Britain and the USA are gradually scaling down their occupation forces in Iraq, but it is clear that this grudging retreat forced upon imperialism by the patriotic resistance is far from the clean break that is being officially presented.
Britain scuttled out first, with the damp squib of a handover to US control at the end of March. In truth, the retreat had effectively already happened, with British troops long since confined to barracks and waiting to be shipped home.
Since 2003, the British occupation of Basra has presided over the death of between 3,302 and 3,766 civilians in the city, according to the organisation Iraq Body Count, as well as the loss of 179 British soldiers. But beyond the ‘glory’ of having caused the deaths of so many of Basra’s citizens and laid waste the city’s infrastructure – an ‘achievement’ bizarrely termed a “success story” by Gordon Brown – not one of imperialism’s real war aims have been achieved.
The puppet government commands only sectional support throughout Iraq, stable comprador control over the country’s oil resources remains contested (not least by the oil workers themselves, as well as the continuing dispute between the Green Zone puppets in Baghdad and the Kurdish feudal chieftains to their north), and the Iraqi resistance remains unbeaten.
Even in the case of the junior partner in war crime, the withdrawal is not all it seems. Right now, there are still 4,100 British troops in illegal occupation, though the theory is that by the end of July there will only be about 400 left. In looking at these figures, it should be remembered that the huge shadow army of ‘private security’ agents, military advisors and dirty tricks specialists never show up on the radar, though the sectarian terror operations arising from their presence most certainly do.
The American withdrawal is openly equivocal. Obama’s campaign pledges over withdrawal of ‘combat’ troops were being creatively reinterpreted even before the man took office, with many ‘combat’ troops waking up to find themselves rebranded overnight as technical advisors, humanitarian support etc. As late as the end of April, US top brass in Iraq were talking down the likelihood that the undertaking to withdraw combat troops from towns and cities by the end of June (prior to full withdrawal by the end of 2011) would in practice be met.
Clearly rattled by the continuing strength of all strands of the resistance, not least the tens of thousands of supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr who marched through Baghdad on the sixth anniversary of the fall of the capital demanding that US forces ship out then and there, top general Ray Odierno broke ranks to claim that combat troops might stay in Mosul, Baqubah and Kirkuk. He blabbed that “we won’t see a large reduction in any forces in Mosul or Diyala. In fact we might see reinforcements in those areas if we continue to have issues”.
Odierno adopted the usual propaganda tactic of blaming al-Qaeda and sectarianism for these troublesome “issues”, hoping everyone would conveniently forget both imperialism’s key role in stoking up such divisive forces and the real origin of Odierno’s problems: the unbroken forces of patriotic resistance.
The subsequent statement by puppet government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, insisting that the timetable must be adhered to after all, may have been intended to make the quislings smell sweeter in the nostrils of their countrymen – surely a vain hope. More to the point, the abrupt tugging down of the kite being flown by Odierno and others suggests White House concerns that a doomed itch for ‘just one last surge’, whilst proving no more successful than its predecessors, could fatally weaken the thrust of rising US aggression in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Disagreement on these questions at the highest level gives a measure of the difficulties in which US imperialism is now finding itself, caught between a failed war in Iraq and a failing war in Afghanistan.
In any event, the stipulation that all combat troops evacuate Iraq’s towns and cities by the end of June turns out to have as many holes as a colander. Fifteen minutes from Baghdad city centre, and straddling the city boundary, stands the misnamed ‘Camp Victory’, consisting of five bases housing over 20,000 soldiers.
Ah, but the puppet authorities have said they can all stay, agreeing to consider the base not to be in Baghdad! The same goes for Forward Operating Base Falcon, big enough to hold 5,000 combat troops, nestling just inside Baghdad’s southern city limits – that doesn’t count either.
Meanwhile, bang in the middle of the city stands the new so-called US ‘embassy’. That the true function of this massive fortified complex is more military than diplomatic is underlined by the ambassador’s near neighbours in the Green Zone, the Seventh Field Artillery Regiment. The task of that regiment is to defend the Green Zone – a job that is supposedly now entrusted to the puppet Iraqi army.
You can see why the criminal inhabitants of the Green Zone might not feel safe in their beds under the protection of the puppet forces. The Pentagon’s own quarterly report in January admitted that, as of last October, only 17 out of 175 Iraqi Army combat battalions were able to carry out counter-insurgency operations without US back-up. The ratio in the case of the National Police battalions (a paramilitary formation) was two out of 34.
Not surprisingly, the Pentagon’s last quarterly report neglected to give an update on these figures, on the grounds that “military operational readiness for a sovereign nation is considered sensitive”. In a report commissioned by the puppet regime itself, it was reported that there had been no less than 736 corruption cases involving the Ministry of the Interior in 2008, mostly involving the theft of weapons, ammunition and military vehicles.
The International Herald Tribune reported that “A particularly ominous problem has been a new series of attacks by Iraqi soldiers and policemen, or at least extremists dressed like them”, indicating that “even heavily guarded bases are vulnerable”. (8 May 2009)
The bitter lesson for US imperialism is that it has failed in Iraq, and will do no better in Afghanistan.