The following was a contribution from Kosta Harlan, an organizer with Students for a Democratic Society, at a program on the Iraq war organized by the People’s Organization for Progress in Newark, NJ on October 18. The program was titled “Which way to peace in Iraq?”
Is Bush on the path to victory in Iraq?
In a word: no. That’s simple enough. The whole world can see the occupation’s days are numbered. But it’s not enough to know the government’s cause is unjust or that the occupation is failing. We need to understand why.
The causes for the failure can be summed up simply:
- To achieve “victory” the occupation needs a political process to rule over Iraq.
- The Green Zone political process, the puppet government set up by the occupation authorities, is a failure.
- Therefore, the war will end in defeat for the United States, and in victory for the people of Iraq.
I. Why the occupation needs a puppet government
The origins of the current U.S. aggression against Iraq reside in two landmark events. The first was the 1958 revolution that swept the British-supported monarchy from power and established Iraqi independence and political sovereignty. Fourteen years later, the Baath Party nationalized the country’s oil, which ended the domination of Big Oil in Iraq. That laid the foundation for Iraq’s economic sovereignty.
Sovereignty is intolerable for imperialism, because imperialism seeks domination, not freedom. Iraq had both political and economic independence. It had the means and the political will to chart an independent course. It therefore presented an obstacle to imperialism’s plans for dominating the political and economic life of the Middle East.
From this we can determine the principal goals of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. First, to uproot the anti-imperialist Iraqi government and replace it with a puppet regime that would be friendly towards a U.S. military, economic and political presence in Iraq; and second, to hand over control of Iraqi oil to U.S. oil corporations.
With these two aims, U.S. imperialism hoped to gain geopolitical power over the Middle East, and by extension, over the world. And of course, they sought to make trillions of dollars in revenues from oil production and export in the process.
Now to do all this meant that the U.S. would have to come up with a way to rule over Iraq and its people. The U.S. cannot indefinitely maintain its military presence in Iraq. For one, it simply doesn’t have the numerical strength or political will to continue at its current level. More importantly, the occupation forces are hated by the broad masses of Iraqis, who quite rightly want them out now.
Therefore, the U.S. was tasked with coming up with an “Iraqi face” for a political process that would pursue the same goals of domination and control long after the withdrawal of combat forces. This is called neo-colonialism. As Harith Al-Dari of the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq wrote, “The occupants could get out from the door by the effect of jihad and resistance, but enter from the window by the effect of those whom are assigned to administrate the country”.[i]
II. The puppet government is a failure
At first the U.S. appointed “viceroy” Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority to govern Iraq directly. That was a colonialism of the old type, and Iraqis soundly rejected it. Four months later Bremer created a CPA-appointed “Iraqi Interim Governing Council”, to give an Iraqi face to the occupation process. This too was rejected. Finally in 2005, the current Green Zone government was established. Has this government succeeded?
For it to be considered a success by the occupation, the puppet government has to be able to rule, and it has to serve the aims of U.S. imperialism outlined above. By these criteria the current Green Zone government has failed.
Of course the principle reason for its failure is the growth and development of a massive tide of armed resistance to the occupation. But an important secondary reason is the nature of the puppet government itself.
The Iraqi puppet government is composed of political parties and personalities who quite literally rode to power on the back of invading American tanks. Trained and groomed in exile, many of the prominent personalities lived abroad in places like London, Washington, or New York. Prior to 2003, many of them had not set foot in Iraq since the 1970’s or 80’s. Thus they lack any kind of popular base. Without the support of the U.S. military, their governing power would collapse.
Further, these parties are constantly at war with each other. On occasion, they are able to come together to adopt this or that resolution. But the general rule is that each party is out for its own, narrow (ethnic or religious) interests. It’s also worth pointing out that some of these parties – such as the Dawa and Supreme Islamic Council parties – were trained and rooted in Iran, and therefore bring another contradiction internal to the puppet government. For now the U.S. has to contend with another puppet master pulling on the strings.
The result of these internal weaknesses: the puppet government is barely able to extend its rule outside the perimeter of the Green Zone, a tiny, walled-off area in the heart of Baghdad.
It failed to unite the various collaborating parties over the fate of Kirkuk, a city of enormous importance due to its proximity to some of the largest oil fields in Iraq.
It failed to pass a hydrocarbon law that would spell out terms for distributing oil revenues. Without this law, there is no legal basis for inviting the oil giants back into Iraq to develop the fields.
It failed even to negotiate the continued presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil, the sole guarantor of its security. The main reason is that masses of Iraqis are adamantly opposed to a formal treaty that would so openly sign away Iraq’s sovereignty.
Finally, it is failing in the task of reconciling the Sahwa, or Awakening Councils, with its own security services. The Awakening Councils are about 100,000 strong, about 80% of the fighters are Sunni Arabs. The sectarian government in the Green Zone has vowed to exclude them from the security forces, because their inclusion would weaken the sectarian parties’ grip over the army and police.
These are a few of the problems that collaborating politicians wrestle over in the 4 square mile bunker known as the Green Zone. What about the day-to-day realities for the ordinary people of Iraq?
In the three years that the puppet government has ruled over Iraq, the social and economic conditions faced by Iraqis have been crushing.[ii] The infrastructure of Iraq remains a disaster. Electricity averages around 11 hours a day, and in some neighborhoods of Baghdad, 2 hours per day is the norm. Most Iraqis lack access to safe drinking water or proper sanitation facilities. Unemployment and under-employment is at 55-60%. 2,000 doctors have been killed since 2003. 20,000 have left the country. Hospitals are understaffed and lack critical supplies. Oil production, virtually the only productive sector in the Iraqi economy, still has not surpassed pre-war, sanctions-era levels of 2.5 million barrels per day. And if one subtracts oil production from the picture, then the economy is stagnant, with a growth of only 0.4% over the past year. Iraqi industry and agriculture is a shambles. Corruption runs rampant through the puppet government, which was ranked 178 out of 180 countries in level of corruption for 2007 by the Corruption Perceptions Index.
Finally the humanitarian impact is difficult to contemplate. The occupation has created an enormous population of refugees. At least 2.7 million Iraqis are internally displaced, while 2.4 million have fled the country. This is almost one in every five Iraqis. The same percentage also know someone directly who has been killed or wounded. Over 1.2 million Iraqis have been killed, with hundreds of thousands more maimed. Lest anyone think this is the result of sectarian violence and not U.S. aggression: back in 2006, when Iraqi deaths numbered about 655,000, a study that appeared in The Lancet demonstrated that U.S. military forces were directly responsible for at least 346,000 Iraqi deaths.
This is the daily reality that Iraqis face. Given this reality, it is hard to believe, as we are so often told by the media, that “the situation is improving” and that, therefore, Iraqis would welcome the continued presence of occupiers on their territory.
III. The war will end with the victory of the resistance
The Iraqi resistance remains the main obstacle to the U.S. consolidating its control over Iraq through a puppet government. Following a decline in activity over the summer, the past four months have seen a consistent average of about 40 resistance attacks each day against U.S. occupation forces and the puppet government. That translates to between 280 and 300 attacks per week, or between 1100 and 1200 per month. (Assuming that these numbers are not deflated to provide a better picture of ‘security’ during the election season.) On a political level, the resistance is increasingly unified, with dozens of resistance groups merging into a handful of large organizations, such as the Supreme Command for Jihad and Liberation, the Patriotic National Islamic Front for the Liberation of Iraq and the Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance.
If the occupiers are unable to solve the problems that appear before them, it is because at root, it is the occupation that creates the problems. A sovereign government cannot emerge while under the boot of 150,000 foreign combat troops and 200,000 foreign mercenaries. Genuine reconstruction efforts cannot take place while counter-insurgency operations constantly devastate Iraqi infrastructure. National unity and national reconciliation will never emerge from the framework of a sectarian political process that was designed to pit ethnic and religious groups against another. And so on.
We know that at each stage of the war, the U.S. occupation has responded to failure with intensified warfare. There is no reason to think otherwise of the current situation. In any case, it is certain that as long as the occupation exists, there will be resistance. We should not forget that Iraq has a long history of successfully resisting and defeating imperialism. Much of what is happening now has been attempted before, and like the efforts of past occupiers and aggressors, those efforts are destined to fail.
The Iraqis have nowhere else to go. It is only with the victory of the Iraqi people’s national resistance that the war will end. It is the unity of our resistance at home and the resistance in Iraq that will bring about the end of the occupation, and the starting point for building a world with peace, justice and equality. Now is the time to intensify our antiwar organizing and to raise the just demands of support for the Iraqi liberation movement and to end the occupation now.
[i] “Open letter from the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq to the Resistance” (http://www.heyetnet.org/eng/amsi-news/1763-open-letter-from-amsi-to-the-resistance-fighters.html), September 2007. This is not a new phenomenon. The Chinese communists described the same process forty-five years ago: “The wolf has left by the front door, but the tiger has entered through the back door […]. The imperialists have been forced to change their old style of direct colonial rule … and to adopt a new style of colonial rule and exploitation by relying on the agents they have selected and trained.” (Apologists of Neo-Colonialism, Chinese Communist Party, 1963)
[ii] These statistics are taken from the Iraq Index, published by the Brookings Institution (www.brookings.edu) and from the September 2008 “Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq” report to Congress.