A new political equation in Iraq

The "surge" crafted by Gen. David Petraeus and other Pentagon brass changed little militarily in Iraq.

From the ANSWER Archives:

March 19, 2014, marks the 11th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. During the next weeks the newsletter will feature key articles from the ANSWER Coalition archives that ANSWER and associated groups published before and during the invasion, and throughout the U.S. occupation of Iraq. This is a critical period of U.S. history and the voices of those who led the mass anti-war and anti-occupation movement during this period are largely erased from the U.S. mainstream media. Please read and share this important article originally published in September 2008 about a key moment in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Share it with young people who were not yet teenagers when the Bush administration invaded Iraq in one of the greatest war crimes in modern history.

By Brian Becker
Originally published on September 13, 2008

The people of the United States are in the dark when it comes to Iraq. Why are they spending $12 billion each month, which is $250 million every day, so that the Pentagon can occupy Iraq? They do not get to vote on that question and they are not told what the occupation is for.

This should be simple, right?

Why does the United States maintain an occupation force of 146,000 troops in Iraq? That is a direct question. This is now the second longest war in U.S. history but what is it actually for? Who is the enemy and what does victory mean?

Most people in the United States cannot provide an informed answer because neither the Republican president nor the Democratic-controlled Congress is willing to tell the truth.

There are many stories in the media about the success of the surge and the eventual "timeline" for some withdrawal of forces. But if it is so successful why did the civilian and uniformed brass from the Pentagon announce on Sept. 4, that very few troops would be removed from Iraq in 2009? Another 150,000 private "contractors" or mercenaries will also remain. The total force of occupation, including the private sector mercenaries, will stay at about 300,000 throughout 2009 and probably for much longer.

John McCain, when he accepted the nomination on Sept. 4, spoke about "victory" and "winning" in Iraq but he did not say what either victory or winning actually means. Obama does not speak about "victory" but says any future draw down of troops must be done "responsibly" and only in accordance with the recommendations of the very same Pentagon generals that sent 35,000 more troops last year in the so-called surge.

So, back to the original question: Why is the U.S. occupation continuing? It is important to understand the evolved thinking of the U.S. ruling class.

If the U.S. military occupation of Iraq ends now there will inevitably emerge, and quite quickly, a government in Iraq that is not willing to function as a colonial-type stooge of the United States. That had been the goal of President George Bush’s "Shock and Awe" invasion in 2003. But the plan has been a disaster. The original goal proved unattainable in the face of the Iraqi resistance. In a quandary, Bush and the Pentagon have developed new short-term goals.

One year ago the United States was on the verge of the biggest military catastrophe since being driven out of Vietnam in 1973. General David Petraeus and a new team of Pentagon commanders crafted a new military strategy, popularly dubbed the "surge." The multi-faceted counter-insurgency plan had one principal goal: to avoid imminent, catastrophic defeat. No other goals took precedence.

Petraeus and the Pentagon had decided they could not defeat militarily the armed resistance. Rather, they began paying most of the combatants of the resistance. More than 100,000 Sons of Iraq fighters were given $300 U.S. dollars each month so that they would not shoot at the occupiers. The military units of these resistance fighters are essentially intact. But these forces, whose social base are a web of Sunni tribes, are fundamentally suspicious and fearful of the central government in Baghdad, that is dominated by the Islamic Dawa Party, which is led by Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite adherent.

The United States divided Iraq along ethno-sectarian lines with the hope of creating a puppet government based primarily on Shiite political parties. The U.S. occupation forces had this goal in mind when they stimulated a civil war in Iraq during 2004-2007. But this did not succeed in creating a stable puppet government. Instead it led to chaos, immense human suffering and country-wide hatred for the occupiers. Millions of Iraqis participated in one way or another or supported various anti-U.S. military forces. By 2007, the U.S. military was on the ropes and public opinion in the United States was demanding an exit from Iraq.

The key element necessary for the Iraqi resistance to win a military victory was to create an instrument for national unity. The Pentagon planners were well aware of the dangers to U.S. imperialism if unity was achieved.

If the Iraqis had been able to overcome the ethno-sectarian divide created by the invasion and occupation, there would have been an irrepressible nationwide rebellion or revolution that would have driven both U.S. and British forces from Iraq. This was how the British were forced out of Iraq in 1920, by a rebellion known as Ath Thawra al Iraqiyya al Kubra or The Great Iraqi Revolution. This was a defining moment in Iraqi history and all Iraqis know the story inside out. Sunnis and Shias, tribes and cities, were brought together in a united effort against the British colonialists.

General Petraeus and a section of the Pentagon brass crafted the "surge" as the last available option open to the imperialists to rescue the situation. McCain and Bush credit the "success" of the surge to the expansion of U.S. forces in Iraq. The impact of the extra 30,000 U.S. troops was a minor factor in the changed military situation.

The decisive factor was that 100,000 Sons of Iraq fighters stopped shooting at the occupiers. On another front Moqtada Al-Sadr’s Mahdi army, whose base is the multitude of poor Shiites in eastern Baghdad and in the south of Iraq, has maintained a unilateral ceasefire against the occupiers. That does not mean, however, that each of these entities is beholden to the United States—either able or desiring to function as semi-colonial proxy for the interests of U.S. imperialism—should the U.S. military actually pull out.

The U.S. occupation forces are also financing and training Iraq’s central army and national police. Both are under the control of Maliki’s Shiite dominated government. If the United States were to leave it has no guarantee that Maliki’s government will not strengthen its ties to Iran. Last week, the Maliki government awarded a major oil contract to a state-owned Chinese oil company. This is a clear indicator that Maliki, if he is to survive, must start to find ways to express resurgent Iraqi nationalism that is uniformly bristling at the continued domination of their country by the United States.

The new political equation for the occupation is that the Pentagon is financing and supporting many competing political forces, each of which has ample military forces. These various forces are rooted in contemporary Iraqi society, which has been shaped by the anti-colonial struggles of the past 90 years. None of them can or will function as the Shah did in Iran or as the monarchies in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait do today. If the United States were to leave completely it would have no stable proxy to rule on its behalf.

Working people in the United States would lose nothing by the re-emergence of an anti-colonial government in Iraq. This is not our empire. The Pentagon and CIA function on behalf of Exxon/Mobil and all the other corporations and banks that seek global markets and puppet governments. The blood spilled in Iraq, including the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis with tens of thousands of U.S. casualties, is for a criminal gangster enterprise known broadly as "Wall Street." The price tag for the occupation will rise to $2 trillion—and that too will be for the biggest U.S. corporations who profit from war. That is why we must do everything possible to organize and mobilize against the war machine and demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq. Then, under a sovereign Iraq, the people of Iraq should receive massive reparations for the terrible suffering inflicted on their beautiful country.

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