It expected a rapturous welcome by cheering Iraqi crowds. A puppet regime would be installed, US control of Iraq’s oil consolidated, and a new platform to pacify the Middle East.
It was a big miscalculation. The Bush administration, apparently believing its own propaganda, overestimated its power. Above all, it underestimated the scale of opposition it would face.
Despite overwhelming military supremacy, the US and Co. have been sucked into a shadowy, urban guerrilla war of attrition: house-by-house fighting, the widespread use of informants, disinformation and death squads. There is no quick and easy exit strategy.
When US shells and missiles destroyed the predominantly Sunni city of Fallujah last autumn - taking it with the help of Shia national guard units - the stated aim was to destroy insurgent bases in order to free the city for the recent sham elections. Instead, whole sections of Fallujah have been laid to waste, tens of thousands of people left in squalid camps.
The sectarian divide has widened. Prior to the bombardment by coalition forces, most of the insurgents simply moved to cities such as Mosul, Ramadi and Baghdad. Some still operate in Fallujah itself.
Administration and security personnel are regular targets of the insurgents. One of the lawyers in Saddam Hussein’s trial was recently gunned down. Several police chiefs and politicians have been killed, from Basra in the south, through the ’Sunni triangle’, to the northern, predominantly Kurdish areas, such as Kirkuk and Mosul.
Others have focused on easier targets connected with the occupation, such as queues outside police recruitment offices, attacks which indiscriminately hit anyone in the vicinity. Iraqi soldiers have been ambushed and killed. There have been hundreds of kidnappings. The most brutal, reactionary, right-wing groups, such as al-Qa’ida, have beheaded their hostages, transmitting the images on the internet. This repulsive act in no way helps the struggle of the Iraqi people against occupation. It is, in fact, designed to sow fear among the people and attempt to provoke all-out civil war. The attacks on Shia worshippers during the Ashura festival - claiming 100 lives - were clearly sectarian acts.
Attacks on the oil supply are increasingly sophisticated. The New York Times (21 February) reported co-ordinated attacks on three major crude oil pipelines feeding the Doura refinery, on the pipeline taking refined oil to Baghdad and on trucks used as emergency back-up. The finger was pointed squarely at officials in Saddam’s regime. In mid-January, a bomb hit the plant that supplies 65-70% of Baghdad’s drinking water. Most residents had no running water for a week.
The resistance is spreading. Inmates rioted at Camp Bucca, a 100-acre prison purpose-built by the US, on 31 January. Four were shot dead by guards. The complex was built to hold 6,000 and is nearly full. The prison population is being swelled by people rounded up in counter-insurgency operations. Thousands of Iraqis are interned without trial in Abu Ghraib, police stations or CIA-run jails. New outbreaks of prisoner abuse are inevitable. Anger will deepen.
In spite of Bush and Blair’s claim that the subjugation of the Iraqi people is part of a war on terror, the occupation is the most powerful recruitment tool al-Qa’ida could have. Just as Afghanistan in the 1980s was the test-bed and training ground for al-Qa’ida, Iraq is a magnet for a new generation of right-wing political Islamists.
Up to now, Shia clerics have succeeded in maintaining restraint. They realise that Shia interests are better served - at least in the short term - by taking as much post-election constitutional power as possible. Even Moqtada al-Sadr, whose main influence is with poor and young Shia, has kept his Mahdi army quiet. The Shia militias are waiting to be called into action, but patience runs shorter with each sectarian attack or occupation force atrocity.
The inherent danger is that the main ethnic and religious groups will defend themselves behind sectarian walls. In the Rahmaniya district of Baghdad, Shia residents reportedly turned their anger at police inaction to attacks into the organisation of armed self-defence. However, they have threatened reprisals against a local Sunni population if attacks continue.
The peshmerga militias are linked to the main Kurdish parties, PUK and KDP. Their loyalties are clear. There is a plethora of Sunni Arab groups, ranging from former officers in Saddam’s Ba’athist regime to far-right Islamist forces, such as al-Qa’ida.
The various insurgents have widely differing agendas. Through sabotage, even small numbers could make occupation unworkable. And it has been reckoned that the insurgents in Iraq could total 200,000 of whom 40,000 are hardened fighters - more than the occupation forces.
The Socialist Party supports the right of Iraqis to armed self-defence against the imperialist occupation. But we argue for mass resistance by the working class and poor of Iraq rather than policies of kidnapping and suicide bombings, conducted by small and unrepresentative groups acting ’on behalf of the Iraqi people’.
Sectarian policies and methods cannot bring lasting peace and prosperity to the peoples of Iraq. Policies based on democratic collective organisation, self-defence and economic planning are necessary to unite the working class and poor.
Campaigns to reconnect utility supplies, for clean drinking water, decent food, accommodation, education and jobs link everyday struggle with the need for workers to exercise economic control. The country’s oil wealth should be used to provide people with what they need. It has to be taken out of the grasp of multinational corporations and re-nationalised under workers’ control and democracy.
A political party which represents the working class and poor is needed to put forward this programme, forging links with initiatives to set up independent, accountable trade unions, as well as community-based organisations. It would call for united action to rid Iraq of imperialist repression. It would put forward a socialist programme based on genuine democracy, which takes account of ethnic and religious divisions, and provides for the rights of minorities to live free from persecution. It would put forward the need for a socialist federation of Iraq, with the eventual aim of a Middle East socialist federation.
From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales