There is an old oriental saying: a man who rides on the back of a tiger will find it difficult to dismount. When the coalition forces marched into Baghdad in March 2003, the imperialists were full of confidence. The things they were going to do! Intoxicated by the power of their military machine, they predicted a glowing future for Iraq and the Middle East.
With their jackboot firmly planted on the throat of a prostrate people, they proudly announced that Iraq had been "liberated". They loudly boasted that this enlightened operation would now guarantee peace and prosperity for the whole region. Not only that, the grateful peoples of the Arab world would eagerly flock to the banner of Western Democracy, singing the praises of George Bush and his Prophet Tony Blair. But five years later, things seem very different. Five years after George Bush's notorious "mission accomplished" speech, Iraq is in chaos.
Under these circumstances it seems extraordinary that George Bush can still maintain that the US occupation of Iraq has been successful. Yet this is what the man says and it is even possible it is what he believes. In his speech on the fifth anniversary of the invasion, he actually mentioned the word "victory" three times. However, whether a war has been won or lost depends on whether its war aims have been achieved or not. Let us recall what the war aims of US imperialism were.
The war aims
The declared aim of the invasion was to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction that Bush and Blair maintained were in the hands of Saddam Hussein and which were alleged to be a "real and present danger" to the peoples of the USA and Britain. But no such weapons were ever discovered, and everybody now knows that this was just a cynical lie, a piece of crude propaganda intended to deceive public opinion as to the real war aims of the British and American ruling classes.
The other main purpose was supposed to be to combat terrorism, and specifically, al-Qaeda. But it is common knowledge that al-Qaeda was not present in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, who was its bitterest enemy. Five years after the invasion, however, al-Qaeda and its affiliates have established a strong presence in Iraq, which they use to attack Americans and their Iraqi friends. The invasion of Iraq did not reduce the threat of terrorism, as Bush and Cheney claimed. On the contrary, it enormously increased it.
Over the past five years terrorism has increased not only in Iraq but in all the surrounding region. The hatred of America has been colossally exacerbated by the violent actions of the occupiers. As a direct result, thousands of young people all over the Arab world have joined terrorist organizations. Thus, George W Bush has been the most effective recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda.
The war is now deeply unpopular in the USA. It has already caused the deaths of over 4,000 American soldiers, not to speak of the tens of thousands of wounded and crippled. The economic costs of the war are even greater. Nobody knows exactly how much it has cost, but one estimate puts it as high as five trillion dollars.
Will they withdraw?
The two Democratic contenders to the Presidency, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have been compelled to advocate a quick withdrawal. The Republican candidate John McCain has consistently backed the war but this is one of the main weaknesses of his campaign, especially in the context of an economic recession.
Bush tries to argue that the level of violence has fallen in Iraq, and that the surge of American troops is working. But it remains extremely high, and all that has happened is that the insurgents have decided to lie low for a time or simply moved to other areas. As soon as the end of the surge of American troops is announced (as it must be) there will be an increase in the insurgency.
At present there are approximately 158,000 American soldiers in Iraq, but that is supposed to fall to 140,000 this summer. After that, the generals would like a pause in reductions of troop levels. But this is an explosive issue for all three prospective presidential candidates and in an election year it is not likely that anybody will choose to fly in the face of US public opinion.
Obama makes much of his opposition to the invasion in the first place; and his promise to end the war is popular too. He says that he would get troops out by the end of 2009, although in practice this may not happen. If we look at the details of his plan, it is not so clear. He says he would withdraw one or two combat brigades from Iraq each month, thus keeping American troops present in large numbers for a long time in the future. Even after that, he says he would leave soldiers "to protect America's embassy and to fight al-Qaeda where necessary", and that he would "reserve the right" to re-enter Iraq to stop a genocide. This is hardly an unambiguous plan for disengagement!
As for Hillary Clinton, she too calls for removing one to two brigades each month, while leaving "small, elite strike forces" to tackle terrorists. But her plans appear to be for a longer presence in Iraq than even Obama envisages. For his part, McCain, who is showing signs either of excessive self-confidence or advanced senile decay, has stated that America must stay and fight in Iraq and he has said that America may have bases in that country in 100 years while it finishes the job it started in Iraq. This means that whoever is in the White House, the occupation will drag on. In the meantime, hundreds more American soldiers and thousands of Iraqis will die.
However, the fact it that whoever becomes the next President of the United States will have to come to terms with the fact that the war has been lost. Sooner or later the US forces will have to be pulled out. The only question is how fast and to what degree it will be possible to disguise America's humiliation by presenting defeat as a victory.
At the time of the invasion, George Bush treated the United Nations with complete contempt, brushing aside the Security Council as an irrelevance (which it is). Now the Democrats want to bring in the United Nations and Middle Eastern governments to facilitate an American withdrawal. Such are the cynical calculations of bourgeois diplomacy! As long as Washington thought that it could secure its objectives by force, it was not interested in the services of mediators. But now that it realizes that it is trapped in an unwinnable and costly conflict, it has rediscovered the value of diplomacy and begins to chant: "blessed are the Peacemakers". In the same way a drunken man, clutching his head the morning after a party, suddenly discovers the joys of abstinence and swears he will never drink again: until the next party.
Unfortunately for Washington, the UN might not be so keen to help out since its headquarters in Baghdad were bombed in August 2003. The Russians and Chinese will not be eager to allow the Security Council, which was so high-handedly spurned by the Americans in 2003 now to be used as a cover for Washington's retreat. Nor will the Europeans rush to help.
This means that, in order to withdraw from Iraq, America needs to reach a deal with the neighbouring powers: Iran and Syria. This is anathema to George Bush, but the next occupant of the White House will have no other alternative but to seek a deal. Even this is not at all clear, since efforts to engage them before have failed. The Iranians in particular are in a strong position since they have a lot of influence with the Iraqi Shia population. Washington will have to be prepared to open discussions with Iran on all issues, without requiring it to suspend nuclear enrichment first. This will be a lot to swallow after all the bluff and bluster over Iran's nuclear programme, but they do not have much alternative.
The central problem is that the Iraqi state, which was destroyed at the time of the invasion, has not been reconstructed. The Americans first tried to base themselves on the Kurds and Shiites. But this alienated the Sunnis. The rigorous exclusion of all former Baath Party members from all public office further offended the Sunni population, which swung behind the armed insurgency. The country degenerated into sectarian, ethnic and religious conflict that threatened to destroy the very fabric of Iraqi society. A wave of suicide bombings, kidnapping and other sectarian atrocities increased, and Sunni and Shia populations became polarized and divided into different areas. Since the police were incapable of defending them against sectarian violence, they relied instead on local militias. As the power of the Shiite and Sunni militias grew, that of the central government declined.
The American imperialists themselves were largely responsible for this sectarian madness. They realized too late that by destroying the Iraqi army they had removed the only force that could act as a counterweight to Iranian power in the region. The Shiites, who they at first regarded as allies, increasingly turned to Iran. The Americans then decided to change their policy and tried to contain the Shiite militias by recruiting support among the Sunnis. A law revising harsh de-Baathification was passed. This is too much for the Shiites but too little for the Sunnis, who still see the law as far too restrictive. Laws on sharing oil revenues and on provincial elections still have to be reformed. And the constitution cannot be revised without inflaming sectarian passions still further.
On a visit to mark the fifth anniversary of the American-led invasion, Dick Cheney, America's vice-president, went to Baghdad to praise what he sees as political and security improvements in the country as "phenomenal". Mr. Cheney was unlucky in the timing of his speech. Immediately afterwards, a conference to conciliate rival political parties fell apart, as Sunni and Shia groups walked out. This little incident serves to underline the extremely fragile nature of the situation and the government itself.
Iraq, which was one of the most developed and cultured states in the region, has been reduced to an appalling condition, bordering on barbarism. More than one million Iraqis have died as a result of the conflict in their country since the invasion in 2003, according to the latest estimates. In 2006 the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet calculated a range of 392,979 to 942,636 deaths. This provoked a torrent of abuse from the British and American establishment, eager to maintain the public in ignorance about the calamities that have been inflicted on the people of Iraq. But the latest figures show that even The Lancet seriously underestimated the numbers of Iraqis killed in this conflict.
A recent survey conducted by Opinion Research Business (ORB), one of Britain's leading polling groups, showed that 20 percent of Iraqis had had at least one death in their household as a result of the conflict, rather than natural causes. This amounts to about 1000 deaths per day. It outnumbers the death toll of the Rwandan genocide.
The numbers of people killed does not exhaust the litany of sufferings of the people of Iraq. Over four million people have been forced to flee from their homes and swell the ranks of the refugees eking out a miserable existence in camps in Syria and Jordan. This is a vast humanitarian disaster, about which our western "humanitarians" maintain a discrete silence. Education and health, which were on quite a high level in Iraq, have been virtually destroyed. Millions of Iraqis do not have access to clean water, let alone a school or hospital.
These facts completely explode the hypocritical myths about the supposedly humanitarian nature of the invasion of Iraq. Bush and Blair shed crocodile tears about the sad fate of the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein. Yes, Hussein was a monster, but the imperialists are even bigger monsters. They are not motivated by humanitarianism, democracy or any of the other fine-sounding ideals that they use as a smoke screen to cover up their real interests, which are concerned with sordid profiteering and downright robbery.
The invasion of Iraq was a criminal act perpetrated by gangsters who thought they could loot the oil wealth of Iraq and carve up new spheres of interest and playgrounds for the big oil companies in the Middle East. Only this adventure turned out badly. The Iraqis are fighting back and instead of profits, they are suffering huge losses. Even the wealthiest country on earth cannot indefinitely sustain such a haemorrhage of blood and gold.
American imperialism is the most counter-revolutionary force on the planet. Its crimes are legion and are paid for by the suffering and deaths of millions of innocent men, women and children. But these crimes are provoking the indignation of other millions, both in the United States and worldwide. The movement against the criminal occupation of Iraq is growing, and with it the realization that in order that humanity might live, capitalism and its monstrous offspring imperialism must vanish from the face of the earth. And when humanity finally carves an epitaph on the tomb of this monster, it will remember the verdict of the historian Tacitus on Roman imperialism:
"They have created a wilderness and call it Peace."
London, March 20, 2008
- Iraq – five years of hell, five years of failure by Socialist Appeal (March 18, 2008)
- Depleted Uranium: WMD’s in Iraq by Joe Boustead (October 1, 2007)
- Startling revelations about Bush’s foreign policy by Alan Woods (March 22, 2007)
- George Bush’s Middle East Adventure: The chickens come home to roost by Alan Woods (March 21, 2007)
- George W Bush and the Art of War by Alan Woods (March 20, 2007)
- War Drums in Washington or Bush’s Last stand by Alan Woods (February 15, 2007)
- Bush places his final bet on Iraq by Maarten Vanheuverswyn (January 11, 2007)
- Saddam Hussein's Execution and the Iraq War by Mark Vorpahl (January 5, 2006)
- USA: Military Recruiters and the Iraq War by Mark Vorpahl (November 9, 2006)
- Iraq: US and British imperialism staring defeat in the face by Rob Lyon (November 7, 2006)
- Imperialism is Rebuilding Iraq as a Graveyard by Phil Mitchinson (November 2, 2006)
- The Haditha massacre: “Democracy assassinated the family that was here” (June 2, 2006)
- British forces attacked in Basra – another crack in the dam by Maarten Vanheuverswyn (May 12, 2006)