Iraq: ‘Surge’ doomed to failure

Only workers’ unity and a struggle for socialism offers a way out

Newspaper reports this week reveal that US General Tommy Franks met with his top officers in August 2002 to review their invasion plan for Iraq. They discussed the post-invasion phases, and reckoned that four years later, they would only need 5,000 troops in Iraq! Instead there are 132,000 and another 21,500 presently being mobilised. The International Herald Tribune commented: "four years after the invasion, the ’stable democratic Iraqi government’ the United States once hoped for seems to exist only in the command’s old planning slides" (16.2.07).

The situation in Iraq was already a debacle for US imperialism and the new ’troop surge’ is compounding the situation further. Over just four years, the most colossal imperialist power on the planet has gone from a posture of invincibility to facing defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is now suffering complete exposure of the limits of the military power it wanted to portray as unstoppable. It is also facing the opposite of what it set out to achieve regarding the Iranian and Syrian regimes; far from reducing their influence and possibly securing their removal, their position in the Middle East has been strengthened.

This disaster for US imperialism has resulted in Bush being increasingly isolated and at odds with the US ruling class and top military commanders, who in the main supported the conclusions of the US Baker-Hamilton ’Iraq Study Group’ report. This report, which concluded that most US combat troops should be removed from Iraq by early 2008, was an indictment of the failed policy of the neo-conservatives around Bush.

The desperation of Bush & Co reflects the fact that US direct domination in the Middle East is coming to an end, hastened by their own actions. Over 150,000 coalition troops have been deployed in Iraq, yet there is no stability or significant reconstruction, or even restoration of pre-war levels of electricity production and oil.

Despite this, Bush is asking the US congress for extra military funding for Iraq and Afghanistan which will bring the overall US cost of the two wars to a staggering $745 billion. The planned US military budget for 2008 will be an expenditure of almost $20,000 for every second of that year!

Altogether, around 3,500 Iraqi people are dying each week now in the sectarian bloodbath. Not surprisingly, an escalating number of people are fleeing the violence. Over two million have fled the country, mainly to Syria and Jordan, and 1.8 million are living as refugees within Iraq. This amounts to the displacement of 15% of Iraq’s population, the biggest population movement in the region since hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced out of Palestine in 1948.

US Democrats

Ordinary Americans have turned massively against the Iraq occupation, with around 75% opposing the sending of extra troops. The voting in of the Democratic Party to the US congress and senate in last November’s mid-term elections was mainly a vote against Bush’s wars. So with its majorities in the two houses of parliament, will the Democrats now withdraw funding for the Iraq war as was done in the latter stages of the Vietnam war? They are trying hard not to do this, as they themselves mostly supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq and have never offered any alternative.

However, leading Democrats and some Republicans are being pushed more and more into opposition to the war, not through their own courage, but as a result of the huge pressure from the American population. Both the congress and senate have now passed motions opposing the troop surge, but they are non-binding. Democrat leaders have also promised to restrict new military deployment to Iraq – but this in a situation where the US military is already so over-stretched that further deployment is not possible in any case.

Troop surge

This present ’surge’ is the third attempt by US forces to end the Sunni-Shia violence that escalated after the sacred Shia shrine in Samarra was bombed a year ago. The previous two did not ’stabilise’ Iraq and nor will this one. It is aimed mainly against Shia militias, particularly that of the Mahdi army linked to the party of Moqtada al-Sadr. When US forces tried to smash this army in 2004, it only led to its strengthening, now having an estimated 100,000 fighters.

The sending of just an extra 21,500 US troops, 18,500 of them to Baghdad, cannot succeed in destroying al-Sadr’s forces and taking control of that city of six million people. And the new offensive is already worsening the situation in some respects. There are reports that some Mahdi and other militias are feeling compelled to pull out of their positions temporarily, so altering the balance of military forces on the ground and leaving some sections of the population exposed to even greater violence.

If there does happen to be an overall reduction in the sectarian bloodshed as a result of the troop surge (as the US regime is claiming), it will not last for long, as the various Iraqi militias will just take the opportunity to regroup and train for further fighting when the surge subsides.

Unfortunately for US war aims, Al-Sadr’s party is part of the US stooge Shia-dominated ’government’ headed by Nouri al-Maliki, and is partly propping up that government. US attacks on the Sadrist militias will only push the millions of Sadr supporters further against the occupation, and will further weaken the already impotent Maliki government.

On top of the anti-Sadr offensive, US forces are also still battling with Sunni militias in many areas, especially at present in the mixed Diyala province. The surge will only serve to intensify the Sunni insurgency in these areas.

For US imperialism, neither escalating the war nor progressively or suddenly withdrawing troops will stabilise the US-controlled Iraqi government. Either way, the sectarian civil war is likely to intensify. The Committee for a Workers’ International – which the Socialist Party is part of – was the only international left organisation to warn that the US-led invasion of Iraq would foster sectarian division among the Iraqi people and unfortunately we are being proved right.

A break-up of Iraq?

If Iraq breaks up into three entities – Kurdish, Shia and Sunni – it will have huge repercussions. Half of the Iraqi population lives in just four large cities: Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad. The latter three have very mixed populations, so a fracturing of the country along ethnic and religious lines would create an even worse nightmare than the present situation. It would also impact massively on the surrounding countries, including on Iran where around half the population consists of various minorities.

The Sunni Arab elites in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, feel threatened by the rise of the Shias to power in Iraq and in the event of a spiralling of the Iraq conflict would feel under pressure to enter the fray to bolster the position of the Iraqi Sunnis, so contributing to a new wider war.

Other countries could also intervene, such as Turkey, Syria and Jordan. The Washington-based Brookings Institution has already warned that "foreign intervention at the covert level is proceeding apace in Iraq". A break-up of Iraq would lead to an even worse scenario than was seen in the brutal Balkan wars, with the prospect of millions of refugees, more akin to the 1948 division of the Indian subcontinent.

Threats to Iran

Such is Bush’s desperation at the plight of his Iraq policy, he is considering an air assault on Iran’s nuclear installations and also on non-nuclear military bases and command centres, with even the alarming possibility of use of nuclear missiles. Both the US and Israeli regimes have been reported as carrying out practice air force exercises.

Bush has accused Iran of supplying bombs to militias in Iraq, while turning a blind eye to the Baker-Hamilton report’s conclusion that the Sunni insurgency – which is the main killer of US troops – is funded by rich Saudi and other Sunni Gulf Arabs. The accusations appear to be partly aimed at preparing the way for an air assault.

Severe though the repercussions would be, the desperation and ideology of Bush – and of Israeli prime minister Olmert following the Lebanon war – means that an air assault on Iran cannot be ruled out. Death, destruction and environmental damage would result in Iran, and the repercussions in the region would be huge. There would inevitably be mass protests worldwide.

Retaliation by the Iranian regime on world oil supplies would probably rebound on all the capitalist powers on the planet by tipping the world economy into crisis.

Withdraw the troops!

US and all other imperialist forces must be withdrawn from Iraq immediately. They are the cause of the disastrous situation, and their presence is only worsening it. Only the Iraqi people can bring an end to their nightmare, through starting to break with the many divisive, tribal based and aspiring-capitalist leaders, instead building their own working class organisations, involving other exploited sections of society.

Most urgent is the building of workers’ defence organisations that can appeal to workers from every ethnic background to unite in a struggle against imperialist occupation as well as against right-wing Iraqi leaders who orchestrate sectarian killings and bloody retribution. Workers’ unity also needs to be built based on the idea of the sharing, planning and development of Iraq’s resources for the benefit of Iraqi people from all backgrounds, as opposed to the plunder of those resources for the profits of the rich. This means the necessity of socialist ideas taking root, which is the only way that a secure future for the Iraqi people can be realised.

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