On 1 May 2003, George W Bush announced that the war in Iraq had been won and that major combat operations had come to an end. Six and a half years later, Iraq finally seems to be disappearing from the headlines. Iran is on the front pages; Afghanistan is on the front pages; but Iraq appears to have gone quiet.
Occasionally, we might hear some ‘good news’: some government stooges have been able to agree on the terms of the next election; or US and British oil companies have been given the right to exploit some or other oil field. But the overall impression given is that the war is over, the situation is improving, democracy is being restored, foreign troops are leaving, and, essentially, the job is done.
Sami Ramadani, whose columns on the Iraq conflict have been consistently insightful, wrote in the Guardian of 25 October: “Though inevitable, there is something morally questionable in the way Afghanistan has replaced Iraq in the news headlines. As the number of casualties suffered by US forces went down in Iraq and as the equivalent numbers of US and British casualties in Afghanistan started to climb, the latter has gradually displaced Iraq in the news schedules. This has given the impression that the situation in Iraq has improved markedly and that the country is making progress on all fronts.”
In fact, the war in Iraq is still very much alive. If the average number of casualties of US and British soldiers is down, it is because the invasion forces are taking a lower profile and are forcing their Iraqi protégés into the frontline against the resistance.
There are still at least 120,000 US troops in Iraq. Obama’s plan is to withdraw all ‘combat’ forces within the next year, leaving about 50,000 troops in an ‘advisory and support’ role for another year or so. Of course, the US has constructed the largest embassy in the world in Baghdad, and will almost certainly leave a significant permanent military force in the country (for ‘advice’ and ‘support’, naturally).
“Though US troops may now be less visible on the streets, the US military is still effectively running the country. The Iraqi security force is being directed in all major respects by the pervasive US military advisers still embedded in Iraq … The US is setting the conditions for a long-term presence in the region.” (‘Obama’s great vanishing trick’, Fight Racism Fight Imperialism, August 2009)
Another group that will remain in Iraq is the body of US and British ‘advisers’, who work behind the scenes at every Iraqi government ministry. These people are not some kind of benevolent third-party consultants putting their skills at the service of the Iraqi people. As the great Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah once said, “It is far easier for the proverbial camel to pass through the needle’s eye, hump and all, than for an erstwhile colonial administration to give sound and honest counsel of a political nature to its liberated territory.”
The role of these vultures is to make sure that Iraq continues to be subservient to the interests of the US ruling class and its criminal partners; to ensure that Iraq’s oil profits flow exclusively into the hands of BP, Exxon and the like; to ensure that lucrative supply contracts continue to be won by filthy blood-sucking corporations like Blackwater; to ensure that Iraq remains a ‘friendly power’ and an integral part of Yankee geo-strategy.
As for the lie that conditions on the ground for the Iraqi people are improving, Ramadani has shot this argument to pieces: “Try to tell Iraqis who are not part of the ruling circles that their situation has improved since the occupation and they will remind you not only of the countless dead and injured but also of the million-plus orphans and widows, the 2 million who fled the country, and the 2 million internal refugees, most of whom live in dreadful squalor.
“They will tell you about the sewage covering the streets of many towns and cities, the lack of clean water, fuel and electricity, and the ever deteriorating health and education services. They will tell you about the more than 50 percent unemployment, the kidnapping of children, the fear of women to move freely, and the rapid rise in drug abuse and prostitution. They will describe the horrific methods of torture inflicted on the tens of thousands of prisoners in Iraqi and American jails. They will remind you that if a ‘world-famous patriot’ such as Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at President Bush, was tortured by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s own guards and forces, what chance ordinary citizens?”
It’s important to remember why the US, Britain and their allies went to Iraq in the first place (and why imperialist powers have been trying to dominate Iraq for the last hundred years): Iraq’s enormous untapped oil reserves. Now that the occupation is coming to an end and democracy supposedly being restored, just what is happening to Iraq’s most important commodity?
The Guardian of 5 November reported that “the American energy giant ExxonMobil today won the right to develop one of the world’s most prized untapped oil reserves, in a $50bn (£30bn) deal that will entrench the company as one of the largest players in post-war Iraq … Exxon was awarded a contract to extract oil from the West Qurna reservoir near Basra in Iraq’s south during an extended tender process that has seen the Iraqi government partner foreign firms in a bid to get its reserves of oil out of the ground as cheaply and quickly as possible.
“West Qurna was considered the jewel in the nine Iraqi oil and gas fields up for grabs, with verified reserves of 15bn barrels and a strong chance that exploration will reveal significantly more.”
Hussain al-Shahristani, the oil minister, claimed (perhaps ironically) that “Iraq will get great benefits from developing the sector and providing services for the people. After decades of oppression and tyranny, Iraq is getting back its riches for this generation and for the next.”
Over a million Iraqis dead; several million displaced; public healthcare and education systems destroyed; the reduction of Baghdad and others cities practically to rubble; the precipitous drop in living standards; the return of cholera; the vast rise in infant mortality; the psychological and physical trauma; it all happened for a simple reason: control of Iraq’s oil fields by imperialist monopolies.
Having spent trillions of dollars on this war, US imperialism is now hoping that the near-exclusive control of Iraq’s vast oil reserves – under highly favourable terms – will strengthen and prolong its economic and political hegemony.
Oil is the world’s biggest industry, by a long way. Of the ten biggest companies in the world, seven are oil companies (Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, BP, Chevron, Total, ConocoPhillips and Sinopec). Control of such huge quantities of oil will give the US important economic bargaining power; and having another ‘friend’ in the Middle East will give it geo-strategic advantage.
The days of US hegemony are numbered, to be sure, but the US state will stop at nothing to make sure that its rule is prolonged for as long as possible.
The resistance continues
The western media no longer reports the majority of Iraqi patriotic resistance attacks, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that this resistance has ended. Occupation forces and their Iraqi proxies are subjected to at least 10-15 attacks per day. What’s more, these are not just sectarian ‘fundamentalist’ attacks; they are targeted acts of resistance against the US forces, the Iraqi government, the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army.
Although the press likes to keep quiet about these attacks, they could not ignore the audacious synchronised suicide car bombings that struck at the heart of the Iraqi stooge government on 25 October.
According to the Guardian of 26 October, the attacks on the Justice Ministry, the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works and the provincial government headquarters in Baghdad constituted “the deadliest coordinated attack in Iraq since the summer of 2007 and happened just blocks from where car bombers killed at least 122 people at the Foreign and Finance Ministries in August, in the continuation of a focused attempt by insurgents to strike at the government’s most critical functions”.
Such effective, daring actions require meticulous planning and coordination, and they certainly do not reflect a waning resistance. The Iraqi people do not, and will not, accept colonisation in any form. They have resisted occupation from day one, and they will continue to resist the occupiers and their puppets. They have been faced with an extraordinarily difficult task: stopping the world’s strongest, most violent and most vicious power in its tracks.
What’s more, the Iraqi people have had next to no help from outsiders. The Vietnamese and the Koreans had significant assistance from the Soviet Union and China: troops were sent; equipment was sent; planes were sent; advisers were sent. The Iraqis have no-one to supply them with high-tech weaponry, military planes, and so on. There are no massive battalions joining their ranks. They receive practically no solidarity even from the so-called left in the imperialist countries, most of whom persistently join the capitalist press in denouncing them as ‘religious fanatics’ and barbarians. And yet they fight on.
We must understand that the Iraqis are fighting heroically for the future of Iraq and of the whole world. As Snorre Lindquist wrote recently: “Few outsiders have insight into the Iraqis’ struggle against the mighty Goliath. But the success of their six-year freedom fight, and that in Afghanistan, raises new hope for people worldwide who resist the US strategy to dominate the world. Hence this overwhelming silence in the global media that is obviously governed by the same interests that engineer the wars.” (‘Iraqi resistance according to the Iraqis themselves’, heyetnet.org, 1 September 2009)
There is important work for us in the imperialist heartlands to do. We must promote solidarity with the Iraqi resistance, and we must popularise their struggle and counter the propaganda war that the imperialist press is waging against them. We must ramp up the pressure for a complete, immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all imperialist forces, and we must refuse to allow the mainstream press to make Iraq a non-issue.
People of Iraq: your struggle is our struggle; we will not forget you!