If the Anglo-American imperialist occupiers of Iraq thought that, through the charade of ‘transfer’ of sovereignty on 38 June to a clique of their hand-picked Iraqi stooges, they would pacify Iraq, they were cruelly mistaken, for the events since then have decidedly disabused them of such notions. The Iraqi people saw through the fraud. They could hardly do otherwise as the technicality of an end to occupation stands in glaring contrast to the reality on the ground, with the US still in command of an occupation force in excess of 160,000. With no Iraqi forces at its disposal, lacking a meaningful social base, and facing a hostile population, the so-called interim government is completely powerless without the US and British army of occupation. If the latter were to retreat to garrisons, that would merely open the door to an even bigger disaster for the aggressors and their puppets.
On the day of the farcical ‘transfer’ of sovereignty Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy, expressed the hope that “… this is going to be a true beginning, and those who are opposing occupation will now consider that opposing occupation is not necessary any more”. The Iraqi people quite correctly are of the opposite view and refuse to be taken in by the hypocritical utterances and lying assertions of an imperialist lackey. They have responded to the rechristening of the puppet Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) as the ‘interim’ government, the transfer of power of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to the US embassy, and the replacement of the previous US viceroy of Iraq, Paul Bremer, by John Negroponte, by their armed resistance against the armies of occupation and those collaborating with them.
Loss of troops and territory
Two months after the installation of the ‘interim’ government, more than 110 US troops have been killed and almost the entire country remains hostile, with the toll of American dead since the start of the war in March of last year coming close to 1,000. Although recently the focus of attention has shifted to Najaf, where the Mahdi army of the radical young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr fought the US marines to a standstill, the toughest and most organised resistance to US forces and its puppet ‘interim’ government continues to be in Baghdad and the areas north and west of it, comprising the towns of Fallujah, Ramadi, Samarra and Baquba. On average, US forces in Iraq are being attacked 60 times a day, representing an increase of 20% from the three-month period before the ‘hand-over’.
The US army has lost territory and more troops. The resistance took the town of Samarra in an impeccably synchronised attack. While in the whole of June, 42 American soldiers were killed, just the first 17 days of July saw 36 American soldiers killed. While the American casualties have not been as high as in April and May (which respectively claimed the lives of 135 and 83 US soldiers), July and August have been among the deadliest months for the US occupation forces, with 54 US troops being killed in July and 63 in August.
There is no weakening of, let alone an end to, the resistance because there is no end to the underlying cause of this resistance, namely, the occupation which has thus far claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, arrests of more than 50,000 of them, of which nearly 7,000 are still in the concentration camps set up by the predatory imperialist aggressors, where they are routinely subjected to abuse, torture and humiliation. No wonder, then, that the resistance is gaining strength and new recruits. Official US estimates put the number of the armed resistance at 4,000 to 6,000 – plainly an absurdly low figure. Much nearer the mark is Col. Dana Pittard of the First Infantry Division, based in Baquba, who is openly sceptical of the official estimates and puts the core support at about 0.5% of the Iraqi population of 24 million, which gives an approximate figure of 120,000.
Cities such as Fallujah, Ramadi and Baquba have become no-go areas for the US army. One after the other, the US army has been chased out of these places. In Mosul, once held up as an occupation success story, there are frequent bombings and almost daily attacks on the US army, which is battling hard for its control. Even Basra has become an arena for frequent clashes between Sadr’s supporters and the British army. The lawlessness, resulting from the disintegration of all central authority following the Anglo-American invasion, is only alleviated by the resistance which operates an informal shift system with the Iraqi police to keep a semblance of order. This arrangement is acquiesced to by the US and Britain because it offers the only hope of fewer casualties among the imperialist soldiery and the possibility that Iraq will disappear from the front pages and newscasts in the imperialist countries.
The Second Sadr Rebellion
Contributing to the troubles of the occupiers, and to the death toll among them, has been the second rebellion within less than three months staged under the leadership of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric, against US occupation. The first rebellion by Sadr’s followers in April ended in a compromise which humiliated the occupying authorities as Sadr’s Mahdi army was left intact and he was left free to roam about and organise his supporters.
In an effort to co-opt him, Iyad Allawi, the prime minister of the incoming ‘interim’ government, offered Sadr an amnesty, which the latter turned down with contempt, calling Allawi’s government “illegitimate and illegal”. On the 4th of July, in a statement from his office, he said: “There is no truce with the occupier and those who co-operate with it”.
In view of such mutual hostility, it was only a question of time before the breakdown of the truce between the two sides and the resumption of full-scale hostilities. With the authority of the Allawi puppet government, and of the US power behind it, so openly flouted, the US authorities decided to deal with and finish Sadr forever – or so they thought. Thus began on 5 August the three-week long siege of Najaf, a stronghold of Sadr, whose followers controlled the city and were entrenched in the Imam Ali Shrine, the site of the martyrdom of Ali, the fourth Caliph, the son-in-law of the prophet Mohamed, and the founder of Shi’ism – and thus the Holy of Islamic Holies. For three weeks, the US military laid siege to Najaf, during which US tanks, artillery and warplanes turned Najaf into a ghost town in an effort to eject Sadr and his army from the Shrine and gain control of Najaf.
Instead of crumbling in the face of the US army’s onslaught, Sadr and his fighters stood firm and defiant, turning Sadr into a symbol of resistance to US occupation and making him the most popular person in Iraq, commanding approval ratings of over 70%. The fighting in Najaf undermined what little credibility the Allawi government had and totally destroyed its authority. With the fierce fighting taking place in Najaf, the so-called National Conference, staged to elect a 100-strong consultative assembly to monitor the interim government’s brief during the remaining months up to the end of January next year, was turned into a complete irrelevance. Billed as “the first experiment in democratic politics in over thirty years”, its start greeted by a mortar attack on a nearby street, this wretched mockery of a democratic institution decided to send to Najaf a delegation of mediators to plead with Sadr to end the confrontation with the US forces and hand over control of the Shrine to the religious authorities in Najaf. The eight-strong delegation, underlining the dangers attendant upon road travel by the occupation and its stooges, flew to Najaf in a US helicopter. It was forced to return empty-handed as Sadr refused to meet it “because of continued aggression by the Americans”.
In order to bring the greatest pressure to bear upon Sadr and his armed supporters, the occupation regime introduced, through an announcement by the Allawi government on 8 August, the death penalty at the same time as it closed the offices of the satellite channel al-Jazeera. Talking tough, Allawi stated that there will be “no negotiations with any militia that bears arms against Iraq and the Iraqi people” – in a clear reference to al-Sadr and his Mahdi army. For its part, the so-called National Conference, composed mostly of the surrogates of the US-appointed ‘interim’ government, added its voice to that of the Allawi government that the Mahdi army dissolve and lay down its arms.
Sadr and his men defiantly rejected this demand. “Everyone of us has vowed to turn himself into a time bomb against the Americans”, said a Sadr combatant in Najaf. “He [Allawi] has sold his soul to fight and resist us … our souls are a sacrifice to al-Sadr”, chanted several other Mahdi fighters. “Weapons are our honour. We cannot give them up”, said a follower of Sadr as he waited for a haircut in a barber’s shop off Sadr City’s “Vietnam Street” – a battleground for US forces and the Shia fighters in the working-class Baghdad suburb.
Just one day after the US siege of Najaf began, the collaborating and counter-revolutionary cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the supreme religious leader of the Iraqi Shias, was spirited out of Iraq on 6 August and flown to London for ‘heart treatment’. By seeking treatment in London (which is available in Iraq and elsewhere in the neighbouring countries) during the crisis and maintaining complete silence during the three weeks of most intense fighting in Najaf, a period in which the US forces turned the Wadi as-Salaam, a sprawling cemetery surrounding the Imam Ali Shrine, as well as many parts of the town, into a heap of rubble, Sistani effectively gave the Allawi puppet government and its US imperialist masters a free hand to crush Sadr and his forces.
Not without reason, the Iraqis call him a coward and a traitor. His absence and silence have caused a precipitate erosion of his authority. By contrast, the defiant pronouncements and the courageous fight put up by the Mahdi army under Sadr’s leadership have sent the latter’s popularity, prestige and authority soaring sky high. The struggle for Najaf, in addition to being a contest between the occupation forces and its opponents, has also become a struggle between those who collaborate with the occupation and those who are fighting to rid Iraq of all foreign forces – even if it superficially looks like a battle between two clerics for the control of hawza, the Shia clerical establishment, and the leadership of the Shias throughout the world. Clearly discernible behind this struggle is the class line-up, with the rich Iraqis by and large supporting Sistani, while the poor have weighed in on the side of the nationalistic Sadr. With much of central Iraq in open revolt and out of the control of the US forces, the US administration has increasingly relied on Sistani, who represents its one remaining hope of composing a neo-colonial regime in Baghdad.
Iraqi security forces crumble
As the fighting intensified in Najaf, it became clear that there were hardly any Iraqi forces on the US side. Americans have absolutely no faith in the motivation, commitment and reliability of the Iraqi forces, who either turn up late or not at all. The majority of the Iraqi recruits openly say that they only joined for the money. In addition, they face threats and risk death at the hands of the resistance for their collaboration with the American forces. Large numbers of them actually act as informers for the resistance. In April, Iraqi security personnel refused en masse to fight against the resistance in Fallujah, as they did the same month in the face of the rebellion by al-Sadr. On 13 August, the Iraqi police joined a demonstration in support of Sadr against the US invasion of Najaf. The Americans restrict the Iraqi policemen to 30 bullets on missions “because rounds have gone missing”, such is the distrust between the Iraqi security forces and their American overlords.
In a game of bluster and bluff, on 20 August a spokesman for the Allawi government declared that Iraqi policemen were in control of the complex comprising the Imam Ali Shrine, a claim which proved to be completely false, which further dented the credibility of the Allawi government and compromised further still the loyalty of the Iraqi police.
Mahdi army fights US to a standstill
Nearly two weeks into the stand-off between the US forces and the Mahdi army, things were looking pretty bad for the Americans, who had chosen to fight Sadr in Najaf believing that the battle was winnable. The Financial Times (FT) of 18 August ominously declared that “Iraq’s future hands by a thread – best measured by the mere hundreds of yards separating American tanks from the Imam Ali Shrine”. Indeed, the vast cemetery in Najaf, known as the Wadi as-Salaam, had become a graveyard for Washington’s plans.
Neither overwhelming firepower, nor Sistani’s absence, silence and acquiescence, nor the psychological warfare waged by the US and the Allawi government, proved sufficient to enable the latter to defeat the Mahdi army, expel Sadr and his supporters from the shrine and gain control of it. In the end they were to rely on the only available weapon. Sistani was summoned from his ‘sick bed’ to return and broker a deal between the occupation forces and Sadr. On 25 August, Sistani returned to Basra and called on his followers to march to the embattled city of Najaf to end the fighting. By the evening of 26 August, Sistani had managed to secure the agreement of the two warring parties to a deal, the terms of which represented a humiliating climb down by the US and the Allawi government.
Humiliating outcome for the US
Under this deal, the US agreed to suspend military operations in Najaf and to withdraw the marines from the town; Najaf and Kufa become weapons-free zones; Sadr’s followers left the shrine and its keys to the city’s spiritual authorities on 27 August; and Sadr and his followers received an amnesty, with the threat of arrest and prosecution removed from them. The Mahdi army did not have to dissolve or surrender its weapons. It simply melted away, preserving its ranks and keeping intact its weapons.
The outcome of the fighting in Najaf, and the compromise deal ending it, has transformed Sadr into a national icon for his successful attempt at opening a second front for the resistance among the Shias of southern Iraq and Baghdad. His popularity has risen higher still. In a reference to US blunders in Iraq, the FT of 28 August says that “Mr Sadr is fortunate in his enemies”, adding that “the authority of the interim government led by Iyad Allawi has been almost as badly damaged as Najaf itself”. This bodes ill for the occupation regime. Not only is the Iraqi puppet regime cracking up, Sadr is increasingly emulating the tactics of Hizbollah, the radical Lebanese Islamic movement which forced the Israeli army out of Lebanon. In like fashion he aims to force the US out of Iraq.
Collapse of oil exports
At the height of the fighting in Baghdad, the US oil benchmark crude hit $50 a barrel at one point on 20 August. The previous day, the resistance had set the headquarters of Iraq’s South Oil Company on fire. Let it be noted that the south accounts for all of Iraq’s exports. According to the FT of 31 August, near-daily attacks on Iraq’s pipelines, pumping stations and other infrastructure, resulted in the reduction of its oil exports to their lowest point in nearly a year, wiping out months of construction work and denuding the government of badly-needed revenues. In the first 25 days of August, oil export averaged 1 million barrels a day (mbd), well below the figure of 1.4 mbd in July and 1.8 mbd in March and April.
The credibility of the governments that plunged Iraq into this predatory war is at an all time low. All their excuses and pretexts, which never constituted a justification in any case, for the war in Iraq have been blown sky high and shown to be the deliberate bare-faced lies they all along were. The Bush administration and the Blair administration are perceived correctly to be headed by common liars and crooks, who are in the pocket of the robber barons of capitalism. The Sunday Times, which vigorously supported the Iraq war, has been obliged in it editorial of 18 July to admit that “… unless the Isle of Wight is invaded, he [Blair] would find it difficult to take the country into war again”, such is the credibility deficit afflicting the British prime minister and his senior ministers. In Australia, on 8 August, more than 40 of that country’s most senior former diplomats and defence officials, including two former defence force chiefs, accused the Howard government of deception, lying, blindly following the US and rubber stamping policies decided in Washington.
Occupation no longer in control
Meanwhile the resistance in Iraq has reached unprecedentedly explosive proportions, as Messers Bush and Blair resort to spin and plain lies to present an image of a peaceful and democratic Iraq – all courtesy of the Anglo-American invasion. Just as prior to the war they told lies about the threat presented by Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, today they hide from their peoples the truth about the strength of the Iraqi resistance against the occupation.
Writing in the 1st August edition of the Independent on Sunday, the veteran journalist, Robert Fisk, one of the tiny handful of honourable people from that profession in the bourgeois world, delivers a shattering blow to the smug pretence of Blair that all is well over there in Iraq. “Much of Iraq”, he writes, “has fallen outside the control of America’s puppet government in Baghdad… Hundreds of attacks are made against US troops every month. This month’s [July’s] toll of Iraqis in Baghdad alone has reached 700 …”.
He adds that Highway 8, from Baghdad to Najaf is “… one of the worst in Iraq. Westerners are murdered there. It is littered with burnt-out police vehicles and American trucks. Every police post for 70 miles has been abandoned”, adding that the US-appointed government controls only the centre of Baghdad – “and even there its ministers and civil servants are car-bombed and assassinated”.
Continuing, Mr Fisk says: “Baquba, Samara, Kut, Mahmoudiya, Hilla, Fallujah, Ramadi, all are outside government authority. Iyad Allawi, the ‘Prime Minister’, is little more than a mayor of Baghdad. ‘Some journalists’, Blair announces, ‘almost want there to be a disaster in Iraq’. He does not. The disaster exists now”.
The overwhelming majority of the people of these towns support the resistance and regard Allawi and his security forces as traitors. Walls in many of these towns are daubed in graffiti hailing Saddam Hussein as the leader of Iraq. “All the government are agents for America, especially Iyad Allawi. He asked America to stay in Iraq, because he knows the Iraqis will kill him. The Mujahideen protect civilians”, Salah Abbas, a 29-year-old roadside peddler of CDs in Ramadi told the FT (see FT 30 July 04).
Contractors in panic
With India and the Philippines banning their nationals from working in Iraq, and Kenya urging its citizens to return home, in response to a series of kidnappings, the contractors working for the US army are having to cast their recruitment net to other countries. South Asian workers, including 100,000 Indians, are as crucial to the billion-dollar-a-week logistics operation to supply and feed the 140,000 US troops in Iraq, as they are to the construction of major installations. India’s ban, which has been characterised by a US military spokesman as a “concession to terrorism” carries with it the danger of making the task of supplying and feeding the huge US army of occupation in Iraq difficult, if not impossible. Such is the panic among the contractors, that they have put restrictions on staff leaving their bases, stating that this was a measure aimed at protecting foreign workers against kidnapping. But this has only increased their exposure to attacks on the bases. At the beginning of July, nearly 40 of the 120 cooking staff of Renaissance Services (an Oman-based company which is the largest contractor in the Green Zone in Baghdad) at Falcon Camp, resigned after their empty-living quarters were hit by mortars. “Before, you got the odd mortar attack at Falcon Camp, now it’s two or three times a week”, said Phil Cairn, who is in charge of the Iraqi operation of Renaissance.
Country after country are withdrawing their military units from Iraq. Although in military terms these withdrawals make little difference, their moral effect is nothing short of catastrophic as the Spanish example spread to many other countries, leaving the Anglo-American perpetrators of this predatory war more isolated than ever. In Australia, Mark Latham, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, has vowed to withdraw Australia’s remaining troops from Iraq if Labour wins the forthcoming election in October. If Labour does win, and keeps its promise, it will be a stunning blow to Washington and London’s spin about an ‘international coalition’ in the ‘war on terror’.
Not very far from Iraq, imperialist war in Afghanistan is in deep trouble. In much of the Afghan countryside, the writ of the Karzai government does not run and government control is no more than nominal. According to UN maps charting threat levels in the country, one-third of Afghanistan is a no-go area for the government forces. If it wasn’t for the nearly 30,000 US and NATO forces, the Karzai government would have been swept off the face of Kabul, beyond which it exercises hardly any authority.
Imperialism, principally US imperialism, unleashed these wars against the Iraqi and Afghan people for the sole purposes of plunder, spoliation and domination. But all it has succeeded in achieving is to convert the masses of these countries “… into active factors in world politics and in the revolutionary destruction of imperialism, although the educated philistines of Europe and America … stubbornly refuse to see this” (Lenin, June 1921).
The proletariat in the imperialist countries, if it does not wish to betray socialism, must support the revolt of the Iraqi and Afghan people against its own ruling class, against the bourgeoisie of the most powerful imperialist states, for by “…refusing to support rebellions of annexed territories we objectively become annexationists”. And such support on its part is no mere humanitarian matter. Such support is in the direct class interests of the proletariat of the imperialist countries. This is because imperialism is the “… era of incipient social revolution”, in which “… the proletariat makes special efforts to support the rebellion of annexed territories today, in order that tomorrow, or simultaneously with the rebellion, it may attack the bourgeoisie of the ‘Great’ power which is weakened by that rebellion” (Lenin, Discussion of Self-determination summed up, July 1916).