death to Iraq. According to the think-tank Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF), during the initial invasion by US/UK led forces, it is estimated that more than 7,500 Iraqis were killed.
On March 23rd 2003, American B-52 bombers carried out heavy raids on Baghdad, killing 106 civilians in that single night. On March 24th 2003, a US missile hit a Syrian passenger bus near the Iraqi border killing five innocent people. That same day, the Red Cross warned of a humanitarian emergency as water supplies began to run out in Basra.
The bombing of civilian targets continued thought the invasion and on March 26th 2003, a US missile struck a busy Baghdad market, killing many civilians. By March 27th – only one week after the invasion – air raids alone had killed more than 350 Iraqi civilians.
In the fall of 2007, a staggering figure was released by the UK-based Opinion Research Business Group (ORB), which found that as many as 1.2 million Iraqis had been killed since the turbulence of war began to shake Iraq in March 2003.
But this tragedy does not end at 1.2 million - there is much beyond the horrifying deaths rates in Iraq. As of September 2007, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there were believed to be “…well over 4 million displaced Iraqis around the world.” It also estimated that, due to violence, 60,000 Iraqis are being forced to leave their homes every month.
Another 60,000 Iraqi civilians are being held in detention camps and prisons run by the US military and Iraqi puppet forces, the vast majority of them without charges, much less trials. As the world saw with the Abu Ghraib scandal, torture in Iraq’s prisons runs rampant.
According to a July 2007 report released by Oxfam and the NGO National Coordinating Committee in Iraq (NCCI), more than 43% of Iraqis suffer from "absolute poverty" and as many as “eight million people are now in need of emergency assistance”. The report indicates that four million people are “food-insecure and in dire need of different types of humanitarian assistance” and there are “more than two million displaced people inside Iraq”.
According to the Brookings Institute, Iraq’s unemployment rate sits at an average of 40%, reaching higher than 50% unemployment in some regions.
In March, US President Bush recognized the 5th anniversary of this military endeavor. Ironically enough, he declared the 2007 troop surge a “success” and insisted that these troop levels must be maintained to prevent further “chaos and carnage.”
In this same speech Bush went on to describe the “successes” of the US forces in the Iraqi political realm. He gave the occupation credit for helping to build a “democracy in the heart of the Middle East” that “will serve as an example for others”. The project to build a US-puppet regime in Iraq, however, is not going so well for the occupiers. It is clear to both Iraqis and people around the world that those who make the political decisions in Iraq are stationed in Washington DC. 160,000 armed soldiers swarming the country prevents Iraqi people from determining their political fate.
“In four years of occupation, our sons were murdered and our women widowed,” explained Ahmed al Mayahie, who participated in a Najaf protest against the occupation on April 9, 2007. “The occupiers say that Iraq was liberated. What liberty? There is only destruction. We do not want their liberation. We are asking them to leave our land.”
“The fall of Saddam means nothing to us, as long as the alternative is the American occupation” said Interior Ministry employee, Haider Abdul Rahim Mustafa who also participated in the protest.
The US Master Plan
In February 2003 the first issue of the Fire This Time Newspaper was published. This was before the invasion of Iraq and amidst the massive worldwide outrage and protest against the US government’s threats of war. In that inaugural issue, Fire This Time predicted “…US war makers have made a clear and decisive decision to plan an attack on Iraq that will be the bloodiest ever in the Middle East. Washington is trying to play this game with or without the UN’s stamp of approval: if the inspectors find WMD or something that implies the existence of WMD, then Iraq lied, and war is justified. But, if UN inspectors do not find anything, Washington will claim that the Iraqis have hidden the weapons so well that US intervention is required to find the truth. This is how the law of the jungle prevails.”
This prediction was not made because of a lack of faith in the ability of the anti-war movement to stop the war, but rather based on a sober analysis of the state of world politics. In February 2003 we summed it up as follows, “The continuous war drive by the US government in Afghanistan and Iraq is their response to the depression and slowing down of the world wide capitalist economy. These global economic conditions have had a dire affect on the internal American economy while bruising capital interests abroad. The declining rate of profit and continuing trend of bankruptcy for giant financial and industrial institutions has intensified the level of tense competition between them. For the imperialist countries, which the profiteers behind these corporations live in, this competition translates into a race for control of the plundering of the world’s natural resources. In spite of the economic and political dominance of multi-national and trans-national corporations, ultimately, each imperialist nation-state pursues its own national interest. George Bush is the executive management chief of the ruling capitalist class of United States, and he understands what he was hired to do: consolidate the hegemony of the US in the broadest territory possible.”
Five years later this assessment rings even more true. This was not a small matter of simply accessing major oil reserves. The invasion of Iraq was masterminded as part of a long term plan. After five years this invasion and war has proven to be a long term occupation – perhaps as much as 100 years (!) according to US Republican presidential hopeful John McCain. We may not be able to predict how long it will be before the Iraqi people can declare victory against the illegal occupation, but we can see clearly that the US government wants to establish a permanent occupation, with permanent military bases.
The State of a Country Waging War
According to the latest admission by President Bush, “There’s still hard work to be done in Iraq. The gains we have made are fragile and reversible.”
It is interesting that after five years the world’s most powerful nation has been unable to “conquer” Iraq. Iraq was invaded after more than a decade of severe economic sanctions. Iraq is a small and poor nation. The US is the wealthiest country in the world. The US is the most heavily armed country in history.
Let’s look at how the humble nation of Iraq has brought the United States of America to its knees.
First of all, the most telling sign of crisis for the US is the record number of soldier deaths that they have faced. March 2008 brought the total to over 4,000 dead US soldiers. We may rhetorically ask, ‘why are US soldiers are still dying at this rate if the US is “winning” this war?’
More than 126,000 merceneries are working in Iraq as a shadow military to the 160,000 US-led forces. Even with this extra support to take the pressure off the occupation army it has been a constant struggle to meet recruitment quotas. After missing recruitment targets in 2005, the army lowered standards and doubled enlistment bonuses. Last year, it raised the maximum age for recruits from 35 to 40, and then to 42.
A study was released by the Pentagon in May 2007 regarding the mental health of troops in Iraq which found:
- 45% of junior enlisted Army soldiers rated their unit’s morale as “low” or “very low”
- 38% of soldiers, 31% of marines, 49% of National Guard members and 43% of marine reservists exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety or other psychological problems within 3 months of returning from active duty.
- 40% cited events that made them feel “intense fear, helplessness, or horror”
The Pentagon’s mental health taskforce also reported that US troops are undertaking higher levels of sustained combat duty than during Vietnam and Second World Wars.
The conclusion of the US government’s political crisis at home was adeptly assessed in a January 2007 issue of Fire This Time. “While often the US government will barrel ahead with its plans despite the opinions of the people of the US, the factor of mass sentiment cannot be completely ignored. For now the war-leaders are left to paint a picture of great progress in Iraq to attempt to dupe the people in the US. At the same time they are crossing their fingers and hoping the disillusionment with the occupation of Iraq does not reach that critical point where mass anti-war sentiment will turn into mass anti-war action.
Now the US government has found itself in a catch-22 situation. They continue the mass killing and destruction in Iraq and face the consequences of Iraqi resistance and the anti-war movement at home, or they pack their bags and flee - which means a more massive defeat for the US than any they’ve ever seen before. Neither of these are viable options for the US government.”
Hand in hand with the political crisis comes the economic crisis. According to Brian Katulis, of the Center for American Progress, “Spending $12 billion a month on Iraq while cutting taxes year after year obviously had an impact on our economic standing, hampering our ability to remain an economic powerhouse.
“No to War and Occupation!
For five years Iraq has been brutalized, but the Iraqi people have not taken this lying down. In fact, it is their heroic resistance that has caused and escalated the crisis for the US war machine. Striking oil workers, protesting students, picketing journalists, and Iraqis of all ages and regions have been joining the resistance against occupation. Sometimes the demonstrations are so large and broad that the US media must acknowledge them, such as the April 2007 1-million strong march in Najaf.
In order to continue the pressure for a full withdrawal of occupation forces, people around the world must follow the lead of the Iraqis. People in the US can be a second front to this resistance against war and occupation by taking action to protest the war machine. US dock workers from the ILWU are doing just that on May 1 2008 when they will take action against war by shutting down the docks on the west coast of the US.
People in Canada also have a reason to take the anti-war, anti-occupation message to the streets. The Liberal government of Canada, back in 2003 under mass pressure and under the division of labour within the imperialist war drive, did not deploy troops on the ground in Iraq. However, this government is fully complicit in the crime against Iraqi people by providing logistical and security work as well as arms and advisory military personal. The Conservative government, since coming into power, eliminated every obstacle that makes this support difficult. People in Canada must demand that the government of Canada completely withdraw all support for this criminal and unjustifiable war.
The first and most necessary step to put Iraq on a path toward rebuilding and healing is to recognize self-determination for this once-sovereign country and to immediately withdraw all occupation forces. Solving the problems of violence, instability, unemployment, lack of education and infrastructure, etc. can only begin with a truly independent Iraqi government. To build an effective anti-war movement, all peace-loving people around the world must unite behind the demands:
End the Occupation of Iraq!
Self-Determination for Iraq!
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