The Occupation of Iraq Five Years On

At the time of writing (March 2008) US military deaths in Iraq has reached 4000 (Kay 2008). At the same time, at least 60,000 more troops have been wounded, and many thousands more American soldiers and Marines have come back with severe psychological problems (World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) Editorial Board 2008a).

However, even this tragedy pails in significance compared to the estimated 1 million plus Iraqis who have been killed, while a further 4 million have become refugees (ibid.). The war has been described by the WSWS Editorial Board (ibid.) as ‘the greatest geo-political disaster in American history’. As the point out (ibid.):

The war’s costs, in terms of both US imperialism’s global position and sheer dollar amounts, have eclipsed the immense damage wrought by the protracted intervention in Vietnam nearly four decades ago. It has already lasted longer than the American Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Even in Vietnam, after five years of major troop deployments, the withdrawal of American forces had already begun.

They quote The International Tribunal at Nuremburg that convicted the leaders of the Third Reich:

War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole (ibid.).

Incredibly a poll conducted in March 2008 for the BBC, ABC News in the US and German and Japanese television found that nearly half of the residents of Baghdad said that at least one family member had been killed since the occupation began. The poll also revealed that over 70 per cent of Iraqis want US troops out of their country (ibid.).

Essential infrastructure remains devastated, since the American high explosives of five years ago, as well as the previous years of punishing sanctions. This means that the population is deprived of electricity, fuel, clean water, sanitary facilities and garbage collection. Moreover, the killing of over 600 doctors and medical professionals and the flight of thousands of others, together with severe shortages in medicine and equipment, have left Iraq’s health sector in a state of collapse (ibid.).

As far as the costs to American society are concerned, it is estimated that the occupation consumes some $12 billion a month. A report by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress estimated that the war thus far has cost an average American family of four $16,900, an amount projected to rise to $37,000 by 2017. This huge amount of money has been diverted from pressing social needs in the US, with the massive expenditures contributing significantly to a raging financial crisis that threatens to plunge the economy into a depression (ibid.).

Despite all this, Vice President Dick Cheney, during an unannounced visit to Baghdad, called the five-year war a ‘successful endeavor’ that ‘has been well worth the effort’, while in a video conference in March 2008 with US military personnel in Afghanistan, President Bush declared himself envious of those fighting in America’s colonial-style wars, calling it ‘a fantastic experience’ and ‘in some ways romantic’ (ibid.). The reality is that five years after a US invasion that was expected by its organizers to swiftly replace the government of Saddam Hussein with a stable US client regime, 160,000 US troops remain deployed in the country and no area can be claimed to be fully secure (ibid.).

The enantiomorphic claims about weapons of mass destruction are now universally recognized to be false, as are claimed links between Sadam Hussein and Al Qaeda, both of which proved to be non-existent.

As the WSWS Editorial Board, 2008a point out:

The Bush administration, with the complicity of congressional Democrats, sought to exploit the fears and political confusion in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks to implement long-prepared plans to seize control of a country holding the word’s second-largest proven oil reserves and turn it into a platform for the extension of US military power throughout the region.

Despite all this, there was and continues to be mass popular opposition to the war. The American people by a large margin have come to oppose the war, yet it continues unabated, and the president who launched, who is despised by millions and retains the support of less than a third of the population, retains undiminished power to pursue a policy of unrestrained militarism (ibid.) As the WSWS Editorial Board (ibid.) note, ‘[n]othing could expose more thoroughly the undemocratic character and political rot that pervade the entire governmental system within the United States’. They sum up the current realities of twenty-first century US imperialism:

The global eruption of American militarism and the crisis of US and world capitalism are inextricably linked. In the final analysis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the threat of a new war against Iran, are a product of the attempt by the US ruling class to maintain the hegemonic position of US capitalism by military force, under conditions in which it can no longer do so by virtue of its economic weight. The most important war aims of Washington are to establish a stranglehold over the oil resources of the Middle East and Central Asia, in order to gain a decisive strategic advantage over its economic rivals in Europe and Asia (ibid.).

However, it is an imperialism in decline. Hence despite the failures of Iraq, desperation over its threatened loss of hegemony is pushing Washington towards new confrontations with enemies ranging from China to Russia to Venezuela.

It is, of course, the working class who suffer, as the ‘financial elite’s policy of using military force to gain control of world markets is pursued at the direct expense of the masses of working people, who are paying for it through attacks on their jobs, living standards and basic democratic rights’ (ibid.).

As WSWS writer David North (2003) predicted accurately at the start of the war:

Whatever the outcome of the initial stages of the conflict that has begun, American imperialism has a rendezvous with disaster. It cannot conquer the world. It cannot reimpose colonial shackles upon the masses of the Middle East. It will not find through the medium of war a viable solution to its internal maladies. Rather, the unforeseen difficulties and mounting resistance engendered by war will intensify all of the internal contradictions of American society.

Given that the Iraq war is not an aberration, and that war is the inevitable product of a world situation dominated by the increasing tensions between a globally integrated economy and the capitalist nation state system (WSWS Editorial Board, ibid.); and given the aforementioned decline of US imperialism, the WSWS Editorial Board (2008a) concludes, during the Clinton/Obama nomination contest, as follows:

Today, an effective struggle against the war cannot be waged based on protests and appeals to the existing two-party system, or on yet another attempt to place greater power in the hands of the Democrats by putting Clinton or Obama in the White House and giving the party a larger majority in the Senate. What is required is a rejection of imperialism itself. Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and defeating the already well-advanced plans for further and even bloodier wars in Iran and elsewhere is possible only through the fight to mobilize the working class against the capitalist system that is the source of war.

In a secret videoconference in November, 2007, the puppet regime of Nouri al-Maliki and the Bush administration signed an agreement, ironically entitled ‘Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship’ (Walsh 2008). This contained plans for the establishment of permanent American military bases and gave preferential treatment for US energy conglomerates and investors to exploit Iraqi oil reserves (Walsh 2008). More recently, the US military announced plans to keep at least 140,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely (WSWS 2008b).

In addition, the US is demanding that Iraq give it the authority to establish fifty permanent military bases throughout the country, together with other sweeping powers, such as ceding control of its airspace to American forces (Hassan Al-Sunaid, Iraqi member of parliament, cited in Van Auken 2008). This would allow US forces to launch military operations without any prior consultation or permission (Al-Sunaid, cited in ibid.). As Van Auken (2008) argues this ‘would extend the present US military occupation indefinitely and formalize the country’s status as an American semi-colony’. According to Patrick Cockburn in the UK newspaper, The Independent, this would allow US troops to ‘arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law’ (cited in Van Auken 2008). US forces will be able to arrest Iraqis and imprison them indefinitely without charges, according to Cockburn (cited in ibid.). Tens of thousands remain in US custody (Van Auken 2008). Meanwhile, citing ‘senior Iraqi military sources’ the Gulf News reported that the US-Iraqi security agreement proposed by Washington would also include ‘the right for the United States to strike, from within Iraqi territory, any country it considers a threat to its national security’ (cited in Van Auken 2008), thus cementing ‘the original aim of the illegal US invasion: US hegemony over the oil-rich Persian Gulf’ (Van Auken 2008).

I do not know whether or not the Bush regime knows the work of Niall Ferguson, but it seems that his sentiments about the need for a permanent presence, and the relative unimportance of elections in the face of the loss of US imperial power have been heeded. All this is not to do with ‘white supremacy’. Rather, it relates directly to US imperialist hegemony, itself connected to neoliberal racialized capitalism, hegemony and oil. To this effect, an Oil Law, drafted in secret and in consultation with International Oil Companies and the US and UK governments, is on the verge of being passed. The Law will allow for the privatisation of Iraqi oil for up to 30 years and permit regions to pass their own laws and sign their own contracts with oil companies (Hands Off Iraqi Oil 2008). Oil production in Iraq is at its highest level since the 2003 invasion (Weaver 2008). According to Matthew Weaver (2008), the Iraqi government wants to increase production by 20%, as the country has an estimated 115bn barrels of crude reserves.

It is worth noting here that, in order to forestall any opposition from workers to these processes and to keep profits high, the legislation enacted by Saddam Hussein in 1987, which banned trade unions in the public sector and public enterprises (80% of all workers), is still in effect. This was enforced by Paul Bremer’s post-invasion Occupation Authority and then by all subsequent Iraqi administrations (General Union of Oil Employees in Basra 2008).

In this chapter, I have addressed some key issues related to neoliberal global capitalism, neoliberalism, global environmental destruction and twenty-first century imperialism, concluding with some comments on the occupation of Iraq five years on. In the next chapter, I will look at some common objections to Marxism, and attempt to answer them from a Marxist perspective. I will then consider the possibilities for twenty-first century socialism, examining developments in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. I will conclude with a discussion of antiracism in practice.

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