‘IRAQ: THE New War’. That headline in the prestigious New York Review of Books captures the scale of the fighting that continues in Iraq. The word occupation does not adequately describe what is happening. There is a new phase in this war that we were assured was won when Western television stations took carefully choreographed shots of the fall of statues to Saddam Hussein five months ago. It is like the colonial wars conducted in the 1950s by the British army in Kenya, Malaysia, Aden and Cyprus, and by France in Algeria.
That is why the Pentagon has been screening the film Battle of Algiers to teach tactics to its officers. The new head of the US army in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, admits he faces ‘what I would describe as a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us’. One consequence of all of this is that George Bush is in immense trouble. Support in the US for the war/occupation is falling. So is Bush’s popularity, which is down to where it was before 11 September two years ago.
A few months ago no one would come forward from the opposition Democratic Party, which backed the war, to challenge Bush at next year’s presidential election. Now there are nearly a dozen candidates. Retired general Wesley Clark is the latest to reinvent himself as an opponent of Bush’s ‘war on terror’. More seriously for the warmongers, the plans of the main architect of US strategy in Iraq, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, are in tatters.
Rumsfeld insisted on invading with the minimum number of troops in order to prove the US could hold enough in reserve to fight a second or third such war simultaneously.
But as Anthony Cordesman, a right wing Republican and former military planner for the US and NATO, says: ‘The same strategy designed to deliver a carefully focused attack on the regime did not provide enough manpower to simultaneously occupy and secure areas that the coalition liberated.’ Where Bush faces problems, Blair faces catastrophe. The sheer force of the anti-war movement in Britain-most visible on 15 February-forced him to throw up a barrage of lies to launch the war.
The lies are unravelling. Millions of people who opposed the war are reminded daily that they were right. Millions more now know they were lied to, say the war was wrong and are questioning its extension through the US-British occupation. This year’s TUC, unlike 12 months ago, unanimously and clearly condemned the government for going to war and came out against the current occupation. The anti-war movement has created a terminal crisis for Blair.
But left to his own devices, he has already shown that he is prepared to send thousands more young men and women recruited from unemployment blackspots in Britain to kill and be killed in Iraq. The longer this war of occupation goes on, the worse it will become. It will be worse for the US and British soldiers, whose clamours to be brought home get louder every day. It will be worse still for the people of Iraq.
The occupiers are responding to popular opposition and guerrilla attacks with blanket repression. Punitive and panicky shootings are turning even those who might potentially tolerate occupation against the US and Britain. The US overlord in Iraq, Paul Bremer, is adopting the classic policy of divide and rule in an effort to shore up his regime.
He boasted of support from Shia Muslim leader Ayatollah Hakim, hoping to use him against radical Shia rivals such as Ayatollah Badr. Bremer’s manoeuvres signed Hakim’s death warrant.
The squalid dealings between the occupation regime and rival Iraqi leaders make ethnic strife and civil war more likely. The Iraqi resistance and the global anti-war movement have left the neo-conservatives in the White House more desperate and divided than anyone could have predicted five months ago. Donald Rumsfeld wants to keep his strategy alive and is against sending more US troops. Two of the most influential neo-conservatives, William Kristol and Robert Kagan, say more US troops are the only way to avoid a ‘devastating failure’.
Bush and his vice-president, Dick Cheney, want to maintain political control of Iraq, but with other states providing extra troops under the flag of convenience of the United Nations. This would leave the US free to threaten other countries such as Syria, Iran, North Korea and even Venezuela, Cuba and China. All three wings are rowing with each other.
Everyone who cares about the people of Iraq should seize on the warmongers’ weakness. Just as we rejected their lies about the war, so we should reject their fake claims about bringing peace to the Iraqi people. What the warmongers want is control of Iraq under some cover or another. What people in Iraq want is to run their own affairs. That means getting the troops out now.
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