Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Iraq - can America win?

Whether or not the Americans can prevail in Iraq is becoming an acute political question, especially given the determination of the Bush Presidency to send more troops.

War is the exercise of violence in order to enforce your political objectives upon your opponents. It is therefore vital that those engaged in a war understand both what political outcome is acceptable to them as a victory, and also what is the necessary level of violence, and against whom, in order to enforce that outcome upon the enemy.
Military institutions have traditions of their own. In particular the US army and marines are structurally wedded to the strategy and tactics of the big battle field war, even Delta Force and the Seals are simply better trained commandos, rather than counter insurgency specialists. The other key component of US military thinking is air supremacy. As I wrote in Socialist Review, “Strategic bombing and destruction of civilian populations has been a key component of US military planning since the 1920s. The originator of the tactic of mass civilian bombing was not the fascist Condor legion that destroyed Guernica in 1937, but an American, Brigadier General Billy Mitchell, who argued in the 1920s that bomber aircraft could be used to destroy 'cities where the people live, areas where their food and supplies are produced and the transport lines that carry these supplies from place to place...the hostile main army in the field is a false objective and the real objectives are the vital centres.'”
So the US military is modelled to continually re-fight World War 2. Ideologically, the US ruling class also believe their own self image, as extending democracy, and being the good guys. One of the factors standing in their way is they are simply not as cynical as the British or French.

Another important point to understand about the US military, and the neo-con right, is that they feel that they could have won in Vietnam. After Tet in 1968, the National Liberation Front were effectively destroyed in the South, and the North Vietnamese Army, under general Vo Nguyen Giap, (hero of Dien Bien Phu) were defeated at the battle of Khe Sanh. General Westmoreland asked for more US forces to exploit their advantage and win the war. But the public perception in the US (wrongly) was that Tet had been a military disaster and Westmoreland request from more troops was because he was losing not winning. The judgement of the military is probably right, a US offensive after Tet, particularly if they could have dealt a quick decisive blow to the NVA, could well have won the war. So for the American right, the issue of sending more troops for victory is an argument not only about Iraq, but also with an emotional legacy about Vietnam.

We need to bear these things in mind to understand what is happening in Iraq. America lost the possibility of a clean outcome to the war on 23rd May 2003, when their pro-consul Paul Bremer abolished the Iraqi army, which was the most important unifying force holding the Iraqi state together, and in which national sovereignty resided de facto, following the overthrow of the Ba’athist regime. The alternative strategy of using the Iraqi army to restore order, and maintaining the Ba’athist institutions until elections could be held simply didn’t fit either the WW2 paradigms of their armed forces, or the neo-con fantasies of the US administration. The subsequent squandering of Iraq’s wealth by Bremer, rather than using the fund for reconstruction undermined any credibility of the US as a constructive player for a post-war settlement in the eyes of most Iraqis.

What is more, the nature of the US armed forces means they have escalated the violence, instead of quelling it. In March 2004, four mercenaries working for Blackwater, were killed in Fallujah, and the film of their mutilation caused outrage in the USA. The public demand for a military response could only be met by the Marine Corps, as they were the troops in theatre, and the Marines are only trained to fight battles, they are not trained for proportionate counter insurgency. As a result they besieged the city and briefly galvanised a national Iraqi response that united Shia and Sunni against the occupation. (This national unity was later squandered by Sunni sectarian terrorism, (including the Wah Habi sectarian butchers of Zuqari) and by the strategic campaign by the Shia political parties to dominate the new Iraq).

The lack of any campaign for Iraqi national liberation, except for the marginal forces of the Iraqi Communist Party and its allies, means that the current situation is very unstable. The Sunni minority of 4 million or so, are sustaining a high level insurgency against the American army, but this is also a war to prevent a Shia dominated Iraq emerging. The Iraqi government, which is Shia dominated, has a co-dependent relationship with the occupying forces, but also wants to see the back of them, and there are Shia militia, like the Mehdi army, seeking to drive the Sunnis out of Baghdad. The whole country is spiralling into cycles of sectarian reprisals, murder and anarchy. The situation was acutely analysed recently by Ali Allawi, former Iraqi Defence Minister.

The absence of a national liberation movement is important to the left, because it means there can be no internal settlement – there is no alternative government in waiting. If the US withdraws without a negotiated framework, then the result could be another Afghanistan, as different war lords fight over the remains. The left often seems to occupy a fantasy world, for example the last Stop the War Conference adopted a position, following Sami Ramidani’s argument, that tales of Iraq descending into sectarian violence are just propaganda. Also it is commonplace to describe the current Iraqi governments as puppets – but they are the only force in Iraq that has any legitimacy, as a majority of the Iraqi population did participate in elections for that government.

That is not to say that the US forces should stay. Their current deployment is contributing to the escalating sectarianism as they horse trade between different factions, and the US also vetoes the involvement of neighbouring countries, Iran and Syria (and Turkey) – who are necessary for any settlement. Conspicuously the US administration lacks any realistic political concept of what a post war Iraq would be like, and without such a political objective to fight for, then their armies are simply locked into a cycle of aimless violence. Their avowed intent of using increased troop numbers to pacify Baghdad will force them to take sides as maintaining the status quo is Sunni objective, but pacification under Shia domination would be a further obstacle to national stability.

The USA undermines the only legitimate force by associating the Iraqi government with the atrocities of the US troops. What is more, both of the USA’s main allies in the Middle East, Wah Habi Saudi Arabia, and Zionist Israel, are opposed to the emergence of a Shia run Iraq.

Early US withdrawal is vital, as the US are impeding the political processes that could lead to peace. Nor do they have any clear idea what they are fighting for.

Unfortunately the vanity of the superpower, the prestige of its stupid politicians, and the craven support for every imperial insanity by the British Labour Party, stand in the way of progress. The Americans would rather Iraq descended into Hell on Earth before they admit defeat, and the Labour Party will send British soldiers to help in this atrocity.


Louisefeminista said...

Yes, and the great oil rip-off as well. Oil companies will be making mega profits from the Iraqi oil.

The very little, for instance, is spoken about the civil resistance, for example, the Southern Oil Workers' Union.

Anonymous said...


You repeat what is effectively coalition propaganda that the Mahdi army is involved in ethnically cleansing Sunni's from Baghdad. This would be very odd. as the Al-Sadr movement has organised demonstrations with the Sunni Association of Muslim. Leading figures in the Al-Sadr movement have denounced sectarian violence, it seems strange then for them to engage in it?

But a more critical point is that the media coverage of much of the sectarian violence doesn't hold up to critical scrutiny, a comrade of mine, Max Fuller (A member of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign & BRussels Tribunal) has highlighted the inconsistency and contradictions in reports of sectarian violence.

His website is quite illuminating:

He has also identified the parallels between previous dirty wars and use of the death squad tactic in central america and the current use of the tactic in Iraq.

Adam J

Anonymous said...

Also Andy, I question your rose-tinted view that Iraq is a democracy or the current government a legitimate force. Genuinely democratic elections cannot take place under occupation.
The people of Fallujah - the city of resistance - were denied the right to take part in your elections.

What powers does the Iraqi Parliament actually have? Slightly less than the Welsh Assembly. All real power remains in the hands of the occupiers.

The elections were to an assembly to draw up a constitution. When the Iraqis first drew up a constitution it committed Iraq to a social-democratic economic system and posited the gradual withdrawal of troops. After a meeting with the US ambassador, the constitution suddenly called for a free market economy (with heavy US interference) and mentioned the construction of 14 economic bases. Iraqis were ordered to vote on the constitution without even seeing it.

Actually only up to 58% of registeded voters in Iraq took part in the elections. The US and UK refused to publicise how many people were actually registered to vote, but it is clear that turnout waslow for example when compared to the first elections in South Africa. If these elections had taken place in Zimbabwe they would have been denounced by the Western liberal intelligentsia and elite.
Opponents of the occupation while united on seeing the election process as flawed were divided on whether to participate (so members of the Sadr movement boycotted and participated in the elections)

Consider the current Prime Minister. The United Iraq Alliance who won the elections with almost half the votes cast called for a timetable for withdrawal. When they selected a candidate for Prime Minister the American government threatened to withhold 3 billion dollars of aid to the Iraqi government, they backed down and chose Al-Maliki a candidate more favourable to their masters.

I also question your characterisation of the Iraq as a democracy or that the government has true legitimacy. There were no international observers (well, there were - but they were stationed in Jordan - another country!) and according to most authorities they wouldn't meet the criteria of genuine free and fair democratic elections

There are over 100,000 US soldiers in Iraq. They are not answerable to the Iraqi parliament, if they commit war crimes or ordinary crimes they cannot be tried by an Iraqi court.

Iraqi oil revenues - the key to the Iraqi economy - are controlled by a 11 man committee (with only one Iraqi on it) handpicked by US Viceroy Paul Bremer in 2003.

A country that doesn't control it's borders or economy is not a democracy or a colony


In order to stand candidates had to be vetted by a commission appointed by the Coalition.

The Coalitionbanned candidates from standing who had links with militia (though this was only applied to anti-occupation resistance forces not to pro-US militia).

The US/UK channelled millions into pro-occupation parties election campaigns.

The electoral process in Iraq has been heavily manipulated and warped by the Occupiers.

You also don't draw attention to the fact, the US/UK seek to impose a confessional system on Iraq, or the bizarre list system which seeks to force people along sectarian lines. Why does the Coalition's model of democracy in Iraq look to Lebanon and Northern Ireland (in the past) rather than the systems of Europe or the US?

Iraq has a democracy, but all the strings are pulled by the Occupying forces, hence the epithet - "puppet" is entirely appropriate.

Adam J

AN said...

Hi Adam

I am prepared to accept the correction that I should not have specifically identified the Mehdi army as being involved in secatraian violecne, as i have not specific evidence of this.

However, the exercise of sectarian violence by shia militias seem uncontrovertible, and is confirmed to me by iraqis I know here who regularly telehone home.

The fact that the Americans may have orchestrated sectarian viloence does not disprove the coontention that the sectarian violence has a momentum and dynamic of its own.

The strongest evidence that Iraqi civil society has split along sectraian lines was from the leat elections, as i analysed here:

As I said at the time:
"The Peoples' Unity List of the Iraqi Communist Party fared much worse than anticipated, securing just 69,000 votes, and winning two seats. To their credit they admitted in their newspaper that the result was bad - and observed that their potential supporters voted along religious or ethnic lines -- the Kurds voted for the Kurdish list and the Shia for the United Iraqi Alliance. This is one of the most important aspects of these results, the fracturing of the electorate according to ethnicity or faith. The parties who stood on ideological platforms, such as the broadly liberal Independent Iraqis for Democracy (led by the high profile figure, Adnan Pachachi) got just 23,000 votes; and the Constitutional Monarchists won just 13,000 votes. In contrast the Kurdish list - appealing directly for votes on ethnic lines - secured 2.17 million votes (26.2%), whereas only between 15% and 20% of the population are Kurdish: the anomaly being explained by the higher turnout in Kurdish areas."

AN said...

And Adam

The elecdtion result was a defeatb for pro-occupation parties. Agai, as I wrote at the time:

" the party most strongly associated with the US occupation, the Iraqi list of Iyad Allawi received just 1.16 million votes (13.9 per cent), despite a very well funded campaign, emphasizing reconstruction and the need to restore security. Even more significantly the Shia list also known as the Unified Iraqi Alliance (UIA) won 4.75 million votes (48.7%). The largest components of this coalition are the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Islamic Dawa party. Both of these parties are sharply critical of the US occupation, and the Dawa party has in the past strongly criticized the deployment of the Iraqi National Guard against Iraqi insurgents. The Shia list campaigned on the policy of asking the Americans to set a timetable for withdrawal. Although there was a call for the elections to be boycotted by Moqtada Al-Sadr, the leader of the Shia Mehdi army who fought the Americans last year, his supporters also contested the elections as the Independent Nationalist Cadres and Elites, (Kawadir wa Nukhab) and won 65,000 votes.

AN said...

and Adam

I see in Patrick cockburn's article in today's Independent (the least likely person to be reporting "coalition propaganda")

"There is no doubt that the mehdi army includes death squads targetting Sunni - but this is [also] true of Badr [brigades]"