Anatomy of an Imperial War Crime
the invasion and occupation of
by Ashley Smith
International Socialist Review,
The invasion and occupation of Iraq is
one of the greatest crimes in the history of imperialism. According
to a study published in the British medical journal, the Lancet,
there were 665,000 excess deaths between 2003 and 2006 attributable
to the occupation. The United Nations reports that the United
States has created the biggest refugee crisis in Middle East since
the Israeli expulsion of Palestinians in 1948. Iraq, which once
had the living standards of Greece in the 1970s, now falls below
Burundi as one of the poorest countries on the planet. And it
is coming apart under the stress of a civil war that the U.S.
orchestrated by pitting Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds against one another.
In the 2007 Failed States Index, issued by the Fund for Peace
and Foreign Policy magazine ranks Iraq as the second-most unstable
country in the world, behind Sudan and ahead of the ravaged Sub-Saharan
states and even Haiti. One of the birthplaces of civilization
now lies in burning ruins.
The Bush administration had aimed to use
the political capital it obtained in the wake of the September
11 attacks to pursue a more preemptive, aggressive foreign policy
designed to cement the U.S. as the world's unchallengeable superpower.
After first dismantling Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the Bush
administration hoped to install a sympathetic government in Iraq,
conduct regime changes of a similar nature in Syria and Iran,
and settle other conflicts in the region like those in Lebanon
and Palestine on U.S. terms. With the region and its strategic
oil reserves under its control, the U.S. hoped to hold all potential
challengers that are dependent on Mideast oil, such as China,
under its thumb.
Events have turned out much differently.
The Bush administration has spent close to two trillion dollars,
sacrificed more than 3,600 soldiers, and maimed and psychologically
damaged tens of thousands more in this war against an Iraqi resistance
that wasn't supposed to exist, only to find itself stuck in what
is routinely referred to as a Vietnam-style "quagmire."
The U.S. ruling class now recognizes the war as a failure and
fears that Iran, rather than the U.S., has emerged as its victor.
General William Odom, the former head of the National Security
Agency, called the Iraq invasion the "greatest strategic
disaster in American history" Not only has the U.S. weakened
its position in the Middle East and the world, it has also lost
support of the majority of Americans for its war in Iraq, after
spending three decades rebuilding its credibility in the wake
of the Vietnam defeat. Today, 70 percent of Americans oppose the
war ,7 and 72 percent of soldiers wanted the war ended in 2006.8
This failed war was not simply cooked
up by Bush and a cabal of crazy right-wingers, though they played
a role in ensuring its failure. It was the logical outcome of
U.S. policy in the Middle East, and it had the backing of the
American establishment. The establishment, however, realizes along
with the rest of the population that Bush has failed, and is concerned
chiefly with finding a way out of the quagmire that does not undermine
U.S. interests in the Middle East or its international standing
as the dominant world power.
From ally to foe
In the wake of Washington's Vietnam debacle,
the U.S. recoiled from direct military intervention abroad. In
the Middle East it relied on three pillars-Israel, Iran, and Saudi
Arabia-to enforce its domination of the region and to combat the
threat of Arab nationalism, the secular Left, and the Soviet Union.
However, when a revolution toppled the shah of Iran and the Soviet
Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Carter administration shifted
U.S. policy from indirect to direct intervention. Michael Klare
Abandoning reliance on local surrogates,
Carter decreed that the United States would henceforth assume
the primary responsibility for the defense of the Gulf. This was
the Carter Doctrine, enunciated in his State of the Union address
on January 23, 1980. Access to Persian Gulf oil was a vital national
interest, Carter declared, and to protect that interest the United
States was prepared to use "any means necessary, including
The U.S. cultivated Iraq as its pivotal
ally against Iran at a time when the two countries were engaged
in a brutal war. The Iran-Iraq War ended in a stalemate that left
both countries in shambles. Iraq had squandered its oil wealth
and prosperity, accruing $40 billion in debt, much of it owed
to Kuwait, and a million Iraqi and Iranian people died between
1980 and 1988. Mistakenly thinking he had a green light from Washington,
Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, hoping to plunder the country's
oil and gold reserves, pay off his debt, and project Iraq as the
new Pan-Arabist power in the Middle East.
Alarmed that its ally had slipped the
leash, the U.S. built a multilateral UN coalition to force Iraq
out of Kuwait, conducting an air war and brief ground invasion
that destroyed Iraq's infrastructure and killed more than 200,000
people. Though the Bush administration would have welcomed a military
coup against Saddam, when the Shias and Kurds rose up at the end
of the Gulf War, Bush abandoned them, allowing Saddam Hussein
to murder tens of thousands and drive a million Kurdish refugees
Genocidal sanctions and the failure of
In the aftermath of the' u If War, the
Bush and Clinton administrations developed a policy of "dual
containment" of Iraq and Iran designed to isolate both regimes
and maintain the status quo in the Middle East. The U.S. prohibited
American companies from investing in Iran and enforced UN sanctions
on Iraq. Its air force patrolled no-fly zones in Iraq's Kurdish
north and Shia south. It also forced Iraq to admit weapons inspectors
to eliminate the caches of weapons of mass destruction that Iraq
had built up with Western assistance during the Iran-Iraq War.
But this policy of dual containment was a temporary solution and
fell apart in the late 1990s.
The sanctions prevented Iraq from rebuilding
its infrastructure and killed untold numbers of people, disproportionately
women and children. According to former UN official Denis Halliday
"You have a situation where we see thousands of deaths per
month, a possible total of 1 million to 1.5 million over the last
nine years. If that is not genocide, then I don't know quite what
is. There's no better word I can think of. Genocide is taking
place right now, every day, in Iraq's cities.""' When
asked whether containing Saddam Hussein justified sanctions that
killed 500,000 children, Clinton's secretary of state, and then-UN
ambassador, Madeleine Albright responded, "we think the price
is worth it."
Both Iran and Iraq began to escape the
clutches of dual containment, making contracts with Arab countries
that pressured the U.S. to lift the sanctions, as well as with
other powers in the European Union, Russia, and China. Finally,
after Clinton and the UN withdrew their weapons inspectors before
bombing Iraq in 1998, Saddam refused to allow inspectors to return.
The dual containment policy went into crisis.
The U.S. policy establishment split, with
a minority calling for regime change. These so-called neoconservatives
grouped together in the Project for a New American Century and
romanticized Reagan's rollback of the Soviet Union as a model
for U.S. policy in the Middle East. They wrote an open letter
to the Clinton administration in 1998 arguing, "The policy
of 'containment' of Saddam Hussein has been steadily eroding over
the past several months. Diplomacy is clearly failing... [and]
removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power... needs to
become the aim of American foreign policy."" In a profound
policy shift, Democratic President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation
Act in 1998, made regime change the official strategy of the United
States, and thus blazed the trail that Bush would follow to its
The decomposition of Iraq
On the eve of Bush's war and occupation,
nearly three decades of Baathist rule, two wars, and genocidal
sanctions had dramatically transformed Iraq. In the 1970s, Iraq
had used its vast oil wealth to develop social welfare, education,
and health care systems that were the envy of the Middle East.
By 2003, its infrastructure was in ruins, its social institutions
wracked with crisis, and its people desperate and poor.
Within the U.S. establishment, however,
as author Ali Allawi notes, "the ignorance of what was going
on in Iraq was monumental. None of the proponents of the war including
the neoconservatives, and also no one in the institutes and think
tanks that provided the intellectual fodder for the war's justification,
had the faintest idea of the country they were about to occupy."
The British had carved Iraq out of the
Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. They created
a country made up of three groups-Arab Sunnis who comprised 20
percent of the population, Arab Shias who formed the majority
with 60 percent, and a Kurdish minority of 20 percent. Like the
Ottomans before them, the British wooed the Sunni elite to rule
over the Shia majority and Kurdish minority. They installed King
Faisal as a puppet to ensure Western access to the country's oil.
A secular nationalist movement led by
General Abdul Karim Qassim overthrew the monarchy in 1958 and
won the Shia and Kurdish elite to accept a nationalist compact
for modern Iraq that muted, but perpetuated, Sunni dominance.
For the first time, the new government recognized Iraq as a binational
state of Arabs and Kurds. The Iraqi Communist Party played a key
role in overcoming Iraq's divisions and uniting its working masses."
In fact, both the Sunni-based Baath Party and the Shia fundamentalist
Dawa Party were set up by their respective elites to compete with
the communists' successful appeal to the Arab and Kurdish working
The Baath Party under Saddam Hussein eventually
won the political battle for rule of the country, eliminating
both the communists and Dawa as political forces by the 1970s.
The Baath regime, however much it proclaimed its nationalist credentials,
was based in the Sunni ruling elite, in Saddam's case, the tribal
elite in the so-called Sunni triangle.
The Baathist regime specifically targeted
the Kurds and Shias. It suppressed the Kurdish fight for independence
in 1974-1975, used chemical weapons against them when they rose
up in 1988, and again attacked them in the aftermath of the Gulf
War. Similarly, Saddam repressed the Shias, most dramatically
when his regime killed 100,000 to put down their rebellion after
the Gulf War. In that campaign, the Republican Guard went into
battle under the slogan "there will be no Shia after today."
By the end of the 1990s, Iraq's secular
traditions had completely fallen apart. Saddam Hussein had already
eliminated the communists and his own regime's brutality discredited
secular nationalism. Saddam Hussein himself turned to Islam to
legitimate his vulnerable rule. He claimed descent from the Prophet
Mohammed and launched one of the largest mosque-building campaigns
in the world. He even allowed the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, the
fraternal organization of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, to emerge
from the underground and organize public meetings.
Saddam could do nothing to co-opt the
Kurdish nationalists, who built a regime under the watchful eye
of the U.S. in the northern no-fly zone. But he did attempt to
co-opt the Shia clergy and win back support among the Shia masses.
Muqtada al-Sadr's father, Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, took
advantage of the opening to build a mass movement for Shia rights
based in the vast slums around Baghdad. Saddam Hussein killed
Sadr and suppressed the movement. In Iran, the Shia fundamentalist
party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI),
whose Badr Brigades had fought on Iran's side in the Iran-Iraq
War, bided its time, plotting for a Shia religious state in Iraq.
Three decades of catastrophic Baathist
rule had transformed Iraq from an industrially developed, secular
society into an economic wreckage, riven by religious and ethnic
rivalries. On the eve of the invasion, Iraq was already coming
apart at the seams.
9/11 and regime change
The Bush administration did not come into
the White House in 2000 intent on an invasion to overthrow Saddam.
In fact, Bush had campaigned against Clinton's humanitarian interventions
as "nation building" and actually demanded a return
to traditional realism in foreign policy; with a special emphasis
on great power politics toward Russia and China.
The neoconservatives denounced the Bush
administration for turning the U.S. into "a cowering superpower.
"16 William Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan declared, "Far
from transforming containment into rollback, the White House proceeded
to water down even the demands that the Clinton team had imposed
The neoconservatives did have a layer
of officials on the second rung of the Bush administration-Paul
Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, among others-who formed a current
agitating for regime change in Iraq and preemptive war. But it
was the events of 9/11 that created the new conditions prompting
the Bush administration to adopt their policies. The administration
(and various ruling-class think tanks) believed that 9/11 created
a window of opportunity to assert American power more aggressively.
Condoleezza Rice summed up the new consensus:
An earthquake of the magnitude of 9/11
can shift the tectonic plates of international politics. The international
system has been in flux since the collapse of Soviet power. Now
it is possible-indeed probable-that that transition is coming
to an end.
If that is right, if the collapse of the
Soviet Union and 9/11 bookend a major shift in international politics,
then this is a period not just of grave danger, but of enormous
opportunity. Before the clay is dry again, America and our friends
must move to take advantage of these new opportunities. This is,
then, a period akin to 1945 to 1947, when American leadership
expanded the number of free and democratic states-Japan and Germany
among the great powers-to create a balance of power that favored
The so-called war on terror became-like
fighting communism in the 1950s-the new axis around which this
more aggressive policy could be justified. Some of the neocons
were so eager to pursue their aims in the Middle East that they
argued for overthrowing Saddam Hussein first. Eventually they
settled on toppling the Taliban and then going after Iraq. In
close alliance with Israel, the U.S. hoped to stage regime changes
in Syria and most importantly Iran, establish regimes allied to
the U.S., and restore U.S. domination of the region's oil reserves,
as part of a broader plan to establish the U.S. as the world's
sole superpower for generations to come.
Washington Post journalist Anthony Shadid
captures the Bush regime's hubris and naiveté:
Once the dictator was removed, by force
if need be, Iraq would be free, a tabula rasa on which to build
a new and different state .... If we can change Iraq, George W.
Bush and his determined lieutenants maintained, we can change
the Arab world, so precariously adrift after decades of broken
promises of progress and prosperity. This rhetoric-idealistic
to Western ears, reminiscent of century-old colonialism to a Third
World audience-envisioned the dawn of a democratic and just Middle
East, guided by a benevolent United States."
Selling the war
Of course, the Bush administration had
to offer more compelling public reasons than oil and empire. The
Bush administration claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction
(WMDs), intended to supply terrorists like al-Qaeda, and was therefore
a threat to the United States. The entire establishment, from
the intelligence agencies to the media and the Democratic Party
leadership helped Bush substantiate its case.
The Bush administration got the intelligence
it asked for from the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Richard
Dearlove, the former head of British intelligence, remarked, "Military
action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam
Hussein, through military action, justified by the conjunction
of terrorism and WMD. But intelligence and facts were being fixed
around the policy.""
To cobble together the case for war, the
Bush administration turned to a host of American neoconservatives
like conspiracy nut Laurie Mylroie and Iraqi expatriates like
convicted embezzler Ahmed Chalabi and the ex-Baathist darling
of the CIA, lyad Allawi. With such "expert" support,
the CIA produced the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in 2002
that, according to Thomas Ricks, presented "opinion as fact.
As a political document that made the case for war the NIE of
October 2002 succeeded brilliantly. As a professional intelligence
product it was shameful. But it did its job, which wasn't really
to assess Iraqi weapons programs but to sell a war. "
The American media from Fox News to the
Washington Post and the New York Times parroted the administration's
line. The New York Times, particularly Judith Miller, ran all
the propaganda fit to print. In one infamous scare story, Miller
and Michael Gordon implied Iraq was overflowing with WMDs and
ended it with a quote from an unnamed administration official
that "the first sign of a 'smoking gun' might be a mushroom
Far from challenging Bush, Democratic
Party leaders supported the drive to war. They held hearings where
Clinton policy wonks like former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrook
and Kenneth Pollack, who headed up Clinton's Iraq policy in the
National Security Agency, made the case for invasion and regime
change. "Dennis Ross, who had been Clinton's top Middle East
negotiator," writes David Corn, "said that Iraqi people
would rejoice if Saddam were overthrown. "21 Former Secretary
of State Madeleine Albright also backed military intervention.
Leading Democrats like Richard Gephardt,
John Kerry, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton voiced nearly unqualified
support for war. In one speech on the floor of Congress, Hillary
Clinton railed, "Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his
chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability,
and his nuclear program. He has given aid, comfort, and sanctuary
to terrorists, including al-Qaeda members. "21 Cohn Powell
sealed the case with his disgraceful February 5, 2003, UN speech
that presented false evidence to ramp up support for invasion.
As David Corn states, "Virtually all of the allegations Powell
presented would turn out to be wrong. "21 As the antiwar
movement argued from the beginning, and now everyone knows, there
were no WMDs, no link with al-Qaeda, and Iraq was not a threat
but a prostrate nation on the verge of collapse.
No plan for occupation
The Bush administration and their neoconservative
officials naively believed that they would win the war, install
a democratic government made up of their exiled allies, and enable
the U.S. to withdraw its combat forces within a few months. As
a result, they underestimated the troops they needed to conquer
Iraq and failed to design a functional plan for occupying the
The delusions were grand. Wolfowitz roundly
attacked as "outlandish" General Eric Shinseki's claim
that the U.S. would need 300,000 troops to pacify Iraq. Wolfowitz
reasoned that since "they will greet us as liberators...
that will help us keep requirements down. " They also believed
the war would be cheap. Andrew Natsios, the head of United States
Agency for International Development (USAID), told ABC's Nightline
that the U.S. government's contribution to the Iraq War would
be just $1.7 billion, and they could recoup their expenses with
Iraqi oil sales .2 As they would discover to their surprise, they
were wrong on all counts.
The planning of the occupation itself
was an afterthought. As Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes, "On
January 17, 2003, two months before the war began, Feith called
Jay Garner, a retired lieutenant general, and asked him to take
charge of postwar Iraq. It wouldn't be long, Feith predicted,
an Iraqi government would be formed and an American ambassador
would be dispatched to Baghdad ." As a result, the official
army historian of the war wrote, "There was no single plan
as of 1 May 2004 that described an executable approach to achieving
the stated strategic endstate of the war. " In the end, Garner
produced a twenty-five-page document entitled "A unified
mission plan for post hostilities in Iraq" with only the
vaguest outlines of how the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian
Assistance (ORHA) would transform Iraq.
Even if the U.S. had a better plan for
the war and occupation, they would not have been successful. As
Zbigniew Brzezinski argued in the Washington Post, "America
is acting like a colonial power in Iraq. But the age of colonialism
is over. Waging a colonial war in the post-colonial age is self-defeating.
Victory, occupation, and thaw
The U.S. won the war easily, which was
not surprising given Iraq's economic devastation, its military
weakness, and Saddam Hussein's unwillingness to organize a popular
resistance given his fear of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi military
for all intents and purposes melted away. Contrary to expectations,
however, U.S. troops were not greeted as liberators.
The U.S. coalition deployed only 145,000
troops, nowhere near the number of troops it needed to control
a country of 25 million. Moreover, these focused more energy on
locating WMD caches than destroying conventional weapon stockpiles.
Ricks documents how "U.S. commanders rolling into Iraq refrained
from detonating those bunkers for fear that they also contained
stockpiles of poison gas or other weaponry that might be blow
into the air and kill U.S. soldiers or Iraqi civilians .... So
bunkers often were bypassed and left undisturbed by an invasion
force that was already stretched thin-and the insurgents were
able to arm themselves at leisure."' The resistance, which
began to emerge almost immediately after the invasion, seized
250,000 tons of conventional weapons stockpiles
The Iraqi reaction to the invasion surprised
the United States. As Patrick Cockburn reports,
Most Iraqis wanted to see the back of
Saddam Hussein, but they already viewed their liberators-the Americans
and the Iraqi exile parties-with suspicion. A civil servant in
Baghdad said of the latter: "the exiled Iraqis are the exact
replica of those who currently govern us... with the sole difference
that the latter are already satiated since they have been robbing
us for the past thirty years. Those who accompany the American
troops will be ravenous. "
Iraq's three main groups responded differently,
revealing tensions that the U.S. would later exploit and transform
into a civil war. The Shia population was happy to see Saddam
dethroned, but instead of embracing the invaders, they used the
opportunity for an outpouring of religious faith and rituals long
suppressed by the Baathist regime. Their elite in the clergy and
fundamentalist parties agitated for Shia majority rule. The Sunnis,
fearing loss of status, reacted across the board with hostility
to the new occupier and feared the assertion of Shia power. Only
the Kurds in the north were jubilant, but they set their eyes
on expansion of their autonomous territory and hopes of a Kurdish
In the south, where the Shia comprise
an overwhelming majority, the Shia fundamentalist parties, SCIRI
and Dawa, along with Muqtada al-Sadr's forces, established control.
In the so-called Sunni triangle, Sunni tribal leaders and clerics
set up provisional governmental structures. In the north, the
Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan
Democratic Party (KDP), were already in control of the region
before the war. In the war's aftermath they aimed to reestablish
their control of oil-rich Kirkuk and drive out the Arabs that
Saddam Hussein had sent to weaken the Kurdish majority.
In Baghdad, troops defended the Oil Ministry
but filled to impose order and security in the rest of the city.
Desperate people looted government buildings, schools, and even
the treasures from the National Museum and Library. The looting
did more damage than the invasion itself. Allawi describes how
"Baghdad's police force, normally 40,000 strong, had disappeared,
and there were no firefighters to dampen the flames. Fires raged
out of control for days on end, and Baghdad was strewn with a
large number of gutted and burnt-out buildings. The scene of devastation
was striking, and had never been anticipated by the war's planners.
The emerald city
In an act of unmistakable symbolism, the
U.S. set up its occupation headquarters in Saddam Hussein's former
Republican Palace, and established a heavily fortified area around
it known as the Green Zone (officially now called the International
Zone). Bush quickly fired the hapless Garner, who was replaced
with Paul Bremer and his UN-approved Coalition Provisional Authority
(CPA). With a Sunni resistance already attacking U.S. forces,
the CPA built seventeen-foot blast barricades topped with razor
wire to protect the U.S. administration and its growing colonial
Chandrasekaran describes the suburban
tranquility of the zone compared to the horror surrounding it:
From inside the Green Zone, the real
Baghdad-the checkpoints, the bombed-out buildings, the paralyzing
traffic jams-could have been a world away. The horns, the gunshots,
the muezzin's call to prayer, never drifted over the walls. The
fear on the faces of American troops was rarely seen by the denizens
of the palace. The acrid smoke of a detonated car bomb didn't
fill the air. The sub-Saharan privation and Wild West lawlessness
that gripped one of the world's most ancient cities swirled around
the walls, but on the inside, the calm sterility of an American
Bremer hired officials not for their competence,
but for their ideological loyalty to the president, asking applicants
their position on abortion and whom they voted for in the 2000
election. Eliminating Democrats and liberals, the CPA stacked
its personnel with Republican neophytes, half of whom had never
been out of the U.S. and had just gotten their first passport.
Tellingly, the most common piece of clothing other than military
uniforms was "Bush-Cheney 2004" T-shirts."
The Green Zone fell prey to Republican
frat boy culture. Fox News pumped out its war propaganda from
nearly every television. Heavy metal rattled out of the Green
Zone's own English language radio station called, predictably
and lamely, Freedom Radio 107.7. To keep the yahoos well watered,
the Green Zone boasted bars for different divisions of the occupying
agencies, seven in total, with the CIA joint calling itself "Babylon."
Chandrasekaran reports that while he could not find it, there
were rumors of an active brothel to service the colonial staff.
The Green Zone did nearly everything to
offend and alienate Arabs, Muslims, and especially Iraqis. The
few American Arabs and Muslims the CPA hired experienced constant
harassment and suspicion of being terrorists. The CPA seemed to
have little interest in communicating with Iraqis themselves as
it initially had only six fluent Arabic speakers. The CPA became
so suspicious that its Iraqi employees were working with the resistance
that they increasingly replaced them with foreign workers .
Nightmare in shining armor
The new viceroy, Paul Bremer, turned the
occupation into a catastrophe. An absurd figure in his suit and
boots, Bremer declared himself "the only paramount authority
figure-other than dictator Saddam Hussein-that most Iraqis had
ever known." His CPA would rule Iraq from April 2003 through
June 2004, when the U.S. nominally transferred authority to the
new Interim Iraqi Government. Bremer's first three orders undermined
the state he had inherited and alienated the Sunnis and Shias.
Order Number One, his infamous de-Baathification program, unleashed
a purge that attacked both the top of the party and its middle-class
membership, leading to the firings of more than 30,000 people
from state and private jobs.
The consequences were devastating for
the U.S. occupation. First, it gutted many already weak social
institutions, from education to health care. "As a result
of de-Baathification," reports Chandrasekaran, "entire
schools were left with just one or two teachers in some Sunni-dominated
areas." Second, the Sunni population saw it not as deBaathification
but as de-Sunnification, reducing them to second-class citizens.
Bremer thus drove an already hostile Sunni population over to
the developing resistance. Most of the Baath Party membership
of 2 million had joined merely to advance middle-class careers
and few were ideologically committed to Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.
Moreover, while the party was multiethnic and superficially nonsectarian,
it was predominantly comprised of Sunnis.
Bremer followed up this disastrous edict
with another, Order Number Two, dissolving the Iraqi military
and security forces. The army was the last integrated Arab institution
made up of predominantly Sunni officers and overwhelmingly Shia
conscripts. These forces were key in maintaining social order,
however repressive. Nevertheless, Bremer opted to abolish them
in one fell swoop, firing 450,000 people. The decision compounded
problems the U.S. was already having in enforcing security.
Both the Sunni officers and Shia conscripts
were suddenly unemployed and deprived of jobs and pensions in
a country with an unemployment rate in 2003 of 70 percent."
Major Saad Omri told Chandrasekaran that the Sunni officers and
soldiers are "all insurgents now. Bremer lost his chance."
The unemployed Shia conscripts also turned against the occupation,
many of them joining opposition Shia militias such as the Mahdi
Army. "That was the week we made 450,000 enemies on the ground
in Iraq," a U.S. official told the New York Times.
Bremer then announced Order Number Three,
overturning prewar promises, postponing elections for an Iraqi
government, and declaring that the CPA would rule Iraq. They did
so out of fear that any election would bring the Shia fundamentalist
parties into power and that such a government would tilt toward
Iran, the archenemy of the U.S. in the region. As a direct result,
Bremer alienated the Shia majority. U.S. Army Colonel King admitted,
"When they disbanded the military, and announced we were
occupiers-that was it. Every moderate, every person that had leaned
toward us, was furious ."
U.S. fails at free-market reconstruction
The CPA's economic policies alienated
Iraqis even more. "It's a full-scale economic overhaul,"
Bremer announced. "We're going to create the first real free-market
economy in the Arab world." Raising Iraqi expectations for
a return to their "Golden Age" during the oil boom in
the 1970s, the CPA then dashed these hopes, failing to reconstruct
the society, and only succeeded in dumping billions of dollars
into the coffers of American corporations like Halliburton, Bechtel,
The CPA viewed Iraq's state-capitalist
regime with all its government-owned industries as socialist,
and aimed to dismantle it with Eastern European-style shock therapy.
Allawi rightly argues, "The kind of raw and unfettered Darwinian
capitalism that the more radical of the CPA advisers were trying
to promote was totally unsuitable for Iraq in its current bankrupt
state. " The CPA ignored these conditions and imposed their
neoliberal fantasies: they slashed the top tax rate from 45 percent
to a flat tax of 15 percent; established free trade to the advantage
of multinationals by ending import/export duties; established
foreign investment protocols that allowed Iraqi companies, including
the oil industry, to be at least in part foreign owned; and threatened
to privatize all state-owned industries.
They hoped such radical measures would
help rebuild Iraq's infrastructure and economy. Cockburn itemizes
their failure to deliver:
Before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein
50 percent of Iraqis had access to drinkable water, but this figure
had dropped to 32 percent by the end of 2005. Some $4 billion
was spent by the U.S. and Iraqi governments on increasing the
electricity supply, but in April 2006 this fell to 4,100 megawatts,
below the pre-invasion level, which represents half the 8,000
megawatts needed by Iraq. Oil production touched a low of 1.4
million barrels a day. These figures meant that most Iraqis lived
on the edge of destitution, surviving only because of cheap government
rations. At least 50 percent of people who could work were unemployed."
A large percentage of CPA expenditures
were spent on running the occupation itself. The U.S. dished out
more money on administration than all projects related to education,
human rights, democracy, and governance combined .49 Billions
more were plowed into setting up U.S. military bases, as Ricks
"The U.S. military seemed more concerned
about its own well-being than about Iraqis," said Lt. Col.
Holshek, who during the summer of 2003 was based at Tallil air
base in southern Iraq. "We had all this hardware, all these
riches at hand, yet we didn't do anything to help," he said
of that time. "An extraordinary part of the U.S. military
effort was devoted to providing for itself, with a huge push to
build showers, mess halls, and coffee bars, and to install amenities
such as satellite television and Internet cafes. "
With a growing resistance and rising criminality,
the CPA was forced to spend 25 percent of its budget on security.
The Times of London stated, "In Iraq, the postwar boom is
not oil. It is security." By early 2006, the U.S. had spent
over $1 billion on the private security firm Blackwater and had
more than 60,000 of these so-called private contractors in Iraq,
15,000 to 20,000 of whom were engaged in combat operations of
These neoliberal storm troopers were not
bound by either military or U.S. laws. "The power of mercenaries
has been growing. Blackwater's thugs with guns now push and punch
Iraqis who get in their way," Robert Fisk reported. "Baghdad
is alive with mysterious Westerners draped with hardware, shouting
at and abusing Iraqis in the street, drinking heavily in the city's
poorly defended hotels. They have become, for ordinary Iraqis,
the image of everything that is wrong with the West. We like to
call them 'contractors,' but there is a disturbing increase in
reports that mercenaries are shooting down Iraqis with total impunity.
Rise of a fractured resistance
The occupation provoked a fractured resistance
among the Sunni and Shia population. The claim that Baathist "dead-enders"
or foreign fighters made up the resistance is completely wrong.
As Allawi reports, "In October 2003, a major study on the
insurgency, embodied in the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate
(NIE), concluded that the insurgency was driven by local factors,
and that it drew its strength from deep grievances and a widespread
hostility to the presence of foreign troops."
The Sunni elite, especially its tribal
leaders and clergy; began to organize and support the Sunni guerrilla
resistance. They felt an acute sense of loss after the toppling
of the Baathist regime and de-Baathification. Lacking any secular
nationalist or socialist alternatives, the Sunni masses turned
to the Sunni clergy and their associated political parties, the
Association of Muslim Scholars (,WS) and the Iraqi Islamic Party
Sheikh Mudhafar, the leader of the AMS, gave voice to the Sunni
resistance: "We reject this occupation .... Until now we
have not seen anything good, only killing, searches, and curfews.
There is a reaction for every action. If you are choking me, I
will also choke you. We have a resistance just like the Palestinians,
Chechens, and Afghans .... [The occupation forces] should leave
The Sunni resistance was not monolithic
or unified. As Nir Rosen notes, "Instead there are resistances,
and insurgencies, and terror movements. They differ in location,
motivation, and ideology. The majority of anticoalition fighters
in Iraq are part of an indigenous resistance to the American occupation.
They are motivated by factors such as nationalism, religion, and
a sense of disenfranchisement."" As many as 10,000 guerrilla
fighters were organized in various militias that found able leadership
from fired Sunni officers, plundered unguarded weapon storehouses,
and developed elaborate funding sources inside and outside of
The Sunni resistance launched a wave of
attacks in June and July 2003, just a few months into the occupation.
At first they targeted the various forces that collaborated with
the occupation in order to isolate the United States. They attacked
the Jordanian embassy, blew up the UN headquarters, killing its
top envoy Sérgio de Mello, and murdered the SCIRI leader
Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim. They also targeted the new Iraqi
police that the U.S. used to enforce order. The Sunni guerrillas
then attacked U.S. convoys, the Green Zone, and U.S. bases.
The Sunni resistance, however, did not
develop into a genuine nationalist movement. The elite leaders
looked with suspicion upon the Shia elite and their parties like
SCIRI that had collaborated with the invasion. They also drew
their ideas from the Sunni radicals in the rest of the Middle
East and adopted much of their anti-Shia prejudices. Moreover,
the guerrilla attacks on the predominantly Shia employees and
police forces sowed suspicion among the Shia majority toward the
Sunni resistance. Foreign Sunni Salafists like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
and his al-Qaeda organization enraged Shias. They murdered innocent
Shia civilians for being "infidels." Although many in
the Sunni resistance condemned such sectarian terror and in some
cases attacked the Salafists, they did not uproot them as a force."
The Shia opposition did not develop with
the same speed or in the same manner. Shia religious parties,
including SCIRI and Dawa, collaborated and supported the invasion,
but opposed the occupation because they wanted to secure Shia
majority rule. The Shia religious establishment led by the Grand
Ayatollah Sistani took the same position. The Shia elite vacillated
between collaboration to secure majority Shia rule and opposition
to U.S. interference with that goal.
Muqtada al-Sadr formed the most extreme
anti-occupation wing of the Shia establishment. From the beginning,
he opposed the U.S. occupation, imitating his father's combination
of Iraqi nationalism and Shia fundamentalism. Sadr built a massive
but loose organization based in the Shia poor in the Baghdad slum
Sadr City and across the south of Iraq. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon,
the Sadrists built their organization by providing social services,
Islamic courts, and security with their Mahdi Army.
Sadr called for unity among all Muslims
in a nationalist resistance to the occupation. At first Sadr did
not forge an armed resistance, but focused on mass demonstrations,
distribution of his newspaper Hawza, and organizing his Mahdi
Army. He became a thorn in the side of Bremer and the CPA, especially
after they decided to defer elections. Sadr, like the rest of
the Shia establishment, vacillated between nationalist opposition
to the occupation and trying to use it to establish a Shia religious
U.S. repression, detention, and torture
The U.S. vowed to strangle the growing
resistance. "We are going to fight them and impose our will
on them and we will capture or, if necessary, kill them until
we have imposed law and order upon this country," Bremer
railed. But the U.S. counterinsurgency only succeeded in further
radicalizing the Sunni and Shia population against the occupation
Ricks describes how "senior U.S.
commanders tried to counter the insurgency with indiscriminate
cordon-and-sweep operations that involved detaining thousands
of Iraqis. This involved 'grabbing whole villages, because combat
soldiers [were] unable to figure out who was of value and who
was not." The military detained tens of thousands of Iraqis,
most of them innocent of any crime.
The U.S. crammed the detainees in many
locations including Saddam Hussein's most dreaded jail, Abu Ghraib.
They filled it with 3,500 detainees by September 2003, and then
doubled that to 7,000 in the next month .12 They brought in the
head of the Guantánamo prison camp, Major General Geoffrey
Miller, with specific instructions to "rapidly exploit detainees
for actionable intelligence. "6 Captain William Ponce wrote
a memo telling his interrogators that "the gloves are coming
off regarding these detainees" and stated that the second
highest intelligence officer in Iraq "made it clear that
we want these individuals broken.""
The interrogators followed their orders
and inflicted violence and psychological torture on hundreds of
mostly innocent Iraqis. Photographs from Abu Ghraib emerged in
April 2004, depicting such things as groups of naked Iraqi prisoners
forced to lie in a pile and naked men smeared in excrement, causing
one of the first major domestic scandals of the war. Across the
world, the media replaced the choreographed image of the toppling
of Saddam Hussein's statue with the far more representative image
of the U.S. in Iraq-a hooded Iraqi torture victim with electrodes
dangling from his extended arms.
Twin uprisings of spring 2004
In the spring of 2004, Bremer's reign
of terror nearly transformed Iraq's fractured resistance into
a united movement for national liberation when he launched military
attacks against the Sunni resistance in Fallujah and the Sadrists
in Najaf. His spring offensive only succeeded in enflaming both
the Shias and Sunnis.
Bremer had wanted to put down the Sadrists
from the earliest stages of the occupation. Finally, in March
2004, after Sadr's newspaper ran a headline "Bremer follows
in footsteps of Saddam," Bremer ordered the paper shut down
and the arrest of Sadr's lieutenant Mustafa Yaqoubi. Bremer told
his forces to "kill or capture" Sadr. The U.S. hoped
to split and isolate Sadr from the moderate Shia fundamentalist
parties and clergy in order to weaken both forces.
Sadr responded by calling on his Mahdi
Army to rebel and take control of Sadr City and towns across the
south. U.S. forces cornered Sadr in the holy city of Najaf. But
their siege backfired, and it rallied Ayatollah Sistani and the
Shia parties SCIRI and Dawa to Sadr's side. Whatever their disagreements
with Sadr, they realized that if the U.S. was able to take down
Sadr, they would likely be next. Sistani cut a deal with the U.S.
that allowed Sadr to escape with his Mahdi Army fully intact.
The U.S. divide-and-conquer strategy toward the Shia failed. Instead,
Sistani secured a united front of the Shia religious leadership.
At the same time, Bremer escalated the
campaign against the Sunni resistance in the Sunni triangle, especially
its stronghold in Fallujah. Known as the City of Mosques, Fallujah
is a rural, conservative city of some 300,000 people. Its tribal
elite had formed one of the key bases for Saddam Hussein's Baathist
regime and built a new local governing authority that was hostile
to the U.S. occupation from the beginning.
From the start of the occupation, the
U.S. attacked the city. They repeatedly shot innocent civilians-killing
fifteen, for example, when angry protesters demanded that U.S.
soldiers leave a school they had occupied a few weeks after Saddam
Hussein's fall. Actions such as these turned the entire population
against the occupation and into support of the resistance fighters."
When four Blackwater mercenaries lost their way in Fallujah, resistance
fighters ambushed them and an enraged crowd tore their bodies
apart, hanged them from a bridge, and celebrated.
The Bush administration ordered a siege
of Fallujah. The new Iraqi Army balked at participating in the
attack and its soldiers deserted their companies declaring that
they had not signed up to fight Iraqis. The U.S. therefore had
to rely on its own forces, animated by a spirit of revenge. One
sergeant told his troops, "Marines are only really motivated
two times. One is when we're going on liberty. One is when we're
going to kill somebody. We're not going on liberty .... We're
here for one thing: to tame Fallujah. That's what we're going
to do."" The U.S. attacked the city and killed 1,000
civilians, mostly women and children.
This siege backfired and turned Fallujah
into a rallying point for opposition to U.S. imperialism around
the world and a recruiting tool for the Sunni resistance. The
U.S. called off the attack and agreed to have an Iraqi force,
the Fallujah Brigade, patrol the city. Ironically, the brigade
was more loyal to the resistance than to the Americans. Fallujah
continued to provide a base for Sunni guerrillas.' Thus the agreement
could only have been a temporary measure while the U.S. regrouped
for yet another assault.
Fleeting moment of unity
The Sadrists in Najaf and the Sunni resistance
in Fallujah forged a brief and fragile unity. Sadr proclaimed,
You are witnessing the union of Sunnis
and Shiites toward an independent Iraq, free of terror and occupation.
This is a lofty goal .... Our sentiments are the same, our goal
is one and our enemy is one. We say yes, yes to unity, yes to
the closing of ranks, combating terror, and ousting the infidel
West from our sacred lands."
In Fallujah, the resistance unfurled banners
that declared, "The Martyrs of Fallujah, Najaf, Kufah, and
Basra Are the Pole of the Flag that Says God Is Great." Throughout
the country, graffiti appeared such as "We shall knock the
gates of heaven with American skulls" and "Sunni + Shia
= Jihad against Occupation. "72 Shia forces temporarily blocked
the supply lines to the U.S. troops besieging Fallujah.
The resistance exploded. Attacks on American
forces soared from an average of 200 a week to over 600 in the
aftermath of the twin uprisings. By 2006, one report found that
88 percent of Sunnis approved of attacks on U.S. forces and 41
percent of Shias did as well .71 Ricardo Sanchez, the commander
of the occupation forces, feared that a nationalist resistance
was developing and had to be split. "The danger is we believe
there is a linkage that may be occurring at the very lowest levels
between the Sunni and the Shia." He declared. "We have
to work very hard to ensure that it remains at the tactical level.
Though Shia and Sunni leaders professed
unity against the Americans... they hated each other. As spring
wore on, Sunni and Shia newspapers grew more brazen in their attacks
against each other. The only things they agreed on were the need
for an Islamic government (thought they disagree on what it will
look like) and their insistence that the Jews and the Americans
were to blame for all their woes. The Sunnis were scared, fearing
the impending Shia takeover of Iraq if anything resembling a democratic
election took place. Shias did not fear the Sunnis; they just
disliked them. The Shias began supporting Turkmen in the north,
who are often Shias as well, in their bloody clashes with the
Moreover, Sunni Salafist attacks against
Shias shattered any sense of solidarity. As Cockburn writes,
The course of the twin rebellion showed
the residual strength of Iraqi nationalism, but... national solidarity
between Sunni and Shia was very temporary. The Shia sent a convoy
of trucks piled with goods to support Fallujah only for seven
of the Shia drivers to be executed by the very insurgents they
had come to help. Many of the Sunni fighters, Salafi and Jihadi,
were as hostile to Shia Iraqis as they were to Americans. Neither
had a place in their pure Islamic state these ferocious and bigoted
men were fighting for."
Because the resistance was so divided
along sectarian lines, the U.S. was able to regroup and launch
a second siege of Fallujah in November 2004 without the danger
of triggering a national uprising. They cut off the electricity
to the city and drove 250,000 of its 300,000 inhabitants from
the city. They then went in for the kill, dropping incendiary
bombs and white phosphorous, a chemical weapon designed to burn
the flesh off victims. The U.S. forces obliterated Fallujah, destroying
2,000 buildings and 60 of the city's 200 mosques .
Sectarianism had so undermined nationalist
solidarity that not even Sadr condemned the second assault on
Fallujah. Resentful and desperate, many Sunni refugees took out
their anger on Shia police, soldiers, and civilians. The Shias
in turn responded with initially defensive counterattacks to protect
their neighborhoods. The sectarian fracture prevented the consolidation
of a national resistance.
U.S. strategy: Divide and rule Iraq
In traditional imperial fashion, the CPA
exploited the divisions between Iraq's three main groups. They
pitted each group against the other in the process of setting
up the new Iraqi government, deepened sectarian and ethnic nationalist
conflicts, and triggered a civil war.
The U.S. divided Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds
from the very beginning. The CPA set up the Governing Council
using the Lebanese model with a quota system that divvied up seats
according to religious and national identity. The quota system
favored the Shia with a proportional majority. The Sunnis on the
council were not only a minority but also very weak as most of
their elite political leadership had been in the Baath Party and
were therefore banned from the council. As a result, the Sunnis
perceived the council as a sectarian formation and they refused
to recognize it.
The CPA initially saw it as a temporary
formation until they could hold elections. But the Bush administration
quickly realized that any election would bring SCIRI and Dawa
to power, both of which had friendly relations with America's
regional competitor, Iran. So they deferred elections and appointed
the Interim Iraqi Government. The U.S. tried to craft it to appeal
to the Sunnis, co-opt their leadership, and bring them into the
political process as an ally against the Shias. The U.S. selected
ex-Baathist and former CIA asset lyad Allawi to become prime minister.
They reversed their de-Baathification orders and consciously brought
back many officials from the old regime.
The U.S. symbolically handed power over
to Allawi in June 2004 and dissolved the CPA. Allawi took a hard
line against the Sadrists and became an aggressive advocate of
the second siege of Fallujah. Consequently, his Baathistlite regime
backfired. It enflamed the Sunni resistance and galvanized the
Shia clergy and fundamentalist parties' determination to secure
majority control of the state.
The Shia agitation for majority rule forced
the U.S. to concede to a series of elections, first for the Transitional
National Assembly, the referendum on the constitution, and then
parliamentary elections. The election law that the U.S. created
to oversee these votes treated Iraq as one electoral district.
"Iraq's election law itself seemed designed to promote civil
war," notes Rosen. "Ethnic and religious blocs preferred
one district because they were nationally known, and they would
be able to avoid challengers who had genuine grassroots local
The election for the Transitional National
Government, the referendum on the constitution, and the vote for
the parliament broke Iraq finally into three separate and antagonist
camps-Shia, Kurd, and Sunni-each lead by elites intent on mutually
incompatible projects. The Sunnis boycotted the first election
and then joined the religious and ethnic battle for control of
the powerless Iraqi state.
As Anthony Shadid writes, "one constituency's
victory was another's loss, and during the deliberations, religious
Shia parties worked to consolidate their gains and hopefully their
agendas; Kurds attempted to preserve their independence in the
north at all costs; Sunni Arabs, frustrated by the election results,
were casting their accumulated losses as an existential question.""
The U.S. had communalized Iraq's politics and stoked the flames
of civil war.
Iraqi government: Powerless, corrupt,
The U.S. created a weak Iraqi government
that controlled virtually nothing. With their largest embassy
and largest CIA station in the world, backed up by nearly 150,000
troops, the U.S. continues to be the real state in the country.
The Iraqi government has been reduced to cronyism, corruption,
and sectarianism. The U.S. has used the government either to pursue
its imperial goals or, more often, as a scapegoat.
lyad Allawi's interim government revitalized
corrupt Baathist networks, embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars,
and made fake reconstruction and defense contracts that spirited
away billions of dollars. Au Allawi reports that "the head
of the Integrity Commission, Judge Radhi al-Radhi, said regarding
the alleged theft at the Ministry of Defense, 'What Sha'alan [the
former minister of defense] and his ministry were responsible
for is possibly the largest robbery in the world .... Our estimates
begin at $1.3 billion and go up to $2.3 billion."
The Shia United Iraqi Alliance (UJA) that
won the two parliamentary elections continued the cronyism and
amplified the sectarianism. Prime ministers Ibrahim Jafaari and
Nun al-Maliki allowed Shia militia like SCIRI's Badr Brigades
and Sadr's Mahdi Army to join the new police force and the Interior
Ministry security forces. In the south of Iraq, the Mahdi Army
made up 90 percent of the police forces. These Shia militias also
"swept up legions of young Sunni men-sometimes torturing
and killing them-with acquiescence of the new government.""
The Sunnis, shut out of any power and under threat, turned more
and more to sectarian elements inside the resistance.
Civil war: Bitter fruit of occupation
The simmering Iraqi civil war finally
boiled over when Sunni Salafists blew up one of the holiest sites
in Shia Islam, Samarra's Mosque of the Golden Dome on February
22, 2006. From then on the U.S. has overseen a spiral of religious
and ethnic violence that has torn Iraq asunder.
The Shia forces retaliated and set in
motion a cycle of attacks and counterattacks. Shia militias, especially
Sadr's Mahdi Army, killed 1,300 Sunni civilians and blew up 50
Sunni mosques in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of
the Gold Dome. Sunni and Shia neighborhoods were torn apart, as
families were terrorized into moving from predominantly Sunni
or Shia neighborhoods to be with their "own" group in
a process of ethnic cleansing reminiscent of Bosnia. An Iraqi
conveyed the crisis to Rosen:
I'm living here in the middle of shit,
a civil war will happen I'm sure of it .... You can't be comfortable
talking with a man until you know if he is Shia or Sunni ....
People don't trust each other .... To be clear, now Shia are Iranians
for the Sunni, and Sunni are Salafi terrorists for the Shja. We
have a civil war here."
At the same time, a low-intensity conflict
has developed between the Iraqi Arabs and Iraqi Kurds in the north,
especially in the oil-rich area of Kirkuk. The Kurdish elite aims
to regain control of that region and exploit the reserves for
its benefit and have threatened to displace Arabs that Saddam
Hussein had moved into the area. Fearing their loss of control,
Sadr's militias have had numerous conflicts with the Kurdish forces.
Moreover, Turkey has supported the area's Turkomen minority.
While the three-way civil war has dominated
media coverage of Iraq, the fractured resistance nevertheless
continues to wage a guerrilla war against U.S. imperialism. The
scale of the attacks on U.S. forces and their collaborators increased
from 26,496 in 2005 to 34,131 in 2006.86 As a result two wars
rage inside Iraq: a fractured war for national liberation and
a civil war over the nature of the future Iraq.
The occupation, poverty, and civil war
have created one of the biggest refugee crises in the world. "The
current exodus," according to the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR), "is the largest long-term population
movement since the displacement of the Palestinians following
the creation of Israel in 1948." Iraq is hemorrhaging its
Close to 2 million Iraqis have fled for
other countries in the region. The UNHCR estimates that in 2006
alone 425,000 refugees left Iraq. And the numbers show every sign
of increasing. Refugee experts report that as many as 100,000
are leaving each month. Another 1.7 million Iraqis have left their
homes in integrated areas to live in their ethnic community inside
Iraq. This internally displaced population is expanding by 50,000
each month and the UNHCR predicts that it could reach a total
of 2.7 million people by the end of 2007. Nearly 4 million people
out of a prewar population of 25 million have become either refugees
or internally displaced people.
The U.S. has turned a blind eye to this
tragedy. "The United States and the United Kingdom who led
the invasion of Iraq," writes Human Rights Watch, "have
paid scant attention to the regional fallout caused by their intervention.
Neither country has resettled more than a handful of Iraqi refugees
from Jordan or Syria." In fact, the U.S. shut down its borders
to Iraqi refugees and all refugees in the wake of the September
11 attacks. Since 2003, we have only allowed 466 Iraqi refugees
into the U.S. The U.S. also cut its support for the UNHCR from
$19.9 million in 2005 to $7.9 million in 2006. As a result, the
UN has also been completely unable to address the refugee crisis.
The Iraqi Nakba
The U S. has ripped Iraq apart. It is
impossible to avoid comparing this crime with the Israeli destruction
of Palestine in 1948-dispossession, expulsion, and immiseration.
The Palestinians call it their Nakba, their catastrophe. The U.S.
has created an Iraqi Nakba. As the Chatham House report warned,
"Iraq is on the verge of being a failed state which faces
the possibility of collapse and fragmentation. "
The Iraqi people are suffering untold
horrors. Save the Children reports that Iraq has endured a 150
percent increase in the rate of infant mortality since the beginning
of sanctions in 1990. This increase is worse than infant mortality
in AIDS-ravaged sub-Saharan Africa. Half of the country's children
suffer from malnutrition. Less than a third of them now attend
school, in contrast to the near universal attendance before the
invasion in 2003.
Women's status has plummeted. The Organization
of Women's Freedom in Iraq declares "Women of Iraq have gradually
let go of most of their 20I century gains and privileges in the
last 4 years of occupation." Estimates of unemployment range
from 48 percent to as high as 70 percent. The UN found that among
those who are employed, 54 percent survives on less than $1 a
day. The Iraq government's Central Statistical Bureau found that
43 percent of Iraqis suffer "absolute poverty," lacking
adequate access to food, clothing, and shelter to survive.
In such dire circumstances, the Iraqi
masses have been as yet unable to find the political and social
foundation for a resistance capable of winning their liberation.
The secular Left was discredited by the Baathists' bankrupt nationalism
and the trail of mistakes made by the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP).
The Sunni and Shia clerical elite and their fundamentalist parties
in Iraq do not have the politics or interests in building a united
resistance. Nor do they recognize the Kurds' legitimate right
to self-determination, as a population historically oppressed
by the Arab majority. Moreover, the economic chaos has disorganized
and uprooted the working class, which has a deep history of interethnic
and nonsectarian class struggle, and made it difficult for unions
and the miniscule secular Left to provide an alternative leadership.
That weakness has been compounded by the
mistakes of the secular Left. The small remnant of the once great
ICP has collaborated with the occupiers, discrediting the ICP
in the eyes of the masses. Other secular Left forces have marginalized
themselves by equally condemning American imperialism and the
resistance because of the latter's ties to fundamentalism. But
it would be foolish to underestimate the tenacity of both Iraqi
nationalism and the resiliency of the working class in Iraq.
However grim the current situation, there
are dynamics that might generate an alternative. Muqtada al-Sadr
has reached out to the Sunni tribal forces in Anbar province and
also called for an end to Madhi Army attacks on Sunnis in an attempt
to rebuild a nationalist force against the United States. But
his opportunist vacillation, religious politics, and his Mahdi
Army's sectarian violence may undermine this effort.
Some Sunni resistance organizations met
in Jordan to organize a united resistance. They condemned Salafist
attacks on Shias and have also called for unified resistance with
those Shias who have resisted the occupation. But it is not clear
how representative or influential these forces are or whether
they are merely positioning themselves to negotiate an alliance
with the U.S. after withdrawal .
Another hope might emerge from the Iraqi
Federation of Oil Unions and their campaign to oppose the oil
law that threatens to open the country's reserves to U.S. multinationals.
But this fight is also fraught with sectarian competition between
the Kurdish and Shia elites for regional control of the oil reserves.
Nevertheless, the U.S. occupation will keep pushing Iraq's masses
to find effective ways to win their emancipation.
Imperial rehabilitation or anti-imperialism
There is only one positive result of the
U.S. occupation; it has become the cemetery of neoconservative
dreams and has set back U.S. imperialism in the Middle East and
around the world. The resistance and civil war in Iraq has stopped
the U.S. dead in its tracks. Iran now has allies that nominally
govern Iraq, making it the real victor of the war. The U.S. suffered
another blow when its proxy Israel was defeated by Iran's ally,
Hezbollah, in Lebanon.
Finally recognizing that they bet their
fortune in the Middle East on a clique of incompetent fools, the
U.S. ruling class is split for the first time since its defeat
in Vietnam. The majority wing now opposes the neoconservatives
and has turned to "realist" Republicans and the Democratic
Party grouped together in the Baker-Hamilton Commission's Iraq
Study Group to salvage U.S. imperialism from further disaster.
The minority wing of "victory or death" Republicans
and Joe Lieberman reject the Iraq Study Group and advocate Bush's
The wing behind the Iraq Study Group supports
traditional balance of power realism, use of soft power, and rebuilding
international alliances. In no way do they challenge U.S. imperialism's
strategic aim of dominating the Middle East and its oil. Many
had supported the war and now only oppose it because it has failed.
They want a domestic regime change in 2008 to replace the Bush
administration and rehabilitate U.S. imperialism. Their solution
for Iraq is not withdrawal of troops, but redeployment; they want
to pull American troops out of combat in Iraq, keep many in the
country and base most in the surrounding countries to contain
the chaos the U.S. has caused in Iraq, and still maintain the
U.S. stranglehold on the region.
The Bush administration's surge plan hopes
to pressure the Shia government to reconcile with the Sunni resistance
and thereby stabilize Iraq. At the same time, the Bush administration
has attempted to generalize Iraq's civil war by rallying its Sunni
allies inside Iraq and in the region as a whole against the threat
of an Iranian Shia crescent.
However, the surge has failed. Instead
of quelling the resistance and stabilizing the country it has
done the opposite. Resistance attacks on U.S. troops, civilians,
and infrastructure have soared to a total in June of 5,335, averaging
more than 177 attacks per day. This is the highest number of attacks
since May 2003 and over 82 percent of them are against U.S. forces
and infrastructure, while only 18 percent are against civilians.'
Moreover, the U.S. clampdown on Baghdad
has only served to spread the sectarian violence to other sections
of the country. The Sunni Salafists finished off what remained
of the minarets at the Mosque of the Golden Dome in June. Ominously,
Sunni fighters have now targeted Kurds in Kirkuk where there have
been long simmering tensions over whether Arabs or Kurds would
control the oil reserves around that city. In reaction to the
growing Kurdish national aspirations, Turkey, which oppresses
its Kurdish minority, has amassed 140,000 troops on its border
with Iraq in the north, threatening an even greater conflagration."
Facing the obvious reality that their
strategy is failing, the Bush administration has climbed down
from its rejection of the Iraq Study Group. Without admitting
it, they have adopted many of its recommendations; they have held
regional conferences, met with the Syrians, and even made overtures
to the Iranians. They have also reached out to China and Russia,
as well as attempting to use the UN against Iran. But they are
also contemplating a second surge to pacify the rest of the country.
While split between these two wings, the
U.S. ruling class is united on two key things. First, both have
come to forge a new "Washington consensus" that the
catastrophe in Iraq is the fault not of the benevolent U.S. but
of the Iraqis and their government. They resort to all sorts of
racist alibis of empire-that Iraqis were not ready for democracy,
they have been fighting each other for centuries, and that the
government is not meeting its benchmarks. In reality, the U.S.
paved Iraq's road to hell.
Second, both wings agree on the need to
confront Iran. It is now a potential regional power that is developing
ties with Venezuela and U.S. competitors like Russia and China.
U.S. imperialism cannot tolerate such a potential rival bloc with
independent access to energy resources. As a result, the U.S.
and Iran are now like two trains headed toward one another on
the same track. 'While the U.S. is in a weak position now, it
aims to rehabilitate itself for a new war on Iran.
We are thus at the opening of a new period
of turmoil in the Middle East. The key project for the Left internationally
is to develop an anti-imperialist movement against both wings
of U.S. imperialism. In either its naked or well-dressed forms,
U.S. imperialism is the enemy of the majority in the U.S. and
around the world. As the great American revolutionary John Reed
said long "ago, "Uncle Sam never gives anybody something
for nothing. He comes along with a sack stuffed with hay in one
hand and a whip in the other. Anyone who accepts Uncle Sam's promises
at their face value will find that they must be paid for in sweat