The US has mobilised a massive war machine, poised for an invasion of Iraq. Undoubtedly, the US has the military power to smash Saddam’s regime. But US imperialism will face major complications, especially in the aftermath of war.
No to war in Iraq.
War, occupation and aftermath
The US, with British support, has already mobilised key sections of a massive military taskforce. This is not a force to encircle and ’contain’ the Iraqi regime, but to launch a military assault and occupy the country. Despite the complications within the United Nations (UN) and Nato, it still seems likely that the US is planning to launch an attack on Iraq before the end of March, when desert temperatures begin to soar towards 49C/120F, extremely adverse conditions for military operations. Numerically, the current taskforce is not as big as the US-led coalition forces in 1990-91, which were over 500,000 strong. Nevertheless, it appears that within the next two or three weeks the US and Britain will have in position up to 200,000 troops, four to five aircraft carriers and accompanying warships, together with over 500 military aircraft.
The US is preparing an even more devastating onslaught than in the 40-day war of 1990-91, which claimed the lives of over 150,000 Iraqis and shattered the country’s infrastructure. The Pentagon plans to unleash 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles in the first 48 hours of the opening air campaign (New York Times, 3 February). The initial bombardment would use ten times the number of precision-guided weapons as in 1991. The aim would be to destroy Iraq’s air defences, smash the military apparatus, and break the Iraqi army’s will to fight. The Pentagon claims, however, that "the air campaign would be intended to limit damage to Iraqi infrastructure and to minimise civilian casualties" – because this time US occupation forces will have to take responsibility for repairing the damage. Whatever the claims made for precision-guided weapons, a US attack will still claim thousands of civilian casualties and cause untold damage to the social structure. Food shortages and public health problems would inevitably cause death and suffering on a huge scale.
Rumsfeld’s officials are claiming that the US could win a decisive victory in less than a week. According to an old military maxim, however, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Recognising this, Pentagon officials have begun to warn that an invasion of Iraq may not be a quick victory like Afghanistan. "We still do not know how US forces will be received – will it be with cheers, jeers or shots?" conceded one official: "And the fact is, we won’t know until we get there". (US Ponders Worst-Case Scenarios, New York Times, 18 February)
While Rumsfeld makes confident boasts, his generals and military planners are having sleepless nights. Among their nightmares are the possibility that Saddam will use chemical or biological weapons, and the likelihood that he will destroy the oil-fields’ infrastructure as he did in Kuwait.
In 1991, Iraqi forces fired over 730 of Kuwait’s 1,000 oil wells, a disaster that took 18 months and about $20bn to repair. Iraq has about 1,500 oil wells, and the destruction of a substantial number could cost $20bn to $30bn in lost annual revenue, funds the US is counting on to pay for its military occupation. The director of the CIA, Tenet, also admitted that the US feared that Iraq would be carved up.
Saddam could also launch a missile attack on Israel, which would almost certainly retaliate (unlike 1991), with explosive consequences among the Arab states.
A quick victory?
Bush undoubtedly needs a quick victory to minimise the political reaction which a prolonged conflict would provoke internationally and within the US. But a US invasion of Iraq would not be like the desert war of 1990-91, when US-led forces confronted Saddam’s forces in the open deserts of Kuwait and southern and western Iraq. The power of resistance of the Iraqi regime is incalculable. It is undoubtedly weaker than in 1991 (the army is only a third of its previous size), but it cannot be ruled out that sections of the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard will fight, at least for a time. It is unlikely that even Saddam believes that he can achieve military victory against the US superpower. His aim is more likely to be to slow down a US advance and make it as costly as possible. Rather than confront US forces out in the open, the Iraqi military, if it continues to fight, is likely to disperse and move into urban areas and intermingle with the civilian population. The director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, Admiral Jacoby, recently warned a congressional committee that "if hostilities begin, Saddam is likely to employ a ’scorched-earth’ strategy, destroying food, transportation, energy and other infrastructures, attempting to create a humanitarian disaster significant enough to stop a military advance". (Baghdad’s Strategy, New York Times, 17 February)
The gung-ho statements of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and other Pentagon hawks have recently brought criticism from retired general Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the US forces during the previous Gulf war, who currently opposes military intervention against Iraq. "Candidly", says Schwarzkopf, "I have gotten somewhat nervous at some of the pronouncements Rumsfeld has made". (Desert Caution, Washington Post, 27 January) Schwarzkopf reportedly reflects the criticisms of serving senior army commanders, who see Rumsfeld and company as overly impressed with air power and high technology and insufficiently concerned with the brutal difficulties of ground combat. According to Schwarzkopf, Rumsfeld and his aides brush aside many of the army’s concerns, while the civilian officials lack the background to make sound military judgements by themselves. Schwarzkopf regards the hawks’ militaristic arrogance as "scary", but is even more concerned about what the US military might face after a victory: "I would hope that we have in place the adequate resources to become an army of occupation, because you are going to walk into chaos".
Even now, about 60% of Iraq’s 23 to 25 million people depend on food rations supplied under the UN oil-for-food programme. US invasion would clearly disrupt this programme and, according to the UN, displace over two million people. General Franks, chief of US Central Command, recently claimed that US forces would take much of the responsibility for providing food and medicine to the Iraqi people from the beginning of any war. (Other War Plans, New York Times, 12 February) The leaders of several international relief organisations, however, "immediately disputed the degree of coordination that has occurred so far, saying that the military might well have prepared detailed plans for aid but so far has not shared them with the groups that would help provide food, clothing and medicine". The head of the International Rescue Committee said that there had been no attempt at coordination and planning by the US military, while the head of Refugees International said: "The military’s response has been, we’ll call you when we’re ready".
US military occupation
In the event of US occupation, General Tommy Franks is likely to become the country’s military governor. The US, however, "would have a commitment to leave as soon as possible", claims undersecretary for defence, Douglas Feith. Yet, another undersecretary of state, Mark Grossman, admitted to a Senate committee that "even under good circumstances, it would probably take two years or more for the military to transfer control of many ministries to Iraqi officials". Asked by senators about the projected cost of rebuilding Iraq, Feith asserted that it was ’unknowable’, because it was impossible to predict the severity of war-related damage. One senator, Christopher Dodd (Democrat, Connecticut), called the idea of a two-year transition period ’naïve’: "It’s going to be very expensive and take a long, long time, particularly if we are doing it ourselves", said Dodd.
The Pentagon hawks have for many years advocated military occupation of Iraq, but they have always been most reluctant to engage in the messy, expensive and time consuming exercise of cleaning up afterwards, contemptuously dismissing that as ’nation building’. Nevertheless, the Bush leadership is now drawing up plans for a prolonged military occupation. The logic of US imperialism’s position is that it would resort, at least for a period, to a period of direct colonial rule. Their key aims would be to establish decisive control of the country, contain Iraq’s existing borders (preventing any attempt by sections – like the Kurds or the Shia – to break away, or of neighbouring regimes to grab territory), and to take control of the country’s oil resources. The US plans to install a ’civilian administration’ as soon as possible, but it would be a US-appointed government, with the US military retaining decisive power. The occupying power will impose a new constitution and laws. Iraqi leaders will be relegated to advisory roles in the immediate post-war period. ’Advisory committees’, made up of returned Iraqi exiles, bureaucrats, professionals and local leaders will advise General Tommy Franks during the military occupation. The top civilian and military leaders of Saddam’s regime will be prosecuted for war crimes and human rights offences. However, "US officials expect that much of the existing Iraqi bureaucracy would continue to manage day to day government tasks…" (Washington Post, 16 January)
The US will attempt to work with ’reformed elements of the Iraqi army’, and while arresting ’war criminals’ directly involved in atrocities, apparently intends to preserve a role for many local Ba’ath party officials. At some stage, there would be elections for local government, comparable with similar elections in Bosnia and Kosovo. Later, there would be national elections. This is the sketchy plan of US imperialism to ’democratise’ Iraq in the post-Saddam period. (US Plans Interim Military Rule, Washington Post, 16 January; Building Peace in Iraq, International Herald Tribune, 17 February)
Top US military commanders are, according to reports, becoming increasingly concerned at the enormous scale of the reconstruction tasks that would face them in the aftermath of an invasion. "As this gets nearer, the enormity of the prospect of the US running an Arab country sinks in more and more", commented one ’official from outside the Pentagon’, who added that the Bush administration wants "to make sure we do not get tagged as the ultimate neo-colonialists". (Washington Post, 16 February)
US military occupation of Iraq, however, is bound to be seen as a neo-colonial intervention aimed at reinforcing US strategic power and economic domination of the region, and reinforcing the Israeli state. Recently, a New York Times reporter interviewed recent Iraqi refugees who had fled to Amman, the Jordanian capital. According to the reporter, many of them said that they regard the US as the ’lesser of two evils’, given Saddam’s grotesque record of repression. But "their hatred of Saddam had an equally potent counterpoint: for them, the country that would rid them of their leader was not a bastion of freedom, despatching its legions across the seas to defend liberty, but a greedy, menacing imperial power. This America, in the migrants’ telling, had enabled the humiliation of Palestinians by arming Israel; craves control of Iraq’s oil fields; supported Saddam in the 1980s and cared not a fig for his brutality then, and grieved for seven lost astronauts even as its forces prepared to use ’smart’ weapons that, migrants said, threatened to kill thousands of innocent Iraqis". (New York Times, 17 February)
These Iraqi exiles wanted Saddam removed – or better still, dead. But they wanted a short war which would destroy Saddam’s military regime, but not cause civilian casualties. They did not want the destruction of bridges, power stations, water-pumping plants, etc, that were bombed in 1991. The US, they said, should not stay in Iraq any longer than it took to dismantle the old regime. This is a dream of a painless liberation by a benign superpower which will rapidly hand control of the country to the Iraqi people – a dream that will be cruelly contradicted by the reality of a US occupation. Even if sections of the Iraqi population initially welcome US intervention, a US military occupation will provoke growing opposition to US control.
Dream of a ’benign superpower’ will be disabused
Even some of the stooges who lead the six Iraqi opposition groups promoted and financed by the US are now raging at US plans. Until recently, leaders like Ahmed Chalabi, head of the CIA-created Iraqi National Congress (INC), undoubtedly believed they had US backing for the creation of a provisional government, which would nominally preside over a US-occupied Iraq. Speaking to the press in January at his lavish offices on the outskirts of Tehran, Chalabi announced: "We expect we can come up with a coalition leadership council, which will be empowered to establish a coalition provisional government at the appropriate moment so that the government will lead the process of liberation and would also assume control of the administration of Iraq". (New York Times, 20 January) Since then, however, the Bush leadership has clearly ruled out plans for such a provisional government. This may partly be the result of the sharp clashes, followed by walkouts, at the London conference of exiled opposition groups last December. Perhaps the US has also drawn conclusions from the shaky Karzai coalition in Afghanistan. In their compromise document, the opposition groups firmly rejected "occupation, foreign or local military rule, external trusteeship or regional intervention". They have been summarily overruled by the Bush regime. On the basis of what the US is now proposing, says Chalabi, Iraqis will regard America as an occupying force. (Economist, 13 February) Incensed that his ambition to be the next leader of Iraq is about to be thwarted by the US, Chalabi pronounced: "We reject notions of foreign military government or United Nations administration for Iraq". Rejecting "an Anglo-American war against the Iraqi people", he appealed to "the international community to join us in our war of liberation". (Daily Telegraph, 20 February) Even this kept creature of the US (who received $100 million from the CIA) is screaming out against colonial occupation – even before US intervention.
The US could not even trust its own stooges to facilitate US control (the US now appears to be trying to play off leaders of the opposition groups within the Iraqi National Accord against those of the INC). The rebellion of even these creatures is a foretaste of the massive popular reaction against US control.
The US has also rejected the Iraqi opposition groups’ support for a federal structure that would, in effect, have legalised the Kurds’ de facto autonomy from Baghdad. Meeting Iraqi opposition leaders in Turkey, recently, Bush’s special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, refused to commit the US to a federal Iraq and even justified a Turkish military incursion into the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. He claimed this would be to provide humanitarian aid, but in reality it would be to prevent Kurdish organisations from expanding their territory and to block moves towards independence. Kurdish leaders were warned by Khalilzad against attempting to reach the city of Kirkuk, the centre of a rich oil field, which the Kurds briefly held after the 1991 Gulf war. At the same time, the Pentagon admitted that there were already US special military forces operating inside Iraq. One of their roles would be "to advise Kurdish leaders about what role they would be expected to play in any war in Iraq". However, a US message to "the Kurdish paramilitaries [was that they] should stay in place and should not seize new territory, especially around the oil fields near the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk". (Washington Post, 29 January) This policy on the part of the US is clearly the pay-off to the Turkish regime for allowing Turkish bases to be used for an invasion of Iraq.
The US has delivered a similar message to the biggest Shia opposition group, the Iran-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The US has warned SCIRI to keep its Iranian-armed forces away from the fighting (reports suggest that it already has a force of several thousand in Iraq). This is partly to pre-empt any moves by Iran to establish a sphere of influence in Iraq, and also to reassure the Saudi Arabian regime, a Sunni monarchy with a majority Shia population, which fears any growth of Shia influence.
The leaders of the two main Kurdish organisations, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), have swung in support of US intervention, despite their betrayal by the US in the past. They have no doubt been swayed by promises of funds and other concessions. The current manoeuvrings by the US, however, are a clear warning that the US will intervene strictly on its own terms, to pursue its own imperialist interests.
Outlining plans for interim military rule, a chief spokesperson claimed that the US was committed to an ’equal opportunity approach’ to the development of Iraq and its oil industry. But who can doubt, that in the event of US occupation, the US corporations will take a lion’s share of the economic spoils? Bush has blatantly warned that powers that do not support US policy will miss out on the future exploitation of Iraq.
A recent report on the US telecoms equipment industry reveals the ambitions of US corporations in a US-occupied Iraq. US telecoms corporations are in a deep slump, burdened with enormous debts – and are desperate for lucrative contracts to rebuild Iraq’s fixed-line telephone system (worth at least $1bn) and to launch a mobile phone network. After the Gulf war, for instance, Lucent Technologies Inc gained at least $4.5bn of contracts to overhaul Saudi Arabia’s telephone system. "A new government in Baghdad more favourably disposed to the US could tilt the geopolitical favour of telecoms future contracts in the direction of American companies [like Lucent and Motorola]", says a senior analyst at Pyramid Research in Boston. (New York Times, 18 February) This is a revealing glimpse of the predatory role that will be played by the US corporations in a US-occupied Iraq.
Lynn Walsh, Socialist Party
Editorial of the March edition of Socialism Today, monthly journal of the Socialist Party, the CWI’s affiliate in England and Wales