In October 2001, US and British forces led a massive aerial bombardment of Afghanistan. This assault was presented as a ‘retaliation’ following the attacks on those symbols of US economic, political and military power, namely, the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. In reality, the purpose of the attack was to remove the Taliban, who were no longer cooperating with US plans for the domination of natural resources in the region. Almost six years later, US and British troops are still embroiled in a war that they had expected would be over in a matter of days.
Just two years after attacking Afghanistan, the US and its allies invaded Iraq. Again, they assumed this operation would take a matter of a few weeks. Here again, the real reason for the war was not the stated one of ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), which it obviously did not have, but to gain control of Iraq’s vast oil reserves and reinforce Anglo-American imperialist hegemony in the region after Saddam Hussain and the Ba’ath party had set the dangerous example of attempting to steer an independent course for their country.
However, despite their fondest wishes, not to mention their overwhelming superiority of firepower, the invaders have not been able to secure victory in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Moreover, it is becoming clearer by the day, even to the invaders, that these longed-for victories are never going to arrive.
The combined might of the US and British military has not been able to defeat the resistance of either the Iraqi or the Afghan people. Not only have the imperialists been unable to defeat this resistance, but they are increasingly facing the prospect of an ignominious defeat themselves at the hands of it, and so the withdrawal of troops is becoming inevitable.
Even worse for the invaders is that the rest of the world is witness to this defeat. The image of the US as an invincible force has been well and truly shattered. The courageous struggle being waged by the Iraqi and Afghan peoples against the occupation of their countries has delivered a massive blow to imperialism – and not only in the Middle East or South Asia. With the attentions of the US focussed on the Middle East, progressive forces around the world (in Latin America, for example) have been given opportunities to strengthen their fight against imperialism.
Deadliest three months for occupation forces in Iraq
Despite the ‘surge’ of 20,000 additional US troops in January, aimed at ‘clamping down’ on the resistance in Baghdad, the last three months have been the deadliest for the occupation forces since the invasion in March 2003. As of 19 July, the number of US troops that have been killed in Iraq had reached 3,622, with an additional 25,000 wounded. This is according to US Department of Defense and therefore does not include any of the so-called ‘private security forces’ (read mercenaries) who are paid to undertake various jobs previously done by the army, including working as ‘guns for hire’.
British forces have also been facing continual resistance to their presence in Iraq. The image of British troops walking round the streets of Basra as ‘peace keepers’ was never more than a PR exercise and, try as they might, the bourgeois media have been unable to sustain it. In reality, British troops are forced to travel in convoys of Warrior armoured vehicles whenever they leave their base. Since the beginning of June, thirteen British soldiers have been killed in Iraq, out of a total of 162 since the invasion in March 2003. (Quoted in ‘Death of RAF man illustrates rising threat to base in Basra’, The Guardian, 21 July 2007)
Of course, the number of occupation forces killed pales into insignificance in comparison to the death and destruction that has been rained on the Iraqi people for so long, with the total number of Iraqis killed since the invasion reaching over a million. Nevertheless, even with the balance of forces and the technological advantages enjoyed by the US and British forces, they have not been able to conquer Iraq and control its resources.
Talk of withdrawal
In recent months, there has been much talk in the US, even amongst some Republicans, of the need to withdraw troops from Iraq. The relentless opposition to the occupation by the Iraqi resistance, and the resultant failure to materialise of the expected profit bonanza, has led to increasing pressure on the Bush administration to ‘change the strategy’ for Iraq. As the Financial Times states: “growing Republican dissent in part reflects the inability of the military to persuade Congress and the US public that the ‘surge’ of troops … is working” . (‘Bush stays defiant on Iraq despite Republican rebellion’, 10 July 2007)
Limited oil returns
The uncomfortable increase in the temperature of the war in Iraq has been matched by a decrease in oil production. In May, Iraq ‘exported’ 341,000 barrels of crude oil a day to the US market, down 39 percent on the previous month. (See ‘Iraq oil exports to US second lowest in nearly four years’, Reuters online, 23 July 2007)
Iraq’s oil production during the last fiscal year ending 1 July averaged at 1.964m barrels per day (mbd). This is well below the 2.5mbd produced before the war while Iraq was under sanctions and a long way off the 3mbd the US administration had been anticipating before the invasion. (‘Iraq’s oil industry hit by violence, Associated Press, 7 July 2007)
The resistance has not only made it almost impossible for occupying forces to move around the country, but also for the oil wealth to be removed from the country in the quantities Anglo-American imperialism desired. During the last year, “the Iraqi oil industry was subjected to nearly 160 attacks by insurgents … reducing exports by some 400,000 barrels a day” . (Ibid)
Between a rock and a hard place
The imperialists are stuck between a rock and a hard place. To leave Iraq would be to admit defeat, a defeat that will undoubtedly galvanise the oppressed across the globe to stand up to US imperialism.
Yet to stay, if the past four years are anything to go by, will not result in victory for the US and has every possibility of sapping the strength of the US still further. As Senator Richard Lugar, a Bush loyalist, puts it: “the costs of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved”. He continues: “unless we recalibrate our strategy, we risk foreign policy failures that could greatly diminish our influence in the region and the world”. (‘Pessimism mounts at US Iraq strategy’, Financial Times, 26 June 2007)
However, that being said, Iraq still has the second largest proven oil reserves of any country in the world. While removal of troops may seem inevitable, imperialism will do its utmost to maintain control of resources, and currently US imperialism does not look like it is preparing to leave Iraq any time soon.
Largest US embassy in the world – a sign of withdrawal?
Baghdad now has the largest US embassy anywhere in the world; it is self-sufficient and ‘protected’ by walls 15ft thick. The US has also built four massive military superbases in strategic locations within Iraq, not something that would be done if the US had a plan for withdrawal in the near future. Rather, it seems an attempt to create a network of secure fortresses from which US troops can operate in an increasingly hostile environment.
The US invaded Iraq with a total of 130,000 troops in 2003 and had expected this number to reduce to as few as 30,000-50,000 by the end of 2003. Instead, after the recent ‘surge’ in January, the number of US troops based in Iraq has risen to 155,000
On top of this, private contractors now constitute the second largest force in Iraq, totalling about 100,000, of whom 48,000 work as private soldiers. Companies like Blackwater USA provide people, mainly ex-military personnel, who are paid about $1,000 a day to ‘protect’ anything from military convoys to oil exports. These private contractors, essentially hired guns, act with relative impunity in Iraq.
While Britain is apparently reducing its presence in Iraq by a further 500, bringing the total number attempting to occupy southern Iraq to 5,000, the number of British mercenaries in Iraq is over 21,000. It should also be noted that in Afghanistan, Britain plans to increase its military presence to 7,700.
Iraqi Oil and Gas Law
The controversial Iraqi Oil and Gas Law (OGL) made the headlines when, on 3 July, the Iraqi puppet cabinet endorsed it, although this has yet to be ‘approved’ by the stooge parliament. The proposed law, which it is one of the 18 benchmarks the US has set for a ‘stable’ Iraq (ie, one it feels confident of controlling), is the basis on which the imperialists hope to expropriate economic control of Iraqi oil wealth for themselves. As Pepe Escobar, writing in the Asia Times, puts it: “the law represents no less than institutionalised raping and pillaging of Iraq’s oil wealth” (‘US’s oil grab is a done deal’, 28 February 2007)
This is hardly surprising, given that the law was actually drafted by the US contractor BearingPoint and ‘checked’ by the Bush administration and the IMF long before the Iraqi ‘government’ saw it.
It should be noted that, prior to the invasion, and despite a decade of sanctions, oil production in Iraq was greater than it is today. Hassan Jumaa, president of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), in campaigning against the proposed oil law, has stated that an oil law “must be primarily for the advantage of the Iraqi people”, and that “our [Iraqi] oil must remain nationalised and the profits must first and foremost be used to benefit the Iraqi people, not the foreign oil companies”. (Cited in ‘Fighting the great Iraqi oil robbery’, Morning Star, 25 July 2007)
The OGL, on the contrary, opens the door to foreign companies. It includes within it the ‘opportunity’ for foreign multinational companies to arrange what were originally called Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) for 30-year periods, which will in effect give them control of the vast majority of Iraqi oil. The draft law was then revised to remove reference to the controversial PSAs, instead recommending the Iraqi government sign “development and production contracts” (DPCs). That this was a change in words alone was as much as admitted by a senior official close to the drafting of the law: “we have changed the text of the law from PSA to development and production contracts in order to avoid (media) fuss”. (‘PSA language removed from oil law draft’ Hands Off Iraqi Oil website, 16 January 2007)
Such DPCs/PSAs “translate into savage privatisation and monster profit rates of up to 75% for (basically US) Big Oil”. (Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, op cit)
Foreign oil companies are not obliged to invest their profits in Iraq, share their technology or even employ Iraqi workers, and, even more significantly, they could sign contracts now and only implement them in the future when ‘the security situation has stabilised’.
The OGL provides for the creation of a Federal Oil and Gas Council, which will have supreme decision-making powers. It is likely that the membership of the council will reflect the make-up of the current Iraqi ‘government’, which has been nurtured by the US along sectarian divides. The US also has plans to distribute the domestic share of oil revenues on a divisive religious/ethnic basis, rather than nationally.
The Oil and Gas Council will also include, among others, “the Chief Executive managers from important related petroleum companies” – Shell, BP and Exxon Mobil are no doubt rubbing their oil- and blood-stained hands with glee.
Fractures within the stooge government
Meanwhile, however, the OGL has been causing disputes within the Iraqi ‘government’, not only over its federal nature but also the overall effect of signing up to an agreement so obviously drawn up for the benefit of foreign oil companies and not the Iraqi people. “Many of these groups [within the Iraqi government] cite US pressures, both overt and covert, to enact the law as quickly as possible. In fact, according to the announced American agenda, it was supposed to have been passed at the end of May.” (‘Oil Law sparks more conflicts among Iraqis’, Al-Hayat, 22 July 2007)
The pressures on the Iraqi ‘government’ from the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, along with the widespread opposition of the Iraqi people in general to the proposed law, is creating problems for the stooges in government, many of whom are nervous of being seen to be too ready to sign up.
Both Sadr loyalists and representatives of the Sunni ‘Accord’ within the Iraqi parliament have voiced their opposition to the OGL, and both groups boycotted the cabinet at which it was endorsed. The Sadr bloc, in addition, has demanded that a paragraph be added “that would forbid the signing of any contract with any country that has military forces in Iraq” . (‘Sadrists voice ‘reservations’ over Oil Law’, Iraq Slogger, 4 July 2007)
Four years after Iraq was attacked and six years after Afghanistan was attacked, the two countries have not succumbed to the jackboot of imperialism. Far from it. Rather, they have exposed the jackboot of imperialism as exactly that: a brutal force that will stop at nothing to gain control of resources and markets in its never-ending drive for maximum profit.
The lives that have been lost and the historic cities that have been turned to ruin must not be forgotten, but we must also not lose sight of the weakness of imperialism. The imperialist jackboot that presses down on Iraq and Afghanistan operates on behalf of Wall Street and the City of London. But the financial oligarchy also engineers the exploitation of the working class in the imperialist heartlands. Even if it operates through ‘civilised’ men in suits and the ‘rule of law’, it is ruthless in this exploitation and would privatise the air we breathe if only a way could be found to do it. Whether in a combat uniform or a suit, imperialism is the enemy of the people of Afghanistan, of Iraq and of the working class in Britain and the US.
It is incumbent upon anyone who wants to see an end to these barbaric wars to support those who are resisting and fighting back against the ‘coalition’ forces. Without the Iraqi or the Afghan resistance movements, imperialism would have achieved victory long ago, and their victory would have represented a significant defeat for the working class in the US and Britain. Therefore it is obvious that, in order to oppose the unjust wars of conquest being waged by imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan, the British working-class movement must clearly voice its undivided support for those struggling for peace, freedom and independence, that is, the Iraqi and Afghan resistance forces.
The failure of the Stop the War Coalition to take up this line, and the insistence of its leadership on clinging to pacifist social-democratic ‘respectability’, is increasingly rendering the British anti-war movement impotent.
Our enemy is imperialism, capitalism at its most parasitic; our friends are the ones who are doing their best to bring imperialism to its knees. Our slogans must continue to be:
Victory to the Afghan resistance!
Victory to the Iraqi resistance!